Just back from Bangkok -- trip report

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Jan 15th, 2002, 02:05 PM
  #1
lisa
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Just back from Bangkok -- trip report

Bangkok trip report, Jan. 7-14, 2002

Days 1-2. Flew DCA-MPL-Tokyo-BKK on NW. All flights on time. Upon landing in Tokyo and disembarking to change planes, am greeted by the amazing spectacle of the setting sun – a huge orange ball just above the horizon. I can't believe it: it looks exactly like the Japanese flag!

Arrived BKK airport @ 10:30pm & was met by Paul from Turismo Thai, the local host of the package I booked through Pacific Delight ($670 for airfare, transfers, 6 nights hotel including breakfasts, and complimentary tours of the Grand Palace/Wat Phra Keo and the canals/Wat Arun/Wat Pho – plus about $70 in taxes & fees, plus a $125 single supplement since I'm travelling by myself). Met Sandra, a fellow Washingtonian who booked the same package I did but was staying at a different hotel (Siam City). Paul and our driver, Rit, escorted us to our respective hotels and gave us a welcome packet of information, including maps. Checked into my hotel, the Amari Atrium, which is very nice. Staff speaks good English and service is excellent (when I called down for extra hangers they brought them within moments). They left me a complimentary plate of fresh fruit which was a nice touch (banana, tangerine, and two others I don't recognize). They also give me a coupon for a free "welcome drink," which turns out to be the most delicious punch made of various freshly-squeezed fruits I've ever had. The room is large and looks out onto one of the canals (klongs). The bed is SO comfortable and I fall asleep immediately, around midnight.
(continued)
 
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Jan 15th, 2002, 02:21 PM
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lisa
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Day 3. I awaken around 8 AM and head downstairs for the complimentary breakfast, which I am expecting to be coffee and rolls. Instead it is a HUGE spread with every imaginable breakfast item and a few that aren't. Omelets made to order, eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, all kinds of fresh fruit and juices (guava – yum), yogurt, all sorts of delectable pastries and breads, cheeses, cold cuts, cereals, fried rice and noodles, baked beans and tomatoes – you name it. And good coffee and tea. Thus fortified, I head to the lobby to meet Rit at 10am. We pick up Paul and Sandra at Siam City and head to the Grand Palace, which is astounding. I've never seen anything like it – the architecture, the colors, all the gold. I went through a whole roll of film in no time. Paul is an excellent guide. At Wat Phra Keo we see the "Emerald Buddha" who is wearing his winter outfit at the moment (some "winter" – it's in the high 80s and it's not even noon). We spent about 3 hours altogether. Afterwards, Sandra and I decide we'd like to see the Jim Thompson house, so Paul and Rit drop us off there. Along the drive there, we notice several billboards around the city with pictures of the King, and Paul explains that the Thai people love their King very much and believe that he looks out for their best interests, sponsoring projects for the public welfare, etc. Upon arriving at the Jim Thompson House, Sandra and I notice there is a café just next to the house, and realizing that we're famished, we decide to eat lunch there, which turns out to be an excellent decision. We share very good spring rolls, tom yum soup with shrimp, and phad thai – plus a beer and a lychee drink – and the bill comes to about $9 total for the both of us. And it was delicious! After lunch we tour the Jim Thompson house, which is gorgeous, especially the art and furnishings. It only takes about 45 minutes to see the whole thing. Afterwards we visit the shop. I bought some gorgeous silk scarves. From there we decide to take a short walk to MBK to check out the local shopping scene. It is a bit too much for me. By mid-afternoon, the 12 hour time difference is starting to get to me, and I head back to the hotel (15 minute taxi ride, about 60 baht – less than $1.50). During the taxi ride back, we drive by an elephant walking down a backstreet of the city, ridden by his mahout, which seems a very sad sight to me – I can't imagine that life in the city with all of its pollution and crowds is very healthy for the elephant – but I know that this is probably how the mahout earns his living, by getting money from Bangkok tourists who pay to feed the elephant. Back at the hotel, after a quick dip in the pool and a bit of sun, I order some shrimp fried rice from room service for dinner (less than $4 U.S.) and fall asleep early. (continued)
 
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Jan 16th, 2002, 01:05 AM
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Donna
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Hi Lisa,
I will be going to Bankok and Phuket and will be interested to read the rest of your trip report.
When I go I will be staying at the Parthumwan Princess, near MBK.
Can you tell me all about this mall, as well as any other malls you went to. Also interested in tours, markets and restaurants.
Look forward to your reply
Donna
 
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Jan 16th, 2002, 07:31 AM
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lisa
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Day 4. Wake up around 6 AM. I open my curtains and it is still dark outside. There is a tiny slip of a crescent moon on its back just above the canal. So pretty! By the time I dress, it is starting to get light out, and I am treated to the sight of the sunrise over the canal – WOW! It is fun to watch the water taxis go back and forth on the canal – they are huge and they move very fast and hardly stop at all when taking on or letting off passengers.

After another great breakfast downstairs, Rit picks me up at 7:30 AM. We pick up Sandra and Paul and head down to the Chao Phraya river for a boat tour. It is billed as a "floating market" tour but Paul explains that there really aren't any floating markets in Bangkok anymore, so it will basically be a tour of the river and the canals. We board our own private long-tail boat, which is fun to ride. Paul explains a bit about the layout of the city and the history. It is interesting to see Bangkok life from the water – the ferries and water taxis, the barges and tugboats, etc. He points out interesting sights and temples along the way. After awhile we turn onto one of the side canals, which is much smaller and affords a closer view of the homes. We see people bathing and washing dishes in the canal. The water obviously plays a very important role in the daily lives of the people. We rejoin the river and get to see the Royal Project which is a huge bridge being built. It is pretty impressive.

We disembark at Wat Arun, which is my favorite of the temples in Bangkok. It is more Khmer in style, but is covered in porcelain. Upon close inspection, Paul points out that what appear to be decorative flowers are actually broken pieces of porcelain laid out in the shape of flowers. They are all different colors and are gorgeous.
(continued)
 
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Jan 16th, 2002, 07:32 AM
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lisa
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After Wat Arun, we take a ferry across the river to Wat Pho. As we get off the ferry, there is a woman selling various fruits, and Paul stops to buy some mangosteen and rambutan for us so that we can see how to eat it and have a taste. They are both very good but we both love the mangosteen best. It kind of has the texture of green grapes on the inside, but has more flavor and is sweeter and almost creamy. At Wat Pho we see the reclining Buddha and the massage school. Then Paul takes us to a jewelry factory, which is interesting but neither of us buys any jewelry – I buy postcards and Sandra buys some other gifts.

After learning that Sandra and I would like to get the traditional Thai massages, Paul takes us to a place that he recommends and drops us off. The cost is 500 baht per person for two hours (about $11 U.S.). We put on the lightweight cotton top and pants they give us (like PJs), and are pushed and pulled and prodded for a wonderful two hours. It is kind of like a combination of yoga, chiropractic, and massage. I really enjoyed it.

Afterwards Sandra and I decide to go to the Regent Hotel for a late lunch at the Spice Market restaurant, which we've heard good things about. Unfortunately the restaurant is closed, but we have lunch in the open-air restaurant in the atrium. I have yellow curry with shrimp and pineapple and she has a noodle dish. Both are good. Afterwards we have green tea ice cream.

Then we part – Sandra goes to Siam Center to get a hair cut and I decide to take a cab back down to River City to do some shopping. Artisans are selling their wares in little booths in the atrium. I buy a silk throw-pillow cover the color of cranberry juice with gold embroidery for 110 baht (about $2.50), bargained down from 250 baht. Upstairs in one of the shops I buy a celadon bowl for about $9 U.S. (in one of the few shops with fixed prices). The top two floors are filled mostly with pricey antique shops that are fun to look in. When River City starts closing up around 8 pm, I head next door to the Sheraton Royal Orchid to catch a cab back to my hotel and decide to stop in one of their shops which has gorgeous embroidered pillowcases from Kashmir. I buy a beautiful one of purple silk with colorful embroidery on it. The cab back to my hotel takes about 20 minutes and costs about 80 baht (under $2).
(continued)
 
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Jan 16th, 2002, 07:33 AM
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lisa
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Day 5. Arise at 5:30 AM, breakfast at 6, picked up at 6:15 to go to Ayutthaya. We've booked a daytrip for 1600 baht per person (about $37) to tour the summer palace of Bang Pa-In, then the ruins of the old capital at Ayutthaya, and return by boat, with lunch. The drive is interesting – we get to see rice paddies – and it doesn't take long. Bang Pa-In is pretty but feels a little like Disneyland to me, with lawns so manicured that they look like putting greens, piped-in music playing everywhere, and European-style buildings next to Asian-style ones. Ayutthaya is much more interesting to me. Some of the architecture and relief reminds me a bit of the Mayan ruins I toured last year in Mexico. Near one of the ruins we see a jackfruit tree with a fruit on it the size of a large watermelon! It is extremely hot by midday and soon we re-board the coach to head to the boat dock to return to Bangkok. As we drive through the countryside, I point out some elephants by the side of the road to Sandra – and then the bus pulls over. We are going to get to ride the elephants! I had no idea. This is a little elephant farm. It turns out to be the highlight of our trip. We get to feed the elephants and ride them. It is so much fun! Everyone in the group is grinning like 4-year-olds riding ponies at a birthday party. There is a baby elephant that is so cute! Afterwards we re-board the bus and head to the boat dock, where we board and eat a very good buffet lunch, then enjoy the scenery on the way back to Bangkok. The boat trip lasts almost 4 hours and is very relaxing, although some of the passengers seemed to get a bit restless by the end. Disembarking by the Sheraton Royal Orchid Hotel, I point out River City to Sandra, and she ends up buying some beautiful chopsticks there. Back at the hotel that evening, I order crispy fried grouper from room service for dinner, which is very good and costs around $5).
(continued)
 
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Jan 16th, 2002, 07:35 AM
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lisa
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Day 6. It is Saturday and Sandra and I decide to take the Skytrain to the Chatuchak weekend market. The Skytrain is very easy to use, inexpensive (25 baht), fast, clean, and air conditioned. We arrive at the market before 8:30 AM and it is already very hot. The size of it is overwhelming, but it is fascinating to wander its stalls. We both buy lots of things – silk, benjarong pottery, sandstone carvings, cotton clothes (white cotton shirts are 79-99 baht – around $2), lamps, etc. Everything is unbelievably inexpensive and you could stay here all day and not see everything. At one point we hear music and walk out to a street where an acrobatic troupe is performing.

By 1:30 pm the heat is overwhelming and we are exhausted, so we decide to head back to the hotel to drop our purchases off, then visit the National Museum. At the museum it is Childrens' Day. The kids are so cute! They are having special activities, art, face-painting, balloons, music, etc. for the children. We spend some time in the galleries but are enjoying people-watching even more. The Thai people are so friendly and our requests to take photos of their kids are welcomed with smiles.

After the museum closes we decide to get a bite to eat at Comme which is around the corner. I have delicious Tom Yum Gai (very spicy), and Sandra has spicy fried catfish – both are excellent. Then we decide we are still hungry, so we walk across the street to Tan Po where we sit by the river and have a fish custard in banana leaves, and cottonfish in pandanus leaves – both are very good. The prices at both restaurants are very inexpensive.
(continued)
 
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Jan 16th, 2002, 07:36 AM
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lisa
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Day 7. Last day. Sandra & I decide to "do our own thing" for the day and just meet up later for dinner at the Oriental Hotel, where we have made reservations to see the traditional Thai dance. I wake up and decide to go to the Snake Farm. There is an 11AM show where they show you various species of snakes – cobras, vipers, pythons, etc. It is an educational program and they show you how they milk them for venom. They also show you the feeding of the python. You get to hold and pet the snakes if you want to, under close supervision. I really enjoyed it.

The main Jim Thompson store is nearby and I decide to walk there and check it out. It is HUGE. Four floors, including all kinds of clothing, plus home accessories and furnishings. They have the most gorgeous silk and cotton fabrics you've ever seen. I buy another silk pillowcase, a silk picture frame, and a pleated silk drawstring bag. Prices are higher than elsewhere in Bangkok, but the quality is amazing.

After shopping, I decide to take a cab to the Suan Pikkad palace (after a couple of aborted attempts with cab drivers who purported to know where it was, but didn't), which is a group of several teak houses which are furnished with gorgeous antiques, art, and artifacts. It is kind of like the Jim Thompson house only on a larger scale. The lacquer pavilion is my favorite – really gorgeous.
(continued)
 
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Jan 16th, 2002, 07:37 AM
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lisa
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After this I head back to my hotel to have another massage and clean up before dinner. Arriving at the Oriental for our 7:30 pm dinner reservation, we are given jasmine flowers (so sweet and fragrant!) and escorted to the Oriental's ferry dock for crossing to the restaurant. The restaurant is lovely, bedecked in tiny lights. We are seated at a long low table with other diners. Seating is on the floor with cushions, but there are holes cut out in the floor underneath the table so that your legs can hang down. The dinner is fabulous. Spring rolls, steamed vegetables (bok choy and asparagus), two kinds of soup (I think one is tom kha gai and I'm not sure about the other, but they're both amazing), lobster tail, fried fish with mango salad, and jasmine rice. Afterwards, they serve a variety of fresh fruits and coffee. The dance performance starts at 8:30 pm and is accompanied by live music – xylophones, drums, and other percussion instruments. There are about 5 or 6 different dance pieces. The costumes are incredibly intricate and beautiful. There are both male and female dancers and it is fascinating to watch their hands and feet. The dances are all very different but very interesting. The dancing lasts about an hour. I think the cost of the whole thing was around $40 U.S. but I thought it was well worth it. Afterward you are ferried back across the river to the Oriental. It made for a very special final evening in Bangkok.
 
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Jan 16th, 2002, 07:39 AM
  #10
lisa
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Day 8. Flew BKK-Tokyo-DTW-DCA. All flights on time. Somehow even with all of my purchases I still managed only 2 small carry-ons, which worked out great.
A few notes:
Best exchange rates are from ATMs, then banks. Hotels have very poor rates.

Wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off, because you will be taking them off often (places that required shoes to be removed: temples, the Oriental's restaurant, the Jim Thompson house).

Also, when visiting the Grand Palace and Bang Pa-In summer palace you are required to have your upper arms and knees and heels covered.

When taking taxis, get your hotel to write out the names of places in Thai so that you can show them to the drivers. However, in many cases, drivers still don't know where places are (many drivers come from the countryside and do not know Bangkok well). In general you have the best luck getting taxis from hotels rather than flagging them down on the street. Only take metered taxis. I personally would not take tuk-tuks because who wants to ride around in the open air in all that traffic spouting exhaust fumes?

Weather was very hot and humid but did cool off somewhat at night. Drink lots of water and wear sunscreen. Hotels generally provide 2 bottles of drinking water per day. If you take more from the minibar they will charge you for it – around 100 baht – but you can buy it from 7-11s, which are everywhere, for 8-10 baht. Also, if you run out of film, as I did (foolishly bringing only 5 rolls), 7-11 has cheap film (about 140 baht for 36 exposures of 400 speed).

Pollution in Bangkok is bad. As a contact lens wearer, I brought saline eye drops and found that these helped a great deal.

Overall I would highly recommend Bangkok and specifically this Pacific Delight package. We were very happy with our guide, Paul, and our driver, Rit. I thought the package was an excellent value. It is still available through March of this year – after that I think their prices are higher. Next time I would like to go up to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, and maybe some of the beaches down south.

Thanks to Fodorites who helped advise my trip planning. Post any questions here!
 
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Jan 16th, 2002, 07:46 AM
  #11
lisa
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Donna -- MBK is huge. I personally did not care for it that much (or Siam Shopping Center), but Sandra seemed to really like it, so it is all a matter of personal preference. I found it crowded. Many of the shops are very small and specialized. You can find anything you want there. There are lots of shops that offer facials, massages, hair cuts, etc., in addition to lots of clothing shops, jewelry shops, etc. Prices are definitely cheaper than here in the US. I was not interested in buying clothing though, so I preferred River City for its selection of arts & crafts. If you are looking for clothing, you should be aware that most stores do not sell the variety of sizes that are available here in the U.S. -- they are made for very petite women (which is great if you are a petite woman who has trouble finding small sizes here in the U.S., but not great if you are a larger size).

The location of your hotel sounds very convenient, especially for shopping.
 
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Jan 16th, 2002, 11:53 AM
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sue
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Hi Lisa,
Ihave been readng yout report with great interest as we are going to Bangkok for 2 nights [also visiting Phuket and Krabi ]in april,.Sounds very exciting ,we are counting down the weeks,.Hope to visit quite a few of the places you went to ,glad you had a great time
sue
 
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Jan 17th, 2002, 12:48 AM
  #13
Paige
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Thanks for posting all that! We're going next week so I really enjoyed reading it!
 
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Jan 17th, 2002, 02:24 AM
  #14
Ursula
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Lisa: Thanks. Very nice trip report. Stayed at the Amari Atrium once, I think in 1999, and liked it too.

Paige:
Have a GREAT trip!
 
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Jan 17th, 2002, 05:49 AM
  #15
Craig
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Great trip report, Lisa! Brings back fond memories. What a good deal--I'm so glad it worked out for you.
 
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Jan 17th, 2002, 11:56 AM
  #16
scigirl
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Lisa - Thank you for posting your trip report. It sounds like you had a great time.
 
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Jan 18th, 2002, 11:24 AM
  #17
Mary
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Lisa,
Thanks so much for your very informative report - it really was great. Thinking about going to Thailand on a spiritual retreat next December, and this helped me make up my mind - I am going!
Regards. Mary
 
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Jan 19th, 2002, 06:15 AM
  #18
maggie
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Lisa - this trip report is wonderful. We will be in Bangkok in March for five days, and you have really helped.
 
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Jan 23rd, 2002, 09:30 AM
  #19
lisa
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topping for Donna
 
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Jan 30th, 2002, 07:16 AM
  #20
lisa
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To the top for Adam.
 
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