Having known before leaving home that Jamie and I would be spending New Year’s Eve in Southeast Asia, Bangkok wasn’t exactly at the top of my list of places we’d be likely to bring in 2014. I had imagined us counting down to midnight while packed on to a beach, sipping buckets, with 30,000 other travelers on a notorious party island like Koh Phangan. However, after leaving our Christmas/New Year’s plans open until the absolute last minute, it became quickly apparent as soon as we began to try and look for accommodations at the end of November that our options were limited. Scrounging through Hostelworld, TripAdvisor, Booking.com, and every other hotel-booking-related website we could think of got us nowhere, which makes sense. Thailand isn’t exactly a newly discovered holiday destination. In 2013 alone, Thailand brought in 26.5 million visitors. In other words, the fact that I thought we’d be able to waltz in to a hostel on one of the southern islands and book a half-decent room upon arrival was stupid. Really stupid. However, there was one city that kept cropping up on our search with countless hotels and hostels showing availability for New Year’s Eve: Bangkok.
We had visited Bangkok for a couple of days before taking off for Northern Thailand and Laos and knew that we’d be returning for at least a night or two to meet Jamie’s parents upon their arrival at the tail end of December. On our first visit, we grabbed a room on the hedonistic Khao San Road in Bakgok’s old district, a tourist haven, and proceeded to get absolutely obliterated night after night. Buckets, scorpions, muscle shirts, pad thai, tuk-tuks and devastating hangovers were the ingredients to the holy-shit-where-am-I main course that was served up on our first time in Bangkok. The more we partied here, the more apparent it became that spending New Year’s Eve in Bangkok wouldn’t be so bad after all.
New Year’s Eve has always been a big thing for me, and always will be. Reason being is that my birthday is New Year’s Day. So, every year when people all over the world are counting down to midnight to ring in the New Year, I’m counting down to being another year older. Honestly, it’s always been kind of a weird day to celebrate my birthday. I’m not an idiot and I realize that New Year’s Eve has simply been “New Year’s Eve” to most people throughout their entire lives. It has not been, nor will it likely ever be, the night before Kyle’s birthday first and foremost for just about anyone. Unless of course you’re me or my mother. Since she has yet to master the art of turning on a computer, I will safely assume that if you are reading this then you’re likely in the category of “not-my-mother.” Thus, you know New Year’s Eve as New Year’s Eve. I get that.
The good thing about this is that there is not a single person that I know who isn’t down for a good party on the night before my birthday. Really, there are no excuses, as New Year’s Day is a holiday and no one has to worry about getting to work or school on time, or generally being responsible for anything other than resisting the urge to puke. What this does mean though, is that everyone (including myself) will be mumbling, stumbling, and drooling (not necessarily in that order) zombies throughout the entirety of my actual birthday. I think it’s fair to say that every year, my birthday is the day on which people across the globe – more so than any other day in the year – feel like a bag of ass. As a result, I think that this has developed in me a kind of strange obsession to have an absolutely epic New Year’s Eve every single year and pretend that I’m celebrating my birthday simultaneously. In fact, since I’ve turned 18 (the legal drinking age in Alberta), I’ve come to associate New Year’s Eve with my birthday more so than my actual birthday. (However, I have to say that this year my actual birthday was especially fan-f**king-tastic thanks to Jamie, a few of my best friends from home, and my family who all worked on putting together a “Happy Birthday” video that I got to woke up to on New Year’s Day. If you’re reading this and you were involved, I’ve already thanked you, but thanks again! And of course, thank you to Jamie whose idea the video it was… easily one of the best birthday gifts I’ve ever received!)
As mentioned previously, I had developed the image in my mind for many months of essentially celebrating my birthday while partying my ass off on a beach in Thailand. As it became quite clear that there was absolutely 0% possibility of this happening, I was banking on Bangkok to deliver. On the morning of New Year’s Eve, Jamie and I decided to go for a stroll along Khao San Road and scout out the scene for what was to come by the end of the night. At approximately 11:00am, we were overwhelmed by thumping music and a massive stage complemented by a huge light display. Wires were criss-crossing everywhere and what seemed like hundreds of technicians were fiddling with sound equipment, countdown clocks, spotlights, and police officers were cordoning off the street for the coming festivities. At this point, I knew that New Year’s Eve in Bangkok would be one to remember.
A typical scene on Khao San Road goes something like this: a tuk-tuk driver almost bowls you over, causing you and 20-30 other tourists in your 10m radius to scramble out of his way. The place is packed with backpackers of all ages, shoulder to shoulder, every single one of whom is constantly harassed by salesmen vying for attention. East Indian tailors will abruptly dart in to your path with hundreds of pictures of suits that you can buy, all “custom made” and dirt cheap. Once you’ve managed to get by the suit salesmen, a man approaches you making a smacking noise with his lips and asking, “ping pong?” He is trying to lure you in to hopping in his tuk-tuk where he’ll whisk you off to see an infamous ping-pong show, which I’ll refrain from describing here (you can google the definition if you’re curious). Having managed to escape the creepy and aggressive ping-pong guys, an elderly Thai woman approaches you carrying a tray full of scorpions on a stick or rubbing a little wooden mallet on a toy frog with ridges on its back (the noise simulates the croak of a frog – a sales tactic that proved to be Jamie’s biggest pet peeve throughout the entirety of our trip so far). Walk past this woman and you will come across dozens of street stalls, all selling the cheapest and tastiest pad thai you can possibly get your hands on. Watch out though, as your pad thai might just come with a few toppings you didn’t request. These street vendors also cook up fried bugs and they can easily be mixed in to the pad thai by accident. On one occasion, I happened to find a nice, crunchy maggot in my noodles.
Massage parlors with about twenty chairs laid out on the street offer tourists a foot massage for as little as $3-$5 for half an hour. This would be a relaxing experience if it wasn’t for the bar located next door, selling buckets of alcohol for about $7-9 each and blasting top 40 out in to the street. The music is just loud enough to drown out the beats thumping from the competing bar selling beer towers for $5-7 across the street. If you should happen to need any clothing, for any reason, there are sweaters, t-shirts, muscle shirts, shoes, shorts, and traveling pants sold in little stores at twenty foot intervals all along Khao San Road. Just as prevalent are smoothy stalls, which Jamie and I frequented on a daily basis, usually in the morning as a mixed fruit smoothy proved to be the perfect hangover cure.
Hopefully this description has painted a vivid image of total and utter chaos in your mind, because that’s exactly what it feels like to walk through this manic tourist hot-spot. On New Year’s Eve, all of this was amplified to the millionth degree. More tourists, more salesmen, more alcohol, and more music all added up to an impossibly rowdy party where people from all ages and nationalities, including many local Thais, were having the time of their life. The place was absolutely off the wall. The fact that we spent the night with Jamie’s parents was an added bonus, and quite honestly, they likely pushed us to party a bit harder than we normally would have as I’m pretty sure that they crave a good night out even more than we do. I wasn’t the only one to think so, as Jamie’s parents were receiving high fives left, right, and center from travelers in their twenties, all of whom couldn’t have been happier to see the two of them dancing the night away amidst the crowds swarming the area directly in front of the DJ’s set.
In our efforts to keep up with them, I joined in with a group of local Thai guys who were dancing (or more accurately, jumping) amidst the crowd while twirling their shirts overhead. I swiftly whisked my shirt off and began twirling it like I was a Canucks fan in honor of Roger Neilson. One of the Thai guys was so happy that I’d joined in, that he gave me the shirt off his back – or out of his hand in this case – and wouldn’t accept no for an answer. Of course, it’s also possible that he’d never seen skin as pasty as mine, and was so revolted that in desperation he gave me his own shirt so that I could cover up. For the sake of my ego, I’ll assume the former rather than the latter.
The final countdown culminated in a Thai woman taking the stage and shouting “KHAO SAN, KHAO SAN, KHAO SAN,” before the crowd took over and counted down with 10 seconds remaining on the clock. As soon as midnight hit, confetti began to fall and silly string was shot in all directions over the crowd. Fireworks were lit off and Thai lanterns slowly floated upwards in to the sky. With two or three hours of partying left in our systems, we consumed a few more buckets, visited a couple more bars, worked up the courage to eat a scorpion or two, and called it a night. By the time that we got back to our hostel, Jamie and my legs were absolutely covered in black dirt, the temporary souvenir from a truly fantastic New Year’s Eve. For anyone considering visiting Bangkok on New Year’s Eve in the future, I can assure you, despite whatever impossible expectations you may set for January 31 on a yearly basis, Khao San Road will not disappoint.