Welcome to Khmerland
From Bangor... Bangkok  

Friday 19th November 2004

For most of the flight there was no benefit for having a window seat. All you could see was the dark void all around us but when we flew over India the skies below must have been exceptionally clear as we could see clusters of light like constellations. Was that New Delhi or Ursula Major?

About two hours before we were due to land we were 'woken up' by the hostesses distributing hand towels with a cheerful "Good Morning". If only we'd had a good night's sleep! I moan in jest actually because the heating system onboard must have been whacked up to the 'stiflingly warm' setting and a moist jasmine scented towel on the face and under the armpits was quite refreshing!

A tasty a la carte breakfast of ratatouille on a bed of crushed potatoes was served with an interesting fruit salad to follow. I say interesting because one of the fruits in the bowl was a peculiar 'yellow pepper' looking piece but it had such a deliciously mellow and sweet flavour. I just have no idea what it was.

Before too long we were rapidly descending from our 39000 feet and getting ready to land. The ears popped, Julie's hyper-nerves were re-activated as she sat in the brace position, waiting for the worse to happen. There was no cause for alarm however as the landing was one of the smoothest. Once we came to a stop an elated Julie announced "God Bless Diazepam and all who fly with her"! Praise for the pharmaceutical cocktail that got her on the Boeing 747 but personally I think it had more to do with courage than happy pills.

She was so overjoyed at being back on terra firma that she literally skipped through Thai passport control with a glorious smile on her face. "We're back in Bangkok!" she thrilled! I was a bit concerned that she was going to get arrested for being too jovial but I needn't have worried; we were entering the Land of Smiles afterall!

We collected our luggage, found our Kuoni rep at the meeting point and gave him our surname. "Aha, Owen," he said "very famous name". We have the astonishing global attraction of football to thank for that! For a brief moment I thought about passing myself off as Michael Owen's brother when he asked if we were related but I chose not to be so sad!

"Did you have a pleasant flight?" he asked. We both just looked at each other and laughed before we politely replied to the rep, "Yes, it was fine". We didn't want to be at all negative because from our last visit we found that he would probably feel personally responsible for our bad experience even if he had absolutely nothing to do with it.

From Don Muang airport we caught our transfer coach and as we neared the city all the memories came flooding back from our previous visit, and coincidentally for our first stop we pulled up at the Holiday Inn on Silom Road where we stayed four years ago. Everyone got off here, so we recommended the Tandoor Indian restaurant to those sat nearest to us.

Only us were now left on the coach (and the driver of course), as we struggled slowly through the 7:30am traffic jam. (Is there anytime when Bangkok is quiet?) Half an hour later we eventually turned down the alley towards the Royal Orchid Sheraton. It was such a great feeling to finally arrive. Our marathon journey was at an end. We could now relax, well, as much as you can in this crazy city.

We checked in and despite it only being 8am our room was ready and waiting for us. Julie must have still been under the influence of the diazepam because she strolled into the elevator despite knowing that we had to go up to the 22nd floor! Now that's unheard of in her lifetime! She's even complained about being put on the 9th floor before now!

We entered the room, and the reality of how high we were quite literally floored Julie. She hit the deck and crawled along to the bed. "Oh my giddy aunt, shit a brick, the building's moving" she screamed as her drug-induced composure was well and truly lost!

The window was veiled in a hessian blind but the view of the river below could still be made out. I lifted this to unveil an incredible sight. It was a stunning scene.

We were situated on the bend and we both (yes even Julie) sat there and marvelled at the city.

She soon acclimatised enough to pop open a bottle of champagne to celebrate our return.

"Back to Bangkok and Beyond!" I toasted in a voice not remotely resembling Buzz Lightyear!

Our suitcases were brought up to our room where the porter also noted my surname and said "Ah, name like Michael Owen, face like David Beckham". For that he deservedly got a 100 Baht tip! We sat in our robes, drank the both bottles of duty free Champagne, and continued to watch the river life go by. The combination of jet lag and alcohol finally sent us into a beautiful six hour deep sleep.

I was rudely awoken from my coma by Julie screaming in agony from her cramping calf muscle. I administered what is probably the only first aid that I know and that's to bend the foot back to stretch the cramp out. There's nothing worse than being woken up by cramp. It's such a violent awakening!

After recovering from our mini trauma we were starving and sat down to room service. The guy who brought it up failed to recognise my uncanny resemblance to any footballer so he almost didn't get his paltry 40 Baht tip! The quality of the food was superb. Julie said that the focaccia bread of her sandwich was absolutely perfect and my pasta with tomato was simple yet the sauce was full of intensity.

It was now about 4pm and in only a few hours we were due to eat again at the "Thailand Tonight" dinner and show at the hotel. However, before we, or more precisely Julie, could make a public appearance I was called upon to perform my husbandry duties and wax her hairy legs! Oh the agony! The torture! The sheer joy of it! I'm just so glad I am a man!

In a blink of an eye it was time to go down to the riverfront for the show. As we stepped out of the chilled air conditioned hotel the warm air came as quite a surprise. It was dark outside yet it was still very humid. It felt as if we were stepping inside an oven. On stage was a soloist bamboo xylophone player giving us an authentic plinky plonky soundtrack to walk around the sumptuous Thai buffet.

The spread was plentiful but after my arse holding me hostage on our last visit I couldn't stop myself from thinking that these plates full of food have been festering in this heat all day, attracting flies fresh from the Chao Praya. Obviously my fears were unfounded as what I ate was piping hot and delicious. Although when I popped in a piece of Papaya all those toilet horrors came squirting back. I just couldn't swallow it, not for love nor money.

All the vegetarian options had been thoughtfully placed to one side. One of the choices looked very much like fish but a rotund cheerful chef promised me that it wasn't; so I tried it. I was so relieved when it tasted of a very delicious woody mushroom. And so I filled my plate high with it! Julie had a vast choice on offer and plumped for freshly barbecued meats and some Pad Thai noodles.

We were sat a fair distance away from the stage, so when the performance began I was up and down at every change of dancers to take their photograph.

They looked striking in their costumes and I must admit to thinking how pretty one was before realising that she was a he! Oh dear!

My continuous photographing wasn't conducive to a romantic meal as I was absent from the table for much of the evening but fortunately Julie wasn't too upset by the lack of attention; she actually found it funny, joking "Only that Japanese man has been taking more photos than you!"

It was a very balmy evening and we were sweating buckets just sitting still. I don't know how hot the dancers must have been, especially those wearing those full face masks.

Once the performance was over they mingled amongst the guest for photo opportunities.

Two lady dancers were heading my way, so I stood up and posed for a photo with them.

They were full of smiles but when I failed to produce a few Baht for their trouble their smile quickly disappeared.

I felt violated and used!

As our body clocks fooled us into feeling like it was mid afternoon we continued the evening in the lobby bar where the resident band was playing.

We sat down to listen to them and they were very good; very smooth and easy listening.

They had a guest female singer, called Grace, who sung on about half of the set and really lifted the songs. She certainly caught the eye as well as the ears.

Three hours later they were still singing and we were still drinking!

We had a great vantage for people watching. The lobby life was quite an eye opener as we saw plenty of fat white westerners with young Thai girls (and a few boys) who walked like a saddle sore John Waynes, bandy legged and knackered.

We finally made it to our bed by 2am, falling asleep to that amazing view of the river.

 

Saturday 20th Nov 04 >>
ęCopyright Colin Owen 2005 Contact me at c.a.owen@bangor.ac.uk