So far this year I have spent time roughly every second week in Bangkok, Thailand. I guess that fact would be a little more impressive if it weren’t only the end of January, but I’m still doing well. Last time I was there was a great weekend away with my best mate, Owen, a couple of weeks back where we had an absolute blast just going to bars, watching bands, and meeting up with friends and relatives in the area. This time I was going with Anna for the wedding of some old friends of ours, Sredej Bunnag and Noelle Teh. Sredej is one of Anna’s old pals who also stayed in the International House at the University of Melbourne when she studied there and it turned out that Noelle would attend Melbourne Uni several months later in a similar course to Sredej, however, the pair never crossed paths for some reason. Fast forward 15 years, maybe more, and Sredej and Noelle are both working in Bangkok as architects and are now getting married so this was to be a great excuse for a bit of an overseas catch up session for Anna’s old International House buddies, a cool group people that I also consider my mates now too.
First things first, before we went we had to figure out what to do with our dog, Kermit. Usually we put her up in a dog hotel when we are overseas, but this time some drinking companions of mine, Judith and Felix, had decided to tackle the task. Actually, at first it was just Judith during what was another sloppy Friday night at the pub in what I initially thought was just drunken offer, but it turned out that she and her husband, Felix, were dead serious. We arranged to take the dog over to their place and have dinner together on Wednesday, Anna making noodles and Felix cooking up some awesome, albeit filling, German cheese balls. When dinner was done, we said our goodbyes and returned home. Tomorrow was going to be a busy day.
Thursday, January 25, 2018
Anna was up early, as she had a teaching session at the hospital at 7:00am, I got up at about 8:30am, and we made our way down to Changi International Airport, making the two-hour flight to Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok relatively hassle-free. The traffic wasn’t too bad, but even when it’s classed as “not too bad” in Bangkok, the traffic is still terrible by regular standards, as Bangkok was ranked in 2016 as the second-most congested city in the world behind Mexico City. This article ranks Bangkok as the 12th-most congested city according to a survey, but also had this to say:
The Thai capital, meanwhile, ranked 12th overall among the most congested cities in the world, with drivers spending an average of 64.1 hours stuck in traffic last year. Traffic apparently worsened in the city, which was ranked 30th in 2015.Experts blame private cars for congesting Bangkok’s roads, especially after sales spiked in 2011 following the introduction of tax breaks for first-time buyers by the government under then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.Aside from the volume of vehicles, accidents, floods as well as the bad driving habits of the Thais’ have been cited previously by traffic officials as causes for street jams.
It only took us 45 minutes from the airport to our hotel, the Ibis Bangkok Riverside, and our room was ready for us when arrived so we dumped our luggage, went down to one of the multitude of really good small restaurants down the road for a Thai omelette and a damn fine plate of noodles, and then had a coffee in a nearby cafe.
We needed to head to the wedding by 4:00pm so we finished our lunch, went back to the room and got ready. The ceremony was at an architecture hub on the bank of the river, but we wouldn’t need to cross said river, a task that can be more than a little time consuming when undertaken by car, however, a lot of the other invitees would have to do so in order to attend the event. In fact, many of the other people who were staying on the other side of the river crossed by boat, as opposed to car. We arrived with a bit of time to spare so we had a look around the area until it was time for the ceremony to begin and our friend Momoko Yamamoto to arrive from Japan. Her husband, Takuo, has just moved to Seattle and was unable to attend the wedding so Momo would be coming alone. We sat, sweating in the bright afternoon sun, but both women eventually arrived, first the bride, Noelle, who took the smart route and came by boat and then Momo, relegated to a seat up the back of the crowd. It was a beautiful ceremony, followed by drinks and canapés, then a spectacular dinner of local Thai dishes, all interspersed with speeches and mosquito bites, but the hosts had the foresight to provide each table with insect repellent, even if it did smell like Tiger Balm. We spent the bulk of the night talking to Momo, Juan Phoa, and Stewart Bell, all friends from Anna’s Melbourne Uni days, as well as the bride and groom, but there were several others we were hoping to meet up with who were unable to attend.
When it was time to cut the cake, rather than a traditional wedding cake, Sredej and Noelle shared a mutual passion by having multiple layers of several different wheels of cheese available. Suits me fine.
Other notable moments from the night:
- Noticing how much Stew is starting to resemble Phil Collins back in the day.
- A conversation with a hipster couple who, after finding out that we had lived in New York, told us that their absolute favourite city in the US was Detroit. “It’s the birthplace of Motown and the people are so beautiful. When you’ve hit rock bottom, you can only go up!” Okay, I get the Motown bit, but the city is one of the most dangerous in the USA, has among the highest unemployment and poverty, and the drinking water contains lead in some areas of the city, as well as other parts of the state of Michigan. Nobody likes Detroit, not even Michael Moore.
- Chatted with a diplomat from Kenya and got some tips for our plan for an African safari trip for Anna’s 40th birthday in a couple of years.
- Got invited by a Russian to party with him in the forest on the Polish border.
- Met Elly Russell, a Melbourne chick who just happens to live around the corner from us in Singapore for the next few weeks, just above my local, Coq & Balls.
A few photos from the wedding:
It was definitely a fun night, but things were barely getting started.
Friday, January 26, 2018
Anna, Momo, and an old college friend of theirs from Germany had decided to go into town and have lunch together, meaning I was free to do my own bidding. I decided to walk the opposite way down the road to what we had the previous day and again got some great noodles with pork and fishballs, as well as a bottle of water, all for a total of ฿50 (currently US$1.59).
Anna soon messaged me to say that her and Momo were going to get a foot massage so I just spent some time walking around. Before long I passed a billboard that I had seen on the way in the previous day, advertising the Made by Legacy Flea Market, something that would be right up my alley, but the exact location designated on the sign was obscured by power lines, I could only make out Pepsi Pier and the name of the nearest train station. “No problem”, I thought as I put Pepsi Pier into Google Maps, relieved to find out I just needed to cross a nearby highway bridge over the river and I’d be there, so I set off on my way. Once on the other side of the river I could see the station, but couldn’t locate the market, however, I could see another sign that said the flea market was being held in Sermsuk Warehouse. I entered that into Google Maps and it turns out it was back across the river, exactly where I had just come from! Where I had seen the initial billboard was Sermsuk Warehouse, it’s just that there was a carpark at the front that was quite empty because the market was just getting started and the front of the warehouse was blocked by plants.
It was probably all a good thing, as by the time I walked back across the bridge, the bulk of the stalls had been set up, but there wasn’t a whole lot of people looking around yet so I would get first dibs on the good stuff. It cost ฿100 (US$3.20) to enter and once inside there were some fantastic things available — Bizarre furniture, art, vintage toys, cool old clothes, a bunch of great records, as well as a few really good food stalls and some great old cars. There were also the token stalls you find in markets in South-East Asia that sold strange combinations of things, such as vintage McDonald’s Happy Meal toys next to decks of playing cards that were essentially just different extremely explicit images of gay porn with the number and suit in the corner for each card.
Anna called to see where I was and her and Momo came down to meet me when I told them about the market. They had a look around, Anna found some dresses and stuff she liked, then we tried some of the food while we had a couple of beers and spent more time catching up:
We had arranged to meet Juan and Stew for dinner at 7:00pm at Thon Kreung, a restaurant that was only about 10km (6.2 miles) away, but figured we should give ourselves a bit of time to get there due to the traffic so we left at about 6:15pm. Normally, allowing yourself 45 minutes to travel 10 kilometres is far more than enough, even in the worst of traffic conditions, but this is Bangkok during Friday evening peak hour. Juan messaged to say he would order some dishes while he waited for us so there would be something to eat when we arrived, but the food came out quite quickly and it was a little after 8:00pm by the time we reached the restaurant, a drive that took almost two hours to make! The taxi we were in had a digital speedometer to one decimal place which showed us that for the bulk of the trip we were traveling about six kilometres per hour. We were watching this thing go up by 100 metres per minute, barely even walking speed. Once we were at the restaurant, there was still some food waiting for us, but Juan and Stew had understandably gotten a little hungry while waiting the extra hour or so for us, so we ordered a little more and continued chatting, just the five of us.
When dinner was done we made the five-minute walk to Surface, a bar where post-dinner drinks were to be held for all of the wedding guests that were still in town. The bar was in the middle of a residential area and finding it required walking from one of the main streets into an area that just showed up as a grey square on Google Maps. Juan had a reasonably good idea where it was so he took the lead and led us there eventually, a rusted out Volkswagen Beetle marking the location. It was a cool bar with a restaurant and garden area and that was where most of the people hung out, but we didn’t want to deal with the mosquitoes so Anna, Momo, and myself spent the bulk of our time just drinking in the lounge area, still chatting amongst ourselves and doing more catching up.
None of us had really been able to sleep in that morning, Momo was a bit jet-lagged, Anna and myself weren’t up for a huge one, and then there was Stew. Stew flew over because Juan and Sredej are among his closest friends, however, his wife was unable to come because she is pregnant, their first child due in mid-March, so Stew decided to let loose on what might be his final opportunity to do so and he did it properly, but the fun part was taking him back to his hotel. Stew was staying at the Grand Sukhumvit Hotel in Nana, a place he had mistakenly booked and one located in one of the seediest areas of Bangkok. We got stuck in traffic again, this time at 2:00am, and it took us about half an hour in the Uber just to go a few blocks down Sukhumvit Road to get to the general area of his hotel, but we had to pass some dodgy looking joints en route to his accommodation. To put it in perspective, we had to turn off and drive up Soi 4 to get to his hotel and there was a Hooters on that road that looked more like a Sizzler in comparison to the surrounding options. There was just bar after bar of bald middle-aged men picking up ladyboys, as well as ladyboy strip clubs, although one of the bars, Hillary IV, was advertising a Valentine’s Day special, but unfortunately we won’t be around to make the most of it. Anna still didn’t appreciate the suggestion, but there is just no pleasing some women. The closer we got to Stew’s hotel, the grimmer it became, but I tried to cheer him up by pointing out that it wasn’t just all grimy bars full of ladyboys and creepy old men, there was also a 7-11. “Great,” Stew drunkenly slurred, beginning the line that brought the rest of us into uncontrollable fits of laughter. “I can get myself a Gatorade. Replenishing your electrolytes is important in this area.”
After we dropped Stew off, we continued back to our hotel. I had been invited to celebrate the birthdays of several friends at Coq & Balls that night, but obviously I was unable to make it. We were also curious of how Judith and Felix were getting on with Kermit and they sent us this picture (right). They took her to the pub for the party for a little while and then brought her home. If you’re wondering why their couch is so ugly, Kermit rolled in a decomposing rat while being walked so they put those sheets on the couch to prevent it from getting wet after they bathed her.
Saturday, January 27, 2018
Saturday was my Dad’s birthday so I gave my parents a call when we got up and then we were off to the Chatuchak Weekend Market to spend the bulk of the afternoon of our final full day in Bangkok for this particular trip to Thailand. Chatuchak Market is one of our favourite places in town, but if you haven’t heard of it before, this should give you the gist:
The Chatuchak Weekend Market is the largest market in Thailand. Also known as JJ Market, it has more than 15,000 stalls, divided into 27 sections. Chatuchak Market sells many different kinds of goods, including plants, antiques, consumer electronics, cosmetics, pets, food and drinks, fresh and dry food, ceramics, furniture and home accessories, clothing, and books.
It is the world’s largest and most diverse weekend market, with over 200,000 – 300,000 visitors on a daily basis.
It is a lot of fun and a great way to spend a day, but let’s also not let this go unnoticed:
Studies have shown that the Chatuchuk Market is a centre for trade in illegal wildlife.
In a survey conducted on 28–29 March 2015, researchers counted 1,271 birds of 117 species for sale in 45 shops or stalls. Of the total, nine species were listed as “Threatened” on the IUCN Red List and eight species as “Near Threatened”.
Obviously we don’t deal in the illegal wildlife stuff, in fact I wasn’t even aware of that until I looked the market up on Wikipedia just then, but the only way to end the trade is for people to wise up and stop buying.
Anyway, enough preaching, time for lunch. We found a stall in the market that did fishball and pork noodles that looked really good, the type where it appears as though they have just been topping up the broth forever, making it really thick. There was very limited seating in the stall with nowhere for us to sit when we initially arrived, but we cut a lap of some of the nearby stalls and when we came back there were a couple leaving so we quickly jumped in their seats, my stool precariously on the edge of a drop-off of about 15cm (6″) with very little legroom. Anna got the plain pork and fishball noodles, I got two bowls, both of mine with all the pig guts and they were even better than we expected:
We spent the entire afternoon walking around the market, a place we love coming every time we’re in town, but it seems the stall owners are getting smarter. Chatuchuk Market used to be a great place for picking up really cool original secondhand and vintage clothing, especially t-shirts and basketball jerseys, for next to nothing, but it appears that they have now worked out that some people are more than willing to fork out serious cash for these types of things. Case in point, I found two t-shirts in two different stalls, one of which I would’ve bought if it were cheaper; the first was an original 1989 Detroit Piston NBA Championship team caricature t-shirt, the other was a 1994 Michael Bolton tour t-shirt, both shirts in great shape. I seriously wanted the Pistons one and may have even payed the asking price, but it didn’t fit, however, the Michael Bolton shirt was so bad it was merely just for my own amusement, something I would pay a couple of bucks for at a thrift store. The asking price? The Detroit Pistons one was ฿1,500 (US$47.70), the Michael Bolton one was ฿1,200 (US$38.10), a bit rich for an in-joke involving only myself.
Still, we came away with a few things, including a frog costume for Kermit, but before long it was time to get moving again.
Sredej and Noelle were having drinks by the pool at their apartment with everybody that was still in town from the wedding so we got in a cab and sat in traffic for quite a while again, eventually arriving at their place, located just behind Soi Cowboy. It was a relaxing night of beers by the pool, music, mango sticky rice, and just chatting mainly to Sredej’s brother, who loved my John Holmes shirt, and Elly, the girl we met at the wedding who lives around the corner from us, however, Stew was an obvious, yet expected, omission from the party due to not feeling all that spectacular. At one point, Anna, Juan, and myself went to a restaurant when we got a bit peckish, having a few dishes and snacking on baked bananas (left) before returning poolside with more beer and ice. A perfect way to wrap up a fun weekend.
Sunday, January 28, 2018
We got up, me with a bit of dodgy stomach, most likely from the sheer amount of chilis ingested in the previous night’s dinner, checked out of our hotel, grabbed a coffee and then had our last chance at some local food, this time a small place that did noodles and fishball skewers. We left for the airport at about 2:00pm, allowing ourselves plenty of time to make it for our 4:40pm flight, but we had no idea what we were getting into when we finally arrived back at Don Mueang International Airport.
When we walked in the door we were met with a queue easily over 100 meters long, almost all members of Chinese tour groups, waiting to check in. Once there we were almost immediately approached by Elly, who happened to be on the exact same flight as us so we joined the end of the line, but before long an airport staff member saw us and when she found out we were taking a budget flight to Singapore, led us through to an area that was obscured by people, where we could check in for our little flight. Anna went to look at another line to see if it was for the same flight, but when she came back airport security wouldn’t let her back with us in the line, no matter how much we tried to explain that she was my wife. I guess they thought that, because Elly is white and also had an Australian passport, I was with her and Anna was just making stuff up. Anyway, we all eventually were checked in and once through, we walked past a queue even longer than the original check in line, this time for people trying to get their VAT refunds. That’s when we decided to sit down, have more mango sticky rice and some coffee and just talk until it was time to walk down to our boarding gate.
It was when we started making our way to the gate that the true madness began. The airport was crowded and at one point I asked Anna if there was a girl taking a dump in the hallway as we were approaching her. Anna and Elly both had their doubts, however, when we passed, a member of one of the tour groups had her daughter, aged about three years old, with her pants around her knees, squatting over a plastic bag and taking a shit in full view of everyone. Lovely. We eventually arrived at the boarding gates and it was just chaos. Gates 1-5 were all in one small area because you need to catch a minibus to climb stairs onto the plane when you are boarding from any of those gates. We were supposed to be boarding from gate one, but it was getting eerily close to the time of our flight so Anna went to check and it turned out the gate had been changed completely unannounced and we’d now be departing on the other side of the room at gate five. Our flight was still delayed somewhat due to refuelling, but because we had the emergency exit row, Anna and myself were among the first to be shipped out to the plane. We said goodbye to Elly, told her we’d wait for her when we got to Changi Airport, and we were on our way. Take a look at some of the madness (and, no, I didn’t take a photo of the little girl backing one out in the thoroughfare!):
Once aboard, we thought all of the annoyances were behind us, but it turned out it wasn’t to be. There had been a junior gymnastics competition in Bangkok over the weekend that was attended by a group of rich, overprivileged white girls whose parents have no idea how to say the word “no” and two of them were sitting directly behind us, another two a few rows down. After the seatbelt sign went off, the parents moved so that four of the girls, aged no older than maybe nine years old, could all sit together on the three seats behind us and they were a pain in the ass. They just constantly hit and kicked our seats while speaking in a way reminiscent of a 14-year-old Moon Unit Zappa’s monologue on her father, Frank’s, classic track, Valley Girl:
Fortunately for me I could just chuck on some headphones and crank up a bit of Monster Magnet to drown out the ramblings of Ella, Amber, Tiffany and the other one, but Anna was trying to read and it was really getting to her, constantly listening to pearls of wisdom such as the following come from the mouths of fourth-graders:
“Amber, like, have you ever had Boost Juice? Oh my God, it’s, like, so good for your skin!”
When I was that age I used to eat dry cat food when my parents weren’t looking. Anyway, it was fun watching Anna roll her eyes every time they said something stupid, such as complaining about their potential jet-lag from the one-hour time difference between Bangkok and Singapore, or give them a death-stare between the seats whenever they kicked the back of hers.
We eventually landed and when we got to immigration, Anna and myself were able to go through the automated queue so we told Elly we would meet her at her baggage carousel, because her line was going to take a bit longer, and grab a taxi back together. We grabbed some duty free stuff for ourselves, as well as a bottle for Judith and Felix for dog-sitting, and then we made our way down to Elly’s baggage carousel, but there was nobody there and almost no luggage left to be collected. I walked back, checked out immigration and duty free, but she was nowhere to be seen. While we continued to wait, I messaged Sredej and Noelle to see if they had any contact details for her, but eventually we just had to catch a taxi back. I received Elly’s Facebook details from Noelle while we were in the cab so I sent her a message and it turned out that she had been taken aside by immigration for extra questioning. Elly is only in Singapore for less than 90 days so she doesn’t need a visa, however, immigration got a little skeptical when she left the country and came back, essentially resetting that 90 day period. As Elly said in her message, they let her go, saying that she could get in trouble, yet she doesn’t have to do anything. Weird.
Anyway, I went to buy some dinner for Anna and myself when we got home, Judith and Felix returned Kermit while I was away and that is the end of this tale.
Just a few quick shoutouts:
- To Noelle and Sredej, Anna and myself would like to thank you again for the invite, we had a great weekend and we wish you both a lifetime of happiness together.
- To Judith and Felix, thank you for looking after Kermit, I hope she wasn’t too much of a handful, despite her constant farting.
- Lastly, to Momo, Juan, Stew, Sredej, and Noelle, it was great catching up with all of you again, this definitely should happen more often! Also, it was nice to meet you, Elly, I’m sure we’ll all meet up for a beer some time before you leave.