Bangkok High Life on the Cheap

June 1, 2007

On the last days of my trip, I treated myself to a few luxuries.

First, back in March, I got measured for a custom-made suit at Raja’s Tailors, on Sukhumvit Soi 4. Raja’s prides itself on their high-quality English and Italian fabrics and their 43 years of expertise in cutting great suits. Indeed, it seems that every member of the nearby US Embassy staff gets their suits made there. Raja’s has also been recently featured in Conde Nast Traveler magazine. Finally, signed photographs of Bob Hope, Bill Clinton, Bob Kerry, and other eminent figures hang on the wall, attesting to Raja’s slogan that they are the place where “every body recommends.”

With that said, I felt apprehensive trying on my suit. I requested a sleek, streamlined suit that would hug my body. Instead, at my third fitting, when the jacket was nearly complete, I looked bulky. There was about two inhes of extra fabric under my armpits which the eponymous owner-cum-tailor Raja Gulati and his son, Bobby, insisted was normal; I just didn’t feel right. In fact, I think that would sum up the whole experience. While the tailors are apparently famed for remembering every customer’s name the minute he walks through the door, they could barely remember that I was even the customer, at first only addressing or looking at Shin. In addition, their shop was always overrun with the regulars, a good sign in terms of their quality, but who the tailors fell over themselves pleasing, whereas I would be left waiting, ignored, and annoyed. During my fittings, I rarely got anyone but the non-English speaking Thai tailor’s full attention. When I commented that my suit felt big, I was given the age-old line of “we do this everyday, you should trust us,” as if I were too ignorant to know how clothes should fit my body, which I live with everyday.

Raja’s tailors very classic, conservative suits. I wanted something trendy; I ended up with something in the middle, but nevertheless, a very well-tailored suit that will still look great on me. The total cost? A whopping $250, dirt cheap compared to a suit bought in Japan or America, on the cheaper end for suits that Raja’s normally makes, but extremely high-end for Bangkok, where at other inferior tailors, $100 can buy two suits, five shirts, and a few ties.

Luxuries number two and three were a haircut and manicure/pedicure. I got my hair cut at Toni & Guy Essensuals, on the 1st floor of MBK, by a Senior Stylist for $20. While it didn’t come with all the frills I’ve gotten at Japanese salons (head massages, seven shampooings, a bajillion staff loitering about), I still got a great cut, despite the fact that I couldn’t really communicate with the stylist and I only had a vague idea of what I wanted. But, given that this was my first haircut in a year (I know, I know), it felt great taking off three inches of split ends.

The manicure and pedicure cost me $13 at an immaculate salon called Daily Nails in the Ploenchit Center, on Sukhumvit Soi 2. The salon had only recently opened and had all of the latest nail products and doo-dads. I had my nails done while lounging in a massage chair that, after one hour, began to bruise my lower back. Nevertheless, the two “girls” (one was actually a ladyboy) working on my nails were incredibly professional and experienced for Thailand and, for once, I got a mani and pedi that I was actually 100% happy with.

Last but not least, the ultimate luxury, and one which I had absolutely nothing to do with, came last night on the flight from Bangkok to Incheon Airport, where I’m now writing this. We checked in as normal, received our boarding passes as normal, browsed the shops as normal, and then proceeded to the gate where, when we showed our boarding passes to the gate staff, they ripped them up and handed us new ones in seats 1E and 1G. In other words, business class. This was my first time experiencing such a luxury and I was flabbergasted, jubilant, and very smug as I pre-boarded before the hoards of people already thronging the gates.

Business class is every bit as decadent and bougie as it’s made out to be. Of course, we had champagne before take-off. The flight attendants addressed me by name and we had personal TVs with good movies, not films like Spy Kids 2, which I have actually been subjected to once back in cattle-car class. We ordered our entree and drinks like in a restaurant, no beef-or-chicken carts for us, baby! And the meal didn’t come on a tray. Oh no, it came in four courses in fact: salad, appetizer, and bread, main dish, fruit and cheese, and cake. The wine was not only drinkable, it was good, rather than the vinegar-like concoction they try to pass off as wine in economy. And the seats! Seats I will never forget. Roomy, comfortable, fully adjustable, from the recline to the lumbar to the footrest. In the bathroom, amenities like toner, moisturizer, cologne, floss, and disposable toothbrushes sat on the counter, next to a vibrant, purple orchid. It was the only flight I’ve been on that I didn’t want to end.

I’ve been spoiled in the last few days, but in several hours, when I’m back in Japan and have to worry about finding another job, at least I won’t feel so bad, knowing that all of my pampering came at a bargain price.


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