Khao San Road – Little London, Meal worms, massages and Chang beer
Khao San Road
I have a list of “Things to do before I die”. I think it’s important to have a list, even if you don’t accomplish half of it beforehand. It’s important to keep adding to it too. To me it proves I’m more than just a girl in a pencil skirt sitting behind a desk, running around behind an exec all day. I have wants and needs outside the office, that don’t necessarily involve money or status, or normal standards of accomplishment, mostly just a sense of humour and a longing for adventure.
My list has been going since the age of 14.. whilst I have already shaved my head for charity, been involved in a high speed car chase with the police (as a passenger – of course!), been married (and divorced), and so forth. I still have a lot more to do.
Some of it seems unthinkable, now in my 30’s – I doubt I have much chance of joining the circus – or for that fact winning the Eurovision Song contest (no-one does unless you are from Bosnia Hertzegova these days). However I keep every item on there. I fancy that as an old woman, too frail to carry on in life, I will summon my grandchildren to my bed and order them to crack open the baked beans, just for the hell of it (item no. 22, “sit in a bathtub of baked beans”)
My list is now 4 double sides of A4 pages long. Somewhere halfway down on page 2, are two consecutive items. “Visit Thailand” and “Eat bugs”. On arrival to Khao San Road, I was “lucky” enough to tick off both.
Thailand is the furthest I’ve been from home. The first time I really felt like I was in a different country was in Turkey, hearing the call to prayer drift over the rooftops at sunset from the Mosque, I felt a million miles away from my little English country village. Khao San Road was the second.
Nothing prepared me for the sight of it. Market stalls as far as the eye could see, Neon lights buzzing and blinkering over head, swarms of mosquitoes fluttering around them like little brown clouds of dust. The noise was incredible, the heat almost unbearable. But I had a massive grin on my face as soon as I set foot. It was like London.. but better.
London feels like a place of transition. People move from all over the world to London. To escape their parents, to mend (harden) a broken heart, to make money. But not many people stay. Once you’ve “finished your business” you move on. It’s a stop-over, sometimes of many years, but mostly a stop over non-the-less.
Khao San Road is exactly that, but in miniature, compact in the space and time of it. People hit Khao San Road, fresh off the aeroplane to start their adventures, brand new backpacks, miraculous hair. People hit it at the end of their adventures, tattered backpacks, sunkissed skin, sunbleached hair, weathered and worn.
It’s a microcosm of travelers, and as such, a friendly place. As we walked up the market, people stop to chat, you see endless groups of travelers dropping their bags and screaming with excitement before a warm embrace, as they bump into the people they’d met weeks, maybe months before, either here or in another far flung corner of the world. By chance.
You can buy anything your heart desires in London. I fancy the same is also true of Khao San Road. Fake handbags (though not the best quality we’d seen), McDonalds, the infamous “Bucket”, cigarettes, massages, lady boys. You name it they’ve probably got it. And of course you can buy – BUGS!
We stumbled upon a “grub stall” within seconds. A buffet of creepy crawlies. Meal worms, crickets, locusts, cockroaches, maggots.. scorpions. All dried out/fried, and ready to be eaten. We lingered for a while, looking at each other with a mischievious look. “Beer first?” someone offered. Sounds like a plan.
After a trip up the market and then back down, and of course about 11 pairs of fake Ray Bans later, we settled upon a table outside a bar. Countless bottles of Chang beer and a few buckets later we were in high spirits and ready for anything. The locals obviously anticipated this state of merriment, as this is when the local hat sellers moved in. It didn’t take much persuading to purchase 3 traditional headdresses.. at £5 English, they seemed like a bargain, and became our “prop” for countless photo’s to come.
Full to the brim with beer we made our way up the market once more. A full day of traveling behind us and we felt we’d earn’t a massage, a bargain, again for less than a fiver.
It was then it happened. Suitably relaxed, and intoxicated I turned to Lucy.. “Locust?”, earlier in the evening slightly hesitant, now her eyes lit up. “I’m game” she beamed.
“Me too” came a voice from our group. I spun round incredulous at the statement. Sylwi, has been a vegetarian all her life. Tonight she would break this for.. bugs? We hurried to the stall, like kids hurry to an ice cream van, and paid a few Baht for a bag of mixed critters.
As the three of us found a bench, bizzarly in front of a giant sharks head, my heart was pounding. Why was I nervous? The other girls drew out their cameras and Lucy, Sylwi and I began divvying up the insects. Egged on by each other, but noticeably shaking, we decided to go for the little ones first. We each took a mealworm.
3.. 2.. 1.. GO!! Shouted Stacey, and we all quickly shoveled them into our mouths, wincing and screwing up our faces before our tongues let alone taste buds had touched them. Jumping around, shaking our hands as if trying to shake off a spider and screaming high pitched girly screams. Then, a strange thing happened, the furrows in our brows relaxed as we chewed down. They tasted, like? Well, “Cheesy Wotsits”?
Spurred on by this we attempted a small beetle. The same ritual ensued.
By the time we hit the grasshoppers we were heady with the adrenaline and had attracted quite a crowd around us.
Grasshoppers present more of a challenge than mealworm or beetle. They have big long appendages that are hard to fit into the mouth in one go, you end up with an antenna sticking out your mouth as you chew, or a leg pokes you in the back of the mouth and you gag. It all adds to the theatre of it though. As we crunched down and swallowed a crowd of guys started to applaud. Our work here was done. we’d tried one of everything.. except the scorpion.
I didn’t fancy it, neither did Sylwi. But to my shock Lucy had already picked it up. Goaded on by the new crowd she threw her head back and dangled it over her mouth. “No way” I muttered. Yes way. Straight in the mouth. She crunched it down and opened her mouth to show the mangled up body, a pincer and stinger barely recognisable. I was in awe of both my girls this evening.
We left the remains of the bag with the group of guys, and walking away, proud as punch, we heard the same commotion we’d made ensuing behind.
As we made our way up towards McDonalds. I thought a coke might be in order. The earthy, crispy, grainy paste of grasshopper still on the back of my tongue. This was the least of my worries though. The grasshopper leg stuck between my teeth would drive me mad for a few hours yet.