Bangkok and the yodelling pickle
ACCORDING to the 80s camp anthem from the musical Chess, “One Night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster.”
Within minutes of landing at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, a pickpocket or two has swiped my wallet and my proverbial oyster, and smudged any remnants of goodwill not already snatched away by mounting jet lag and annoyance.
Never one to keep all my money and cards together, even when at home in New Zealand, the theft is more of an inconvenience than a serious travel mishap, so onward I go.
I harrumph my way through a sea of taxi touters and down the escalator to the official cab rank on the ground floor.
The staff here speak English.
They do not try to sell you anything.
They do not shout at you.
They simply write your destination on a slip of paper and hand it to a driver.
Then you’re transported to your lodgings in an air-conditioned, metered cab — no haggling over price.
Twenty minutes and $25 later I arrive at my usual digs at the Radisson Suites Bangkok Sukhumvit. It’s the Toyota Corolla of hotels: comfortable, reliable and not too expensive.
Within the hour, I am in my room, horizontal and happy, and dreaming about the 48 hours I have to play in this city of eight million.
A steady diet of Penang Coconut Chicken Curry and ‘The King and I’ has me thoroughly excited about my Bangkok adventure.
I pop Anna and the King, starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-fat, on my laptop . . . just for research.
You’re unlikely to find it screening anywhere else in Thailand, even on liberal in-room hotel entertainment channels.
Lèse majesté in Thailand prevented the movie from being filmed here and it was later banned by censors.
The movie was loosely based on the memoirs of Anglo-Indian governess Anna Leonowens who spent six years as governess to King Mongkut’s 39 wives and 82 children. Anything remotely Leonowens-related remains anathema to many Thai people.
Reverence for monarchThais revere their monarch and deal harshly with those who deign to offend.
Section 112 of Thai Criminal Code states, “whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to 15 years”.
News editor Somyot Prueksakasemsuk is currently serving 10 years for publishing two articles about a fictional monarch, which were deemed to have insulted Thailand’s royal family.
I drift off to Foster and Yun-Fat waltzing on the palace terrace.
I’m not Thai, but even I find it schmaltzy and offensive.
Early the next morning, I take the Silom Line Skytrain and jump off at Siam Station.
It’s a short walk to the MBK Centre.
I’m in need of a hat.
Thailand has three seasons, hot and dry (mid-February to May), hot and wet (May to mid-November) and only slightly less hot and slightly less wet, from the middle of November to the middle of February.
It’s December and it’s 30 degrees and my head is beginning to burn.
It’s not even 9am.
Mahboonkrong or ‘MBK’ is eight floors of shopping heaven — or hell — depending on your tolerance for chaos and your haggling skills.
It’s a noisy, frenetic mash-up of shops, stalls, restaurants cinemas, and the four-storey Tokyu Department Store.
There’s even a hotel.
Whatever your poison, you’ll find it at MBK, and at a bargain price.
You’ll also find a tonne of stuff you don’t need and the new suitcase to cart it all home.
There are over 2000 outlets and with no natural light, it’s possible to lose all track of time, but I’m on a mission.
Just a hat.
With seriously depleted funds on account of last night’s thievery, I’m sightseeing not shopping.
I head past the Gucci rip-offs and pirated DVDs and turn right at the wall of electronic gadgetry.
I’m tempted by some lovely Thai handicrafts, silks and water colours but push on.
There are cheap shoes, handbags, clothes, sporting goods and designer leisure wear.
It’s all here in an eclectic tumble of retail madness.
But I am strong.
I head up another escalator and after a whirlwind sortie of several stalls, pay 130 Baht (around $NZ5) for a baseball cap.
CollaredNo sooner have I made my purchase than a minuscule Thai retailer at the adjacent stall collars me.
“I know what need,” she says, furiously waving a package at me.
“You need yodelling pickle.”
She threatens me with a green, plastic pickle which, as promised, yodels at me.
I will not shop.
“Cap” I say, pointing at my headgear.
“Bring good luck,” she lies.
“No thank you,” I reply.
“I have one,” I lie.
And I turn and run.
As I flee, she chases me.
“You buy yodelling pickle.”
“YOU BUY YODELLING PICKLE.”
She abandons her sales pitch and mutters something in Thai and I smile.
“You very fat man.”
I run to the escalator and find myself on the sixth floor in the food court.
Despite just being called fat by a pickle-wielding maniac, I am actually rather hungry.
I browse the two dozen or so food stalls, which cater to most tastes and despite the “fried crap with kari powder” and “fried rice with crap”, everything looks pretty darn tasty.
There’s a lot of traditional Thai street food to choose from and I settle on crispy fish with shallots and cashews.
MBK’s food court has won a lot of awards and as I tuck into my meal, it’s not hard to taste why.
Calm now and full, I sip on my green tea.
I’m approached by another lady, this one in traditional costume with a basket of small stuffed animals.
“You buy? Bring good luck.”
I pay $10 for a plastic, fur-covered deer with a ratty tail and too many lashes.
“Her name Tiffany,” the lady says as I hand over the money.
Tiffany and I enjoy the rest of my lunch before we sneak out of MBK and head to the Grand Palace.
— To be continued.