The last time I was in Thailand, I was so hyper-focused on the beach, that we planned to be there for a bulk of the trip, sandwiching it with a grace period of 1.5 days in Bangkok on either side. And that too, only because we had to fly in and out of there. I’m a fan of city holidays as much as I am of getting away into the wild or exploring nature. The last time around I got a good sense of the wonderful amalgamation of urban and ethnic culture that Bangkok is and I’d long decided I would come back for more. So this time, we planned to return from our beach days and spend two days in Bangkok.
We checked out of our resort at noon, and caught the 2.45 pm catamaran back to the pier at Chumphon. A similar stream of efficient hustling like on our onward journey, and before we knew it we were on the bus speeding down the near-perfect highway back to where we had come from. The last time I was in Thailand too we’d taken a bus journey, and like the one to Chumphon earlier last week, was a night journey. So it was nice to have a day view of the countryside. Rolling paddy fields, highway eateries, outlet stores, villagers ambling along on foot or badly driven two wheelers. I read for the most part back, and only perked up when we halted at the rest stop and this time I got off to experience the mind-boggling variety of food on offer. We picked rice, meat curry and stir fried veggies and tucked in hungrily. And thank god for that because it was well past midnight when we wound our way through Friday night traffic in Bangkok and pulled into Khao San Road again.
The same street we’d left, which was bustling and chock a bloc on a Monday night, was packed tighter still with what looked easily like three times the number of people and twice the number of food stalls. Loud, stomping beats wafted out of the nightclubs, and groups of inebriated young folk staggered out looking high as kites. It was noisy, festive, a cacophony of music and a medley of smells of all kinds of food. It was time to eat again, of course. So we bought ourselves a massive Nutella crepe each while we watched the crowds much to our amusement, and figured out how to get to our hotel for the next two days. It turned to be a twenty minute drive and we decided to cab the distance. We didn’t even have to look very far for one because opened the door confidently, fully prepared to negotiate and start arguing about a reasonable fare, when the cheerful driver clicked his meter on. “By meter?” S asked. He nodded happily. In shock at our luck at finding a cab past 1 am, and not having to haggle over a far, my love for Bangkok was already through the roof. As a rule cities with really good public transport give me a massive high (“turn me on,” said S). I’d already experienced the amazing skytrain last time I visited, but to get into a cab well past midnight, not have to haggle and be taken straight to your destination – full marks, Bangkok!
We stayed at this really cool hotel with a neat concept and super minimal style. It was a basic business-traveller kind of hotel, perfect for just the two nights that we were there. Several notches higher in terms of fashionability, without as many digits being added to the price. So it was much nicer than a deal hotel we’d have settled for otherwise. Our room had a cool mural and twin beds that we hit almost immediately after we checked in and had hot showers. The next morning, we set off looking for breakfast and currency exchange. Several street food stalls had opened up, and everything smelt divine, especially this one cart wedges into a corner adjacent to a tiny gift store, where a woman in a long coat and a hat was making omelettes and fried eggs with a hit of chillies, green onions and soya sauce. It looked so good, we stood by trying to communicate with her in sign language and broken English. She didn’t even so much as look up. We’re not the target audience we told ourselves, dejectedly, and settled for Au Bon Pain very disinterestedly, because by then we’d walked a long way from the hotel and the hunger levels were rising. Thankfully the chai and croissant really hit the spot, and was just perfect for the late breakfast it turned out to be because we wanted to hit Din Tai Fung for lunch.
It was a morning dedicated to gift shopping, as we roamed a mall picking up delightful little things that we thought were unusual, that folks back home with like. Colourful leather stuff, really cheap and comfy footwear, amazing soaps and lotion, wooden trinkets and the like. All very affordable, even for a mall. Shopping in Bangkok was the only place we encountered Desis doing what Desis do best, shopping. And bargaining. The latter of which neither S nor I could get ourselves to do, everything was so dirt cheap. And if it wasn’t the item was probably so nice we thought it warranted the price. Yeah, we may have serially paid a lot more than we needed to, but we cannot complain.
By lunch time we sniffed out way to Din Tai Fung, with the single minded focus of a detective on the job. Referencing GPS and the map on my phone, speedily rushing through lunch time pedestrian crowds, winding out way up and down skywalks, we found ourselves in yet another massive mall, a much nicer, fancier one than the one we were in. Eyes popped at beautiful bakeries with their displays laden with gorgeous freshly baked goods, and a Marvel store that nearly made us stop and walk in. “After lunch!” became the common refrain, until we finally made it. And DTF did. not. disappoint. I’d first eaten at this Dumpling Mecca in Singapore last year and I’d move East in a heartbeat, just for a lifetime supply of DTF, I would. Garlicy sauteed greens, delicate, almost too good to eat, with soup-filled pork dumplings, spicy noodles and pork baos were inhaled. Completely satisfied with how committed we were to finding DTF, ignoring all the distraction en route and proceeding straight to the main deal, which totally hit the spot, we picked up dessert at Paul the authentic French bakery and boulangerie that had a cute little store in the mall. Back in the hotel, we stashed dessert away for later that night, and waited for S, who by some corporate sorcery managed to have a work trip to Bangkok coincide with my weekend there, and flew in from Singapore.
When we were planning the trip, S and I briefly flirted with the idea of flying back via Singapore. The charm of the city still fresh on our minds from our respective brief trips last year. Also, friends. I’m always game to plan a trip to meet friends I love. But for various reasons we decided not to stretch ourselves that far. I was slightly bummed at not being able to go and meet S and party it up with him for a bit, but when he managed to swing by Bangkok and meet us, it really more than made up for it. I have a special place in my heart for friends who will really go the distance, and who I can count on to keep the fun up even when my different worlds collide.
It was at 5:30 that evening, when he hopped into our hotel, out One Night In Bangkok truly began. We hit a beer cafe nearby, sitting outside watching traffic go by, drinking Asahis while yakking away. Well the yakking was mostly done by me, but we caught up. What is it about beer bars and retro? Does every beer bar everywhere play retro? The tunes took me right back to Purple Haze in Bangalore or Down The Road in Panjim, and if not for the superior quality of beer, if I shut my eyes, I could have been anywhere, really. When S had said “lets begin at the beer bar” I didn’t quite know what we were in for, for the rest of the evening. A couple of beers later, we left and headed to the second bar for the night, which S did a really shitty job of selling to us.
“It’s a cool place. It’s really dark.”
“Erm, like the lighting? Or the vibe?”
“Okayyy, then why are we going there?”
But go we did. It was one night in Bangkok after all.
And boy was I glad we did. It was easily the best bar I’ve been to in a long, long time. A bar with serious character – it’s designed to resemble an iron smith’s workshop. Crammed, packed tight with intimiate seating, wrought iron staircases that lead nowhere in particular, dingy staircases and alleys lit by candles, secret doors leading to surprise entries to private seating, and some seeeeeriously good live music. The Band was superlative, playing what sounded like very bluegrassy covers of everything from Fly Me To The Moon to Cheerleader. Yeah! How’s that for serious variety. More beer followed, despite my staunch attempts to pace myself, somewhere between my fourth and fifth beer I teetered over the line and decided to go with it. S had some really interesting cocktail with gin ginger ale and peaches (I think, I could be entirely off here) and a flambed sprig of thyme. It was amazyyhzing and I now think I should have had that too.
In time to leave, we swung by the loo. And the only reason I mention it here is because if you stepped into the dark and dingy bar that is was, you’d expect a shitty loo. But. It was spotless. And smelled amazing. I almost didn’t want to leave The Iron Fairies, but S suggested a Japanese bar (I think) so we walked out. Only to bump into a friend of his, completely out of the blue. S kept saying “what are the odds!” like it was truly unbelievable, but his friend diligently kept responding “pretty fucking high!” while S and I just giggled non stop. Before we knew it we were being herded in the opposite direction from where we were headed, and we were joined by a bunch of other people, and suddenly we were in a crowded elevator that opened into a rooftop bar. Dark, with clubby music, suddenly the crowds parted and a table was set up for us. I looked around and I was at this table with about 7 other people I didn’t know. A large bottle of vodka with an unpronounceable name appeared out of nowhere, swiftly followed by 6-7 glasses stacked with ice. Someone had to ask for tonic. I gingerly pushed my glass away, and ordered cider, deciding to play it safe and stick with beer. It all happened so fast, and sent me off into another giggle fit. S joined in, because truly, it felt like a scene straight out of a movie. Surrounded by people who looked like they were up for a long night of partying hard, a DJ who had blonde dreadlocks tied up in a man-bun, and people unravelling in various stages of inebriation dancing away.
Our clever plan to stick with cider didn’t work after all because when we were done, two glasses of unnamed alcoholic contents appeared. And S’s friend kindly informed us that he’d told the bartender to give him what he always does, “a double of whatever it is” Turned out it was a G&T, a very, very stiff one. So stiff it burned my oesophagus. But we drank up. And soon enough I got up and danced a little with some random Thai folks. Someone broke a glass, someone took pictures of everyone, it was all a blur. I just remember giggling a lot and saying cheeeeese at some point.
Pretty soon, I realised we hadn’t eaten. Possibly the longest we’d gone without a meal through out the whole trip! So we decided to duck out, and went to a 24 hour outdoor food court of sorts close to the hotel. More beer followed. With a papaya salad that was so spicy, i began to hiccup uncontrollably. Which made me giggle some more, and didn’t help any way. Pad Thai and something else I cant remember was consumed too. And we topped it all off with a long walk back to the hotel to eat dessert. You know what’s the worst? A cocktail of alcohol followed by something sinfully sweet. And that’s exactly what we went headlong into. We dived into the little boxes of dessert and nearly polished off the custard filled eclairs and the strawberry and cream mille-feuille. So good when we were tucking in, but ph so horrid about half an hour later when my high suddenly spiked. It coincided with my finally lying down in bed. The minute my head hit the pillow the room began to do gentle little circles around me. I was too high (and tired) to bother to fix it with water or pacing up and down and the usual tricks that help, so I did my best to ignore it, telling myself this is what I get for ageing prematurely living my sage life in Goa devoid of any sign of partying, and I don’t know when but I drifted off to sleep.
The moment of truth is always the day after a night like this. How many times will I hit snooze before I wake up? Will we make it to the Chatuchak weekend market? Will I be hung over? Funnily enough, it wasn’t as bad as I felt it could have been the previous night. Both S and I woke up mildly groggy, but now shitfaced. But S, being S, served up room-made tea with two Disprins each. We chugged it and in no time at all felt clear and ready to head out. I’m really, really glad we did because we got to the market earlier than planned and the crowds hadn’t hit full swing. And even though we probably only touched about a tenth of the space, we saw some lovely wares, walked through the stalls amazed, and even bought some really special stuff for gifts. We were on a deadline because we had to find our way back, a 40 minute train ride, in time to catch S for lunch too. So we stepped out, when suddenly S spotted the one item we’d been hunting for (albeit very passively) all week – Birkenstock knockoffs! And then the food, oh my god, the food! Everything looked so, so inviting and if we didn’t already have plans we’d have given up all attempts to resist. It was just as well we didn’t because S scouted out a really amazing little restaurant back near the hotel. Indoors, air conditioned, with very affordably priced authentic Thai food. It was likely the best meal of the week, next only to DTF, and a lovely way to wind down.
Quick bye-byes followed and S and I went back to pick our luggage up before we trudged all the way back to DMK airport an hour away. We managed to squeeze in a tuk-tuk ride from the hotel to the skytrain station, from where we went to the last stop on the line, and then took a bus to the airport. I LOVE efficient public transport and I got a special kick when I realised we’d officially taken every kind of transport we saw – those classic colourful cabs, the metro, the local train, city bus, long-distance bus, catamaran, and a tuktuk!
Reaching an airport and touching Duty Free also means encountering Indians again, and invariably it’s an experience in being schooled about why we get treated the way we do. I tried my best not to let a few uncouth Indians spoil the holiday high. Webought ourselves some goodies and booze for home and settled into a corner to sit and do our hisaab like a couple of baniyas. It’s when it hit me again, how every single thing went off without a hitch, with zero conflict of interest even between the two of us, and just a smooth, seamless progression from one event to the next. R and S were sorely missed again, as we did several times during the trip, adn we vowed to do this many, many times again.
To end the holiday on a high we went into the Thai restaurant at the airport for one last meal. Finally, I succumbed to green curry and rice, while S had pork meatballs in a noodle-y broth. Both divine, and even though we had no room for dessert we had to relent and get one last portion of mango and sticky rice. The flight back was quiet, uneventful and I read for the most part, feeling very, very happy to be going home. We landed in Bangalore at 10:30 pm, to ATMs with no money. Thankfully my folks came to pick me up. I came home wired, unable to get to bed till almost 3 am. So I lay in bed thinking about the week gone by – how quickly it came and went – and how near-perfect it had been. It’s the mark of a good holiday I think when you come home feeling satisfied, and like the experience you’ve had was enough. My cup, it runneth over.