Many years ago, I was browsing one of those Bangkok ex-pat forums and there was an interesting thread on the topic of ‘the downsides of living in Bangkok'. One of the forum members - a middle-aged wife of a business expat - chipped in with the following contribution (and for some reason I have never forgotten it)
"There is a total lack of spontaneity when you live in this city. You can't just decide to pick up the phone, call a friend and ask if they fancy coming over for a chat and a glass of wine, because they know they'll probably spend two hours stuck in traffic. If you want to go anywhere and meet up with friends, too many things have to be planned like a military campaign, especially if it's a new restaurant or something that none of you have ever been too before"
There are always questions you have to ask yourself.
Will there be parking available when I get to the destination?
What happens if we can't find the place we're looking for and need an alternative?
What if we drive past and then the next U-turn is miles up the road?"
The flip side of this is one of the answers I always give when people ask me what I miss about England. Instantly, I recall my childhood and lazy Sunday afternoons when the weather was fine and there was nothing on the TV. Dad would say "who fancies coming out for a nice drive?" Everyone's hand would shoot up, everyone would pile into the car and off we'd go.
Even though we lived in the centre of Birmingham - England's second largest city - within 20-30 minutes you could be setting up a picnic rug in a farmer's field, walking down Henley-in-Arden High Street eating one of their world famous ice-creams and admiring the Tudor architecture. Or perhaps enjoying half a shandy in a country pub beer garden or listening to the sound of leather against willow at a village cricket match.
This past Saturday and Sunday brought this all home to me. My wife and I, feeling guilty about sticking to the same routine weekend after weekend, decided to do ‘something for a change' and drive over to Soi Thonglor to sample a teddy-bear themed coffee shop that we had read so much about on the internet. Also in soi 15 Thonglor, is Villa Supermarket (always worth a browse) and Greyhound Restaurant (a decent place for lunch) as well as a few independent shops.
I don't know why it is but the Bangkok traffic on Saturdays is now just as bad, if not worse, than it is from Monday to Friday. It took us two hours to get from our home in Samut Prakarn to Soi Thonglor and ninety minutes to get back. That's a total of three and a half hours stuck in a car. Not at all something you want to do when the time at weekends is so precious.
On Sunday, we had to go to Paradise Park Shopping Mall on Sri Nakarin Road to get a few odds and ends that we can't get elsewhere. It's a journey we've done many times from home in less than half an hour. Again, we got caught up in horrendous traffic jams - thanks to the construction of an underground tunnel - and it took us an hour to get to the shopping mall and an hour back.
I've very recently joined Twitter and already follow about 250-300 people. Most of those people (or Tweeters) live in Bangkok and all have a different spin on things depending on which part of the city they live in. Twitter is all about sharing information and it's been a real eye-opener to read people's tweets and realize just how many great places there are in this city that I would never have otherwise heard of.
There are exciting concept restaurants in every suburb, museums, art galleries and markets I've never walked around, interesting themed coffee shops and pubs - the list is never-ending. And of course Twitter is where I first heard about Mr Jones Orphanage in Soi Thonglor - a teddy-bear themed coffee shop with delicious, gooey, home-made cakes to die for and the promise that customers will be transported back to a childhood era.
So how was the coffee shop once we had crawled bumper-to-bumper up Soi Thong Lor from Sukhumwit Road, eventually found a place to park (for an extortionate 50 baht an hour) and muttered and grumbled over how long it had taken us to get there? The answer is - well it was OK. Not great - just OK. The décor was funky and enchanting but the cakes were no better than we can order in our own neighborhood. We had lunch in Greyhound Restaurant and it was fine, but ultimately nothing memorable. We strolled around the soi 15 area and to be honest, I thought it all looked a bit tired. Perhaps we weren't in the right frame of mind to enjoy the afternoon. Or perhaps gigantic shopping malls like Megamall Bang Na - which is right on our doorstep - now just blow everything else away.
I'm not knocking the establishments we went to on Saturday afternoon, far from it, each of them delivered a commendable level of customer satisfaction, but there wasn't enough of a wow factor in any of them that would make me want to spend three and a half hours in traffic again.
It's fantastic that Bangkok has so many fun and interesting places to visit but I can't help feel that they are accessible only to folks who live in that particular suburb. For the rest of us - it's just too much damn hassle to get there.
When Sunday night rolled around, my wife and I looked back over the weekend - a post-mortem as it were. It wasn't the meals or the cakes or the goodies in any of the shops that stood out. All we could do was moan about how much time we had wasted over the course of two days being sat in traffic jams.
We ventured out to new places because we felt we needed a break from routine. But we've realised that there's no shame in doing the tried and trusted week in and week out - if it makes us happier.
I think I summed it up best - "sometimes you have to go out to remind yourselves why you don't go out"