I arrived in Bangkok a bit late. My flight had been delayed. But the sunset that I saw over the mountains of North Vietnam as my plane climbed up into the sky was something out of a movie. The colors were intense, as was the lightening that shot back and forth between the giant thunderhead clouds. Our plane was dwarfed by the mammoth cloud formations as we set off into the horizon. It wasn’t long though before we had to enter one of these monsters. As the plane shook and lightening flashed all around the plane I closed my window and turned on some happy music. This stuff didn’t used to bother me, but after my storm trauma in Indonesia, I’m pretty easily spooked.
Suvarnabhumi Airport is a behemoth of an airport – just an absolute leviathan. But the signage is pretty straight forward so I made it through the maze of jewelry stores and trinket shops to customs pretty easily. At customs they checked the arrival card that I had filled out on the plane. I didn’t know the location of my host’s house so they told me to just write “Bangkok” under the address. The woman who stamped my passport was far less understanding though. “If I come to your country, I know the address” she grumbled in an almost discernibly thick Thai accent as she flipped through my passport looking for a blank spot with her fat fingers.
On my trip to Bangkok I was lucky to have a Thai friend from University who is a Bangkok native. I stayed with her and her family. My gracious hosts were, financially, pretty well off… to put it mildly. So I should let you know right now, that the parts of Bangkok detailed here are not on the typical traveler’s itinerary. These places are for the elite and for the locals. I was brought to and from each place in an air-conditioned private car. And thanks to the miracle that is Thai hospitality, I barely spent a dime. I could definitely have gotten used to it. I'm a baller on a budget after all.
So, first of all, BIG shout-out to my girl, Nicky!
Rooftop Bar #1: Octave
When I arrived, my knowledge of Bangkok didn’t extend too far past what I had seen in The Hangover II, which didn’t paint a very pretty picture.
I was picked up at the airport and brought straight to the entrance of a luxury hotel via private car. On our way there we were stopped at a police check point. Our driver rolled down the window and the cop said something to him in Thai with a smile. "You better not be drunk" came the translation as we rolled on through.
I had been instructed to bring a collared shirt for the sake of all the rooftop bars we would visit so that was my only real clue of what was to come. When we stepped out of the elevator and onto the roof, my jaw dropped. It was amazing. And Bangkok is enormous! I hadn’t seen buildings like these since I was in America. I was genuinely surprised at how modern Bangkok was. Everything I had seen of Southeast Asia so far (which is actually quite a lot at this point) suggested that Bangkok would be much more modest. But it was more of a metropolis even than Kuala Lumpur.
Off in the distance there were fireworks. Apparently it was the grand opening of a mall. Asia loves their malls. We ordered a bottle of wine and a few tapas to enjoy until closing time.
Rooftop Bar #2: Zense
I was impressed and surprised by the 1st bar, but I was blown away by the 2nd one. It was more of a restaurant really. And it was beautiful, inside and out. The inside was an incredible restaurant with a glass wall that looked out over the city lights.
We were led towards this glass wall and out a glass door to the patio. Our seats were right against the railing. I was on cloud 9 up on that patio so I ran off to take a few pictures.
While I was gone my host told the waiter that the 2 of us were celebrating our 1-year anniversary in order to get us a 600 Baht discount on the bottle of wine she had ordered. I wasn’t allowed to contribute money anyway so why not?
The portions were small but delicious. As we ate dinner she pointed out towards the horizon to the outskirts of the city and told me that expats in Bangkok were reputed to hang out at the seedy tranny bars there, like had been featured in The Hangover II. Then in a lower voice, she told me to look at the people dining behind me. I looked. There were 2 white men and 2 Thai women. “They’re prostitutes” she told me.
I guess all stereotypes come from somewhere. It was still a nice place though.
Rooftop Bar #3: Heaven
Directly above the previous bar/restaurant, Zense, was an open air club called “Heaven”. It was a Wednesday night so things were pretty dead but we decided to go up anyway. Down a hallway that was glass on one side was an elevator that took us up to the next level.
I ordered a rum & coke and we sat at a table looking down at Zense and the rest of Bangkok. The advantage of this view over our previous one was that it was 360 degrees. We had the place to ourselves too, which I didn’t hate. I wanted to see more though.
Rooftop Bar #4: Red Sky
Our final rooftop bar was called Red Sky. It is not the most well-known rooftop bar in Bangkok but it is the tallest. To get there we went down to street level and walked about a block to the grandiose entrance of yet another luxury hotel. We cut through a mall full of street level bars and restaurants to get there. We got into the elevator and went up to the highest available option. From there we went through another hotel lobby boasting an array of diamond-studded chandeliers. At the next elevator we pressed the button for floor 55 and I plugged my nose as my ears popped.
The view was pretty breathtaking. The first level was an open-air restaurant so we climbed the glowing green stairs up to the 56th floor. This was the bar. This bar consisted of a small-ish walkway that went the full 360 degrees around the spire of the building beneath us.
As the Thai elite and wealthy expats consorted around us I felt like I needed to at least buy one drink with my own money. I had been politely protesting my sugar mommies for the entire trip but really. I had to pay for at least one.
The waiter handed me the drink menu and my eyebrows went up. I paid 360 Baht (almost 10 USD!) for a beer and it was the cheapest alcoholic thing on the menu. A street level you can buy beers for 50 cents.
It was my last night in Bangkok. Not a bad way to go out. The happy sounds of classic soul and funk drifted out into the night. It was a good moment in time. There was a glass wall that surround the bar so I could see reflections of what was happening around the corner. The waiter politely came to give us our bill and then walked off. People in the service industry in Asia are very mild mannered and polite. As I opened my wallet I glanced up to see his reflection in the glass from around the corner. He was breaking it down - his hands were over his head, making little circles in the air, and he was wiggling his hips back and forth to the beat of Earth, Wind & Fire. I love people.
The morning before I left my hosts took me to get a Thai massage. I needed a massage too. After 10 months in a world with no back support, the long motorbike commutes and all-night social events sitting on tiny plastic stools had ravaged my back into a stiff, knot-ridden mess.
First, our feet were washed with exfoliating herbs and minerals. Then we were led to small stalls whose boundaries were hanging white sheets. In each enclosure were pillows and thin mattresses. It looked suspicious but I promise it wasn’t that kind of massage.
In the confines of our respective stalls we changed into our massage outfits, which looked to be traditional Thai pajamas. Our masseuses came in, pulled back the sheet divider that separated our stations and began what was one of the most painful massages I have ever gotten.
“She says your back feels as if it has never had a massage in history” came the translation of what my masseuse was saying. “No kidding” I grunted as her sharp elbows dug into my back.
There was some acrobatic stuff going on back there. At one point my masseuse was standing on the back of my knees, with my feet tucked in front of her knees, leaning forward to work on my back. I groaned as my body arches backwards. Moments later she was walking on my back, digging her toes into my tender muscles.
In the next part of the massage my masseuse put my pillow on her lap and went to work on my head and neck. To finish it all off she put one foot in front of me for leverage and twisted me back to crack my back like a glow-stick.
But in the end, I felt pretty good. I felt lighter.
Bangkok was awesome. It was nice to be pampered for a little while. I haven’t left the developing world in almost a year. Thailand is certainly part of the developing world, and despite all its political unrest, joining the upper class for a few days was nice. It was more than nice actually. My only regret is that I never got to see the nitty-gritty of Bangkok. Oh well. Maybe next time I'll go see some trannies.
This is not it for Thailand though. Stay tuned for more.