A Saturday Morning Off Khao San Road

“Are you going to Khao San?” I asked a friendly looking middle-aged couple.

I was hoping for a yes. I was utterly overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the hiving metropolis. A true sensory overload, with dead fish smell wafting through the air as an old Thai lady waved caucuses in my face and tuk tuks buzzed passed the sidewalk at lightning speed.

The couple showed me a map of the city and pointed. They were staying around the corner from me.

I hailed a cab, grasping a hold of instructions from my hostel like a lifeline that warned of taxi drivers trying to hike up the prices. I negotiated my way into a cool 100 baht ride past the palace and through the streets with my new friends.

The woman gave me a breath mint. I wasn’t sure if she was just being polite, or whether my breath smelled after 30 hours of transit from London to Stockholm (with a 14 hour stopover) into Dusseldorf and finally landing in at Bangkok at 5:50am.

Khao San Road, famed for its bustling streets bursting at the seams with boozy backpackers, tantalising and exotic treasures and treats (scorpion anyone?) and the hub of nightlife for those visiting Bangkok to drink alcohol out of tiny coloured buckets.

“It’s a bit of a party,” my flatmate Will told me on a cold, snowy afternoon in London as I was packing for my trip. Indeed, my opinion of South East Asia had been reduced, over the years, to overly obnoxious and drunk young Australians wandering the streets in thongs and Chang singlets. I had filed SEA away on my bucket list, decided it wasn’t a priority passport stamp.

Of course, that is exactly the type of experience, and traveller, you can meet on the streets of Asia. In fact, the first person I met at my hostel in Bangkok promptly mansplained me, “How can you call yourself a traveller if you have never been to a developing country?”

I smiled and walked away. Too polite for my own good.

But SEA, and Thailand in particular, is so much more than any gap year trip or bachelor’s party might make you believe. Beyond the drinking and obvious tourist schemes lies a country that has always been independent amongst a sea of colonisation. A population that is proudly patriotic (and rightly so, I should say) where Buddhism dictates the cornerstones of everyday life intermixed with modernism and globalisation.

Bangkok is on the brink of all of this. Temples for quiet meditation on streets three lanes deep with traffic, billboards advertising the latest technology, and quiet local markets with handmade goods along the next. It was the latter that I explored one Saturday morning at 7:30am as the city was waking up for the day.