This post will be my final post written on the ground and will detail my final thoughts on Phnom Penh and the subsequent 12-hour layover I spent in downtown Bangkok.
Ending end my six-week trip in both Thailand and Cambodia, the trip that has seen me return to previous locations I have visited many times and written about before. As always every trip also allows me to further explore in greater depth and gain further knowledge on these ever changing places. If I was to make an overall summry on the venture whilst it has far from been always postiive, I still cannot wait to return and make the move to South East Asia permanent next year,
The past month spent in Phnom Penh was the longest time I have continuously stayed in the city and allowed for a much greater analysis that you just don’t get from a one or two-week stay. Becoming a semi-regular at a local food stall or neighbourhood bar allowed for much deeper connections/friendships to be made with both the longtime expats and locals.
By far the biggest takeaway from my stay is the rapid rise of China and is by far the biggest topic for everybody you speak too. However, whilst some see opportunity many others fear that the city of Phnom Penh may go down a similar fate that Sihanoukville has suffered. My personal opinion is that the rapid growth of Chinese presence in the country and in the region more broadly should be viewed through optimistic eyes. Of course, there will be cultural, linguistical and environmental challenges but these should not blind people from the clear boon that a prosperous China if properly handled can bring.
The cost of living pressures was also evident after getting to know a few of the local workers. With wages of around 200USD a month being just not enough. Living in the capital cities this amount is just covering the basic necessities of food and shelter, with only a little leftover for the unforeseen like a broken motorbike or sick child. This paycheck to paycheck way of life does appear to have a considerable toll on the lives of many working Cambodians. Everybody seems to have a story of a friend or family member that has had a sick child or motorbike accident that as quite literally financially destroyed them. With times certainly an improvement since the 1990s, many still feel trapped in their way of life and are starting to question the massive social inequalities that currently exist.
12 Hours In Bangkok:
On my last night in Phnom Penh, I headed to my regular bar The Pickled Parrot on Street 104 and undertook the inevitable process of booking my return flight. With my BKK to MEL flight already booked for 9pm the next day, I scanned the popular flight comparison sites for a cheap and reliable flight from Phnom Penh to Bangkok.
After an hour of annoying pop-ups and with a far from stable internet connection I had to settle on a 7am Bangkok Airways flight. Not a bad price however the timing would mean a 12-hour layover before my Melbourne flight was due to depart. Well as the old saying goes when life gives you lemons, add vodka and have a party…this is how I spend a day in Bangkok.
9:00: Arrive in Suvarnabhumi
Arriving in Bangkok and facing a 12-hour layover the first thing I aim to do is get out of the airport and through immigration as quickly as possible. For the majority of Western passport holders such as myself, this only entails filling out a form, waiting in line and having my passport and fingerprints scanned. With the new fingerprint scanners being reported to be causing queue times to blowout, luckily it’s early morning and there is only a small wait before my passport is stamped and I am allowed through.
Of course, lugging around a large suitcase will not be great along Bangkok’s notoriously poorly paved footpaths, so I opt for a daily luggage locker located on the ground floor of Suvarnabhumi Airport (100Baht).
10:00: Airport Link to Downtown Bangkok
Another saving grace for enjoying a 12-hour layover in Bangkok is the newly built Airport Link, an above-ground electric train that bypasses the truly horrendous city traffic. Departing around every 10 minutes and taking only 45minutes to get to downtown Bangkok, the trains are well cared for and cost around (80Baht depending on your final stop).
Today I am headed for the popular expat haunt of Sukhumvit located in downtown Bangkok. A well-known area of the city made famous for densely packed shopping centres, restaurants, hotels and a thriving 24-hour nightlife. The suburb is also one of South East Asia’s most ethnically diverse with Japanese, Indian, Arab, Western quarters located only streets apart.
11:00: Breakfast at Took Lee Dee
Located in the Arab Quater along Sukhumvit Soi 5 is one of my favourite food institutions called ‘Took Lae Dee’ literally translated as ‘Good and Cheap’. The 24-hour restaurant is well known as a refuge for many of the cities partygoers and the horseshoe designed bar always provides a great spot for people-watching.
Today I opt for their signature dish Pad Krapow Kai Dow a spicy stirfry with chicken and holy basil topped with a fried egg accompanied with a large bottle of Leo (180Baht). They are also well known for their American breakfast deal, that includes eggs, bacon, toast, juice and a coffee (60Baht).
12:00: StumbleInn Bar
Even when I am in Bangkok I still enjoy watching the AFL and one the best places to watch Western sport is at StumbleInn Bar located on Sukhumvit Soi 4 and only a five-minute walk from Took Lae Dee. Opening at 9AM every day the hot seats located along the soi are taken first. It has one of the streets best happy hours that entails draft pints (100Baht), basic spirits with mixers (90Baht) and bottled beers (90Baht).
14:00: Soi 8 Famous Food Stall
After a good game of footy and a few draft pints (200Baht), I am starting to feel hungry for Thailand’s most famous combination dish of Som Tom and Gai Yang or Papaya Salad and Thai Style Fried Chicken (100Baht). A dish upholding the true Thai flavours of salty, sweet, spicy and sour that I have still never had properly replicated outside the Kingdom.
Best of all it’s StumbelInn is only walking distance to one of my favourite street food vendors located on Sukhumvit Soi 8. A mum and pop store that has been selling their wares for as long as I can remember, and tucked next to an old biker beer bar. The only caveat is if you don’t speak basic Thai or are unsure of the ordering method it’s best to ask one of the younger-looking locals for assistance. Many times (as was once myself), I have seen hungry-looking foreigners looking on patiently for someone to ask them what they want to eat, trust me they won’t.
15:00: Soi 22 Massage Road
You can’t spend a day in Bangkok without a visit to one of the thousands of massage parlours located throughout the city. With one of the most famous streets located on Sukhumvit Soi 22. Normally I would walk the 20minute distance from Soi 8 to Soi 22 taking the cities backstreets and enjoy the sights. However, today I am on a rather tight schedule and opt for a moto-taxi (60Baht).
A quick walk down the self-dubbed ‘massage’ soi and there are literally hundreds of options offering a multitude of massages at every price range. I select a one-hour Thai massage (300Baht) with professionally trained staff and strong airconditioning.
17:00: Bencharsiri Park
Whilst many dubb Bangkok as a concrete jungle, and they are correct. There are a select few green spaces dotted around the megacity, one of those is located at the end of the massage street Sukhumvit Soi 22.
Sitting on one of the many shaded park benches I am able to watch the park’s squirrels race around the trees and the hour provides for a great mental and physical escape away from the hustle and bustle that is Bangkok.
18:00: Last Chance for a Drink at Queen’s Plaza
As much as I love the famous squirrels at Bencharsiri Park, there was another park that I heard through a few in the know is sitting on some prime land for redevelopment. This park is called Queen’s Park Plaza and is located at the other end of Sukhumvit Soi 22.
Originally built in the late ’90s the complex comprised of both sides of the street with the adjacent named Washinton Square. The complex was one of Sukhumvit’s first nightlife areas and basically consists of a group of single owned beer and pool bars. My favourite being the 24-hour Rumours Bar located at the entrance of the plaza. The stool seats allowed for an enjoyable way to watch the emergence of Bangkok’s thousands of neon lights over a bottled beer (80Baht) and game of connect four with the staff (20Baht a loss).
19:00: Airport Link to Suvarnabhumi Airport
Alas, the time has come for my return journey back to Suvarnabhumi Airport, luckily Sukhumvit is well serviced with both the cities Sky Train BTS and Underground MRT networks. I choose the nearest the Sky Train BTS Phrom Pong located a 5-minute walk away and set off to the connecting Airport Link (80Baht).
It must be said that whilst the cities Sky Train are fast, relatively cheap and very consistent they are currently very overcrowded too. Riding the system through rush hour expect to be well jostled and with the occasional old lady throwing an elbow to get ahead of you. Today was no exception, however, I was able to give as good as I got and successfully made my way on and off the carriage.
20:00: Suvarnabhumi’s ‘Secret’ Food Hawker Hall
For anyone who has flown before will attest the prices of food in Airport Terminals is quite simply is at racketeer levels, with Suvarnabhumi being one of the worst. I last saw a Hungry Jacks Whopper Meal advertised at truly crazy prices (600Baht per meal), consider that with a family of four.
However, for those in the know, there is a small hawker-style food hall called Magic Food Point that was originally designed to cater to the airport’s staff but is welcome to all. This is where I pick up my last minute Khao Man Gai or Chicken and Rice (50Baht) in a nice takeaway container with the sauce in a separate bag both of which can be safely stashed in my carry on.
Please don’t email me why you can bring on a full takeaway meal yet 100ml of water is treated as a national security threat.
21:00: Depart for Melbourne
Reflecting upon my day I can honestly say that my itinerary would consist of a better experience than 90% of the ‘expert’ tour guides offered around the city. Many of whom funnel customers to expensive shopping malls or make you stand inline under the baking sun to be herded through the Disneyfication of once important Thai landmarks.
There has also been much said about the cost of Bangkok over the last few years and whilst Bangkok is far from the cheap destination it was once known for. My bill below shows the city is very much affordable with a few in the know tips.
Luggage Locker = 100B
Airport Link to Nana BTS = 80B
Breakfast at Took Lae Dee = 180B
StumbleInn 2 x Draft Pints = 200B
Lunch on Soi 8 Food Stall = 100B
Moto-Taxi = 60B
Thai Massage = 300B
Bencharsiri Park = 0B
Queen’s Park Plaza 1 Drink + 1 Connect Four Loss = 120B
Airport Link from Asok BTS = 80B
Dinner at Suvarnabhumi’s Hawker Hall = 50B
Total = 1,270Baht, $41 USD or $61 AUD
Photo of the week:
This segment is always intended as a light-hearted section of the weekly post that I hope does not cause any offence. However, acts as a conduit for discussion about the lighter side South East Asia.
This photo was provided by a regular reader.
The Week Ahead:
Next week I will be back in Melbourne and with the recent refusal of an Australian bikie boss into Thailand I will be exploring the current pushback by authorities in both Thailand and Cambodia against Australian Outlaw Motorcycle gangs.
Please continue to send me through emails of stories, pictures and anything else that you would like to discuss about my favourite region South East Asia.
Harrison White can be contacted at email@example.com