#Bangkok #Kanchanaburi #Thailand: Bi-Polar Syndrome of a Country…

Meals on Wheels

Meals on Wheels in Bangkok

It’s amazing how diverse Bangkok can be, depending on your chosen neighborhood. If you only stay in the backpacker enclave at Khaosarn Road or near the red-light district of Patpong, or Sukhumvit Road between Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy, then you’ve only seen the most obvious charms—or horrors—of the city. That was especially evident a month ago, when I happened to step out on Sukhumvit Road AFTER midnight for the first time in a while—YEOW! Unbelievable! There are prostitutes from all over the world, right here—brown ones, black ones, white ones, blue!

Still I doubt it’s ‘traffficking’, just free market flea market, choice cuts of meat in the international section. That’s all chilled down now since the military coup, I reckon, but I don’t really want to know—too disgusting. So I stay far north of town this time, saving myself a chunk of change in the process. You know what they say about rental rates—it’s all about location location location.

Portuguese Past in Kanchanaburi

Portuguese Past in Kanchanaburi

So this time I stay in an entirely different section of the city, one I’ve never really stayed in, and close to the Victory Monument passenger van pick-up points. This is where I’ll catch a van to Kanchanaburi, on the River Kwai, or something like that. There are no bars around here, but that’s just fine; there’s plenty of good coffee. Ten years ago it would’ve been Nescafe only. Vive la difference! Unfortunately bars dominate the tourist scene in Kanchanaburi, a real disappointment.

These last two stops, Bangkok and Kanchanaburi, are the undoing of my little purist fantasy, full of tourists and ex-pats, too, back with a vengeance on their part and no small measure of repressed revenge on my own, the spreading colonization of the Kingdom beyond all reason, writing on the wall for years now, but I forgot to wear my glasses, so I know now that my time here is drawing short…

Kanchanaburi, Thailand: City on Water

Kanchanaburi, Thailand: City on Water

In Bangkok it’s to be expected, of course, major world city with people from all over, but… Kanchanaburi? Sleepy little Kanchanaburi? Sure, there’s the River Kwai, of course, but does that necessarily imply a cliched ‘entertainment’ strip with all that entails? It looks to be about half-and-half old fart expats and young backpackers, so plenty of blame to go around IMHO…

I mean: I’m glad the local economy is good enough to support a Carabao concert at one of the local clubs, but there won’t be any Farangs there, just locals. And there’s a historic district in town, with appropriate documentation for antique houses, all with Sino-Portuguese origins, then a house-boat city and floating entertainment district on pontoon ferries, but most foreigners will never see it from the bar stools in their own private little GI bar enclave…

Bridge over the River Kwai

Bridge over the River Kwai

This bi-polarization of a city—and country—into locals and foreigners is not at all what I look for and no longer what I need from this Kingdom or any other. I need inclusion, not separation; information, not ignorance. What worked for me twenty years ago no longer works for me now. I’ve changed, and Thailand hasn’t, or only for the worse, I’m afraid. It’s time to move on, boo hoo. I’ll miss the coconut ice cream. I decide to forego the Carabao concert…

Now for my last train ride on the last train line in Thailand, the only one I’ve never been on, from Kanchanaburi back to Bangkok, or Thonburi, that is, across the river. Going the other direction will take you to Burma, a real temptation if I had the time, especially if I had a visa and they’d let me in. things are changing there fast. As it is, the ride back is pretty predictable, the only real excitement finding the ferry once there.

My friend and I accomplish, that, though, and we even get a little river ride in the process. The SE Asia part of this trip is drawing to a close, but I’ve still got a scheduled stop in Istanbul, so I’m jazzed about that. That’s still Asia, right? Stay tuned.

June 2014