One of the things that Phil and I have quickly become spoiled with here in Asia is the luxury of having efficient, caring travel agents that come to our aide whenever we want to book last minute flights, get advice on the best airline or to navigate the inevitable woes of embassies and consulates that come with getting travel visas. Travelers who are more hardcore than us would scoff at our laziness, but let me tell you, when things go array at the airport I’m thankful to have a man like Khun Bee on my speed dial.
Our Bangkok travel agent and fast friend, Khun Bee, has helped me through the craziness of splitting a relationship between two countries, getting in and out of Bangkok during the floods and advising me on the many choices available for flying from Bangkok. Added bonus: he comes to school on a bi-weekly basis.
Through our face to face classroom encounters Khun Bee has become a friend of mine (quick Thai culture explanation: the word “Khun” preceding a person’s name is the equivalent of “mister” or “miss.” It is a sign of respect and esteem that we use constantly) and he’s one of the first people I call when planning a trip. We’ve worked a lot together this year. Despite this, much to my surprise, he insisted on treating me and one of my colleagues on a dinner cruise down the Chao Phraya River along the urban sprawl of Bangkok.
I don’t know how you say guanxi in Thai but I knew that relationship building in business dealings is not a cultural importance special only to China. Bee was wooing me for my trust and friendship and I more than happily accepted his invitation.
I’ve always been a little wary of the idea of a “dinner cruise.” I’ve witnessed the massive “Chao Phraya Princess” boats trudging along the river with their sparkling camera flashes, loud music and buffet dinners and the idea of being stuck on a boat with six hundred of your closest fellow tourists listening to a bad PA system didn’t seem appealing. But I’ve really grown to like Bee and he was treating, so I figured, why not, I’ll at least get a blog post out of it.
Bee made reservations for the three of us on the River Side Bangkok Cruise. There are many companies to choose from but he said it was important to look for a cruise where the food was prepared on the boat. The boat River Side 3 could hold 800 people and on the night we went, it felt like it was. It seemed that the boat was packed, especially with children, however it seemed that it was mostly local Thai visitors, not a lot of foreigners.
We got to the pier right as the boat was about to leave at 8:00p. Bee told us that he picked the a la cart menu boat because the food was better and you could ensure that you get enough to eat. Right away he ordered appetizers, starting the meal with the well-known Thai appetizer/street food mieng kham.
Mieng kham is a tour de Thai flavors consisting of a plate with piles of finely sliced ingredients that hit all the corners of the Thai palate. You have dried shrimp, toasted coconut, ginger, peanuts, raw shallots, chillies, a betel leaf surrounding a bowl of tangy, salty, fish based dipping sauce in the middle. Preparing the dish is easy as you just chop up the ingredients and let the diners assemble their snack. Bee made a point of getting us started with a little tutorial on the dish.
He also ordered an assortment of dishes for us including a fried fish, garlic squid, spicy tom yam kung, asparagus with mushrooms and a plate of garlic chicken with cashews and dried chillies.
Overall the boat ride wasn’t the dreary tourist trap that I thought. In fact everything on the River Side cruises is in Thai, so usually Bee translated for us the whole trip (narration was especially helpful to explain why everyone was whooping every time we went under a bridge – they were making a wish). The food was good and the sites along the river were beautiful. It’s hard to go wrong with Wat Arun and the Grand Palace lit up against the night sky. Unfortunately I don’t really know the cost of the trip as it was Bee’s treat. Would I do it again? Meh, with good company and food anything is possible. These guys look especially nice (pirate Chao Phraya cruise?), but otherwise I think I’ll stick to exploring life of luxury on the land.