Just before I left for Thailand my friend Loren, who has been living in Bangkok for the last 6 years, sent me an email saying that when I arrive at the airport there are two things that I must do. One, when I change money I must get small change and two, when taking a taxi into the city it must have a meter.
She also sent me her address which was 10B Tropicana Court, 436/9, Soi 10, Phahon Yothin , Bangkok.
How the road system in Bangkok works is that off all the main streets run the smaller side streets called “Sois” and these are numbered. Odd numbers on the one side of the main road and even numbers on the other side.
At my farewell party, Tamara, Loren’s cousin ,and who has just returned from a holiday in Thailand, tells me that she is going to email me Loren’s address in phonetic Thai to read out to the taxi driver.
Loren’s address in Thai reads like this. SOI SIP-SONG PAHON-YOTIN. The address that Tamara has sent me says that Loren lives in SOI 12, and not in SOI 10 as the address states which Loren had sent me. But as I can’t read Thai I am unaware of the discrepancy, and I write both the English and Thai versions down on a piece of paper and feeling very comforted, I pack it away in my wallet.
“Okey dokey” I say myself,” the things to remember are 1. Small change. 2. Metered taxi and 3.Read out Loren’s address in Thai to taxi driver.”
Simple, what could possibly go wrong?
24 hours after take off from Cape Town, including a 5 hour time change and a stopover in Dubai, I arrive in Bangkok at 18h00. Quite tired and hot, I breeze through immigration and find a Bureau de Change. The exchange rate is approx 40 to 1 in our favour so I change 100 Euros. I ask for small change and the teller gives me 4000 Baht in 1000’s and 500’s.
“Hmmm, seeing that their currency is so weak this must be their smallest denominations.” I smile inwardly thinking that this place is so cheap I’m going to have a fantastic time. Mistake number 1.
Just to digress for a moment. Last year some friends and I went to Madagascar and on arrival we were seriously ripped off by the taxi driver. A friend of mine ,Pete, and I decided that if ever we were to lose our jobs , the best profession to take up is to be a taxi driver at the international arrivals at any airport, as that is when tourists are usually tired and still don’t have a handle on exchange rates, and can easily be ripped off. As I’m a freelancer that option might be closer than I think. Quick, easy bucks to be made.
Vary aware of this I venture out of the safety of the airport and I’m immediately accosted by taxi drivers.
“700 Baht” to the centre of Bangkok one says
“Do you have a meter?”
“Nah, but cheep cheep plice” she smiles
“No meter, no passenger” I smile back
Just then another taxi driver comes to me and says,” 400 Baht to city centre, no meter but velly cheep”
Tired and hungry and impressed with his business acumen I hop into his taxi. Mistake number 2
While stuck in traffic on the way into the city we are hit with a storm like I’ve never experienced before. I honestly thought that the taxi was going to float off the highway, that’s how much water came down in a very short space of time. Now I’m tired, hungry and literally shitting myself while hoping there’s a life jacket under the seat.
As quickly as the storm starts, it slows down and according to the taxi driver, it’s now a mere drizzle which equates to a downpour on a winters day in Cape Town.
I read the address out to the taxi driver and he smiles, impressed with my command of the language and says” No ploblem, 20 minutes we theh”
Now after many taxi trips while in Bangkok I have come to realise that the one prerequisite for a taxi driver is to NOT know their way around, and it is not uncommon for a taxi driver while waiting at a traffic light to stick his head out the window and ask for directions. Or even better yet, to actually get out of the taxi and ask a street vendor where the hell his meant to be going. But hey…that’s Bangkok for you.
After 45 minutes of driving around with countless direction inquiring stops, we finally find SOI 12 and seeing the number I tell him to take me to SOI 10 which is the address that I can read in English.
The taxi driver drives the extra few hundred metres and stops at the top of the SOI which is a very narrow road and ends in the cul de sac about 200metres down.
It is still raining softly and I notice that the whole SOI is under water.
Reading from the paper I say “Please take me to Tropicana court”
“Nah,nah “he replies, “too much water, you get out heah”
“ What, but it’s still raining!?”
“Solly, solly, too much wahtah, kah no go”
I realised that I wasn’t going to get this guy to take me any further so I step out of the taxi with my rug sack and camera bag which also contains my laptop. I pass him a 500 baht note expecting change and he says “Solly no change” and drives off. I did later find out that the trip should only have cost 250 Baht.
So here I am standing at the top of a SOI that looks like a river, getting wet and just trying to wander how the hell I managed to get ripped off by a taxi driver, again.
“Definitely going to pursue the option of becoming a taxi driver,” I think to myself.
I take off shoes , role my pants up to my knees, which I needn’t have done as I was totally drenched 5 minutes later, and throw my rug sack on my back.
So rug sack on my back, camera bag and shoes in hand I start down the SOI. About 10 steps in and I’m mid shin in water. My glasses have misted up, as I’ve just stepped out of an air conditioned taxi. But I can’t take them off as my hands are full. I’m a mixture of wet from the rain and sweat from the never decreasing humidity.
I’m thinking to myself. “Shit I can’t get my computer damaged as I have all that porn which I just downloaded before leaving. Where the hell will I get more in Thailand….the one country where there are shows where women shoot ping pong balls and darts out their……. Ok. Not too much too worry about then”
About 30 minutes later I’ve waded down the whole SOI which by the way is very poorly lit and full of potholes. The whole way down having stopped at every gate along the way I have no luck in finding Tropicana court. Strange that seeing that I’m wading down the wrong f…..g SOI. The whole way down I’m thinking that I’m gonna be attacked by an Anaconda or Alligator or any other wild creature that they might breed over here.
“They definitely can’t have guard dogs as they all would have drowned by now, or at the least I’d have heard them howling their nuts off, while sitting on top of their kennels, hoping for the SPCA to row down the SOI and help them.” I bitch to myself
Wading my way back to the top of the SOI, and now thoroughly drenched I decide that I need to rest and find my way outside “94 Cents” coffee shop.
Entering the coffee shop, was like a scene out of a Clint Eastwood western. I swing the door open and with rivers of water running off me, I step into the coffee shop. All 3 customers look up from their coffee and take in what must be an extremely weird site. Standing in the doorway is a heavily laden, drowning “Farang”, or foreigner. Pants rolled up to my knees, barefoot, with shoes in hand and misted up glasses, one can only imagine making an entrance to Vide Cafe on Kloof street looking like this. But as none of them can speak English they all go back to drinking their cappuccinos. And I personally don’t give a damn about my appearance.
I unload my bags and wander over to the counter and catch myself before saying “Howdy paardner” (By now I’m really feeling like I’m in the Jackie Chan western, Shanghai Nights)to the , wide eyed little counter hand.
“Cappuccino,” I say
“Hot or cold?” I’m asked
Standing there in my own personal dam of water, in an air conditioned coffee shop, which is turned up way too high, I can’t begin to imagine who would want a cold cappuccino when looking like I do.
Biting my tongue I reply “Hot will do just fine thank you”
Feeling absolutely nothing for the mess that I’m leaving in my wake I find a seat and sit down to a loud “squish.”
I’ve taken only about two sips of coffee and while I’m wandering what the hell I’m going to do, when I hear.
“Wheh you flom?”
I look up and there is a 60 something year old Thai woman standing right next to my table.
“South Africa” I respond, not drily.
“You have place to stay?” she inquires
Now I’ve read that Bangkok is meant to be the carnal capital of the world but I’m thinking to myself, “You’ve got to be kidding me. Here I am soaked to the bone, lost, and I have a 60 something year old trying to pick me up. Geez ,thanks for the offer but I really don’t have the energy or desire to shag a golden girl. But hey how lucky can one get, and on the first night I’m in town. This city rocks….”
Little did I know that what she was doing was actually offering me a home stay, which is when a local offers a traveller a room in their house for the night and charges them accordingly.
I quickly give her the once over and say,” Thanks for the offer, but I’m looking for this address” and I stick the piece of paper in her face.
She points out the window in the direction that I’ve just come from and says “Ovah theh. If you not find I wait foh you”
Thinking to myself,” Hey lady you don’t take no for an answer do you?” I pick up my shoes and bags, smile kindly at her and head out the door. Just before I leave, I ask the Jackie Chan look alike if he has a plastic bag to put my laptop in. He quickly hands one over.
I remember that the taxi driver had stopped at SOI 12, so I walk the 200 or so metres in that direction and Lo and behold it’s under water too.
By now the rain has slowed down to a light drizzle as I make my way down the SOI. About half way down a taxi drives past.
Why the hell didn’t he pick me up at the airport?” I ask above as it turns into a parking lot of a place called, “K Place Sauna”
I follow the taxi in thinking that I’ll ask the driver for directions. He stops and as his customer is getting out I notice someone running out of the “K Place’ to greet the taxi. Something seems a bit strange about the way they are running, but right about now I don’t give a shit as all I want is a dry place to stay, preferably Loren’s place.
I’m just about to speak to the taxi driver and this other person say’s “You come in too?”
And then I realise where I am and who’s asking me the question…a lady guy at a gay escort agency.
This lady guy looks at me and is probably thinking I give a whole new meaning and concept to the term “tumble dry” and I’m thinking,’ If you so much as touch me I’m going to bitch slap you with my very drenched sneaker”
Both realising that I’m not at the K Place for any other reason , but that I’m lost (I swear on my own grave), I quickly ask,’ Do you know where Tropicana court is?”
As it’s still raining and he doesn’t want to get wet with his client, well not in public that is, he replies,”No Tlopicana heah” and rushes off inside with his new found buddy.
I show the taxi driver the address and he says that he will take me back to look in SOI 10.
Extremely grateful I jump out of the rain and into the taxi and off we go.
We go all the way to the bottom of SOI 10 and back with no luck and he says ‘Solly I must go” and he drops me off at the top of SOI 10. No charge.
Now I’m royally screwed and I think to myself, “I’m going to walk past the K Place Sauna and go to the bottom of SOI 12 to make sure, and if no luck I’ll find myself a hotel. I definitely don’t have the energy to stay at the little old ladies house, and ward off her advances for too long if she gets to keen.” Still not knowing that she was just being kind. (Please forgive me lord)
I turn down SOI 12 for the last time and, thankfully the rain has now stopped. On the corner of the SOI is a blonde guy on a bicycle talking to a Thai woman , so I trudge over and say” You don’t perhaps know where Tropicana court is, do you?” expecting the worst.
“Yeah sure,” he replies in an American accent.
Never before have I been so happy to meet an American.
“It’s at the end of the SOI about 150 metres past the K Place Sauna”
I swear if I wasn’t so wet and tired I would have walked into the K Place, hauled that lady guy off his mate, or vice versa, and kicked the living shit out of him. Not that I have anything against Lady Guys, but I did need someone to blame.
“Do you know Loren?” I ask, life flooding back into my exhausted shoulders and legs.
“Sure,” he replies “I live in the same block as her”
“Well where were you about an hour and a half ago?” I want to say but instead say, “thanks a lot for the help,” and start wading my way down the SOI
An hour and a half after I climbed out the taxi I knock on Loren’s door.
“Hey Gary” she says, “I’m really happy you found the place”……..