It’s a cool grey morning here on our first day back in Bangkok. Well, cool for Thailand that is – having just flown in from the UK it feels rather pleasant. Rain is predicted for later in the day but nothing like the unseasonal downpours that have caused flooding in the South of the country. The planet’s climate is certainly getting more unpredictable. The unusual is becoming the norm nowadays, yet some people still refuse to accept that the climate is changing and we’re responsible.
After being awake for over 26 hours I’d have expected to sleep longer, as we have in the past (one time for nearly 16 hours as we were that knackered). Admittedly, we did have an impromptu alarm clock in the form of a young English couple in the room next door. She was awake at 6am so she could spend nearly 2 hours ‘phoning (or face timing) her family back in the UK. I only know all this because the hotel walls aren’t that thick, so her voice penetrated quite easily. It was a terribly mundane conversation, padded out with the gratuitous use of the word ‘like’, amongst others. As an old fart who’s been tramping these Asian trails since 1985 I couldn’t help reflecting (and almost yearning) for the days when the only way you could keep regular contact with home was by sitting down and writing them a letter – at least you couldn’t hear the noise of someone scribbling through a wall! Or, for that matter, this modern equivalent, committing your thoughts and deeds to a blog like this. It’s also far less ephemeral, reaches more people and I can edit out all the ‘likes’, so what’s not to like, like? In fact, I’m typing this on the laptop whilst Dawn is asleep next to me…
Our journey from the UK went without a hitch. A friend had arranged discount 1st Class tickets on Virgin East coast for us so the trip was in style as we wined and dined on the 12.15 from Leeds to London. I’d not done this for a while, so I have to admit to being impressed with the quality of the food. I had a lovely lamb and mashed potato dish, washed down with a glass of wine. Even if we’d have paid full price, an advance single from Leeds to London was still only £45 (with a meal and wine) which rather puts the recent stories about ‘rip-off’ rail fares into perspective.
We’d given ourselves plenty of time to get to Heathrow but the Piccadilly line was working like clockwork so we stopped off in Covent Garden for some last-minute shopping. There’s a clutch of outdoor shops on the South side which allowed me to arm ourselves with some of the weapons-grade mosquito repellent that can come in rather useful in this neck of the woods, especially as Dawn reacts badly to mossie bites. Terminal 4 at Heathrow was very busy but all the staff were efficient so we were checked-in on our Jet Airways flight in good order, through security with a joke and a smile (always nice as it’s such a thankless process for everyone). Soon we were sitting in a bar-restaurant for a last snack and my final pint of British bitter for some time. I’m not a great fan of this terminal. It’s cramped and the selection of eateries is limited compared to others, although it’s still a lot better than I remember it from the past now that it’s been given a makeover.
The first leg of out flight was with Jet Airways to their hub at Mumbai (Bombay in old money) aboard a Boeing 777. The flight was packed but I can’t complain. The legroom was OK, the stews’ were friendly and efficient and the vegetarian meal was really tasty – Dahl, with rice and spinach, served with a paratha. On long-haul flights like this I always try & catch a few movies as I’m not a great sleeper and It gives me chance to see stuff I’ve either missed or wouldn’t pay for at a cinema. The in-flight entertainment system was stuck and needed a reset but once it came on it worked a treat and I gorged myself on “Independence Day: Resurgence” which is a pick-up from the original, if not quite as exciting now as it closely follows the path of the first film,”Jason Bourne”, which I really enjoyed as I’ve always been a fan of the series, and finally, “Suicide squad”, a steaming pile of cosmic comic-book nonsense which even Will Smith couldn’t do much with.
We landed at Mumbai on time, so the 90 minute connection time was a breeze. I’ve not been here for a few years. It was unrecognizable as an Indian airport. Not just because it’s been completely rebuilt, but because it didn’t suffer from the usual problems Indian construction always used to. It wasn’t shoddy, and everything worked! I was genuinely impressed by the scale of the place, the quality of the shops and services, and the décor.
The second leg of our flight for the four hour trip to Bangkok was aboard a another Boeing, this time a modern 737-800. As it’s a smaller, single-aisle plane there’s no seat-back entertainment screens, instead, programmes are streamed to your own personal devices. Once again, the service was good. If anything, the stewardesses were friendly and more accessible than before. The veggie meal was just as delicious only this time the spinach came with paneer. I treated myself to a couple of glasses of red wine (something else I won’t be drinking for a few months) to help me sleep. We’d got plenty of leg-room as we were in seats by the escape door, although this was offset by the fact those seats don’t recline. Still, it was a pleasant flight.
The only real complaint of the trip was that the queues for passport control at Bangkok were massive. Several big planes had arrived together and the staff couldn’t cope. We queued for about 40 mins to get through. The irony was, just as the queues abated, extra staff appeared! I couldn’t help thinking back to the UK and the madness of the Brexit vote. Is this going to be the experience we can look forward to at EU airport if we do crash out of Europe – as is looking extremely likely?
We took the airport rail link to get into the city. At 45 baht for a trip to Phaya Thai it’s both the quickest and cheapest way. I was confused when I saw we were being ushered onto one of the red ‘Airport Express’ trains as these used to be dedicated to the Makkasan link but nowadays some trains run the full length of the route. The problem is, one of the four coaches is reserved for checked in airline luggage, which is a waste of space as the service was never anywhere near as popular as it was meant to be so it was abandoned in 2014. Now they move only fresh air, whilst the rest of the train is packed*. At Phaya Thai we caught a taxi to get us to our hotel off Phra Artit Rd, by the Chao Praya river. Unusually for Bangkok, the first taxi I flagged down agreed to use his meter without demur, so we were at the hotel’s check-in desk by 21:00.
Despite being tired we were actually hungry, so we quickly changed before heading out to see if one of our favorite street restaurants in Rambutri was still going. It’s been rebranded ‘The Gun’ but the staff and the quality of the food are still the same. I ordered the classic Thai papaya salad with prawns whilst Dawn ordered a spicy steamed squid in a hot and sour sauce. We shared them both whilst washing them down with a bottle of ‘Chang’ lager (now reduced from 6 to 5.2% abv I see). The food was divine, as was the chance to unwind and get used to being back in a city we both feel very at home in.
It’s great to be back.
PS. I’ll add some pictures later. At the moment the hotel wifi doesn’t seem to like me trying…
- In 2009 I was on a press trip that had a look at te new Airport rail link before it opened. You you’ll find may behind the scenes pictures of the operation here.