A December 2004 trip
to Bangkok by Kauai Boy
Quote: Another spontaneous desire to travel resulted in this incredible journey across the Pacific for a 2-week romp through the capital of Thailand – Bangkok, Krung Thep, the City of Angels, the Big Mango . . .
Another spontaneous desire to travel resulted in this incredible journey across the Pacific for a 2-week romp through the capital of Thailand – Bangkok, Krung Thep, the City of Angels, the Big Mango . . .
As a first-timer, I wanted to experience as much as Bangkok could offer me. With only 2 weeks, I opted to stay within a reasonable distance of the city – the rest of the country will just have to wait for my next adventure-on-a-whim.
My private guide started me on a basic city tour – the temples, the markets, a ride on a tuk-tuk, and a cruise down the Chao Praya, the River of Kings. We stopped at the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew, and joined in the joyous festivities as the entire country celebrated His Majesty the King’s birthday on the 5th of December, which was capped off with a very impressive fireworks show.
And of course there’s Bangkok at night. The Silom District turns into a bustling market place, where rows flea market style booths line alleys between nightclubs and go-go bars, venders haggling with would-be customers while bar touts lure potential patrons with promises of cheap drinks and beautiful girls (or boys) for "hire".
As for the club scene, my personal favorite was Hollywood Awards, strategically placed at the center of a group of dance clubs near the Thailand Cultural Center on Ratchadaphisek Road in northeast Bangkok. Starting off the night with easy-dancing and hip-hop, the pace speeds up to heart-pumping, high-energy techno by midnight. Just after midnight, the larger clubs put on shows: mini-concerts that are surprisingly elaborate and professional.
Being an orchid and plant enthusiast, I was in heaven. From the Royal Garden on the far east side of the city to the Rose Garden on the west side, the famous flower market in near Chinatown, and the Chatuchak weekend market – I spent hour after hour just wandering amidst the incredible variety of Thai flora, painfully tempted to try to purchase some to "sneak" back home.
For the first-time traveler, I highly recommend hiring a guide/translator for at least a day or two, depending on your budget. They typically go for about 1,000 Baht for an 8-hour day guide, or 1,500 Baht for 15 hours (9 am to midnight). When selecting one, make sure they are LICENCED (!!!). I for one did not come quite prepared enough, especially with the language, and my guide made it immensely easier to at least orient myself with basic phrases and customs, etiquette, and getting around on my own. HOWEVER, do remember that these guides are in business, so they will be pitching various tours that they have made arrangements with for some amount of commission. Guides can easily be found by doing a quick search on the Internet. Or, better yet, consult your hotel’s concierge desk for assistance.
The ubiquitous taxi is probably the easiest way to get around Bangkok, starting at 35 Baht. In areas with heavy tourist traffic, you may have to pay a non-metered fare, typically 100 to 150 Baht depending on where you are going. You can also arrange for an all-day hire starting at 1,200 Baht – useful if touring the outskirts of Bangkok. The driver will take you anywhere and wait for you. Be sure to negotiate a fare before you leave. If you need help, the concierge at most hotels will help negotiate for you.
The BTS Skytrain and the new subway have made trips across town quick, though many locals will opt for the ultra-cheap bus ride. It starts at 20 Baht and depends on how far you go; it’s 50 Baht for a ride from one end of the line to the other. For frequent riders, day passes are 100 Baht.
Even if just for the sake of a photo opportunity, you can also take a ride on a Ttuk tuk, an open-air mini-cab, or a long-tail river boat, both considered Bangkok icons. Motorcycle cabs and buses are also available, but I would not recommend either for tourists.
For my arrival into Bangkok, I decided to try for a hotel toward the center of the city (Priceline’s Downtown or Sukhumvit Zones), with easy access to the downtown tourist attractions, shopping areas, and nightlife. The Novotel Lotus Bangkok fit this description perfectly, being just a few steps from the corner of busy Sukhumvit and Soi 33 and a mere 5-minute walk to the BTS Skytrain Phrom Phong station adjacent to the large Emporium shopping complex, with high-end international brand name shopping, a food court, and a multiplex cinema.
Walking through the dimly lit, marble decor of the lobby, I was checked in by a very friendly, English-speaking agent who briefed me on the hotel’s amenities, fitness center, restaurants, etc.
My only requests were to be on a high floor and in a non-smoking room. They gladly accommodated me with a 27th-floor, east-facing room with a balcony (not all rooms have balconies) and a nice view of Bangkok’s skyline. The room was reasonably spacious, with a desk and a small seating area – comfortable, but with more of a business rather than tourist hotel feel. The bathroom was a little cramped, but had the standard fixtures of a US hotel, a tub with a shower, a toilet, and no bidet. There was a well-stocked minibar, although I’ve trained myself to never "take advantage" of the highly inflated charges (a can of soda for 95 Baht, a small bag of mixed nuts for 100 Baht, etc.), especially with a 7-11 right around the corner. High-speed internet access is also available, with an Ethernet cable available in each room. However, you need to pick up a user-id and password card from the front desk, and pricing is quite high at 250 Baht for a 30-minute package or 500 Baht for a day. On top of that, their server installs an almost-virus-like access program that was pretty frustrating to remove from my browser. More reasonably priced internet access is just down the road on the opposite corner of the street at 1.5 Baht per minute, although you are restrained by their hours of operation.
Tempting buffet meals are offered at Coco’s Café, ranging from 450 Baht and serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as a Sunday brunch. Or there’s Xing Fu Chinese cuisine for lunch and dinner - but again much too expensive when compared to nearby restaurants. Operating on a tight budget, you can dine on authentic Thai food as enjoyed by the locals from just 30 Baht from a small local kitchen just across the street.
The hotel fitness center was okay, with a few bicycles, treadmills, and stair climbers. There is also a complete set of weight machines and a small separate room with a single bench for free weights and dumb bells. The outdoor pool is rather small, but sufficient for taking laps or just lounging around with a drink from Coco’s Café.
Pricing for this hotel varies with the seasons. As I was traveling during peak season, I feel my $40/night (about $55 with taxes and fees) Priceline rate was excellent.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 14, 2004
Novotel Lotus Bangkok
1S0I DAENG UDOM SUKHUMVIT 33R
Hotel | "Marriott Bangkok Spa & Resort"
For a change of scenery, I decided to try for a Priceline four-star hotel in the Silom/Riverside zone, getting the Bangkok Marriott Resort and Spa.
Actually across the river and quite a distance to the south of the Silom District, the resort sprawls over 10 acres along west bank of the Chao Phraya. Three separate buildings surround a rather large pool area, the "Grand Sala" and the Riverside Terrace, all heavily landscaped in lush tropical foliage plants and native Thai orchids. The main central building houses the front desk and concierge services as well as the business center, while the north and south buildings are atrium-style buildings with various restaurants and the fitness center on the bottom floor.
Checking in early at noon, my room wasn’t ready (normal check-in is 3pm). However, the staff was very apologetic (they shouldn’t have been), and I was able to wander around the premises and grab lunch at the adjacent shopping center. At 1pm I was escorted to my room on the top floor of the south building, with my hostess explaining all the facilities available.
The room was large for a standard, with a balcony, two double beds, a seating area, a work desk, and hardwood flooring that really enhanced the traditional Thai decor. The typical American-style bathroom was nice, with standard toiletries, marble flooring, and a full-size tub and shower, but no bidet. For your convenience, there is also a well-stocked minibar with the standard overpriced drink and snack offerings.
High-speed Internet access is available, with an Ethernet cable available in each room. You need to pick up a user-id and password card from the front desk, and pricing is very high at 642 Baht per day. The business center, with complimentary copy and faxing service, also has computer rental and internet access at 195 Baht for 15 minutes.
There are numerous high-end (entrées 300 Baht and up) restaurants on site, including brand-name Benihana Japanese Steakhouse and Trader Vic’s. McDonald’s and KFC can also be found in a small shopping center fronting the resort on its street side.
The property is set rather apart from most tourist attractions and main shopping venues. To remedy this, a free shuttle boat is offered every quarter-hour that takes guests on a 15-minute cruise up the river to the terminal station of the BTS Skytrain Silom Line. However, the hours do coincide with the operations of the Skytrain – nightclubbers need to hail a cab after midnight.
From the Bangkok International Airport, the resort is as quick as 30 minutes away on the expressway. However, it can be as long as an hour and a half in heavy traffic, so plan accordingly for your return flight home.
Pricing for this hotel varies with the seasons. However, even in the off-season, my $40/night (about $55 with taxes and fees) Priceline rate was a steal. An excellent stay this was, and if you don’t mind the out of the way location, I would highly recommend it.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 14, 2004
Bangkok Marriott Spa & Resort
257 Charoennakorn Road
Attraction | "Orchids and Elephants at the Rose Garden"
Being an orchid enthusiast and species collector, a visit to a local orchid nursery led me to the fortuitous discovery of the Thailand December Horticultural Fair 2004, an annual event being held at the Rose Garden in Nakorn Pathom just outside of Bangkok. The weather here during the dry season is so incredibly predictable that the week-long fair – with its elaborate flowering plant displays – is set outdoors under the thick canopy of native Thai trees. This is simply unheard of in most other parts of the world, where weather is always a looming threat.
The Rose Garden is a fairly large resort that houses a five-star hotel, botanical garden, conference center, golf course (claimed to be listed on someone’s top 24 courses in the world), spa, and expansive cultural center and Thai village.
In the village visitors can wander around the premises, observing villagers as they partake in traditional handicrafts: silk-weaving, pottery, umbrella painting, mask making, and even fruit carving. Also on display are the various housing styles from north to south Thailand, with a diversity that surprised me, as I had always viewed Thailand as a pretty homogeneous culture.
Within a large indoor amphitheatre, tourists are treated to the 60-minute Thai Village Cultural Show held several times daily. This show doesn’t really intend to give the tourist an in-depth knowledge of the wide range of Thai customs and history – impossible in such a short time. Rather, it provides a reasonable cross-section of Thailand’s culture, heritage, and way of life, from demonstrations on Thai martial arts and sword fighting to a somewhat comedic enactment of Thai boxing, or muay thai; to the rituals of the traditional Thai wedding; and to the pageantry of Buat Naag, the ceremony where a young Thai is ordained into Buddhist monkhood. And of course there are numerous traditional dances representing the various Thai regions: the famous Fingernail Dance from the north, the skillful bamboo dance from the south, and the Yoey Dance from the central plains.
Immediately following the cultural show, just outside the theatre, villagers put on a short demonstration on the intelligence and usefulness of the Asian elephant – one of the most important and often revered of the domestic animals in Thai culture.
About 1 hour from downtown Bangkok, the Rose Garden can be accessed by taxi, with whom you should set up a round-trip fare (he will wait for you) of about 1,200 to 1,500 Baht. Otherwise, there are tour operators that send busloads of tourists, mostly for an afternoon tour. Perfect for first-time Thailand visitors, I highly recommend the Rose Garden Cultural Center – well worth the 380 Baht admission.
Km 32 Pet Kasem Road
Sampran, Nakorn Pathom, Thailand 73110
+66 34 322 544
Attraction | "The Lady-Boys of Bangkok"
Bangkok is apparently world-famous for its incredibly "real" cross-dressing entertainers – to the extent of being able to support several mainstream stage venues with "all-male" casts in Vegas-style performances. Two of the more popular (but pricier) productions are Mambo and Calypso.
Very similar to each other, both Mambo and Calypso are cabaret performances showcasing the song and dance as well as the elaborate costumes of various Asian cultures, with a few western/pop numbers thrown into the mix.
The first, Mambo, was entertaining in both a cultural and a comedic sense, and despite the price, was quite enjoyable. Housed in a Broadway-style theatre building, the show is conveniently located just a block away from my hotel (Novotel Lotus Bangkok) on Sukhumvit, between Soi 33 and Soi 31. Seating was comfortable with classic movie theatre-style seats. With round tables placed every three seats, there was at least 4 to 5 feet between rows in order to allow a drink server easy access. Taking advantage of the larger stage, the layout and prop design was far superior to the other show (Calypso), as was the number selection, variety, choreography, and overall professionalism. The show started promptly at 8:30pm and lasted for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. I felt the 800 Baht admission was a bit steep, although it did include one pre-show drink. Also, the performers line up outside after the show to pose for pictures (a "tip" of 40 Baht is expected).
Calypso, on the other hand, is performed in a much smaller venue that is actually housed by the Asia Hotel. Very easily accessed via the BTS Skytrain, the Asia Hotel is virtually attached to the Sukhumvit Line. Seating is on folding chairs, cramped and a bit uncomfortable. The stage wasn’t large enough to have an elaborate set-up like Mambo, and the performers did not appear to be as professional. One "free" pre-show drink was offered, but the show started 10 minutes after its advertised show time of 8:30pm and lasted for about 1 hour. Finally, the performers line up by the exits, posing for pictures (once again for tips). Overall, this was not worth the 1,000 Baht admission.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on December 14, 2004
The Lady Boys of Bangkok
0870 160 9558