Monday, 8 September 2008

Briefly in Bangkok

The 'River of Kings' in Bangkok, adjacent to the Oriental Hotel.

My flight from Dubai made a straight-in approach to runway 19R, landing at about 12.30 in the afternoon on Monday 8th. It took about ten minutes to taxi to the terminal but, as soon as we stopped, two air bridges coupled up to let us off. I was in the 'first wave' and passport control was a breeze. It took about ten minutes for my bag to turn up, then it was through customs to find my 'Meeter and Greeter', Julie. She then went off to track down the car and driver and we were soon on the elevated toll road heading for Bangkok and the Oriental Hotel. I'd stayed at the Oriental once before. This time, they'd put me in the 'Garden Wing' which, although modern and multi-storey, is on a more intimate scale than the 'River Wing'. All the staff will 'Wei' to you (the Thai version of bowing) and wish you good-day with 'Saswadee ka'. They get through a lot of flowers - on arrival I was presented with the wrist-sized Thai equivalent to the Hawaiin 'Lei', the 'Welcome Drink' (fruit juice) was accompanied by a tiny basket of flowers. In fact, most transactions come decorated with a flower somewhere. The room had a lounge area overlooking the 'River of Kings' and seven steps leading up to the sleeping area, with a small window looking out across the city on the landward side. A well-appointed bathroom led off the sleeping area. Hotel pictures.

After a quick shower and a change of clothes, I decided to make a brief trip out. The Oriental has its own landing stage and a private ferry shuttles from the hotel to more facilities on the opposite bank and downstream a few hundred yards to Taksin Bridge. Taksin is, currently, the final station on the elevated mass-transit 'Skytrain' (My 'Skytrain' pictures). Just three stops takes me to Sala Daeng station, with directions from my hotel on finding a nearby bookshop in Thaniya Plaza. First, I walk to Rama IV Road to watch the build-up of traffic and admire the statue of King Rama VI set in the corner of Lumphini Park. (My Bangkok pictures). After a little walking, I spot Thaniya Plaza and its shopping mall. The specialities seem to be reproduction antiques and golf equipment but there's also a branch of Asia Books where I buy a 'Lonely Planet' Guide Book (I won't say where to - that would spoil the surprise). I'm surprised to be asked "Do you want a plastic cover?" At no extra cost, the bookseller takes a piece of clear plastic and expertly makes a slip cover secured with 'Sellotape'.

By the time I'm back outside with my purchase, there's a furious tropical downpour so I make my way back to the Skytrain station and return to Taksin. By the time we arrive at Taksin, the rain has abated. The hotel ferry has just brought some guests from the hotel, so I'm able to jump straight on for the short journey back to the hotel. I can't resist going to the Authors' Lobby for English-style afternoon tea and scones with clotted cream and a selection of jams. It's almost six p.m. as I get back to my room (we're six hours ahead of the U.K.) and rapidly getting dark, as it does in these latitudes. I'm fairly tired at this stage so, with an early start tomorrow, I relax in my room and prepare this report, using my Notebook Computer and the hotel's (chargeable) broadband facilities.

There's time for a walk around the hotel to remind myself of some of the facilities. The string quartet still play in the main reception in the evening, largely ignored by the people hurrying in and out of the hotel. Dinner on the terrace is still accompanied by jazz from a trio of keyboard, electric guitar and female vocalist. There's music, too, in the 'Bamboo Bar', but not 'till later. Over the river, the hotel's 'Sala Rim Nam' restaurant offers Thai cuisine with Thai music and dance. The 'China House' (where I dined on my last visit) offers Chinese-style food in a preserved colonial-era villa. The 'Verandah' is more coffee-shop casual dining. Then there's 'Le Normandie' for French cuisine and 'Lord Jim's' for international cuisine and seafood. Or, of course, you can eat in your room.

The mynah birds still live in a large aviary outside the authors' wing and chatter to the passing guests - they've been in residence for 11 years now. I think the hotel's tradition goes back almost 150 years, right to the start of the opening of Siam to the Western World. But, alas, Bangkok is just a staging-post on this trip for tomorrow I'm due to fly to Yangon.