“Are you traveling alone?” I hear at my right, and turn to see John, green tee and faded blonde hair, waiting for an answer.
I had arrived in the Big Mango a few hours earlier and was now walking Khao San Road – the backpacker hub of southeast Asia, if not the world – looking for something that would do justice to my New Year’s Eve.
So far, the street had been littered with couples looking into each others’ eyes, parents looking after their six year olds, and groups looking to have a good time together – no room for a stray like myself.
A stage at the end of the road with some entertainment provided a decent location but there was still two hours till midnight and I was hardly willing to stand around. I took my cue and headed deeper down Khao San Road. That’s when he found me.
“I’m from the couchsurfing group – have you heard of it?” John goes on to ask after I confirm my solo status.
I have, and know it’s exactly what I was looking for.
Within seconds I’m being introduced to couchsurfers from Turkey, Serbia, and Sri Lanka, as they all appear from behind me in train formation like in some sort of movie.
We head to the Shamrock Irish Pub where a group of about 20 CS’ers has already formed and set up on the stairs. We get scolded – something about a fire hazard? – numerous times but inevitably end up right where we were.
The dancing begins and by the third time each of Gangnam Style, Balada Boa and my favourite remix of Ai Se Eu Te Pego are played, almost everyone knows the lyrics. And the moves.
I have the privilege of meeting more people from Gdansk (!), Thailand, Germany, Laos, Scotland: all good, open people. My favorite conversation is, however, with the guy from Ohio (not the one in the Michigan shirt).
Me: Where’re you from?
Him: (Muffled by the loud music) The states.
Him: The States. (And then enunciates loudly) AMERICA.
A neighbor! I think. I wonder what state he’s from!
Me: Oh! So, where’re you from?
I should’ve been more specific.
Him: That’s where I’m from! A-MER-I-CA!
Me: Dude, I’m from Canada, I know what America is.
The two hours fly by and we head outside for the countdown.
Khao San is intense and there’s barely room to breathe, much less move. We catch on at about ’3, 2, 1′ and then it’s HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!! And madness ensues.
Fireworks go off, noise makers sound. There’s yelling, whoo-ing, singing, cheering, someone is flat out high-pitched screaming. It is deafening. And it is packed.
And it is perfection.
As for my first pad thai and the police? That’s easy. After another hour or so, one of the guys wants to grab food and since I hadn’t eaten anything since the plane, I invite myself along. He stops at a pad thai vendor.
Me: So what do we order?
Him: (Points to the array of noodles and fish and meat) That.
Me: What is it?
Him: It’s pad thai.
But I’ve had noodles, and egg, and meat before, and so have my first pad thai. In the meantime, he goes to buy us a sausage each from another lady and within seconds he’s yelling, “No!”, she’s yelling “Take it!”, and I’m going, huh?
And then she’s pushing him and he’s leading her and I’m following them both through the crowd, eating my pad thai.
Next thing I know, we’re at the police station.
I stay outside, all loyal puppy like (see? nothing to worry about) and within minutes he comes out with a complimentary bottled water like some show contestant and we head back to the Shamrock.
Like I said, a night to remember.