Bedbugs, Buddhas and Aliens – Bangkok again
I took the bus down to Bangkok leisurely last Friday night for a weekend of adventuring, western comfort (hello cheese club sandwiches) and indulging nerdish passions. I headed to Rhambuttri Road for dinner which I shared with a nice Kiwi couple coming to the end of a month’s South East Asian adventure. Then I got myself a foot rub, as you do when you’re in Thailand and such wanton luxury is affordable. I couldn’t find the hostel I was supposed to meet a friend at and it was getting late so I figured I’d just find somewhere else. I wanted to return to Nap Park which is a great hostel but it was full so I wondered up the road trying everywhere; they were all too expensive or booked up. I eventually found a little place at the end of Rhambuttri called the Orchid Guesthouse and checked in there. It seemed clean and basic and luxurious to have a double bed that wasn’t made of granite. As I was drifting off I opened my eyes one last time to see a six-legged beastie marching stoically across my pillow. I pinched it between forefinger and thumb, flicked it across the room and fell asleep.
I awoke at 6.30am to find my hands scrabbling unbidden at my legs, arms and shoulders; itchy itchy itchy. I managed to doze back off and awoke even itchier, I jumped out of bed clawing at my skin and darted into the little en suite to shower the itch away. I caught sight of myself in the mirror; overnight I seemed to have contracted severe chicken pox. My whole body was covered in raised red welts, some in perfect straight lines as though a beastie had marched straight over me and taken a bite every half-centimetre and some in huge clusters where a less regimented creature had set up camp to gorge itself. I tried to count the lumps but I’d passed fifty by the time I’d finished just my left arm and shoulder so I gave up and checked out faster than the proverbial through a goose. I didn’t think to take a picture unfortunately so I can’t show you evidence of the drama.
I found my friend Holly and the place where I should have been staying and checked in there before commandeering a tuk-tuk to take me to the palace. At the palace a man told me that it was closed for the day which thankfully I knew to be a scam so I gave him my Paddington hard stare and told him so. He got quite angry which made me regret my over-sized gob and scarper. Guess what; the palace wasn’t closed for the day. Had I bought it he’d have offered to organise me a tour to do instead (which would have consisted of most of his friend’s shops). The Grand Palace was very grand indeed and I spent a lot of time fantasising about what an awesome job it must be to be tasked with re-painting the incredible murals. I did actually clock a woman doing some touch-ups and then spent the next hour wishing I could have had a go – although obviously they would never allow that. It’s just my style of art – agonisingly slow and meticulous. It’s true that the palace does seem oddly to be floating above the city once you’re inside and wandering about the stupas and statues. The Jade Buddha, which is the palace’s centrepiece, was beautiful although it seems very small to warrant such a lavish home. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures inside its temple but I got this blurry one through the open doorway.
The enormous golden stupa apparently contains a relic of the actual Buddha and when you get close enough you can see that it isn’t painted gold but is actually tiled in thousands of tiny solid 24 carat gold mosaic pieces totalling a worth in excess of 26,000,000baht. That’s your fact for the day.
A little part of me felt like these sites were things I just needed to tick off since I live in Thailand and so many of my friends have been that I’d felt a bit like I’d already been since I’d seen so many photos. I was so glad I did go though, the palace is so much more impressive in real life and the reclining Buddha is enormous, far bigger than I’d thought it was going to be.
When I got back to the hostel I took a shower and sat on the edge of my bed inspecting the sorry state of my skin; the bites were all weeping and my left arm in particular was hot enough to fry up some Pad Thai on. Everything was burning and it was all I could do to resist the urge to claw myself to pieces scratching as I knew that would only make it worse. I put on some trousers and a long-sleeved shirt and went for a nice long massage since I figured I couldn’t scratch during that. Afterwards I found Holly and went for some liquid distraction Khao San style. The following morning (early afternoon) Holly clocked my arms and half tried to convince me to go to hospital, every lump was even more swollen and was oozing horribly (I know – you appreciate the visual). She settled for frog-marching me to the pharmacist and having the assistant lay out every kind of antihistamine known to man. Once we’d acquired about 8 pots of tiger balm, antihistamine cream and what we were assured were the strongest pills I felt much better. I stopped oozing for a start and the itching melted away to next to nothing (even if I still looked like a swamp toad).
Our final port of call in Bangkok was my main reason for coming for the weekend; not for anything was I going to miss out on seeing Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel Prometheus in the cinema. I do miss films a lot and I’ve decided that a monthly trip to Bangkok for a movie and a few western comforts is fair cop – although I will sleep rough before I sleep at the Orchid Guesthouse again. At the cinema the man behind the counter informed me that the next showing of Prometheus wasn’t for several hours and would have meant me not getting home to Lop Buri until ridiculously late. I could see a showing on his list in just 40 minutes though and asked what was wrong with that one.
“This showing too expensive for you,” he said. I might have been offended had I not had grubby dishevelled back-packer practically tattooed on my forehead at the time and the Thais are nothing if not honest.
“850 Baht” About £20; 4 times the normal price and enough to live on in Thailand for a week.
“I’ll take it.” I didn’t come all the way to Bangkok to see Prometheus only to not see Prometheus. The assistant looked at me incredulously in my dirty t-shirt, battered flip-flops and tangled pony-tail. I squared my jaw and handed him the cash.
That cinema was the comfiest I’ve been since I left home. I walked up to an enormous 3 metre tall set of ornate double doors barred by a red velvet rope and presented my ticket before being escorted down a red carpet in a mirrored hallway. The place is clearly intended for Thailand’s rich and famous VIPs. Once you passed the red rope there were bars obviously not meant for the proles outside and that would put anything in the swankiest hotels to shame. I had to giggle at myself when I caught my reflection in the mirror amongst pristine Thai ladies head to toe in immaculate Chanel and high heels. I was shown to my seat (sofa bed if you will) on my own designated shelf in the screen room. There is only seating for twelve in the whole place and so your closest neighbour would at the nearest be 4 metres away. The ‘seat’ was a clam-shaped 2-seater sofa with more settings than a Japanese toilet and a built in coffee table. It also had a number of poufs to choose from and a sweet-smelling duvet, which was very necessary since they had the air-con up to freezer level. I reclined my sofa back as far as it would go, propped myself up on abundant cushions, donned my 3D glasses and settled into what has to be the most luxurious movie-watching experience. Attendants came out from time to time to serve popcorn, drinks and Thai canapés to other guests but I couldn’t figure out how to order them, I knew it was something to do with a rather complicated remote I had but since it didn’t have a nice simple button with a large wine glass on it I decided I didn’t want to end up missing the film trying to figure out how to make people magically appear with munchies. Great film and great weekend – abject squalor to utter opulence, just what you need from a weekend break.