Safety First! A Bangkok Story

December 22, 2009 – from my hostel bed at Lub D in Bangkok

Thai food is spicy. I suppose we all know this in theory, but in reality they really do not play around with their raw, whole chilies. In fact, I’ve not yet seen them use a sauce of any sort to make their food spicy – they just use the whole, raw chilies. They dice them in front of you like it’s no big thing. My luck would be that I would inadvertently rub my eye, and then I would no longer have that eye. They use more chilies than I knew existed. And it is good. The food here isn’t just good – it’s like fried Cajun turkey on Thanksgiving day kind of good. But year round and inexplicably cheap. Truly, to take a line from a Train song, this place could make heaven feel overrated.

Let me back up. I’m lying in my bed at Lub D, the single greatest hostel I’ve ever seen, trying to fight the exhaustion threatening to consume me long enough to get down on paper what my first night in Bangkok has been like.

I got to the hostel around 5:30 and immediately showered and set out for dinner. I stumbled my way to Cabbages & Condoms, a famous (if touristy) Thai-food restaurant that promotes safe sex. They give part of their profits to various NGOs and non-profits that do everything from build schools (with comprehensive sex education!) in rural, poor areas of Thailand to distributing condoms – including at the restaurant: they substitute condoms for mints with your bill.

The restaurant is lavishly decorated and the effort is does not go unnoticed; it’s beautiful. The seating (from what I could make) is all outdoors. You walk into a jungle, but it’s the most romantic, safe (punsrfun!) jungle I’ve ever seen. There’s a canopy of vines above, with strings of lights interwoven, creating a glow so luminescent it almost feels like you’re eating with the moon as your spotlight. A musician kneels on a raised platform, playing light background music. I’m not sure what instrument the woman was playing while I was there, but it is a soft sound, gentle on the ears and enormous on the ambiance.

the entrance

Cabbages and Condoms in Bangkok

I ordered everything: water (can’t drink the water in thailand – only bottles!), a margarita, spring rolls and, of course, pad kee-mao, or drunken noodles. This is my favorite thai dish; I eat it every chance I get. Before ordering, I gave myself a stern talking to and promised myself that I will not spend all 10 days eating this one dish. So starting today – I will only have pad kee-mao once a day.

It was all delicious, but the pad kee-mao was so spicy I downed three bottles of water.

The dishes were seved on white plates with blue design. This is the same dishware used at two of my favorite Thai restaurants –  Blue Orchid in Lincoln and Amazing Thai in Los Angeles. I’m beginning to imagine this is Thai law: “You want to serve thai, you do it on blue and white plates or else we will give you no chilies!”

After dinner, I took pictures with the condom people (people made entirely of condoms – there are even families!), and thoroughly enjoyed the signage at the front of the restaurant.

Santa's safe when he, "Ho Ho Hos!"

Definitely my favorite.

Wait, no... this is my favorite! I love them all!

After laughing myself silly, I journed back. I am impressed with myself for how easily getting there and back. It required a five minute walk, taking the skytrain (with a transfer to another line!) and then finding it off Sukhumvit, one of the busiest streets in “new” Bangkok (the nicer area – lots of shopping, moder), Thailand and the world at large. I asked about 800 people, but I found it before too long. Coming back I did completely successfully on my own. I consider this my first victory as an adult. Really.

On my way back to the hostel, I have to admit that I felt some pings of insecurity about being alone. As I ate and watched the numerous couples, families and friends laughing together at dinner, I felt sad that I hadn’t been able to do this trip with anyone. My first hour at the hostel this afternoon didn’t prove fruitful with new backpacker friends (I know, high expectations in an hour), and began to worry I’d be lonesome the whole trip. I also think the exhaustion might have been doing my thinking for me.

To assuage my lonesomeness, I stopped for a massage. ….Well, that sounds bad, and I can only offer mild assurances that this was a legal business transaction. It was 10pm, and the streets were still wild with activity, even on a Monday. People sell things down the streets (even beer!), party and massage parlor workers stand outside to grab your business. They grabbed mine, and I paid 250baht (about $8) for an hour-long foot, head, neck and shoulders massage. I didn’t opt for a traditional Thai massage, as I’ve heard they are exquisitely painful. Mine was simply exquisite.

Now back at the hostel, I intended to sleep hours ago, but I met two women, and have been up talking with one of them for all those hours. One is on an around-the world-journey for a year, and she’s now on month 9. That’s something I would love to do, and she let me excitedly pick her brain. Her favorite country so far: New Zealand. Her least favorite: Malaysia. The other just fiished filming something in Korea for the Korean government (sweet gig!) and is traveling aroudn southeast Asia for a while now.

Between the foot rub and the great conversation, my fears of feeling alone are more than (m)assuaged. 😉

I remember what a backpacking friend told me in Mozambique, when I felt the same tingues of insecurity and doubt: “You’re never alone when you’re backpacking.” He was right.

——

As mentioned in this post, I stayed at Lub D hostel in Bangkok off of Decho Road. It is the best hostel I’ve ever stayed. the rooms are clean, staff speaks English, ther eis free wi-fi, the showers and bathrooms are spotless (free shampoo and soap, too!), and it’s nothing short of strikingly hip. It’s a great place to meet people. For the all-female dorm, it is about $13 or 1100yen/night. Very highly recommended if you are ever in Bangkok on a budget!

Lub D Hotel in Bangkok

Lub D bathroom

——-

Next post: Christmas Eve Eve: Away in a Buddhist Nation

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~ by C on January 20, 2010.

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