Cultivating wonder on a city curb

Khao San Road

Khao San Road (Bangkok, Thailand)

There are many places in the world where I’d happily sit, at two o’clock in the morning, on a dirty curb, watching urban nightlife take its course. One such place is Thailand’s Khao San Road.

Khao San (sometimes spelled Khao Sarn) is a 500-meter stretch of asphalt tucked away in Bangkok’s Banglamphu neighborhood. Except for the occasional tuktuk or delivery truck, it is a pedestrian thoroughfare, a veritable United Nations of a street paced by representatives of all six inhabited continents—but with dreadlocks and tank tops instead of suits and briefcases, as well as several tattoo shops. Khao San is also bookended by the sacred and the secular. By this I mean that on the eastern end of the road stands Burger King, on the western end a Buddhist temple complex.

One of the things I miss about childhood is simply the view. I’m 6’1” now, but once I was three feet tall and so I looked up on the world as much as I looked out on it. From the curb at Khao San, eye level once again with people’s thighs, things look different. I’ll sit on the curb at 10 p.m, midnight, or maybe even 4:00 a.m. Sometimes I’ll just sit, sometimes I’ll eat as well—a cone from McDonald’s, a chocolate milk or beer from 7-Eleven, a plate of pad thai from a street vendor. Sometimes a stranger will join me on the curb and we’ll talk about life. Usually I’ll sit alone though, and I’ll think things like, I’m on the far side of the world and I’m in the middle of the night, and the world is fascinating.

I’m aware that some readers will be aghast that I like Khao San Road. That’s alright. My point here isn’t that raucous Khao San, that dense Calcutta of backpackers and locals, is the epitome of travel. Rather it is that here, in this chaotic, amazing mess, there is a curb upon which one can rest his or her backside, and that there is value in such a curb, for by sitting on it we not only become still but are given the stature of a child. And these two things—stillness and childlikeness—are often key ingredients to wonder.

Posted by | Comments (6)  | October 29, 2009
Category: Images from the road

6 Responses to “Cultivating wonder on a city curb”

  1. Richard Says:

    Oh the memories. It’s true though – in all my travels since, i’ve never found as mixed, bohemian a place on earth as that street.

  2. Rod Smith Says:

    Those last two sentences are awesome. I’ve often thought sitting on curbs is the best form of entertainment and enlightenment on the planet. I loved doing it as a little kid, and I love doing it now. Great post.

  3. Nancy Says:

    Beautiful reflections and writing style. The last two lines are enlightened. Love it!

  4. James Clark Says:

    It’s easy to deride the Khao San Rd but I’m sure we’d miss it if it wasn’t there.

    The last time I was there I was sitting on the kerb having a plate of Pad Thai and a retired school teacher from Australia sat next to me. She began telling me how she spends 2 months a year volunteering in the North. It was an inspiring story that still makes me smile when I think about it.

  5. Says:

    Thanks for the reminder about “stillness and childlikeness.” We forget about these and become engrossed with the “hustle” of life. There’s nothing like sitting on a curb and observing what is going on around you. Take it all in and make a memory…

  6. Brett Says:

    Really like the combination of two of the most powerful elements of travel: Sensory overload and still reflection. Going way out, collecting within. Either alone is profound…great that you put them *together* to explore the effects of the combination.

    Serious alchemy…