“More whisky!” shouted the row of guys sitting in front of us for the (thankfully shortish) flight from Delhi to Bangkok. Before we’d even set off. Yep, we had the good fortune to be sitting on the second row from the back, directly behind the Delhi equivalent of the lads’ weekend away in Amsterdam – the lads’ weekend away in Bangkok. Before we’d left the tarmac, they’d exhausted the air stewards (who coped with it all with remarkable patience and tact) with their toddler-like instant demands for whisky. OK, I know most toddler’s don’t drink that much whisky, what I mean is they way they were demanding attention and drinks NOW was reminiscent of toddlers. The poor people behind us were suffering even more, being on the non-reclining back row. As a goodwill gesture, we promised not to recline our seats, but unfortunately the whisky drinkers in front of us didn’t think that far ahead, so before long their heads were virtually in our laps. Again, this was all before take off, they blatantly ignoring the safety instructions to have their seat upright.
It got better, too. We’d pre-ordered a veggie meal, thinking safer is better than sorry when it comes to airline food but as the flight was at 1am I was pretty dead on my feet, so decided just to try to get some sleep. Evidently though, the pre-ordering system for Jet Airways meals sucks, as by the time they got round to serving us, they were fresh out of veggie meals. I said it was ok, I just wanted water and some sleep, at which point the air hostess turned into an Indian version of Mrs Doyle, “Please have something. Will you eat a chicken meal? How about some fruit? Some wine?” but I declined, still optimistic that sleep would come. Andy was hungry, and said we’d ordered a veggie meal. “Will you not have chicken?” “No, I’m vegetarian”. “Do not worry, we will find something for you”. Five minutes later, he’s presented with a tofu sandwich. Not being a lover of tofu, he did a remarkable job of getting through it. Followed 5 minutes later, triumphantly, with a full veggie meal. He was pretty full by now but following the hoopla it took to get it, felt obliged to eat it, but implored me to help him out. I managed a couple of mouthfuls of lentils before we had to scrunch the tinfoil back on top and make it look like more had been eaten. He washed it down with a glass of red wine, wrapped in a serviette as the lads weekenders had been told no more alcohol was being served by that point. All very hush hush. I felt even sorrier for the girl on the row behind, who was a Coeliac and had ordered a gluten-free meal – again, it hadn’t got through. Shame really, we’ve now flown four times with Jet Airways and it was the only flight that let them down. Sort the meals out, Jet!
No sleep came, so we passed the time playing “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” on the entertainment system, and too late, started to watch a film, “I Love You Man”, which had us both in fits of laughter. If you’ve seen it, no spoilers please, as we landed before it was finished.
Navigating Bangkok’s new airport was no trouble, they have wonderful walkways everywhere and a pre-paid taxi stand, always a blessing when you arrive in a new city and have no idea how much anything should cost anywhere. We collapsed into the lovely aircon taxi, and were both out for the count within minutes, missing out on the lengthy commute into Bangkok city centre. We were woken up by our lovely driver when we arrived at our first guest house, Asha. “OK, Suttisarn Road, no more sleep!”
Maybe not for him, but for us, sleep deprived and exhausted, definitely more sleep. We fell into a deep sleep and woke up, did a full load of washing (god bless hotels with washing machines) and set out, excited to explore the city. We’d both passed through Bangkok before but neither of us really took to it – it was just a stepping stone on the way to other, more exciting places. However this time, it was like seeing it through new eyes. Suddenly, Bangkok was prosperous, clean, and, dare I say it, very tame compared to Kathmandu and Delhi. Plus, after a few weeks of Nepalese and Indian curries, Thai food tasted fresh and new. We spent the day mooching round the shops, stocking up on essentials, and visiting the Patpong night market, slap bang in the middle of the red light district – now more a tourist attraction than anything.
We bought our souvenirs, and just generally enjoyed being in a new city. I went to bed refreshed and excited about the day to come.
I woke up the next day one whole year older. It’s the second time I’ve had my birthday away from home, the first time being back in Sydney in 2006 when I turned 30. First thing, I opened all my cards (thank you everyone) and presents (thank you everyone), and commented on Andy’s good taste as he’d picked out a pashmina in exactly the right shade for me – almost as if I’d picked it myself We had plenty of fun planned, and as soon as we’d had breakfast at the guest house, we got on with packing, as we were moving to a wonderful, plush hotel, the Park Plaza.
And what a delight it was – we got a welcome drink (never get that at a backpacker hostel), the staff were attentive, our room was A-MA-ZING, with a power shower, the biggest bed I’ve seen in my life, an elephant-origami-towel thing on the bed, and wonderful views over the city. If you’re heading to Bangkok and want a recommendation, go there. And for 45 pounds a night it was a real bargain.
We spent a few minutes rejoicing in our surroundings, before getting our cozzies on and heading on to the rooftop pool. And that was pretty much how I spent the day of my birthday – aren’t I the luckiest girl in the world?
We started the evening off with a celebratory mojito, and then I got a call from Reception to see what time I wanted my birthday cake! They’d clocked it was my birthday on the way in, and, sweet things that they were, they brought me up a fab chocolate cheesecake. Unfortunately, just before we went out it started to POUR down, the monsoon starting a bit earlier than usual, so Part II of our plans (cocktails on a roof bar) would be put on hold – but fear not, gentle reader, they will appear soon enough in my story – however, Part I – fab dinner – could go ahead as planned. My friend Elephant Apple (long story…) had recommended an Aussie-owned restaurant called Eat Me, closeish to the Patpong Market, and it was there that we headed. And what a good call it was, thanks so much EA. Wonderful surroundings, we sat outside (undercover, it was still raining), and stuffed ourselves silly on wonderful warm bread and olive oil, duck confit, and apple pie. A pretty perfect birthday meal for me.
And to crown the night off completely, we wandered back to the market, where the night before I’d fallen in love with a bag. I know, it’s just not me at all – shoes yes, bags I can give or take. But this particular bag I’d wanted for as long as I can remember – a Hermes Kelly bag, designed for and named after Grace Kelly. I know other bags are far, far more fashionable right now, but anyone who knows me will know that I’m not exactly a dedicated follower of fashion, I have my own style and when I fall in love with things, that’s it. I’d hummed and ahhed over it, decided to sleep on it, and woke up knowing it would be my birthday present to myself. Now for those of you frantically googling Hermes Kelly Bag and seeing sums of between 7,000 and 80,000 dollars, fear not, I definitely got a knock-off, but a very good knock off, and I love it just as much as if it was the real deal.
Clutching my new bag, and delighted with my day, we headed back to the hotel. And once again, in a strange city on the other side of the world from most of my nearest and dearest, the star of the day is Andy, who spoiled me even more than usual, giving me once again a real birthday to remember.