The Smell of Sukhumvit
A mixture of rotting rubbish strewn across dirty roads; of potent exhaust fumes from thousands of glimmering pink and orange taxis reluctant to stop for a white face; of uncooked meat slowing rotting on the vendor’s trolley under the evening heat. This was the delightful smell of Sukhumvit, Bangkok. The proportion of people walking around the city with strange surgical masks looped around their ears to cover their faces was starting to make complete sense now.
Sinead and I turned right down the alleyway that led to our hostel. Tears sprang to my eyes as the unknown and unwelcome vapours still managed to invade my nose despite desperate attempts to not breath. It seemed that nothing would banish the horrendous stench. More street vendors were now setting out their miniature plastic table and chair restaurants, ready for the onslaught of ravenous carnivores barking out orders of Tom Yam and Khow Pad Gai amongst other exotic sounding delights.
‘Shall we get some food then?’ Sinead asked, stopping at one of the makeshift restaurants.
Apparently the smell hadn’t deterred her hunger. Or set off alarm bells that the meat on the trolley had been sitting out there for the entire day…plus yesterday. It didn’t seem to bother her that the thing on a stick that bore very little resemblance to chicken was indeed a fried rat. And had she not seen the little fat ladies sat on the roadside washing dishes in what looked like vats of congealed fat…proceeding to stack the plates next to an open drain where a family of cockroaches had conveniently decided to take up home?!
‘I guess we may as well get used to eating in these places’ I reluctantly agreed.
After pointing at several food items displayed on the kitchen on wheels, followed with smiles and nods and an attempt to pronounce the word for ‘vegetables’ in Thai we sat down to take our plastic seats at the side of the road. 10 short seconds later our food was already in front of us, along with large stainless steel mugs of water, which I hoped hadn’t come from where the ladies were doing their washing up!
We tucked into our first roadside noodle dish; large greasy looking worm-like noodles complete with anaemic shreds of what was perhaps chicken. Mopeds zoomed inches from our meals leaving a lovely added topping of grime and pollution. We suffered for at least a week following this bad decision. It was my first and last noodle dish in my 7 months in Thailand. And so began my love of rice out of necessity.