Well we land in Bangkok airport without a hitch, collect our luggage and make our way through the customs and according to instructions seek out the official taxi rank.
Smug in the knowledge that we have a hotel booked over the internet months before, I show the name of the hotel and its address to the driver – The Royal paradise 836/1 Ladkrabang Road (only a few minutes from the airport) and off we go in his rickety taxi with one case in the boot – tied shut with wire Bulgarian-fashion and the rest occupying the front seat.The taxi does have a meter and it is working. It is seven thirty and now dark.
After ten minutes on ramped freeways, we exit a roundabout and he exclaims “Ladkrabang Road” as though expecting a round of applause.
We proceed down a long road of a thousand neon signs all in Thai, roadside cafe’s and workshops but no hotels. After a while the driver slows down next to a closed factory and says “Telephone!” I fish out the confirmation slip printed from the internet. There is the hotel address printed as clear as clear and of course my address and even my telephone number – but no telephone for the hotel. The booking agency has witheld it to prevent me ringing direct and getting a better deal.
The taxi driver scans the page, shaking his head. I point to a traffic police point behind us and we get out of the car. But our driver is reluctant to involve the police at this stage. Instead he prefers to wake up a local who has been asleep on a bench. The local waves his arm in the general direction of ahead and we continue down the road at speed. Annie points and says the word meter enough times for it to be returned to the beginning.
After ten minutes we reach the end of the road and the driver performs a U turn. We proceed back up the road. Perhaps I reason the driver has worked out that all the even numbers are on this side. After a number of slowings down and short halts and conversations on a mobile phone the driver is clearly no closer to knowing where he is going. So at a busy intersection I spot another Traffic Police point and insist he stop.
We sit in the car and crane our necks. Yes! Our man has gone into the post. Yes! After five minutes he emerges with a tall Traffic cop in white helmet who is talking on a walkie-talkie. Problem solved! But no! To our surprise instead of walking to the taxi to bring comfort to lost travellers they cross to a cafe where a number of young motorclists are gathered. There they stand chatting for the next half hour.
All sense of logic has now deserted me. I now know that a call to the police warning them of a murder taking place in the Royal Paradise Hotel would result in no action as they would not be able to find the hotel even with the address supplied.
Meanwhile we are now freezing in the back of the car. The aircon. has been turned to maximum cold. We huddle miserably together. I hope that the motorcyclists might turn out to be couriers who know Bangkok like the back of their hands. But no. Girlfriends turn up and one by one they chug off after pointing in all directions to our driver.
Still Thailand’s honour or at least its address system is at stake and finally the driver returns with the policeman. Their body language does not inspire confidence. At first the policeman prepares to mount his bike to provide a mounted escort but then decides to join us in the taxi. This means squeezing our two big cases into the boot so that the lid is now upright obscuring the driver’s rear view.
At least the driver now has a companion in his grief and for the next forty minutes they chat away as their shivering passengers are taken on a tour of Bangkok’s industrial zone. Occasionally we stop at the end of dirt roads and peer down their dark length to see no buildings of any kind.
As we get further and further from the famed road, so I begin to chant the address like some crazed Budhist monk. Our efforts to communicate our discomfort over the air co. has met with total incomprehension, but my chanting of the address does seem to focus the mind for the driver retraces the route.
The meter has been put back seven times and I am beginning to wonder whether we should not return to the airport and sleep in a chair.
Suddenly we turn off a main road and go down an alley way of shops. At the end there is a sign in Thai and English. Yes! It says Royal Paradise Hotel. It is now 9.30 and the stumpy building in a large carpark looks like paradise to us.
Next morning it takes just eight minutes to return to the airport and our flight to Chiang Mai.