April Fool’s Day Redux
“Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”.
Having gotten suckered last year by Stick’s April Fool’s day column, I was on the lookout for any snare that he might lay out for the readers this year. Needless to say I wasn’t tempted for a moment to believe “A Big Bunch of Bananas”.
But while I was busy congratulating myself for being so damned clever, I was completely unaware that Stick was laying out a more devious plot to fool Old Sawadee personally…and man did he reel me in, hook, line and sinker!
It all started innocently enough when I made plans to meet up with Stick on a trip to Bangkok last week. Now normally the week before Songkran is not the time I would have chosen to visit The Big Mango. The weather is hot…really hot, and frankly Old Sawadee begins to wilt when the mercury pushes 100 F. Unfortunately this was the only time when our two schedules were in alignment, so on Tuesday April 2nd I headed off for my rendezvous with destiny.
In the past, making a trip to Bangkok meant getting on the dreaded bus for an 8-hour trip. I long ago gave up taking the night bus. I could never get comfortable, let alone sleep, even if it was a VIP bus. The daytime is more tolerable, but still it is a loooong haul, and I always arrived with a sore back and exhausted.
This time around I decided to take advantage of my monthly Social Security payments and fly down instead. Although Air Asia has some real bargains for flights out of Chiang Mai, they all need to be booked in advance. Since I was flying on short notice, I booked a ticket with Nok Air. Nok Air also had more convenient flights available. Mine departed at 11:45 in the morning and arrived at 12:45 PM. With all the assorted fees, the cost of a round trip ticket was just a little over 4,000 baht, which I consider a bargain, especially when you weigh a 16-hour round trip bus ride, to a 2-hour roundtrip flight.
Chiang Mai Airport has to be one of the easiest I’ve ever seen to get in and out of. I know the location well, since it is almost next door to Thai Immigration. It took me not much over an hour to drive from my home in Lampang, to the airport parking lot.
Once inside the terminal and after getting my luggage scanned, it was a breeze to check in at the Nok Air counter. It took less than a minute to get my boarding pass.
The departure lounge at Chiang Mai Airport is comfortable, and thankfully the air-conditioning was turned up to counter the hot weather outside. With some time on my hands I took out my Kindle and read a classic story of Barsoom by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Finally it was time to board, and with some friendly help from a smiling Nok Air flight attendant, I was soon seated, buckled in and ready for takeoff. I don’t know who is in charge of hiring the flight attendants for Nok Air, but they certainly know how to pick them. In my humble opinion they are both lovely and competent…not to mention quite fetching in their sunflower yellow uniforms.
A one hour flight means that you are up at cruising altitude and down again on the ground before you know it. Once in the terminal at Don Meuang, I had only a short wait before collecting my one piece of luggage. The wait was even shorter in the taxi queue. An attendant at a desk asked me my destination, handed me a slip of paper, and a few seconds later I was in a taxi headed for Sukhumvit Road on the expressway.
As I have for a number of years now, I decided to stay at a hotel on Soi 18. The rooms there while not luxurious, were always clean and comfortable, and I find the location to be desirable. The hotel is located at the very end of Soi 18, which is a dead-end street. Although it is a few minutes’ walk to Sukhumvit Road, I like the fact that there is no through traffic, and hence less noise. From there it is an easy walk to the Asoke BTS station, The Emporium, Terminal 21, and for those who are inclined to go there, Soi Cowboy.
Until now, my stays there had been without incident. My room was always in order, and I had nothing whatsoever to complain about. This time however, things did not go smoothly from the very beginning. If nothing else, when the weather in Bangkok is blisteringly hot, you expect the air-conditioning to be in working order. In my room, number 207 to be precise, the air-conditioning was definitely not working properly. Even with the thermostat turned down all the way, the room was still much too warm to be able to get a good night’s sleep. I made this known to the manger the next morning. The manager was an amiable Englishman who sympathized with my problem and promised to get someone over to fix the air-conditioning unit. I thought that the refrigerant gas needed to be re-charged, which is not a big nor an expensive operation. I had it done last year at my home for a few hundred baht. In any case he said that if I was not satisfied, he would move me to another room where the air-conditioning was definitely working. You can’t get any fairer than that, right?
This being Thailand, I was not terribly surprised that the problem had not been corrected when evening rolled around. I let the manager know that I was ready to take up his kind offer and move to another room. He handed me a key to room number 307, I packed up my things, lugged it all to the next floor, opened the door, stepped inside, which is when my jaw dropped. The room was a nightmare. The furniture looked as though a drunken lout had been hammering on everything. In the bathroom I found a toilet that needed flushing, and a bathtub that was filthy beyond belief.
I should mention that instead of my usual “standard’ room, I had booked a “deluxe” room. Since I was going to be staying four nights, I figured that it was worth a few hundred baht more to have an arm chair and a little more room to move around. I was not happy to say the least to be shown this dump and have it be presented as “deluxe”.
I quickly found the manager at the hotel bar, and motioned him to follow him up to my room. I asked him quietly if he found this room to be acceptable. He immediately started apologizing, and saying that no this room was certainly not acceptable. While I was at it, I also inquired as to why my old room had never been cleaned that day, as it should have been. He then began complaining that at the moment the hotel had a problem with staff shortages. I wondered to myself why his problem should suddenly become my problem.
The manager told me to head back down to the second floor where I was invited to stay in one of the hotel’s suites. Now this was more like it I thought as I opened the door to number 208. The room as a large area divided into a sleeping area, living room area and Jacuzzi area. This was in addition to the bathroom, which was a separate room. There were three televisions, including a large flat screen in the “living room”. Most importantly to me was the fact that both of the suite’s two air-conditioners were working perfectly.
What was not working properly was the bathroom’s hot water supply. I found that out when I went to take a shower. There was plenty of water, but it was all cold water. Saying to hell with it, I wound up taking a cold shower. The next morning I mentioned this problem to one of the hotel staff, who immediately came up and fiddled with some electronic controls in a box. Eventually hot water was available.
That evening I decided to try out the suite’s Jacuzzi. Not surprisingly it took a long time to fill the tub. Not surprisingly after everything else that had gone wrong, I pressed the switch to start the water jets, and…nothing happened. I didn’t even bother telling anyone.
I should make it clear that I would have been more than satisfied with a simple room that was clean and where everything was functioning. I am not the kind of the guy who is looking for more than I’ve paid for…but that being said, I was willing to cheerfully take what I was offered. I had been a loyal customer who not only had stayed at least a dozen times in the past, but who had enthusiastically recommended it to friends and to you, the readers of this website.
I do feel sorry for the manager, who apparently is working under some difficult working conditions. The new manager says that he has been calling for the owners to do a lot of necessary maintenance and upkeep, but hasn’t to date received any funds to get the work accomplished. I hope that this will be done soon, because a small hotel at the end of a dead-end street, which doesn’t get any walk by or drive by traffic can ill afford bad publicity. As we all know, you only get one chance to make a first impression. An unsatisfied customer will tell everyone he knows not to stay at a sub-standard facility. That is not the kind of publicity that a hotel which is never more than 40% occupied needs.
I’ll be curious if the situation improves the next time I’m in town. If it has, I will be sure to let you know. If it has not, I’ll likewise keep you informed. Personally I would highly recommend that if any of you are contemplating making a reservation, to demand that your room be clean and everything in it working properly…and that you aren’t willing to accept anything less than that!
Okay, enough about my room problems. What about everything else on my trip? I am happy to say that everything else went smoothly…up to the point of Stick’s big surprise, but I’ll get to that later.
As I have previously mentioned, Bangkok was unbelievably hot. It was not the best weather for walking around, but since I was there, I did indeed spend a lot of time walking around. Stick and I went out to dinner three nights on lower Sukhumvit, and it was often easier to walk than to take the sky train.
One night I suggested Dosa King on Soi 11, which serves some truly outstanding vegetarian Indian food. I highly recommend it. Another night we ate at Sunrise Tacos. The Mexican food was plentiful, colorful and delicious. One night I ate by myself at Bei Otto on Soi 20. A steady diet of this excellent German cuisine would probably kill you, but for a once a year treat, it didn’t have any deleterious effect on me. While there I enjoyed the single beer of my trip, an amazing dark beer which was like manna from heaven.
One morning I walked to the nearby Emporium, where Old Sawadee scored some pot…oh sorry, what I meant to say was a pot. Specifically in the kitchen department I found something I had been looking for, but had never found… a heavy non-stick pot for my morning oatmeal. Like many of you (or so I hope) I like my morning bowl of steaming hot soluble fiber. I assume that I’m not the only one who doesn’t enjoy the lengthy process of scrubbing out the pot. Oatmeal does tend to adhere like cement, even after a long soaking. To my everlasting joy, I found a small Circulon pot that was on sale for 30% off. You will be please to know that I have already tried it out in my kitchen, where it works like a charm. What can I say? Some macho neo-Neanderthals get excited about an AR-15 assault rifle with a 100 round drum magazine full of ammo. I on the other hand prefer the pleasures of cooking up a healthy breakfast. Go figure!
Speaking of healthy food, I am proud to say that while strolling past counter after counter of high calorie, sugar laden junk food, I maintained enough steel hard determination to just say no!
While walking around Terminal 21with Stick, I did indulge in a banana/berry fruit smoothie (no added sugar), which was fantastic, and on the street I succumbed to a few bottles of pomegranate juice. I only find this when I come to Bangkok.
Stick and I braved the heat and went for a short excursion on the Chaophya River to Wat Arun. Near the dock where we got off to continue walking to China Town was an interesting fellow selling dragon fruit juice. Now there’s something you don’t get to try everyday! We then walked over to Little India, where we enjoyed a light lunch at he always outstanding Royal India restaurant. After lunch we parted ways to go about our separate business, but made plans to meet at 6:30 that evening for dinner at an Egyptian restaurant where Stick promised me one hell of a surprise. No amount of ardent questioning on my part would get Stick to drop even a hint of what the surprise was, although he did finally admit that it would definitely not be a girl jumping out of a cake.
Fast forward to 6:30 where I met up with Stick at the corner of Soi Nana, which was our agreed upon rendezvous. Stick said that he had something to do, which would only take a moment, and together we walked into the lobby of the Nana Hotel. Wow, I hadn’t set foot there since 1998 on my very first visit to Thailand. Now there was a place with a few memories!
Up near the reception desk Stick hailed someone who I presumed was an old friend, and brought him over to say hello. Here folks is where I proved beyond a doubt, that when it comes to getting on in years, it’s the mind that is the first thing to go. The fellow directly in front of me embraced me in a bear hug as if we were long lost buddies, but I merely stared at him with a blank look on my face, and stupidly thought to myself, “Who the hell is this guy”? Meanwhile the erstwhile “stranger” and Stick were convulsing with laughter at my seeming inability to recognize someone I ought to have known instantly. Walking along in stunned silence, this fellow recounted meeting my wife and began describing my home in quite some detail.
Slowly…painfully slowly, the 15 watt light bulb inside Old Sawadee’s pea-sized cerebral cortex began to dimly illuminate the cob-webbed depths of whatever part of my brain ancient memories are haphazardly stored. “Aren’t you supposed to be in the Philippines?” I tentatively inquired. His only response was more maniacal laughter. I tied to remember the last time I saw him. He certainly did not even vaguely resemble the person who was standing next to me. The person I remember had a head full of hair and definitely not a beard and mustache and a scalp smooth as a billiard ball…yet I couldn’t deny that now despite any change in sartorial fashion was indeed Korski! What a schmuck I felt like! Korski! The man had visited my home for a few days…granted it was some years ago, but for me not to recognize him was embarrassing to say the least.
Luckily Korski is a warm-hearted and generous man who immediately forgave me. He, Stick and I proceed to have a delicious dinner at Nefaritu, where we talked and reminisced for hours. Eventually the three of us said goodnight and each of us headed off into the night.
The next morning I grabbed a taxi and headed back to Don Meuang. Before long I was in the air, winging my way to Chiang Mai. A little over an hour later I was back in my truck, and after an uneventful drive I was back home in Lampang. I think I am a definite convert to flying to Bangkok.
Sitting here writing down this story I’m glad I have the ability to laugh at myself, because I have to congratulate Stick for giving me the best surprise I have had for many years. I will say though, that while Korski wasn’t looking I secretly memorized every one of his facial features, down to the very pores of his skin, so that the next time we meet, even if he has dyed his skin chartreuse or indigo and is sporting an enormous Afro, I will immediately greet him with, “Aren’t you supposed to be in the Philippines?”
It was hilarious how long it took you to realise who it was. We went from chit chat in the Nana hotel lobby, to a slow walk outside, up soi 4, stopped at the Nana intersection, crossed the road, along to soi 3/1, up soi 3/1, in to the restaurant and it wasn't until then when you got it… I think Korski is still laughing now!