With a little planned buffer time to kill, I headed down to the Magic Food Court down in Suvarnabhumi’s basement and had a perfectly acceptable (if hardly magical) meal of rice with pork leg stew — one of those ubiquitous Thai dishes that no tourist restaurant ever stocks, because the economics require a huge pot and dedication to serving this one dish alone. It’s fatty, it’s greasy, it melts in your mouth and it’s aroy maak maak. (And you don’t have to order the pig skin and intestines unless you want to.)
A good half hour ahead of time Z, having unintentionally abused her freshly minted Star Gold to go through Fast Track immigration, appeared fresh off her flight from Tokyo and we headed to the taxi queue. Our cabbie, smiling a little too toothily for comfort as we chattered away in the back seat, figured he could pull a fast one on us and he turned right (that is, to the east, towards Pattaya) at the junction from the airport to the Bang Na-Trat highway and then did a great big loop around the airport that padded the bill by a good 100 baht and added 30 min to our travel time. Not being too sure of the geography, I thought he was heading for some alternate route to the south (I usually stay around Sukhumvit, but this time we’d opted for the Hilton in Thonburi), but the penny dropped once the loop ended and we reached precisely the same highway — and he didn’t even drive onto it, just under.
On arrival at the hotel, the meter was showing ~450 and he cheekily told us it would be 600 with the surcharge and tolls (which in reality totaled 95 baht). I called him on the right turn after the airport, to which he tittered and made up some lame excuse about avoiding an accident… and then snatched the 500 baht we grudgingly gave him and skittered off. Welcome back to the big city!
But we didn’t have much time to mope, as we’d booked two nights at the Millennium Hilton. Back when I first lived in Thailand around 2003, the building was still a skeleton left rotting after the 1999 financial crisis (remember that one?), and it was a real pleasure to find out what they’d done to it. I’m not much of a Hilton man, and I was staying here primarily to dispose of some points I’d had sitting around, but this is one excellent hotel — even without any elite status at Hilton. Our room (and, as I understand it, all rooms) had great river views and the pool area downstairs had a little fake beach (less fun than you’d think) and recliners placed inside the pool itself (more fun than you’d think). Add in a large local market right next door, with an excellent array of Thai eats especially at dinnertime, and who needs executive lounges anyway?
Speaking of markets, though, Z had been converted to the religion of Chatuchak on her last visit to the Big Mango and the next morning I was somewhat reluctantly dragged along. Fortuitously, the March morning dawned unseasonally cool, and coupled with kinda-sorta-early morning start spending 3 hours poking around (me) and buying tons of stuff (her) at the Weekend Market was far less painful than usual. To counterbalance this surfeit of capitalism, we popped into the recently opened Bangkok Art and Culture Center just across from MBK, which even had a free coat check service where we could deposit our Chatuchak loot. If arriving by Skytrain, visitors are first greeted by Wit Pimkanchanapong’s brilliant If There Is No Corruption — unfortunately, it was pretty much downhill from there, with a mishmash of generic (read: largely incomprehensible) modern art that could have been from anywhere. Bah humbug, but points for trying anyway. (And it was, after all, free.)
The next morning, we decided to do something even more touristy, and visit the Grand Palace. We’d both been here once before, but ages ago, and I figured on getting a few new snaps since the last round didn’t turn out too good. What I didn’t figure on, though, was the crowd and (this time) the all too seasonal heat: the place was jampacked, with tourist buses disgorging their loads non-stop and slowly shuffling queues to get into the shrine of the Emerald Buddha. We took a breather by the Ramakiet murals, another in the blissful air-conditioned comfort of the Royal Regalia pavilion (top pick: the three clothing sets of the Buddha), and then escaped back to our hotel pool.
With that, the Serpent Across the Mekong has swallowed its own tail and come full circle in Bangkok, and our story has come to an end.