The Center of the Backpacking Universe

The center of the backpacking universe

Everyone was supposed to be out of the streets by 10 PM

I had gotten over my fear of traveling alone and went on another trip a couple of months later. Friends shared stories about Thailand, mostly negative, but that didn’t stop me from visiting.

Five days before the trip, there were news that the Thai army declared martial law. Everyone was telling me to reconsider or cancel, but I ignored them, did a bit of research (just to be safe), and took the flight to Bangkok.

Barricades, chaos, violence—all these things were playing through my head as I approached the train station inside the airport. When I reached the sky train, I felt all the unnecessary stress leave my body. There were no barricades or chaos or violence. Just people going about their routine as if nothing was out of the ordinary.

There were no other sounds on the train except for the subtle buzzing of electricity. As we cruised through the dramatic urban landscape, the tone golden and mellow, I almost never wanted to get off the train.

I booked a charming room with a river view near Khao San a few days back, but a friend who lived in Bangkok told me to avoid the area. So I booked another cheap room just a few minutes by train from the airport just to be safe.

The dimly-lit room gave one the impression of a hotel in old horror movies. The faded wallpaper and the antique vanity dresser made the room feel even more depressing.

Cramped on a corner, there was a narrow window overlooking newer buildings. It might be my overactive imagination, but that window looked like it was waiting for someone to jump out of it.

I was close to believing I’d find an old notebook in one of the drawers that uncovered someone’s secrets.

I approached the lady at the reception desk and politely requested for a cab. She asked where I was going and what my plans were for the night.

I’m going to Khao San to meet a friend for dinner. She gazed at her watch and asked if I knew about the martial law happening in the country. I said yes, and she told me about the curfew. Everyone was supposed to be out of the streets by 10 PM. She made it thoroughly clear that I understood what she was saying and I assured her I would be back before the curfew. I felt like a child being monitored by a parent. Yes, mom, I’ll be home before bedtime.

In Khao San, I saw a few shirtless tourists wearing their swimming attire. Apparently, Bangkok is a beach town.

Despite the news, Khao San was bustling! It was illuminated by glowing lights that seemed to extend to infinity, crowded with bodies and mouth-watering street food.

Energized by all the activity, I aimlessly pointed my camera here and there. I took a photo of a street vendor selling fried insects. The next thing I saw was a large hand raised in front of me, gesturing for money. I removed the camera away from my face and saw a makeshift sign she was pointing at with her other hand.

Photo for 10 Baht

Caught off guard, I told her I didn’t know I had to pay for a photo and refused to hand out money. She repeatedly pointed to the sign while hurling words in the air. With no other option, I resorted to showing her my camera screen while deleting the photo. That seemed to satisfy her. I know it sounds cheap, but I wasn’t planning on giving money for a picture of something that’s in a public setting.

I met my friend Zar for dinner. It had been a while since we saw each other—the last time, we were in college campaigning for student council! Zar had moved to Bangkok to pursue a career, and I thought it would be nice to meet him there.

We had delicious Tom Yum Soup and Pad Thai.

We were in the middle of a conversation when the mood inside the restaurant changed. The soap opera showing on the television was interrupted by an announcement. There was a pause as everyone focused their attention on the TV. The message was in Thai, so I had no idea what was being said. I could only assume it was from the army reminding people about the curfew.

The screen went back to the soap opera and everyone went back to their business.

Feels like home

Most of the western customers ate outside in the hot humid night, but we tropical folks stayed inside where there’s air conditioning!

We walked around after dinner, going through narrow alleys hiding modest shops. I was tempted to buy something for myself, but as a general rule, I try not to purchase anything (except food) on the first day, or I’ll run out of money at the end of the trip.

Conscious of the time, I thanked Zar and rode a taxi back to the hotel. There was some traffic on the way back (possibly because everyone wanted to be home before curfew).

The driver was running his meter as if we were in a wild car chase. I noticed the meter reach 100km/hour at one point. When I got to the hotel, it was already 9:58 PM. I passed by the receptionist who had a smile on her face that seemed to say Good job! Now go to your room.


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