Six months ago AirAsia had a huge sale and I managed to score some return tickets to Bangkok for the paltry sum of $58 return. I spent a few dollars more and upgraded to the chicken-focaccia inclusion and the timing was perfect as we had just celebrated our wedding anniversary. On the back of reviews on the web I booked rooms at the Bihmin Inn for 1300bht per night inc of breakfast ( all prices quoted in these posts are USD$1 = BHT33 ) and having never flown before, or indeed been out of Cambodia, Leakhana soon started counting the days down. We engaged the services of my mother-in-law as trusted baby sitter for our little Grace and were soon heading out to Ponchentong with a very small bag. The plan was to fill an even larger one in the malls and markets of Bangkok ! On arrival at the airport we ran in to Paul, Chris and Darren who were all off to Bangkok on business and we sat down together in the Angkor Arms for a pint and a chat. Soon enough we heard the “Last call for flight FD3515 to Bangkok !” and we realised we had completely missed seeing 200 people get on the plane right in front of us ! How this happened is beyond me but we bolted for the plane and took our seats.
By now Leakhana is very excited and her first question cracked me up “Darling….where is the music ?” . I strapped her in and as the plane taxied out onto the runway she grabbed my hand tightly and her eyes were as wide as saucers in anticipation. As the stewardess went through her emergency procedures demonstration, I gave Leakhana my own version of what to do; “In the event we go down,put your head between your legs and kiss your arse goodbye……”. She failed to see the humour in that one. The take off gave her a thrill and for a moment I thought she was actually going to vomit as she groaned when her stomach took a bit of a turn as we headed skywards. Once we leveled out above the clouds she gave me another chuckle as she declared “I feel like an Angel !”. Well good for you sweetheart – you are an angel ! Our focaccias arrived and were scoffed and soon enough we were on the descent to Suvarnabhumi Airport.
With the obligatory paperwork in hand we headed for the customs counter and it was only really here that I was a bit nervous. Thai / Khmer relations being what they are I just hoped that I did not get the wrong Thai Customs agent on the wrong day but as it was there were no worries and we breezed through. Leakhana had finally christened her new passport and now she was like a little girl on the first day of school ready for action. We jumped in a hot pink taxi and it was here we encountered the one and only attempt at a minor scam in Thailand. The airport taxis are metered but the driver mentioned casually “oh Bihmin Inn/Phra Sumen Road very far – I think about 400BHT”. When we got to the hotel about an hour later the meter read 250bht so I gave the guy 300bht ( the meter fare + a tip of 50bht) and he said “no….you pay 400bht”. I said “no – the meter says 250bht…..I am paying 250bht !” He very quickly backed down and I assume his nonchalant comment about the 400bht was his attempt at setting a fare. I guess if he does it every trip he must get some suckers that pay. I also paid the toll fares so there was no way his request was legal. Pffffft !
The hotel greeted us around 8pm with a smile and a cold fruit juice and we made it to the 4th floor where are a very nice,clean room awaited us. Wasting not time, we showered and got changed and headed out into the night. I had chosen this hotel for the sole reason that it is near Kao Sahn road and I don’t care what any of my readers think – I love KSR ! I usually always stay at Shambara Inn which is in a quiet Soi just off the Burger King end of KSR but this time it was fully booked ( in fact it is very hard to get a room most times ). For me, KSR ( and by this I mean not just the strip itself but the surrounding Sois as well ) is just an awesome place to shop, eat and watch the most amazing kaleidoscope of people possible. I cannot think of anywhere else in the world where there is such a concentration of people from every walk of life transiting through one place. Backpackers,flash-packers,hippies,Euro-trash,old,young,smart,dumb,drugged out,drunk,sober, trendy,tragic…the list goes on and on. It is a place where no one really takes a second (ok maybe a second but not a third ) glance at the strangest of sites. Leakhana soon learned the word “freak” as I alerted her to the random incoming sights with a casual and barely audible “freeeeeeeeeeak” under my breath.
It did not take us long before we found a nice little outdoor restaurant to have dinner at. The seafood and cold beers on display made it hard to go past and the prices were so cheap it was ludicrous. We had a tom yam soup, grille squid and noodles and a couple of beers each and it was about $6usd. After dinner we wandered around taking in the sights and I could tell Leakhana was in sensory overload. As we hit KSR a lot of memories came flooding back to me from my stopover stays there over the years and I took Leakhana to some of my favourite haunts including the restaurant /bar where I had a solo Christmas dinner 3 years earlier on my way over to Cambodia. We sat at a table upstairs and just took in the flow of humanity. I decided it would be a good idea to have a bucket or two of Vodka. You haven’t been to Thailand until you have had a bucket have you !? After the buckets, “jetlag”started to set in and we headed back for the hotel which was about a 15 minute walk from KSR. On the way back we found a very cool looking local bar full of young Thai bikers so we stopped in for a night cap and listened to a bit of live music.
Having slept like the dead, the following day ( Saturday ) it was time to get down and dirty with some serious retail therapy – the main reason for coming to BKK. Leakhana was up bright and early prodding me in the ribs “Lets go lets go ! ” and after a hearty brekky we jumped in a cab and headed for the upscale Emporium down near Sukhumvit. I really wanted Leakhana to experience The Body Shop but we had to wait a little while as were early and the malls don’t open until 10am. I did the exact same thing 3 years ago ! Anyways we took the opportunity to go for a stroll in the park next door and relax on a bench and take in the greenery which was very nice. People were out exercising and strolling around and I wished PP had the same parks available. 10am rolled around and in to Emporium we went. First stop was The Body Shop which proved disappointingly low on choice and high on price. Luckily there was a beauty/spa shop right next to it which sold some very nice stuff for women. Leakhana loved it and I managed to buy some things for Wendy.
After Emporium it was on to the sky train and over to my much beloved MBK. This is really the only place you need to go shopping in BKK. It has bloody everything and you can spend hours in there – god knows we did. We entered in the department store side of the building and after a bit of a wander around it was out into the main mall part where there are just thousands of shops. Most of them are selling the same stuff but its like having a hypnotist wave a pendant in front of you and say “YOU MUST SHOP>>>>YOU MUST SHOP “. Leakhana was enthralled by the shoe shops ( of course ! ) and I was giving it a fair old bash myself .I had to stop myself from buying a full metal gas-operated Glock 9mm replica handgun that fires ceramic pellets.At 6500bht I thought it would provide me with endless hours of cat,rat and feral dog hunting fun though was unsure how Cambodia customs would view it. Maybe next time ! I was easily outpacing Leakhana on the shopping front and when I quizzed her on why she was not really buying anything she told me she was just watching and observing and waiting for the right moment. We were soon hankering for some food and headed to the food plaza for some incredibly cheap and spicy noodles. By now I had “mall dementia” and really needed to get out into the fresh air.Laden down with shipping bags,I also resembled a pack horse by now so my back and feet were killing me and all I could think about was a massage.Anyone who has ever been to MBK will be familiar with the incredibly immaculate military uniformed doormen that stand to attention, click their impossibly polished heels and salute every shopper as they leave – truly a sight to behold.
Back to the hotel for a quick shower and off to the nearest Massage for a one hour Thai oil massage. I had fond memories of the amazing massages I got several years ago when I stayed at Shambara but unfortunately this one fell short. For a start a guy massaged me which was a bit weird and secondly he was not that strong. Still….better than nothing and much needed. After the massages we headed out for another on-the-soi dining experience and Leakhana again could not go past the Tom Yam soup. There is only one thing I find annoying about sitting in the street in BKK and that’s the bloody “frog women” that come around with those wooden frogs that croak as you stroke their backs. Jesus there must be 1000 of them operating in BKK. No sooner have you turned away one than there is another standing in front of you. I must learn “no I don’t want a bloody frog” in Thai for future visits. After some more shopping on KSR we headed home via, yes, one more bar for a night cap. The bars in BKK are just fantastic but more on that in part 2.
Sunday rolls around and after yet another amazing sleep we are firing on all cylinders. As I have never really seen anything of Bangkok I suggest to my wife that we jump on a ferry and head up the Chao Praya river and she is all for this so off we go. The nearest wharf is only 5 minutes walk away and we pay 25bht for a return ticket and then wait on the wharf with about 50 other eager tourists. When the boat arrives it docks and then the deck hand starts yelling what sounds like WAIT WAIT so people are a bit hesitant to get on. As the boat revs up and gets ready to leave we all laugh as we realise he is actually saying QUICK QUICK and what follows is a lemming like jump on to the boat. The Chao Praya is full of life and the boat boots along at a reasonable speed. We see plenty of luxury hotels and private riverside villas alongside slum like houses that stay afloat I don”t know how. People get on and off at will and we are soon at the end of the line so we jump off and as it is searingly hot out on the sun we jump on the return boat await the journey back to the hotel. Whilst we are waiting I notice some small boats drifting on the river and Inotice they are actually feeding oxygen via a small generator to a diver. I watch as this guy hauls up a huge piece of old timber that looks like it might have been the column from a house. He also has a basket on his back so I think these divers are actually the aquatic version of our Aychas herein Cambodia – recyclers ! Struth – what in insane job. Apart from the fact I have no idea how you could see anything at the bottom of the filthy river….the water quality alone would kill most living things !
After the trip up the river we were bloody exhausted and the plan was to hit Chaktachuk market we fueled up at a cafe across the road from the hotel. Here we had an interesting exchange with the owner. She approached Leakhana and started talking Thai to her ( this happened everywhere we went ) and when she learned Leakhana was Khmer she said “Oh great…please say hello to Hun Sen for me . I really like him because he is good friend of my Prime Minister !”. Leakhana showed extreme deftness by asking demurely “Which one?” and the owner replied with smile “Why….THAKSIN of course !” Very interesting ! After lunch we decided it was time for a cat nap. Several hours later we woke up and I told Leakhana I just could not face any more shopping or markets and instead wanted to just go and drink some beer and chill out in some random bars. This suited her fine so around 4pm we headed out into the sois behind KSR. Whilst Leakhana got a face massage and had her hair washed and blow dried, I sat in a very nice bar and watched the world go by. Several beers later I am glowing and so is Leakhana when she arrives. We decide to hit a curry restaurant we had sped the night before and this proved a gpood move becuase the food was amazing. The only downside was having to listen to the conversation going on between the English guy and his Thai girlfreind at the table next to us. By the sounds of things the guy was a lying,cheating,physically abusive bigamist. Oh well…..like I said, the curry was unreal. After dinner we hit the strip and it was now that Leakhana finally went to work on the shopping front. To see her haggle with the Thais was really something to behold and it made me realise there really is an art to it. On average she was paying half what they were asking. On a slightly sour note I had a run in with a bitch of a shop owner. As Leakhana perused the dresses out the front of the shop I went in and tried to bargain the owner down on a waterproof kayak pouch ( brilliant for the wet season here ). When we failed to come to an arrangement and I went to leave, she smugly said “oh so you pay for sexy girl but you not pay me for my bag ?”. I asked her to repeat what she had said and when she did, I turned around and as I left the shop I started pulling her stock of folded jeans etc of her shelves. FUCK HER. She followed me out of the shop with a string of invectives and when I showed her our wedding rings and told her “we are married you rude fuck” she looked a bit taken aback but nonetheless threatened me with her stool. Last seen huffing off in to her shop to pick up her strewn stock. Suck shit.
Leakhana was in full shopping made by now so I left her to it and went back to my favourite bar on KSR to sit and watch. In front of me were a group of around 10 guys all drinking beer like there was no tomorrow. As they all signed up for Henna arm tattoos ( non-permanent using Henna ink ), I go to talking with one of them and it turns out they were all in Bangkok for their mate’s wedding which was taking place in Koh Samui in a couple of days. All the girls were out on a hen’s night somewhere in Bangkok and the lads were having a blast. The tattoos ? Well most of them were getting the bride’s name but a few of them were getting custom inscriptions….
When Leakhana finished her shopping we took all her loot back to the hotel,got changed and then headed out into the night to tie one on for our last evening. Several years ago I had gone to a live music / sheesha bar called Vertigo just at then Police Station end of KSR and as I had a great time there I reasoned it was a good a place as any. It was now 11pm so I was not even sure it would be open because Bangkok has weird hours for buying beer ( between 5pm and 1am ), bars cl0sing ( most shut at 1pm ) etc. Luckily it was firing so we grabbed a nice seat, ordered up some beer and a sheesha and soon the band was belting out some great covers. Several beers later and we headed in to the night club for a bit of a boogie on the dance floor and around 3am after many many beers we stumbled out onto the street for some late night noodles.
Yesterday we awoke with fearsome hangovers and a much needed breakfast was devoured. We barely had time to pack our bags before check-out and soon enough we were bidding farewell to Bangkok and heading back to Phnom Penh but not before we both made one final purchase at the airport duty free. Armani after shave for me and MAC make up for Leakhana. All in all this was a fantastic weekend for us and the first time we have been away out of county together. We had an absolute ball and my wife makes the perfect travel partner. It was great to have some time together and I cannot wait until we do it again but it was certainly good to get home to little Grace who I don’t think even knew we were gone !