Bangkok Shot My Brother
Jumped into a taxi and headed out to the airport to meet my brother Andrew who was on his first visit to Thailand, as usual the driver dropped me off at the wrong place at domestic arrivals and not international. After a quick check I found out that I had to catch a small shuttle bus to get to the other terminal, no problems so far as I got to the airport in plenty of time. While waiting for the bus I noticed an ATM machine, so I dived over and stuck in my card. Nothing happened, nothing, no message, no enter pin number, nothing no I’ve just swallowed your card ha-ha message, just nothing. So I stood around staring blankly at the screen for a few seconds and thought maybe there’s an information place nearby. Didn’t find any info place but I went to a bureau de change run by TMB the same company who owned the ATM, the girl behind the desk laughed nervously when I explained my story. I asked if she could open the machine or maybe phone their service department, she said that she couldn’t do either because even though she had on a TMB uniform and that she was working in a glass box emblazoned with TMB Logos she wasn’t a TMB employee. Same Same but different was the response when I pointed to the logo on her blouse, getting quite exasperated I decided to head to the other terminal before I missed Andrew.
The flight had landed but I think I got there before he came through the arrivals door. As I'd flown into Bangkok before I knew that it was a bit of a scrum trying to fight your way through the Limousine & Taxi touts trying to pick off the dazed and confused tourists as they pour through immigration. So, I wore the brightest top I could find and one that Andrew would recognise and a small sign with his name. Well it was the brightest top I had and I’m sure Andrew could spot a Celtic top in any crowd, and if he didn’t see the top he would definitely see the Mr Lyylee sign I held above the heads of the rest of the waiting throng. Andrew ambled through like he had just walked out of a bar in Glasgow’s Merchant City, and soon spotted his older sibling probably insulting half the folk around him with sign of the phonetically challenged way they usually say our surname. It was great seeing Andrew and he didn’t seem too knackered after his 13 hour flight from Glasgow.
We then headed through to the other terminal to see if I could get anybody else to help fish my bank card from the ATM machine. Managed to find a slightly more helpful TMB employee who gave me a few phone numbers to try but as I had no change we headed back to the hotel and phoned some of the numbers to cancel my card. Small Tip: if you’re flying to Bangkok ignore all the hoopla at the entrance and head straight out past all the taxis and limousines and walk out to the main street running parallel to the airport, less than a two minute walk. Usually you will find a taxi waiting here or if not soon as you’re out flag one down and you have just saved yourself 50 Baht as the taxi driver doesn’t have to pay any airport stamp. In the taxi it seemed quite strange as I was talking away to Andrew as if I hadn’t seen him in a week and not the almost twelve months since I last seen him.
After Andrew booked in and grabbed a quick shower we headed out for his first experience of Bangkok. We caught the BTS skytrain to Siam to pick up our tickets for the Bangkok 100 Rock Festival and headed further down on the skytrain to Saphan Taskin where you catch the small ferries that commute people up and down the river which runs through the heart of Bangkok. The last time we visited Bangkok we stayed quite near the river and the small ferries are a great quick way to avoid the polluted rush hour traffic to get up to China Town and Banglamphu. Once on the boat we pointed out some of the landmarks as we whizzed by them with a cool headwind cooling down the mid afternoon heat, it took us about ten minutes to get to Thewit that would have taken well over an hour on the road from Saphan Taskin.
We headed for dinner in a small street restaurant that we had been in a few weeks back, nothing fancy but the food was better than the Lonely Planet trumpeted Hemlock that we were in the previous night. Andrew isn’t much of a spicy eater but he enjoyed his Pad Thai as we tucked into Green and Red Curries. After that we headed to Khao San road for a few beers and a wander around the stalls and trinket merchants, the place was busy for Wednesday night and we were soon back at the most unsafe pub in the world, since the Lord Darnley in Glasgow was closed down for being riddled with TB.
I’m not sure if I mentioned this in our last blog about Bangkok, but after 6pm the local Shell Garage closes down and hundreds of small bright yellow tables appear and a small bar is set up between the petrol pumps. We managed to get one of the last tables available, this not being Glasgow you’re free to smoke and play with the candles that sit precariously on each table. I’m just waiting to see it in the papers some day soon when someone has maybe dropped a match, candle, fag or just shimmied a bit too much with their segged shoes. We escaped without going up in smoke and piled into the back of a Tuk-Tuk and managed to find a driver that took us straight back to our hotel and didn’t even try and rip us off.
It was great seeing Andrew and I think the three of us had a great night catching up. Before we got into the back of the Tuk-Tuk there was also some hi-jinx with a kid selling balloons but to be honest too many beers got in the way of any of us making sense of it… Check the Photos and see if you can figure it out.
Next morning we all made it up for breakfast, not in the best of health but least we all still made it for breakfast. We had to head to the tourist police station so I could report my card being swallowed by the ATM and get a crime reference number. After sitting in a traffic Jam for about twenty minutes we decided to head out on foot and try to find the office. After been pointed in the wrong direction several times we eventually found the office hidden behind a bushel, once inside it didn’t take too long to sort out even though they were translating everything into Thai. The only worrying thing was they had never heard of the bank, but I checked my account later and nothing was amiss before I managed to close down the card.
While we'd been wandering around looking for the police we noticed a massive sign at the University saying Art Gallery and we said we should head there later in the week. We went for a wander back to the hotel and passed the Parliament building and crowds of families celebrating Graduations (we think) in a local park. That night we headed to the Thai boxing known locally as Muay Thai at the Ratchademnoen Stadium, we had been tipped off that Thursday night was the best to see some good fights. The pricing is 1st, 2nd and 3rd class, we opted for the 2nd class which was still a whopping £20 quid each for us poor unemployed & homeless westerners, Andrew’s got a job but he looks poor.
Once inside the stewards tried to hustle us into a section with restricted views but we stood our ground and managed to get a decent view of the ring. We got in just before the first bout (there was to be another 9 afterwards), after the boxers entered the ring they entered a strange ritual that was half warm up half superstitious hokum as they wandered around nodding and bowing at every corner. This seemed to take forever and it got really boring after a few fights and to be honest once the fights started it never got that much better.
After the first fight the three of us turned to each other with a look of befuddlement as we never really understood what was happening and the guy we thought was the best didn’t win. This went on for the next few fights and although it got quite exciting when the crowd started hollering and hooting we still didn’t really get why they suddenly got excited when the opponents grappled and tried to knee each other in the thigh. We spent probably as much time watching the locals betting, tic-tac style with strange hand gestures prompting stranger responses from the bookies runners.
There was also a band who accompanied every fight with a strange rhythmic warbling that after a few hours slowly got caused your brain to turn to porridge and start dripping out your ears. After the seventh fight we decided to cut our losses and sneak out. Strangely it felt a bit like leaving the Barrowlands after a gig as hawkers tried to sell you t-shirts, both Andrew and myself were quite surprised to see a Celtic t-shirt amongst the Thai Boxing and Elephant t-shirts.
Next morning we headed off to Ko Ratanakosin, to wander around the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. Joanne and I had been here twice before, well once really as the first time we never made it into the grounds as we turned up five minutes after closing time before we were ushered into a Tuk-Tuk heading to a local gem store. This time we managed to slip in before anybody tried to scam us and skipped by all the Japanese who were having countless group photos at every single insignificant fixture in the grounds. Once inside I think Andrew was slightly overwhelmed by the sheer opulence of the many temples and stuppas, the old Kings of Siam certainly liked their bling as your eyes are dazzled by the sun reflecting off the hundred or so jewel and gold covered structures. We had a look at the revered diminutive Emerald Buddha which is a bit of let down considering that the building housing it is one of the most opulent temples we’ve seen on whole trip. The Grand Palace doesn’t see too much action from the present King, but there are still a few decorated guardsmen out front posing for photos for all the tourists.
After a short stroll to Wat Pho which has the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, as well as the largest reclining Buddha we decided to head for some lunch. This turned out to be a bit harder than we expected and I was on the end of a few harsh words from Joanne and Andrew as I led them down numerous winding lanes and dead ends in China town in the hope of finding that illusive cheap noodle shop. Eventually after grabbing something to quell Joanne and Andrews rumbling innards we hustled and bustled with what felt like the rest of Bangkok in the narrow streets that held the thieves market in China town. After a few hours in the increasing heat we decided to give up and head back to the hotel and chill out for an hour or so before heading out for the night.
Friday night we headed down to Patpong for dinner and a few drinks, after been told that there was no chicken we went for the neck of pork....bad choice. I think we would have rather had some H5N1 flavoured noodles than the fatty tasteless pork that arrived on our plates, alongside some of the most outrageously spicy dipping sauce. We then had a quick wander around the night market and passed by some of the notorious ping pong bars and clubs. We decided to head for our first beer of the night when Andrew pointed out some actress from Neighbours (supposedly an Australian Soap) standing just in front of us, walking quickly on we turned into a street full of bars when I noticed someone vaguely familiar. When your travel about South East Asia on the backpacking route you crisscross paths with many fellow backpackers, so I didn’t really pay much heed to the very recognisable face getting closer and closer. It was just as this chap passed by that I realised that it King Monkey himself, Ian Brown, ex-lead singer of the Stone Roses and one time monosyllabic spokesman of a generation. I didn’t say anything to him even though he and the rest of his band took up quite a bit of my wall space in the late eighties when Manchester was centre of my musical universe. We had a few more beers in Patpong before deciding to head to some more bars nearer to our hotel as it was going to be long day tomorrow.
We got up early and headed out to the weekend market so Andrew could scout out some presents, and to get his first shipment of Bathing Ape t-shirts. The market wasn’t too busy at this time and we managed to tick quite a few things of our respective lists. We grabbed a few excellent smoothies, had one last wander around the market then headed back to the hotel just before the place got too busy. Andrew had luckily came to Bangkok the same week as it was having its first major rock festival and some of our favourite bands had signed up to play. We headed out early as we didn’t really know what to expect nor did we know how far out of town it was. Once inside we soon realised that it was going to be slightly different from T in the Park there was only one beer tap for the festival, but we still managed to get a few free whisky’s as the event was being sponsored by 100 Pipers Whisky (one of the biggest brand names in the country). 100 Pipers also had a small area set up with fairground type booths to test your skills with the chance to win some logo emblazoned merchandise, we came away with a t-shirt, CD case and a key ring between us.
After a few local bands and a boring Belgian band we had our first real highlight of the day as Ian Brown, entered the stage wearing a horrendous pink shell suit not seen since Jimmy Saville was hanging weirding out Louis Theroux. Ian Brown was never the best of singers but he always known how to master the stage and he soon had the crowd going with his combination of Thai pleasantries, goofy shoulder shuffling and all round showmanship…. Top Man. Joanne has never been a fan but was well won over with his infectious friendliness, the quality of his backing band and the highlights from his back catalogue which now has some serious gems to sit alongside the seminal Stone Roses songs.
Next up was Franz Ferdinand all the way from Glasgow, having taken the world by storm over the last few years it was great to see them on the big stage in Bangkok. Alex the lead singer used to run the Kazoo club in the 13th Note back in the day when I was in a band called Limehouse, there was also talk of us doing a split single with Alex’s band at the time the Blisters, but you will have to ask Davie Whyte more about that if you know him. Franz didn’t disappoint and the place was rocking to some of the best songs released in the last few years with a band who are obviously still loving being the most talked about British band in the world. This made the Oasis set even more disappointing as in the early nineties Oasis had the same verve and passion as Franz Ferdinand before they disappeared up their backsides in a storm of white powder. Liam was his usual self and Noel even came across like a spoiled brat anytime he ventured near the microphone.
Why not check out Andrew’s reviews of the festival here…. Ian Brown, Franz Ferdinand, Oasis, 100 Rock Festival
We luckily managed to get a taxi outside the venue and were soon speeding back to our hotel, since it was after midnight we decided to grab a few beers and snacks from a local 7 eleven and finish off the night in one of our rooms. Joanne headed up to the room as Andrew and I headed for the refreshments. On the way round we noticed a small urchin throwing stones at a teenager while laughing menacingly at him. As we passed the same kid on the way back he approached us and pulled out a gun, suddenly he flipped open the barrel and spun it a few times before putting in a bullet he had just waved in our face. At this point we didn’t know what to think, things started getting a more unsettling as he raised the gun to Andrew’s face and pulled the trigger a few times before the kid burst into laughter as we scarpered across the road. I just turned to Andrew and said that it was a great story for the blogger before the shock really set in and both of us could see the colour drain from our faces. We enjoyed the beers as we talked over what had just happened still not sure if it was really funny or just very dangerous.
Next morning we had a bit of a later start after all the exertions the previous day, but it wasn’t long before we were hitting the shops and markets as Andrew tried to finish off his shopping orders from back home. That night we headed to the Bar 22 in Sukhumit to watch the Celtic v Dunfermline game, the bar was run by ex-Glasgow bus driver who entertained us with his stories of On the Buses Glasgow style. The game turned out to be the a bit of a cracker as Celtic ran out 8-1 winners and a certain Mr Lennon managed to get his first goal in about four years. After the game we also had another game of killer pool with the bar staff and the air stewards from Quantas who were dragged in by one of their Scottish colleagues. We eventually left the bar a little worse for wear and Andrew thought he really had too much to drink when he saw a few elephants walking up the street in front of him. With a little closer inspection there were two elephants been led along the road with their owner trying to sell bananas to unsuspecting tourists to feed the animals, not what you expect to see when you stagger out the pub at two in the morning.
Next we consulted the guidebook and decided to head to the University’s Modern Art Gallery which was highly recommended in the Lonely Planet. We had seen the gallery a few days earlier when we looking for the tourist police. When we arrived at the University we couldn’t find the gallery and soon realised that we were not at the right University and that the book was talking about another one at the other end of the city, so we decided as it had started to pour that we would leave it until the next day. As the rain was bouncing off the street we headed down to Siam with all its indoor shopping centres and markets.
On Andrew’s last full night in Bangkok we headed to Khao San Road for our final blow out or at least that was the plan. After eating too much pizza we headed round to one of the bars on the main strip, and soon realised that the place was deserted and that none of the stalls or performers were out that night. We found out later that there's no street markets on Monday nights in this area, and the pubs can’t put tables and seats out on the street. So after a few drinks we headed round to a small CD shop which also had a bar and picked up loads of CD’s while sipping Leo & Chang beers. We headed home slightly disappointed as we were looking forward to sending Andrew home with a bang, but a mixture of bad timing and the exertions of the last few days had finally caught up with us.
Andrew’s Last day saw us heading to Modern Art Gallery, this time we did find the correct university but the Gallery was closed and looked if it had been for some time. So we headed to the Robot Building to take some snaps, the robot building is as you would imagine a large building that surprise, suprise looks like a robot. Once again we luckily avoided a massive downpour just as we jumped on the skytrain. After dinner Andrew went back to the hotel to pick up his bags and jumped a taxi back to the airport. I hope he had a great time, and I know Joanne myself really enjoyed having him over and giving him a quick run round some of Bangkok’s many highlights.