How to trace 72-year-old ghosts in Thailand – Part 2

If you missed part one you can read it here


Day 2 of the investigation

I awoke early the next morning feeling dehydrated and hungry. The room was sparse and worn but good enough for one night. The bed was comfortable and there was aircon but the flimsy green curtain across the window didn’t do much to block out the strong morning sun or the noise from the school next door. The antiquated TV had a handful of Thai language only channels. It felt like a University dorm room.

I didn’t want to get out of bed but thirst and hunger stirred me into action and after a basic but warm shower I felt much better.

Juey was already behind the till in the Sunflower cafe. There were a few customers. I had seen some reviews online that said the breakfasts weren’t good. It looked like those reviewers had made the mistake of ordering a western breakfast – eggs, bacon, sausage – never a good idea in a place where non-Thai food is rarely ordered.

I opted for a big bottle of water, a coffee and a shrimp noodle dish which I bathed in chili fish sauce. It was delicious.

I finished my coffee and looked up to order a second when Juey and a Thai man in an orange bib approached my table.

“He is your driver. He take you today to look for Siriwan,” said Juey.

I looked at the time. It was 8.57am. That was incredibly punctual.

“You go with him. Motorcycle taxi. I pay already, don’t worry.”

I didn’t know quite what to say. I paid for the meal, collected a few things from my room, and I was soon sat on the back on the motorcycle taxi, the driver thankfully going at a moderate pace, towards old town. The driver held a photocopy of Siriwan’s business card and we were heading down Thanon Rachchadamnern, which was now a bustling market street instead of the abandoned road of the previous night.

Cars and motorbikes puttered up and down past the stores, which were mostly open fronted and specialised in only one type of product. One store specialised in eggs, others in noodles, others in bottled water. The shops were little more than storerooms with boxes and boxes of the product that was being sold and a small wooden desk at the front which the proprietor sat behind on a wooden chair.


We continued further up the road, turned a corner and after a couple of hundred feet we stopped outside a printing shop. One of the services offered by Siriwan according to his business card was printing services.

The elderly owner was friendly but shocked, suspicious and then amused when the driver showed him the card and, I think, asked him if he knew where Siriwan’s place was located. We were almost at the top of Thanon Rachchadamnern and there was no sign of a number 0737.

I hoped that the owner would point inside and say that this was Siriwan’s. It looked more or less how I imagined Siriwan’s place would have appeared in 1945, although there were no restaurant tables and chairs.

The owner called over a young chap and the three of them laughed. The motorcycle taxi driver then dialled his phone and handed it to me. It was Juey.

“Your card very old. Siriwan place gone already. He die 30 year ago. Family move away.”

“OK,” I replied. “But do you know where the building was located?”

She didn’t understand me. I tried a couple more times but it seemed impossible. Communicating face to face was difficult enough. Over the phone it was even more so.

We got back on the motorbike. I felt a slight sense of anti-climax. Yet as we drove back along the street I knew that somewhere along here must be the place. The road probably didn’t look all that different to how it had in 1945. Busier probably and far more cars, but it felt traditional. The town had likely been extended out too. I imagined that Siriwan’s place would probably have been located closer to the top of the street near to railway station.

As we neared that point the driver pulled into a bank forecourt. He pointed across the road and I followed his gaze. We were opposite the video shop that Juey had made our first point of investigation the previous night.

“Siriwan,” he said.

I gazed it over. Was I misunderstanding?

“Before,” said the driver. “Now…” and he dropped one hand flat on top of the other to indicate demolition. “Finish. Build again.”

It did look like it was relatively modern. The driver seemed to be telling me that this is where Siriwan’s place used to be. At least, I think so. Was he right? The location seemed to be spot-on and it was the right road. Could it be Siriwan’s place, 72 years later?

Back to Bangkok

I checked out of Theptani Place and entered the Sunflower cafe to say goodbye to Juey and thank her. It was cool with just a handful of customers as usual. I typed ‘Thank you for all your help’ into google translate and converted it to Thai. She smiled. “Welcome,” she said.

It was time to head back to Bangkok. I had been in Lopburi less than 24 hours and yet I felt like I’d been on an adventure that had lasted several days. And, away from the cynicism of the tourist resorts and big cities, I’d also experienced some breathtaking hospitality and kindness.

Before I headed back into the old town to catch the train Juey gave me the names of a few Facebook groups that she suggested I post a request for information on to see if anyone knew Siriwan. I tried to clarify again if the video store was the location of Siriwan’s but still I couldn’t make myself understood fully. I offered her payment for the motorbike taxi but she wouldn’t accept anything. I considered giving her a hug goodbye but instead I settled for a smile and a wave.

I bought my train ticket and, with an hour to kill, I took in a token ruined temple (Phra Prang Sam Yod), which was overrun by a gang of aggressive monkeys (Lopburi is full of ruined temples and monkeys), visited King Narai’s Palace and decided to eat before my train journey. There was only one place I wanted to go. Across from the video shop, the probable site of Siriwan’s restaurant, was a cafe. I took a seat and while I ate, I imagined what the street was like in 1945.

The ruined temple at the top of the street would have been there for centuries. My grandad and his friend would have turned onto the road in August 1945 and been called into the restaurant by Siriwan. After three and a half years of captivity and brutality at the hands of the Japanese a taste of home and a touch of kindness resonated with my grandad for decades. The business card was one of the few mementos he ever kept. Was that definitely the place? 

At the station I started chatting to an old Thai man. He used to work on the oil rigs in Singapore and was heading upcountry. I told him my tale and he did the same. Everyone has a story that means a lot to them even though it may seem insignificant to others. Even though they might not always be ripping yarns, they’re always important to the teller and it makes a difference when a stranger takes the time to listen.

And so I left Lopburi. I had found the road and, just maybe, the location of the restaurant. What I hadn’t expected to find, like my grandad 72 years earlier, were the unexpected acts of help and kindness that I wouldn’t forget.