Bangkok Is A Different Place
The last time I was in Thailand before this trip was 1970 while working as an Accounting Specialist at the Army Finance Office on Soi Asoke and living at the Windsor Hotel. Shortly after returning to the US and University student life my Thai girlfriend
and I were married at age 21 and we have been living a farang family life in the US ever since. It was much easier to get married after getting out of the Army than to go through the Army red tape. She has made a few trips back between then and
now to see her family. Now fast forward to 2004 with the daughters married and through Universities, I was long overdue for a return trip to LOS.
We booked a hotel through farangsdotcom and flights through angeltraveldotcom of Tinley Park, IL. The time I could get off from work coincided with Japan’s golden weeks (holiday/vacation) so the Thai travel agent there was surprised
to she could get deep discount tickets with American Airlines flying through Japan. I was led to the agent through Thai student association websites – they seem to know the better travel agents. I was concerned that Farangs booking required payment
up front for reservations but they gave us good service and helped us change hotels and extend reservations at a lower cost.
Well the taxi ride into Bangkok from Don Muang is no longer through farm land. I could not believe how much it had changed – nothing but concrete and traffic now. We arrived at about 10 p.m. so we couldn’t see everything coming in
but where did all these tall buildings come from? I noticed the Klong smell of the past has been replaced by a diesel fuel smell, the city doesn’t do a good job of hauling off the trash and the environment is the worst I have ever
seen. We later saw policemen, street sweepers and some pedestrians using hospital masks due to the air pollution. Not a good first impression. I believe cleaning up the environment needs to be at the top of Thailand’s list of things to
We first stayed at the Baiyoke Suites but found our room to be a one star hotel room but the hotel has a four star dining room / free breakfast with very good food. However, their omelets were plain and not the Kai Yat Sai type stuffed
with veggies, cheese and a little sausage that my sweetheart cooks at home. Rooms were big but there was no AC in the hallways or bathroom and it was completely worn out. I thought Pratunam might be a good location for bargain shopping but we
found we liked MBK mall better with the DSL internet and we just couldn’t take the depressing 30+ year old furniture and shabby interior of our room at the Baiyoke. We called up the Farangs / Sawasdee reservations and asked them to book
us with the Asia Hotel for the convenience of having the Skytrain just outside of the hotel and MBK mall just down the street. We got a good room overlooking the swimming pool, the gym has old style equipment but the staff was friendly and helpful
and the breakfast buffet was good. There is always friendly hotel security at the elevator to smile and salute you and a good Elvis singer in lobby bar / restaurant in the evenings. We later tried to extend our stay via the front desk but they
would only offer a much higher list price so we extended our stay there by calling the farangs / sawasdee reservation system. I don’t understand the reason for that but I learned not to worry about those minor inconsistencies. We also could
not make reservations between Saturday afternoon and Monday morning anywhere because the Thailand wide reservation systems were shut down including the one local travel agents use.
On our second day in Thailand we visited my wife’s sister’s family in Bangkok. We didn’t want them to do anything special so we just called them from the hotel and got an immediate invite to come on over. They live in
an old neighborhood across from the street from the King’s Palace. The sois are very narrow so the taxi could only go so far and we had to walk the rest of the way. A distant relative was barbequing as a business a few houses down and from
sister’s house and after meeting him we continued on to sister’s house to be greeted by sister and her three little dogs barking at us. The dogs actually bark worse and nip at your ankles when you leave reminding me of the Eagle’s
Hotel California line that you can check-out any time you like but you can never leave. Wife and sister were chattering in Thai too fast for me to understand and that’s my fault for not spending time to learn more Thai. We speak English
at home so I am now using the Becker books and tapes and the David Smyth CDs and the Teach Yourself Thai Book to learn for future trips and possibly retirement in LOS. The air conditioning is limited to the two bedrooms so I was sweating but the
fans helped. I was offered anything I wanted to drink and after some nam yen I filled up on coffee. Sister’s husband inherited the house long ago and divided the old house into two residences where with his brother who since passed
away and now the other half is occupied by his brother’s widow who works preparing food for Thai International Airlines.
Sister tells my wife that the family has planned a Labor Day (May 1st) family reunion at the old family homestead on the Mae Klong River near Photharam, with a meal and gifts to the monks at the nearby Buddhist temple to honor their mother who passed
away a few years ago. We were lucky to join in without any advance planning and saw many of the wife’s family from Photharam, Bangkok and Kanchanaburi just a couple of days after arriving in Bangkok. Sister planned to take a bus to Photharam
that evening to get up early the next day and buy food from the local market in the morning and start with the food preparation. She arranged through a friend to get us a new taxi to drive my wife and I up there the next day drive us around and
bring us all back at the end of the day. We chipped in to pay for some of the food on Labor Day and for the car gas and chauffer all at very reasonable Thai prices. The provincial slogan for Ratchaburi is something about the beautiful women of
Photharam but it is better known for the bat cave recently shown on Amazing Race TV series in Thailand. Soon someone is at the front door asking sister to cook her up a plate of Pad Thai. Sister now has a word-of mouth business
of cooking up take out food from her home. She quickly cooks up a plate of Thai food and the customer is on her way. Her husband works with for a water softener company that he has been working for since I met my wife. Their daughter now has her
master’s degree in nursing and is an officer / nurse at a Thai government hospital. She has her own apartment but is not married yet and also has a bedroom at her parent’s house. Well after sister and wife catch-up on family news
and the next day is fully planned off we go to see my old office and hotel from 1968-1970.
Soi Asoke amazed me as I knew it as a nice soi between Sukhumvit and Petchuburi Road with little more than a wall enclosing the yards of some homes, our new office building, Siam Society, a few small businesses, a bowling alley etc. I often
used to miss the air conditioned bus from the Windsor Hotel to our Soi Asoke office and enjoyed a short taxi ride or occasionally walked to the office building. Now the lush vegetation and homes are gone and like most of the rest of Bangkok there
is nothing but wall to wall concrete, crowded high-rises and traffic not moving. It was not a pleasant walk from the Skytrain and my wife’s feet were wearing out walking down Soi Asoke looking for my old office building in the heat of the
day. I was interested to see all the changes and pressed on until we finally found it. The old office building appeared vacant, probably had absolutely no exterior maintenance since it was built in 1968 and had its front glass entry recently broken
out and an angry looking guard with a Billy-club standing outside. Apparently having a look around where I used to work was out of the question so I didn’t bother to ask.
We went back to the Asia Hotel so my wife could rest and I went back to Soi Asoke area to visit the old Windsor Hotel where I used to live. I first visited a few places on Soi Cowboy to see what that was all about and found the small bleacher
style setup very strange and nothing like the old Thai Heaven, Holiday Gardens, etc. of the past. I then went on to the Windsor and visited with the front desk staff who told me the huge NCO club on the top floor had been converted to all rooms
now. The front desk staff allowed me to look around a little on the ground floor. They seemed a little uncomfortable about me not wanting a room or to eat there but just look around so I left without seeing my old room 448 or any more than the
lobby and an empty restaurant on the ground floor. The lobby, etc. did look nice for a hotel that opened in about 1968 and next door where the swimming pool used to be is a huge new Windsor Suites hotel. I looked down the street from the back
of the hotel where I used to have a beautiful view of all the homes with tropical flowers and vegetation but that’s all gone now. I think they are going to build high rises on every square inch of available land in Bangkok.
Thai people are busier and more prosperous now than years ago. I love the Skytrain and I hope the Subway is as nice. I wish I could turn back the clock and see less concrete and more tropical vegetation like Chiang Mai is today. Well I have
more to tell you about our three weeks in Bangkok, Photoram, Chiang Mai (Doi Suhtep is a must see!) and Kanchanaburi but that’s all for now folks.
I'd love to have seen what Bangkok was like in the past. It sounds like there was a real charm to it.