As far as galleries of sin and temptation go, Khao San is hard to top: a brief stroll through its wares reveals scorpion hawkers, bastardized knockoffs, goggle-eyes gaggles of balloon huffers, bit-rate suits, spent cigarettes, bare-foot beggars, massages (appendage/orifice of your choice), fake IDs, smoothies, snakes, satay, ping-pong shows, bracelets adorned with messages like “I LOVE HORSE COCK” and ” DO EAT HAIRY PUSSY”, and buckets of motherfuckin booze.
Travelers new to Khao San tend to react to this wicked menagerie with one of two responses: either they dive in with hedonistic glee, or they keep their backs straight and eyes glazed over, walking as if through purgatory, afraid that if they indulge in the slightest they could be awakened the next morning by Mephisto and Beelzebub.
Us locals prefer to eye the whole Khao San affair from a dubious distance. We like to think our indulgences more refined and measured, living the expat lifestyle like a proper teak-house colonial. There are, of course, very few real differences in our pursuit of excess and the Khao San backpacker’s. A higher percentage of close-toed shoes is the one that jumps to mind. Nevertheless, assumed superiority to the odorous riff-raff is part of our narrative.
So you can imagine the haughty scoff that escaped me when a new Tinder match offered Khao San Road as pur first-date location. Good date spots tend to be places where we can hide our wickedness and act like we’re normal and perfectly dateable. Coffee shops, movie theaters, well-lit restaurants, cocktail bars, art galleries; places that provide a veneer of refinement and enough material for pitter-patter conversation. “How’s the pesto linguine?” “I thought George Clooney was miscast.” “I sure do enjoy a good Dar roast.” Anything to hide the fact thay we’re fearfully lonely and ravenously horny, which is why we’re on the damn date in the first place.
Khao San rips that defensive posture off like a toddler’s band-aid. You don’t go there to hide your ugliness, you go there to expose it, to sprout wiry black hair and howl at the moon. I’m not sure my new match was ready to see that part of me. But she was too enthusiastic on the Khao San date for me to dissuade her. I dutifully donned my bro-tank and off I went.
Things started on shaky territory. We walked down the street, shouting at each other over the music, trying to find a bar to sit at. Picking a bar at Khao San is like picking what size screwdriver you want jammed up your nose. She must have found my conversation boring as she picked the loudest bar on the street. I ordered us drinks, whiskey sodas if memory serves. We sat across from each other in the blaring techno, occasionally shrugging at each other in attempts to initiate conversation. This German uberdouche kept huffing balloons of laughing has and falling over our table. After some initial annoyance, and a few more exchanged shrugs with my nonplussed date, it dawned on me that it wasn’t our German friend that was misbehaving, it was me. I was going by the usual date script in an unusual spot, trying to play it straight when the surroundings were begging for kink.
I looked across at my date and mouthed “Bucket?”
A few buckets later, we were having a whale of a time. I was shooting pool with a Paul Newman strut, she was dancing with wild abandon, and I had a new bracelet that professed my love for equine pleasure. We carried on until two in the morning, made a few friends along the way, and parted with a promise for a second date.
That night I learned one of Khao San’s essential commandments: “Though thou may face thine purgatory, and reckon your sins and virtues before God, it shall not be on Khao San Road. On Khao San Road, thine madness is not only forgiven, it is expected.”
So don’t fight the current. Grab a bucket and wade in.
Resident Comedian, The Comedy House Bangkok.