BANGKOK: THE UNTOLD STORY

This post is not about ladyboys, hookers, snake blood or massages with a happy ending. It’s about that other stuff. Things people rarely talk about as they remain in the shadow of the good old recipe for sensationalism: sex, sports, and blood. There is more to Bangkok than the well-known Hangover picture stereotypes - an untold story I find much more interesting than basic tourist attractions and that’s exactly what I was hoping to find out.

Alcohol Purchasing Hours

It was my first time visiting Bangkok. I was mainly there for work but decided to extend my stay over the previous and following weekends to allow enough time to experience the city. My colleague Chris had put me in touch with his sister, Sarah, who recently moved out of China where she was a preschool teacher. She was established in Bangkok since only three months and couldn’t wait to have someone over to explore her new environment with. Sarah not only hosted me for my first weekend in the Thai capital but she was also nice enough to come pick me up at the airport. From there, we took a cab to her well-located apartment. It’s 4:45pm and we had just reached the apartment building. I got used to travelling with a carry-on luggage only. Therefore, I had to purchase a few essentials that were not allowed onboard from the 7-Eleven downstairs before going up. Toothpaste? Check! Mouthwash? Check! A little sum-sum to get the party started (i.e. a bottle of local rum)? Check! Time to check out at the cashier. Oh, wait! It’s not 5:00pm yet! You see, the laws in Thailand stipulate that the purchase of alcoholic products can only be made from 11:00am to 2:00pm and from 5:00pm to midnight. Why, you ask? Your guess is as good as mine. Therefore, we had to chill by the cashier for about 15 minutes doing absolutely nothing except awkwardly staring at each other. It’s not like my Thai small talk skills were on point just yet.

Bangkok Nightlife

In this section, I will neither talk about Soi Cowboy, nor Soi Nana District or Khao San Road. Instead, I will talk about those other areas that don’t involve finding yourself in the middle of a freak show. Sarah suggested we had dinner at the W District at Phrakanong BTS Skytrain Station - a community mall with a focus on shopping, dining and entertainment taking life among urban modern art such as surrealist sculpture to stylish graffiti.

The very popular - among both locals and expats - W Market dining section of the W District is where we were meeting with Sarah’s friend and colleague, Victoria, accompanied by her mother - a pretty Scotswoman having lived practically her whole life in Bangkok. Daughter from an expat couple, they have established in Thailand while she was still a toddler. Victoria was very interesting to talk with. Although she might look like the total package, she had one major flaw: she watches the Star Wars films sequentially (Episodes I, II, III, IV, V, VI) rather than chronologically (IV, V, VI, I, II, III). Nonsense!

Between rounds of drinks, Victoria’s mother had ordered a plate of dumplings that took forever to be served. Just when we thought they would never come, they finally showed up after 45 minutes and when they did, they waitress dropped the plate at our feet making the delicious-looking dumplings inedible. As the waitress apologized a thousand times and rushed back into the kitchen to prepare a new batch, we understood we’d have to wait another 45 minutes getting them. The dirty dumplings remained at our feet the whole time until a cleaning lady finally cleared them out. They might have thought it was modern art.

After dinner, we went to an Australian pub on Soi 11 (streets are called “soi” in Bangkok) where we simultaneously watched a rugby game (opposing Scotland to the All Blacks) and danced to current hit songs (covered by a live band) while we kept throwing rounds at each other. It was a lot of fun and it ended perfectly with a late night Tom Yum soup in a small backstreet adjacent to Soi 11. That Tom Yum soup was so delicious that I’ve decided to make it my daily tradition. Indeed, I treated myself every day with a bowl of this delicious soup (along with three - very painful, but so relieving - Thai Massages in total) throughout my nine days spent in Bangkok. When it was finally time to call it a night and go home, the prices proposed by the taxis were of course inflated. Luckily, all we needed to do was to walk a few steps further away from the touristy zone to find a ride at a fair price. It was quite refreshing to enjoy the nightlife with two female friends. Who says we need to go to one of those freakshow streets to have a time in Bangkok?

Muay Thai Fight Night

Benedikt was an acquaintance I got to know in Nuremberg through the Nuremberg Runners group and was also a Working Student at adidas last year. He was on a student exchange in Bangkok and we had plans to meet during my visit. On my second day in Bangkok, Bene asked if I would be interested in attending a Muay Thai Gala. Are you kidding? Hell yeah, I’m interested! So he picked me up on his motorbike and off we went to the mythical Rajadamnern Stadium. The attendance is split into two main sections: one for locals, the other for foreigners. While there is nothing going on on the foreigners’ side except for a beer and popcorn vendor passing around, emotions flew much higher on the local side as some intense (and highly illegal) betting was happening. We sat around through a very entertaining evening which included 10 fights going from preteens to full grown adults. Muay Thai is fully integrated with the Thai culture and young males start practicing this technical martial art at a very young age.

After the gala, Bene and I craved for Pad Thai - another Thai special - and he knew just the place to go to. When we got to the restaurant, a 45-minute queue awaited us. “That place must be the real deal!”, we thought as we took place at the very end of the neverending line. While waiting, we could see the whole step-by-step Pad Thai production process before our eyes. Every station was placed on the sidewalk just outside of the restaurant: from cooking the noodles to wrapping the Pad Thai in an egg omelet. That last process step was quite entertaining as we could observe the cook making the same repetitive wrist movement over and over again with such precision. That cook definitely makes this movement while sleeping! Pad Thai? Giant tiger shrimp? Eggs? Chili pepper? Boy, was it delicious!

After our late night meal, we hopped back on the motorbike and headed toward our quarters.  Halfway through our ride to Sarah’s apartment, a heavy rain caught us off guard. We then stopped the ride and found refuge under the sky train’s concrete structure for a few minutes. From there, Bene rode back in the opposite direction to his apartment using the structure as a shield and I took a cab for a few hundred meters that avoided me getting soaking wet.

Working in Bangkok

The next day, Monday, marked the first official day of my business trip. It seemed like I had done so much already and the trip was just getting started. I hadn't seen my colleagues yet and still had to transfer my luggage from Sarah's place to the hotel the company booked for our team. To get to the office, I rode the BTS Skytrain packed like a can of sardines for about 20 minutes. This very short ride would have turned any of my claustrophobic friends completely crazy. Luckily, large crowds and little spaces don’t bother me at all. Therefore, it was with a lot of enthusiasm that I rode the skytrain among locals to our liaison office. Later that day, I checked into the Hotel Indigo BKK, where my colleagues were joining me in the early afternoon. We kicked-off our summit week with a team gathering by the infinite pool on the hotel's rooftop terrasse. A very enjoyable happy hour among my dear colleagues certainly set the tone for the whole week. 

The next day, the real work started with a full week of meetings and workshops with the purpose of shaping up our strategy for the year 2018. We worked hard and played hard, and at any given lunchtime when my local colleague turned to me to ask what I wanted to eat, the only possible answer I always use while on a Business Trip is: "Local food!". On that statement, a few of my teammates and I followed our colleague to a very local diner where we could choose between the most delicious-looking dishes. It was so delicious that I made it yet another tradition to have lunch at the same place for the five days of the workshop.

Birthday Mashup Weekend

It was Chau’s birthday - my friend from Ho Chi Minh City I had the pleasure to spend time with on my last unplanned business travel to Vietnam. For the occasion, she decided to celebrate this very special day in Bangkok - a city she never had the chance to visit despite its geographic proximity. With Sarah and Bene teaming up with us, fun was definitely guaranteed!

Revolucion Cocktail Bangkok

On the first night, the four of us had agreed to meet at a Latin Bar called Revolucion Cocktail Bangkok at 9:00pm. To be honest, we were not quite sure of how this night would turn out. At 9:00pm, the bar was empty and some very mellow music was playing in the background. Not quite the evening I had envisioned, but it's also nice to take it slow sometimes. Bene thought differently as he was convinced the place would probably turn up later. Indeed,  he shrewdly observed that despite the bar being practically empty, all tables were reserved. Table reservations usually don't lie. Bene was right, after a few rounds of drinks which included one of my favorites that brought me back to my 2013 trip in Nicaragua with my buddies from Barefoot Surf Travel - a glass of Flor de Caña, 12 years, on the rocks - the place turned into a dance club with reggae and Latin music playing 'till closing. Inbetween sets, the bartenders got a little crazy showing off their juggling skills behind the fire burning bar. Pretty impressive if and very much entertaining, if you ask me. We had a blast! There is nothing like lighting up the dancefloor on fire to sleep like a baby afterward.

Wat Thi MIt and China Town

The next day, Saturday, was probably the only chance we had for some sightseeing. I absolutely wanted to visit the Golden Temple, which was very enjoyable to visit despite its very small size. After about 30 minutes of wandering around the temple with our sarong attached around our waits, we decided to head to China Town that was just around the corner. It was almost lunchtime under a burning sun and what better location than a market to find some of the most delicious food at affordable price. I'm not kidding you, walking the streets of China Town, I almost forgot we were visiting Bangkok as I could have sword we were walking the streets of the Mong Kok area in Hong Kong.

Boat Party

On our last evening in Bangkok, Bene invited us to join a Boat Party organized by his host university. The formula was quite simple: 25 USD entry fee for a cruise along the Chao Phraya River, DJ music, bar service with free flow of soft drinks, and - of course - BYOB. The party turned up in no time as we cruised along the river. Once again, we had a blast in great company with Bene, Sarah, and Chau dancing to the most recent hits. Although, time reminded us that we were in a Student Exchange party as most people on the boat got heavily drunk quickly. We later learned that most participants had started drinking early in the afternoon. A cocktail for disaster... Sarah amused herself laughing at the youngsters' behaviors as the Lethal Weapon character Roger Murtaugh's famous catchphrase came back to mind: "I'm too old for this shit!" The boat accosted not far from the famous Kaoh San Street - Bangkok's notorious party street. I know I've said at the beginning of this post I won't talk about Kaoh San and quite frankly, there is nothing to tell, really. Just a bar street overcrowded with backpackers partying, locals selling drinks in plastic buckets for pocket change and edible insects (e.g. scorpions, larvae, and cockroaches) which you can either eat or take a picture of for a few USD. Besides that, the bouncers working at the bars are pretty much there for the action. They force you to buy expensive drinks, and if you are just trying to enjoy the music and dance with your friends, they muscle you out without a warning! As my friend would say: "Been there, done that, got the t-shirt!" I've seen the place. Therefore, I don't need to go back... ever!

I woke up quite late on my last morning and headed to the airport after a nice sushi lunch. I enjoyed my time in Bangkok. Especially because I was in such great company the whole time. Being with a few people who know the area already completely changes your perspective on the city. I will definitely go back, but I also hope to be able to visit a bit more of this beautiful country. Thai people are so welcoming and so courteous with foreigners that it really makes you want to go back... perhaps very soon!