Several hours later, having read the final page of this incredibly absorbing and gruelling novel, I looked up from my book and noticed that it was dark outside and my half-finished drink was still in front of me on the table, the melted ice having formed a layer on top of the interesting looking concoction below it. If anyone had asked me if I’d finished the drink or if I wanted to order another then I hadn’t heard them. I’d been completely sucked into the events and emotions that Fellow’s was so lucidly describing. I felt like a fly on the wall of his prison cell, watching 12 years of his life pass in front of my eyes. At once that life seemed to have been played in fast forward but at the same time, there were certain experiences which stood as still as the prison walls which surrounded them.It occured to me that many of the novels I’ve read whilst I’ve been travelling have been written by and about people who’ve experienced tremendous emaotional and physical pain in their lives. Why is it that such people make such excellent writers? Maybe it’s because pain and suffering are so much easier to put into words than happiness is …
I sat down in a small cafe on Hang Hanh at some point this afternoon, ordered a ‘Butterfruit Shake’ (which was actually chunks of papaya, watermelon, mango, avocado, and a strange translucent rubbery fruit which was difficult to chew, mixed with yoghurt and ice) and started to read “The Damage Done”, a novel by Warren Fellows about the 12 year sentence he served in a Bangkok prison for traffiking heroin.
And on that rather depressing note, I headed back to my hotel, picked up my luggage and jumped on the back of a moto. When I arrived at the point from which the mini bus would take me to the airport, I met a Canadian guy Dan and an American guy Todd, who were also catching the same flight out to Bangkok later on that evening. We shared a few tasty plums purchased from a nearby street vendor whilst we waited for the bus to depart.
At the airport, Dan and Todd had me worried for a while when they informed me that the baggage allowance for the flight was only 15kg plus 7kg worth of hand luggage. I was preparing myself for a hefty baggage excess charge, but the airport staff accepted my 21.3kg backpack through without so much as a blink of an eye, and they didn’t even weigh the heavy rucksack I was carrying as hand luggage. Phew!
On the flight there was a free seating arrangement, which basically means that you can choose where you sit. I’m not quite sure how that works in conjunction with the health and safety regulations, as I was under the impression that the airline were required to have a record of which passengers were sitting in which seats in case of an accident. I sat next to Todd and was telling him how much I still dislike takeoff, despite flying on countless occasions every year. Just at the point when I made that statement, we passed through some pretty serious turbulence and the aircarft was actually dropping in the sky. It didn’t improve matters when we looked out the window and noticed a huge streak of lightening not far from the plane’s wing!
Suffice to say, we all made it to Bangkok in one piece. I was surprised to find how organised the traffic was in comparison to Vietnam : all the motorists were driving on the right side of the road in neat orderly lines, no-one was sounding their horns and there were no motorbikes – well, aside from the odd one or two (motorcycles make up the large majority of traffic on Vietnam’s roads). We all shared a taxi to Khao San Road (which surprisingly only cost 169THB), and Dan continued on to Sala Ya, where he’s staying with a friend who is attending the university there. After several unsucessful attempts to find some accommodation, Todd and I finally stumbled upon The Wild Orchid Villa, which is tucked away down a little lane off Soi Rambuttri (about a two minute walk to Khao San Road). One we’d both checked into a room, it was gone 1am, but the surrounding nightlife was still buzzing and we both really fancied a beer, so we met back down in the guesthouse restaurant/chill out area and ordered a couple of beer Chang. Ahh . . .
At the time we didn’t realise that the guesthouse bar remained open 24 hours, and we got so busily caught up in conversation and getting pretty much blind drunk that we didn’t question the time until we heard the voices of birds outside. It was only 7:30am!!!! Doh! I went straight to my room and don’t even remember falling asleep. I probably would have slept for the best part of the day if I hadn’t heard Todd knocking on my door at 2pm. I managed to drag myself out of bed, grabbed a shower and met Todd downstairs for a papaya shake. At this point I atually still felt drunk : the world and Todd were looking a little fuzzy around the edges and I had a desperate thirst, which lingered around for the majority of the day.
Todd and I went for lunch at Roti-Mataba. It’s a great little place where the seating area is right opposite the kitchen so you can watch the chefs preparing your food and smell the gorgeous aromas as they waft across the cafe. Sufficiently fed and watered but still feeling a little spaced out, we had a brief wander around China Town before heading over to Siam Paragon. This was Todd’s idea, as he wanted to show me how the other half live in Bangkok. Siam Paragon is a newly built (the complex was opened to the public post September 2005) modern constuction on a massive scale. It houses designer shops (you name it, you’ll find it here : clothes designers such as Gucci and Prada, home entertainment by Bang and Oulfsen, as well as furniture stores and interior design), food halls (including a cooking school run by well known Thai chef, Ing), and a 10 screen cinema on the top floor.
We took advantage of the 10 screen cinema and caught a showing of Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code” (in English but with Thai subtitles). Going to the cinema is not a concept that ever occured to me whilst I’ve been travelling, but it made a nice change from the standard sightseeing, and although I haven’t read the book, the film made for pretty good viewing. After the film we caught the skytrain (something else I’ve never done in Bangkok before) to a fish restaurant that had been recommended to Todd, which was just before Soi 27 on Sukhumvit. Todd’s a chef in New York City, so he often gets given recommendations for restaurants all over the world. I felt rather priviledged to be given the opportunity to eat at this restaurant, and also to be able to dine with a chef, so that he could advise on what sort of fish to go for, what sort of style to have it cooked in and what sort of dishes would best accompany it. The food was indeed first class. There was all sorts of fish on the menu including Butter fish, Cotton fish, Grouper fish, Sea Bass, as well as many whose names I cannot remember. We went for Seabass cooked in a garlic and pepper sauce, as well as several dishes to eat on the side. In hindsight I think we were a little over enthusiastic about the ordering as we could barely finish it all!
We decided to walk off our food afterwards with a visit to Patpong. It’s quite bizarre : Cowboy alley as it’s so called is just one street in the middle of an otherwise civilised district. We wandered down past the neon lights and girls and the smell of cheap perfume that permeated through the air. Todd said that even if he was blind he’d know he was amongst prostitutes by the smells of their perfume! There were numerous signs advertising table dancing and lap dancing and girls for you to have at your disposal – for a price. A couple of the signs the girls outside the bars were holding made me giggle : one said “50 gorgeous girls and 2 ugly ones” and over the other side of the street a similar sign read “50 ugly girls and 2 gorgeous ones.” Patpong is clearly a place which doesn’t take itself too seriously . . .
Photo is of the infamous Khao San Road at night, Bangkok.