It would be easy to get stuck in Bangkok. Sitting there, everything laid out before you (especially on Khaosan Road, the most touristy of touristy locations in the city). Surrounded by fellow backpackers, restaurants and bars no more than 10 metres from wherever you stand, stalls lining the road and footpath selling everything you could ever possibly need as a traveller in a foreign land. If Bangkok was your first port of call on an overseas trip, you'd be crazy to bring clothing with you - simply hit the markets, and you could easily gather clothes enough for an entire trip for the cost of one t-shirt back home. It's that type of place. Everything's easy.
Every night's a weekend night on Khaosan Road. The bars are full every night, people spill out onto the streets, the sound of cover bands and pirate music surrounding everyone and everything. Bars spring up on the sidewalk outside the 7-11 - beer half as much as in the bars nextdoor. If you're hungry, for 20 baht (about US$50 cents) a sidewalk vendor will whip you up a fresh Pad Thai. For desert, half a pineapple - freshly cut, served with a skewer to eat the segments - will be an additional 10 baht. On the street, a Japanese group sits - one skillfully playing a Didgeridoo. He's accompanied by another guy playing a
an instrument I've never seen, and can't name - made from metal, placed in his mouth, with a metal prong that he vibrates, while the metal frame rests against his teeth, producing a vibrant twanging sound... Jew's Harp (thanks Ouroboros and Crux) and with the Didgeridoo, forming its own unique sound, it's a picture that shouldn't fit in Thailand, but here, seems perfectly at home.
So far, over the last 3 nights, I've met close to 20 new people, sat and had conversations, swapped stories and advice. If you're alone here, but feel like talking to someone, all you need to is sit at a table, and either invite someone to sit, or wait for someone to ask to sit. It's practically impossible to feel too lonely - almost needing to be a conscious decision. Isolation here is self imposed - there's too much life pressing around you to be able to resist without an effort.
On Khaosan Road...in Bangkok in general...the shadows are indistinct. Hazy at the edges, lacking definition and strong shape. Through the pollution and constant haze, the sunlights strength is sapped. Evenings fall quickly, seemingly without warning. Used to the gradual lengthening of shadows from home, signalling night's approach, I'm unprepared for this. As the sun approaches the horizon, and falls below thicker smog and haze, its light is quickly extinguished - as though rather than disappearing behind the earth for another night, it has simply failed prematurely.
When you're beginning to notice the lack of your own shadow, it's time to move on - escape Bangkok, and find somewhere new. I now find myself in Kanchanaburi, home of The Bridge Over the River Kwai, close to Hell Pass - a place of terrible history, and unimaginable suffering. This afternoon, I walked across the bridge - it's still used, on the way back I needed to step into one of the alcoves on its sides to wait for a train to pass. These days, there are stalls at both ends, selling jewellery, t-shirts and food to the tourists. Boats with huge, powerful engines wait to collect people to go for a ride, sounding like light aircraft heading down the runway as they power off. As with everywhere that attracts visitors in huge numbers, it's completely set up to cater to your every whim. Still, it is nice to step outside, and not see a bar for 100 or so metres in any direction.
Nicest of all - now, I walk outside in the heat of the day, and I have a shadow.