Bad Peanuts, Bangkok, Thailand
I was traveling through Southeast Asia, and head over heels for Bangkok street food. Twenty Baht (60 cents) for a bag of sliced dragon fruit, 30 Baht for fresh pomegranate juice; khao mun gai tod chicken in Chinatown for next to nothing, pad thai for the price of peanuts.
Peanuts. A food I shall never touch again so long as I live.
I was staying in Silom, Bangkok, at Lub D Silom for $10 a night. The hostel was a high jump from my previous post at De Talak hostel, a banged up stack of boxes on the outskirts of the city where I spent my first two nights in Thailand. De Talak was so suspect, even my Thai taxi driver was hesitant to leave me at its doorstep. The neighborhood was less attractive still, and two nights stay was more than enough motivation to prompt relocation.
I met two girls from Germany and we spent two days exploring. Taxis in Thailand are fairytale cheap ($2.75 for a 45 minute ride), but we were determined to sample as many modes of transportation as possible. We rode the MRT (underground rail) beneath the city streets. We took the BTS (skytrain) during commute hour and floated above the chaotic mess of Bangkok’s city blocks and street markets. We took a boat, we took the bus, the tuk-tuks. The bus was just 7 Baht (22 cents), and definitely the best; we boarded bus 47 to destination unknown and followed our route with Google map on our cellphones; jumping off at the Grand Palace and Wat Pho.
Our first tuk-tuk cost us just 10 Baht, and the driver dove right into a much-rehearsed scheme-laden script. We expected as much, being foreign and all, but his lack of creativity was almost endearing. We sidestepped his attempts to stop at gem shops while reading Thailand travel tips from our smart phones. Eventually, he dropped us at an unmarked dock where two Thai men insisted we get on a boat. We refused, having read about a similar tactic used on tourists outlined in our guide list of travel do's and dont's. The scheme seemed effective enough; unsuspecting tourists board a boat supposedly headed for Khao San Road and no fare is expected upfront. Once on the water, drivers stop the boat 20 meters from the dock and offer up a choice: pay 2000 Baht or jump in the water and swim. I will admit, I was tempted to get in the boat; if only to test the theory and hopefully prove it wrong; but we decided otherwise and were forced to decline somewhat aggressively.
Our second tuk-tuk ride was equally climatic, and ended in the three of us getting kicked out upon refusing to stop at yet another gem store. Tuk-tuks are a real Thailand treat. You never know what you're going to get. Or lose.
After being dumped near the dock, we wandered a gridlock of narrow streets strewn with laundry, feral cats and curious looks. We were lucky to find two other tourists who had just escaped the same experience, and together we tracked down a legitimate boat dock. We paid 40 Baht to ride the ferry as far as Khao San Road, where we stopped for a three course meal and martini for $5 each.
We fell in love with Khao San road and all of its chaotic charm; buying up leather purses and 200 Baht ninja pants. Eighty Baht cocktails with names I can't even pronounce and ice cream, whipped cream, we all scream for - sorts of creations. The sky metro took us to terminal 21 on Sukhumvit road, a shopping paradise nine stories tall, each floor designed to replicate the likes of Paris, Rome, Tokyo, and other classic urban sprawls.
By Thursday my friends had left Thailand, and I wandered the street markets solo, bypassing fresh grilled frog and scorpion for less squirmish eats: peanuts. For 40 Baht, I bought two fist-sized bags of fried peanuts and tucked them into my pack. Later that night, I tore into the first bag. Sometime around 1am, I woke up and ran to the girl's bathroom. It was the beginning of the end. It was the first of five volatile trips to the stall, after which I hadn’t the strength to pull myself from my hostel bed. I shivered, I sweat, and I drifted in and out all night. In the morning light, I looked like the walking dead, and a girl named Keely asked if I was ok. We had met a few days back at reception and she was booked in the same ten-bed dorm. She brought me water and rice, which I refused to eat, and checked on me throughout the day. She was a lifesaver. Literally, I think she saved my life.
My flight to Sri Lanka was scheduled to depart the next evening, and I had no idea how I would emerge from bed; much less pack, travel, and embark on a new country adventure alone. I laid there in sheer misery; feeling sorry for my mother, who would soon discover her only daughter had died in Bangkok, alone in a hostel bed. Hours passed. Sometime that night, a girl from Switzerland stood over my bed and spoke in German. She patted her stomach and handed me a bottle of pills. The medication label was not in English, and I couldn’t understand a word she said. I swallowed four.
Forty-eight hours later, I finally - albeit slowly - emerged from the black hole that nearly swallowed me whole. I meekly packed my 65L bag and attempted to venture outside; it was my last day in Thailand and I was determined to carpe that fucking diem. I grabbed a taxi and was dropped at Khao San Road. The dizziness returned with full force as the sun beat down on me and roasted the smells of street food and abandoned trash post into a tangible stew that seemed to float beneath my nose. The plumes of tuk tuk fumes painted my face and a particularly angry shop attendant even smacked me on the shoulder when I offered less than 200 baht for a t-shirt.
All at once, the dull throbbing sensation in my head turned full-fledged and I was quickly ushered into a third dimension of misery. I waved down five different taxis before one finally agreed to use the meter, and fought the creeping urge to vomit as we headed for Suvarnabhumi airport. I afforded myself an "A" for effort as I collapsed into an armchair in the airport terminal; flight 887 bound for Colombo, Sri Lanka. I was still alive, and I was still in love with Thailand. I was wearing shorts that were beyond dirty, a t-shirt and converse chucks. My hair was a hot mess and I was cautiously sipping a cup of noodles that cost me 15 Baht, of which the contents were detailed in Thai and entirely incomprehensible. I decided I would most definitely return.