My best mate, Owen Howard, makes a trip over to Asia at least once a year to hang out in Singapore and then do a bit of a trek somewhere else in South-East Asia, something I always look forward to, just catching up on old times over a few beers and getting ourselves into weird situations. Last time we ended up kicking back in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for a few days, but on this occasion we’d be returning to one of Owen’s favourite haunts, Bangkok, Thailand for four nights.
Owen had spent the Christmas period in Christchurch, New Zealand as well as other locations in the general area with his girlfriend, Rochelle, and her family before flying back to Melbourne for one night and then making the flight over to Singapore, landing at about 5.00pm on New Year’s Eve. His first stop every time he comes over is Joo Chiat Beef King for some beef noodles in Tiong Bahru Market, right behind our apartment. The woman that runs the stall always recognises him and is happy to see him so that was dinner sorted.
We hadn’t made any plans for New Year’s Eve, but when you get to our age you’ve learnt to accept the fact that the night in general is usually somewhat of an anticlimax. Anna had plans to spend the night at a party that we probably wouldn’t enjoy, leaving the pair of us to our own devices. I don’t really like crowds and couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of trying to get a cab or Uber home, especially in the shitty torrential rain that was happening so we just went down to my usual hangout, Coq & Balls. Again, Owen has been there a ton of times and most of the staff and my friends know him. It was a fun night and quite busy, despite most of the regulars being overseas, but the absolute highlight had to be Owen throwing up mid-sentence while chatting to a group of people. He obviously knew how to handle this situation as he rotated his head from left to right while he vomited so as not to get any stuck in his beard, resembling a garden sprinkler as he pivoted. If noodles came out of a sprinkler, that is. Once his rotation was complete, he continued talking as if nothing had happened, much to the horror of those around him. By this stage it was bucketing down, but even the heavy rains couldn’t wash his puke from the footpath. A look back at New Year’s Eve:
We made our way home through the pouring rain, something that would haunt us over the following week in Singapore. The weather was mild the entire time he was here too, with some locals losing their minds over the strangely cool temperatures, but on the grand scheme of things, dipping to a low of 22°C (71.6°F) overnight still isn’t particularly cold, but it was amusing seeing people bust out scarves and puffer jackets as a means to deal with the below average temperatures.
The following few days were just spent recovering from New Year’s Eve, particularly on Monday, then catching the train and seeing this odd advertising campaign (left) en route to a mini pub crawl through Chinatown on Tuesday that saw us get caught in the rain at a pub where they let you spin a roulette wheel with every three beers to win a prize. Our server rigged it so we won the main prize, a burger and chips. Nice. When the rain stopped we moved on to Boat Quay and then Coq & Balls again. Wednesday was a harrowing ordeal at the Apple store in Orchard Road in order to get a new lead for Anna’s computer. Because I didn’t have an appointment to “diagnose” the issue, this involved me lining up and speaking to at least seven different people and me suggesting to them to let me just plug it in with a different lead and if it works, I would buy said lead. We were more than a little frustrated after it was finally sorted so we went to have a beer or two at a friend’s bar, Orchard3Sixty, before grabbing some dinner at Brewerks and then heading home. On Thursday we watched one of my favourite guilty pleasures, the legendary Vanilla Ice vehicle Cool as Ice, a film that was intended to be a reimagining of Marlon Brando’s 1953 hit The Wild One, but turned out so bad it scored a whopping 2.8/10 on IMDB and an impressively low 8% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Sure, Cool as Ice (below) has the outlaw motorcycle element of The Wild One, but that’s where the similarities end, with the butchered plot being interspersed with spontaneous outbreaks of dancing in random intervals one would expect to encounter from any Bollywood classic. Also, apparently Vanilla’s character’s name is ‘Johnny,’ however, it isn’t mentioned once in the film, but that’s what they refer to him as in the credits, anyway.
Friday night was like any other Friday night at Coq & Balls, but we decided to to take it relatively easy on Saturday night because we were flying out on Sunday morning and that’s where this adventure properly begins.
Sunday, January 7
I didn’t sleep particularly well on Saturday night. In fact, it felt like I had barely slept at all, just kind of dozing, but generally feeling wide awake until I actually woke up again. It’s a difficult feeling to describe, but it all made sense when Anna told me as I was getting up at around 8:00am, “Be careful, you had a small seizure last night. Not a bad one, though.” I didn’t have much of a headache, but the muscles in my arms and legs were tired and I had bitten the inside of my mouth a little.
Still, Owen and myself made it to the airport relatively hassle-free, however, when we were checking in I was told I would also have to check in my small carry-on suitcase because it was a full flight. I’ve never had this happen before, but it was no big deal, until we eventually boarded the plane and saw that there was a multitude of spare seats. We were in the second row and some self-proclaimed trophy-wife walked up and demanded one of the spare seats in the row in front of us, but wasn’t happy to find out that she would need to pay an extra $30 for that particular seat. She argued for a bit, but the staff were able to calm her down with a muffin and she forked over the cash. She also thought this entitled her to a free meal, but we were flying Jetstar, you have to pay for that shit when it’s only a two hour flight, but they managed to get her to pay up again. She had her meal, drank half her bottle of wine and tried to smuggle the rest out in her handbag. Good luck with that.
I managed to get a bit of sleep on the flight so I was feeling significantly better when we landed, but still quite tired. We grabbed my case from the conveyor belt and caught a taxi to Hotel De’Moc, just opposite to Treethotsathep temple and a short walk from Khaosan Road. My plan was to go up to my room and have a shower and a nap when we arrived while Owen lounged around the pool. The first thing I love to do when I get off a flight is to have a shower, but the design of this one must have been undertaken by Ernő Rubik — In order to get the vital combination of both luke-warmth and water pressure, the handle had to be levered out and turned to a very precise point. Failure to do so would either give you cold shower that felt like either being in a fine mist or sprayed with a garden hose, or the possibility of getting some warmth, but with the same heat and pressure of what I presume it’s is like to be urinated on. I never figured out how to completely turn it off either, managing only to get it to a minute trickle, but the person who made up my room was able to do so. I guess I should’ve taken a picture of the tap’s precise position for that one.
It was when I woke up that I realised that I hadn’t brought a phone charger with me so I was going to try and find a cheap one for sale near where we were heading out to drink. One of Owen’s favourite hangouts near Khaosan Road is simply called Bangkok Bar, so the plan was to grab a bite to eat down the road and then spend the night at Bangkok Bar. Obviously, it wouldn’t be a wise idea for me to be drinking the night following a seizure so I stuck to soda water and lying to myself, Owen had his gin and Cokes, and we just spent a night talking shit and people watching while listening to a great metal cover band.
Anyone familiar with Bangkok would be more than aware of what ladyboys are, but for the uninitiated;
Kathoey or katoey is a transgender woman or an effeminate gay male in Thailand. A significant number of Thais perceive kathoeys as belonging to a third gender, including many kathoeys themselves, while others see them as either a kind of man or a kind of woman. However, when considering transgender women (MtF) as a group in Thai society, most refer to themselves as phuying (Thai: ผู้หญิง “women”), with a minority referring to themselves as phuying praphet song (a “second kind of woman”) and only very few referring to themselves as kathoey. Related phrases include phet thi sam (Thai: เพศที่สาม, “third gender”), and sao praphet song or phu ying praphet song (Thai: สาวประเภทสอง, ผู้หญิงประเภทสอง—both meaning “second-type female”). The word kathoey is of Khmer origin. It is most often rendered as ladyboy or lady boy in English conversation with Thais and this latter expression has become popular across Southeast Asia.
Many kathoey work in predominately female occupations, such as in shops, restaurants, and beauty salons, but also in factories (a reflection of Thailand’s high proportion of female industrial workers).
Also, in case you were wondering:
In 1965, Hopkins Hospital became the first institution to perform Sex Reassignment Surgery. Now, popular cities such as Bangkok, located in Thailand, are performing two to three gender operations per week – totaling up to more than 3,500 SRS over the past thirty years. With the massive increase in SRS, there has also been an increase in prerequisites, measures that must be taken, in order to be eligible for the operation. Patients must be at least 18 years old and permission from parents if under 20 years old. One must provide evidence of diagnosis of gender dysphoria from a psychologist/psychiatrist. Before going through gender reassignment surgery, one must be on hormones/antiandrogens for at least one year. Patients must have a note from the psychiatrist or clinical psychologist. Two months prior to the surgery, patients are required to see a psychiatrist in Thailand to confirm eligibility for sex reassignment surgery.
Before anyone claims that I’m being insensitive, I just want to point out that it is extremely common in this area and has really just become the norm. I’ve had a colleague in the past when I was a teacher who had changed from female to male and have another old friend of mine from Singapore who now lives in Cambodia that is currently in the process of transitioning from male to female, stating that he had been suicidal and that identifying with a different sex “was like a burden that was constantly on my back, weighing me down, that was suddenly lifted, not realising how much it was pulling me down until the weight was off.” That particular friend is now the most content she has ever been and I couldn’t be happier for her.
Anyway, we had a group of ladyboys pull up a seat on the table behind us (above), as is wont to happen nearly every time I pull up a seat in a bar in Bangkok, and Owen and myself kept seeing who could find the person who could tick the most boxes to look like a typical Thai tourist, much like Jesse and myself did in Laos, keeping an eye out for the baggy elephant pants, Chang beer singlets, and braids or dreadlocks. A couple of other interesting characters we encountered over the course of the evening:
- The girl with the baggy elephant pants and dreadlocks next to us who must’ve almost given herself RSI from doing the ‘prayer hands’ gesture multiple times anytime anyone tried to sell her something, which is constant.
- A girl that came with her preppie-looking boyfriend with the popped collar who kept trying to smile and dance cutely to songs by bands such as Killswitch Engage, when you could tell for a fact that she had never listened to anything like that before in her life.
- This woman, who had to be at least 60 years old, going crazy to a band playing a cover of Killing in the Name by Rage Against the Machine:
I left at about midnight because I was still a bit tired from the seizure, but Owen said he stayed on until about 4:00am, partying with the ladyboys and some locals until the police shut the street down and eventually making his way home.
Monday, January 8
Owen was obviously going to take a little while to rise after the escapades of the previous night so I went and had a coffee at Vespa, a scooter-themed cafe down the road from our hotel, then set out to complete the first mission of the day: To buy a phone charger. I had a look at Google Maps and there was a mall a couple of kilometres away, the Soho Variety Mall. It was a nice day and I had time to kill so I decided to walk there, a trek that would take me almost an hour and one I wished that I had researched a little better. You see, despite being about four or five storeys high, the mall is almost derelict, with the exception of a Burger King, KFC, a couple of other fast food joints and a supermarket in the basement. In fact there was even a homeless person sleeping in one of the old stores. I’m not kidding:
I looked at the ever reliable Google Maps again and it said it was about an hour walk to the next major mall that came up. I decided to go anyway and was fortunate enough to pass a Costco on the way, where I was able to buy the charger and get some lunch, avoiding the longer walk to the other mall, before making my way back home and just relaxing in my room for a bit, reading (no, not Pig and Pork).
Eventually Owen awoke so we went to the cafe downstairs, had something to eat, and then went down to where we were the previous night to have a look around before settling into Bangkok Bar again. There are a ton of tailor shops in the area, they all hassle you constantly, but one of them had the material, albeit in much poorer quality and in a larger font, for the ‘F__K YOU’ pinstripe suit that Conor McGregor wore to the press conference leading up to his absolutely pointless boxing match against Floyd Mayweather:
I’ve never liked Conor McGregor, I’ve just always thought he was an arrogant douche, but you have to admit that that was a bad-ass suit.
Anyway, prior to coming over for his holiday, Owen had been communicating on Facebook with the singer of a band that he had liked the last time he was in town so he knew they were playing that night. They were going to come on later in the night so we ended up drinking with several groups of other drunken tourists — First, there were some French guys and girls, one of whom kept buying fried scorpions, beetles, frogs, and grasshoppers to eat with me in order to disgust his friends. Then there were the Scottish group who were generally quite nice, except for one guy who was probably in his late 40s that found it absolutely hilarious to punch and flick the guys that were bringing him drinks in the testicles, as well as trying to roast us for being Australian, despite the fact I told him in no uncertain terms that I couldn’t make out a single word he was saying. Fortunately, they had to catch a flight early the next morning so we didn’t have to put up with him for too long.
Finally, the band came on and they were great, playing a bunch of old metal stuff that I hadn’t listened to in about 15-20 years, so we had a lot of fun. There were a bunch of other metal-heads getting into it too, as well as a seven-foot-tall, bald Polish dude with a bumbag. After the show they all hung out with us, but only the singer could speak English fluently so him and Owen spent the night just chatting about music.
I’m not as young as I once was so I thought it wise to leave when it got to about 2:00am. I had been drinking this new beer that has become quite popular recently in Bangkok called ‘U,’ because the only other real option was Chang and I wanted to avoid the dreaded [C]hangover the next day. Owen stuck around with them well into the night, having no idea what time he got home, but he said the police shut the street down twice after 4:00am. He also mentioned that the giant Pole turned into a bit of a dick after I left. A few pics from the night:
Tuesday, January 9
Almost all of the events that Tuesday consisted of would make up a textbook case of miscommunication and it wasn’t just limited to that between Owen and myself, but it plagued us the entire day.
The plan was to check out of Hotel De’Moc and move on to Asoke Suites on Sukhumvit Road, pretty much in the centre of town. Our checkout time was midday and I was out on time, just waiting for Owen in the foyer. After about half an hour, I messaged him to remind him that he was supposed to be out by then and that I was waiting for him in the lobby. He called me an hour later to tell me he was already at the new hotel and that he asked about me when he was leaving Hotel De’Moc, but the staff told him that I had already “left,” my guess being that it was a mistranslation of “checked out,” because I was waiting with my suitcase around the corner in the lobby. Owen hadn’t been able to contact me directly because his phone was dead and he hadn’t been able to charge until he got to the new hotel. I got in a cab and went down to my new abode on Sukhumvit Road, which took almost an hour due to the traffic. We had both been chatting to Owen’s cousin and a friend of mine, Tim Howard, who has been living in Bangkok for the past five years, so Owen messaged us both to let us know that he was going to take a nap until we were to meet up with Tim when he finished work, which would be at about 5:30pm. I just kicked back in my room until then and watched an NCAA basketball game.
For those that haven’t been to Bangkok before, the side streets that come off Sukhumvit Road are generally numbered Soi __, with even-numbered streets on one side and the odd-numbered streets on the other, however, the streets are not exactly numerically corresponding on either side of Sukhumvit Road. Asoke Suites was between Soi 16 and Soi 18, Owen told Tim it was easy to find, it’s just above the 7-11 and near Soi Cowboy, which is a street of bars that runs between Asoke Road and Soi 23. Never mind, Tim was able to find me near the FamilyMart on the corner of Soi 16 so we just went back and chatted while we waited for Owen in the lobby, figuring that he had been referring to that convenience store instead of 7-11. Tim messaged him to say we were both waiting for him in the lobby, only to receive the reply, “Me too.” That’s when it all began to come together; Owen had messaged me in late November, maybe early December, to tell me his plans for this trip, his flight numbers, and where he was staying. I booked the same flights and what I initially thought was the same accommodation, but it turns out there are two different Asoke hotels diagonally opposite each other. I had booked a room at Asoke Suites, however, Owen was staying at Asoke Residence, on the diagonally opposite corner, just above a 7-11. That’s that miscommunication thing I mentioned.
Tim’s plan was to take us to Brewski, a rooftop craft beer joint on the 30th floor of Radisson Blu Plaza, a great place to have a couple of beers and watch the sunset. After Brewski we went to a New Zealand bar simply called ‘Kiwi’ for a typical pub meal and a catch up, passing Cabbages & Condoms and possibly the largest snail I have ever seen on the way, but we couldn’t have too big a night, Tim has a wife and a son, so we called it an early one and decided to make up for it on our final night.
Wednesday, January 10
The mattress in my room was terrible and as a result I still have a sore back from it over a week later, but it was our last day in town so it was time to do some shopping, mainly to pick up gifts for our significant others, first at Terminal 21, then at MBK. Owen knew what he had in mind to get Rochelle, but Anna is nigh on impossible to buy for. I messaged her and she suggested that I try to find waterproof phone covers so we can take underwater photos of sea iguanas on our upcoming trip to the Galapagos Islands. Not a bad idea so I got some, but damn, those things are expensive!
These malls are hilarious for their bad knockoffs of regular products. A friend of mine from Singapore, K.C. Meals, sent me a photo of an awesome Nirvana t-shirt that actually had a photo of Hanson that he had found on Khaosan Road a few days before we arrived, plus I was still holding on to the hope of finding my ‘Yew Nork’ shirt that I stumbled across last time I was in Bangkok, so we just looked around most of the day, bought some crap, including Owen getting an original Nsync tour t-shirt, and ate at a shabu shabu and sushi buffet, heard an announcement over the intercom for a Mr. Smiley and Mr. Retard, but I never found the Hansvana or Yew Nork shirts. Take a look at some of the stuff we found:
The day before, I had contacted one of my old drinking buddies from Coq & Balls here in Singapore, Mike Bransfield, who had relocated to Bangkok for work back in November and he was keen to catch up for a drink with us that night. I’ve noticed over time that some of the best nights I have while I’m away seem to happen the night before I need to fly out and this particular night would be no exception.
We started off at Hair of the Dog, a small craft beer place that consisted of a medical-themed place called the Clinic. The beers there were awesome, but they only sold most of them in small glasses about the size of whiskey glass, which is almost like doing shots for me, so we had a few and then went down to an Irish bar on the corner. We had a blast in the Irish bar, but Irish pubs are the same all over the world so we decided to look for something different, but also with the intention of not going too hard due to Owen and myself having a flight in the morning and Mike having to work. Our intentions were good, but it wasn’t to be. We walked past a place called Soulbar that had a band that sounded pretty decent, playing a cover of the song Kiss at the time, but the Prince version as opposed to the Tom Jones version. That’s something that takes some skill, plus I’m a bit of a Prince fan, so we went in and pulled up a seat, a decision we wouldn’t regret.
The band was called Big Backyard and they were all great, a lead vocalist from Texas who also played a five-string bass, a drummer that also did backing vocals, a rhythm guitarist from Byron Bay, NSW, Australia, and one of the greatest guitarists any of us had ever seen live, a completely unassuming Japanese guy who was about 30 years old and simply a musical genius. They were taking requests and someone asked for a song by the Doobie Brothers. The Japanese guitarist had never heard the song so the other guys just showed him the chord progressions and told him to wing it. He had one minor glitch at the beginning, then just nailed it and even made up a killer solo for it. We got chatting to the guys from the band between sets, these are seasoned musicians and even they were glowing about how incredible this guitarist was. Owen filmed him a couple of times, check him out and excuse any drunken profanity during the second video:
They were really cool guys and an unbelievable band, but soon we had to leave as it was now about 1:30am. On the way home, Owen stubbed his big toe on the uneven footpath quite badly, leaving him with a black toe with a nail split right down the middle. Continuing our walk back we got one final taste of Thailand, a ladyboy walking toward us, lifting up her dress to scratch her junk.
We flew back to Singapore on Thursday morning aboard a flight full of tourists from China and Owen flew back to Melbourne on Friday night. As always, it was great having you over, Owen, Anna wants to thank you for the bottle of gin and we can’t wait until you can both make it over again. Also to Tim and Mike, we had a blast catching up with you both, I hope to do so again soon and as for Bangkok, we’ll see you again next week when we’re in town for Sredej and Noelle’s wedding.