My First Trip – The Restaurant
My first holiday in Thailand was in 2000, well, I had had some stopovers in back in the seventies, but all I remember was traffic jams and my first elephant ride.
So why did I go? Well, my destination of choice back then was Bali – not the party life of Kuta, but the relaxing life of Sanur, you know lying in the pool or long walks along the beach. Anyway, I had made friends with a Thai girl on the net and we meet up in Bali for 4 lovely days (no romance, just the beginning of a life-long friendship) and on her last day on this beautiful island she gave me a map of Bangkok and a book listing hotels in Thailand and asked me to come to Bangkok for a holiday.
It is now late 2000 and I need a holiday after a busy September (Sydney Olympics) so check the map of Bangkok and the travel brochures from my travel agent. Oh, the Novotel Bang Na is close to where my friend lives (OK laugh, but I do not know anything about Bangkok), so I book the room for 3 weeks at the end of November.
So I am on my way to Thailand…. What do I know about Bangkok? Nothing! I don’t even know its reputation for the nightlife! So naïve at 39!
After a long delay in Melbourne, I arrive at Bangkok airport at 1 AM, but my friend is there to take me to my hotel. We get there and check in, now I am told to take a shower? (Now I am used to that). And we get a few hours' sleep. (Yes, same bed but no funny business).
In the morning my friend goes to work and I go down for breakfast. OK, it is a bit late (10 AM) but the staff looks at me and say “not going to work today?” well, I reply “No, I am on holiday” and I get a funny look … What the fxxx? Anyway have breakfast and then do what I love when in a new place … go for a walk. For any of you who have not gone for a walk around Bang Na, you have missed nothing! What a boring place (I wish I was in Bali) but I did find 2 nice shopping malls on the main street. Nice air-con and nice to compare everyday items with what I would see in Australia.
Between the 2 shopping centers is what looks like a man made lake (in hindsight it could be an old canal) with shops either side of the small soi running along the lake. Something else to exploit. There is a garden center with some lovely flowers and plants, a bit further is a craft shop where the owner seem to spend more time grooming her black poodle than selling her craft. But more important opposite the craft shop and sitting right next to the lake, there is what looks like a small restaurant … well, I am not hungry but the fridge full of beer looks very tempting!
So I go in and take a seat next to the water. A guy around my own age comes and hesitantly hands me a menu in Thai …. I just shake head and ask for a beer. He looks at me and asks “Beer Sing” “yes” then he asks “lek” “Yey” fortunately he uses sign language to explain the difference, so I go for yay. Then he brings a large bottle of beer and a glass full of ice “what the fxxx”? (now I often ask for ice in my beer – what is happening to me?) Well, I sit and enjoy my beer next to the relaxing water…. Maybe Bangkok is not so bad. And now the waiter comes over with a sliced white bread in a plastic bag, what the fxxx? I do not want some stale white bread with my beer! He sees my confusion and takes out a couple of slices break them up and throw it into the lake and the fish fight for the food! OK so we are feeding the fish (yet another thing I now take for granted) it was new and novel.
Well, the beer at this place was a lot cheaper than at the hotel, so next afternoon I am back there. This time I get greeted with a big smile and the question “Beer Sing?” Well, my answer is yes and I sit down at the same table to enjoy my beer. Well, today is a bit later than yesterday, and as I am enjoying a nice cold beer, a lady my age or a bit older walks in and goes straight to the kitchen (well she must work here), a few minutes later she comes out and look straight at me and then comes and sit down opposite me. Her opening line was “so you are the farang my brother tell me about last night”. Well, I guess so, so we start chatting, you know the usual where are you from, where you stay, why are you in Thailand etc., well it works out that her son has applied to study at university in Melbourne, so do I know Melbourne? Well my company’s HQ is in Melbourne, so I know it fairly well, and we talk about the pros and cons of the city.
A bit later another lady walks in, see us chatting and walks up – this is younger sister so more chat (they both speak good English), it works out that the waiter is their brother and the 3 of them own the restaurant. Again with hindsight, I think the 2 sisters opened the restaurant to give the brother a job, while he and I became as good friends as you can without speaking the same language, I don’t think he played with a full deck.
So this is now my regular hangout, I explore Bangkok once I discover the skytrain and spend some time with my friend and / or her friends (yes my circle of Thai friends are getting bigger), but this little family owned restaurant is still my local. But as the days go by, we have a problem! I only ever order beer, I do not eat! this is of some concern to the sisters (oh yes one week without eating I might get below 100kg).
But truth is that I get enough Thai food when out with my friends, so do not feel like Thai food when at my local. But, one day I give in and ask for some fruit, now I am not a great eater of fruit, but when the plate came in …. Wow! it was great and younger sister sits down to tell me about each fruit and how to eat it… it was great. Bit later it is time to go and I walk up to bother to pay bill, he shows me bill and he had got the number of beers right but no fruit on bill, I question this but he does not speak English… so I go over to sisters and point out the problem… again I get a funny look! “You just pay for beer, not pay for fruit”! Oh, OK, I don’t mind the odd freebee.
A few days later (and several free fruit platters) I for once feel hungry so ask for menu…well I do not read Thai, so that is useless to me. Brother remembers one English word and ask me “chicken”? No, have had too much chicken the last 2 weeks! But what was that nice soup I had with my friend the other night? Oh yes, Tom Yum…. So I ask for that…. Tom Yum Klung? … yeah whatever!
Well, he brings a big bowl in (now I only ordered for myself, not the whole restaurant!) but what the heck, I get a spoon and start easting. Now, I remember for other evening that this might be HOT (as in spicy) so I take a small spoonful ….. oh, this soup do not burn my mouth at all! It just numbs it! just like being at the dentist and getting an injection. The second mouthful is nice, it does not burn as my mouth is still numb but I can taste it…. Go figure!
So I finish my soup and there are still about 6 big prawns left at the bottom of the bowl as older sister walks in, she sees me with a bowl in front of me, clap her hands and come over to say ”Today you eat” then look at bowl and sees the prawns “Oh, you not eat prawns?” yes but like soup better and now full! So you want more soup? No, I am full…
OK so she goes off to the kitchen and 5 minutes later comes back with a saucepan full of tom yum and pours it into my bowl … what part of NO did I not make clear?
Anyway, I loved the soup so I start eating again, and just I am finish, younger sister walks in …sees me eat and comes over with big smile “Today you eat” yes, today I eat! I just finish the soup and the 6 prawns are still there…. So “still have prawns, want more soup?” NO! she seems to understand – good. Then look at me and ask “Can I eat prawns?” … sure, go for it. So she quickly finish off the prawns and then looks at me and say “You and me can always eat Tom Yum together, you eat soup, I eat prawns” LOL I agree.
Now, everyday I sit at the same table next to the water. Now younger sister comes down and say “Why you sit here?” well? She picks up my beer (that ensures I will follow her) and puts it on the table next to the kitchen (that is where the family always sit) “you sit here with us”. What can I say? I must now be part of family LOL.
So the 3 of us sit and chat and the lady from the craft shop joins us, here I am chatting with 3 lovely Thai ladies (2 of them married) and I am hooked… Thailand is the best!
So we chat and then younger sister thinks it is time for snack, and asks me if I like fish bones. Not being sure I understood I just don’t know never tried. Off to the kitchen and she comes back with deep-fried fish bones! Oh what the heck! I try, and it does go well with beer when in Rome….. After we finish the fish bones, older sister ask if I like baby crab? Well, I like crab even if it can be messy to eat, so off to the kitchen and comes back with a plate of crabs the size of a thumbnail – deep-fried. And trust me, they go well with beer too!
On my final day in Bangkok I once again go to my local, and we chat and eat together, then I am given a small Jumbo jet made of glass and with Thai airlines makings – to ensure I come back soon…. OK, so I am a strong man, but that did bring a tear to my eyes.
So while I never again stayed in Bang Na, I always made it back to “my local” when in Bangkok, until the day I walked down the soi and it was gone! That day I felt sad that I would not see my friends again. But that is life in Thailand.
That's not the typical Bangkok holiday!