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Three Bangkok Cafés I’ll Never See Again

Café First ~ Walley House Restaurant

In Bangkok I stay in a small but pleasant hotel on the Chin River, a tributary of the Chao Phraya River. It’s called Hotel Mystic Place. It was my first day in Bangkok and I couldn’t sleep so at about 11:45 pm I left he hotel looking for a place to get something to eat. What I found was the Walley House Restaurant.

As far as I could see, the Walley House was simply a number of small tables, all for two people, hugging the walls of a narrow alley. The alley walls were dirty yellow. Plants hung from green posts located every six feet or so. Strung from pipes running along the walls, also painted green, were bells ringing in the breeze. There was corn hanging from the rafters. Outside the alley entrance were tuk tuks raced by and filthy beaten down dogs stood, no doubt smelling he food. One dog walked up to my table, looked at me, then curled up by my feet. It didn’t ask for anything. The Walley House was down and dirty, but the food was good, the Singha beer was cold, and I couldn’t sleep.

Café Second ~ Tha Tien Pier Café

I hopped on a Chao Phraya Express Boat running a watery taxi service on the Chao Phraya River. I alighted at Tha Tien Pier because I was told there was a large reclining Buddha in the area. And indeed there was. From my reckoning, a huge reclining Buddha. The temple was being worked on and there were colourful broken tiles in numerous piles. I took what looked like a green leaf as a souvenir.

As you walk up the dock at Tha Tien Pier immediately to your right is, what I called, the Tha Tien Pier Café. It was constructed of a potpourri of wood, corrugated steel, old signs, and was built over the water. I sat at table for two on the riverside and watched three young boys swimming in the river, which was filthy. There was a latter built onto the dock which they eventually used to escape the trash and plastic bottles floating on the water. Still, the looked happy enough.

All the tables were old worn wood with Formica surfaces chipped and peeling. In front of me were three drunk Thais sharing a bottle of whisky. Across the river was the Wat Arun temple and as I sat there numerous monks came across the river, walked up the dock, past the café, and continued, presumably, to the temple the reclining Buddha. One, however, stopped and took a seat in the café not far from me. He was dressed in the traditional saffron civara and sat quietly drinking a Lipovitan-D. The waiter completely ignored him and he seemed quite contented just sitting staring at the dock. He was an elderly man with a dignified profile. When he had finished his Lipovitan-D, he placed the small bottle on the table, signalled the waiter, and whispered in his ear. The waiter nodded and the old monk got up and walked away.

Floating quietly below and to my left, its huge car engine and long tiller system at rest, was a long-tail boat. Long-tail boats are used as a river taxis pausing at designated stops and people’s homes along Klong Man Canal. A few days later, the owner of the café told me not to rent a boat on my own, as tourists often did. It was not uncommon to take tourists out into the middle of the Chao Phraya River, turn off the engine, and ask for more money. Instead the owner of the café made arrangements for me to ride on a long-tail up the Klong Man Canal with the locals and back again to Tha Tien Pier.

The Tha Tien Pier Restaurant was run by one family. The son cooked the meals. A young girl who brought me my beer then sat and did her homework. The mother and daughter cleaned and bought supplies. The father sat, always with a happy surprised look on his face, not judgmental or mocking, just good natured, as if life was always a wonder to him. Behind and slightly to my right were stairs leading up to the family’s living quarters. The youngest, a beautiful little girl with a bright smile, was forever running up and down those stairs.

As I sat at my table I could watch my meal being cooked in large woks heated with gas cylinders right in front of me. I never saw those woks cleaned, and I ate at the café over several days. The water that was heated to cook meats, vegetables, rice and noodles was never dumped and replaced, just replenished. Small fish swam below the cooking area where they threw food over the railing. Sitting there I could smell the food cooking, constantly surrounded by a mixing of aromas. The air was hot but the Singha beer was cold.

Café Third ~ Blade Runner Café

Walking through sections of Bangkok it often seemed to me that people occupied concrete space on large roads or boulevards between large concrete buildings and built homes and small business out of wood, corrugated metals, cardboard, whatever they could lay their hands on. As a result I often walked down very narrow roads, alleyways really, sometimes in the shadows of the high city buildings. One evening well after dark, I walked down such an alleyway. People were out along the way, both working and simply doing what people do – living. I walked past a young woman cleaning dishes in a large plastic bowl in front of four hotplates. No doubt her small business. Children, doing what children do all around the world, were playing. Men sat smoking. Most of them looked at me as I walked by.

I eventually came to a small café with two large doors open to the alleyway. I could see no name, neither outside above the doors or inside. Inside the café was dark. It was like walking into a cave. Low burning feeble lightbulbs hung from the ceiling, which was quite low. The place was humble, to say the least.

To my right on the wall was a television showing the movie Terminator. I claimed a table and watched Arnold do his thing. In the back of the room was a red neon sign advertising international telephone calls. Under the sign were half a dozen booths with, you guessed it, telephones. Today no doubt, if that small café still exists, there will be monitors with internet connections. Sitting there in a run down less then clean café, drinking my beer, the clash of poverty and technology struck me. And as if on cue, it started to rain outside, the rain pounding down into the alleyway between high rises, splashing in through the open door. If felt like I had just stepped into the film Blade Runner.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

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