It is a long way from Siem Reap to Poipet border crossing to Bangkok.
You spend eight full hours….on the road. You have an idea that you are in Bangkok when the speeding van slows to a crawl. For an hour or two, it’s bumper to bumper. The hot sun goes down, and afternoon turns to evening. The van drops everyone at a central point: Khao San Road.
Everyone knows Khao San Road. Even before landing on Thailand soil, you have heard of Khao San Road. Popularly known as the westerners backpacking haven, the place thrives with activity. It looks crowded with westerners walking through, or buying stuff, haggling, or just drinking and having a great time with friends. There are alot of eating places, catered to the western palate as well. So you do find a curious range of edibles; anything from muesli and yoghurt, to Vodka, to Indian mutton biryani with saffron rice..
Khao San Road
Khao San Road
Hair braiding at Khao San Road
Seafood at Khao San Road.
Regrettably, I am not booked at Khao San. Instead, I have naively chosen an uppity class hotel on the airport link. Yep, on the way to Suvarnabhumi International Airport…far away. I lug my baggage off the van, approach a taxi driver and give him the print out showing the location of my hotel.
He eagerly turns to open the boot of his car, ready to haul my suitcase into the car, then he hears the amount I have offered.
He sits the black suitcase on the ground again.
“Madam,…..the hotel is quite far,” he says wearily, “I can only take you with 500 baht.”
“300 baht,” I repeat adamantly. Being in South East Asia for two weeks has taught me well.
“Sorry Madam, I can’t take you then,” he sighs resignedly .
I know he is serious and I re-consider, then after a few minutes ask him, “How about a tuk tuk? Can they take me with 300 baht?”
“Just try,” he says, signaling a tuk tuk driver down the road.
The guy comes along, and heaves my suitcase and carry-on luggage to the bottom of his tuk tuk. He is soft spoken, and willing to take me to my hotel.
Tuk tuk and traffic jam in Bangkok
“First,” he asks calmly, “Can I take you to a fashion factory? I will get a coupon for fuel, if we can go there.” He notices I am exhausted and desiring to get to my hotel in the shortest time possible, and assures me, “You may get a nice Thai dress that you like, and it’s not so expensive.”
“Okay,” I agree.
We drive around in circles, trying to cut corners in the grinding traffic jam. We finally get to the ‘fashion factory.’ It is actually a tailoring store; with shiny white marble as the floor, rolls of colorful cloth tucked into the sides, beautifully dressed mannequins standing infront of the windows and sharply-suited Thai men milling around.
I get down from the tuk tuk, a little bit apprehensively, and walk into the store. My self-confidence is at a low. These guys look pretty neat, whereas I’m quite disheveled after a full day journey in a packed van. One of the guys comes to the door and greets me with sales-person enthusiasm. He is willing to help me get any dress that I would want.
“How much is the dress on the mannequin?” I ask, out of curiosity.
“It’s about 4,500 baht (100 euro equivalent). If you can come along this way, we can measure you and you can collect the dress tomorrow,” he states confidently.
“Um…., actually, I’m not purchasing anything, I just want to look,” I say.
“Okay, no problem..what is your size? We have ready-made office suits,” he says, guiding me to the back of the store.
I look at the office wear, and feel the texture of the cloth between my thumb and index finger. Though they seem like quality items, I have to leave. I say so and suddenly bolt out the store, and look for the tuk tuk driver, who has sat down on the pavement and is in conversation with some suited guys.
He looks surprised, when I tell him, “Let’s go.”
He enters the tuk tuk, and tells me he wants to take me to an Armani place. “Please, try to stay for ten minutes?” he pleads.
“If I’m not buying anything, why should I stay for ten minutes?” I ask.
“If you don’t stay for ten minutes, I won’t get a fuel coupon,” he says, sounding desperate.
I’m really exhausted at this point, and wishing I had booked a hotel close to my drop off point.
We get to the ‘Armani factory.’ I take one good look at the place and decide not to go in. My appearance does not resonate with that of the three-piece-suited Thai guys, so I flatly refuse to enter.
He stares at me for a moment, sort of disappointed and turns the ignition on. I see another tuk tuk with a couple of caucasians stop at the shop. They seem as tired as I am, and I watch them drag themselves into the store. We finally leave and I can get to my hotel. I have rode the whole day, my garments are creased, I’m hot and sweaty and my body is begging for a shower. The hotel I am going to appears to be a five-star. I feel scruffy, and I’m worried about looking out of place with a casual dress and tights. Last time I entered a hotel like this was in Paris, on Valentine’s Day, and yeah, I got the ‘what-the-hell-are-you-doing-here’ look as the neatly suited receptionists took my details.
I climb the stairs. A doorman dressed in maroon, accessorized with a black hat and white gloves opens the door for me to walk in. He slightly bows his head as I pass. Another guy in the same uniform takes my suitcase and rolls it in.
“Sawasdee-ka..,” the male receptionist smiles, with a slight bow of head while firmly clasping his palms together in a prayer position infront of his chest. They are all suited, just like the Paris hotel, but there’s something different here, something I can’t quite explain. They seem very warm and I ask alot of questions, as they fill in my details, before handing me over my key.
The responses are filled with, “Yes Ma’am,””No Ma’am,” “Right away Ma’am.”
“Who are these people?” I ask myself in thought.
I’m immediately at ease and enjoying my stay
. I feel welcomed in a way that surprises me.
I learn that Bangkok is really like that. It is a city that sucks you in and spits you out, with no warning and in a good way. It is a place where you hear loud drumbeats and see yellow suited teenagers making a united noise, and distributing Lipton’s ice-cream.
Lipton ice-cream marketing strategy
And then shortly after, you see guys on motorbikes announcing the entrance of anti-governmental protesters, who walk around giving out pamphlets, explaining what the pamphlets are, to non-Thais like me. And there are monks giving a speech in Thai on speakers.
Anti-governmental protestors, Bangkok
Anti-governmental protestors in Bangkok.
It is also a busy city, people get out on the streets as early as 5 am. You get to see food stalls set up to sell snacks and whole meals. You get to see smart ladies bustling about in their power skirt suits, or monks going about in splashes of orange draped around them. You get to see a giant gold statue of Buddha, in a different position. Reclining and relaxed. It is a city where strangers engage you in conversation when you are standing in line at the supermarket, or riding in a bus or even changing money at the bank. It is a city that readily embraces you and makes you it’s own. By day two, you feel like you’ve been there for ten years.
Wat Po..the reclining Buddha