To call it stomach churning would prove to be a grand understatement. However, even after watching the sallow faces shuffle in and out, curiosity won the battle and I ventured inside Thailand's oldest hospital to check out Siriraj Medical Museum.
For the bargain price of only 40 baht, those who aren't squeamish can gain access to six separate sections - each with their own interesting exhibits. As for the winner of 'most grotesque,' it's a tie between Forensic Pathology and the creepy crawlies found within the Parasitology section.
I start out with tapeworms and flesh eating bacteria, opting to face the worst first (or so I thought). The first stop is a delightful public service announcement, which although dubbed in Thai is reminiscent of infomercials around the world. My fear laid to rest, I take note of foods known to contain harmful toxins and pat myself (prematurely) on the back for having such a strong stomach.
From across the room I spot what appears to be spaghetti. Having had fettuccine alfredo for lunch, a possible link between pasta and parasites worries me. Inching my way up to the exhibit, I rejoice in discovering that it's nothing close to linguine, but recoil upon discovering the truth - tapeworms. A painstaking recreation of a man's rectum, overflowing with enough infectious parasites to start a game called tug of war.
I manage to make it past the dismembered body parts floating in jars, but the winding corridor of dead fetuses is enough to make me shudder. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot a large group of students ogling a glass display in the corner. Resting his forehead on the stained glass, is the naked body of a dirty and decaying man. Unable to translate the small plaque, I ask one of the students for more information.
"Si Quey is a famous man, but not for good reason," says Ann, a first year law student at Bangkok University. "Over fifty years ago, he was executed for rape, murder and cannibalism." During his reign of terror on suburban Bangkok, he killed six children and ate their hearts and livers.
On my way out, I pass by a kiosk stall serving snacks and beverages. Not surprised at the lack of customers, I wonder if my appetite will ever return. Looking to stimulate the senses, I leave the hospital grounds and head for the throbbing heartbeat of this modern day metropolis - Silom Road. This is both the financial centre of the capital by day and a raucous party district after dark.
After dark this part of town becomes a veritable maze of food, with vendors setting up shop on the busy pavement in every direction. Giant woks splutter with oil and do little to conceal the dancing flames below. I hear the bell of an approaching food cart, but what I see shocks me. No, it's no ice-cream. Instead, it's a bountiful buffet of bugs, deep fried to perfection! Stir fried water beetles, locust kebabs and many more 'delightful delicacies' that are sure to make your skin crawl.
Although more expensive than street food, the restaurant is nothing if not a classy affair. The open courtyard plays host to traditional Thai musicians each evening after 7pm, while Christmas lights drape the trees and wax candles occupy a space on each table. While some of the condom creations such as table flowers are rudimentary and basic, others are elaborate and meticulous like the light features (pictured right).
While it's more than most backpackers would spend on an average meal, it's good knowing that a large portion of the bill is going towards helping people in need. The menu reflects the Isaan region of Thailand, which as the poorest region - is where most of the funds are directed.
Those who like it spicy are in for a treat, as Isaan is home to the almost mythical Papaya Salad (not for the faint of heart) where chilies aren't so much used as a spice, but as a main ingredient. I choose to keep my eyebrows in place and order a light and refreshing bowl of mushroom soup. As I smell the aroma of fresh coriander mingling with crushed lemongrass from a few tables over, my appetite returns with gusto. Dining without a date, I take full advantage of my anonymity and slurp down the fragrant broth in a flurry.
First-timers can be spotted laughing at condom chandeliers, but many more come back time after time for authentic regional cuisine. Like all good restaurants the food quickly takes centre stage, although the restaurant's choice of after dinner mint substitution almost always results in a giggle.