After too many weekend jaunts in Bangkok’s Khao San Road area, we finally discovered the perks of staying in Sukhumvit.
My husband and I have been to Bangkok at least 10 times over the past few years and it’s embarrassing to admit that we’ve always stayed near the tourist ghetto of Khao San Road. Whilst it’s fun and oh-so-easy, the novelty does wear off (not to mention a growing curiousity about what else is on offer in Bangkok). So before our most recent visa run from Yangon, I asked my Facebook friends where we should stay – and the resounding answer was Sukhumvit, which is also uber farang friendly. One friend specifically recommended the area between Soi 2 and Soi 18 because it’s close to the BTS Skytrain and shopping malls. I was grateful for this advice because Sukhumvit itself is so big that booking a hotel in the “right” spot still felt like rolling a dice and hoping for the best. Anyway, to cut a long story short, we ended up in Soi 3, which unbeknown to us (of course!), is known as “Little Arabia.”
“When did you say your husband is arriving?” my taxi driver asked as he dropped me off at Grand Inn Hotel.
“Tomorrow morning. Why?”
“Ah, nevermind, you’ll be fine,” he said with a grin, and flicked me a 10 baht coin.
Up until then, I’d been gazing out the window at the droolishish range of food on offer (much of which is promoted in trilingual signs comprising Thai, English and Arabic) and hadn’t cottoned on that the Grand Inn Hotel is slap-bang in the middle of a red light district and a stone’s throw away from the seediest of sex pot destinations in Bangkok, Nana Plaza.
After throwing down my bags in our suite (we got upgraded!) I sauntered out at around midnight in search of some big bites to eat. I didn’t want to limit myself to experiencing just one place, so I had half a shawarma at one place before being convinced to have a double with with fries at Dubai Kitchen. As I chatted to the Lahori waiter, I kept swerving around on my seat to take in the exotic array of foot traffic, which included women in burkas and men in shalwar kameez, women with headscarves and huge Amy Winehouse-style hairdos and shockingly bright shades of lipstick, as well as plus size prostitutes who appeared to be both from Thailand, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. According to Lonely Planet, “plus size” is more… erm, popular, in this area… Anyhow, while chowing down my sharwarma, an elderly man started walking towards me with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
Uh oh, he thinks I’ve been sizing him up, I thought to myself.
“I am a doctor from Lebanon,” he said by way of introduction.
I just nodded, waiting for him to leave or continue.
“Lebanon is a country. It’s near Syria. Do you know Syria? It is a very famous place,” he said.
I was so dumbfounded by how dumb he thought I was (or perhaps women in general?!) that I didn’t know what to say. When I finally gulped out that I was aware of Lebanon’s existence, he seemed not to register.
“We speak Arabic in our country,” he said, while very obviously looking at my legs.
So I dropped the H-Bomb.
“My husband can speak Arabic, though he’s actually from Bangladesh,” I said with a smile.
The man heard that and honestly turned on his heel right away. Within five minutes I saw him engage more successfully with a Russian looking woman – they exchanged numbers.
The Lahori waiter winked at me and I paid up and went home.
Sherpa arrived Saturday morning – he hadn’t been able to come sooner because he couldn’t risk taking a Friday flight in case his newspaper, Myanmar Business Today, hadn’t been put to bed on time. He’d been up at the crack of dawn (and singing at a KTV bar til late!) so he took a nap while I took the train from Nana BTS Station to Siam Square and Siam Parragon – which I know and love for their shopping options. After what seemed to me a very futuristic lunch at Siam Parragon (“The Food Republic” food court doesn’t accept cash – you pay a 10 baht deposit for a card which you put credit on and can use anywhere) I went straight to H&M. However I didn’t fail to notice quite lustily that almost every store on the far more affordable second level appeared to be having a mid-year sale. I adore living in Yangon, but there are certain drawbacks to it. I have large feet so I find it difficult to find shoes that fit me, and as the market is flooded with cheap and not so cheerful Chinese items that can’t withstand much wear and tear, I was down to just one pair of “working girl” shoes (smut intended, ha ha). I rectified that very quickly before turning my attention to purchasing the “basics” I needed to upgrade my sorry wardrobe. Zara and Mango were also having sales – how thrilling to own something from these stores for the first time (which is pretty sad at the age of 33!).
I came home laden with bags and excitedly showed Sherpa. We were heading out to Sirocco Sky Bar – which at 64 floors up, is the highest open air bar in the world! But before that, we needed a reasonably priced dinner and drinks, so we ambled across a few blocks to Gulliver’s Traveller’s Tavern. We sat underneath a revolving red vintage car and drank Redbull and vodkas with our okay-but-not-great meals.
We weren’t sure how formal the dress code at Sky Bar would be, so it was a relief to see a big sign saying that due to customer feedback, smart casual is alright with them. I presume it used to be stricter in the past – and FYI – management draws the line at singlets dogs, prams and backpacks!
Our ears were popping as the elevator raced up four floors at a time (at least that’s what the electronic sign inside the lift was telling us – plus the fact that it took an incredibly short time to reach the top).
The New York Times described Sky Bar as “the most stunning rooftop bar you’ll ever see” – which is a big call, yes? But I assure you that it cannot disappoint – it’s such a visual treat that it takes a few seconds to take it all in – the view, the circular bar on a precipice that changes colour every 90 seconds, the orchestra, and the glamorous waitresses and clientele. Despite the hype around, it wasn’t packed out, which made it possible to have a drink at the bar and take in a 360 degree view of the behemoth city that is Bangkok.
After the cast of The Hangover trilogy graced the Sky Bar with their undoubtedly hilarious presence, the Hangovertini cocktail was created and named in their honour. Of course we had to have one of those and it was green, weird and lovely – and set us back almost US$20 apiece.
We then moved to the outdoor lounge area and had a glass of wine on gorgeous leather pillows before heading to Soi 11, which has the biggest concentration of bars and clubs catering to the expat crowd in Sukhumvit.
We ate German sausages and watched half a World Cup match before calling it a night – well for that night, anyway…
A funky store in Siam Parragon
We did some “Sherpa shopping” on Sunday (again at H&M) and then checked out MBK mall, which is just a BTS station away. While waiting for my business cards to be printed, we got our hair cut and then made some bargain basement style purchases and seized the rare chance to eat junk at Maccie D’s, which isn’t available in Myanmar.
Such was our innocence the night before that when a girl thought I had asked a cab driver to take us to Soi Cowboy, I had to ask what that was.
“Um, it’s a hotel,” she said.
Not true! An internet search revealed that Soi Cowboy is one of Bangkok’s three naughty zones – the other being Patpong (which I had been to years ago) and to our utter surprise – Nana Plaza (which could actually be the world’s largest sex complex). So we decided to check out the latter, which is apparently the most adult of all, on our final night in Bangkok. I’m not sure that I should try to justify it, but will simply say that as journalists, we’re curious people and if anything exists, I tend to want to see it…
And boy did we see it. Amsterdam has nothing on Nana Plaza (to Amsterdam’s credit, that is). We had a beer in a bar called Hillary 4 (I have no idea why there were so many bars called “Hillary” other than a wild speculation that it’s a zany call-out to a stateswoman…), where the waitresses wore hot pants that were skimpier than the width of a belt. Really. One guy kept getting kisses from what seemed to be every woman walking past. It was intense – but we didn’t realise that we weren’t even actually inside Nana Plaza itself.
Nana Plaza is a three storey complex of go-go bars – it’s hard to guess how many, but I think around 50 isn’t an unreasonable estimate. We practically ran inside one of the bars (each with a curtained entrance) because the touts were trying to pull us in different directions. It was almost completely empty and the bored, skinny girls made half-hearted attempts at dancing – some were checking their phones. As we pretty much all know, ping-pong tricks are arguably the hallmark of Thailand’s sex industry. Five ping-pongs cost 100 baht – so I bought one off a waitress (yep, I had had a few drinks by this stage). It seems that these days, the patrons do the “tricks” – I was told to throw one at a girl. I REALLY gulped and shamefully did as she told me. At that moment the five or so girls removed their tops and the one I hit smiled at me. We ran out with our tails between our legs.
We took a breather on the balcony outside before venturing into Temptations Ladyboy Bar. In some ways, this was an easier experience because a “hostess” called Ellen talked to us the whole time and no one got naked. Although Ellen was very full on and we ended up buying her some drinks and a tip to boot, we weren’t scammed or overly intimidated by anyone there. But 30 minutes was enough and we lacked the appetite to check out Soi Cowboy because the scene had made us sad in many ways. We had a sombre late night supper in an Iraqi restaurant and as the quietly spoken young waitress in a headscarf wrote down our orders, I realised that Bangkok is if nothing, an incredibly diverse city.
That night I had a dream that I killed someone – a friend told me later that it was my sense of morality kicking in…
We had time for lunch before our return flight on Monday – and doggedly decided to keep going with the “sexy” theme of the weekend. So we went to Cabbages and Condoms Restaurant, which is an initiative by the Population and Community Development Association to promote safe sex and family planning. The food is terrific and the gift shop has some excellent stuff (though Sherpa says I may have overdone it with coasters that say “No glove, no love” and placemats adorned with daisy-shaped condoms!). Oh and don’t expect to get a complimentary mint with your (reasonably priced) bill – the waiters slip in a couple of condoms instead.
While walking back to our hotel, we stopped in at Pink Pvssy (yes that is the correct spelling) – which is less of sex shop than an accessories store really. In addition to buying a gorgeous wallet and kaftan, we also got silver, heart-shaped identity tags for our dog (who recently went missing for a night and our cat (or “pussy” if I’m being gross…). I was thrilled to be able to get them because my vet in Yangon had told me she’d have to order them from Thailand.
So to wrap up, we flew back to Yangon feeling a bit better dressed, a bit fatter, and a bit less wide eyed and bushy tailed than we were when we arrived.