Sunday, 3 April 2005

What a comfortable train! Apart from the odd wake-up at the odd stop I sleep right through, waking just in time for a lousy breakfast. We pass through more villages and small towns, some with remarkably neat railway stations, before rolling into Bangkok slightly ahead of schedule after a 20-hour trip.

Hualamphong StationI still get a kick out of how easy travel has become. It never ceases to amaze me that Mr Hertz will toss me the keys to a new car when I stroll out of the airport terminal. I always feel delighted when I can just pull my mobile phone out and call home (or call my lawyer, as I had to do from KL) when, back in the bad-old-days, that would have required queuing for hours at the post office, filling in forms in triplicate, paying a deposit, coming back six hours later and then not being able to understand a word of it. So I’m equally delighted when I leave the train at Bangkok’s Hualamphong Station, walk out into the entrance area and within minutes have extracted a pocketful of baht from an ATM. This is too easy!

Oriental HotelAt my hotel I dump my bag, grab a shower, walk out to the street and at the first junction I’m jerked straight back to the old Bangkok. A young man grabs my arm and flips open his portfolio to illustrate the sexual delights I could be indulging in before lunchtime. Why have I bothered with the shower when I could have been having a bubble bath with half a dozen beautiful girls?

Of course in Bangkok the adjective – beautiful – will certainly be correct, but it’s wise to check carefully before accepting the noun – girl – is accurate. Round the corner I’m grabbed by what must be the young man’s mother, who has a similar brochure to show me, just in case I didn’t get the message.

Jim Thompson's HouseI spend the afternoon on other traditional Bangkok pursuits: an excellent and ridiculously cheap lunch at a pavement street stall, much more expensive tea and biscuits in the Author’s Lounge at the Oriental Hotel (where I’m pleased to see I have several guidebooks on the bookshelves), and then a visit to Jim Thompson’s ever-delightful house.

In the evening I make a pilgrimage stroll down Patpong Road, a shadow of its old self. These days the emphasis is much more on fake watches than on sexual gymnastics.