Bruce Marshall was born in England but quickly escaped to Australia. After first visiting Thailand in 1991, he was a regular visitor for 15 years, and finally moved here in 2006. Bruce writes candidly for Naked Farang about his travels, observations and experiences in Thailand. Here he shares his insights into one of Bangkok's most iconic landmarks: the Malaysia Hotel.
Adventures at the Malaysia Hotel: Part 1. Sounds like the title of a novel, doesn’t it? And I guess from my experiences in this hotel it could be. I have so many stories to tell, and over the course of the next few articles, I will relive the good times I have spent in this budget hotel, covering a period of 12 years.
Well, it all started way back in 1993 on our third visit to Thailand. Our first Bangkok hotel had been the Narai in Silom Rd. Not a bad hotel, but they had a ruling that no Thai males were allowed in the rooms (bar girls were accepted) so we decided to look elsewhere (we didn’t need to be dictated to as to who could and could not visit us).
The next choice the following year was a nice Thai style gay boarding house in Soi Ngam Plu (which shall remain nameless!). It was nice except for the fact that the main foyer area was wall-to-wall male hookers, and the rooms were filthy, so bad in fact that you could still smell the sweat from the last occupant on the sheets, and there were used razors on the floor in the bathroom!
To the rescue came a Thai friend of ours, Pop, who suggested the Malaysia Hotel, explaining that it was a budget hotel, but with clean rooms and good security, and in a very quiet Soi (Ngam Duplee). We decided to go with him and check it out. There were some very basic short-time rooms on the lower floors, while on the upper floors the rooms were better and, if my memory serves me, the rate for a superior room in those days was 800 baht…bargain! So we immediately packed our bags and moved into the Malaysia; the adventure had begun.
Before I go any further, I will enlighten you as to what I know about the Malaysia Hotel and its surrounds. It was built in the late 60’s (please feel free to correct me as I’m not 100% sure about the date) as an R n R hotel for foreign soldiers on leave from fighting in Vietnam. It has always been somewhat of a landmark in Bangkok (this and the Rose Hotel in Patpong) due to the famous (infamous?) coffee shop, which was the place to meet for anyone wanting to make “friends’ with the money boys and girls.
Sounds daunting, but believe me, very entertaining. Over the years some very “colourful” characters have wined and dined in the “Malay coffee shop” as it was known back then. Even mass murderer Charles Sobraj was said to eat and drink in the coffee shop, unfortunately to the peril of some travelers who fell pray to him, not in the hotel but at his apartment in Soi Sala Daeng.
Across the road on the corner of Soi “Si Bhum Bpen” was “The Red Fox” restaurant and wine bar, another favourite meeting place for travellers. I’m not sure what kind of food they served; I think it may have been French. Today that restaurant has long gone and been replaced by a 7/11 store. Opposite that on the other corner was a large orange painted building which was home to most of the Thai guys and girls who hung out in the Malay Coffee shop. Again this building is long gone and replaced by yet another Ibis Hotel.
Soi Ngam Duplee in 1993 was far different from what it is today. There were lots of fields and no high rise buildings. However, there are one or two buildings from that time that still exist. A short-time hotel, which is now next to the Ibis, is still exactly as it was in 1993 (I have never been inside but I’m sure the rooms are still the same, too!). Beside that was a primary school (!) which has long gone and been replaced by an apartment complex. The Pinnacle Hotel was there of course, as were the surrounding shops.
Behind the Malaysia Hotel in Sathorn Soi 1 was the Malee Restaurant. Happy to say the Malee is still there and is exactly the same as in was back then. If you ever get a chance you should visit this very cute and traditional Thai restaurant. Even the king and queen of Denmark have eaten there.
Also in Sathorn Soi 1 was the original Babylon Sauna. Many people (me included) still claim this to be the original and best. It contained a great gym and restaurant. Years later it closed and relocated, complete with its own hotel, to larger premises not far from the site of the original,. Now in its place is an expensive upmarket restaurant.
Sathorn Soi 1 has also changed considerably with lots of high rise condo buildings, and now chronic traffic jams at certain times of day. In the front car park of the Malaysia, there used to be an open air marquee type restaurant that was very popular with the local Thais and was full of revellers any time of day, any day of the week. A lot of the reception staff at the hotel have left, but some still remain, as do some of the original Malay Coffee Shop staff.
Around 1999 the Malay Coffee Shop was renovated, and the “undesirables” moved along. It’s a bit of a tragedy really, as the coffee shop lost its “ambiance” after that, and has never been the same since.
In 2010 a lot has changed, but the Malaysia Hotel is still a very popular hotel and is always full of guests when other more glamorous hotels are not. Every so often Brian and I will visit for lunch or dinner and say hello to the staff that we know there. Even after all these years, we are greeted with a smile and a “welcome back” greeting. There aren’t many establishments in Bangkok today where you can do that I’m sure.
I’m impressed, I have to admit. Seldom do I come acorss a blog that’s
equally educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you have hit the
nail on the head. The issue is something which too few folks are speaking
intelligently about. Now i'm very happy I came acorss this in my hunt for
something relating to this.