Tag Archives: travel

All Thai’d up

Having lived in Bangkok for more than three years, it’s fair to say that my love affair with this magical, dirty, fabulous, stinky heaven of a city is going strong. But the same cannot be said of everyone. The place is full of deeply jaded expats and while I’m sure lots of things will affect my relationship with Bangkok as it changes and develops and gentrifies and so on, I desperately want to avoid losing my enthusiasm for it. Especially because it seems to me these grumps share a particular and common gripe that alarms me. And that is Thainess.

Yes,  the very things that make Thai people Thai – in Thailand – are what get the goats of those who have voluntarily chosen to live in their country. “This would never happen in[…..]!” is something you hear of Thai bureaucracy or health and safety all the time, despite the fact that we are decidedly not in whatever country we must infer is superior and therefore its practices are rendered irrelevant. Whenever talk of local business culture or the tendency towards ‘saving face’ arises here, there’s lots of condescending eye-rolling accompanied by this insidious little comment: “It’s sooooo Thai”. And everyone knows what that means.

This label, while objectively accurate, is loaded with subtext, and it’s liberally applied to humans too. When, for example, I ask a male friend about the new girl he’s seeing, it routinely goes something like this:

How did you meet? “Tinder”. What does she do? “Marketing”. Where does she live? “Thonglor”. Where is she from? “…”

At this point, if the answer is “She’s Thai”, it will ALWAYS be followed by some kind of caveat: “BUT she speaks amazing English”, or “BUT she went to international school”, or “BUT she studied in America.” It MUST be qualified. As if it’s in some way unseemly thing to live in a country and date a girl from that country unless she’s not, like, “really  western”.

Then, we have the term “Thai-time”. And listen, I agree,  a “relaxed attitude towards arrival or starting times” can be annoying. But if it’s a cultural norm where you are, rather than bitching about it, you just have to readjust to it like anything else. If you’re a naturally punctual person, just stay at home 30 minutes longer and hey presto, you’ll be right on time. And if on the odd occasion you are held up, you can relax in the knowledge that it won’t matter to anyone.

“Uh Nicky, that’s so Thai!”

Yeah,  you know what else is soooo Thai? Delicious food available at any hour of the night, slippers in the office and – my favourite – wearing a t-shirt in the gym! This is just one etiquette lesson the sweaty white men in my condo would do well to observe from our hospitable hosts.

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Bangkok backpackers: the new breed

‘Ugh – Khao San – Ugh!’ Is not something you will hear from me, no siree.

I for one, am a big fan of the service Khao San Road does us all. I enthusiastically applaud those clever town planners of ye olden days who came up with the master stroke of including a special designated backpacker area WAY away from the rest of the city! We NEED Khao San, people, to separate the normal inhabitants of Bangkok who are merrily going about their day-to-day working lives, from the sarong wearing, chlamydia ridden, great unwashed army of passers-through. It’s better for everyone this way.

bangkok map

Now, in fairness, I’ll admit, I’ve been known to cross over to the dark side and partake in a little debauched, shoeless fun once in a while – snog a couple of inexplicably be-dreadlocked white boys, why not? And so, I shouldn’t begrudge these intrepid fellows a little exploration in return. However, the unfortunate but undeniable truth is that the classic traveler of yesteryear, the harmless, drifting, ukulele-playing, hemp-wafting, bumbag toting hippy has been replaced by an altogether more sinister beast. The traveling bro-dude. And their tip-toeing through no-mans land (Patpong) and behind enemy lines (Sukhumvit) is something we need to keep a close eye on lest this city descend into real chaos.

Even their website comes with a warning:

Khao san road may harm your computer

Tis riddled, I tell you!

Luckily, there are some tell-tale signs, some useful red flags to instantly warn any unsuspecting Bangkokians that they may have stumbled upon a douche-packer out of their confines. So, here is a handy guide on how to spot this alarmingly pervasive species.

Let us first consider their uniform. There will usually be a vest, almost certainly blaring the logo of a local beer – often neon and with enormous arm holes so as to display side-pec aplenty. This alluring garb is often teamed with island pants – you know the ones – low crotch, elasticated waist, printed with batik elephants. A winning combo I’m sure you’ll agree.

uniform of travellers

Behold: in all his finery

Desporting themselves thus, they demonstrate some rather telling proclivities:

– an unhealthy enthusiasm for Sangsom- particularly in buckets (see above)

– a fondness for tuk tuks unbefitting of a proper city dweller

– a predilection for tattoos in cursive script: it’s the Celtic bicep band of the new century and it foretells of unsavoury behaviour. Avoid.

ugly neck tattoo

I just…. no.

Finally we come to the aural markers that will alert any eavesdroppers that lurking nearby are escapees of Buddy Bar. The rule is very simply this: any phrase that could be emblazoned across the back of matching polo shirts or hashtagged in caps lock is almost certainly the brash declamation of a hostel-surfer. Examples include #LADS #LADSONTOUR #WhatHappensInBangkokStaysInBangkok #IThinkSheLikesMeBruv

With all this being said, last month I was at a party, deep in Sukhumvit, as far from Khao San as it is possible to be. People were wearing jeans, there was not a flip flop in sight. And then from out of nowhere came a young lady who looked as if she were a finalist for Miss Koh Phangan. Bra-less, in a tie dyed smock, hair clumped into braids by sun and salt water and carelessly barefoot, she twirled onto the dance floor, a whirling dervish of light, flailing freely to her own inner beat. And we were swept up in her nomadic magic. So, don’t lose hope – the real backpackers are still out there. Sift ye through the orange tans and Havaianas and ye will find the proper hippies.

A Tale of 4am Facebook Fortune

– in which Nicky loses her phone and puts the city on the case.

I will briefly set the scene and then just allow this marvelous story to unravel before your eyes via a series of (lightly annotated but mostly self explanatory) screen shots.

Twas a sparkly Friday night in Bangkok, we were frisky with mischief, the city was humming, something was coming.  A rag-tag, merry band of misfits made plans. They involved the opening of The Great Kabab Factory and a Bacardi party. It was to be a night of ‘Bakabs and Kabardi’ …and much else besides.

We quaffed bubbly and munched delicious paneer and lamb off skewers. We piled into taxis and screamed across the Chao Phaya. We drank rum, hot and infused with herbs, aflame and in vases. We danced, we sat under the trees on the concrete; our numbers swelled. We madly dashed through the supermarket, hunting and gathering supplies. We sloppily and hungrily ate crackers and plastic cheese washed down with still more rum on an 8th floor terrace; a couch was broken.

It was 3am and I decided to take myself home. In the street I realised I had left my phone on the broken couch, staggered back upstairs and recovered it. The taxi dropped me home and in the lift up to my flat I rootled through my bag for my keys, vaguely noticing it was full of a lot of ridiculous items among which my phone was once again conspicuous by its absence. Crashing into my flat and plonking down onto the loo for a nice pee, I emptied the contents onto the bathroom floor (the contents of my bag, that is). The sensation of simultaneously relieving oneself and being overcome with utter dismay is quite discombobulating. I was, all at once, pissed, pissing and pissed off.

whats-in-my-bag

I kicked aside the trappings of my evening and lurched for my laptop to hammer out a frenzied Facebook status, tagging everyone I could think of, in the desperate hope that the universe might smile upon me.

And this is what happened:

Facebook help plea

Gaia is straight on the case (I madly tag more humans who are probably asleep):

2-go-team

Miraculously, other people are awake and join the hunt:

help is at hand

how to find a lost iphone

And THEN:

the driver answers

6-super-driver

Twenty minutes later:

iphone is returned

In the subsequent hours, humans around the world react to this emotional roller-coaster:

beautiful story

Six hours late, Pan Pan wants to help (bless him)…

delayed response

And for the next 12 hours, people enjoy this heart warming tale:

great stories

A few closing remarks, if I may:

Hooray for technology: Facebook saved me and I now have installed Find My iPhone.

But even more – hooray for wonderful, generous, helpful humans. Special mention should be made that Gaia and Alisa had been with me all night and I think we can all agree they showed incredible mental and organisational fortitude despite being QUITE as tiddled as I was. You should also know that Alisa had to get up four hours after this escapade to sell her amazing soap all day at the Farmers’ Market – the woman is a machine.

I sincerely hope that singular taxi driver, that Cabbie among cabbies, will be blessed with brilliant, wonderful karma. If this story is anything to go by, I feel quite certain he will; social media is certainly powerful, but this city…. this city is magic.

 

 

Soundtrack In The City

Bear with me a moment, for I am about to go all SITC on yo’ asses. Forgive me as I release my inner Carrie Bradshaw…

carrie loves vogue

…the trite wally.

Ahem (I would be delighted if you would indulge me by reading this in your mind’s ear with a whimsical American accent – most obliged):

‘That night, I arrived at the address in my little black dress, giddy and dizzy and nearly tripping over with nerves in my brand new ‘only-for-special-dates’ Jimmy Choos. And there he was; as tall and dark and mysterious as I remembered. Our eyes met and we walked towards each other as if in slow motion and I could almost hear the soaring violins. I flashed him my trademark wonky smile and flipped my hair like a dorky adolescent hoping he would be charmed by my quirkiness (always in the desperate hope that I do not end up alone). ‘You’re gonna love this place,’ he said and led me to the door of an impossibly elegant and utterly exclusive bistro. Through the window, candles flickered on intimate tables, couples leaned conspiratorially towards each other over red tablecloths, talking with their hands and clinking glasses of deep red wine or snuggled up side by side in sumptuous velvet booths, giggling and whispering in each other’s ears over boeuf bourguignon. It looked like something out of a movie… or Europe!

The Maitre D opened the door with a practised flourished and we were hit by the delicious smell of coq au vin mingled with Galois cigarettes and, at the very same time, a terrible realisation. Behind the mahogany bar, an incongruously large stereo stack mercilessly blasted pounding trance music. And I suddenly understood, the candles were flickering because of the throbbing bass and the couples were gesticulating so dramatically not because of their continental heritage, but because they were struggling to make themselves heard.

And it got me to thinking, are we all just struggling to make ourselves heard over the music?’ 

 

Preposterous, right?  Well, ^THIS^ silly little foray into the mind of Manhattan’s Manolo moron is, of course, utter fabrication; but the problem itself is one that is endemic in Bangkok. Allow me to furnish you with some examples and perhaps we can discern why…

Bombay Blues on Thong Lor Soi 10 is a wonderland. Kick off your shoes at the door and enter a Bedouin camp right in the city. All around, people are sitting, nay, reclining on floor cushions, playing Jenga and sharing morsels of fragrant Indian curry. The walls are hung with chiffon drapes and the low tables have holes in the middle for the beaded hookah pipes which come with a pot of liquid soap so that the air is filled with smoky bubbles lazily blown through fat straws. And what fills the ears of the patrons of this magical oasis? Maybe some plinky sitar music? Some world rhythms? Even some reggae or psychedelic rock? Nope. The DJ never wavers from his litany of brain rattling electronic dance music, played at an indescribably high volume.

On meeting some friends for dinner in Cocowalk in Ratchatewi, we found our favoured spot was full, so we opted for the charmingly named ‘Le Frenchy Restaurant’ – having an actual French among our number. Spindly tables were set inside and out on a carpet of plastic grass and the place was festooned with fairy-lit flowers and jungley plants – like a chintzy mad-hatter’s tea party in a garden centre. As we perused the culturally schizophrenic menu, we gently bopped to a spot of harmless French hip hop – fine. When the food arrived, however, things took a musical turn into the realms of screamy thrash metal played so loud as to put us off our escargots and som tam.

And I couldn’t for the life of me work out the reason.  Until…

I found myself in Oskar Bistro on Sukhumvit Soi 11 which boasts both an extensive (and quite delicious) food menu and absolutely NO dance floor. Yet, they insist on playing deep house at an ear splitting volume. One can no more dance than keep one’s noodles on one’s fork for the table-shaking bass, much less hold a conversation. And that’s when I understood. It’s all a sneaky money-making scheme by the shadowy, titular overlord:

drink up, eat up, less talking more spending

Ahah! Eureka! But wait…

Wine Connection used to do this legendary mid-week deal. Bosses, take heed, if your workforce habitually cleared out of the office at 5pm on the dot of a Wednesday it is because they were racing to Rain Hill to nab a ticket and a jealously coveted table at which to enjoy three hours of free flow wine and tapas. That’s right, all the quiche, parma ham and sun dried tomatoes a person can cram into their face between 5.30 and 8.30pm, accompanied by all the colours of the wine-bow for a mere THB 330 (about six English pounds). The only thing to mar this truly beautiful experience was an utterly baffling playlist. Every week without fail, we were treated to dance remixes of Carly Rae Jepson, Chris Brown and Rihanna and a LOT of unidentifiable tracks with Pitbull and J-Lo on them. I very often felt the urge to initiate a Zumba flash-mob… but usually overcame the impulse by sloshing more rosé down my t-shirt. Perhaps the smart arses among you will posit that this is in fact a wholly fitting  soundtrack for such an occasion and crowd and to that i say (through a mouthful of calamari)…

shut up

In this case of prix fixe,  no extra profit can be gained from the playing of wildly ill-fitting music. And so, I remain at a loss. Can anyone help me solve the mystery of the musical madness of Bangkok’s bars?

 

10 things you’ll never hear in Bangkok

1. ‘Nah, I’m just gonna go ahead and eat this dessert, I cant be bothered to Instagram it.’

2. ‘It’s only round the corner, shall we just walk?’

nobody walks in bkk

3. ‘Tuk tuks really are the best and cheapest way to get around town.’

4. ‘Party in Punnawithi? Let’s go!’

gurl, you crazy

5. ‘Yep, it’s essential to learn the language, you simply can’t get by without it.’

6. ‘Nah, I’m not really sure about my political leanings, shall we ask this taxi driver his opinion?’

that's a bad idea

(seriously, don’t!)

7. ‘You know what this town needs? More malls.’

8. ‘I know, darling – let’s treat ourselves to a nice little staycation on Khao San Road this weekend!’

true love in bangkok

Nothing says romance like hotels by the hour

9. ‘Actually, I’m over the whole brunch thing. Fuck eggs benedict.’

10. ‘Brrrr. Bit nippy today, isn’t it?’

bangkok heat

Melting… for real.

This post was inspired by ’62 things you’ll never hear a Londoner say’.  As you can see,  mine is much shorter, sooooooo – more suggestions please!