Wednesday, December 13, 2006

One night in Bangkok

Fascinating that I should know this is a song title, but have no other recollection about it. Turns out it ios a Frankie Goes to Hollywood song, with the chorus
One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble
Not much between despair and ecstasy
One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble
Can't be too careful with your company
I can feel the devil walking next to me

It really was not that bad. I had intended to spend no time at all there, just skip through as quickly as possible, particularly after the interminable bus journey north. The trains were departing and arriving at such eccentric times and the buses were leaving every half hour or so. What I did not know was that, being public buses, they'd be stopping at every bus stop, so long as they had room. My bus was never full, so for the entire 300+ km trip, we'd be stopping, picking someone up who wanted a ride for a kilometre or a hundred of them, then setting them down. Plus, we'd dawdle through towns trying to drum up business, with the driver tooting like mad, and the barker yelling out "Bangkok, Bangkok..."

So, the journey was something over six hours. At least the bus was comfy, very cheap, and had lots of vendors wandering on and off. Once in Bangkok, we zipped out to various suburbs before I was deposited at a random petrol station, somewhere near the southern bus station. At least, I assume that's where I was to get off, as everyone else did. I had no idea where I was, except that I was outside Bangkok's reputedly largest and best shopping mall (I bet they all say that) so dashed in for a restock on the donuts and orange juice. I had no idea how the local bus system worked, could see no sign of a railway line or the underground so, finally, grabbed a taxi. What fun that was - he had little English, I have no Thai beyond the basic food items, and I didn't think that asking him for a basil chicken on rice would help me. He wanted to take me to the airport, to Khao San Road and who knows where else. I had the Lonely Planet glossary - but instead of telling me how to say train station, it was more like "I wonder, kind sir, if you would be kind enough to give me proper directions so that I might find the train station." Try reading that lot out in Thai! Or picking out which words might mean train station. Thankfully, I thought to say "Chiang Mai". Equally thankfully, he didn't think the Thai equivalent of "fuck my days, what a fare." He was still insisting on the airport, but had now added the bus station to his suggestions. Me going "no bus, no plane" left him confused, to which I added by going "choo choo". I don't think saying Humphalong helped, as the actual place was called Hua Lomphong, but it was the best my memory could do for me after a long day on a bus and the sugar rush from the donuts. But his mind was working, and eventually he cracked the code, at which point he said he was from Chiang Mai himself, had been in Bangkok for a handful of periods of indeterminate length. His story sort of meandered out at that point, as a lot was being lost in translation.

Driving through Bangkok in the early dusk left me regretting I wasn't staying, because it looked very cool, lots of interesting eating houses. So I was quite pleased when there were no seats on any trains going north, unless I cared for 3rd class. Despite the train system having been reported to be completely full for the next week or so (I'd even asked a travel agent to book me a berth ten days ago, but they'd been unable to comply), I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could get a lower berth sleeper for the next evening.

That left me in Bangkok without a plan, with no guidebook, nothing. Sure, when I travelled away from home for the very first time 20 odd years ago, Bangkok was my first destination but that was little help to me this time - all I could remember was Khao San Road, and I didn't even know what direction it was in. Luckily the Bangkok Post came through for me: I'd read an article about the buffet dinner in the new Brasserie restaurant in the Silom Road Holiday Inn. They'd raved about it, so once I found a hotel (by standing outside the railway station and scanning the rooftops - hardly ever fails) I was off. The meal cost three times the price of my hotel, but I'd not eaten all day, and they had loads of tasty things to try (plus turkey, since Christmas is coming).

After a pretty much sleepless night (I was used to lots of motorbikes and tuktuks screaming past, but it was the several dogfights that made sleeping hard), I had a full day ahead of me, and I was a bit sick of shopping streets. So it was a bonus when I saw the skytrain went to the central pier - from where you can have day long access to the river boat system for 100 baht. And the last stop was near Khao San Road, so I thought I'd pop in and see what they'd done with the neighbourhood. Like a lot of young travellers coming to Bangkok for the first time, I'd stayed there, but didn't last long: 20 years ago, it was already a cliche. I found myself a nice clean chinese run hotel in the middle of Bangkok, away from the banana pancake and reggae set. These days, it is a theme park. There were always a lot of stalls catering to travellers, but the road is almost completely closed now. It also seems so much smaller than it did. And yet, travellers still come on to the Lonely Planet Thorntree every day, asking how quickly they can get there.

But my day in Bangkok was fun - there was some sort of rowing competition happening across the river, and Amnesty International was running a little event to celebrate World Dwarfs day (or something - I missed the critical middle word), and riding up and down the river was nice as well.


Anonymous james said...

Try Speakeasy-thai it is a phonetic phrase book that works. I recommend it to all your viewers who want to speak Thai. You can get it from

6:00 PM  
Anonymous Bangkok Hotels, Thailand said...

From my experience of Bangkok trip. I think that looking for accommodation around Sukhumvit are is the good idea because Sukhunvit is in the heart of the shopping district, both in terms of large department stores and the various stalls lining both sides of the road. The various side-streets provide a proliferation of nightlife venues. For the renowned and well-known spots, you will need to walk onwards past the Asok crossroads to Sukhumvit Soi 21 or Soi Cowboy. This area also offers a wide selection of cuisine to choose from, both in terms of air-conditioned high-end restaurants and open air restaurants offering quite reasonable prices.

7:47 PM  

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