A January 2005 trip
to Bangkok by Kauai Boy
Quote: My second trip to Bangkok, testing the waters to see if I could actually live here long-term.
With the recent devastation suffered by the people of Thailand, I was very wary of my return to Bangkok just 3 weeks after the tsunami struck the southwestern provinces facing the Andaman Sea. In fact, I felt very guilty about canceling my 3-day trip down to Phuket due to health and safety concerns. Upon my arrival, and after some lengthy discussions with my Thai friends, it was very clear that all of Thailand simply wants to put the tragedy behind them. Both the tsunami and the current drought are putting a major strain in the country’s economy. And though the flood of donations coming from all over is appreciated tremendously, there is really just one big message they would like to send out to the traveling world: Come to Thailand! It is still as beautiful and majestic as ever!
Prepare yourself in the art of haggling! Yes, you may be able to walk into a department store, pick up an item, and ring it up at the cashier without any hassle – but the true Bangkok shopping experience happens on the streets and open markets. But buyers beware. If you accept the first price a vendor throws at you, you will be paying up to five times (but more commonly two or three times) more than what a good shopper may be able to get for the same item.
It should come as no surprise that the vendors presume ALL tourists are just overflowing with cash. So one way to gain a HUGE advantage when street-haggling is to simply bring along a Thai friend.
Being familiar with the territory really helps when trying to secure a "fair fare", particularly with the tuk-tuk drivers who are keen on sensing a tourist’s disorientation. From the middle of the city, most fares to nearby attractions range from 50 to 100 Baht and rarely exceed 150 – a "far" ride to the airport only costs 250 from Siam Square. Most drivers are honest and very helpful, but you do need to be wary of the exception to this rule. To be safe, make it a habit of asking what the fare will be, especially on tuk-tuks .
The BTS Skytrain has made trips across town quick and, with continuing construction, more and more of Bangkok and its surrounding will become easily accessible. Starting at 20 Baht, fares depend on how far you go. Multi-trip cards are available. There is a new subway (aka MRT) which has convenient connecting stations with the Skytrain. Fares depend on how far you are going, but are even cheaper than the BTS, starting at just 11 Baht. Compared to their counterparts in major western cities, both the BTS and the MRT are impressively efficient, safe, and VERY clean.
Hotel | "Holiday Inn Silom"
Being a bit more familiar with the city on this trip, I opted for this mid-range hotel in the Silom District with convenient access to one of the various transit systems, a 10 minute walk to the BTS Skytrain Surasak Station.
The large, brightly lit lobby is impressively decorated. As I arrived rather late at night, check-in was a very quick process with a standard Thai welcome and an English-speaking agent briefing me with the various features of the property.
This hotel consists of two separate buildings – oddly named the Crown Tower and the Plaza Tower in reference to the previous owners of this property. I made no special request other than having a non-smoking room, so I was accommodated on the non-smoking 7th floor of the Plaza Tower. The room was fairly spacious with two double beds, a work desk and small sitting area. The bathroom had the basic amenities but was a bit cramped as the door had to be closed to get to the toilet. Complimentary bottled water accompanied a well-stocked minibar with the typical overpriced items. If you really needed anything, a little convenience store across the street made much more sense. High-speed internet access is available in all the rooms. However, the prices for internet service were outrageous--850 Baht for 2 hours!
The Business Center on the second floor offered internet access on their computers for 8 Baht per minute, but you could take a short stroll up Silom and find rates from 1 to 2 Baht per minute (usually with a minimum of 20 Baht). One more thing--the walls in the Plaza Tower seemed a bit thin. Sound carried through from the room(s) next door.
As with all chain-hotels, there are a number of high-end restaurants on site, none of which I dined at as I have a difficult time paying 400 Baht for something I can get down the road for 80 Baht or less.
The health center was okay but it had a rather small fitness area with limited exercise equipment--a couple of life-cycles, a treadmill, stair climber and rowing machine, dumb bell set and various weight machines. The outdoor pool was nothing special but large enough for laps, while the steam room, Jacuzzi, and sauna are all in the locker rooms. There is also a single tennis court, with racquets, balls, and playing partner available for an hourly fee.
Pricing for this hotel varies with the seasons. The hotel’s website spat out a rate of $70+17.7% tax/night, yet bangkok-hotel.net yielded a rate of $67/night, tax, AND breakfast included. As I was traveling during peak season, and I don’t really like hotel breakfast foods, I feel my $40/night (about $55 with taxes & fees) Priceline rate was pretty good.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on May 13, 2005
Holiday Inn Silom Bangkok
981 Silmon Road
Bangkok, Thailand 10500
+66 (2) 238-4300
Okay, so I wanted to save a bit of cash and opted for a short stay at a budget hotel. The Plaza Hotel Bangkok, a basic 2-star property, is actually well-situated in the business district of Silom, about a 7-minute walk to the Chong Nonsi BTS station and a short 5-minute walk to the busy Pathpong shopping/nightclub area sandwiched between Surawong and Silom Roads.
From the outside, the building is quite unattractive, though the entranceway is well-kept and the small lobby, though dimly lit, is reasonably welcoming. The English-speaking check-in staff was very helpful in trying to accommodate my request for a top floor room with king-size bed. However, it would have been nice if they had mentioned how hot the hallways on the top floor get during midday. Also, the elevators were very annoying as only one of the two made it all the way to the 9th floor – the other went only to the 8th floor, yet the call button at the lobby operated both elevators.
The room was pretty spacious, but very basically furnished – small desk, a seating area and a closet with no drawers. There was a small kitchenette with sink, though neither flatware nor plates were provided. The small refrigerator was stocked with usual overpriced minibar items, though two FREE bottles of water were provided daily. There was no in-room internet service, but the computer room in the lobby had reasonably priced internet access of 65 Baht per half-hour. However, a short walk to Pathpong would bring you to internet cafés with 1 Baht per minute rates.
A daily breakfast buffet, included in this rate, was served from 6 to 10am in a small lobby restaurant. However, after testing it for a day, I decided it wasn’t worth waking up for. A medium-sized lap pool is on the 3rd floor, but there are no gym facilities.
At just 1,050 Baht (about $27) per night, double occupancy, this is certainly a decent place to crash and save some money. However, I found this rate in one of the many small travel agencies along Surawong Road – earlier that day, I walked into the hotel and was quoted 2,100 Baht per night.
The Plaza Hotel Bangkok
178 Surawong Road
(66-2) 6776240 to 5
For my last few days in Bangkok I opted to spoil myself with a short stay at a downtown 5-star property. Not wanting to fork over some serious dollars, I scored a reasonable 3-night stay at the JW Marriott Bangkok via Priceline.
I arrived at the hotel early – 11am – and, despite being at near capacity, my room to my surprise was already available.
On the 9th floor (out of 24) facing south with a king size bed, my room was large enough for a small seating area and work desk. The bathroom was large and very impressive, with separate bathtub and shower. As usual, for your convenience, there is also a well-stocked mini-bar with the standard overpriced drink and snack offerings. Coffee, tea and bottled water are all complimentary.
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 600 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. However, I could NOT find any convenient internet cafes in the immediate vicinity, so I did suck up the expense of the hotel’s service.
Though not as elaborate as the Marriott’s riverside property (Bangkok Marriott Spa & Resort), the spa & fitness center at this property was rather large, taking up the entire 6th floor, with a complete set of exercise equipment, small outdoor pool and jacuzzi. Various spa treatments (rather pricey) are available.
The property is connected by skybridge to the Phloen Chit Center, a small shopping complex that is opened but mostly still under construction. The BTS Skytrain Phloen Chit station is a short 5 minute walk down Sukhumvit with a quick two stops to the Siam Square shopping complexes (Siam Center, Siam Discover Center, and MBK).
This hotel is close to the expressway leading to the Don Meung International Airport and it was a quick as 20 minutes away early in the morning (6:00am). 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. For the dates I was staying there, the Marriott website quoted me $109 ($128 w/ taxes). I was able to find a slightly cheaper rate at www.bangkok-hotel.net, at $124/night tax included. This stay was right in the middle of peak-season, so my $73/night rate ($93 after taxes/fees) was a steal.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on May 13, 2005
JW Marriott Hotel Bangkok
4 Sukhumvit Road, Soi 2
Bangkok, Thailand 10110
+66 (2) 656-7700
Attraction | "Celebrating the Thai New Year – Songkran Festival"
"Happy Thai New Year!" The annual Songkhran Festival coincides with the Thai New Year on April 13, with celebrations ranging from the reverent to borderline insane, and the festivities last for three days. And when those three days fall in the middle of the week, many Thais take full advantage of an "extended" weekend.
The celebration starts with early-morning prayers and merit-making activities at a temple, including offering of food to the monks and a ritual bathing for Buddha images. This is followed by a traditional feast for family and extended family members.
Traditionally, water is sprinkled over one's head, signifying the washing away of bad luck. However, this rather innocent event has evolved into the more modern, and perhaps most world-renowned element of the festival – non-stop soakings and water fights anywhere and everywhere crowds gather. In the city, trucks drive by, packed with drenched revelers armed with bowls and a barrel of water (sometimes with ice!). On the streets, everyone is fair game. Street vendors take full advantage of the situation, with tables piled with toy water guns ranging from the standard pistol to the backpack water canon. Also sold are bags of some sort of powdered clay, which is mixed with water to form a thick mud. With this, people "paint" the faces (or any body part they can reach out to) of passersby, an act that serves as a blessing much as the water dousing is.
The celebration continues throughout the night, with the younger crowds packing into the narrow sois for wild, and sometimes dangerous, reveling. Whether deciding to head to the Silom district or to Khao San Road, the partying atmosphere is pretty much the same. Just remember, leave your valuables and electronics at your hotel – you WILL get wet. In fact, I just carried a small ziplock bag for my ID and some cash.
Songkran (Thai New Year)
+66 2 694 1222 (Tour