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Bangkok Now – And Then




The time I write about begins in May 2000 – my first visit to The Kingdom – but I was already a “monger” before I left my home country after a significant number of regular liaisons with Thai girls, one Japanese girl and a couple of Chinese girls over a period of several years. Prior to leaving for Bangkok in May 2000, I had been on my own for around 4 years, following the divorce from my English wife – but my experiences with Thai women on a casual basis were not enough. I wanted a Thai wife – Asian women were like a magnet for me. I could never resist them (and still cannot).

The year 2000 was a great time – “jamming” on guitar with a couple of pickers I had known for years during the day and playing most nights. I had my acreage property in the mountains and life was pretty good because I could do almost anything I wanted – except I didn't have what I wanted most – an Asian wife. Sometimes I want those times back again – especially the camaraderie and the bond I had with Jo. She was one of the waitresses in one of the clubs where I played – and it was she who encouraged me to “follow that dream”.

Bangkok was so special right from the start – and I have been to many international cities (especially in US) – but none captured my heart like Bangkok. Nothing came even remotely close. Needless to tell you I love Bangkok.

In 12 years there have been many changes in Bangkok but, back then, there were high-rise buildings dotted around Ratchaprasong and Sathorn in various stages of being uncompleted because of the effects of the 1997 financial “crash” and there seemed little likelihood that they ever would be completed. I stayed with friends at Sammakorn Village on Nimitmai, Khlong Sam Wa – where the feeling was one of optimism mixed with the underlying, deep-down belief that their investments were not as stable as originally planned. People were trying to sell out of the many gated estates – but there seemed to be little success for most as the banks moved in for repossession.

During 2011, I drove out to Nimitmai to see Sammakorn Village but I had this feeling of devastation to see so many derelict properties that were, once, so lovely – some seemingly now abandoned but some residents still hanging on, probably as tenants. I hardly recognized the estate where I had stayed back in 2000. Last night I logged onto the Sammakorn website to check out what is happening out there – not a lot. There were only listed a couple of properties for sale or lease (none on Nimitmai). I think the project was a dream that failed to reach the potential expected by the developers. Such a shame for that to happen with the timing of the 1997 “crash” and the resultant financial aftermath. I wondered if the planned location of the new Suvarnabhumi Airport spelled the death-knell for Sammakorn with owners perhaps unhappy to be living between two large airports and the associated take-off and glide-paths.

For some, this was a period of disaster while others found it to be the opening for a new era in Thailand's success after the failure of Chuan Leekpai's Government and the IMF intervention. This period ushered in the genesis of the Thai Rak Thai Party and the beginning of political and financial success for visionaries like Thaksin Shinawatra. We can probably thank “Thaksinomics” for the rapid growth that Thailand experienced from 2001 onwards – however, I don't wish this to be a political or economic analysis – just a trip down Memory Lane with a few detours. I don't think Stick would want this – but I could have a great time expanding on this period, politically and economically. Maybe some other time.

What I remember most is the old Don Meuang International Airport. I came to love that place so much – which is quite strange because I usually hate airports – but Don Muang was very different for me. It was a friendly place and I miss it so much. Suvarnabhumi International Airport has never had that feeling for me – very pretty from the outside but cold and sterile inside – too business-like and impersonal. I knew Don Muang like the back of my hand – transiting so many times for Chiang Mai after an early-morning arrival or an early-evening arrival from Chiang Mai to my flight out. My Thai wife, two kids and myself sat watching the unfolding invasion of Iraq on the TV screens in Don Meuang in 2003 while waiting for our flight out – wondering how this whole scenario would change the world as we knew it – and Thailand in particular. Well, it wasn't a change for the better – was it?

Perhaps I'm a Luddite at heart – but I don't like change – I wish Bangkok had stayed as it was in 2000. Oh, don't get me wrong – I love Bangkok with all my heart as it is – but I wish it was still 2000 and I could have it all over again. I want all of those experiences again – and again. The wish of a dreamer.

Central World will always be “World Trade Centre” to me – and across Khlong San Saep and left into Petchburi Rd, there were two derelict market places (Chalermlok and Nai-Lert) – mostly all precincts closed by then, except for a couple of Internet Lounges where I used to get pissed off no end when the service dropped out before the e-mail was finished and able to be sent <smile>. But that was OK – I could cope with that again. Today the sites are occupied by “Platinum Centre” – a place I dread going into with my Thai lady. But I do because she likes to look even though she hardly ever buys anything in spite of my efforts to encourage her to do so.

We had a really nice apartment in Sathorn – brand-new, fully furnished, with a fully-equipped kitchen that we never used because it was so much easier to ride the elevator downstairs and go buy food at the many soi vendors or take-away shops. My wife came back one afternoon and she was bubbling over with enthusiasm – “Darling, I find food I can buy from my own country”. I said to her “What do you mean? You have not been outside Thailand yet”. She threw her arms around my neck and said “I find Surin food not far from here” <smiles>.

I watched Siam Paragon being built – but I don't like going there because I remember what the site was like before it was built. It is too big and I get bored in there. Yeah, OK, the sidewalks on Rama I are a lot better now and you don't run the risk of a broken ankle any more if you are walking – but I walked down there so many times from Sukhumvit Soi 7/1 after the bars had closed and, drunk and all, I never had any injuries. Much better, of course, is the under-slung walkway beneath the skytrain – that is really good. I much prefer Siam Discovery for shopping – I always get lost in MBK (God, I must be a dill). Even my favourite lunchtime hangout (Outback Steakhouse) has changed location. For years, you could sit with a pint of Singha and a nice lunch while watching down into the courtyard below at all the workers and pretty young students having lunch on the concourse. No more is that possible because the outlook is now north-east toward Khlong San Saep.

So what am I trying to say? I don't even know – just venting feelings that I wish were no longer just memories of times and places that I still love even though there have been changes. Change is inevitable no matter where you go or live – but I don't like change. My 2nd wife was a psyche and she always said “You can view change as a threat or as a challenge – it's up to you how you see it”. She worked in Guys Hospital, London, for years. Yeah, right! I never was big on cognitive therapy. Put me in a time-warp for a specific period of time that I love – and run it over and over for ever and I will be happy as a pig in shit. Why can't life be like that? That's what I want.

One of my most admired contributors to this site is Korski. I am nowhere near as erudite as this man but I understand and respect his mission in life to expand his understanding of the various cultures on this planet. Although I am not a patron of Nana or Soi Cowboy (never have been) I prefer to single out small bars to talk with the bar-girls – not necessarily for sex. Sometimes, maybe – but the strong “monger” instinct has diminished in me somewhat and was replaced by interest in the person I am sharing time with. I want to hear their stories and I am happy to pay for their time. How else does one learn?

So, back to 2000! All the unfinished high-rise buildings, resulting from the 1997 “crash”, are now complete (except for few minor ones around Nana / Ploenchit maybe) and a lot more new ones as well. Where does one start? Probably the most significant improvements have been the extension of the Skytrain, and the Airport Link completion. Although the Skytrain was running in 2000, it would have been nice had the Airport Link been built. But, as my 2nd wife always used to say “Rome wasn't built in a day – only because I wasn't the foreman on the job”. She was a cocky little bugger, wasn't she? But then, she was a Sassenach (from Dundee, originally) – and a woman you would not want to cross swords with – but a woman you could respect. Grant me one wish, God – let it be 2000 for a while (or, for me, forever). Hey God – listen, can you throw in 2005 also as a choice for me in Chiang Mai? Make it like the GRUB loader for Linux and that will be fine for me so I can scroll down to choose the OS. Thanks God – I knew I could count on you.


Stickman's thoughts:

I too often find myself reminiscing about the Bangkok of old, the Bangkok I first arrived in, specifically the Bangkok of 1998 – 2002, 4 great years.

I've written a lot over the years about the changes in Bangkok and have tended to concentrate on the physical changes rather than those in the makeup of the people. Over dinner with author Christopher G. Moore the other night, he made the observation that Thais are more business-minded these days, that work is more important to them than it was say 15 years ago and with that there are fewer smiles as their minds are more often on work than the pursuit of fun. The city may be more of a concrete jungle than ever, but fewer smiles is just as noticeable.