Friday, April 24, 2009

I had been in Thailand for a month before I was invited by my director, Mr Rungrot, to dine at the suave restaurant at the top of the conspicuous Baiyoke Tower in downtown Bangkok. Thailand’s tallest building standing at 304 meters high at 85 stories. Travelling there in the congested evening traffic was indeed problematic if not frustrating for my host.

Once there we paid our fee and entered the lift, I didn’t really know what I was letting myself in for. The lifts shot up like a rocket. I didn’t think I had ever moved vertically that fast in my life. I was aware that above the restaurant there were a 360 degrees revolving viewing gallery of the city.

Me, against a picture of Baiyoke Tower in Baiyok Tower.

The meal was wonderful, although Mr Rungrot thought I should have experienced more of the spicy dishes and international cuisines. Still, all the same, I savoured my food carefully within the wonderfully relaxed ambience of the restaurant.

Afterwards, Rungrot took me up to the viewing area so I could witness the wide expanse of the city sprawl, the spectacle of the illuminated city in all its glory and the intertwining glow of the traffic system has it snaked stealthily through the concrete jungle, of this man-made megalopolis.

It was certainly a sight to see, with the numerous lights and laser shows and everything that makes a city like this tick. I was to come here again with my wife, Sybilla, when she came out here to visit me for my 40th birthday, some months later.

Bangkok’s complex road system glowing yellow
Bangkok’s laser night show for all to see.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Today was my wife’s last day in Thailand. After having lunch, we caught the free hotel shuttle bus into the centre of Bangkok. From there, we caught a taxi to the Baiyoke Tower.

‘You’ll like the views from up there, they’re absolutely spectacular,’ I said, trying to generate a little bit of enthusiasm.

‘You’ve been here before, haven’t you?’

‘Yes, Rungrot brought me here in the first few weeks of my arrival.’

We paid our fee to go to the top and then we caught the lift to the halfway stage. The lift shot up, as the floors just seemed to whizz by. I just wished that the lift in my apartment moved as fast. Before we knew it, we were already at the halfway stage. We entered the second lift and again, it set off just like the previous one had done. At this speed, we’d be landing on the moon within a couple of hours! There was no use in trying to make small talk in the lift because no sooner had we started, we were there.

The views at the very top were quite awesome during the day; much better than at night. We bought ourselves some drinks and then we went to sit at a table to admire the views across the vastness of Bangkok.

‘I think we were staying somewhere over there,’ I said.

Day time view looking down onto the city sprawl.

The views at times were obscured, mainly by an array of monolithic tower blocks in and amongst the clusters of some rather interesting architecture. The buildings were in every shape, size and colour and it all contrasted well between the old and the new. The city’s tapestry seemed to be in total harmony with itself, enriching the lives of the occupants both aesthetically and spiritually, symbolizing the wealth and culture of this fast-moving megalopolis.

As well as all the other buildings, which obscured the city’s view, the heat haze also contributed greatly in hampering it, or was it smog? We could see open-air swimming pools, perched on rooftops of many of the buildings. The road system still looked as complex and as interwoven as it had done on my first excursion here with Rungrot back in April. Then they had looked like yellow glowing snakes with red and white spots,  but now they looked like grey concrete lifeless ones, without any illumination. What we could see certainly looked intriguing and impressive, even though it did resemble some sort of labyrinth.

The vastness of the city looking south.

Sybilla, surprisingly, got chatting to some Poles in her mother tongue.

I decided that this was a good excuse to go for a wander.

‘I’ll just be over there.’ I said reassuringly to her, I didn’t want to get accused of wandering off without her knowing.

Out of the window, across the skyline to the south, I watched nature at its mightiest with an expression of exasperated incredulity on my face. A mighty tropical rainstorm was in the making, and by the looks of things, it was intended to make its ponderous progress towards us at a speed that best suited itself. It was a dark, angry, menacing storm. No doubt bringing with it atrocious weather conditions, along with all the thrills and spills that were connected with such a phenomenon; unstoppable in its wake. This surge and ferocity of this storm was like a tyrant gathering pace as it intended to unleash its petulance upon us all, whether we liked it or not. It looked as though it was progressively engulfing the city as the cloudburst slowly drifted ever closer. This was going to be one hell of an experience, especially with us being so high up as we were.

Second, by second, the heavens grew darker, as a shadow followed the onslaught of rain as it started, first as a torrent and then developing into a deluge. The tropical storm bombarded us with high-velocity precipitation. Its high winds and turbulence intensified howling around us as the impact of the rain hammered down upon the glass facade. There was no escape from it, as the rain tried its hardest to penetrate the glass, but on this occasion, the windows withstood its ferocity.

The slowly approaching storm, about to engulf the city.

By the time Sybilla had come to join me, the storm had already engulfed us, now sitting above us. Nobody seemed to be panicking or rushing for the fire exits to get out of the building as fast as they could as if expecting the inevitable to happen.

One might have been forgiven for thinking that Zeus was hurling thunderbolts down at us, as lightning began to spear from all around. The lightning was close; fluorescent flashes of brilliant, luminous white, spreading across the sky before our very eyes. There was no lagging behind with the thunder either; that happened simultaneously with clattering, crackling booms. It sounded like buildings collapsing, as their floors, walls and windows gave way, shattering and smashing to the ground, hitting a thousand decibels or more and occurring, but only a few metres above our heads. The noise reverberated in and around the city’s monumental architecture almost in unison, bouncing as it did off the glass facades and masonry, like a demented ping-pong ball, only to fade away like the remnants of a distant angry echo. Somebody, somewhere, was probably trying to sleep through all this racket. God only knows what Martians would have made of it all. For about fifteen minutes, we were at the mercy of the elements, as the heavens cascaded everything that they could muster down upon us, everything, that was, except the kitchen sink. These tropical storms at times seemed so unreal but magnificent to experience.

An aerial view of Bangkok with monsoon storm racing in.

Sybilla and I were dumbstruck by the event. Neither of us had ever been so close to such a thrilling experience.  The question that I wanted to know was, how much more pounding could this building physically take before the fault lines and the cracks would begin to appear? I was just hoping that the architects, designers and the civil engineers had got all their calculations right, otherwise we were doomed. The elements weren’t half lashing down upon us. What on earth had the Bangkokian residents done to deserve such punishment? Was this God’s plan for the redemption of his subjects here?

Within a few minutes, the storm had turned its back on us and was drifting off. Still mumbling away to itself, acting like some proverbial spoilt little brat.  The rain, at last, had abated as the sky slowly normalised, allowing us to admire the drenched, soaking wet views of Bangkok; not that it ever looked any cleaner after a downpour. I took Sybilla up to the revolving gallery, which had only just re-opened and was now thronged with people. We spent a few minutes up there before catching the external lift back to ground zero, having survived the ordeal.

Again we didn’t really know what to expect. The lift set off. It felt as if the cable had been severed and that we were literally plummeting to the ground with little if any, resistance. There seemed to be no stopping us as our ears popped due to the sudden change in atmospheric pressure. We seemed to be going faster and faster as if at any moment, we would simply burst into flames and disintegrate.

We could see the ground coming up towards us, far faster than we cared to imagine. What had been distant rooftops a second ago were now passing objects that whizzed passed us. Then suddenly, the brakes were applied as we slowed down; we were back at ground level. I’d never travelled so fast in a lift before. Talk about exhilaration! That had been absolutely unbelievable, nearly as astonishing as the views from the top, except, I think I left my stomach contents dripping from the ceiling of the lift. I didn’t think we’d actually gone through the sound barrier, but I think it was damned close. I felt like a big kid again, full of frenzied excitement. Deep down I wanted another go, but unfortunately, the opportunity wasn’t going to materialise, well not today.