|August 21, 2011
So, the day had finally arrived. We’d had some leaving drinks last Friday with some people from work, despite me not feeling too well and we’d spent the week rushing around – getting stuff done at work, getting packed up at home and getting ready to leave! We’d got some gifts from work on Friday afternoon and went for a quick drink after work before heading home and moving a couple of boxes and suitcases to be stored with Maria, one of the girls from work. We were really reliant on people we worked with and were grateful to Maria for letting us store stuff but also Mike, who came over with his car to help us move it. After moving the stuff, we went for dinner with Maria, Mike, Mike’s girlfriend Hayley and Ryan. It was a nice relaxing evening and we all had a lot of fun and before we knew it, time had moved on and we had to get back – we still had more packing and laundry to do on the Saturday. Once we’d done the final packing on Saturday, we took the stuff around to Maria’s apartment and hung out with Ryan. It wasn’t a late night though as we still had a few things to tidy up and we also had to leave at 5am to get to the airport.
Our apartment is so warm that we in fact left half an hour earlier and hung out at the train station and were at the airport in plenty of time. We even had time for breakfast which for me was a ham sandwich and an energy drink and for Elizabeth was water. Our first stop was Bangkok but our first flight was only going to Dusseldorf. The annoying thing about the early start was that after about an hour of flying, we were in Dusseldorf and then had a 9 hour layover! Due to our travels last year we managed to achieve gold membership of American Airlines and so we thought we were try and get into the BA lounge. No-one was checking at the front desk so we went in and helped ourselves. When a lady did finally come and check on us she told us we weren’t supposed to be there but she let us stay anyway. Not only are the lounges quiet and comfortable but BA also provide free food and drinks, including alcoholic ones! Our stay was short-lived though as around 1.30pm, just after I’d had a free lunch and some wine, the lady told us we’d have to leave as her shift was ending soon and she didn’t want to get into trouble. Given we’d had almost 4 hours in the lounge we didn’t want to get her into trouble either and we left, joining the lower classes in the terminal! We strolled around the terminal before heading for our gate and hanging out for a while. As if the wait wasn’t long enough, our flight was delayed and we were forced to buy some focaccia breads for a snack!
August 22, 2011
Our overnight flight to Bangkok was not much fun. The Air Berlin plane was small and cramped and we were amazed to find that we didn’t have individual TVs for a 10 hour flight. To compound this, the stewardesses were rude and often woke us up and around 3am they repeatedly turned the cabin lights on and off and on and off while they sold duty free. Who the hell buys duty free goods from a German airline on the way to Thailand, a country known for cheap products and counterfeit goods?
After little sleep, we landed at Bangkok airport about 10.30am, and were greeted in the Land of Smiles by a very grumpy guard as we passed through immigration. Once we had our bags and were outside the hassles of the limo companies, we got into a taxi and were finally on our way to the hotel. Our driver liked money and kept mentioning good tip as well as suggesting we give him some foreign currency to add to his cab-ceiling collection. He didn’t have British pounds or Swiss francs, he told us; he still doesn’t. The cab we were in was bright purple although Elizabeth was more interested in all the pink ones! The highway leading from the airport was lines with gold Buddha statues and according to our driver, lots of things in the city were “same same” as others! I’d missed Thailand! We eventually checked in about midday, and lazed in our nice room and had a nap, before enjoying the hotel’s broken pool (we thought the water was a bit murky!) about 4pm. After a shower we headed for dinner. We were staying in the area around Sukhumvit Rd which is known for its street stalls, tiny alleyways (or sois) and massages where you get a little extra! After walking around for about half hour we found a Thai place which looked busy – we greedily tucked into vegetarian spring rolls, Thai fish cakes and two large green curries washed down with Chang and finished with fresh fruit. It was quite expensive comparatively for Thailand but we’d splashed out on three courses and the food was so, so good. Walking back, we saw lots of stalls selling tat, including lots of sex toys as well as the Big Daddy. Amazingly, Big Daddy was not a sex toy, but actually a calculator. By this time, darkness had fallen and it started to become a little more obvious which massage parlours were legit and which were not! Some of these “Beauty Parlours” have about 20 women sitting around outside and most of them are busy talking to each other, while the more attractive women go around asking white men if they want a massage or just a lady. It’s an interesting concept, but what do the not-so-attractive women sitting around get from it? Given prostitution is actually illegal here I assume their presence is used to make the property look legit, or possibly it even is. Partly.
August 23, 2011
We were in no rush to get up today but we made sure we were up in time for the breakfast buffet! Once we were fully loaded, we headed out and were going to visit one of the few places we missed last time around, Jim Thompson’s House. We tried to get a taxi first of all but the hotel wanted 200baht, the next taxi refused to use the meter and wanted 150baht and so we decided to give the Skytrain a go. This in fact turned out to be a good idea as the tickets were easy to buy, cheap and the trains were shaded and air-conditioned and clean! Even changing lines was easy. We hadn’t used the Skytrain last time as we were in a completely different part of the city and, even though we visited this area a couple of times, taxis and tuk-tuks were more convenient.
However, we didn’t come out of the Skytrain station the right way and we ended up getting a little lost, which is just wonderful in 90+F weather, high humidity and with little shade! We walked around the block and found an area with Thais eating, perched under the bridge, and so we ended up walking along river. It was quite nice although the water was dirty but when the river taxi went past it stirred up a lot of “stuff” in the water and it bloody stunk! Thankfully, the pain in our nostrils was not unrewarded as we soon found Jim Thompson’s house where we paid our fee and took the tour. Thompson was an American who lived in Thailand and is known as being a major part in the large silk trade that emerged here. He lived in Bangkok for a number of years, building an impressive collection of antiques and artworks, until his mysterious, unsolved disappearance in Malaysia. The house and gardens were really pretty and our tour guide was very good. There were lots of cool old Buddha statues, paintings, carvings tapestries and an amazing garden area, every bit as big as the house. The house was made up of 6 buildings which he had bought and joined together with a variety of walkways to enable him to move from room to room. The most “spooky” piece of artwork showed a horoscope for someone born in the year of the horse, which showed that something bad would happen when Thompson reached 61. Of course, he was 61 when he went missing and as I later discovered, I was born in the year of the horse which means I only have 28 years left to live… It was really nice strolling around the wooden buildings and the gardens and even the shop filled with pricey tourist offerings was pleasant. Elizabeth even bought herself a silk purse after some persuasion!
After the house we went walking around looking for some lunch. Stopping to look at our map, we were approached by a lady claiming to be a Thai “teacher” who asked if we wanted help and she said we should go to this certain area for good Thai food. She got us a tuk-tuk for 30 baht (which is about 1 dollar) and told him where to take us. I knew this was going to be some kind of bad deal and I was immediately suspicious. He dropped us off at a place which did mostly seafood and where the dishes were 300baht each, about $10, which is more than twice what they would be anywhere else. We just walked straight out and went to a place around the corner which advertised “goodness and cheapness”! I hope the driver got his commission anyway because the restaurant didn’t get a penny from us! At the Sawasdee Restaurant the good and cheap food consisted of a papaya salad for Elizabeth and Pad Thai for me. The total for lunch, with 2 drinks, was 350 baht… only 50 more than a single meal at the other place. On the plus side, the tuk-tuk to get here was cheaper than we could have negotiated ourselves! Also, the “teacher” had told us the restaurant area was nowhere near a Skytrain station but it was actually right outside and we were able to jump on a train back and so in many ways she’d helped us get a cheap tuk-tuk ride, a cheap lunch and had got us back to our hotel in the nice air-conditioned comfort of the Skytrain!
Back at the hotel we both had a sleep, the time zone changes and the lack of sleep and stress from our past week or so in Zurich finally being rewarded with a comfortable bed and some peace and quiet. Again we woke up mid-afternoon and went for a swim, this time in a cleaner pool, where we chatted to a guy from NZ who we eventually met downstairs in the bar for a happy hour drink or four. He was saying he was finding the city really weird being on his own. His wife and daughter were in Cambodia and he’d decided to come here for a couple of days before heading to Auckland. He hated the feeling of being approached constantly, with every “masseuse” assuming that all single Western men wanted one of two things – a happy ending from a Thai woman or a happy ending from a lady boy! Elizabeth and I had never experienced that as the women never approach or grab at us as we walk around in a couple and it was something we were both grateful for. In the evening, we headed out to Kao San Road having successfully negotiated another driver trying to rip us off. Kao San Road is apparently “very far” and “at least 300 baht”. I told the guy to use the meter and he shrugged and said it would take an hour and be more. Of course, it wasn’t either, as around half an hour and 160 baht later we arrived at Kao San! We had another excellent green curry and washed it down with a few more drinks. Things change so fast here – the Kao San road we experienced 18 months ago was more bars and more happy hour offerings and more competition. Here and now, the majority was tacky street stalls but we were pleased to find the bar we’d been to before still standing! By the time we were ready to leave, the place was still buzzing and busy but we hopped in a tuk-tuk for an exciting ride back. The first driver had said 400 baht, I’d said 200. The second one said 300, I’d said 200. The third one said 200 and we followed him and his dinner to his three-wheeled death trap! Riding in a tuk-tuk is actually quite fun, especially when it is hot as you have the open air cooling you off as you zip through the traffic. Our driver was having fun racing some other tourists although he seemed to slow a little after one of the blokes in the other one mooned at us! He was trying to persuade us to go to a girly show, even as he dropped us off, but at the end I told him I had my own show and he just laughed and said “same same”!
August 24, 2011
As expected, we woke up with hangovers and neither of us, particularly me, felt like doing much. We found our way down for breakfast but that didn’t make me feel much better and we headed back to bed. By the time I woke up it was almost lunchtime and I now actually felt hungry so we headed downstairs to the hotel restaurant to try their lunchtime special, which included yet another green curry. This one was equally as good as the others and along with a starter and some fruit was enough to make me ready for an afternoon nap! We’d spent a weekend in Bangkok before and, as bad as it sounds, I just wasn’t bothered about heading out in the heat and humidity with a hangover and making myself feel worse. Also, we’d spent a week here temple-hopping last time around, we had an early start tomorrow morning and I wanted to be fit and well for diving in Bali at the end of the week. The afternoon included completing some travel journal, watching some TV and generally doing very little.
In the evening, we finally ventured out of the hotel and found a Middle Eastern restaurant for dinner, deciding that a 4th green curry in three days would be excessive! Elizabeth had a falafel wrap and I had a potato and chicken dish in a spicy tomato sauce with the biggest pile of naan I’d ever seen! We went back fully loaded and ready for, you guessed it, more sleep!