Readers' Submissions

Pastimes #1

  • Written by BKKSteve
  • February 17th, 2006
  • 16 min read

By BKKSW

The things that keep me sane….everyone has them right? Things that you do for fun, things you enjoy, whatever it is they're the things you fill in the spaces between the other necessary parts of your life like work, family, and the practical things
we all do to maintain our existence. I want to let you in on something I do at least once every few weeks and sometimes as often as twice a week…it's a selfish time. It's cheap, safe, and I find myself with nothing better to do at
the moment but share this with you.

This is a “half day” activity. I take a shower, dress casual but nice, get in the SUV, and head down to the mall. (nope, I'm not a teenager…:) Mall Bangkapi is my usual mall of choice because they have just the right combination of
the things I enjoy in just the right order. Driving into the car park can be an adventure just by itself and the first person you meet is the guy / gal who hands you that paper ticket. I'm not sure what this ticket is for….the camera records
your plate number and I'm sure the ticket number matches the frame….and they don't charge for parking. On your way out they collect the tickets at such a fast pace that I'm sure unless they're looking for someone specifically
the ticket means nothing. After stuffing your ticket in a cubby somewhere you're off and into the car park in search of a parking space, and no matter what time of day it seems to be unless you get there right when they open finding a space
is an exercise in blind luck and skillful anticipation of the next guy's moves. None of the spaces seem big enough for an SUV and even if you stuff it in one of the smaller spots you've got to really suck in your gut to get out of the
barely opened door. You look back at the space and just know someone is going to put a nice ding in your door, maybe two, before you're back…and if you're lucky enough to get one of the horizontal spaces that run in front of the normal
spaces do remember to leave your car in neutral with the wheels pointing straight ahead so everyone can push your car back and forth as necessary, otherwise you might return to find nice dollies under your wheels and you'll have to chase
down an attendant and bribe them to get them removed.

I've found a way to avoid the parking problem…and I use this technique in every large car park quite often. I use the valet service. Would you pay 200 baht for a valet to avoid the hassles and door dings of parking yourself? I sure would and quite
often do. On the first level of Mall Bangkapi there's a carwash service. You merely roll into the service, the guy gives you a ticket, and away you go and when you're done shopping the car will be waiting for you. When you return your
car is very well cleaned, shined, vacuumed, and even the undercarriage is cleaned if you ask nicely. The wash service in Mall Bangkapi returns your car in the same level of “clean” as most “detail” services I've
paid over $100 for in the States. I once watched them clean a car. It goes into a spray booth where a guy under the car does his thing, and guys on the topside do their thing. You've usually got 2-3 guys in the spray booth making sure your
car is spotless. Then it gets turned over to the detail guy who vacuums the interior, wipes it down, removes every drip and smear on your exterior, and even puts “tire shine” on the tires. They go so far as to use little brushes
to clean your AC vents. I suppose this makes sense because most of the people who pay for this appear to be pretty well off and probably expect this level of service. 200 baht in the states won't get you enough tokens for the self serve,
but in Thailand it gets you the works. I'm a classic car collector and VERY picky about the way my cars are cleaned and I wouldn't hesitate to have these guys clean my Shelby.

Never judge a book by its cover right? The odd looking unkempt man who runs the carwash service has been taking my money for over five years now. He's there every day, holidays, weekends, every day. At first he'd smile as I tried my very poor
Thai with him and he'd work with me as I tried to make myself understood, and then one time I accidentally addressed him in Japanese and he replied in near perfect Japanese. The next time I tried Korean and the time after that Spanish and
each time he was fluent. Finally he couldn't help himself and asked me if I spoke English in perfect English. I'm not sure what he did before the carwash gig and someday I'm going to ask him, but the man is very well educated and
speaks at least 6 languages that I know of and probably more. Anyway, I appreciate the man. Five years and never a price hike, never a ding, never a stolen item, and always a spotless car.

Already you can probably see that a trip to the mall just to get your car cleaned isn't a bad idea, right? Right, but it's not the entire reason I come, just the icing on the cake. The real reason I come is inside…. Inside there are several
restaurants where I'll have a nice meal, read a book, and just generally relax. I might have the excellent katsudon (deep fried pork cut in bite size strips sitting on top of an egg/veggie mix which is on top of rice with a nice warm bowl
of meso soup) at the Japanese place or maybe splurge at The Sizzler on a steak and salad. Somehow I've developed the very useful habit of sitting down in one of these very noisy and very crowded places and finding myself in total peaceful
silence as I enjoy my meal and read my book. 150 – 300 baht later I'm done with my meal, my stomach is full and satisfied, and it's time for my laps of each floor as I check out the place.

On the bottom level which I think is the basement level there's a nice fish pond where they've recently installed some tropical birds (macaws, cockatoos, etc) on an island which are fun to watch. I'm not crazy about the way the birds are
cared for but they are well fed and don't seem to have any ill effects from being on display and I'm sure they are trying to figure out a way to get one of the huge fish in the ponds. One fish must be well over a meter long and very
big around. Many of the fish are very large and the crowd really enjoys watching them. There's a little bridge that spans the pond that's not very well made and I'm sure someday it will break and the 25 people who have managed to
crowd onto it to get a better look at the fish will either drown or be eaten by the big fish. I hope it happens on the day I bring my camera because I want a picture of the macaws laughing their asses off as the very individuals who have been
tormenting them become fish food…:)

Most of the floors have your standard places but the fourth or is it the fifth floor…one can never be sure in Thailand…is where the furniture stores and Thai crafts are sold. The actual quietness of this floor is in stark contrast to the bottom floor
which always seems to have the “electronic phone / gadget” kiosks in front of a stage where very cute young Thai girls get up there and chatter endlessly over a very loud PA system about this product or that and sometimes even sing
and can sometimes be counted on to wear short revealing costumes. Anyway, the noise is very harsh as you push your way through the crowds of middle age Thai men who are usually accompanied by their better halves who give them disproving looks
until they can manage to drag them away. The “furniture floor” however is very quiet and much cooler for whatever reason and a nice sort of refuge if you need one for a while.

My next stop is for a haircut. I have my favorite place but there are many and I'm sure they're mostly the same. I walk in and am greeted by the lady who has greeted me for over five years and within a minute or so I'm seated in the shampoo
booth enjoying cool water and soft hands. If you've never had the pleasure of a haircut in Thailand listen up. The shampoo girls will wash, rinse, repeat, condition, rinse, repeat no less than two cycles all the while singing softly in your
ear to whatever music is playing and giving your head one great wash / massage. This is about a 10-15 minute experience that they often have to wake me up afterwards…:) The women are usually young, attractive, and really enjoy a chance to practice
their English and will accommodate you practicing your Thai. The inside and outside of each ear is treated with tender loving car as is every follicle on your head. When the water stops they dry the inside and outside of your ears and neck and
escort you to a chair where they'll give you a nice head / neck / shoulder massage until the actual barber is ready for you.

Most of the male barbers are gay and that's ok because they're pretty good at their job…yet a female barber always finds her way to my chair where she'll ask me which style I like and even help me pick one out in the book. For those of
you going gray I've noticed they will try and talk you into some color which of course costs more. My haircuts have always been done well if not superb and I sometimes laugh at the number of styles they come up with on the relatively short
way I like to keep my hair.

Once your hair is cut you're led back to the shampoo area for a abbreviated condition / rinse / repeat cycle as all the little hairs are removed from your neck, ears, and clothes (it's fun being vacuumed) before being led back to the styling
chair where you'll get another massage until the barber gets to you again. She'll then take about 20 more minutes to individually blow dry each and every individual hair on your head and they'll laugh and have a great time coming
up with a style that goes from Elvis to whomever. (no matter, a few seconds with a comb once you're clear of the place will have things looking normal again so let them have their fun) Once you're done they'll make sure you approve
and how can you not? You've just been massaged, shampooed, and styled to total and complete relaxation by pretty young Thai girls for close to an hour and the bill comes to…yep…200 baht. I know this is expensive by Thai standards and
50 baht haircuts are what you get in the small sois, but I like to think I'm also paying for the ambiance and of course several sets of magic hands….

By the time you leave the hair cut place and step out into the mall you'd think it's impossible to feel any less relaxed. Full belly, clean / cool / styled head, and perhaps some big fish watching along the way. This is when I'll hit up
“Watson's” for whatever toiletries I might need, last time a new toothbrush and the time before a bottle of Tylenol. Then I'm on my way to the Thai massage place on level three (or maybe it's two). Before we get there
let me tell you about a few other areas of the mall you might be interested in.

On the very top floor there's a cinema with English speaking feature films which are currently playing everywhere else in the world, places to make your own CD's…little mini studios which the Thai teenagers really love. A very nice bowling
alley, gobs and gobs of arcade / video games, and outside on the roof is even a decent sized water park. If you take the time to sit down and enjoy a “DQ moment” (Dairy Queen treat of some sort) you probably shouldn't be surprised
to be approached by a college age Thai girl who will chat you up for a while before getting to the point, if they get to the point.

This can happen almost anywhere in the mall but it seems to happen to me more often either on the top “fun floor” or in the food court area of the bottom floor. You see, Mall Bangkapi is very close to a major university and is a popular
hangout for the students. This doesn't happen “every time” but it happens often enough when I'm by myself. A college age girl will approach to talk and eventually get around to asking you where you live, what you do, all
the standard stuff. What she's probably doing is feeling you out to see if you're someone she might want to set up a temporary house with. If so then the arrangements might be something like free room and board and 5k baht a month in
exchange for housekeeping and a bed warmer, but not necessarily a boyfriend / girlfriend arrangement as they'll often value their “off time” and privacy. This is the general theme though I've been offered several variations
with one of the most interesting being having two of her friends included as well.

What they're looking for is of course free room and board which frees up funds their parents are probably paying them for anyway, thereby freeing up those funds for other items like the newest cell phone or mini skirt. They're also looking for
a more comfortable place to stay as most farangs live in air conditioned upscale (compared to student digs for sure) condos with pools, gyms, etc. Anything that makes them more comfortable and leaves them with more money to spend in the pursuit
of materialism entices them that much more. You also become free English lessons. The girls who do this are usually quite attractive and outgoing as I'm sure they must be to bring this up with you in the first place. I've never taken
them up on this because the misses would probably frown if I brought one or two home, but I have chatted with quite a few in the last few years and let them chatter on until they overcome their fear and make the offers. This last time I told them
I lived in a really upscale resort complex (which I do), had three extra bedrooms, etc, etc, and this is when she told me she had two friends who would also like to get in on the deal. Reluctantly I turned her down because the wife would probably
be three times as upset if I brought them all home…. J

Anyway, on to the massage place. There's this old lady who might be 100 years old for all I know but she's strong and can make a fairly big and strong man cry with the power in her small hands. After changing into the equivalent of hospital
scrubs you're led to a small mat where music is playing and incense is burning and she'll begin to cause pain in every part of your body. If I have the time I'll actually go for two hours of this, or if not just one. Either way
the first half is stretching and painful things where they usually start with your feet and work their way up. The last half or so is mostly a more gentle experience with the end result being a very loose and relaxed body that feels very good.
I'd like to describe every part of the massage but I'm saving that for another submission when I'll walk you through joint by joint how the lady who comes to my home to massage me does things. Oh yes, one hour…200 baht. Two hours,
325 baht.

As you walk out of the massage place back into the crowded noisy mall it's impossible to imagine feeling any more relaxed than at that moment. You've been fed, clipped, massaged, and entertained by big fish and equally big birds. The noise and
crowds no longer bother you as you walk to the car park and back to pick up your car. As usual my SUV is waiting for me all shiny and perfect, no dings, no scratches, and the man always sees me coming and is waiting by my car with the keys as
I return his ticket and the 200 baht for the service. I've been at the mall from 2.5-4 hours by this point and for around U.S. $25 I leave with a very clean and detailed SUV, a full stomach, a new exciting haircut, and a great massage. And
even though you've got a good 20 minute wait ahead of you to make it out of the car park and heading south on Ladprao you feel at peace with the world. Maybe you'll just pop in an Eric Clapton CD and sit back in the traffic and think
about how it could have been had the college student and her two friends been sitting next to you. That thought is good for almost all the way home….:o)

Stickman's thoughts:

There is no doubt that the further away you get from Sukhumvit and Silom, the more you get a real Thai experience, which is just what you have described – good service and good value.

Personally, I have found the Mall Bangkapi to be a bit stressful – it is often thronged with people and can be quite noisy. If you want somewhere really relaxing, Central Rama 3 is a good bet – but much less chance of women approaching you in there though!