19 MARCH 1988, Page 47

Low life

Paradise with snakes

Jeffrey Bernard

ThBangkok is is an extremely attractive oven. At lunchtime yesterday the mercury touched 90°F. I have now thawed out and heat has to be as good a healer as sleep. Even at 7 a.m. when I step out on to my balcony it hits you gently. The ice melts too quickly but I think we can put up with that.

There is a good boy who keeps me supplied with the stuff. The only word of English he can utter is 'Hallo'. This morn- ing he bade me good morning by saying, `Hallo, vodka.' I was a little irritated at first, but on reflection, lying by the side of the swimming pool idly popping strawber- ries into my mouth, I concluded that it was better than being addressed by my room number. 'Hallo, four ten' would never do. Shades of James Bond.

Earlier in the week I was taken on a boat trip up-river and into the maze of canals which branch out from it. For me it was a magical scene. The clapboard houses on stilts, the floating market, the flowers and trees on the banks, the glimpses of golden- roofed temples and the sight of people cooking everywhere, ubiquitous woks over charcoal fires, made me wonder how I could possibly once have had a soft spot for the Thames at Maidenhead.

We stopped at the snake farm for half an hour, which was a little crazy. Three manic Thais play with a king cobra and several other lethal vipers. They tease them and at the end of the show it is apparent that it is the men and not the snakes who are the bullies. They provoke the snakes into striking at them and then dodge out of the way. Very hairy. Somehow they instil a defeatist feeling into the snakes until they can reach out and touch them, then stroke them and then flatten them on to the ground and finally bang their heads on the ground and pick them up. The man taunt- ing the king cobra was a very artful dodger indeed but it was he who suffered the only direct hit of the day. He was struck in his vitals and I thought he would drop dead in a while but he must have been wearing a cricketer's box. They then milked the cobra and I came away thinking that even snakes lead a dog's life.

After that it was drinks in the Oriental Hotel, voted, I am told, no less than seven times to be the world's best hotel. It is luxurious posh, not for me but Taki and his friends would like it. Gstaad on fire. Anyway, it was very pleasant to sit on the verandah and watch the rice barges chug- ging down-river in front of the setting sun.

So far the only thing that has annoyed me apart from the appalling traffic is that people will keep coming up to me and asking would I like sex. All I want here is a river house on stilts to retire to and lie out the remaining years on the verandah watching the river life drift by. An oriental Toad of Toad Hall.

And now the ice has melted. Where is that cheeky boy?