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4 nights in Bangkok

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Jan 12th, 2012, 05:54 AM
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4 nights in Bangkok

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.
crellston is online now  
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Jan 12th, 2012, 06:38 AM
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What a fun Bangkok report! Thanks, crellston.
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Jan 12th, 2012, 06:45 AM
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Thanks for your report, Crellston. I knew you were going to be in the city the same time I was there, but lost track of where you would be staying. The Aloft sounds unique... I will probably stick with Adelphi Suites.

Your comment about the gun shops in Chinatown would be of interest to my DH. I don't think he knows about this area!

Re: the train to the airport. I've done the city link, same as you, both ways, but without baggage and without the pressure of trying to get there on time for a flight. I had returned to BKK from a few days in Phuket (during the flooding time) and was spending my last night at an airport hotel. Rather than do a taxi into the city for a last visit, I opted for the city link. It was fine. It takes you, not to Makkasan, but two stops further, to connect with the BTS at the station where Asia Hotel is (can't recall station name). I thought it was OK, but if I had luggage I might opt to just stick w/taxi.

Interesting taxi ride. In my multiple trips to BKK, I've been "taken for a ride" once, and then told the driver to stop and let me out. Most taxi drivers are just fine.

My flights have yet to be 'empty' going to/from BKK. Lucky you!
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Jan 12th, 2012, 09:20 AM
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taxi is still my choice to and from the airport...

great report and some new restaurants for us to try...

on the 1-10 scale how do you rate ALOFT?

happy new year to you both..!!

B&K
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Jan 12th, 2012, 09:48 AM
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Bob - A belated happy new year to you and Karen! On a scale of 1-10 I would give Aloft an 8. (possibly a 9 for technology and style)
Carol - We could see the Adelphi Suites from our room! This is the first time I have had a problem with a taxi in BKK. I agree that most are fine and incidents such as this are few and far between - he was probably just stating his disapproval of our use of the train link! If your husband is into guns he would love that area of Bangkok. I was amazed at the range of weapons on sale (although I do live in the UK where guns are very strictly regulated and shops are few and far between).
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Jan 12th, 2012, 12:40 PM
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Super nice report good to know about the Aloft.
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Feb 1st, 2012, 12:32 AM
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Thank you so much for this report! As a first (and probably only) trip to Asia, I'm looking for a way to break in slowly. Although a bit more than I wanted to spend, Aloft sounds like it could be a great doorway between continents for me (I've been to Haiti so I'm not new to poverty, just to the East). Is it anywhere near the old city?

As someone who has never been there I would greatly appreciate hearing any tips you might care to share on the city? On things one absolutely "must" do (or not do) (if you could only do two things, what would it be). What is the massage school and what makes it so special please? What would be the number one super (dressy is ok) restaurant in BKK?

And finally, what I really want to do is to sit somewhere that I can watch people go by -- can you suggest a cafe or such?
OH YEAH -- How much did the bowl cost? And what should I pay a taxi to Aloft from the airport?

Again,many thanks for the great report!

IN12
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Feb 1st, 2012, 01:36 AM
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India - you are very welcome.

Bangkok can be a confusing city for a first time visitor as it is large, spread out with no real centre and travel around the city is not as easy as in most major cities around the world (although much much better than it was a few years ago.

Wherever you decide to stay, make it somewhere close to skytrain which can get you to most of the key areas relatively quickly. Opinions vary as to which is the "best" place to stay. Many favour the river others places like Sukumvit (Aloft). I have no particular preference but the river is certainly more scenic and good for the grand palace/wat po wat arun and other major sites. Getting a river bus is a great way to get to these places.

As for "tips" and "must dos" on the city - have a look at this section of the Fodors site which contains all the basics:

http://www.fodors.com/world/asia/thailand/bangkok/

For me must dos include the massage school, and a boat trip on the Chao Praya, eating at some of the many wonderful street food stalls, wandering around Chinatown (indeed wandering around anywhere is a great way to get to know a city.

As for the "number one super restaurant" in BKK - I couldn't even begin to choose!! What sort of food do you enjoy? What is your budget? When we visit we try and find somewhere new to try - sometime it is great sometimes not so great but it is much more unusual to experience a bad meal in BKK than in most other big cities around the world. Some of teh best meals I have eaten have been in the most unpretentious places - Ratree Seafood is basically an open air place in an alley but serves some of the best seafood ever. Polo Fried Chicken on this trip was really great but not the place for a special event if that is what you are looking for.

Some of the buffets at the big 5* hotels offer fantastic value and food. The best chinese I have eaten anywhere was at Mei Jiang at the Peninsular. The best Japanese at "Drinking Tea Eating Rice" at the Conrad hotel.

I think the monks bowl cost around 800 baht but that was after some "negotiations" you can buy mass produced ones all over the city for less and a lot more but the quality is not very good.

What make s Wat Po's massage school so special? This is where they teach the masseurs and, having had many, many massages over the years, this is where the best are to be had. You can get massages all around town from 150 baht in a small shop on the street to 3000 baht at one of the 5* hotels some good, some bad. I have always had a great massage at WP. The school is outside the temple complex and there are usually no queues. There are a couple of places inside the complex but these usually require queuing and do not have AC.

Taxi from Aloft should cost cost 300 -400 bht depending on the time of day (INSIST on the meter)
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Feb 1st, 2012, 02:29 PM
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nice report. Fun to read about places once you now are familiar with an area.
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Feb 2nd, 2012, 10:10 AM
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thanks for the good wishes.. 68 only happens once thank god..
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Mar 20th, 2012, 02:25 AM
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"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."

crellston, I am in Bangkok at the moment with someone who would like to acquire a monk's bowl. Is there some way you could describe how to find the street where they are made? Or do you happen to have the GPS coordinates? That might be a bit of a long shot, I realize.

Oh, and many thanks for you earlier report on the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School; we spent four days there last week and enjoyed it immensely.

Thanks.
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Mar 20th, 2012, 06:27 AM
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"south " of WAT SAKHET, cross Bambrung Mueang ( big cross street) and wedged between Klong Ang Song to the west and Worachak street to the East and Luang to the south,is a lane eventually that has a slate plaque about the Baan Bat area.

We encountered a woman there who advised us in broken English not to go deeper into the lane because there was a big dog that could bite us.

We had seen a couple stands already, so we did not insist, but I am not sure there weren't even more down that tiny lane where "biting dog" lived! Good luck.

I'd buy that N. Chandlar map. It was one of the best things we bought on the trip. I am so glad so many people advised here to do so.
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Mar 20th, 2012, 07:26 AM
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Anselm - here is a link to the timeout site which put me on to this place originally. It contains the full address which was all we needed for the BB GPS. There is also a link to a google map of the location which may help. We arrived at the place by walking all the way through Chinatown from Huamlampong which, in itself was a great way to spend a few hours - some great local restaurants along the way and the amrkets are fascinating.

As Lincasnova says it would be worthwhile buying a Nancy Chandler map as the really do help in finding your way around the sights of the city.

Good luck and look out for those "biting dogs"!

PS. Glad you enjoyed the Cookery school. We have been trying out the recipes since we got back home and they really are easy to follow and the results are so much more like "real" Thai food than most recipes we have tried.
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Mar 20th, 2012, 07:26 AM
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Oops!

http://www.timeout.com/bangkok/bangk...s-bowl-village
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Mar 20th, 2012, 06:25 PM
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crellston and lincasanova,

Many thanks for the responses. We'll give it a go tomorrow morning and I'll report back.

Anselm
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Mar 21st, 2012, 10:44 PM
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We have bowls.

We also approached the alley from the Hua Lamphong metro station. We walked northeast on Thanon Maitri Chit, and then east on Thanon Luang as far as Soi Ban Bat, which is halfway between Thanon Wora Chak and Thanon Boriphat .

We walked north up Soi Ban Bat perhaps 80 metres. Just before the road makes a slight dogleg to the left, there is a cross street that my map names as Soi Ban Baht. As it turns out, there was a handmade sign there that said “Monk Bowls”. It pointed us east (left) into Soi Ban Baht. At the very instant we saw the sign, an elderly woman approached us and asked if we were looking for bowls. She then led us to the workshops, where we made our transaction with a man who seemed like a guild leader, I would say. Interestingly, when we had completed our purchase, he carefully — and perhaps even firmly — steered us back out to Soi Ban Bat and stood watching us until we left the area.

In the event that future bowl hunters miss the sign and the woman soliciting visitors, here is how to find the workshop. Turn east (left) into Soi Ban Baht. It goes no more than 25 metres and appears to end at a blank wall. However, at that wall is a turn north (right) into a very narrow passageway. That passageway almost immediately turns east (left) and runs toward Thanon Boriphat. That is the point at which you will hear the tap-tap-tap of the hammers, and surely someone will be happy to sell you a bowl. Or two. They are beautiful.

Crellston and lincasanova, my thanks again to both of you.

Anselm
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 12:23 AM
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You are very welcome Anselm - I am glad you found your bowls!
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 01:41 AM
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Good going!
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