Bangkok trip report

Old Apr 9th, 2005, 10:46 PM
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Bangkok trip report

Thanking everyone who helped us prepare our trip, I'm reporting back on our trip. You'll also find some photo's on my weblog http://marksmalley.blogspot.com/; we were there in Bangkok from Feb 27 to Mar 4, just click on the appropriate month under 'Archives'.

Sunday, 27 Feb - Bangkok
The BA Airbus 321 from Amsterdam to London was only a few months old and still smelled of leather. Seats a bit narrow, though. The face of my watch manages to fall off but at Heathrow helpful Eve from the Chocolate Box gives me an inch of Sellotape to stick it back on with. I promise her a fake Rolex from Bangkok as her reward and we both have a laugh.
The 747-400 to BKK is pretty full. We've got seats D+E on a ABC-DEFG-HIJ arrangement, which is quite good really: not having to get up to let anybody else out provides a little bit more rest. Theoretically at least. 11 hours is still a long haul but we survive. Food OK, sausages+mash; Aussie Chardonay better. Heard recently of Aussies using the abbreviation ABC to order wine: anything but Chardonay; but we're not that far yet.
32c when we touch down at 1540. It's an hour later when we've picked up the cases, 18kg (hers) and 14kg (his), ATM'd 12500 Baht (approx 250 euro) plus 361 changed from 5 GBP by accident (I won't go into that). 50B for a couple of bottles of water breaks a 500B note. Limo @ 700B takes us to the Christian Guesthouse in Silom www.bcgh.org in hardly more than 30 min, although the driver hadn't been there before and needed the map I'd brought along. I notice Anna's Cafe close to the Guesthouse, a place that is reputed to do good deserts, and make a mental note to visit later on.
BCGH comes up to expectations, clean and basic. They have a notice I'd like to see more, forbidding clients not to tip the staff.
Feel like collapsing but venture out for a couple of blocks recognicance. The second block takes us past plenty of hairdressers, which is good to know, as I've been saving up my hair for a cheap yet exotic haircut, to Silom Road, where plenty of stalls are being set up for Patpong night market.
We work our way back to Anna's Cafe and have plenty to eat: Tom Yam soup, chicken fried rice, Thai noodles, beef green curry, fried bananas in coconut cream, cheesecake, 4 Singha beers and chinatown tea (don't recommend this, it seems like an odd combination of tea, coffee and hot chocolate) for just over 1000B. More than the 500B I'd roughly and meanly budgetted for, forgetting the possibility of having more than one beer each. Lively, friendly place: mix of young and old. Couple of times "Happy Birthday to You" was heard being sung, feeling a bit out of place.
2100 sees us back in our room, lights out at 2200.
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Old Apr 9th, 2005, 10:47 PM
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Monday, 28 Feb - Bangkok
A simple breakfast is included in our 1540B a night guesthouse: bread and jam, muesli, melon, porridge, freshly cooked eggs on request.
We breakfast at 0845, after an odd night of getting used to the difference of 6 hours and 25c. I slept 3 hours, was awake 4 hours, slept 3 hours.
We're off to explore the city and catch the modern skytrain(50B for a day-pass) for a few stops down to the river where 10B each takes us from Tha Sathon upstream to Tha Banglamphu. A short walk along the river leads us to Santichaiprakan park where we watch some old folk doing their morning exercise. Thai Chi? They waive at us to join in, an offer we can't refuse. Lots of amusement on both sides: we're pleased to join in, they're pleased to have us.
We carry on and, stopping at a crossroads, get approached by a guy, and later another who joins in, who're keen to 'help' us get a tuk-tuk for 40B to take us around a few site, presumably taking us to a couple of jewellery shops along the way. We give this a miss.
End up at the Grand Palace where 250B each gives us entrance (after Marijke was required to borrow a garment to cover her shoulders) to an amazing collection of architecture, most of which is covered with gold. So much that you get saturated after a couple of hours and feel guilty about it. A couple of 20B fruit drinks and later on a little 60B microwaved green curry with rice in the little cafe. We move on to Wat Pho - entry a bargain at 20B each - where a 45m long Buddha reclines. Wat Pho also houses the massage school, which we catch before closing for a 30m session at 180B each. I ask whether they have any blind masseurs as they are reputed to be the best, relying mainly on what they feel not what they see. They don't have any but kindly offer to blind one of the sighted ones for an extra 100B. Just kidding. Almost everything gets kneaded, pulled or trampled on. Worth another visit for a longer session. It's 1800 and we head for the river where we wait for about 15 min for the boat to arrive. Half a dozen young monks in orange garb wait with us. The sun is setting just across the river, close to Wat Arun, the temple of dawn.
Before dinner I get a haircut, nice and short, for 150+50B tip. Takes her 30 min of close attention to detail.
Eats this evening are at a place close to the guesthouse. Amongst some other dishes, we manage to order 3 soups, all part of a stay in an unfamiliar country. Friendly people relieve us of 460B incl a litre of beer in a pitcher. No complaints, apart from the off-key live (western) music.
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Old Apr 9th, 2005, 10:47 PM
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Tuesday, 1 Mar - Bangkok
Up at 0530 today, this time not due to trouble sleeping but because we're going on a bike ride with Co van Kessel ([email protected]) at 0700. Co is Dutch but has been in Thailand for almost 30 years and takes (and gives) great pleasure in taking groups around areas a tourist will rarely see. The first Skytrain to the river at 0605, probably the second boat to Tha Ratchawong at 0630, a 15 min walk to China Grand Palace Hotel and we meet up with Co and his charming assistant Ms Nong (that's a long 'o' please) in the lobby.
To our pleasant surprise it's the smallest group we could imagine, Co will be up front, us in the middle and Nong, who's a graduate in tourism, at the rear.
We give Co some newspapers and magazines we've brought over from Amsterdam and chat for about 30 min, Co explaining his way of doing things, which boils down to focussing on what you see, hear and smell. He'll provide some comments from time to time but no running commentary. It'll be an easy ride with plenty of stops for filling up and emptying water, Co assures us. 
We walk down to the garage beneath the hotel, pick a bike and set off though the back streets, small alleys and even smaller alleys of Chinatown, encountering people preparing food, mending car parts, buying and selling. We come across a junior school where the headmistress is giving the kids a good lecture that she expects them to get a 10 in their exams. At 0800 they play and sing the national anthem, raising the flag in the schoolyard.
We cycle to the river where we pile the bikes on a ferry that takes us to the other side. The ride along the west side of the river takes us to a temple where we follow Nong in lighting a candle and josh sticks. Frequently we exchange simple greetings with the locals outside their houses or shops. Some recognise Co, many show amusement and interest at the sight of the cycling falangs (foreigners). We stop for a longer chat with a little family group including twins of about 4 and grandfather of 42. We are offered iced tea, being assured that hygiene is OK.  Soon after this magic moment we stop for some food at a simple roadside cafe near a police station, leaving the choice to food expert Nong. Dishes with noodles, rice and a whole fish appear then disappear. Further along we pass Wat Arun. After ferrying back across the river close to Wat Pho - helping a 85 year old man with bad knees onto the boat - a flower market awaits us, where bunches of orchids are being prepared. We've seen so many things but probably have already forgotten more than we've managed to remember, but we recall the Portuguese Catholic area, a couple of mosques, temples and monks, countless cats and dogs. 
We end up back in Chinatown at around 1230 having had an unforgettable experience for a very reasonable 850B each, including drinks and a light meal.

We return to our guesthouse and collapse for a couple of hours, after which we venture out at 1730 for a walk in Lumphini park. Joggers, weight lifters, dancers: it's mainly about exercise. The sun sets at 1830 and we decide to eat at Anna's cafe again, composing a better meal than at our previous attempt. Chicken stay and papaya salad as starters, duck in red curry sauce and chicken with fries noodles, finish up with banana and ice cream and one of their tofee banoffee pies (a good Lonely Planet recommendation), all for 760B including a pitcher of draft beer.
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Old Apr 9th, 2005, 10:48 PM
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Wednesday, 2 Mar - Bangkok
Skytrain to Siam. Look around big department store MKB and buy a few gifts. Short walk to Jim Thompson House (100B each). Compulsory guided tour, then free to wonder around. Staff most courteous. Lunch at cafe next to pool with fish, lovely setting. Couple of salads: spicy minced chicken and papaya (som tam) followed by delicious pineapple and coconut ice cream (380B).
Walk along Klong San Sap to a stop for the water-taxi to take us to Golden Mount, which offers an lookout over the city. The walk up the mount is free, with a donation of 10B for the final steep steps up to the chedi, to which a monk is attending, making sure a broad band of orange cloth is neatly covering the lower couple of metres of the chedi. This is all accompanied by a constant ringing of bells (wind powered) and Buddhist teachings on the public address system. Even though I don't understand a word, they just sound like very wise words.
We carry on west to the river, walking along the Klong Banglamphu and passing through a pretty poor area. Street vendors. Kids playing. Housing ('houses' would be give the wrong impression) backing directly on to a small alley. We say hello to people, particularly kids, and often pick out the word 'falang' in their response. Always friendly. One of the highlights of the day, a little contact across cultures.
Further on, now heading north-west and trying to find Tha Thewet where we can catch a boat back to Tha Sathon, we stumble across a market and behind it another Wat (Intharawihan). One of the stalls had fried grasshoppers, grubs and other insects. Very tempting. Another displayed photo's of human backsides. This one its own would be curious but not remarkable. The extra dimension was added by the facts that the backsides were suffering from bad cases of piles. Very bad cases. Don't know what the stall had on offer but I'm sure it was very strong stuff.
On the final couple of hundred metres to the pier we pass lots of flower and plant stalls. . When we arrive the water  seems to be full of fish gasping for air. In fact they're gobbling up pieces of bread that have been thrown in. Must be hundreds of them.
For our evening meal we try a Lonely Planet mention, the Mango Tree. Good food (papaya and mango salads, noodles with chicken, red curry chicken, 730 incl 2 beers), tradition Thai music and dancers accompany the dining but it's a bit up-market and mostly westerners, less warmth. 
Rounding up the day we walk around the touristy and seedy Patpong night market area. Buy a couple of cans of Chang beer (25B each) in the Tops supermarket. Heard that Tops was acquired a while a go by the Dutch supermarket concern Ahold, only to be sold again because the plans to reduce staff wouldn't execute. The rationality of reducing staff to the level actually needed clashed with the Thai tradition of having plenty of staff because it's fun that way. They went on strike and Ahold cut their losses.
The evening ends, finding us contemplating our last full day in Bangkok tomorrow.
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Old Apr 9th, 2005, 10:49 PM
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Thursday, 3 Mar - Bangkok
Leaving a bag of laundry at the guesthouse, we're off to the river again, taking a trip up North to Nonthanburi. It takes about an hour to get there and costs just 10B each, this must be one of the greatest bargains in town. We've been up and down the river before and this is about 2-3 times as far as the city trips. It's a bit greener when you get out a bit. Nonthanburi only gets half an hour of our attention, it wasn't really our destination, just a point where the boat stops. We walk up and down the main street, looking at the stalls. On the trip back we get out a Chinatown and after getting lost (not many English subtitles on the street signs) we take a couple of stools at a communal table at an open air stall in the Talat Kao market. Our roast duck, noodles and rice is dished up immediately and it's good. With a couple of bottles of water it comes to all of 110B.
We take another boat a couple of stops further and walk around the shops in River City. I chat to a guy in a clothes shop. He tells me that a good quality shirt - two-ply Egyptian cotton - costs about 1500B. Could also be made to measure, forgot to ask about that. When we get back to the guesthouse at about 1600 our laundry is waiting for us.
Our evening walk takes us past a couple of local massage parlours, which we make a note because we're thinking of having one on our last morning, tomorrow. The first one costs 150B an hour, the second - the clearly more up-market Ruen Nuad - 350B, both in Convent road. We take another walk in Lumphini park and then on to Erawan Shrine, a Brahman affaire engulfed in incense smoke and offerings of flowers.
It occurs to us that Bangkok has a large number of guards, security etc and that they're very keen on using whistles, usually to direct the traffic.
Along Ploenchit road to MBK for a meal in the food court and some shopping. An enormous choice of counter specialising in various kinds of food, around twenty. Plenty of Thia of course but also Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Italian. We share a Som Tam salad and have Pad Thai with Prawns as our main course. With two bottles of water it comes to 175B. Our shopping ends at 2100 and the efficient but very cool Skytrain delivers us 5 or 10 min later at our stop, Sala Daeng.
Tallying up what expenses we can still expect, in order to determine how much extra Baht to tap, we conclude that Thailand will be 22000B (440 euro, 88 euro per day) richer when we leave tomorrow.
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Old Apr 9th, 2005, 10:49 PM
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Friday, 4 Mar - Bangkok
Our last morning consists of an hour of Thai massage (150B each) and some last minute shopping.
After checking out we lunch at a local place for locals, Pad Thai at 25B each.
Despite plenty of traffic, the taxi takes just 45 min and costs 180B plus tolls of 40B and 20B.
Spend our last Baht on a couple of T-shirts at the airport.
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Old Apr 10th, 2005, 06:42 AM
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nice report...sounds like you had fun...
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Old Apr 10th, 2005, 09:10 AM
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Smalley, This was great to read. We're going in Dec, and you gave some great ideas for our trip. I love the dinner with 3 soups. It is part of the experience.
I've heard about the Thai massages and as much as I love massage, am a little concerned. I have a disc problem that could be exarerbated if I'm manipulated the wrong way. Could this prove a problem? I'm currently pain-free, but spent several years in chronic pain.
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Old Apr 10th, 2005, 11:45 AM
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Hi Patt711,
Glad to have been of some help with your planning. Food was one of the highlights of our trip, just try some stuff and learn as you eat! We aimed at places that where mostly populated by locals and often pointed at dishes that others were eating.
As far as massage is concerned, I've got no idea how your condition would react. You do get pulled around a fair bit and walked on, alongside the more conventional massaging. My wife found it a bit painful at times (but worthwhile) whereas I was comfortable with it. Maybe somebody else will respond to this query or you could post a seperate item.

Mark.
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Old Apr 10th, 2005, 12:16 PM
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i like it (massage) but my wife will not do it again....she says its worse than being in war on the losing side...it is fairly rough, but also depends on who is doing the procedure...prices vary greatly as well...in hotels it is generally very expensive, but the setting is usually much nicer...

if you have not been to asia before, i would caution you on eating...smalley was either very lucky or very experienced in picking and eating....after 7 trips to asia we are very selective in our eating and perhaps over cautious....we only eat in restuarants that you could expect the food to be decent in....hard to describe really...usually at the middle to upper end of things....we never eat from street vendors, no ice cubes ever, and rarely eat in "local" places....we rationalize this by thinking that if we were to get sick, we would ruin our otherwise perfect vacation....what we loose in localness we gain in peace of mind...maybe short-sighted, but safe...
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Old Apr 10th, 2005, 01:10 PM
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Re eating at the 'lower' end of the market, I'm not that worried when I see the food cooked more or less in front of me, using fresh looking ingredients. You can see where we ate for 25 Baht each at http://photos1.blogger.com/img/12/1492/320/e4392.jpg. I took the shot from our table and you can see the silhouette of 'Mama' cooking, half inside, half outside.
Maybe there's an increased risk, maybe not. We rationalize our choice by thinking that it would be interesting to experience a Thai hospital first hand. Just kidding, do what YOU feel happy with.
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Old Apr 10th, 2005, 04:47 PM
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SMally good stuff.. I actually learned somethng myself..
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