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Return to the Kingdom

THAILAND | Saturday, 13 June 2009 | Views [1286]

The Air Asia flight touched down in Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport early and our bags were waiting for us at the carousel. The girl I had persuaded to smuggle my pen knife into Thailand for me came good and handed it over once she picked up her bag. We moved off towards passport control but not before Thailand's high tech answer to the swine flu epidemic came into view: thermal scanners. As we walked through in single file I wondered what their tolerances are ... a few decimal points over 37º C or a full degree? Either way no-one got called out of the line. Through passports and past the gauntlet of taxi drivers to the bus. It was strange to find Thailand so very familiar after Vietnam.

Rather than stay in the Banglamphu area again we had decided to get a place near Siam Square, Bangkok's super-modern commercial heart.

Luckily the bus went very close to Siam Square itself so it was only a short walk to The Bed and Breakfast Inn where we had reserved a room. It was a poky room but it was clean, had AC and a shower and the lady checking us in was very friendly. The place even had two resident fluffy poodles which hung around reception.

Lunch was first on the to-do list. MBK across the road is an enormous warren like shopping centre with a swanky food court on the fifth floor. We had been looking forward to getting back into Thai cuisine so we both went for Pad Thai. It was stodgy and disappointing but we wolfed it down all the same, not having eaten since Vietnam.

One of the reasons for choosing this area to stay was its proximity to BA's offices in Bangkok. About six weeks earlier Claire and I had agreed that I would carry on to India alone after we reached Singapore a month or so later. Some explanation for this is needed – for myself as much as anyone reading this. I had, particularly since New Zealand, been feeling that the trip was not very challenging. One of my main objectives for the trip had been to push me out of my comfort zone. That had simply not been happening. Don't get me wrong, it had been lots of fun and very enjoyable with some unexpected moments ... but just not very stretching. Traveling in a self-contained unit, it was very easy for us to chat or play cards or read at any given moment ... waiting for a bus or during the rain or any time. It's very enjoyable but also very easy. I didn't feel I was learning enough. About myself. About the worldhu going around. Aside from all that, all the evidence – from traveller's tales to the books we had been reading, 'Shantaram' in particular - lead to the conclusion that India is a pretty crazy place. Even more so for women. Indian men don't seem to get good press for their treatment of foreign women. So, the decision was made and we needed to change the flights – I would fly to Mumbai from Singapore on the 19th July and Claire would head back to London.

We walked down to the BA office .. it was a good 30 minute stroll in the heat but we needed the exercise. It took a bit of finding but eventually we made it. I was expecting some quite grand offices but it was more like a cheapo travel agent than the offices of the 'world's favourite airline'. I guess times are tough for all airlines. Our deli counter number was called soon enough and the man behind the desk was very helpful. We started with Claire's route and date change. I was expecting it to cost over 100 pounds but the bill came out at 71. We then moved on to my simple date change. One of the reasons why I bought the round the world tickets I had was for flexibility – date changes were supposed to cost 'a nominal local fee, usually 5-10 pounds', which they had cost in NZ. They wanted 71 for the date change as well. I was not happy at all with this so we left, paying for Claire's change but not making mine. I called the travel agency through the laptop but it was such a bad line they asked me to send an email. So we had to wait .. hopefully they would make the changes and be done with it. They replied promptly and said no can do.

Dissatisfied with progress made we returned to the hotel and regrouped (I had the runs too so needed a bathroom where I could spend as much time as I liked). Retail therapy seemed a suitable distraction. And Bangkok is a great place to engage in retail therapy. Around Siam Square are a myriad of outrageously ornate shopping malls, each one trying to outdo the other in opulence, all containing every type of shop and service imaginable. It is eminently conceivable for people never to leave – they almost all have multiplex cinemas and food courts. One has a large underground aquarium!

After losing my second pair of headphones in Sydney airport I wanted a replacement – there seemed to be an entire floor dedicated to ipods, cameras, headphones and such like. I was also looking for a book 'A Suitable Boy' by Vikram Seth, a renowned story about India. They had it at Borders. After a wander around a shop selling all sorts of crazy Japanese stuff – chocolate bar styled ipod protectors and funky salt sellers (Claire wanted to buy the entire shop) we decided that a movie was in order. We chose Up, a Pixar animation. After the usual ads and trailers the Thai National anthem came on and everyone leapt to their feet and sang along while images of the King were put on screen. The Thais really are very proud of their Royal family. I'm sure the Windsors would be delighted if they were paid even a quarter of the respect the Thais pay their King. The movie was hilarious and very heart warming.

I had another crack at the whip of changing my flights the following day. My ticket said I could change it an local offices of BA, Qantas or Cathay Pacific so I found out where Cathay were based and we took the skytrain a few stops downtown. Cathay's offices were very posh, a far cry from BA's. The lady at the desk was very helpful but could not change my ticket – only BA or Qantas could. Qantas shared the office with BA. There was only one choice – back to the BA office. We took a cab. After a long wait - the office was very busy – a kind faced lady listened to my simple enough request. She had it done within about 30 seconds and, on account of the fact that we had had to wait so long, waived the charge. Just like that we had saved 70 quid. I nearly hugged her.

With that out of the way we could start to relax a little. After having Wifi almost everywhere in Vietnam it was a strange to arrive in Bangkok and for it to be hard to come by. Claire spotted, of all places an O'Briens Irish Sandwiches shop down a side street in the business district. We were both in the mood for a toastie so went in and lo and behold they had free internet. After catching up we took the river boat to Khao San Road to get a few more chores done. I wanted to get some little flags for the countries we had visited. Not to sew onto my bag ... to be honest I'm not sure what they're for exactly, but now we have them. I had been mistrusting of the Vietnamese post system (or Cambodian for that matter) and needed to post off the insurance documents from my ear troubles in Siam Reap. Tick. We needed to get tickets to our next destination, Koh Tao, an island off the gulf coast. Tick.

We're both fans of regular dental hygienist visits back home and there were lots of dentists around Khao San Road so we booked ourselves into one that could see us at short notice for a cheeky scale and polish. Claire's sister-in-law Denby, a dentist, would be very proud. I'll let her decide whether or not to put the tick in the box.

I'm not a nervous patient by any stretch but the experience was a little strange to say the least. The girl at reception, no older than 18, gave us a few forms to fill in. Nothing unusual there. The fact that other people's details had been tipexed out so we could fill our own in did raise an eyebrow. I went in first to check it out. I had to take off my shoes, again normal in Thailand but a bit weird at the dentist. I was lead behind the reception desk to a little room behind where there was a male dentist wearing a T-shirt under his lab coat and an assistant dressed in jeans. After a poke around my mouth he offered to remove a wisdom tooth which had not ever given me a problem. “No thanks, just a scale and polish please!”

At this he placed a bizarre mask over my face with a hole for my mouth and nothing else. I was enveloped in darkness as he started scraping away. The assistant was chatting to the receptionist throughout and wasn't the best at her primary role – suction. At one point I gagged quite badly and stopped the proceeding, tearing the mask off and telling them how strange this was. I am used to a pair of goggles for eye protection and doing the suction myself. I emerged at the end, certainly with cleaner teeth but somewhat bemused. Claire got a warning about the mask and so refused it immediately. The main objective, getting our teeth cleaned, had been achieved but we agreed that the dentists seat-side manner left a lot to be desired. Still it was about a third the price of getting it done on the NHS. The beer afterwards, we felt was well deserved.

One of the activities we had spoken about before coming back to Bangkok had been to spend an evening in Patpong, Bangkok's renowned red light district. A lot of the shenanigans that go on there, we were lead to believe, are for the entertainment of tourists who come to gawk at the sex tourists rather than for the sex tourists themselves. It was our last night in Bangkok – if it was going to happen tonight was that night. Perhaps we're getting old, or maybe we were tired after running around but we decided to leave that particular stone unturned.

Instead we went back to Siam square and looked for a food court, ravenous. We found one in MBK, a different one to the one on the fifth floor with the dodgy Pad Thai. As we walked around every place was closed or closing. We were disappointedly reaching the end of the court when we saw someone giving out menus. Not even caring what type of food it was we joined in. It was Japanese style Teppenyaki. Delicious and just what we wanted without knowing it. Shattered tired and delighted with our decision to leave the ping pong girls in Patpong to it, we had an early night.

Tags: decision, dentist, flight, movie

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