In the 1990s, I was making money from my building controls, typically in Dubai and indulging myself in making pro-audio products in Europe and also the Far East. I can’t remember the year but the first time I went to Bangkok was a holiday as a tourist. It was a very different place to the modern Bangkok.
I arrived at Don Muaeng Airport which was the only airport at that time and endured endless traffic jams in order to get to my hotel. I have an enduring romantic image of Bangkok, dancing and music in a hotel restaurant next to the Chao Prao River. I love the sound of the Ranad (Thai xylophone), with its wooden keys and the peculiar musical scale which is different from the usual European 12 note scale although I have heard it replicated on a conventional keyboard.
I went to the Flower Market, I visited the temples and the Royal Palace and did all the usual touristy things. Then I spent a couple of nights in Pattaya which in those days was a den of iniquity – it probably still is. Lots of bars with young girls and boys, shouting out hellos, “Hey mister”. The hotel where I stayed had a staff of mainly young boys, very beautiful faces, I would guess around the age 14-16, who were serving breakfast but I think they were also ready to serve something else as well. But I stuck to scrambled eggs.
I took the most enormous risk with my health and went water skiing and fell quite sharply once or twice. The sea was an opaque milky colour, full of what? I do not dare to think what.
Back in Bangkok I went to visit a place which had been recommended to me by a business colleague in Sharjah who was working with me at the Shopping Centre. He was Swedish with the same name as me, but Stefan. I had reason to remember him at another time because he made an exact clone of one of my products and sold it to my client. It was quite a shock to see it at first because it took a little while for it to sink in that it wasn’t mine.
Anyway, Stefan had visited Bangkok and told me about a place where he had gone with a heavy cold and he said that they cured it on the same day. The name was Huttavech but I couldn’t see any trace of it a few years later. When I entered I simply saw lots of young girls in silky red dresses so I saw now why Stefan was so enamoured of the place. I ordered a massage but had to make it clear what kind of massage I wanted because I think they also provided what is referred to in Spain as “final feliz”. I had a Thai massage. Often this causes smirks from my European friends but a Thai massage can be quite painful and it’s not what you think. I changed into a simple vest and loose shorts and a young girl brought me a glass of water and pummelled me with her firsts, elbows, just about every hard surface in her body. She ended up by walking across my back. And then she said “wait a minute”, and came back with a towel which she stuffed down the front of my shorts and sort of rubbed it around. Being terribly naïve, it was only later that I realised her objective.
I took a flight to Phuket Island and this felt like a million miles away from the seedy joints in Pattaya but I soon got bored sitting on the beach. It was very hot and humid and I felt a long way from home, which was true. When I go abroad now, home is where I am!
I was stupid enough to have a drink with ice in a bar and, no surprises here, the ice was infected with some nasty bug which then attacked me and started eating my stomach soon afterwards. Lesson: only drink beer. I am sure things are cleaner these days but I still didn’t take the chance.
So on that trip I arrived back in the UK still not 100% fit, and jet-lagged of course. It took me a little while to get over that.
Then later I had reason to visit Bangkok again but this time on business. I went there on my way back from Hong Kong to visit Siam Studio which made video commercials and who were using two of my CM250 synchronisers in their studios. The CM250 had about 12 adjustments inside the rack unit and I was desperately trying to get the units to work smoothly, at the same time as having a flight to catch to an island, Koh Samuai in the south of Thailand. I ran out of time but my clients kindly booked a later flight and finally I was on my way. But that product, the CM250 was a total nightmare, for me and my clients. I feel rather guilty about having produced such a poor product. I did a lot better with my building controls and I should have stuck to that.
I describe the Bangkok of 2015 in two parts because the first time was just for one night and then I went back for a week after spending the weekend in Penang.
And so, in 2015 what did I find in Bangkok? What has changed from the 90s?
Of course I knew one answer before I went back there, for a start there was a new airport, Suvarnabhumi to the east with a rail link and the old Don Muaeng Airport in the north of the city is now used for short haul flights only. I arrived from Dubai on an Emirates A380 in business class so I had the benefit of a chauffeur-driven car to take me to the hotel, so that was all very easy. I had pre-booked the Ibis Siam Hotel using the Ibis website. It was a very beautiful hotel, and I arrived around 6pm in an Emirates car to be welcomed at Reception with hands held together in the Thai fashion as if in prayer.
My plan was to go immediately to Penang and the come back to spend more time in Bangkok so I had booked just one night and next morning took a taxi to Don Muaeng Airport for the Air Asia flight to Penang.