Sunday, March 23, 2008

23 Mar: Bangkok

So Bangkok. What a great town of electricity, chaos and amazingly friendly people. Amazing Thailand! Upon arriving last night I immediately noticed that this developing nation hasn't let the ability to grow ignore it's largest and grandest city. The first sign: Don Muang, the crumbling yet large hub airport has been replaced with a brand spanking new international one that is pretty flippin' nice. Grabbing my mass of bags I easily found a cab and zipped into the city center with hardly any traffic or difficulty making my hotel which as it turns out is the same exact hotel that I stayed at on my first trip to Thailand in '99.. now under a different
name and brand.

Some areas of the streets and city remain the same, but with impressive growth. For example, Siam Square has always been one of the larger places for shopping in the city, but when I hailed a cab to grab some quick food at the Hard Rock Cafe it took me quite some time to recognize streets that used to be fairly quiet and are now an array of neon, shops and 30' TV screens pointed down to the streets below while fans scream up at their favorite soccer teams playing away.

After dinner I headed to Patpong.. one of the more notorious areas of town which features something called a Night Market. Here, you can buy T-shirts, Thailand trinkets and a knock-off of just about anything you want. In '99 I picked up a fake-o Rolex that still keeps very good time even today. Last night, I looked at fake-o Rolexes that cost $50 and are so realistic that even if you handed me one I might not recognize it's fakeness. Sweep hand, weight, similar metals, etc. Want an IWC? How about a Breitling? If watches aren't your fare you can always find Ray-Bans or Polo shirts. I picked up a pair of lightweight Tasco expeditionary binos for
$12 and a camera tripod for $5.

While Patpong does have a good number of skeezy clubs right on the street, it also has one of my favorite "clean" night clubs in the whole of Bangkok (Radio City), which fortunately is still in business. While in '99 I might have thought this place was going to implode from disrepair, it probably hasn't seen one days' worth of maintenance other than some duct tape patchwork. And duct tape, as you may know can fix just about anything. The same lounge singers are still working the stage and put on a fantastic show even years later. One guy dressed up like a Thai Elvis comes on and packs the house with Ex-Pats, tourists and Thais alike.

Immediately following, a Thai Tom Jones does his act and makes you laugh just as much as make you impressed with how good his impression really is.

This morning I lazed around the hotel and I think that's when it hit me that I was staying at the exact same hotel that I stayed at years ago. I looked out the circular window and was like- "hey, I know another hotel that has that, how weird".

Finally getting going, I stepped outside and took the Sky Train- Bangkok's elevated subway down to the National Stadium exit for a little under a buck and dropped down to street level for a quick walk to Jim Thompson House. My buddy Chris took me here back in '99 when he was stationed in Bangkok and this was a little known destination not on any map. I clearly remember back then taking a cab, Chris jabbering away in Thai to the driver and us going to two different Jim Thompson stores before he finally called a buddy to get the street address. The Sky Train is a nice addition to relieve the burden on streets around here- what took us close to an hour then took me about 20 minutes today.

Jim Thompson was an OSS agent during WW II who decided he liked Thailand so much that he wanted to stay. As a businessman he saw the value in Thai silk and developed his own conglomerate of local artisans for export to the US. While doing that, he also collected about six Teakwood houses from as far away as Ayyuthia (Thailand's Ancient Capital about an hours drive up the Chao Praya River). Assembling these houses into one massive Teakwood structure he adorned the walls and gardens with paintings, metalwork and sculptures from the surrounding countries as he traveled the area. Today a true tourist destination they have added to the grounds and made it a sight to behold.

From there I walked down a mini river embankment to hop a water taxi to Pantip Plaza. This costs about 10 Baht- 40 odd cents. Other than trying to keep from breathing in the local murk water as it sprays around the boat, this is actually a really fun ride. Wind whipping by and blind deaf from an unmuffled engine 3' from your ear you crank down this 30' wide canal at a rate so fast that looking back you swear the wake is going to jump out of the canal and take out someone walking along the embankment.

Pantip Plaza is a 4-story indoor electronics bazaar where like Patpong you can find and/ or buy just about anything under the sun electronics-wise. I picked up a copy of Windows Office Professional, Student, Small Business, and Home on one CD for $5 and still think I got ripped off. Haji copies of recent releases are $2 and even standard equipment like battery packs for cameras, cameras themselves and laptops are cheaper here than anywhere I have seen.

Walking back to the sky train at the end of a relaxing day, I saw this restaurant which I wasn't too sad to see fairly empty.


Methinee said...

OMG!! I can't belive Radio City is still in business and Tom Jones is still playing. BKK never changes! I think they changed Delaney's name to Shannanigan's.

Happy Easter! Noke

emorn said...

update you folks...I went to Bangkok on early January, Radio city was gone. Shannaigan's had becomes
Marlyn Monroe (still in the business).