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Return to SE Asia: A Solo Traveler in Bangkok, Luang Prabang and Vietnam, 1/08

Return to SE Asia: A Solo Traveler in Bangkok, Luang Prabang and Vietnam, 1/08

Old Mar 2nd, 2008, 11:24 AM
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Return to SE Asia: A Solo Traveler in Bangkok, Luang Prabang and Vietnam, 1/08

Before the details desert me, I will write a brief report of my January trip. Some background: I have quite a bit of travel experience in SE Asia prior to 1990, but this would be my first return to Bangkok in about 20 years and my first visit to Laos and to parts of Vietnam other than Saigon, where I spent two weeks in 2000.

I traveled solo; trans-Pacific flights were on KoreanAir from JFK to Bangkok and from Saigon to JFK. Both required a manageable layover in Seoul. Hotels were upmarket and the itinerary was:

5 nights Bangkok..Peninsula Hotel
5 days Luang Prabang..Residence Phou Vau
5 days Hanoi..Hilton Hanoi Opera
1 night Halong Bay cruise..Emeraude
1 night Hanoi..Hilton Hanoi Opera
3 nights Hoi An..Life Resort
2 nights Hue..La Residence
3 nights Saigon..1 night Saigon Sheraton; 2 nights Park Hyatt Saigon (checked out of Sheraton early)

The hotels and flights within Asia were booked by Gregg at Innovasian Travel, using Exotissimo as the ground operator.

http://www.innovasian.com/


http://www.exotissimo.com/travel-asia/vietnam.html


I hired (a) private guide(s) for 1 ˝ days in Bangkok and for 2 days in Luang Prabang. In Vietnam, I had guides for a few days as well. The guides in Vietnam were contracted through Exotissimo. In Bangkok, I used Tong for one day and her associate Charlie for the second when Tong became ill. Ta was my guide in Luang Prabang.

I like to spend hours wandering around aimlessly. Food is also a top priority. I am not bent on seeing every point of tourist interest and have the hope that I will be able to make future trips to the places that exert fascination or interest.

This report will be written in my usual m.o. which is to say, in fits and starts. Please feel free to ask any and all questions. Before I begin I want to thank posters here who were unstinting with their time and expertise. You know who you are!!!





BANGKOK

Arrived in the Bangkok airport about 11:30pm on a Saturday night (5 January) only to have quite a bit of trouble locating my transportation to the hotel. When I located the guide, she could not locate our car. Suffice to say that I was tired and mildly annoyed and, eventually, insisted that we take a taxi to the Peninsula. It was not until about 2:20am that I reached the hotel. Normally this would be a non-issue except that tomorrow was Sunday and I had to awaken early in order to reach the Chatuchak market by 9am at the latest!! I had a Deluxe room with a sweeping view of the River:


http://bangkok.peninsula.com/pbk/accommodation_02.html



Next morning after about 4 hours of sleep and after gorging on the splendiferous Peninsula buffet breakfast, I set out on the Penn boat and the Skytrain for the “JJ” market, arriving shortly after 9am.

The market was a joy, and far less hot, crowded and difficult to navigate than I had feared. I had a Nancy Chandler map but did not use it as I found it delightful just to wander around..you guessed it.. aimlessly. I spent about three hours in the market.

My two “major” purchases were a silk ikat jacket for 480 Baht and a pair of wonderful leather sandals that cost about 20USD. I wish I had purchased another pair or two of the sandals as the workmanship is excellent and they have an artisanal look that reminds me of the sandals my Mom used to bring back from Capri in the 50s!! An excellent buy!

By 1am I was back at the hotel (again, via Skytrain) and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and swimming laps in one of the hotel pools.

Dinner that evening was at Pen which proved to be a tantalizing introduction to Thai food. Fried Morning Glory with Minced Pork; Barbecued (grilled) River Prawns and Fresh Mango with Coconut Ice Cream. Superb. My only regret, here and throughout the trip, was that as a single diner I could not sample more dishes!
I was the only non-Asian in the restaurant and despite the fact that the hotel had reserved a table for me, the staff seemed quite surprised to find a single female foreigner in their midst. (This would remain true throughout the trip) The female manager could not have been more solicitous. Highly recommended. Five stars!

Pen…2068/4 Chan Road Chongnonsee, Yannawa, Bangkok
Open 11am-2pm and 5pm to 11pm.

After dinner, a taxi back to the hotel and to bed early in preparation for my tour with Tong the next day…more soon..

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Old Mar 2nd, 2008, 11:27 AM
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....dinner at Pen cost 780 Baht or about 26USD. The price would be considerably lower if I had not ordered the prawns.

Note: Pen restaurant is not to be confused with the Peninsula Hotel.
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Old Mar 2nd, 2008, 12:47 PM
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Great start! I believe we visited some of your restaurant recommendations in Italy in 2007 and now will put the Pen on our list for Bangkok in two weeks!

Thanks for posting your report-- I look forward to more.
Liz
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Old Mar 2nd, 2008, 01:00 PM
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eks-I have been waiting for your report. It's about time! ;-)
Can't wait to here more.
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Old Mar 2nd, 2008, 01:50 PM
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great start...anxious for more...
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Old Mar 2nd, 2008, 02:37 PM
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Very nice start. it will be interesting to read your observations of the changes in SEA. This gets in under the wire, no penalty.
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Old Mar 2nd, 2008, 03:17 PM
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Looking forward to the rest of your report. I LOVED Pen (restaurant not hotel) and still thing the morning glory dish is one of my all time favorites! I've also been a solo female traveler in thailand so will be interested in hearing your report from that angle as well -- my solo trips were in the 80s and early 90s- most of my resent ones have been with a friend but I may be going alone in November).
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Old Mar 2nd, 2008, 04:17 PM
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eks - glad to see your report starting, and looking forward to more! "as a single diner I could not sample more dishes!" - you know, that's one downside of solo travel I tend to forget when we write pro and con lists. Very true in Asia, and also in Greece, where the best food tends to be assorted dips eaten before the meal.
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Old Mar 2nd, 2008, 04:18 PM
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What a tantalizing start to your report! The Pen was on our list to try last trip, but we had to postpone it until this year's trip. I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed it as much as Gloria did!
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Old Mar 2nd, 2008, 06:54 PM
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Finally!
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Old Mar 3rd, 2008, 05:14 AM
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Thanks for all the encouragement. For a long time I have read rumors of severe retributions meted out to non-compliers. Now that these were staring me in the face, I took action! Stay tuned!
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Old Mar 3rd, 2008, 05:36 AM
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Thanks for starting your report! Anxious to read more.
Carol
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Old Mar 3rd, 2008, 07:06 AM
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Monday morning found me at the Peninsula breakfast buffet which must rank up there with Asia’s most enticing. Every imaginable edible finds a place at the long tables and stations, from dim sum to mesclun salad; smoked salmon to coconut muffins and everything in between including omelettes and heaps of tropical fruit. Mangoes, mangoes, mangoes, even though it was not high season for these. Custard apples, rose apples, dragon fruit, papaya, pineapple..etc etc. Washington state apples even made an appearance. No mangosteen, though. Luckily I had picked up a few of these the day before and stashed them in my room.

Tong picked me up after breakfast. As has been noted, she is a bundle of energy and quite a character. Unfortunately, she was not feeling well, the result of working punishing hours every day and she had a fever and horrid case of laryngitis. Even so, she managed to regale me with stories for the entire day. I should note here that the King’s sister has passed away recently and the effect that her passing had had on Tong and others I met was touching, as was the love that the Thais hold for their King. Tong actually broke down crying when relating tales of the Princess and the royal family. Very moving.

En route to the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market we passed fish farms and stalls selling dried fish and fish sauce strung along the highway. After a quick stop to have a look, we drove through a town with a market on the railroad tracks. This unremarkable town whose name I never did learn was the site of my first experience with the wondrous round coconut cakes cooked on a griddle which I believe are named Khanom Khrok. Here is a photo:


http://dishaday.blogspot.com/2007/01...nut-cakes.html


Then it was on to a Buddhist temple whose interior was a marvel of intricately carved teak depicting scenes in the life of the Buddha. This place is wondrous and should not be missed. Unfortunately, in taking off my shoes outside I seem to have stepped in or been bitten by something..more on this later.

The Floating Market was the next stop. Tong hired a boat for the two of us and we cruised along the canals, tasting various treats prepared by the floating vendors. The food was excellent..noodle soups, grilled pork and chicken bits on sticks, fried bananas, mango, pomelo and pineapple. As time passed the canals became clogged with boats packed with tourists. I would recommend arriving here as early as possible to avoid some of the larger tour groups that descend as the morning wears on.

More soon……….

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Old Mar 3rd, 2008, 07:48 AM
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From the Floating Market we drove to Tong’s “secret place,” which is a fishing village a short distance off the main highway. At a village dock we boarded an open motor boat, visited and fed (bananas and rose apples that Tong had purchased in bulk) the monkeys living in the mangroves, cruised the stilt houses in the bay where villagers sleep to guard the fish farms when the nets/traps are full, and arrived at a stilt house belonging to Tong’s friend, Fisherman and Village Resident Reed, at lunchtime.

Course by course a seafood feast was laid out before us: Seafood soup, smoked catfish salad, grilled prawns and a whole fried fin fish.
The meal, and the setting in the bamboo structure in the middle of the bay, was thrilling! Highly recommended!! There is a small room with bedding and a decent bathroom with flush toilet in the house. No electricity, though. In the right company I would love to return for an overnight visit. Or at the least, skip the floating market and arrive here earlier to have more time relaxing and even swimming in the bay. It was hard to tear ourselves away from these surroundings. After another monkey visit and cruise, we found ourselves on shore ready for the return to Bangkok.

Tong’s contact information (book well in advance):

www.tourwithtong.com

Tired from the day and laden with fresh fruit that had been sliced and packed by the vendors at the Floating Market, I returned to my room. By this time my foot was bothering me quite a bit, so I decided to have a light fruit dinner and spend the evening reading. Unfortunately as I tucked myself into the marvelous Peninsula bed, I discovered that my reading glasses were smashed! Never mind, the jet lag was having its way and I quickly fell asleep.

I will note here that while I loved the Peninsula Hotel, I found the location to be a bit of a drawback in terms of the immediate area not holding much in the way of eating. While it is easy to take their boat and board the Skytrain, there did not seem to be many choices for dinners within walking distance of the hotel. (There is a tempting grouping of indoor stalls on the main road toward the bridge, but this is a long walk form the hotel…) Just a small complaint, though. I could find no fault with the hotel itself.

I later learned that Tong's husband (who I met when she dropped me off) had taken her to the hospital that evening. Tong had asked if I would allow her to excuse herself from the tour we had planned the next day and assured me that she would set me up with an excellent guide for my planned visit to The Grand Palace, Wat Po and Chinatown.

more soon.......

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Old Mar 3rd, 2008, 08:12 AM
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Eks
Great report am riveted, sorry to hear that the lovely Tong was taken ill? i hope she is ok now?

Looking forward to hearing more
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Old Mar 3rd, 2008, 08:24 AM
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ekscrunchy-

I have remembered which restaurant in Italy-- Ristorante Omero. We loved it-- thanks again for the recommendation. The walk down the hill towards Florence was Tim's favorite moment of our trip.

We will be re-enacting your Floating Market-Fishing Village day with Tong on the 14th. I can't wait!

Liz
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Old Mar 3rd, 2008, 08:28 AM
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Don't worry, the quality of your report is sufficiently high that your staus has been upgraded from Probationary. However, do not slack off. An incomplete report is the worst possible violation. We hunger for more.

The "secret place" is really special. I'm so glad you had the opportunity to experience it.
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Old Mar 3rd, 2008, 08:56 AM
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Just curious what time do they start serving the breakfast buffet at the Peninsula, and what time did you set off with Tong the morning you did floating market and fishing village?
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Old Mar 3rd, 2008, 09:18 AM
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Penalty shmenalty. What worries me is that last night I dreamed that large furry black-and-white bamboo-pole-wielding creatures were banging on my front door and shreiking for me to get back to the computer.....or else!

JGG: This is a guess because I do not remember. But I think they begin serving at either 6:30 and that she picked me up at 7:00. But again, I am blurry on the start of breakfast..I remember arriving just after the sun rose..I seemed to be the first one there every day! No surprise there..

The next time I would head straight to the market, if you plan to do this, and visit the Teak Temple afterwards. We were at the Teak Temple about 8:15 and did not make it to the market until 9:30 or so.

The hotel should be great on responding to questions so you could e-mail them about the breakfast time..


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Old Mar 3rd, 2008, 10:19 AM
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jgg-

I just received our full confirmation email with details from Tong yesterday.

Pick up for the morning of our FM/FV day is at 6:30.

She wrote,
"Pick up is at 6.30 am Liz!
Hope you're not zombies."

She's so funny!
Liz
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