Bangkok is a huge, vibrant city hosting untold millions of people and countless exciting things to see and do. However, to many a visitor, there is only one place in Bangkok worth seeing: Khao Sarn Road.
Now, in the ethos of the international backpacker, there are roughly two types of people: those who are hypocrites and deny it, and those who are hypocrites and embrace it. I probably fall into the first category, as the second category spends all its time on Khao Sarn Road.
Virtually all international backpackers are hypocrites. On one hand we pretend we want to see exotic sites, learn about native cultures, and get to know the local culture. We claim we want to discard all the material trappings of the modern Western world, leave behind our fast food and convenience machines, and learn to live like a rice farmer in the remote minefields of Cambodia.
But in reality, what we want is Khao Sarn Road. We want cybercafes, recognizable food, cheap beer, and taudry collectables. We want the companionship of other backpackers, the familiarity of clean bathrooms, hip hop music played at incredible volumes, and pirated DVDs showing first-run Hollywood hits. Basically, we want the exact opposite of what we claim to seek; exactly why places are "ruined" when they satisfy our real, rather than our stated desires.
Khao Sarn Road IS Bangkok to a surprising number of people. When you arrive, the tuk tuk drivers don't even ask where you want to go. If you tell them otherwise, they ignore you. All paths lead to Khao Sarn Road, and most people don't think to complain.
Because I'm in the first group, and I struggle to deny the reality of my hypocracy, I try to stay clear of the road. I go wander through the neighborhoods, I ride the river taxis, find small restaurants nestled away in quaint nooks, and generally do everything in my ability to strain against the overwhelming allure of that which calls me. But despite my best intentions, I end up there every night, drinking my Chang beer, watching Hollywood movies while listening to hip hop, and bragging about my backpacker-credentials while eating pancakes and pad Thai. It's incredibly frustrating to be so predictable.
This T-shirt sums it up perfectly:
1. I shall wear as big a backpack as possible to bear proud witness to my creed.
2. I shall not leave Khao Sarn Road without a Lonely Planet guide.
3. I shall wear the traditional international backpacker's uniform and don at least one piece of local clothing (e.g. conical hat in Vietnam, a krame in Cambodia, etc.) to show my oneness with Asian people.
4. I shall eat banana pancakes and phat thai on a regular basis, for it is quintessential Asian food.
5. I shall stay in the cheapest guest house. More money for beer.
6. I shall drink the local beer, for I shall always endeavor to be in tune with local culture and because it is the cheapest.
7. I shall make pilgrimage to a Full Moon Party on Nat Rin at least once in my life.
8. I shall bargain without mercy and hone my skill to a sharp edge, as that I can proudly proclaim our sacred motto, "I got it for less than the Local".
9. I shall not leave Khao Sarn Road without having my hair colored, dreadlocked, corn-rowed, or shaved off.