BANGKOK - Let me tell you something about Khao San Road in Bangkok: it's a huge and horribly touristy stretch of bars and shops catering to hippie children and other lost souls who are trying to drink away the memory of their real lives across the ocean by vacationing in a type of resort only an acid trip could dream up.
Let me tell you something else: I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT HERE. Not because I have any illusions about this being "real" Thailand, but precisely because it's not. I've spent the past half a year in "real" Asia, gawked at by everyone I passed on the street, constantly lost and confused. Traveling around "real" Asia, not even to mention living in it, is f'ing DIFFICULT. Khao San Road is easy. Blissfully, carelessly, stupidly easy. Stay in a guesthouse and eat pad thai and banana fritters and pineapples off the street for pennies. Drink super strong iced coffees thick with condensed milk. Bargain in English for T-shirts and necklaces. Stay up all night drinking, then eat breakfast in the gathering sunshine.
My first day in Thailand overlapped with my friend Julie's last day, and we met for breakfast near her hostel. She told me about riding motorbikes around some remote part of Laos, and complained of how touristy and insulated parts of Bangkok appeared to her in comparison. And of course, for those searching out the hard ground of authenticity, this city will ring hollow. But for me, weary from the authenticity-overload of living in provincial China, this is perfect. For the first time in six months, I can blend in. With my dirty sandals and ripped jeans and hair messy from the humidity, I look just like everyone else here. No one questions my presence. I cannot even express how good this feels. I'm tired of having travel experiences that feel like work.
I'll be here at least a week before going to Ko Pha Ngan, the hippiest little hippie island in the Gulf of Thailand known for holding massive raves on the beach, and laying on the beach frying myself in the island sun until it's time to go home. Oh yes.