Delightful Bangkok – Five Cases of Customer Care
Dubious limousine services clutter the arrival area of Suvarnabhumi airport, Bangkok. It’s more difficult than ever to locate the regular taxis outside.
Once there, a long line of customers waits to get a taxi ticket from the taxi dispatching counter. Long lines of taxis wait to get a customer from the taxi dispatching counter. Customers and taxis can't get together faster because the papers are handed out so slowly.
Anyway, coming from Manila with its grim, greedy taxi drivers refusing to use the meter, I am looking forward to a smooth ride on a Bangkok "Taxi-Meter". I am glad that here in Bangkok you don't have to haggle over the fare.
1. Taxi from Airport
I get a paper from the taxi dispatching counter which is immediately taken away and replaced by another paper. Which is immediately taken away by my assigned taxi driver. Does that make sense?
My taxi driver grimly points to his vehicle and commands me to shlep my heavy bag there.
In the car he says "I pay highway, no problem". He obviously talks about the extra-fees for the express road. Usually these fees are added to the metered fare.
I say "no… why… I'll pay that later…"
He: "450 baht!"
Only now I realize the meter isn't on.
I ask him to turn on the meter.
He repeats, "450!"
He obviously wants a fixed 450 baht (14 USD), while the regular metered fare plus highway fee is rarely over 300 baht total (nine USD).
I open the door in the middle of the highway and simulate jumping out.
The meter goes on.
I need to go to the Ruamchit Plaza hotel, on 199 Sukhumvit road, near soi (side lane) 15.
I say the hotel name, but my driver won't understand. He speaks very little English except numbers and while I can say numbers in Thai, I fail to make clear the difference between lane number and house number. The taxi driver gets angry because I repeat the numbers "15" and "199" in Thai plus something of "soi" (lane) and "baan" (house) and now he has no clue if I need soi 15 or soi 199 and why I bring the high, unlikely, number anyway. I mention the "Thermae Bar", which is in the same building as the hotel, but that rings no bell either.
We crawl down Sukhumvit road until we see the "Ruamchit" sign.
I ask him to stop there but he only slows down a bit more and says "Tip one hundred, HAHAHAHA" and then "Tip hundred, HAHAHAHAHA". He thinks he's charming.
I pay the exact amount of 269 baht including highway fees (eight USD). The driver looks most indignantly at me.
2. Ruamchit Plaza Hotel
The Ruamchit room (1200 baht without breakfast; 36 USD) doesn't make you want to stay inside, so I set out for a pub crawl. But I notice that the room door can't be locked: It should be locked right after closing it, but you can still press it open. I can't lock it any further from outside.
I call reception who sighs and sends a dark faced guy. He plays around with the door for five minutes, then hands me another room key: "Change room!"
All my things had already been spread around the old room. But now I inspect the new room. It is even uglier, it is next to the lift, which I don't like at all, and it has a strong nicotine stench.
"This room has a bad smell", I moan.
"Open air-con", he says.
I try and understand his idea: The air-con camouflages the nicotine stench with a stench of rotting durian (the famous Asian "bad smell fruit").
Now I have to shlep my things to the other room. The housekeeping guy looks on very impatiently; he clearly would like to be somewhere else and isn't interested in passively watching a westerner changing rooms. At one point, when I move the big bag without having closed it, things fall out and spread around the corridor on the seventh floor. Even white sand from Boracay, Philippines, now graces the Ruamchit Plaza hotel floor.
The dark faced housekeeping guy watches me angrily as I put back things into my bag in this forlorn darkish corridor.
Under his black, disapproving eyes, I make the final shift to my new lockable nicotine durian stench room.
3. 87 Club
Before I finally set out for a pub crawl, I make a few phone calls to Bangkok Airways and to Phnom Penh to arrange my onward travel. Then I take a taxi to Conrad Hotel's Club 87 on Wireless Road. I don't know the concoctions on their cocktail menu, but I order a "Bora Bori Bally Hoopla" (or so).
Next I order a caipirinha. The friendly energetic waitress checks the clock. "Why don't you get another Bora Bori Bally Hoopla instead", she asks?
"Before 10.30 pm it's two cocktails for one", she smiles, "and we're still in that timeframe!"
4. Saxophone Pub
The live music at the 87 Club is a tad soapy, so later that night I finger food at Saxophone Pub's bar near Victory Square. Pure plays, my favorite Thai band for western rock covers. Their version of Deep Purple's "Highway Star" is furious. They do good easy jazz as well. They also throw in two pieces of spicy spicy morlam, Thai country salsa rock. It's a fantastic concert, the Thai and western crowd is heaving, Thai customers hand big banknotes over to the lead singeress, everybody seems to adore the lady singer.
Some time after 2 AM all is quiet in the Saxophone Pub. I step to the spectacular lead singeress and tell her how much I enjoyed this extraordinary performance.
She bows deeply, wais and says with a gentle smile, "Oh, thank you so much for coming here. I am happy you enjoyed our music."
5. Bangkok Airways to Phnom Penh
Between changing rooms in the Ruamchit and setting out for 87 Club, I had called Bangkok Airways to ask if I could fly to Phnom Penh one day earlier than booked. No problem, they replied, but if I knew that the airplane had a "scheduled delay" of 60 minutes?
"Scheduled delay" – their words.
"Due to aircraft rotation", they said. Is that a *vertical* rotation? Scary.
I told them I would call back soon and called Phnom Penh to arrange accommodation. After that, I called Bangkok Airways again to finally change my date of flight. No problem, they replied, but if I knew that the airplane had a "scheduled delay" of 90 minutes?
Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok, one day later. At check-in I am asked if I knew that the airplane had a "scheduled delay" of 100 minutes? I receive a Delay Meal Voucher worth 250 baht (7,5 USD); it's usable only at Burger King behind passport control and not at the smarter cafés in the departure area.
I stand in an endless queue for passport control, it's the line for non-Thais. This will take 40 minutes I guess, much longer than I expected. So I will have very little time to use my vouchers at Burger King.
The lines for travelers with Thai passports are much shorter.
In front of me stands a beautiful Indian lady; from behind, another beautiful Indian lady joins her. In English they discuss the long wait in the non-Thais line and that their plane to Bangalore will leave so soon. The extra Indian lady never leaves her new place right in front of me, and at the passport control I can watch her being checked for an extra long time.
Finally through passport control myself, I sprint to Burger King and in my hurry wolf down two veggie burgers. The counter lady there also squeezes a bottle of mineral water onto me to make full use of the amount on the Delay Meal Voucher. I need to drink something, but with time running out, I hurry towards my gate. The security lady there throws my water into a trash bin.
Out of breath I arrive at the gate proper, where Bangkok Airways ground staff ask me if I knew that the flight had 120 minutes "scheduled delay"?
I sit down and try to relax.
We leave Bangkok 140 minutes late.
Ah, the endless frustrations of life in Bangkok. Sometimes service exceeds all expectations and sometimes it is so appallingly bad that you wonder how the business can survive…