Monday 16 July 2001 – Bangkok
Chris is leaving for home today so he packed up rather than coming to breakfast. I had coffee and read the Bangkok Post, which seems to be a remarkably sensible and honest quality broad-sheet, especially after the brittle sycophancy of the New Straits Times in Kuala Lumpur and the dully mundane Straits Times in Singapore. There was extensive coverage of local issues, including some implicit criticism of the Government – unthinkable in either Malaysia or Singapore, and a good range of world news.
I arranged my flight to Singapore for tomorrow morning, on Thai at 8.40am. I thought this was a civilised time until I found out about the requirement to be at the airport two hours prior to departure, so it will be an early start. The former Royal residence, Vimanmek Mansion, was included in our admission ticket to the Grand Palace and was recommended by Lonely Planet as one of the five things to see and do in Bangkok, so we jumped into a taxi and headed out.
Set in landscaped grounds, Vimanmek Mansion is a very substantial house made entirely of teak, with grand formal rooms and living quarters decorated in an amalgam of Thai and Victorian styles. Here, as at all the temples and Royal buildings and many other areas, one had to check handbags etc into lockers and remove one’s shoes. This gets a bit wearing after a day of sightseeing but it’s a minor inconvenience really. Our tickets also included entry to the Dusit Throne Hall. Apparently few tourists find their way to this annex of the Vimanmek Mansion, although it is adjacent.
Dauntless, Chris and I sought it out and again removed our shoes and checked our bags. The guide seemed genuinely excited to have some customers and eagerly gave us a private tour of the collection of Thai decorative arts that I gather were from the personal collection of the Queen. There were beautiful delicate boxes woven from fine strips of bamboo, elegant silver and gold Niello ware, green Celadon and Thai five-coloured porcelain, carved teak and soapstone and some of the most refined, restrained and attractive ‘royal’ jewelry I’ve ever seen. Most of the latter was silver and utterly beautiful.
Chris wanted to buy a piece of jewellery for his girlfriend so we taxied to Silom Road and eventually found a gem shop. I bought postcards. Then back to the hotel for Chris to pack up and check out. We walked around the corner to Jim Thompson’s house, which Chris had visited on his first day in Bangkok. He wanted to buy a few last minute gifts in the gift before heading to the airport, me to tour the wonderful house. After having one of the attendants take our photos together we said our good-byes and parted. The week or so with Chris has been so easy, relaxed and enjoyable and his company very welcome after a solitary week in Malaysia. Anyway, he hopes to come to Australia in a couple of years’ time upon completion of his post-graduate studies, and he promises to keep in touch.
The Jim Thompson house was wonderful. American Jim Thomson is credited with ‘discovering’ Thai silk and taking it to a world market. A trained architect, he bought up derelict houses from around Thailand and assembled them as one house next to a canal in central Bangkok. Thompson disappeared without trace in 1967 in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands, but the house still operates as a charitable trust and houses his wonderful collection of Thai artworks and antiquities.
I had a closer look around the Siam Centre shopping mall across from MBK and had lunch. I wanted to ‘cruise’ the Chao Phraya river somehow, so taxied to a river pier to take the Marriott Longtail Cruise. A free Mariott river taxi picked me up and took me and others down river to the Hotel itself (most large riverside hotels have such a service). It transpired that the cocktail cruise was cancelled for the day, but as the river was a couple of miles downstream, I felt I’d had a river cruise anyway. I had a beer on the Hotel terrace and returned to another pier where I caught the Skytrain back to Siam Square near the hotel. I had dinner at yet another restaurant in Siam Square – a noodle omlette, chili squid and fresh spring rolls, then back to The White Lodge to pack and get some sleep ahead of my early start.