One Night In Bangkok
But it would be not a problem at all because a good friend of my mother would pick us up from the airport. But we arrived 2 days earlier as my mother had written to him so we two young nitwits were standing at the chaotic arrival hall of Don Muang airport. You should know that it is actually a military airport and in that time the civilian side of the airport was very small and full of people to rip you off. Well no problem I thought, I will just call him. But we were out of luck because the telephone system was not working that day, which was in that time not a surprise. Well in the end we changed some of our cash US$ into that strange currency called the Thai baht and we found ourselves a taxi. All the taxi's had a sign "meter" but they had no meter inside. Well again no problem we thought because we have the address, written in English. The taxi driver looked at it and started to drive and drive and drive. Until we noticed that when he looked to the address he actually held it up-side-down. Soon we did realize that he could not read it at all! So we started to talk to him and luckily for us at the address was also mentioned the Malaysia Hotel and that was of course a hotel known by the most taxi drivers. So we ended up at Soi Nam Dupli at Rama IV, but still not at the house of the friend of my mother. But then again we were lucky again because our host was, and still is, a respectful member of the Thai society and his name and place of residence was widely known. One of the hotel staff brought us to his house. It's at a small compound at a Soi of Soi Nam Dupli, with about 12 small bungalows of which he uses two. And this small compound was guarded 24/day by a guard with a very beautiful white uniform that made him look a general. But right now he was a sleeping general so we had to wake him up to open the gate for us! A ritual that would be repeated many times in the next 3 days.
Bam.... Culture shock Imagine Bangkok in 1985. Our culture shock started on the way to the house of our host. The total traffic chaos, streets full of people and all kind of transport as Tuk-Tuk's, motorbikes, trucks, bicycle's and much more. When we arrived at the house our host was still working and not at home. We were greeted by his two maids who did know we would come. And here our culture shock continued. These two maids, who later seemed to be family members of one of his two Thai wives's, were treating us like we were the royal family from Holland. We could not even touch our luggage, they ordered the taxi driver to bring it in the house and they guide us to the living room where we were pointed out to sit down on the floor. But all the time these two beautiful girls would never look us straight in the face and they would never walk in front of us but more or less behind us. And when leaving the room they would walk away backwards not pointing their backs to us. Or actually they would not walk at all but more or less sit on the floor, lower as us and then leave the room backwards with a gracious smile and wai. For us Dutch guys thinking in terms of "everybody is equal" this was a very weird experience. Now I am actually almost missing it.
After a nap and a shower we had to stupid idea to take a walk and find something to eat. With my mother with her Indonesian roots I'm used to eat Asian food but what we did find here to eat left us by buying some sweet bread and cake. We returned back and we were already tired and dirty. Only a 20min walking around!
And I will always remember the first morning when we wanted to make our breakfast. One of the girls who saw this almost fall into a shock that we would do that ourselves. Doing that was insult for her! She pointed us out to sit down again on the floor and they started to make our American breakfast. And they must have been very shocked what kind of strange food we brought with us from Holland, awfully smelling cheese! And this ritual of us doing stupid things would continue again when we wanted to bring our dirty dishes to the kitchen. That was wrong; we should leave this for the maids. How could we ever think of doing that! Stupid western people!
Sight seeing Bangkok We did not know anything about Thailand, also not that what Thailand is still famous for. But our host, who had to work, suggest us a nice day tour to make. First he dropped us of at Klong Toey market to wander around and be shocked. At that time I was surprised that not all Bangkokians already died of hepatitis or any other deadly diseases. It was for me the first time to see a market where the meat was sold alive or killed on the spot on a dirty floor. Now I would not even look to it anymore. Now thinking about it I realize that the Bangkok of 1985 is much more different as the Bangkok of today. In that time they were building the motorways right trough the inner city of Bangkok and I remember that I thought they were crazy. They demolished complete blocks of houses and that in a stretch of a few kilometers. It's strange now to realize that you could stand on the ground and look straight to a road 1 or 2 kilometer further away. And it is even stranger that I cannot imagine Bangkok anymore without all the motorways or even without the sky-train. After Kong Toey market we took a taxi to the Oriental hotel along the banks of the Mea Nam Chao Phraya. In that days the taxis were still the old Toyota Crown's that you can still see sometimes and without meter. At the Oriental hotel we were impressed by the gigantic luxury of this hotel. But later in Singapore this impression would be overwhelmed by the Dynasty hotel at Orchard road. From here we took the local ferry boat over the Chao Phraya River to the Wat Arun. The local boat ferry is a boat of about 15-meters long and a big diesel engine in the middle. You have about 1-minut to get on and off the boat and then the boat leaves for the next stop. The boats are always crowded because it is a very cheap and fast transport system in Bangkok. And in that days there were not as many bridges as there are now, so it was and still is a good way of crossing the Chao Phraya to the other side Thonburi.
There we were going, in a boat full of Bangkokians and some other lost tourists. Finally they kicked us of at Wat Arun and that is good because we did not have a clue how the Wat Arun would look like. The Wat Arun (temple of the morning dawn) is a big chedi or pagoda surrounded by 4 smaller one's. It has 4 levels and the top level is reached by climbing up a very steep stair way. And when going down you realize that it's very steep indeed. So steep that I went back backwards but some people have gone down the quick way. That's the reason why now the top level is closed for visitors. From the top level we had a beautiful view over the Chao Phraya and China town at the other side. From there we took a ferry to the other side to visit the Wat Po with the reclining Buddha. At that time the Wat Po was not the so much by tourists visited temple that it is now. At that time they started to renovate the temple and it was still really used by worshipers who invited us in to join them and to talk to us. Now they would have to invite hundreds of tourists every day. Much later, while living in Bangkok I still did visit the Wat Po to find myself a hidden away part of this temple complex to have a chat with one of the monks and to forget the busy Bangkok. It's my favorite temple in Bangkok.
If you are lucky the Goddess is a she After a half day tour we were tired and dirty. And that is something that has not changed for me in the years to come. Well of course our host told us about what Bangkok is famous for. So that evening we would go to Patpong at the corner of Thanon Rama IV with Thanon Suriwong and Thanon Silom. Soi Patpong, once a private street established by a Thai-Chinese man called Patpong, was originally a street where the western company's did choose to make their office. Well and there where are westerners with US$, bars and restaurants will come along. And of course the famous, beautiful but dangerous Thai peasant girls who started to work in the Go-Go bars that followed. By that time Patpong was not representative anymore for international company's and they moved out and their spaces were quickly filled with more bars. The Patpong of 1985 was not the Patpong that it is now. Now it is a night bazaar with at lot of unfriendly, expensive, rip-off bars. Patpong is now, under management from the TAT, changing into a tourist attraction and the real hardcore entertainment business has already moved to other places. But in 1985 it was fun, big fun, for two nitwits from Holland. Two young boys dressed in their disco outfit and wearing golden Porsche design sunglasses. Yes we were attractive customers, but probably that was everybody with a cash load of money. We had a drink or what but did not dive into the nightlife entertainment.
Leaving Bangkok So after 3 days we left Bangkok to continue our journey to Singapore and Sumatra, Indonesia. My friend would never return to South East Asia anymore as he was unpleasantly shocked by the way of life. I myself on the other hand was impressed by this other way of life, to see that our way of life in the west is so simple to think that we are the middle of the world society. It would take about 6 years before I would return back to Thailand and Bangkok, the country and city that I did fall in love with and where I found a little piece of my soul that must have been there already for centuries. By that time in 1985 and later in the years 1991 to 1999, I could have never imagined that I could really live in Bangkok as I would do later in 2000 for almost 2 years. Until then I saw Bangkok as something I loved and I hated. A places to stay, but not for long. That would change in the years to come. And now I sometimes still listen to "One night in Bangkok" and I starting to recognize more and more things in the song, that by that time I thought it was just a song. "I'm glad you like it, I would invite you but I'm afraid you would not like the rules"
Published on 10/23/10