Monday 23 April 2012

The Overstay, Bangkok (reprise)

When you go to Bangkok for relaxation, you know you're in trouble.

Previously, I've been damning of Thailand's infamous capital. Damning of its hellish smog, its nerve-shredding crowds. It constantly has one hand fingering your wallet and the other fingering your genitals. But after Laos taking open season on our sanity, we need some snuggly, crusty familiarity. And so we head straight for our hostel/safehouse of choice: The Overstay.

You can find The Overstay in Pinkau, a safe distance from the garish backpacker prison of Kho San Road (which does has its plus points, but like fuck am I staying there). As far as I'm aware, there is nothing for the average backpacker experience around here, and therefore very few English speakers. As such, The Overstay - for those who don't do their research - attracts mainly because of its cheapness. Therefore, it is the recipient of mixed reviews. The negative ones are, I think, mainly from individuals who have been lured by the low price, and repelled by its apparently ramshackle nature. If you crave designed, formulaic comfort, I'd recommend you snuffle for your truffles elsewhere. On the other hand, if you seek a challenge, something beyond the passive consumer culture so many hostels enforce, The Overstay may be for you.

As we stagger like thrashed chimps into the bar area, we are immediately heartened by the dimly lit, familiar faces supping from cans of beer and the thick layer of cigarette smoke hanging from the ceiling. We meet people from our previous misadventures, as well as wonderful new folk. We crack open beverages and raise a toast to our repair. If Cheers was set in a squat, and was run and frequented by crusties, drunks, travellers, anarchists, and clean cut English language teachers, it would be like this.

The Overstay has no agenda in the regular sense of the word. It is a place for creative freedom, and it encourages you meld into its environment. It is, sometimes literally, what you make of it. Sasha - excellent photographer, handsome barman and all round fine gentlemen - wanted to put on an exhibition of his work on the first floor (that's first floor in the weird British sense of floor numbering. Second floor to everyone else). Mr. Furious, myself and a gaggle of other diligent delinquents set about helping him. The squat skills come in handy here. With a tight deadline of two days and hammers, nails, fabric, paint, wood and combined imaginations at our disposal, we do this not for money, not for glory, but simply because these things matter. The exhibition is a success, and I'm proud to know and work with such passionate people.

We also chip in to help set up an S&M-themed party, complete with whips, candles and a St. Andrew's cross. The whole night vibrates as boundaries were pushed and new worlds discovered. There is a huge emphasis in S&M on mutual respect, playfulness and creativity - and these are exactly the qualities The Overstay requires of you. The party marches relentlessly into the morning, battering the dawn down with a fun-filled fist.

It is a place where you can get involved as little or as much you like, but regardless, you should be prepared to let things flow naturally. Chilled evenings can erupt into near-raves. You may find yourself suddenly running the bar. The variety of people The Overstay attracts is astounding. You will have lengthy conversations with the outcast, the wonderful, the sexy, the hilarious, the vibrant, the lonely, the unnamed. Having lost so much personal control in Laos, I realise the significance of places like this. For people whose grip has slipped, a space like this is a haven.

Mr. Furious and I stay there for nearly two weeks before we realise, in the fashion of the hostel's namesake, that we shall be overstaying very soon. It is with humming brains and heavy hearts we bid goodbye to an unshakeable experience. I don't want to start mentioning names as I fear forgetting someone, but there are individuals I meet at The Overstay who, if we don't remain in touch, will certainly remain very beautiful memories.

If or when the world comes crumbling around our ankles, we'll need to honestly connect with each other. But why wait around for Armageddon when prepping for it is so much fun?

To find out more about The Overstay, go to

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