New spices fill the air. Hints of sweetness, humidity, garbage, food, and perfumes. People are talking in different languages. The sounds and flavors of the unknown.I am surrounded by street-vendors, 7-Elevens, brightly colored signboards, street- performances and loud music blasting out of many speakers.
The sky is thick with dark clouds. People start covering their goods.Tension builds up in the air. Something is bound to happen soon.
Within a minute it rains. The biggest drops that I have even seen, pouring down like someone is throwing buckets straight out of the sky.
It is my very first visit to Asia and I am standing on the side of Khao San Road. I am part of a diverse audience of new arrivals, old veterans, backpackers, street-workers. All watching the same, loud performance: the rain coming down, slowing all other actions.
In the middle of the night I am still awake. I watch a street-dog nibble on a leftover plate of Pad Thai. Vendors are selling springrolls, noodles and beer to the drunk. A bewildered looking girl is shouting around. Taxis leave and arrive from the airport. Girls in too-short dresses, smiling. Dawn breaks.
I am intrigued by this fascinating melting pot of people and activity. And promise myself that this is just the beginning, that I will be back again.
And I came back. Until I could not count my visits anymore. I saw the area growing and changing. Different types of travelers came: trendy couples, families, Asian travelers.
The same spices still fill the air.
Some street characters I grew familiar with, even without ever exchanging a word. Their eccentric faces became symbolic to me, to Khao San Road. A representation of the atmosphere.
I find myself two weeks later on an island wondering about their stories:
A middle-aged man with long hair and a plastic chair. He carefully observes women passing by and provides some of them with a free, quick, shoulder massage. His reward: a kiss on the cheek. I have always been curious about his motivation and income.
A Thai girl with dreadlocks, shouting, smiling and asking for cigarettes around Soi Rambuttri. She has been around for years, and does not speak much English. Is she a family member of some of the bar people? Who helps her? How old is she?
Mr. Thailand. He wears flashy sunglasses and bright clothes and used to ride his tall, three- wheeled bicycle around Khao San Road to promote one of the bars. Now he just walks around, and I wonder what has happened with his bike.
The humble, legless guy who drags himself around on a skateboard and sits at the side of the road. He never asks for money directly, and kindly nods his head when he gets donations. Would he have family? Where would he live, on the street, or would he have a hut?
Remarkable faces with probably even more remarkable stories. The sounds and flavors of the unknown.