Bangkok to Pattaya Bus Route
The ten o’clock bus from Pattaya to Bangkok let us off at the On Nut skytrain station directly at midday. Getting off
at what is currently the eastern end of the BTS line and catching the train is more comfortable and quicker than staying on the bus all the way to Ekamai (Bangkok‘s central bus station). We were probably disembarking at Nana station just as the remaining bus passengers were getting off at Ekamai.
My good mate and American neighbour, Dan, needed to go to Bangkok for a couple of days and kindly asked if I’d like to join him. We had done this before and always had a great time so I jumped at the chance for a repeat dose. From Nana station we walked the short distance to Soi 5 and our hotel.
Nana area of Bangkok
We were staying at a hotel situated in a small soi joining Soi 5 on the left opposite Gulliver’s Bar and Restaurant. Near the corner is a tattoo shop with a sign in window stating: “Keep Thailand Beautiful – Get Tattooed!!” I don’t think so. The short soi itself connects with Soi 3/1 near the Bangkok Grace Hotel. This area of Nana is known as the ‘Bangkok Arab Quarter’ and you could be forgiven for thinking you had just arrived in downtown Riyadh. Most of the writing and signage is in Arabic and the restaurants are almost exclusively middle-eastern. With so many people around ‘of Middle Eastern appearance’ (as the Politically Correct press would say) when we dragged our white Caucasian butts up to reception at the Middle East Hotel, I was fully expecting the lady to ask if we were lost. At 750 baht per night the rooms are overpriced, Spartan and the water pressure in the shower leaves a lot to be desired. However, they are air-conditioned, clean and comfortable; and for our purposes, convenient.
We checked into our rooms, showered, rested and freshened up before meeting in the foyer at 4:00pm for our first assignment. Outside once again, I noticed the wooden verandah attached to the hotel called the ‘Tea Terrace’. The sign on the wall read: “Serving Tea, Coffee & Soft Drink. NO SEAT for Order Not”. Dan and I strolled up Soi 5 towards Sukhumvit but turned left into a small lane just before reaching that main road. This alleyway serves as an unofficial shortcut connecting Soi 5 with Soi 7.
The Beer Garden in Soi 7 is sometimes referred to as the German Beer Garden because it has a fully functioning German restaurant with plenty of lederhosen-filling food on offer. It is a large covered barn with plenty of bar space and bar stools as well as tables for dining. Beer Gardens are very popular in Australia but I get the feeling this one would break all attendance records if it could magically be transported there intact. Bottled beer sells for around 65 baht but the drink prices are not the attraction. It is a freelancer bar where, from early afternoon until late, local ladies with time to kill sit and wait for a man of their dreams.
Dan and I had both been here many times before and always enjoyed the experience. In my case it was purely in the cause of research. We found two spare seats, ordered our drinks and surveyed the scene. I must report some of the ladies sitting around drinking water or soda water were very beautiful. Most have regular jobs and only pop into the Beer Garden for a short time opportunity to meet a man from another country, learn about foreign cultures and improve their language skills. That’s what I was told and I have no reason to dispute it.
One thing I did notice was the ladies did not appear to be very thirsty. Whenever they moved to sit with a man and introduce themselves, they always brought their own drink with them. Rarely did I see a Bacardi Breezer or other such concoction languishing in front of a lady. Neither did a lady approach me holding her neck in such a way to indicate that buying an expensive drink for her was the only cure for her parched throat. I was informed these ladies were not overly interested in a foreigner buying them a procession of drinks. Being conditioned by Pattaya, I found this attitude strange. Does Pattaya’s heat dehydrate females quicker? Does living in Bangkok make women less thirsty? It leads me to suspect the ladies of Pattaya are not so much interested in quenching their thirst as they are in the commission they receive on the drink purchase. I could be wrong.
The guy sitting two seats away from me was Australian. I heard his accent as he spoke with a lady who moved into the vacant seat the other side of him. It wasn’t long before this bloke, who I didn’t know and could never pick out of a line-up, found himself with another lady sitting on the stool between himself and me. She turned out to be a friend (sister?) of his first companion and the three of them became involved in light-hearted conversation. Apparently, they all got along very well because within twenty minutes the threesome walked off hand-in-hand-in-hand to his hotel to view his stamp collection. Or perhaps they were just adjourning to the local reading room to study up on ancient Siamese pottery.
At eight, Dan and I decided to go out for a light snack at one of the many Bangkok Thai food stalls in the area before heading off to make his appointment at nine. He was meeting up with a Thai musician friend at a bar in Thong Lo where we could listen to some Rock ’n Roll music, have a few drinks and chill out. For me this would be something completely different.
Log Cabins in Bangkok?
Log Home dining complex is in the Thong Lo district of Bangkok on the right hand side of Thong Lo road, a couple of kilometers from Sukhumvit. It is a huge place built to resemble a Western log cabin. The massive logs used for supports and those in the roof structure would cost a fortune at today’s prices, even if they were available. The Log Cabin bar within the complex is itself, huge, with elegant wood furnishings and a nightly live Thai band (and karaoke if absolutely necessary). When we arrived, the place looked deserted, with only a handful of other customers apart from us. I was informed later that it is often like this mid-week but on Friday and Saturday nights when Bangkok comes alive, it is standing room only. This is not a ‘hostess bar’ but a place for music lovers, specifically Rock ’n Roll music lovers. I must admit though, the three or four waitresses were very attractive. Dan likes waitresses and has been known, in the past, to spurn the advances of naked Go Go dancers in favour of the serving girl in jeans and sloppy t-shirt. On this occasion, the waitresses were not in sloppy t-shirts but dressed elegantly in sensual black. I could tell Dan was impressed.
Dan’s Thai friend arrived and, on first glancing his dark sunglasses, black hair and dark clothing, I swear he looked like Roy Orbison. At 57 years of age, Somchai spoke English very well, having gained some of his education in both the UK and the US. As a music nut, I don’t think there would be one song written between 1960 and 1980 he didn’t know all the words to. He is a regular at this bar and, as every member of staff came over to say hello, I felt privileged to be in his company. It was like sitting in the Royal Bangkok booth.
He is unashamedly Bangkokian. As he expressed on more than one occasion, “Bangkok is my town.” Through the course of the evening I also discovered he has a great sense of humour. At one point, the discussion turned to alcohol. I mentioned reading that Thailand had the highest per capita consumption of Chivas Regal whiskey in the world. He said it was not Chivas but Black Label for which Thais were renown. Be that as it may, he found it funny that Thai people love top of the range imported brands while foreigners coming to Thailand’s Bangkok filled up on locally-produced Mekong or Sangsom. I then observed his personal 750ml bottle of Johnny Walker sitting beside our table.
“But that’s not Black Label,” I pointed out.
“No, it’s only Red Label,” he laughed. “I drink anything that gets me drunk!”
Somchai went on to explain he was a frequent visitor to the clubs in the area, from Jazz to Rock ’n Roll venues, and was well known in them all. He wasn’t a paid member of any band but the management usually gave him free drinks whenever he sang. Referring to the Log Cabin, he said they didn’t give him free drinks but allowed him to bring his own bottle from outside without paying any corkage charges. He then rolled his eyes towards the waitress pouring his drink.
“You watch,” he whispered. “She will pour a very small shot of whiskey in the glass and fill it up with soda water.” She did exactly that. “I may not get charged for the whiskey but they charge me for the soda water!” he laughed.
The 5-piece Bangkok band finished warming up and when they broke into their first sixties’ number the three of us clapped, slapped and sang along. Two songs later, Somchai made his way to the microphone. With the look of Roy Orbison, the actions of Jo Cocker and the voice of Louis Armstrong, he burst into a rendition of ‘Proud Mary’ with the boundless energy of an 18-year-old. Several years his junior, if I had got up and sang with his enthusiasm I’d end up in a Bangkok hospital. And he was good. Very good. The band was also very good. Whenever the lead guitarist or rhythm guitarist sang backup or lead they got the songs word perfect, with none of the problems Bangkok people often have in pronouncing some English words. Their repertoire was amazing and they played everything from Led Zepplin to Peter Paul and Mary. I heard songs I haven’t heard since I was knee-high to a grasshopper.
The evening went wonderfully. We sat and listened, drank, laughed and chatted. A plate of spring rolls arrived and disappeared then, in no time at all, it was 1:00am. The three of us were the only customers left and the band closed up shop for a well-earned rest. Unless I was mistaken, the staff were also ready to call it a night. Either that, or it is their routine for one waitress to hold the front door wide open while the others stand behind customers and yawn loudly. We took the hint. That was when true Bangkok hospitality came to the fore. We were Somchai’s guests and therefore he would not allow us to pay for anything. As he paid the bin he reiterated, “Bangkok is my town.”
Somchai said he was off to another late, late club for a nightcap so Dan and I thanked him sincerely for the great time before catching a taxi back to Nana. We got out near Soi 8 on the opposite side of Sukhumvit to our hotel thus saving the driver from performing a U-turn. Dan was in the mood to play some pool at a nearby bar while I was in the mood for sleep. Before parting company, we both agreed an early start in the morning was not a good idea. We arranged to meet for lunch without checking out of the hotel because, as the song says – or should say – One Night in Bangkok is never enough.
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