I knew it would be touristy. It’s famous for being touristy. It’s in all the most popular guidebooks and not many people escape this area without at least one visit. But no matter how much reading you’ve done, no matter how many stories your friends have told you about the place, no matter the rumours you hear when you arrive, nothing quite prepares you for the sea of dreadlocked, corn-rowed, navally-pierced, sunburned, tie-died-wearing wankers that you encounter on Khaosan Road in Thailand’s Bangkok.
Now, I’m pretty used to being an uncool guy. I don’t have a 280 litre back-pack that looks like I spilled fruit salad on it. Mine isn’t even big enough to fit patches of the national flags of the countries I’ve visited. My wardrobe doesn’t include a purple pair of fisherman’s pants, nor leather flip-flops. I like a few Bob Marley songs, but I don’t really feel his pain. Most foreign films bore the crap out of me and I almost never travel with a copy of my “favourite” Huxley or Hemingway novel, to leave in a conspicuous place wherever I am dining. Oh yeah – and I’ve never astrally projected my “being”. If your resume of personal traits is similar to mine then prepare for the looks of disdain on Khao-San Road that you will receive from our overly pierced cousins.
There are some who were hippies before it was even cool – like in the 1950s. Quite a few also survive from the 1960s era like life is some eternal ride on the peace bus. Perhaps the Marrakesh Express forgot to terminate in Morocco and just kept heading east? Plaited beards and Lennon glasses seemed to be a favourite of the “I was stoning before you wore your first crochet beanie” crowd (Oh yes – there is a definite hierarchy amongst this repulsive sub-culture).
Their eyes met accross a crowded bead shop… Within this sea of wankerdom are, however, a few glimmers of hope. A t-shirt (250 baht starting price but if you have honed your bargaining skills like our dreadlocked friends you should actually be able to get the vendor to make a small loss on the deal) proclaiming the “Khaosan Road Credo” was one of the more interesting glimmers. “I shall not leave Khaosan without getting corn-rows, dreadlocks or braids in order to show my open mindedness,” was one of the rules. Another was, “I shall wear at least one item of local clothing to show my oneness with the Thai people.”
I offered the man 300 baht (50 more than the asking price and about 250 more than T-shirts at the markets 3km away) and snapped up three of the shirts. I couldn’t let insight like that go unrewarded. My spendthrift nature drew the ire of a few passing peaceniks, but the threat of violence, implicit in my stare, meant that they didn’t say anything.
Now there are a few regular folk on Khaosan (plain clothes, regular size black packs etc) but they seem to be in a minority. I’d occasionally see them and there is a kind of ritual we uncool would follow. Discover each other, make eye contact, raise the eyebrows a split second before rolling eyes towards the floor, look away and then go about your business again. It’s done in a “please don’t tell anybody you saw me here” kind of way. By even writing this story I am breaking our code – perhaps in an unforgivable manner. Now you won’t really see these folk in the bars or eating at the restaurants on Khaosan. In fact it’s pretty clear they are there only ‘cos they felt they had to see it. But honestly – the place is like a road accident – you just can’t look away.
Yes, they DO make you look fat.
Ok, so Khaosan isn’t ALL bad. So I guess time spent on Khaosan can leave you with a diminished sense of humanity (unless you’re into finding your “inner child”); however, I was going to give the place a pass mark for sheer curiosity’s sake. On my way out of Khaosan, there stood one of the regular-looking folk, chatting on the public phone. We followed the “un-cool ritual” to the letter. Then as I walked gingerly by, trying not to invade his personal privacy any more, I happened to hear part of his conversation.
“Yeah Mum, Khaosan is just such a culture shock.”