Friday was our last full day in Bangkok. As we had deliberately limited our pre-booked tours here to only one on Thursday, we had to find something to do. We had extensive conversations with our butler, Bright (1).
A butler at the Siam Hotel is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. He is a combination personal concierge and personal customer service representative to the hotel. He will make dining reservations at the hotel or elsewhere, make suggestions for tours and arrange transportation, get housekeeping to bring towels, etc. Bright was an engaging and friendly young man who seemed to unobtrusively follow us around. In fact, he always seemed to appear whenever we were somewhere in the hotel. Late each day, he would talk to us about our plans for the following day, making suggestions and discussing alternatives.
After deep discussions, we agreed that a long-tail boat ride down a canal to an artists’ area would be just the ticket, and so he booked a boat. Long-tail boats are long, narrow boats with an eight cylinder car engine mounted above the stern driving a propeller at the end of a long exposed driveshaft. They are loud – very loud – and go fast. Unfortunately when we came down to the dock to meet our boat, the wind was making the river too choppy for us, so we cancelled the boat ride (2).
We developed a backup plan, which was to take a taxi (3) to the Jim Thompson house. Thompson was an American OSS (4) operative during World War II who worked in Thailand, and who decided to stay after the war, and developed the Thai silk industry. After he disappeared while vacationing in Malaysia in 1967, the home he had created was turned into a museum. It’s quite nice, with a number of buildings he relocated to the site, reconstructed and furnished with Asian antiques. Unfortunately pictures are not allowed in the main building, so you’ll have to look elsewhere (5).
From there we walked over to an the Bangkok Art & Culture Center, but first went to find some lunch. We found that unique Thai restaurant, Jamie Oliver’s Italian Bistro. Pizza and pasta! After lunch we went back to look at the art, which was okay, but not great. A bunch of the pieces looked like parent visiting day for second grade.
Getting home was an adventure. I stupidly decided to try a tuk tuk (6), although a 25 minute ride in one is probably not a good idea. But the driver I chose not only had no idea where the hotel was, but couldn’t understand the printed direction card I gave him, use Google Maps, or get directions from his friend – another tuk tuk driver he flagged down. So after 10 minutes of driving aimlessly, we bailed out (without paying) and found real taxi.
We had dinner (for the second time) in the hotel restaurant, then afterwards I went down to see Chinatown. Chinatown in Bangkok is several blocks of street food. I mostly wanted to see the crowd and the action, as I had already eaten and wasn’t really interested in trying the boiled squid with egg and other delicacies on offer. And crowded it was.
The main part of the area runs along both sides of a wide boulevard. The crowds significantly overflow the sidewalks onto the street.
Some of the vendors apparently are renowned, as the lines to buy their take-away food, or sit at tiny plastic tables on plastic stools, was very long.
Getting home was again an adventure. The first two taxis I tried (no tuk tuk for me this time) wanted double what I paid to get there. After futilely bargaining with each, I finally found a driver who (a) was willing to run the meter, and (b) could find the hotel. Twenty minutes and $3 later I was home.
(1) I’m pretty sure “Bright” is not what his mother named him. Yet that’s what his name tag said. All of the butlers (there were several) had western names on their tags.
(2) Bright negotiated a big discount on the cancellation fee with the driver.
(3) I didn’t know what to expect, as there are three levels of taxis: cars, tuk tuks, and motor bikes. The 25 minute car taxi ride cost about $3 on the meter.
(4) OSS: Office of Strategic Services, the WWII predecessor to the CIA. Yes, he was a spy.
(5) You can look here: http://www.jimthompsonhouse.com/
(6) Tuk tuks are motorized tricycles. The front looks like a motorcycle with a windscreen, while the back is a canopied seat for two that occasionally holds up to four. They don’t appear to be equipped with mufflers.