We stepped out of the foyer of Popular Place onto the street to hail a taxi meter. It doesn't take long because this is a main route to and from the airport but we hadn't decided where we were going; only that we wanted breakfast. In the next building is a 7/11 so we walked the 100m to it because they always sell coffee from a self service dispenser. The only drawback with Bang Pli as a base is that this town opens at 4pm. You can get breakfast in the basement of Central Bang Na from about 6am on but that's a bit of a hike from King Khao.
So still on the northbound side we have a chat with the Som Tam sat in the unused land between the hotel and the 7/11. Som Tam is the spicy papaya Thai salad and is usually called Papaya Pok Pok by Issan folk, of which my missus is one, because of the noise made by the wooden mortar and pestle as they stamp down the bird's eye chillies and garlic. This little shed stacked with Leo beer is owned by a woman with a wicked sense of humour and winding us up about how many chillies I would be able to have in my som tam. Because that's how Thai's measure their pok pok. The maximum being som tam pet sib meaning pok pok salad with ten of the world's hottest chillies. The lady reckoned I would want seung which means none.
She's not far wrong - I don't like papaya.
The lady drifted us onto the odd subject of the new lampposts with kineree holding out the lights, and elephants holding up the posts. I also noticed back outside the hotel that the pizza bikes are one with the lucky numbers of 9 4 and 6 and another that must have been so jealous they decided not to have a number plate at all. Why would you want photo's of things like this I wonder but where else would you see such architectural indulgance and a difference of culture. Only here would a pink motorbike belong to a heterosexual male.
Waan asked the taxi driver to take us somewhere. "Where?" the driver enquired. 'Anywhere we can eat' she replied. So he took us to Suan Luang. Suan means garden or in this case a park. Suan Luang is divided up into plots with themes. The taxi took us there so we'd be away from the political protests going on not least because they were becoming violent. It's half way between the airport and the city: Suan Luang King Rama IX, Chalermprakiet King Rama 9 Road, Phrawet District, Bangkok 10250. And it was proper relaxing even if the gardeners hadn't really done any homework on what an English garden should look like.
But it didn't matter. It was peaceful and the young lovers looked relaxed. An unusual sight in Thailand as public displays of affection are frowned upon but a park is the Thai youth's back row of the movies. The entrance fee was to be expected. Thai half price; Farang double price. I read an amusing blog recently by someone who calls herself The Facetious Farang about her perception of dual pricing. Ruth has a remarkable grasp of farang perceptions. It isn't about dual pricing or double standards. It isn't about anything. It is just perception. Farang think they are treated differently. They're not. The prices in Tesco are the same, so is beer, taxis, restaurant menus, local buses, and anything else of everyday life. The only time you see two prices is when you go to tourist spots. Unless you are in Phuket or Pattaya in which case there is only the farang price but when was the last time you went to the zoo and kids had to pay the same price as adults?
Suan Luang is no different and has an entrance fee so small I forget how much it was. I think it was 30 Baht for all three of us but whatever I know I paid with loose coins in my pocket.
You enter the park via a bridge over a canal with clean water in. Comes as quite a surprise in Bangkok does clean water and as we wandered rather wearily along there was a noticable lack of tourists. In fact, I was the only one, everywhere were young Thai couples, some with well behaved young children, some stealing a bit of time away from the overbearing family home. We decided we should join in and had our photo taken sitting on the back end of the 'train of love'.
I feel more at home with Thai than I do Farang when I want to escape but an overindulgence of beer with Farang last night was making the hunger pains with Thai this morning. Waan casually asked a passer-by where the restaurant could be found and the girl answered "yuu eff aw" pointing in the direction of the lake. I asked Waan "I don't understand. The girl said 'Are you something', did she mean Are you hungry or something?"
Waan answered 'No, she say yuu eff aw. You know, Doctor Who, U F O'
We headed off toward the finger pointed lake and walked around the perimeter pathway like Dorothy and eventually it came into view. The UFO, in what seemed like, the middle of the lake. And worse, there were horrible swan pedalos, I needed food but this was a nightmare. Some popular Thai culture I do not get. Pedalos are for children. Along with candyfloss, red sparkly platform shoes, and park tricycles. It isn't for me, I'm too old, but Thai adults love this kind of puerility. I voiced an objection and set off along the very pale yellow brick road toward the yuu eff aw.
If I had to wade through the lake I was getting coffee and brekky. I passed the English Garden, filled with Poppies from Flanders, Buttercups from the now non-existent English Meadows, and Brambles. Well at least the gardeners got the last one right and they had put a sign in both languages, and as Farang cannot generally read Thai, I assume it was so Thai nationals can read the same thing in both alphabet and pallava. A bit pointless, as is the English garden that isn't, and I was in danger of becoming cynical.
Then came the best bit, a proper English town clock on a traffic island. A band stand behind and surrounded with vaguely familiar trees and in the flower beds were Marigolds, Carnations, Lavender, I mean someone had worked really hard to make this look right. But best of all, the UFO was there.
Now I'm no gardener. Parks are not a place that I hang-out. In fact my own back garden isn't a place that I hang out and besides who goes on holiday to look at a park? But I have been missing out. No tourists apart from Thais, no noise apart from bird song, no traffic apart from pedalos. The only down-side is it being a tad hot for walking around a park but I'd seriously recommend it and especially this park.
We went into the UFO and sat at a table on which was the morning's menu. First page, and bearing in mind I was hung over, was a full English. Imagine that; sausage, egg, bacon, fried bread, and coffee in a place whose only patrons are Thai. I was overjoyed until the waiter said breakfast is finished at nine thirty. Oh joy, so I asked for the Chinese new year special to be told that will be available when it is Chinese new year, although there was no mention of that on the menu card. So I sarcastically pointed down at the sandwich place mat and asked if a sandwich would be alright for him. It picked up then when he asked what type and I said Club, what bread and I said white, what size, I said extra thick if you have it. He answered no problem, would you like it toasted? At which point I could have kissed him. And that was by far the best sandwich I have ever eaten and washed down with fresh ground americano while a woman on the next table was telling Waan the food in the restaurant is really good as Waan nodded in agreement at her clear soup with chicken dumplings and fuk tong. Now I felt able to take in the park's offerings.
If you want to visit a park like Suan Luang, I decided, you really have to arrive early ie: before 9.30am and have breakfast. Then wander round till lunchtime, have lunch here, then walk it off and leave mid-afternoon, because by then it is too hot to walk round in open spaces.
We headed off in the opposite direction of the swans came to some lakes that just looked nice. And I kept looking round and thinking how nice and peaceful this place is. And how varied and precise the gardens are.
When we looked closer at the flower beds we noticed how they all had a theme and a practicality about them. Pak Boong which grows to about 1m high is a Chinese Leaf cabbage popular in Thai vegetable dishes. Daoruung are similar to England's Marigolds or Calendula. Doaruung are used to make presentations in temples and Huang Malai that motorists hang on car interior mirrors and are sold roadside at trafic lights.
Purple sprouting Spring cabbage has its' obvious uses as do chilies and peppers. This is a really fascinating yet relaxing place and typically Thai functional. I will definitely be coming back here again in a different season to see what else the gardeners can do