â€œWhen socialism is pushed beyond a certain point, it becomes totalitarianism. Capitalism, on the other hand, if carried to its extreme, becomes anarchy. Anyone who doubts the accuracy of this last observation has never walked the streets of Bangkok.â€
That’s Tom Robbins from Villa Incognito, and it is the theme of our final visit to The Big Mango, where we stock up on whatever stuff we donâ€™t think will be available on the next few legs of the trip, including a new Nikon Coolpix 8400 for yours truly. Yeah. More gadgetry to weigh me down, but more power to capture and remix the experience.
Yes, pretty much everything is for sale in Bangkok, from fake press passes and English teaching certificates to pirated DVDs of movies that haven’t even been released in theaters, to deep-fried scorpions, water bugs, a plethora of pork products, and of course, America-flavored all-beef patties.
Our alley, Soi Rambutri, is lined with stalls selling everything a traveler could possibly want — for a fraction of what such items cost at the fancy travel shops back home — making one wonder why people stress out so much about buying money belts, backpacks, mosquito nets, luggage locks, etc. before departing for Thailand.
Tom Robbins again: “Simultaneously a frantic, high-tech juggernaut and a timeless Asian dream, Bangkok straddles like no other metropolis the boundary between acrid and sweet, soft and hard, sacred and profane. Itâ€™s a silk buzz saw, a lacquered jackhammer, a steel-belted seduction, a digital prayer. Its numerous temples and shrines are obscured by clouds of mephtic exhaust, its countless vices and crimes by smiles of tender delight; and through it all, Bangkok manages to maintain the most graceful balance, a grace no less genuine for being well-rehearsed and no less pure for being supported by con men and whores.”
We join the seething juggernaut, spend the last of our Thai baht, and take our leave.
Next stop: Colombo, Sri Lanka, then up into the hills… See you there.