Yeah, great rhyme isn’t it? I was sitting in the bar of the Koi restaurant on Suhkumvit 20 in Bangkok when news of the military coup in Thailand began to filter in. I had been celebrating a friend’s birthday. What follows is my account of that night. It’s maybe a strange read because what was going to be a restaurant review kind of became a coup review!
Koi is one of my favored spots in Bangkok. It’s close to where I live, always important in a city where traffic moves slower than a short-legged dog. It is Japanese and I am a sushi/sashimi addict. The food is good, not outstanding but better than average and it’s light on the stomach.
When living in Europe I always figured that “nouvelle cuisine” translated to “less food, costing more”. At Koi you can count on being fed. “Light on stomach” means fresh food, well prepared with an emphasis on health and good nutrition.
The staff (particularly the chefs) are friendly. You can sit at the counter bar and watch the chefs preparing the sushi rolls and sashimi. They are very good at giving you freebies.
The restaurant has never been full when I have been there, bad for business maybe but good for me as I don’t like crowds. One good reason for never being busy is that it is also not cheap. Dinner for two will set you back about 4,000 baht, expensive for Bangkok.
The design of the building is cool, very contemporary, good use of color with an emphasis on red, perhaps no surprise for a Japanese spot. The subdued lighting is maybe too subdued. Finding your way from the entrance to the main restaurant area is an exercise in blind guesswork with a couple of unexpected steps to catch out the unwary.
The main action at Koi is its lounge bar which can comfortably seat 50-75 but usually has a collection of well over a hundred “beautiful” faces. Take that word “beautiful” literally. Koi is known as the models bar, where the beautiful and trendy of Bangkok gather to drink, eat and chat.
The owner of Koi reputedly likes beautiful women, well who doesn’t? He saw a way to combine his personal procilivities with business by providing free drinks and food to models registered with the various agencies in Bangkok.
The idea, presumably, is to use the models to drive traffic to the bar. It’s an interesting concept, followed by a number of the leading nightclubs in Bangkok, including Q Bar, Bed Supper Club and Glow, each of whom have a models night.
The problem at Koi, however, is that the models outnumber paying customers by a ratio of about five to one.
They start arriving around 9pm, to get fed, then sit around drinking and chatting to their friends until about 11.30pm at which time they will wander off to some other “hip” nightspot.
Yes, they are very beautiful but they are also very young, very cliquey, very loud and, well, annoying. If you expect to end your night in the arms of one of these lovelies forget it. They won’t even talk to you. I am sure that some of them are “working” but not when they are at Koi. They come there for the freebies, and no more.
Koi is the kind of place you go to when entertaining clients or going out with a group of friends. It’s a decent experience and if, like me, you are not looking for “adult entertainment” it’s quite nice to have somewhere you know you are not going to get “hit on”! I go there about once a month and I have never failed to have fun.
I was last there the night of the coup on September 19. It was a friend’s birthday and we were celebrating with dinner. We wandered into the bar at about 10.00pm and ordered a glass of red wine and a jack coke. The bar was full as ever, the models joyfully stuffing their faces with whatever food was on offer that day.
The red wine arrived along with a bill, but no jack coke, and our waitress was looking very nervous. I casually asked her to bring my jack coke and she disappeared back to the serving area.
It was then that we started noticing people leaving….and leaving in a hurry. I vaguely caught the words “police raid” but my initial reaction was to suspect a police drugs bust. I had noticed some over active sniffing in the bathroom earlier (I guess it’s kind of a model thing) and places like Koi are always prone to police raids as a non-subtle reminder to pay their “dues” on time.
If you want to know what “dues” means go take a look at the word “bribe” in any dictionary. “Dues” are part of restaurant/bar life in Bangkok.
The waitress comes back, minus my drink and mutters something about curfew. Not knowing what the hell is going on I decide we had better get out fast. As we exit I notice an “official” car exiting the car park in a hurry. Later it turns out to belong to a senior police chief.
Standing in the road wondering what to do next I get a phone call from my daughter in England. It seems there has been a coup in Thailand. Oh yeah? Want to tell me about it?
She doesn’t know any details but there are tanks on the streets. I tell her not to worry, that I am sure it is just a street protest. She says would I please do my best to not get shot as she still needs my money. Well thanks for the loving sentiments my darling!
So it seems we have a coup, maybe have a coup or maybe don’t have a coup but something is happening, that much is sure. I decide to get out of soi 20 and walk to the bottom of soi 18 to a place called Toxic, a sort of drinking club that I go to occasionally.
I arrive and the owner knows less than I do. All we know for sure is that all the TV channels have been blocked. Some quick internet research establishes that there does definitely seem to be a coup in progress but it is impossible to know whether it’s a move against the government or a propaganda stunt by the government itself.
Don’t you just love this pic? So very, very Thai!
Backing up a little, many of us had been only too well aware of Thailand’s political instability in the last few months. Most were also aware of tension between the Prime Minister and the Palace.
I email the BBC suggesting that it’s too early to conclude what this “coup” is, or is not, about. No one knows what is happening. All I know is that Thaksin has apparently declared a state of emergency and fired the head of the armed forces.
There are reports (later proved false) of tanks on Suhkumvit somewhere near Ekkamai and I conclude that the safest thing to do now is to stay put and wait. Around 11pm an announcement is made on television but it’s a confused situation merely saying that a coup is taking place and that the situation is under control. Yes, but what and whose situation? The military’s or Mr. Thaksin’s?
The TV starts to show pictures of the King but, again, this is meaningless as whoever is in charge would for sure claim to be acting in defence of the palace. So we wait.
Then there is another announcement on the TV. This time we start to get hard information. The military have overthrown the government. Thaksin is out. Few tears are being shed for Toxin, as he is known in various circles, but there is still a lot of confusion. Will army and police factions loyal to Thaksin try to launch a coup against the coup? Will Thaksin come back to Thailand? Are we about to see massive bloodshed on the streets?
What we don’t know now but find out later is that the coup is not a sudden snap reaction by the army but a well-planned, well executed event. Thaksin has been claiming since June that certain “charasmatic” figures are plotting against him. No one took him seriously at the time but, in hindsight, he was probably right. Army factions loyal to Thaksin have been neutralised, key police allies are removed from their posts, and key political supported detained “for their own protection”.
The coup is bloodless. September 20 the banks and government offices are closed, the streets are eerily quiet, Thaksin appears to have conceded that he is out of power. By September 21 it is almost as if nothing changed.
Yet change there will be, and challenges too as Thailand once again starts on the path to democracy.
[Coup pictures courtesy of Mark Tomaras]