I can’t decide if it was the natural tranquility of Laksameenarai Guest House, the fact that I’d just spent a week at an all inclusive in Mexico (drinking my money’s worth of mango margaritas) or that I’d had a whirlwind of a month finalizing my preparations to travel indefinitely, but my first week in Bangkok was uncharacteristically calm for someone staying minutes from Khao San Road.
Laksameenarai Guest House was my haven in the middle of a bustling, dark and somewhat seedy part of Bangkok, Thailand. The restored historical home turned guest house is located on Trok Mayom, an alley that runs parallel to the infamous Khoa San Road. Getting there was quite the adventure.
The alley is sprinkled with Thai street food vendors, chill patio bars and other guesthouses. Kitty-corner from Laksameenarai Guest House, is a Laundromat and a Thai Massage place, both of which I conveniently utilized during my stay. I paid ฿270 ($8 USD) for a one hour long Thai Massage!
I ventured down Khao San Road and Soi Rambuttri (another nearby street known for partying) at all hours of the day and night, but not to party. My sleep schedule was off from traveling so I was awake at weird hours. One morning, I woke up at 5am and decided to take pictures of the rising sun from Khao San Road.
Dawn is a mystical time of day anywhere, but especially on a street known for night life and backpackers. I saw a weary wandering backpacker and thought ‘wow, I was in her shoes a few short days ago.’ There were drunk party animals, still carrying on from the night before, alongside monks collecting their dawn alms.
Another day, I napped well past 11pm. When I woke up, hungry, I took to Khao San Road in search of something to eat. I found an array of street food from Pad Thai and spring rolls to mango with sticky rice and coconut ice cream. I munched on spring rolls while watching the party life unfold.
Khao San, especially at night, is wild. It’s a party street. It reminds me of the many USA party streets I’ve played on like East Freemont Street in Las Vegas, Broadway in Nashville and 6th Street in Austin. Same same but different. On Khao San Road people stand in front of every road side bar pedaling buckets of alcohol and balloons full of laughing gas. Tuk Tuk and cab drivers stop every Westerner and ask where they are going and offer a ride (an overpriced one). An array of people ask to read your palm or to take you to a Ping-Pong show. If you don’t know what a Ping-Pong show is, don’t worry, neither did I. (If you’re curious, Google it.)
I caught myself wondering if I had an obligation to participate in the Khao San Road shenanigans? Khao San Road is one of the craziest party streets in the world and I was spending my nights napping, writing and eating street food… SOBER. But I was honestly enjoying being calm among the chaos. I reminded myself that the whole reason I was traveling was to live life on my own terms and vowed to keep doing just that… My party time would come.
The first two nights I spent at Laksameenarai Guest House, I slept in a private room. For ฿1000 ($32 USD) per night, Laksameenarai provided me with a queen bed, a locker, 2 water bottles, insect repellent, a towel and a delicious homemade breakfast. The bathroom was shared but in such a small house it felt more like sharing a bathroom with family than a dormitory. The privacy and amenities were well worth the money after a few hectic travel days.
Getting across the world was exhausting, to say the least. Have you ever talked to a new mom who is hesitant about having more children because she’s traumatized from pregnancy and childbirth? Then, before long, she miraculously thinks it’s a good idea and has another kid? She forgets all about the difficulties she faced as she falls deeper in love with her child and motherhood. That is kind of how I react to long distance travel.
At first, I’m traumatized by the hardships of travel (especially budget travel) and doubt I’ll be able to do it again. Then, after experiencing the thrill of immersing myself in a foreign city, I miraculously forget about the strain of getting there and long to do it all over again!
Giving myself time to adjust and settle in is vital to my recovery though. Thanks to my private room at Laksameenarai, I got exactly that. Upon arrival, I sprawled out in the queen sized bed and slept for 9 hours in the middle of the day!
I could only afford two nights in a private room so I moved to a four bed dorm room on the 3rd night. The lady running the house discounted the dorm room from ฿400 to ฿350 ($14.40 USD) per night because of my previous stay.
The dorm was nice, of course not as nice as the private room, but that was to be expected. It came with all the same amenities, except one bottle of water instead of two. It was on the ground level which proved to be louder than the private room upstairs. From both rooms I could hear muffled music from the nearby Khao San Road but downstairs it was more noticeable. I could also hear the commotion of people checking in and food being prepared in the kitchen.
With Songkran (the Thai New Year- celebrated with a Kingdom wide water fight) coming up and my post traumatic stress from traveling, I was afraid to relocate. I ended up booking the dorm for the rest of my stay in Bangkok, ten nights. I didn’t know it at the time, but I wouldn’t end up staying there quite that long.
Exploring Nearby Attractions
Wat Saket- The Golden Mount
One afternoon, after writing all day, I headed out in search of the Grand Palace. When I went the wrong way, I rerouted to Wat Saket (Golden Mount) because it was closer. Both the Grand Palace and Wat Saket are walking distance from Laksameenarai Guest House, just in slightly different directions. After an hour of exploring neighborhoods off the canal, and taking several wrong turns (some intentionally, some not) I arrived at Wat Saket, drenched in sweat.
To my delight, it cost ฿50 ($1.60 USD) which was way cheaper than the anticipated ฿500 ($16 USD) for Grand Palace. I walked to the top and took in the beauty of the Bangkok skyline. From the little bit I was able to read around the temple, Wat Saket is home to one of Thailand’s highest ranking Budhist monks.
The Bangkok City Library
On the way to Wat Saket, I walked past the Bangkok City Library. I have a thing for libraries. The next day I packed up my laptop and journal and went to check it out. It was only 500 meters from Laksameenarai!
By showing your passport you get free access to the facility for the day! The structure is unassuming from the outside but inside is modern and artistically designed. There is air con and a ton of books (mostly in Thai but a few in English). Forget about wifi though. You have to be a library member to access that and from the signs, even they only get to use it for two hours per day.
I wrote for a little bit then read a book about Thai street food. It was a calm and cool day.
There was a revolving door of guests that came in and out of the dorm room during my stay. On the first night I shared the room with a Canadian couple who had arrived a day early and were unable to check into their private room. The girl got her hair braided at the salon across the alley. I had been watching the stylists braid and loc from afar for days. When I saw my roommate in there, I felt justified to go in and watch them work up close.
There are hair braiding street stands and salons all over Bangkok. They cater to the white westerner’s desire for “exotic” vacation hair. The stylists are no doubt talented and have the business smarts to sell tourists what they want, but the cultural appropriation is undeniable. Cornrows, micro braids, box braids and dreadlocks are often looked down upon when worn by black people in western cultures but are considered exotic and trendy on their white counterparts. As a white hairstylist with a strong passion for the art and culture of hair braiding, I have a lot more exploring to do before I can speak any further on this topic. I’m sure it will resurface in another post… or my book.
German Party Boys
I was startled awake from a nap when my new roommates, three German guys, entered. They were nice and ready to party on Khao San Road. I considered going out with them one night but still wasn’t ready to enter the party scene. They stayed for two drunken nights then disappeared without a trace. I assume they were desiring more of a party environment, which makes sense so close to Khao San Road. I hope they found it!
Best Friend for the Night
The day after I spent one night in the dorm room solo (score!) a 6ft 5in 18 year old British kid checked in. He’d spent the last few weeks partying through Australia, and like me, was resigned to a chill night in. The only ones in our dorm, we ended up chatting all evening. Travel transcends age, gender, language, and nationality. It’s a culture of its own. By being on the road you have a lifestyle and mindset in common with those you come in contact with. Especially other solo travelers. This secret bond makes striking up a conversation with just about anyone natural, but this kid was exceptionally cool.
Born in July of 1999, he was exactly ten years my junior but wise beyond his years. He went traveling against the advice of his father who wanted him to stay home and start setting up for his future. “My dad wants me to start building my career,” he said, “for what?” he questioned rhetorically. “To have a nice house and car by the time I’m 30? Then what?”
His dream was to see the world. He eventually wants to live half the year in Australia and half in England. The north part of England though because “southerners don’t put gravy on their chips,” whatever that means? “I wish I could have two shots at ages 18 to 30.” He declared. “In one shot I’d live how I currently am, doing whatever I want and seeing the world. In the other, I’d set myself up for a good future.”
I told him he could do both but when he asked me how, I wasn’t quite sure what to tell him. Self-employment? Minimalism? Nomadic living? Never settling? Never doing things just because you think you’re supposed to? Always prioritizing freedom? When I pinpoint a generally applicable recipe, I’ll let him know. I’ll let everyone know.
We bonded over our shared taste in television and music. He proclaimed “Friends and How I Met Your Mother are the best American sitcoms ever made.” I couldn’t agree more.
We discussed our favorite rappers, including J. Cole, who he saw live in Manchester! When rapper ‘Lil Yatchy’ came up in the conversation he said “you can’t say “lil” in a British accent without sounding like a prick.” I died laughing.
Eventually, we dozed off to the pulsating of Khao San road.