Saturday 24 September 2022
Late evening I headed to the Auckland Airport to catch the Air NZ flight to Hong Kong. The airport, unlike others in the world, is still eerily quiet with many shops still closed. Only a few flights a day are arriving and leaving Auckland compared with the pre Covid days. As soon as we were airborne and the seat belt sign was off I flagged the drinks and dinner and put my bed down to get some sleep.
Flights are a lot harder to organise and much more expensive these days. When booking this flight I was trying to use up some Thai Air credits we had owing to us. After many hours of looking and finally a phone call to Thai Air (yes someone actually answered the phone) the best and really only practical route was through Hong Kong.
Sunday 25 September 2022
Landing in Hong Kong after breakfast I was surprised to find another hermit kingdom, although I should have known as people still have to isolate to go to Hong Kong. I was wrong thinking I would spend the six-hour stopover in the lounge. The only lounge open was Cathay Pacific. Star Alliance is not open and the other airline lounges don’t open until noon, the time my flight left. Hong Kong airport is another ghost airport and most of the shops are still closed, apart from the odd coffee place. The restaurants etc, that are open don’t open till noon. I spent the next six hours sitting at the gate looking out the window and watching the activity going on around the aircraft as they came and went, fortunately something I enjoy. The flight was delayed an hour or so and Sylvia had planned to meet me at the Bangkok airport and travel into town together however her driver would not wait so on landing I went to a counter and organised another vehicle and just after 4 pm arrived at the Pullman King Power hotel to be reunited with Sylvia after six weeks apart.
Monday 26 September 2022
Sylvia was here to do a market visit with the Royal Canin team today and sponsor a development program for up and coming leaders on Tuesday and Wednesday.
I had seen something about the so-called floating markets a little way out and to the southwest of Bangkok. A quick chat with the very helpful concierge and a taxi was organised to take me there and to the market railway and back again for 2500 locals ($118 NZD). Soon we were on the road and moving relatively quickly across the elevated motorways. Although the traffic is not too bad here just now, as the Chinese tourists have yet to return, they still have around 10-million people to move around and have done some smart things by building motorways on top of each other, in some places 3-high, or straight across the top of houses with both road and rail on pylons . Like in most big cities they are still building them.
The views from these roads are quite good and in spite of the rather gloomy weather I got a good appreciation of just how big this city is, while appreciating that the whole area is one big swamp full of channels and waterways; in many places the water table is just below ground level.
We headed south then east through mainly built up areas. There are many large factories and some universities along the way; one area is rather grey and dreary with non-stop grey-water fish farms. At Puak Camp, where the driver waited, I headed over and looked at the many options including shooting various pistols and some rifles, a croc show and an elephant ride. I opted for the floating water market tour and the elephant ride. I was taken to the canal edge and quite quickly a wooden boat turned up with its 6-cylinder engine propped on the stern and the long propellor shaft heading into the water at a slight angle. Off we went to see these floating markets. Well not quite, the markets situated in various places along the canals are on concrete piles and not floating anywhere. Each little market has a number of stalls with large doors, or in some cases covers, that open out to the water. The boatman slows as we pass each stall and the stall person smiles and looks at you with pleading eyes, hoping one will stop and spend some coin. Many of the stalls are closed, I understand still suffering from the Covid effects and lack of tourists. Stopping at one stand the lady with the pleading eyes said “your driver is my brother”. That worked! Soon I was handing over locals for some souvenirs for the grandchildren. As we continued on a number of large monitor lizards swan about in the canal, one sticking his head over the kerb and poking his tongue in our direction before slithering off in a hurry.
Next stop was the local temple with its gold paint and bright colours; there a bunch of monks worked away digging a drain and doing other manual labour. Some parts of the many structures were still undergoing restoration, I presume a never-ending process. As we went through various parts of the markets people in boats sold fruit and vegetables; some were cooking meals on gas cookers, which they sold to both the locals and the odd tourist.
Arriving back at the start point the boat driver left me with the elephant woman, who scooped up a few of us and lead us to the mounting station, where she skimmed each person for 100 locals for a small basket of bananas to feed the elephant along the way. Mounting the basket, off we went at a slow amble around the well-used concrete path, the mahout using his hooked stick on the odd occasion the elephant wanted to stray off the track. Every now and then the jockey asked for a bunch of bananas, which he then held out and the trunk came, up grabbed them and into the mouth they went. Eventually we entered some water, which was deep enough to immerse most of the elephant’s belly, then up some steps and back to the start line, the ride over in 10 minutes. The mahout opened this silver box and offered to sell me some elephant teeth for 100 locals to “help pay for the elephants food”. I declined the teeth thinking it might be a ‘go to jail job’ if i arrive back in NZ with those. The eyes went sad as he put the box away so I gave him the money anyway. Dismounting the stairs, the elephant woman holds up two photos taken on the ride in frames ready to go for 500 locals. I must be getting soft!
Leaving the elephant compound I crossed a bridge back to the start line to find the cab driver waiting patiently. We headed off down the road and soon arrived at the small town of Samut Sangkhram. We parked in a carpark where we were handed some little bags of fresh fruit for free. The driver lead me down a busy street to the railway line. “The train is coming in 15 minutes – I will wait for you at the car. »
Amongst the stalls there was indeed a railway line, and a well used one at that. I wandered along the line through the stalls and then the was an announcement in, i presume Thai and maybe one other languge, then english: “Here comes the train”. Stock was moved off the tracks, awnings pulled back and there was the train. “Stand behind the red line” was another announcement. Eventually I saw some red on a stone as the train approached and brushed past. Leaving the markets and crossing the street, it pulled into the station. By the time it had stopped awnings were up, stock was back in place, and the traders were trading. I paused at a local cafe by the station to eat some lunch as many tourists got their photos taken with the train. It all seemed to work quite well. No-one got injured or died and this has been going on for years. I can’t imagine it working too well in NZ. It would take a week just to put out the road cones, let alone anything else.
The return journey was a little quicker than on the way down and I was back at the hotel by 5pm in good time to catch Sylvia when she got back from her day out, as she had a night free from functions. In all a great way to spend a day out of Bangkok.
Tuesday 26 September 2022
To have a further look around the city I got an all day train pass for 140 locals (6.47 NZD). First I took the train several stops towards the airport. Up high on pylons once again, I got a good view across the city. After 6 stops I got off, crossed over, and headed back to town, getting off near China town.
I wandered the streets looking for a good Thai massage place, which I had had recommended to me. I couldn’t find the place so asked a guy standing on the street. He said the place had closed and the other places around here were not too good. For 80 locals he could take me to a really nice place. I made it very clear I just wanted a massage no extras!! He assured me that was the case and off we went, eventually arriving at a carpark inside what looked like an apartment building. He walked me over to the door and a well dressed guy escorted me inside to a large auditorium style room with lots of couches and a few girls sitting around. “I know whats going on here I thought” as the guy scribbled 5000 locals on a pad. Immediately turning and walking to the door thinking the driver is waiting for his cut, I asked the doorman if the driver was still here. He pointed to where his car was and I strolled briskly over. Seeing me coming he went to drive off but I grabbed the door handle, opened his door and made him very aware of the error in his ways. He offered to take me to a proper place at no charge. There I enjoyed a really good 2 hour massage.
Jumping on the train again I headed to a cigar bar in a shopping mall, which was a little hard to find. I enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine and a nice cuban cigar.
Jumping off the train a stop early to walk back to the hotel and taking what I thought was a short cut, I wandered down a street full of Thai massage places and lots of food outlets. At the end of the street I hit some on-the-ground railway lines. Across from them there was a door open to a building site, which I hoped would lead to the street by the hotel. I had only got a few yards when a guy came running after me telling me I wasn’t allowed to go that way. Being a friendly chap, he lead me back to the railway line and said head down there. He and his mates were dining under the trees next to their shack, all having a good laugh at the dumb tourist. The scrub and bushes alongside the tracks were full of shacks, some just made of plastic.
Arriving back at the hotel I headed up to the lounge on the 20th floor for a drink and a snack as Sylvia was at a function. There I got chatting to a nice chap called Ron, who works for the UN in the disaster and crisis side of things. Originally from Jamaica, he now lives in Geneva and travels frequently.
Wednesday 27 September 2022
While having breakfast I get a message from my good friend Micheal. Formally ‘SureFire Mike’, then ‘Aimpoint Mike’ and now working for Knight’s Armaments selling guns to the good guys to make the world a safer place. “Are you in Bangkok?” the message read. Yes, I replied. We have met up in many countries over the years but it’s normally prearranged so this was a nice suprise. He was staying at the Hilton on the other side of the river. I bought another train ticket and headed over to catch up for a coffee. He was traveling with his boss and had only arrived last night and was off to Singapore later in the day.
After a brew with Mike I headed out to the end of the train line. Out to the west side of the Chao Phraya River there are some quite nice areas, but even here the water table is only just below ground level with lots of canals and waterways.
Mid afternoon I headed back to the cigar bar and then wandered over to Soi Phetchaburi, the street where I had seen all the massage places last night ,and enjoyed another good massage before heading back to the hotel. Heading to the 20th floor bar I caught up with Ron again before heading to the bar downstairs to meet Chadon, who is the general manager for the Royal Canin Thai business. Chadon is a reall good bloke I have known for a few years now. It was good of him to give up his time to come and have a yarn before we departed.
A driver picked us up at 8.40pm and we headed to the airport for the flight to Amsterdam on KLM. Arriving there things had improved a bit as more of the security carrousels were operating, speeding up that process. After a couple of hours in the lounge we headed to the gate to be told there was a strike in France and that the Air France flight would not leave till noon. Back to the lounge for another couple of hours wait then back to the gate and after boarding we sat in the plane for an hour or so before departing more strike stuff.