Coming to Bangkok for the second time is like déjà vu, unsettlingly familiar.
I lost a whole day when we arrived. A whole day, half a rotation of the earth, gone. After three flights and almost 24 hours of travelling I collapsed into bed at 1.30am and when I slept, I slept for fourteen hours. At some point in the tumbling mess of my dreams, Mrs Ning, the lady who runs the apartment we’re staying in, came into the bedroom to wake me. She pulled back the covers and tried to drag me out of the bed by my leg, telling me that the pool was closing for the day and I had to get up.
I woke so hungry I felt raw, like my internal organs had been kicking and punching each other while I slept. I never make the mistake of trusting my dreams to exist only in my head so looked for signs that Mrs Ning has been in the room. We dressed in the dark and navigated the screaming, lawless streets of Soi 4, Sukhumvit Rd looking for a place to eat. I had booked the hotel, unsupervised, and had no idea Soi 4 was notorious for being one of the sleaziest, trashiest streets in Bangkok. The only place more hedonistic is the area around Patpong Market, the place we stayed last time; I must have a sixth sense for debauchery.
Everywhere you look beautiful, young Thai bodies are for sale and prospective buyers, fat, middle aged white men are surveying the goods. We think about having a drink in one of the well-known hostess bars, Hilary’s or the Sports Bar, for the craic or the novelty, but it feels all wrong and we choose against it. I feel the luxury of having a choice about whether I step through those doors.
You can hear snippets of conversation between unlikely pairings as you walk past and the thing I notice, the saddest thing, is the way the men drone on about their lives, their work, their families and the men and women they’re paying to be in their company make all the right noises so that you’d almost believe they were interested. You’d almost believe they cared. Almost.
We ate at a restaurant we knew from last time, a place known as Nana’s House. Even though I know I’m not going to find chicken soup for the soul at the bottom of an overpriced bowl of Thai red curry, the name of the place and the fact that it’s in the same place we left it is strangely comforting. After we’ve eaten I shuffle back to our apartment where I go straight back to bed with the air-conditioner set to freezer aisle. I can hear birds screeching and dogs howling outside, first one starts and then they all join in in one painful, mysterious chorus. He’s watching a film in the other room, too loud as always, on an ancient tube TV that is hooked up to a top-notch satellite package; Bangkok all over.
The bright white thrill of the brand new has faded this time, into the warm glow of the recognisable and I feel a stillness, a calmness, like an opiate embrace, settle over me. I drifted back off to a semi-conscious place I hadn’t fully left, having proven to myself yet again that it doesn’t matter where in the world you go, there you’ll be, exactly the same.