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Going with Smart Tours to Thailand. Which of these optional tours to sign up for or should we hire a private guide.

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Jan 6th, 2008, 06:36 PM
  #1
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Going with Smart Tours to Thailand. Which of these optional tours to sign up for or should we hire a private guide.

Hello to all,

Our two week 'Amazing Thailand' tour with Smart Tours leaves on Jan. 27--the date is fast approaching.
Here are my concerns. We are a couple, ages 70 & 78 who have done a fair amount of travel on our own & with tour groups. Given our ages at this time & the hot weather in Thailand, we're just wondering how to see the sights in the best way for us. Also, of course, we want to get 'most for our doller' & we're not sure if taking Smart Tours optional tours make sense.

Here is what they offer.

Bangkok:
Staying at Century Park Hotel

Day 1 Tues.--Included: Wat Trimitr,WatPo,
see White Marble Temple. Afternoon at leisure or $25 pp for canal boat ride across river.

Day 2 & 3 Wed & Thurs.-- free days or two optional tours : $55 pp full day to Damneon Suduak floating market, rose garden & Thai village, with lunch -or-Grand Palace tour $30 pp.

Day 4,5,6 Fri. Sat. Sun. travel by bus to Chiang Rai. Stop at places along way

Day 7 Mon.-- Chiang Rai Rimock Resort. Day at leisure or optinal tour, $30 pp boat trip to hilltribe villages.

Day 8,Tues.
Drive to Chiang Mai.Staying at -Chaing Mai Plaza
Optional: Kantoke Dinner ( what is this??)with songs & dances by hilltribe- $25 pp.

Day 9 Wed--included--elephant camp & orchid farm. Afternoon at leisure.

Day 10 Thurs.--nothing planned. optional tour: Morning visit to 'interesing temples' & Wat Doi Suthep. $25 pp

Day 11 Fri. nothing planned--fly back to Bangkok late in day.

Day 12 Sat. Fly home early A.M.

So all in all, it's 11 days to see Thailand! We want to make the most of it, but not exhaust ourselves at this age & stay in good health--for more trips to come.

It seems to me, after reading these boards that Bangkok is easy to get around, but the heat & time limits have me concerned. Smart Tour optional tour prices seem a bit high, am I right?

Day 1--in the afternoon, rest or take canal boat ride.

Day 2 --is it worth to take the full day tour or would we be better off with a private guide?

Day 3--take the optional tour to Grand Palace for $60 for the two of us, or could we easily do this using the skytram or find a driver near the hotel?

Where would 'easy places to get to' be suitable for dinners Bangkok?

Day 8-- what kind of dinner is this? or should we just get some dinner near hotel?

Day 9-- afternoon to rest

Day 10--does it pay to take the $25 pp morning tour or hire a guide for most of the day?

Day 11--seems as if we have most of the day off before flying back to Bgk.

Fogive the length of this, but I do want to max our stay, health & of course, money. Would appreciate any names of guides at this late date--any help at all. Close places for a massage in either city--or both!! Like music, dance , art & learning about Thai culture & customs. Not too interested in animal places--except the elephant camp.
Any & all information will be GREATFULLY APPRICIATED!!!
Travelegs is offline  
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Jan 6th, 2008, 07:04 PM
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You're staying in mediocre hotels and the extra tour charges are quite high IMO. I don't know if it's too late but you should consider just buying the plane tickets here and hire a guide with a car instead.

Try searching this site and you'll get a lot of recommendation on guides in Bangkok and Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai.
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Jan 6th, 2008, 07:15 PM
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Yes, the Smart Tours prices are very high. You could do any of these things for less than the ST pp price.

Many people love the klong tours. But I'd get a boat myself at one of the public piers Taksim is easiest, as it is at the end of the Skytrain. Also, I'd wait and see whether you fell up to the trip that day, as you'll be contending with jet lag as well as the heat.

If you hire a car and driver or a guide, you can go to both the Floating Market (which people either love or hate) and the Grand Palace. (I'd skip the rose garden and Thai village) There are many well recommended guides an drivers in Bangkok. Several often mentioned on this board are Ratt (a driver) Tong (a guide) or Cherry (a guide). It may well be that all you need is a very good driver, and Ratt is probably the best driver recommended here.

I have to say that the bus ride to Chiang Rai sounds exhausting... three days on a bus with all of those forced shopping stop would make me crazy. But yopu sound like seasoned travelers who can watch out for yourselves.

The boat ride is nice for say, half an hour, but you can arrange it on your own very cheaply. The hilltribe villages they visit however, are very touristy.

In CM, personally, I'd skip the Kantoke dinner. I'd hire a driver for your other free day and go to Doi Suthep Any taxi driver will be glad to drive you, and the standard prices are posted in the taxis.

Ther are many fabulous restaurants in Bangkok. Can you tell me where your hotel is? If it is near a Skytrain, there are many places we could recommend that would be just a short hop away. Also, what kind of food would you like?
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Jan 6th, 2008, 07:33 PM
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Kathie,

The hotel in Bangkok is called Century Park Hotel. I don't know what it's near.
We like most foods but would like to stay with Thai mostly. We have to stay away from spicy foods though & hope this won't be a problem. Also, alas, I'm highly alergic to FISH --but I can eat shrimp. I'll have a card printed up that says these things. Of course I'm concerned about eating something spicy or eating some kind of fish or sea food & becoming ill. No fun--at home or on a trip.
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Jan 6th, 2008, 07:42 PM
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If you're allergic to fish then you should check if you're allergic to "fish sauce". I would say 99% of all Thai cooking uses fish sauce.
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Jan 6th, 2008, 07:49 PM
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Oh no!! I hadn't even thought of that. Will I starve? What to do!?
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Jan 6th, 2008, 08:23 PM
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here is an example....for 3000 B or less than $100 you could hire a private guide to take you to the floating market for the day and to some other places as well...lunch would be extra....that price is way too high for a bus tour....

you must do the grand palace but do it on your own...just wander around or hire a guide at the door....take a taxi there from your hotel (take a hotel card with you for your return so the driver will know where to go)....or again hire a guide for the day for another 3000 B and see most of bkk in leisure with an a/c car...

you will need a/c as often as you can find it....

you also need to go to soi sutep in CM....again you can go by taxi for far cheaper...
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Jan 7th, 2008, 05:18 AM
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I have been on the Smart Tour. Skip their optional tours. They are overpriced. The kantoke dinner in Chiang Mai was terrible. Go to the Anusarn market which is within the Night Market in Chiang Mai for a free dance show. This is at the outdoor food court in Anusarn. Every enening at 8:00
My trip was two years ago and Smart Tours has raised their prices.
The bus ride was actually not tedious and the stops were not "forced shopping" The guide will probably throw in extra tours at no cost. We went to a pineapple plantation and made mulberry paper near Chiang Mai free of extra charge. The guide also took us to shop at Wororot Market for special items that we wanted. I wanted a vegetable carving knife, someone else wanted brass bells etc. The guide did not charge us for the private tour.
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Jan 7th, 2008, 03:30 PM
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We're not concerned about the bus ride for 3 days. It will give us a chance to see some of the country side with Ayutthaya, Phitsanulok Sukothai & Lampang, so I'm excited about that. Not to worry about 'forced shopping', that's not us, we like to look but don't usually buy. It's a good way to see the products of a country. Besides, someone here said that this is not an issue for the bus ride to CR & CM.

Getting back to the food question. Any places near out hotel--Century Park Hotel, not sure where this is. Are there any native dishes that don't use chilies & fish or fish sauce? There has to be something!! I really want to eat Thai food but also not get sick & spoil our trip.

Thanks for your advice Hanuman, but our trip is paid for & I'm glad I'm going this way. I feel quite content about the arrangements.

Tonight I will send some messages to hire a guide as this seems like the way to go for us. Even if we have to deal with jet lag, so be it. I can't see not taking a guide on day 2 in Bgk & waiting until day 3. It seems as if it would be better to 'see things' on day 2 & finish up on day 3--like perhaps getting into a taxi for the Grand Palace. We could have our tour guide take us first thing on day 2 to floating market etc.

I'm rambling on-- more later when we have a better idea & I read more of my books!
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Jan 7th, 2008, 04:02 PM
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I fear that you will have some difficulty with Thai food. You can ask for "no spice" or "no chilis" but the fish sauce is in most things. Get someone to write out for you in Thai that you cannot have fish or fish sauce. Thais are very accommodating, and will try their best to help you.

As far as going to the Grand Palace is concerned, try to get there as they open in the morning, at 8:30. Also ignore any touts that tell you it is closed. It is open every day of the year. What you will be seeing is virtually all outside, so make sure you have a hat to protect you from the sun. As you leave the GP. that is the place you are most likely to have taxi problems. Just always make sure they turn on the meter. I've never had a driver refuse. If they do refuse, simply get out. Also, if anyone want to atke ou to a jewelry store, say NO. These are the only pitfalls I can think of. There are official guides inside the walls of the Grand Palace/Emerald Buddha complex. You can hire one or simply wander on your own.

Another must see place in Bangkok is the Jim Thompson House. There are guides there who will show you around (included in the admission price). You can easily take a taxi to/rom the Jim Thompson House. Do make sure you have a hotel card with you so the taxi driver will be able to take you "home."
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Jan 7th, 2008, 04:57 PM
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If your allergy is life threatening I would stay away from all street food and any restaurant that you can't communicate in English with the owner or the chef directly. Even in the hotels I would take caution when ordering Thai food. Also you should carry some kind of medicine to counter the affect of food allergy in case of any mishaps. Hospitals outside of the big cities are not too reliable IMO.

I've often overpass tourist buses going to or coming back from the various destination around Thailand and have made some observation. If you are heading North and your departure is in the AM then sit on the left side(port side) of the bus so that you will not be in the blazing sunlight. Most of these buses will have some kind of curtains but it will be more enjoyable and comfortable if you were on the other side of the bus. In the afternoon do the opposite and you'll enjoy your trip more.

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Jan 7th, 2008, 05:06 PM
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I've found this web site that has all the food allergy written in Thai and English which you can print out and carry with you. I've read all the Thai writing and they are correct(I'm Thai). Hope it will make your trip more enjoyable!

http://www.beachsiam.com/food.html
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Jan 7th, 2008, 06:20 PM
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What great helpful ideas. Many thanks.

Do you think that it's possible to take a taxi to the Grand Palace & see the sights there for awhile & then taxi over to the Jim Thompson House, have a bite to eat & visit and then taxi back to our hotel. I'd like to save some time for a little shopping but I think it would be too tiring to do after these two things--and too hot in the afternoon. Perhaps a massage--any place you would recommend near the Jim T. or near my hotel?

Thanks for the allergy web site . What a find!!
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Jan 7th, 2008, 06:53 PM
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yes it would be a perfect thing to do....the problem will be getting a taxi at the GP that will accomodate you....most try to rip you off as kathie suggests above...

there is a shop at the JT house where you will find some lovely things, but they are not cheap...buy yourself at least one item and a tie for the hubby....
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Jan 7th, 2008, 07:19 PM
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We used Friendly Planet/Smartours 2 years ago for this same trip. It was excellent. Yes, traveling on the bus with 40 others can be tiresome, but the the ease and cost savings, I considered it little enough 'bother.' We are also 'older' ages 50 & 64, so easy is important.

That said, we did very few optional tours with FP. They were overpriced. We did do the Hill Tribes, and although touristy, it was a once in a lifetime memory. I'd recommend it. We did BKK on our own, hiring one of Ratt's guides before we left the states. marvelous to have the a/c car and her personal tour through our preferred sites. I would skip all the dinners offered by the tour, including the free one on the first night - worst meal we ate. We should have watched the dancing for a few minutes, then skipped out. I did not find Jim Thompson's house that interesting, though the restaurant was lovely (albeit pricey by comparison to others.) Taxi's were easy - remember to bargain. The RimRock Resort is well out of town, so if they offer to bring you into town on some kind of junket, take the offer. Take a cab back and your set.
I would travel with ST/FP again in a second, assuming that they were not including too many meals. I prefer to do those on my own - that's half the fun for me.

Nothing wrong with group travel, so don't let the naysayers get you down. Accept that you will not get to see everything (we passed on the Floating Market, but enjoyed several boat rides and ferry rides down the river). Enjoy.
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Jan 9th, 2008, 06:09 AM
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Ahh, to be 50 & 64 again!

To jkgourmet: did you take the Smart Tours morning tour that was included in the trip? We thought about taking that since it was included & there's no extra charge. I see that they go to Wat Tramit & Wat Po (Golden Buddha & Reclining Buddha) Also there's something listed as 'White Marble Temple'. What is that? I can't find it mentioned anywhere. After the morning tour, would it just be a good idea to go back to the hotel to rest, as this would be the first full day in BKK & with jet lag etc.----
Was it possible to get a massage at the hotel?

Then on the next day we thought we'd hire a guide for the day & then perhaps just a driver for the last day.
Do you think this sounds right?
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Jan 9th, 2008, 06:34 AM
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Take the morning tour and see how you like the guide. We had "Ketsera" and she was terrific. As I said before, we never felt herded or pressured. The hill tribe tour included a stop at a nursery school which was an extra, not listed on the program. Ketsera is opposed to visiting the Long Nec Karen so she won't recommend that but her guidance was excellent.
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Jan 9th, 2008, 06:46 AM
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All three of the Wats listed on your morning tour are well worth seeing. What they are calling the "White Marble Wat" is known by locals as "Wat Ben" - it has a long name beginning with Ben.
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Jan 9th, 2008, 06:57 AM
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the marble wat is very worthwhile
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Jan 9th, 2008, 07:05 AM
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The full name is Wat Benjamabophit.
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