A quick post from an air-conditioned internet cafe in Banglamphu, Bangkok, two metres away from a coffee machine (I wasn’t planning on finding one, I just must have a Melbournian magnet for them). Bangkok and other parts of Thailand are facing the worst floods in decades. The Chao Phraya River here is swollen and heavy – banks, jewellery stores, hotels and a few other businesses are quickly building little 1-2 foot high concrete barriers, or building barriers with sandbags at the storefront. You step over them to get inside. Unsurprisingly, no-one seems put out or panicked or angry about it. It’s Thailand after all.
My hotel – Bhiman Inn – is a modest, reasonable small-ish mid-range joint about 10 mins walk from Khao San Rd. Luckily. That infamous strip is everything I’ve heard and worse. Neo-colonial consumerist brothel. Staff hold up signs that say they don’t ask for ID; every few steps someone is offering to sell you something (though they do tend to back off when you say no…); men of all ages and backgrounds walk around blankly arguing with their Thai “girlfriends”. Fascinating to walk down, but I wouldn’t want to be there.
Bangkok is a mystery. All cities are of course. But this one feels experienced in presenting itself and hiding itself at the same time. The typical pan-Asian concrete blocks and advertising hoardings, franchises, footpath traders, sizzling food-stalls, dogs and cats and motorcycles and more makeshift powerlines than you can imagine. Pedestrian traffic-flow is smooth, polite and calm. As are the roads. And the parks are mysteriously meticulously clean. There is a long history of cross-cultural engagement and tourism here; people of all backgrounds are here; Thais rarely bat an eyelid at outsiders, they just go about their lives.
I’ve visited a few temples, parks, the National Museum, bustling streets and back-streets, and missed a few things. It’s only a 2-day stop really, so there’s not much I can see or understand in that time. Today, I’ll try to find the Forensics Museum (!), and prepare for Chennai. Speaking of medical tourism, an ad in the Bangkok Post (english-language) Classifieds offered breast enlargement, liposuction and other procedures, and said foreigners are charged the same as Thai people. One of Bangkok’s local tourism magazines devote an entire column to medical travel. How visible is it in India?
PS I found the Forensics Museum. Truly fascinating on many levels – gruesome to the point of stomach churning, but haunting, mysterious and just plain odd.