One night in Bangkok ...
... and the world's your oyster. (10 points for the first person able to place that line ;)
One curious thing I've found is that each country tends to have a distinctive scent, one immediately noticeable upon setting foot on its soil, one that's replayed again and again wherever one goes in different ways, like the musical theme in a jazz jam. I figured this was all in my mind until I was asked if I had noticed the "Beijing smell" -- and I have: Its base note is a faint trace of fear caught up in Peking Duck. Bangkok, on the other hand, is an exotic blend reflecting the market athmosphere that holds the entire city in its sway: Succulent fruits, dripping side-walk fried meats, exotic massage oils and the more mundane oils and gases of the tuk-tuks and taxis.
The place I'm staying is a tiny Australian guest-house tucked into the top floors of an internet cafe and pie baking place -- a random combination that reflects insightfully on business, Bangkok-style. The dorms are mixed and the wrought-iron bunks creaky beyond all comprehension, but the rooms are clean and airconditioned (a must during the almost perpetually hot and humid climate of this country) and rates quite reasonable, which is all I require. Above the hostel moves the Bangkok skytrain and the streets, even in this none-too-central part of town, are jam-packed with cars, buses and motorcycles throughout the night. A couple of streets down the road is an alley of brothels where young Thai women dressed in a variety of tourist-appealing costumes linger on the street, the glare of the neon lights from the clubs' suggestive signs ("Pussy Galore" ...) reflecting off the middle-aged white patrons' bald spots. The streets are lined with shacks and carts selling temple flowers, potent pharmaceuticals, shishkabob look-alikes, loquats, tailoring services and Thai massages for less than $5/hour. The stereo behind me is playing the Bangles' "Eternal Flame." In short, I'm staying in a typical Bangkok neighborhood.
As for the city beyond the 2-hour walking radius, I'll be able to say more tonight.