Saturday, 28 February 2009

Wonder of Wonders

It was 28 years ago that I last made a visit to Bangkok but here I was, cocooned inside an air-conditioned limousine, proceeding at pace down the freeway between the airport and the city centre.

In the early 80's this trip would have taken a good two hours, bumper to bumper, sweating and swearing at the never ending traffic jams. By comparison today's journey is a breeze, albeit a fairly sticky breeze, as the sun in Thailand is intense and manages to infiltrate into the passenger compartment despite the tinted glass.

A word about the new Suvarnabhumi aiport in Bangkok. According to one report, visitors still flock to marvel at its "airy and futuristic structure designed by German architect Helmut Jahn, featuring an oval-shaped concourse, energy-efficient temperature control systems, and several superlatives in airport construction".

Futuristic it may be but the hard Teutonic steel walkways reminds me of looking under the hood of a Volkswagen Beetle - very efficient without any endearing warmth at all.

Yes, there are now automated walkways which the old airport never had, but you need to move quickly as one feels like a hot house tomato and the cloth 'sails' that sheath sections of the roof do little to dissipate the noon day sun.

For my money Singapore's Changi airport still wins hands down. It seems more welcoming and less severe than the Thai pretender.

The final section into the city was chaotic as the main arterial routes converged and tuk tuks and scooters weaved their way and forth through the traffic.

My abiding memory from my first visit to Bangkok was the warmth and friendliness of the Thai people and they have retained this attribute. Their service ethic is faultless and they go out of their way to make the visitor welcome.

I stayed at the Pathumwan Princess Hotel at 444 Phayathai Road, Wangmai, Pathumwan. With number '444' I expect many Chinese think twice about staying as '4' is regarded as an unlucky number, but I had no such qualms. It proved to be an excellent place all round and I would strongly recommend it to any business or private traveller. The hotel is completely non smoking - thank goodness!

As ASEAN was meeting in Bangkok at the time of my visit security was tight with a gauntlet of metal detecting devices, people with mirrors on poles looking at the underneath of every car and frequent bag searches.

On the day of my departure I noticed the hotel security staff where keeping a close eye on a large group of young people crowding the entrance, all wearing mauve T shirts. Given that down the road red shirted, anti government protesters wear laying siege to Government House I mistook this group as a splinter group of the same movement.

Not so. It transpired that a South Korean girl pop group, the Wonder Girls (where do they get these titles?) where about to arrive at my hotel and this welcoming party was the Thailand fan club.

I was tempted to say them "I was a drummer in a rock band a decade or so ago would you like my autograph while you are waiting" although I very much doubt there would have been any takers. So rather than making any comment at all I dragged my small suitcase through the throng and departed, by the same limousine that had brought me to the hotel the day before.

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