A bitter crunch and the claw shattered between my teeth. The soy sauce dip dried my tongue with salt as black shards slotted themselves in my throat. The leggy remains of a crispy grasshopper lay on the white plastic table in front of me, blackened from the grill and sprinkled with fishy brown salt. Neon vests stopped for a second, before flying down the street towards men promising ‘puck puck’ shows. Other men lured tourists into side alleys to parade their tailored suits or forged licenses. A singer rasped ‘Hotel California’ as an elderly man showcased his wares to uninterested diners.
It was our final night in Bangkok. We had so far avoided the trappings but curiosity got the better of us.
Slugging down some cheap Chang beer, we ventured down to the end of Khao San Road. The sunny yellow tarpaulins stretched over the tuk tuks were inviting, and we lazily bartered with a driver before entering its dark belly. As the engine kicked into life, fairy lights illuminated the inside and blurred themselves in colourful lines as we sped towards an unknown place.
When we arrived, the driver shooed us out before the next eager clients jumped in. The grotto on wheels sped away back into the night, leaving us in a barely lit alley filled with shining cockroach wings and oily pools on the ground. A door slammed open, and a few people stumbled out, blinking. The room inside was even darker than this. We ambled towards the door, not sure of what we’d find but keen to escape the alleyway.
A woman with a heavily painted face reached out to snatch more Baht than we were willing to part with, whilst simultaneously shoving us into the next room. Here, we were awarded with pale lager in plastic cups which tasted suspiciously unlike beer. Leaving them at the side, we settled into two gloomy seats in the corner.
The crowd, or rather the bar patrons, cheered as the next act arrived on stage. The woman was wearing underwear that didn’t match and seemed too small, and her hair was scraped back into a high ponytail. Her puckered thighs and stretched stomach pointed to children at home. She performed a daring and quite impressive act with a dart and balloons, but the audience did not get excited, or clap. The whole thing left a bad taste in everyones’ mouth – it was grotesque, not entertaining or liberating. She walked off stage, and the next girl quickly wiped the floor before the next act came up.
We left, feeling like we’d not only witnessed debauchery, but participated in it.