Welcome to Khmerland

Sunday 5th December 2004

It was the King's 77th birthday today. An interesting nugget of information was that he was actually born in Massachusetts USA whilst his parents were both studying at Harvard.

We woke up around 10am with a gentle hangover. I always say that there's only one thing to do with a hangover and that's to feed it! There's nothing better than a fatty stodgy fry up to cure it. We however ordered healthy and delicious Focaccia sandwiches for lunch at about 11am.

We were totally lacklustre with no motivation to do anything at all today. It was almost 1pm before we ventured out of the sanctuary of our hotel room. We wanted to go to Siam square to hunt out some diazepam over the counter because Julie had almost run out, so we caught the express boat down to Saphan Taksin stop for the sky train station.

Just as we were getting off the boat I thought I saw someone I recognised. He was walking towards the station, as we were, so we stalked him from a safe distance. When he was buying his ticket at the dispenser it gave me an opportunity to have a really good look at him and yes he was who I thought he was. I tapped him on his shoulder and said "Hello, how are you?" He looked at me completely at a lost. "We met a few months back in Banbury"

For a few seconds he was very unsure and must have thought I was on drugs or something but then kerplunk it clicked and we shook hands like reunited old school friends. He went by the name of Monty but I didn't know this at the time. We had met at a 'Magic of Cambodia' day organised by Andy Brouwer back in September. This went beyond mere coincidence! Six thousand miles away from Oxfordshire and some eight weeks later to bump into this guy in the middle of this sprawling metropolis was just unreal. So many factors were involved for our paths to have crossed. The odds of that ever happening must be phenomenal!

What makes it even more extraordinary was that Monty and I had spent five minutes in the company of Dawn Rooney that day! The three of us chatted briefly whilst she signed our copies of her Angkor book. Having shared the briefest of moments in Banbury then to have met them both during this trip was just so astonishing. It was quite absurd really. I'm sure no one would ever believe us, it would just sound too far fetched!

He was a fascinating bloke. He'd been in South East Asia for a month already and had just returned to Bangkok from a balloon festival Myanmar. He showed us photographs that he had took of a family in Rangoon and was on his way to deliver them to relatives in Bangkok.

From here he was on his way to Yunnan, China for several weeks. In that respect I was quite envious of him.

We got off the train at Siam Square and found the MBK shopping centre. This was a massive and terribly disorientating complex.

It was a small miracle that we found a pharmacist, but there was no salvation for Julie because it turned out that diazepam was no longer available without a prescription.

She resigned herself to having to fly home on half dosage.

Jim Thompson House wasn't far from here. We walked beneath the sky train tracks, following it until we saw a sign for JT then turned right, down a non-descript alley.

If it wasn't for the sign we would never had ventured down it. At the end, sure enough, there it was, the famous Jim Thompson House.


There was a museum, a shop, and a restaurant. We weren't in the mood to walk around the museum so we only stopped for a drink at the café. It was a very calming space. We sat down next to a large pond where dinosaur sized Koi Carps gently swimming about.

We had a quick scoot around the shop where we bought a really cute elephant teddy for our soon-to-be-born god child. (Her due date was tomorrow 6th December) The price was fairly reasonable, we'd expected to pay an inflated price because who and where we bought it from. Although it was probably the smallest and cheapest item we could have bought!

We left the shop and walked back towards Siam Square but by now we were both feeling quite feeble. After several days reclusion at the sparsely populated Evason resort we were finding the city way too busy to handle. I'm sure our delicate heads didn't help either. Our hangover had been fermenting all day and was now kicking in full swing. We pathetically crawled back to the sanctuary of our hotel room for a two hour siesta.

We had set the alarm for 5pm because we had to get dressed for the dinner. We were returning to the Loy Nava rice barge after enjoying it so much on our last visit. When I reserved a table for this time they actually had on record that Julie didn't enjoy the previous dinner cruise! They even asked if she suffered from sea sickness as they could perhaps give her something to calm the stomach.

Little did they know that it was a night before a flight and she thought she was doomed, especially as she did not receive a Jasmine good luck charm on boarding the boat!

The Loy Nava conveniently picks up its customers at the Sri Phraya pier alongside the Sheraton hotel so we didn't have far to walk. Despite arriving on time we were the last on board and the "You've made it at last" comment from the owner wasn't exactly welcoming.

We sat at the front table which had the advantage of a great view of the river. It unfortunately felt a lot bouncier than we remembered.

We rocked and rolled through our food which also suffered from being the last to be served.

The temperature varied from being lukewarm to stone cold. They all tasted good but when tepid they didn't seem as appetising. Our experience tonight certainly wasn't as pleasurable as before; never mind.

As we returned down river we all had an option to get off at the Tha Tien pier to join in the King's Birthday festivities in park outside the Grand Palace.

I had cut short our beach stay just so that I could be here tonight so I was raring to get off!

We walked out towards the Grand Palace. The whole place was buzzing; heaving with people. We shuffled slowly along the pavements towards Sanam Luang.

We reached the square in time to witness everybody coming to a standstill, light a candle, and sing what we assumed to be the National Anthem followed by a Happy Birthday song. Apparently the whole country stops and does this. It was quite moving.

As we walked around we were rocked back onto our heels when the firework display exploded into life feet away from where we were standing.

I'd never before witnessed such an outpouring of fireworks.

An erupting volcano of firecrackers spewed out of the earth pounding our ears with an almighty aural assault that left us exhilarated and jaw dropped.

With the last blast still ringing in our ears our temporary tinnitus made us think that we should have stood a little further away from the detonation site.

Shell shocked we wandered along the edge of the park before turning back down towards Tha Tien pier.

It was really hard work. Coaches filled the road, mopeds filled the pavements and any other available space was filled by the crowd flowing in the opposite direction.

When we arrived at the pier we found out why we were swimming against the tide. The Express boat service finished at 7:30pm we were over an hour late. We had no choice but to find an alternative way back to our hotel. We walked away from the masses down towards Wat Po keeping an eye out for an empty tuk tuk or metered taxi scooting past; but there was no chance! Every time we saw one, they were overfilled with revellers. We resigned ourselves to walking all the way back. Now whilst in general Bangkok is a safe city I'm sure at night there are some dark alleyways down which it would not be prudent to walk.

"There's an empty one!"

I flagged him down by waving like a lunatic. He screeched to a halt some 5 metres past us. The smile on my face however quickly disappeared when the driver just didn't understand me when I said "Royal Orchid Sheraton" No matter how I said it, "Ro-Yal Or-Chid She-Raa-Ton" he just didn't get it. I even tried it in a Thai accent but to no avail. We reluctantly had to let him go.

We trudged away down the side of Wat Po feeling pretty low as we watched our tuk tuk rescuer leaving with out us, disappearing into the darkness. It would be one hell of a trek to walk all the way back. To make matters worse I hadn't brought a map with me. I planned to follow the river but there were no roads that actually did mirror the Chao Praya. I knew Chinatown wasn't far from here and we have walked back to the hotel from there before, but which way for Chinatown? We were on the verge of getting lost!

Thankfully before too long another empty tuk tuk came hurtling towards us. We flagged it down like our lives depended on it. We repeated the farce of trying to get him to understand the name of our hotel. I had that sinking feeling again before coming up with an inspirational alternative. "Patpong?" I asked hopefully. He nodded knowingly. Halle bloody lujah !! He asked for 200 Baht and I wasn't about to argue despite only having only 230 Baht in my pocket. At least I knew my way back from Patpong down Silom Road and up Watchamacallit Road. We jumped in the back and off we shot.

We whizzed across the city at break neck speed, at times just inches away from the bumpers and exhaust fumes of lorries and buses. At least with every passing second we were getting nearer our hotel. He dropped us off at an unfamiliar end of Patpong and we didn't know which way was up. Did we walk right or left? We bit the bullet and went right. In a while another tuk tuk stopped and asked if we wanted a ride. I told him that I couldn't afford him but could he tell which way to the Orchid Sheraton? To know we were heading in the right direction was priceless!

We were working up quite a sweat especially as Julie was pounding the pavement to the beat of a quick march. She felt quite uncomfortable wandering the deserted streets at this time of night. Bangkok is like any other city, it's perfectly safe as long as you avoid dark empty streets!

We arrived exhausted by our trek and went straight up to our room. The band was having a night off so we didn't have a reason to sit up all night drinking again. We slumped onto our bed and fell asleep to the BBC World News showing the Thai military dropping millions of paper cranes over the southern provinces as good will messages to the troubled area.

Monday 6th December 04 >>  
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