It was time to pick another of Bangkok’s Fifty Best Street Food stalls so I invited Canada’s Finest Jazz Vocalist along for the ride. The destination was Hualumphong train station in Bangkok, a place easily got to with one stop down the BTS from Ratchadamri to Sala Daeng, then the MRT two stops to the heart of Bangkok’s main overland rail system. There were a few places there on the edge of Chinatown, but we’d settled on trying Sri Morakot, a place about 50m from the station, tucked in a soi behind a Honda showroom. It wasn’t till after we’d eaten we realised it next door to another place in the book – Chongki; but I am getting ahead of myself.
A relaxing journey down the MRT – Bangkok’s underground railway – brought us to Hualumphong. This is a place that the Diplomat, Isla and I’d visited back at the beginning of our adventures when we decided to try a second class 5hour train ride to Hua Hin (not to be repeated). I wrote about that experience in an earlier blog. This time I’d Google Map-ed our destination and we confidently strolled out of Exit 2 of the MRT, but not before a) Canada’s Finest Jazz Vocalist had eagerly run towards a cash machine which he assured me was one of a very few that did not charge the $5 for its services, b) we’d stopped along the concourse to take a few photos of a foundation stone celebrating the construction of the Rapid Mass Transit system in 1996. We stared up towards the apex of a golden capstone; remarked on feeling a little bit like Robert Langdon (Da Vinci Code) and mulled over any possible Freemason secrets within.
Here’s what we saw
It was at this point we ran into a small problem as we eventually realised that Google Maps is prone to dumping you in the middle of a district if it doesn’t really know where a place is; yet artfully, with a shy lowering of its eyelashes, just so you can’t get too enraged. We figured this out after Canada’s Finest Jazz Vocalist intercepted some teenage Thai lads and asked where the art gallery was in the middle of a street that was closer to slum than glittering cultural avenue. They blinked owlishly at us, expressed confusion and then, in true Thai fashion, sent us smilingly off in some random direction. I decided to access the website of the gallery directly and lo and behold! it was right next to the station.
We hopped into a tuk-tuk, negotiated a 40Baht fare and went back to the subway.
“Do you get the feeling we’ve done this deja-vu before?” nonchalantly remarked Canada’s Finest Jazz Vocalist’s as we plummeted back down into the depths of the MRT heading, this time, for Exit 1. Quite.
We eventually found ourselves at the entrance way of DOB Hualumphong Gallery, a place fronted by the intersection of Rama IV and khlong Kaseem Krung, dead opposite the main rail Terminus, where so much construction is going on that it’s a heady mix of concrete dusty, re-routed traffic and blistering sunshine. One day it will look utterly different, this gateway to Bangkok’s Chinatown. For now we looked at the double glass doors with its sign stuck to the front, pointing to the left, saying “Use next entrance”. Now…you’ve got to appreciate that the Thais are extremely literal in their use of language. A Western reaction is to walk to the left and locate another entrance. Aha! Not so. The sign literally meant: push the left of the double doors because the right wasn’t working. Crafty. But damn accurate. A pedant’s dream.
Inside the gallery was an exhibition by Suriwan Sutham; a set of fantastical portraits of women glittering with colours, a palette of faerie done with precision and no little technical skill. Myself, I like paintings that display a technical ability. Flicking paint on a canvass to mimic the fractal designs of Nature is not my personal idea of Art. Then again, neither is putting 48 bricks in a row at the Tate Modern. Many will disagree and I am not about to get into a rhetoric of the nature of Art; you can save that for your own thesps’ gathering. I’m just saying I quite liked these. The gallery can be accessed by this link http://www.ardelgallery.com/ and here are some of the portraits.
We were there about 15 minutes as that’s as long as it takes in reality to look round this small gallery. Time for a spot of lunch so we went back out and quickly located Sri Morakot. It was busy but we only waited a few minutes for a table before perching on stools, ordering a bottle of Est (that’s a variant of coca-cola that Canada’s Finest Jazz Vocalist assured me was started by ex-employees of Pepsi), green tea, the house special of BBQ and crispy pork, and the usual nam plow in metal tin cups. This lot set us back 140Baht. That’s £3. Yep, two adults fully fed and watered for $5! Awesome. The food was very different to what I’d eaten in Hai SomTum, being heavier on the stomach with its plain rice saturated in BBQ spicy sauces. If I am honest the crispy pork could have been crispier, but that’s being picky. The only sound for a good ten minutes was the happy munching of Canada’s Finest Jazz Vocalist and travelswithadiplomat.
We paid up, noting that, in ourselves we were a curiosity to the predominantly Chinese patrons of the place. I can only imagine what might have happened photo-wise if Isla had been with us. At that point we suddenly understood that Chongri was right next door – another place in the Top 50! We glanced at each other.
“Call that breakfast and now go for lunch?” I suggested.
“Lead on.” concurred Canada’s Finest Jazz Vocalist.
Strangely this place was nearly empty – I get the feeling it caters for the evening crowd so we ordered a standard 10 piece pork satay. What was fascinating was the clutch of Thai/Chinese ladies towards the rear who were preparing the satay for grilling. It was a human process line which ended at our table. Not bad. Here’s the food:
We headed back, Canada’s Finest Jazz Vocalist to peruse a place for his impending bakery, me to hook up with Isla. As we wandered through the MRT we helped out a couple of French tourists trying to figure out the best way to Saphin Taksin. I got off with them at MRT Silom to walk upstairs with them to BTS Sala Daeng. We fell to discussing the merits of Italy; they espoused Florence as a must-see place; I observed some cultural niceties about my recent trip to Rome. As we got onto the skywalk I looked at the pair again – late 40s, both attired in white, and he was carrying a football.
“Er, can I ask why you are carrying a football?”
“Why, yes.” Brilliant smiles.
You see, these two are part of a movement called “La Balle pour La Paix” – check out the Facebook page of the same name.
It started in France with Zinedine Zidane kicking the ball. The ball is now traveling the world with them and they are getting random people – famous and not – to hold it and take a short video with a message of peace. The aim is that those messages will transfer with the ball around the world. So yes, I’ve now held a ball touched by the great Zinedine Zidane (for those of you not au fait with football/soccer Google him. One of France’s top ten footballers of all time, World Cup Winner etc.) and left a message for everyone. It was an unexpected privilege and one of those “karma” moments. Right place, right time. Good luck to them, I say. Just one of those quirks of traveling 😉
Is this what diplomacy is all about?