“Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the-glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away.”
-Steinbeck “Travels with Charley”
I’ve never been a planner. I scheme and I dream, but I’m not a planner.
My head cooks something up, but it skips the steps in between, assuming those details will work themselves out one way or another. And they always do. One way or another.
Sam and I had planned to go from Thailand to Cambodia, thus catapulting us into the counter-clockwise tour of the Banana Pancake (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos — Named for the banana pancake stands that are as ubiquitous in each country as rice-fields). But just as we were about to leave Thailand, skirmishes broke out on the Thai-Cambodia border over the possession of a Buddhist monastery sitting on a few acres of land.
This was not sanctioned by our agenda, and we were a little disappointed they didn’t send us a memo beforehand.
So we changed our plans — and went clockwise.
But before we did, we had an extra few days to while away in Bangkok, which amounted to eating street food (mostly $1 soup) that was so damn good it angered me, walking around Khao San Road ignoring salespeople then escaping to a cafe, drinking coffee and reading until the promise of night fell darkly on the horizon. We’d pack up our netbook, drain the third cup of coffee and be on our way to drop off our stuff and find what we dubbed the “fire bar”.
The bar was a van named Gypsy Lips, parked against the wall of a back-alley, and as night fell they would throw a little corrugated sheet of metal on the ground and build a small fire on it. Around the fire were stools and chairs and random piles of scraps to feed the flames, as well as an ever-changing lineup of interesting people.
One guy from the US was going to a four-week cooking school, and his Chinese wife would show up later most nights and never say a word. Both of them were heavily tattooed, with flocks of black birds lining their arms and torso. He hoped to start a Thai restaurant in Hong Kong.
Another girl was from Estonia. She had moved to Finland to become a citizen and collect unemployment checks to fund her travels. She had started her trip with her boyfriend, but they split ways soon after they failed the “Great Relationship Stress Test” that is travel. Now she was bouncing around from place to place, and was eventually going to have to meet up with her ex-boyfriend because they had purchased their round-trip tickets together.
The Thai guys that ran the bar were nearly indistinguishable from its patrons, and would float around the fire stoking the conversations, keeping everyone well-fueled with Chang.
Beside our favorite night spot, here are some photos from our wanderings.