Filling in a few hours in the heart of the concrete jungle
27.02.2008 - 27.02.2008
Flying into the new Suvarnabhumi International Airport from Budapest gives you the first hint of what’s to come in the vast metropolis of Bangkok. The airport is huge and its architecture as erratic and a little over the top as is downtown with its mega sized shopping complexes and the criss-cross of heavy concrete skyways and over passes that tend to knit together in one massive concrete jungle. The constant traffic snarls at ground level makes you realise that these elevated passageways are the only safest way get from one side of the broad, choked street to the other, forcing pedestrians to navigate on high in an atmosphere of thick pollution from the crawling, tooting traffic below. It’s almost as if airports reflect the good or bad growth of the city they service for the older Don Mueang Airport is far more simpler as probably Bangkok was years ago.
So, I arrive late afternoon and have a flight to catch early the next afternoon giving me an evening and a morning to experience what I can of Bangkok. Having done some research, I decided to stay overnight at a little cheap hostel called Wendy’s House. Basically for backpackers but as I’m starting to realise the 60-plusses are now having their second go at youthful travel, or maybe reliving their hippy days, and are a good percentage of inmates. Wendy’s is in a small street near the Siam Centre and the massive Central World Plaza and for about $30 a night with breakfast and friendly, helpful staff, it’s small but fine.
So checked in, now what do I do as the sun is starting to go down and I’m getting hungry? I go across the concrete overpasses to the MBK complex. Here on the fifth floor is a more upmarket hawkers food bazaar called, naturally, the Fifth Floor Avenue Food Hall. You enter the pristine compound and given a smart card, unfortunately no photography allowed inside so I can’t show you the checkout, but it’s very much like the hawkers food stalls that are still spread across outer parts of the city and across Asia. The prices are a little higher but for around $10 you can still have a substantial meal and a beer from a pretty good variety of international cuisines. You make your choice of dishes from the snap-frozen displays, your card is swiped and you’re given a receipt. Your dish is freshly coked on the spot and when you’ve finished your meal you pay the total of you receipts as you exit. The large eating area that is extremely well managed and kept very clean.
After a meal I was a bit tired so a stroll back across the bridge to the Siam Discovery Centre to watch a bit of skateboarding in the Centres atrium with thrills and spills aplenty.
Next morning after an ample breakfast I longed for a Thai massage. This is what every visitor must have but be aware that there are varying degrees of those whose hands will be upon you as to their ability to give a good, strong massage. The parlour across opposite Wendy’s I can recommend.
With a new sense of wellbeing, I headed for the Jim Thompson Silk Museum in the next street. A 30-minute tour costs 100THB and is most interesting to hear of this American who reinvigorated the silk industry in Thailand last century and over this period managed to build a remarkable collection of rare and valuable art objects. He disappeared while on holidays in Malaysia in his 61st year (the age of his predicted death by his astrology reading) and no trace of his body has been found to this day.
With only an hour left before heading back to the domestic airport, Don Mueang, and catching a flight up north, I thought, while I’m up here in the hovering world of the pedestrian, I’ll go for a ride in the Sky Train, the elevated train that shares one of the concrete corridors. For 35THB (just over a dollar) you can travel into five zones (13THB for one zone). The ride gives another aspect to Bangkok and you get a greater understanding of the growth of this city coming eye-to-eye with tall buildings as you weave you way through them.
Bangkok is huge and I only saw a minute example of what’s offered, but you can in a very short time get to feel the excitement and energy of this city and unfortunately breathe in its fumes at the same time!