Friday, 11 March 2011

8. Bangkok is steamy in more ways than one

A BTS Sky Train at Chong Nonsi
Inside a BTS Sky Train
I dreamed of a room equipped like this......
Sofitel Silom's Club Lounge

I love the Sofitel Silom´s Club Lounge. It’s a real Oasis of calm in this hot and steamy city, where the temperatures are in excess of 103F/40C. Apart from serving a truly first class buffet breakfast with an extensive a la carte menu of freshly-cooked hot dishes, there’s a really good afternoon tea and a two-hour evening cocktail service, with great canap├ęs. In between, they have snacks with hot and cold drinks.
I don’t think I have ever seen as good a breakfast. Normally I HATE buffets, but that is mainly because of the scrum to get it and the fact that things have been cooked hours before. Not here. The discreet service from the gentle and always smiling Thai staff is a delight and is the perfect start to the day especially if you are an early-riser, as I am.
I’ve been to Bangkok a few times, so I don’t need to do all the sights again. Apart from anything, I always try my best to go `off piste´ and write about the more quirky, different and unusual sights and sounds I encounter on my travels.
I like nothing more in a city than buying an all-day ticket for their public transport system and just getting on and off when the fancy takes me.
The ticket for the BTS Sky Train ( is just 120 Thai Baht (€3). As the name suggests, it is an elevated train, which snakes its way through the city on four lines. It also connects with the metro at various places. There are plans to extend the network, with the next extension due to open in the autumn. The airport rail link connects to the BTS at Phaya Tai station.
It’s a really efficient service, with the stations often serving as a way of getting from one side of Bangkok’s busy roads to the other. Some stations, such as Central/Siam link directly to trendy shopping malls.
Apart from anything, the trains are beautifully air-conditioned, so they are a great place to go to cool off!
Hopping on and off them and going where the mood takes me is my ideal sort of day out!
Doing that has allowed me to see the Thais at work and play, shopping in their local markets, away from the tourist tat and sales pressure from the hawkers.
And that side of Bangkok is lovely. Thais are an inherently friendly and welcoming folk, gentle, keen to please.´
I was in the Navy and Naval reserve for many years, so I’ve pretty well seen it all. But I don’t think I have ever been in a city where sex is on sale as readily as it is here. Maybe being a single male on my own makes me a target, but people seem to pop out of every little corner offering an oil massage. Even one of my nephews joked with me about the subject – and the current price.
Thai Smiles, the tourism promoters, want to promote Bangkok as the ´City of Angels, but they really need to do something to clean up the seedy side of this city. It really, really, really is tiresome for those of us who don’t want it. I understand that there are areas in any city where you can go for such things, but here, it seems to be almost everywhere you go. Especially once night falls.
I had that rant partly because I set out to find an area of Bangkok which is more Arabic than Thai. Having alighted at Nana station, I could barely walk a few steps without someone thrusting an offer of bodily contact at me. However, a friendly locally-based Dutchman, Lucien Havermans, rescues me and helps steer me to Sukhumvit Soi 3/1 where ‘Little Middle East’ is situated.
It really is quite an extraordinary sight. People smoking water pipes, Arabic signs, men and women in Arab dress. The atmosphere is great and I enjoy wandering through what is, effectively, an Arab Souk.
The Shahrazad Restaurant looks promising and, inside, I enjoy a barbecued leg of lamb with some salad and freshly baked unleavened bread. There’s a container of lovely Thai limes on the table, so I add that to my bottle of water AND on to the leg of lamb. Delicious and well under €10.
I don’t think you should visit Bangkok without going on to the Chao Phraya river. But rather than take a tourist boat, crammed full of visitors, opt for one of the many ferries which locals use. For just a few Baht, you can criss-cross the river. Here, at least, nobody tries to sell me anything!
Yes there are famous temples dotted all over the city. But often, you can stand on the platform of a BTS station and see the best bits of one for free!
It’s Saturday and I am looking forward to my normal routine of seeing some live Premiership football. But, rather oddly, the Sofitel doesn’t subscribe to ESPN and, to watch a game live this evening, I will have to venture out.

Fast realising that my photo albums are already becoming far too large to navigate easily, I have reorganised them.

And there is a new ´Best of´album if you just want to see some highlights: