Returning to Thailand after five years was an exciting prospect. As we got closer to our departure, I started to reminisce about all the small details that made our previous visits so magical; the welcoming Thai greeting “Sawasdee kap” and the delight the Thais show when you make the effort to learn the correct replies and other basic phrases, the streets filled with solo vendors hawking a vast range of exotic treats that fill the senses with their smells, vibrancy and colour, and the ever-relaxing state of zen you find by the side of the sea with the gentle crash of the waves and the breeze offsetting the heat and humidity.
Our flight arrived in Bangkok late morning and by the time we cleared customs the sun was high in the sky. We caught the train from the airport and sat back to watch the city approach. Smaller domiciles in amongst free-roaming livestock gave way to a modern suburbia of clean-cut condominiums for the burgeoning middle-class, which then in turn morphed into the city as we knew it – large blocks of apartments, wide freeways and towering skyscrapers that ranged from art deco inspired design through to ultra-modern shards of glass which jutted out from the bedrock like monolithic crystal towers.
Soon the train came to a halt at Makkasen station and we disembarked into the underground metro which soon whisked us to an area of the city we had not seen before: Sala Daeng. Previously, we had stayed in a more upmarket area of Bangkok called Silom which sat on the edge of the financial part of the city. Sala Daeng was a little further out and much more local. People lived in this part of town and although it catered to tourists, you could really see the Thais go about their lives.
Our hotel was called Cloud on Sala Daeng and was owned by a half-Chinese, half-Thai lady. The building and decor were Chinese inspired, and our bed was on a raised wooden block which I found quite novel.
Once we had dropped our bags, we set out in search of food. We found a nice looking restaurant with AC – It takes a while to settle into the Asian heat – and ordered up some Pad Thai with sides of satay and summer rolls. The food was amazing but we totally ordered too much. We finished our first night waddling back to the hotel full of noodles and in a state of disbelief that we had actually made it out here again.
The next day we took a walk over to the Sky Train. This overhead monorail links up with the metro to take you pretty much anywhere you want to go in Bangkok. Clean, quiet and fast, the monorail offers fantastic views of the city as you rocket from point to point. The train and malls occupy the higher ground, and feel modern and futuristic, and then in contrast you descend down to street level where you have the food karts, tuk-tuks, and raw energy and grime of the city life. There is always this weird duality to Thailand. The temples that drip with gold and jewels, the shopping malls that rise into the sky and impress with their modernity and opulence, and then on the other hand you have the dirty side streets and the seediness of the go-go bars that can be seen amongst the lanes heading away from the night markets.
We headed out to the shopping district and took a wander through the massive malls. Thousands of traders line the hallways in the more local mall, selling clothes and electronics, furniture and apparel. We took a look at Paragon which is the most touristy mall and arrived in a hall filled with Aston Martin and Lamborghini cars. Around the corner was a toy shop filled with Japanese robots!
After this we decided to get a coffee and found a dog cafe in the neighbourhood. Nicole was instantly taken and so we ordered up coffee and cake and sat amongst the cleanest dogs I’d ever seen. They had a beagle, a Samoyed, corgis, a mini collie and a French bulldog. Hidden down the side of the sofa was a tiny Chihuahua! The dogs were all treated kindly by the staff and revelled in the attention that the customers gave them. There were quite a few customers coming in with their kids, presumably unable to have pets of their own.
The next day we took a stroll through Lumpini park which was close to our hotel. The last time we were in Thailand, Bangkok was in the midst of a military coup and there were mass protests in the street. Large coordinated demonstrations were taking place in Lumpini park and we couldn’t get anywhere near it at the time without the police turning us away. This time round the park was open and full of runners doing circuits around the lake, then they would get to the middle of the park where they joined a mass of people dancing in front of the Thai version of Mr Motivator.
That night we took a stroll down to the night market and traversed the stalls for bargains, honing our negotiating skills. The Thais mostly start at 200% of real value, so you have to barter to get a fair price. Still it’s a game I enjoy, and Nicole and I had a pretty theatrical bartering session going on as we beat down the price on a pair of fake Ray Ban sunglasses.