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Trip Report 4 nights in Bangkok

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Having visited Bangkok many, many times over the last 25 years we have seen most of the sights so our 4 days here were really about specific objectives like the obligatory visit to Wat Po massage school, the plethora of amazing restaurants and street food stalls and a little bit of shopping.

We always make a point of visiting the massage school in a side street just outside the walls of Wat Po rather than the place inside the temple complex which always seems to have massive queues. The shuttle boat from Saphin Taksin along provides great views of river life and the great hotels of Bangkok. Perhaps it is my imagination but the river level still seems very high. The massage was well worth the journey. Still the best in town!

ALOFT HOTEL
We had booked 4 nights at the new ALOFT hotel on Sukumvit Soi 11, right opposite the Bedsupper club. We got a great opening rate of 2111 baht ++. It is Starwood group which describes itself as “a vision of W hotels”. It does not set itself up as a 5* place but rather an ultra trendy, high tech establishment aimed, I would say, at the younger crowd . It is all very bright and modern with Vespa motor scooters decorating the lobby, with a football table and a 24 hour snack bar serving great coffee and sandwiches. Other facilities include free Wi-Fi throughout the hotel, Apple Macs on the first floor, a gym and a small infinity pool on the 10th floor roof.

The rooms are a decent size (30sq metres) with all the technical gadgets, computer ASDL lines, iPod docking station and with links to the 42 inch TV audio system. The décor is bright and modern but not overly so. Stylish probably best describes it. The beds are amongst the most comfortable I have experienced anywhere and the showers are superb. A great deal of thought has clearly gone into the layout of the rooms and whilst they are obviously not in the same league as some of the 5* hotels in town, I thought the rooms were extremely well designed and very comfortable and hotel in general was very good indeed. The staff was very helpful and enthusiastic but, as with most newly opened hotels there were a few minor hiccups and the service was not yet as good as it could be, but that really is a minor issue.

All in all, this is a different type of hotel in a pretty convenient location. Soi 11 itself is quite pleasant although I am not impressed with that particular stretch of Sukumvit around Nana station- all a bit sleazy really.

We paid a visit to the new Terminal 21 mall just down the road. It has an Innovative layout with each floor being named and laid out after some of the world’s great cities- London, Rome, Tokyo, and Istanbul. There are some interesting shops and a wide variety of food outlets many of which were a little uninspiring. There was a wide variety of shops but, in general, prices seemed high, higher even than London - which takes some doing these days!

Our Christmas day dinner is booked at UTAGE, the Japanese restaurant at the Plaza Athenee. They were running a special, all you can eat, menu so we arrived at noon and the waitress showed us the menu and asked if we would like her to choose for us. Why not? We thought.

Little did we know it was her intention to serve us the entire menu, some items several times! All this was accompanied by a free flowing of Sake and wine. There was a huge variety of sashshimi, sushi, tempura, yakitori, teppanyaki, all elegantly presented and all delicious. Two and a half hours later and we couldn’t eat another thing. Certainly one our most memorable Christmas lunches ever and great value.

By contrast the next night we dined at POLO FRIED CHICKEN on Soi Polo on Wireless Road close to the Polo Club. This is a local place serving a wide variety of Issan and northern Thai food but it is “world famous” for its fried chicken. We can do nothing else but order the highly recommended whole chicken accompanied by a small mountain of crispy fried garlic, Som Tum with salted crab and sticky rice all washed down with my new favourite Thai beer – Leo. A real bargain at around 250baht for two! A total contrast from our experience at Utage but equally good.

The next day, I am keen to purchase a monks alms bowl directly from the makers on the periphery of Chinatown so we jump on the MRT to Huamlampong station and walk right across Chinatown getting off the main roads where we can and wandering through the amazing markets. Never seeing a western face, for me, this is what Bangkok is all about. We get lost of course, but by using a combination of Nancy Chandler and BlackBerry GPS we eventually locate the street where the bowls are still handmade by three families. A couple of people are hammering away at sheets of steel to make the bowls which are fashioned out of a flat sheet of steel, cut into a sort of flower shapes, hammered into a bowl shape and then the edges are soldered with copper wire. We get chatting to an old man and his wife who seem delighted that we can converse in Thai and he shows us how the bowls are made. The wife, clearly the business woman in the partnerships starts the sales process! I do what every good husband does in these circumstances and leave the negotiation to Carolyn. Eventually, Mrs. Bowlmaker and my wife agree a price on which they are both happy and we start to walk back through Chinatown passing the incredible number or gun shops along the way selling everything from Colt 45s to Sig Sauer sniper and assault rifles!!! Deciding that we it might be a little difficult to get these through security at the airport we stop at a restaurant in back in Chinatown for a lunch of Roast Duck over rice and Dim Sum.

For dinner that evening we decide to return to Ratree Seafood, a street stall on Silom near Thaniya plaza. We first dined here 15 years ago en route to Malaysia to get married. It was every bit as good as we remembered. A dozen or so tables in the alley with stall serving great fresh fish and seafood. A huge variety of really fresh fish, crab and seafood cooked as you want – yummy!

Our time in Bangkok is at an end and it is time to get to the airport. Probably not the most convenient way to get there but we are keen to try the new train so we get a taxi from the hotel. We get the taxi from hell. Telling him to turn on the meter he refuses saying it is a fixed price of 200baht to Makkasan station (which is about 10mins away). I tell me to stop so we can get out. He then switches on the meter and tries to persuade us to let him take us to the airport. Refusing his kind offer he then sulks until eventually we get in sight of the station where he pulls up on some waste ground and tells us we have arrived. To get to the station we would have to cross the waste ground, climb a wall, cross the railway tracks, climb another wall and then enter the station. Unsurprisingly we refuse and insist the takes us to the station entrance, which after some argument, he does. He seems a little surprised when I give him the exact fare down to the last baht!
The next express train is not for another 30mins, so rather than wait around in the somewhat grim (but clean and very empty) station we get the stopping train and 20 mins or so later we arrive at the airport. I don’t think we will bother with the train again.
At the airport departure gate and elderly Englishman asks me if the plane is delayed. I reply no, I don’t think so but why do you ask? We have a look around the departure area and see that with 30 mins to go, there are only 50 or so people waiting! The flight back home is even emptier than the flight over. What this must be doing to the Thai tourism industry I really dread to think. Such a shame really as most parts of Thailand that tourists will visit are largely back to normal. Maybe it is time for a marketing offensive by TAT.

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