I spent the last two weeks in Bangkok. My friend Phil from Australia was getting married and had invited me to attend.
In Thai weddings the groom is usually expected to pick up the cost of the wedding and reception and no expense was spared. Open bar all night, excellent food, live band, the whole works. There were even MC’s who organized the evening’s affairs. One would tell the crowd in Thai and the other would repeat it in English for us farang (foreigners).
One of the groom’s guests, a very funny guy nicknamed Kozmo, took the bride’s mother out on the dance floor. She is a very conservative and proper lady and Kozmo told us that while they were dancing he could actually feel her shaking with nervousness. She seemed to enjoy it though.
Part of the Thai wedding ceremony is that after the reception everyone follows the bride and groom to the honeymoon suite and crowd into the bedroom. No, we don’t get to watch that part but first her parents lie on the bed and then they get up and invite the bride and groom to lie down. My limited understanding of Thai left me a little clueless about exactly what was said but it sounded like some sort of good luck or blessing of the marriage.
Another part of Thai marriage that struck me as surprising coming from my Western upbringing is more than once it was mentioned that the wife’s role is to do what her husband asks of her. His role is to provide and protect his family and her role is to be obedient to her husband. I doubt that sits well with any of the Western women reading this blog but it is Thailand and those are their ways.
The Bachelor Party
I helped organize the stag/bachelor party for the groom. Doing a stag party in Bangkok is a bit bizarre. It’s like doing a bachelor party in Las Vegas if you already live in Las Vegas. What can seem risque if you’re constantly surrounded by risque?
Fortunately we decided to keep it fairly conservative so we started the evening downing Johnny Walker at some pool hall on Sukhumvit Soi 13 before heading down to Soi Cowboy. We were on a bit of a time crunch because we had brought our unopened bottle of Johnny with the intent of cracking it open at the coyote bar across from The Office on Soi 33 and wanted to arrive and not appear like we were just getting their before closing which might piss off the manager. And since we were sort of hoping that the manager would be a little flexible on closing time not pissing him off was of major importance.
We hit the Tilac Bar go-go which is famed for once hosting Hugh Grant during the filming of one of the Bridget Jones movies. We spent about 20 minutes there and then everyone wanted to hit Baccarat which is another go-go bar except that they have two floors. On the first floor the girls do their regular go-go thing but the the second floor is see-through plastic or glass. The end effect is girls dancing in front of you and over your head.
After another twenty minutes at Baccarat we headed over to Soi 33 but the coyote bar wanted 1000 baht corkage fee which is outrageous since they only charge 2000 baht to buy a bottle. So we took our bottle and hit Spice Club in the Ambassador Hotel. At that point things get a little fuzzy and I’m not quite sure if we ever did crack that bottle of Johnny but Phil and I ended up being the last survivors sitting on the corner of Asok and Sukhumvit at Fah’s little mobile bar as we watched the sun come up.
Hanging Out With The Beautiful People
The first night I got into BKK I met up with a friend of mine who is a fashion designer. We had Sushi on Soi 11 and after a few drinks she suggested we hit Q Bar which is about a 5 minute walk away. Q Bar is a hip, beautiful people, dance club much like Bed Supperclub. Not being a beautiful person they gave me a pass because I have such a beautiful wallet. :-)
Thailand is a very class driven society. The High Society (Hi-So) don’t mix much with the Low Society (Lo-So) people. In fact, you can get a pretty good read on where someone thinks they rank in Thai society by inviting them to a Hi-So place. If they seem nervous and can’t wait to leave they’re very firmly in the Lo-So class.
Don’t get me wrong though. Personally I don’t think being Hi-So or Lo-So makes someone better or worse. It’s completely a Thai thing. Most foreigners could care less as Western countries don’t tend to respect the class system the way Thai people do. But it is interesting to see how someone who feels like they are Lo-So becomes so uncomfortable being around Hi-So people.
One of those quasi Hi-So places is the Siam Paragon Plaza. It’s a huge shopping mall which would be Hi-So even by Western standards. It’s six or seven stories of only high end shopping. Dolce and Gabbana, Gucci, etc. Listen, I’ve worked in and lived around Beverly Hills for many years and this shopping mall would give Rodeo Drive a run for its money. They even have an indoor car showroom featuring Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Porsche.
I’m a people watcher by nature (good for my poker playing) so I just sat there for about an hour and a half watching all the Hi-So girls walking around the place while I enjoyed an iced coffee. You’ve got girls walking around in $1000 shoes and you take ten steps out the door of the mall and there are people who’s entire wardrobe isn’t worth $1000. People talk about the gap between the rich and poor in the West but it’s nothing compared to here.
Unlike the rest of Thailand the Hi-So girl is very Westernized. She’s got a cell phone up to her ear, nose pointed skyward, and her male companion is usually standing there bored to tears because he’s only fifth or sixth on her list of things to pay attention to.
It’s very interesting to see the contrast.
You Know You Travel Too Much When . . .
When I got into Gatwick at the start of my trip the immigration folks gave me a warning that my passport was near full of stamps and that I would have to get more pages added to my passport. So, I used one of my vacation days to go over to the US embassy in Bangkok and request additional pages.
I’ve been to US embassies before and so I was a little confused when they had nothing more than airport style security to get in. I thought about it later though and there are two embassy compounds. One is for passport services and the other houses the actual bigwigs. I’m sure the Marines are guarding the bigwig building but there wasn’t a single US solider or Marine anywhere at the passport services.
While I was waiting I met a guy named Steven who was on a four month walkabout in Asia. He was just flying here and there whenever it fancied him and he had used up all his passport pages as well. Nice guy. He asked about what I did for a living and when I told him he just laughed and said used to play on the site.
One comment Steven made to me which didn’t really sink in until later was he commented that because I was living in Gib that being in the US embassy was probably the most Americans in one place that I had seen in a long time. Wow. He was right and I had never even thought about it. There are a few Americans I work with but other than the cruise ships and the occasional Marines coming into port in Gib I really don’t interact with many Americans anymore.
It’s funny because certain things strike you as very Thai. For instance, when I dropped off my passport the lady told Steven
and I that it would be about an hour and that we should go get a coffee or something and then come back. When we asked where I could get a coffee she told us there were plenty of places outside the embassy where we could go. Now, if you do the math here it becomes obvious that if you leave the embassy without your passport and attempt to return you won’t be allowed back in. Steven and I just looked at each other and laughed. That is simply how things happen in Thailand.
I decided not to tempt fate by leaving sacred American soil and waited. And I was rewarded with hearing the same Thai lady tell an American woman who’s English husband had left his passport inside and now could not come back in to claim his visa that she needed to go wait in another line and ask someone else what to do about it.
I Couldn’t Pull the Trigger
I had been wanting to get an iPhone and I know that they’re a dime a dozen completely unlocked in Bangkok. Going price is about £300 ($600 USD). I checked in Gib right before I left and they wanted close to £600.
I have a company BlackBerry but when I travel or if I don’t want something as bulky I like having my own personal mobile phone. I have a tri-band Motorola Razor but it’s the V2 from back in the stone age. My batter had finally gotten to the point where I couldn’t hold a charge from morning until night and I was having all sorts of problems finding a replacement battery. The problem was compounded by the fact that the V2 and the V3+ models all look the same so every sales guy tries to sell you the V3 battery which doesn’t work in the V2.
So I headed off to MBK, a huge shopping center that has an entire floor that specializes in selling unlocked phones. It took me all of 20 seconds to find someone selling unlocked iPhones but knowing that Apple can send out a firmware upgrade that turns the phone into a useless paperweight had me a little nervous about plunking down $600. I tried asking if I could do a firmware upgrade without breaking the phone and didn’t feel comfortable with the answer.
My discomfort is that Thais tend to tell you what you want to hear which is great if you’re talking to a pretty girl but is completely different if you are about to make a buying decision on a piece of electronic equipment. It didn’t help that the guy’s English was fine for telling me about all the features but suddenly deteriorated when I asked him about breaking the phone by doing the firmware updates.
I tried with a few other vendor booths but pretty much got similar responses which didn’t do anything to put my worries to rest. In the end I just bought a Nokia N95 and figured I’ll wait and see if Apple releases an unlocked 3G version later this year.
The Nokia isn’t a bad phone though. I already like it.
I went to Siam Ocean World and later to go see a movie (Iron Man) with a good friend of mine and she suggested that we go on the dinner cruise afterward. What an excellent suggestion. We had dinner while we sailed down the Chao Phraya river. The weather was nice (not raining or too hot) and there was a nice breeze. We sailed past Wat Arun, the royal palace, several temples I’m not even sure of, and the impressive Rama 8 bridge.
Plus the food wasn’t bad either. I think I was maybe one of about six foreigners on a boat of about a hundred or so passengers so the cuisine was definitely tailored for the locals. Nice to sink into some authentic Thai food.
My same friend who recommended the dinner cruise recommended a trip to Vertigo a few nights later. Vertigo is a restaurant / bar on the roof (59th floor) of the Banyan Tree Hotel. We had some Singapore Noodles on Sukhumvit to kill some time and then headed over well after the sun had set and you could take in all of Bangkok.
The view is absolutely breathtaking. Especially for me since I have a fear of heights. Nothing incapacitating but I hold on to the guard rail pretty tightly.
Despite my woozy feeling we found a spot right on the edge of the building on a couch sort of thing where you could really sit back and relax as you watch all of Bangkok beneath you. Again, a nice cool breeze, a few drinks, and good company made for a very pleasant evening and a nice break from the complete chaos that was going on 59 stories below.
Cozy on Ten Not So Cozy
I usually stay at the President Solitaire when I stay in Bangkok. The location is fairly central, the rooms are top notch even by Western standards, and the staff there have gotten to know me and so I’m very well treated.
The groom likes staying at a place called Cozy on Ten which as the name might suggest is on Soi 10 so it’s only about a 15 min walk away from the Solitaire. He took me by there one time on a previous trip and the rooms seems pretty nice. And based on the price differential it looked to be an excellent second choice hotel or if I wanted to be a little frugal.
Since the groom was staying at Cozy I decided to stay there as well as it would be easier to organize things and stay connected.
I arrived in BKK around 7am so must have arrived at the hotel around 7:30. I asked if early check-in was available but was told that it wouldn’t be possible and that I could come back at 2pm and check in. Hmmm . . . not the first time I have roamed the streets that early but I was a little tired from the trip.
Before leaving to go see some sites the receptionist offhandedly mentioned that there would be no hot water in my room. Well, it is BKK during the hot season so not having hot water for a day or two wouldn’t kill me. I asked how long she expected the hot water to be out and she looked at my reservation and replied that it would be out my entire stay.
I did what anybody who knows Bangkok would do in that situation and tried to work a discount. She wouldn’t budge. No hot water and no discount.
Now, I’m still in a fairly calm mood but decide to try a bluff and suggest that I might have to look into making other accommodations. She check-raises me by saying that all of Bangkok is booked at that no rooms are available.
It’s at this point that I am no longer calm. I on tilt because that’s such a blatant lie that she could only expect a complete idiot to believe her.
I leave my bags at the hotel and march up to the street to the Solitaire. I ask if they have any rooms and – amazingly – they do. The only problem is that all they have are their superior rooms which are a little pricey. They’re still a good value but I wasn’t really looking to spend that much.
And this is how a hotel earns your return business. They walked me across the street where they knew the people who ran another hotel and they got me a room. Not only did they walk me over but they inspected the rooms with me and made sure I got checked in at a good price. Then they called me a cab and I went back to the Cozy and grabbed my bags and took them to the new hotel.