Day 6 Saphan Kwai 9am

26 07 2017

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Day 5 Saphan Kwai comic book store 11.30am

26 07 2017

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Day 5 5.30am Queen Sirikit Park

26 07 2017

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Struck with insomnia, I went for a pre-dawn jog around Queen Sirikit Park in the morning cool, and was amazed to find that the park stretches on, and on, and on – it is much bigger than I had expected. The hour-long jog took me through vales of palm trees and past weird statues, lotus ponds, lawns and lakes, by the beautiful modernist Buddhadasa Indapaňňo Archives Buddhist centre and down an avenue of trees alive with scurrying squirrels and kookaburra-like kingfishers.

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Hotel

24 07 2017

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Day 1 Ansell & Elliott cafe 11am

24 07 2017

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Saphan Kwai hipster!





RIP Liberty Garden Hotel

5 04 2016

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My first day back in Thailand was something of a shock, although also in its way, a quintessential Bangkok experience. I pulled into the driveway of my hotel only to find that it has been closed down and boarded up. The Liberty Garden was no more.

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Readers of this blog in the past will know of my soft spot for this hotel, with its cinematic decrepitude, splendorously kitsch lobby and vast swimming pool under an old camphor tree. Best of all was its location on the lively Thanon Pradiphat in the heart of the colourfully down-to-earth working class suburb of Saphan Kwai.

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But Saphan Kwai is changing. The whole block on which the hotel now semi-stood was closed down, no doubt to make way for another monster condo development. Dark-skinned men in Burmese longyi seemed to be camping out on the construction site around lamps, the old archway was painted over and barred shut.

Somewhat sadly, I hauled my suitcase down a few blocks to the similar vintage but not-quite-as-picturesquely retro Hotel Pradiphat.

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I was glad to see other parts of the neighbourhood still going on as normal though, like the street food on the corner with Thanon Phahon Yothin and the surreal Alice-in-Wonderland beergarden of Coffee Model, standing in its shady lot of British phone booths, moose statues, zombies and piles of old midcenury kitsch.

The venue had in fact recently hosted an interesting event – a concert by some visiting Malagasy children organised by an NGO to promote ties between Thailand and Madagascar. I would have liked to have gone.

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Near the skytrain station I could see the new and old Saphan Kwai in full collision – amulet sellers and piles of porno and cheap clothes on the street outside opulent new residential developments with rooftop pools and upscale pretentions. Such is Bangkok.

 





Saphan Kwai

7 08 2015

On my return to Bangkok, I had to find a new hotel and I plumped for an old favourite, the Liberty Garden in the Northern residential area of Saphan Kwai. The Liberty is a wildly eccentric place, the kind of hotel Donald Draper might once have staid in. In the 1960s this part of Bangkok had a string of top-class hotels, the Liberty Garden, the Elizabeth, the Ambassador. In fact they are all still there and – more or less – much as they were then. Unrenovated, the rest of the city has slipped past them, and the action has moved away from Saphan Kwai leaving these hotels, and the Liberty Garden especially, in a kind of dreamy rundown timewarp. It doesn’t take internet bookings, or even creditcards, its not on Agoda but it is still there – half fallen down ( one wing was torn down for renovations which never happened several years ago giving it a pleasingly dilapidated air). Fans whirl in the oddly decorated, quiet lobby and for 20 USD per night you get a big double room with air conditioning, breakfast in the Lynchian “Blue Diamond” coffee shop and use of its generous pool, with its clear water and chipped tiles, in a courtyard under a lamphu tree, next to the Beirut-like rubble of the torn-down wing.

Its rare to see another guest. The Liberty Garden seems to be something that has slipped down the side of some enormous couch somewhere. You can imagine a junior member of an enormously wealthy Bangkok family stumbling across it in a dusty ledger book and asking in astonishment, “did you know we have had a hotel in Saphan Kwai for the last forty years?”

One day as I was swimming, gloriously, through the little used (but clean) pool, I heard a strain of music coming from the ruins. I couldn’t help smiling. It was the perfect song for  an aging sixties belle like this- “You Only Live Twice”.

Other than its seedy dated charm, and the price, the other great thing about the Liberty Garden Hotel is its location. Saphan Kwai might not be on many visitors’ hitlists, but the main drag of Thanon Pradiphat is as vibrant a local Thai neighourhood as you could hope for. Every single time I walked down the street I would notice something new that I had not seen before. There was simply too much to take in in one go – food stalls selling tom yum or gai ying chicken or barbecued skewers or fruit, little local coffee shops and desert places, Buddha shops, the garlands of flower sellers, traditional Thai clothes, underwear, Arab and Indian tourists ( seemingly the main market for the aging hotels in the area) and dusty-looking foreign exchange stores, blaring internet cafes, an occasional junkie or homeless person, motorbikes, monks. Towards the skytrain station, a ten minute walk away, there were footpath vendors of porn magazines (gay and straight) and magical amulets and a great second-hand book store.

Saphan Kwai really has everything.