I'd forgotten just how much energy it took to walk up and down Bangkok's sois in search of an apartment for rent. It's something I hadn't done for nigh on eight years, but I've got my folks coming over for a month in January and the instructions were simple - find us an apartment for no more than 30,000 baht a month. Oh and make sure it's near the sky-train line. And a swimming pool would be nice as well. Piece of piss I thought. I'd only ever looked for stuff in the 5-10,000 baht bracket so with a 30,000 baht budget at my disposal, I'd probably have a deposit slapped down within half an hour. Oh how wrong you can be.
I'd been all over the internet in an attempt to compile a list of suitable locations. Some websites I even got redirected to three times. It's amazing how difficult it is to locate independent websites amid the jungle of real estate portals and listings of serviced apartments way over my budget. It's even more difficult to find somewhere that will rent for just a month. A quick scour of Bangkok's well-known expat forums told the same story - finding good apartments near the sky-train for one month for under 30K isn't actually that easy.
I started off on Silom Road with some internet leads in the Soi Saladaeng and Soi Convent areas. Of the three I looked at, one had a lovely garden setting, a spacious coffee bar area but pokey rooms and no swimming pool. The second ticked almost all of the boxes but was slightly over budget and had lazy-looking staff. The third one didn't have any rooms available so I never got further than the reception desk. However, I lucked out with the fourth choice on my list - the Shangarila Suites, in the shadow of Chong Nonsri BTS - and I told them I loved the room but in time-honored fashion 'still had a few more to see'. Truth is I didn't. I headed up to lower Sukhumwit and from there my plan was just to walk up and down side-streets and keep my eyes peeled for bargains.
I started off with Sukhumwit soi 15. This soi is something of a nostalgia trip for me because the Manhattan Hotel is the very first place I stayed at when I came to Bangkok on a three-week package holiday in 1988. I popped my head in just for old time's sake and it was refreshing to see things hadn't changed. It was a three-star back then and although I'm no hotel inspector, you'd be hard pushed to give it a better rating now. The lobby hasn't seen a coat of paint for twenty years and the only addition to what I remember had been the installation of a scruffy internet corner with four computers that had been just plonked there rather than arranged with some sort of thought process. The taxi mafia still plies its trade just far enough away from the main entrance to stay out of trouble with the hotel management. The tailor's shop touts are younger but still just as irritating, and Yong Lee is still on the corner serving up overpriced food in the dirtiest restaurant imaginable. What is it about this part of Bangkok that always puts me in a bad mood?
I headed on to Sukhumwit 22 on the other side of the Asoke intersection. This is another place I have strong ties with having lived there for almost a year in the early 90's. From my balcony I actually watched the Imperial Queen's Park Hotel being built. It all seems so long ago. I cut through Washington Square and its mish-mash of badly-parked cars and dilapidated beer-bars to emerge in Soi 22 and its rows of massage shops. As far as the eye can see, if you're into foot massages then Soi 22 must be foot massage central. Unfortunately not that many people are on a Tuesday afternoon so you're left with huddles of under-employed teenage girls and middle-aged women sitting outside their respective shops with little to do other than scoff noodles and beckon half-heartedly to passers-by. I ambled a few hundred metres up the soi, more out of duty than anything else, before deciding that Soi 22 held nothing for me. Getting accosted by the taxi mafia opposite the Imperial Queen's Park and being told that it was senseless to walk around Bangkok put the tin lid on it. I reached the mouth of the soi and vowed never to walk on its footpaths for as long as I shall live.
It's about now (and it could have had something to do with the heavy pub lunch at The Robin Hood) that the energy levels dropped dramatically. I'd started off that morning with the best intentions - perhaps not a spring in my step but definitely looking forward to the day ahead - but now here I was seriously flagging. I'd been told that sois 36 and 39 were a hotbed of apartment rentals but I shuffled up both sois with the look of a man who knows when he's beaten. I aborted the mission and called the Shangarila Suites off Silom Road. 28,000 baht a month you say? With a swimming pool? And a washing machine! I'll take it.