Thailand Trip Report

Feb 16th, 2004, 10:03 AM
  #1  
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Thailand Trip Report

Thanks to everyone here for offering so many tips that truly made our first trip to Asia remarkably easy. Hopefully my trip comments mostly about practicalities will be helpful to others.

Transfer from BKK to hotel
James mentioned to use the Thai Air desk in the departure hall, not the other desks. Because Thai Air only had Mercedes and we wanted to reduce costs, we used the desk next to it. They sent the driver to the wrong Center Point hotel, causing a huge delay for us. When we returned to BKK at the end of the trip and transferred to the Rama Gardens Hotel, we chose the taxi stand inside the terminal rather than stand in a long line at the taxi stand outside. We paid a huge premium but got there quickly.

Hotels
BANGKOK - Center Point Silom, about a block away from the Shangri La and a short walk to the sky train and river. The staff was terrific. The standard room was huge, with a washer/dryer, full kitchen, small dining room table and living room area. I consider it a 4-star property, though worn due to the scuffed teak floors and loose bathroom fixtures. The pool, exercise room, and restaurant are adequate (not luxurious or distinctive). We didn't use the room service.

BANGKOK - Rama Gardens Hotel, less than ten minutes from the airport. Huge atrium lobby and a spacious standard room. Very helpful staff. An adequate all-purpose restaurant and Italian and Japanese restaurants we didn't try. Exercise room and pool that we didn't use. A free shuttle bus to the airport (every hour on the hour) and several free shuttle buses to and from the WTC. The shuttle also goes to another downtown address I don't remember. The hotel was a perfect solution for us as it provided easy access for one day dedicated to shopping and to the airport the next day. 4-star facility. We stayed in the "old" wing which was so well maintained that we wouldn't have known there is a new wing were it not for info on this forum.

CHAING MAI - Chiang Mai Plaza, one block away from the night bazaar and a great photo processing store immediately across the street. 50-baht tuk tuk ride to the nice riverside restaurants. Huge lobby and spacious standard room. Helpful staff. Adequate all-purpose restaurant and a formal Chinese restaurant that seemingly had no customers. (Maybe one reason is that we had to ask the reception staff to call the restaurant to tell them to unlock their doors even though the restaurant had been open 30 minutes. Yikes!) There was an exercise room and pool but we ran out of time to use them. 4-star property that caters to tours but is no less helpful to independent travelers.

PHI PHI DON - P P Princess Resort, a 1-bedroom bungalow on the beach about 100 feet from the pool, the sea and the Waterfall Restaurant and Bar. A 4-star property about a 3-minute walk from the pier that would have been ideal if the same space used in the bungalow had been allocated to one room rather than divided among a bedroom, bathroom and living room that were all tiny and cramped. The patio area with table and chairs was adequate and usually in the shade, good for reading, people watching, etc. We liked the easy access to the town but the property would be one to avoid if seclusion is important to you. The property was without running water for the three days we were there, but we understand from others that go there regularly that this was an anomoly. I negotiated a 25% discount.

PHUKET - Cape Panwa Hotel. Of the major properties we stayed at, the only one that was a real disappointment. It's a very worn 4-star property that has not been maintained. The standard room was the smallest of all we stayed in. The dust ruffle was so old that the outside of the pleats had faded ten shades lighter than on the unexposed part of the pleats. The carpet was worn and the bathroom had mildew. The walls showed obvious wear in need of paint. The public areas are similarly in need of a face lift. On a more positive note, we were looking for an afternoon of relative seclusion, a private beach, a beach bar that serves light food, a distinctive restaurant and a nice pool. It had all that and the staff was great.

SUKHOTHAI - Pailyn Sukhothai Hotel, a very nice 3-star property that is new enough to exceed in many ways some of the worn 4-star properties described above. It's about one hour from the airport and ten minutes from the historical park, on the main road serviced every 15 minutes by the public bus. The standard room is neither spacious nor cramped. Adequate restaurant and pool.

Favorite Restaurants

BANGKOK
Harmonique -- distinctive Thai food with okay service in a facility providing a local, unsophisticated feel. Near Shangri La Hotel.

Spice Market -- distinctive Thai food in a 5-star setting offering choice of seating indoors or under the sky in the atrium. Impeccable food, service and ambiance worthy of the premium price.

Yok Yok Restaurant -- family restaurant, broad selection of good but undistinctive Chinese-influenced food. Cheap prices and huge outdoor seating on the river are the main attractions. Avoid the main eating times and you'll have the huge place to yourself.

CHAING MAI
Gallery Restaurant / Riverside Bar and Restaurant -- One description applies to both. They are a couple blocks from each other. Both provide outdoor seating on the river, lit by lamps hanging from the trees. The lights from teh Chinese market across the river reflect nicely in the water though the music from that market can sometimes be obtrusive. Both offer a generally quiet ambiance and great service. The food is distinctive Thai. The Gallery Restaurant provides live, traditional Thai music that is very pleasing. All of the tuk tuk drivers know how to get to both restaurants. (The Good View Restaurant is in the same area, also on the river, but we didn't like it nearly as much.)

PHI PHI DON
Waterfall Bar and Restaurant, on the beach. The best food is from their outdoor seafood grill. You pick out the seafood and they make it to your order. Distinctive Thai food in a relaxing outdoor setting with good service.

Chao Koh Restaurant, on the beach in the town. Very good Thai food, especially the Thai shrimp rolls which were distinctive. Good service and local ambiance.

Tonsai Seafood, very near the above restaurant and also on the beach. You handpick the fresh seafood sold by the weight and it's cooked to order on the outdoor grill. They offer baked potatoes, a welcome change after eating rice and noodles for three weeks. (Avoid the shrimp rolls.)

PHUKET
The Thai restaurant at Cape Panwa Hotel serves distinctive Thai food. It's very near the beach with indoor and outdoor seating in an old colonial facility. It's set up to serve about 50 people, with tables set extremely far apart allowing for privacy. (They could easily accomodate 200.) A uniquely enjoyable experience of great food, service and ambiance.

Thai Air Restaurant in the Phuket airport. This was by far the biggest surprise of the trip. They serve the best Pad Thai with fresh shrimp we had in all of Thailand.

Damnuen Sudak (sp?) Floating Market
Because of my special interest in travel photography, we opted to get there the night before, allowing for lots of time at the market before the tours arrive. That required a car and driver and staying at a local facility. Everything about the market was wonderful but getting there and accomodations was awful and expensive. The hotel offered a range of prices for car and driver of 7000 - 8400 baht. We opted for the expensive one because the hotel had a relationship with that firm. The driver got lost and took 3 hours to make the 1 1/2 hour trip. The place we stayed at, also selected by the hotel, was a flea-bag 1-star place with a bathroom so dirty that we didn't shower in it. (I should have known for only 450 baht, but figured prices were simply a lot lower because of the rural area.) Though the hotel was only ten minutes from the floating market, the driver got lost getting there the next morning. The point is that the floating market is in such a rural area that it's difficult if not impossible to reliably arrange for minimally suitable evening accomodations unless you know someone who really knows the area. If I were to do it again, I would either use the typical tour (which I'm sure is fine for 99% of tourists) or go really early in the morning and hope for a more reliable driver. By the way, as bad as our driver to Damnuen Sudak was, our driver to Ayatthuya was fabulous. That is a good seque to ...

Ayatthuya or Sukhothai?
People often ask which to go to if they can only go to one. My advice would be to select Ayatthuya. It's much easier to get to (a day trip from Bangkok whether by private driver or tour) and offers more sites to see. However, if you're like my wife and me who did nothing but tour temples for two weeks straight and did not get "templed out," Sukhothai is a must. Make a point of seeing Wat Mathathat in the morning when the light is spectacular on the temple and the many Buddhas and chedis.

Chaing Mai Flower Festival
The festival apparently takes place in the second weekend of February. Be sure to verify the information before you make your plans and reconfirm it at least twice using different sources. The hospitality trade doesn't pay much attention to it (hotels don't raise their rates that weekend) and information is minimal at best. As an example, while we were attending it we saw an ad erroneously advertising dates for the following weekend.

If you enjoy parades and seeing how the locals respond to them, a flower festival parade is not to be missed! The floats are designed and constructed with amazing sophistication, made entirely of petals, seeds, and leaves that makes it the Thai version of California's Rose Bowl Parade. The parade takes on all of the local flavor. Access to the parade is intimate; if you're not careful, you'll get knocked over by the bass drum in one of the many school bands. The locals on the floats dress in traditional Thai costumes and all of the participants pause at major stops on the parade for easy picture taking. At these times, the tourists walk into the middle of the street to get their best view. Some tourists actually walk into the middle of the parade to have their picture taken along side parade participants. (That's an activity that I think is a detraction but describing it conveys the sense of intimacy, unlike parades in the U. S.)

A great place to view the parade from is the Tha Phae Gate. When the parade concludes, all of the floats are parked on a street near a park at the southwest corner of the old city.

You'll likely get a lot of misinformation about when the parade takes place. First, there are at least two parades, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. There might be one on Friday but I really don't know. Second, you might get information that the parade starts at 7:00am and ends at noon. The one we attended reach the Tha Phae gate at about 9:30am and concluded there at about noon. Few of the locals including the hotel staff know much about the details so plan to be persistent and patient about parade details. You'll be well rewarded. The parade was a significant highlight of our trip throughout Thailand.

Hiking
Kiew Mae Pan Trail in Doi Inthanon National Park -- This is a terrific loop hike and it's easy enough for casual strollers not using hiking boots or sticks. Allow 2 hours to include stopping, resting, and enjoying the solitude. The path goes through dense forest, across footbridges that cross streams, and includes a major section beyond the forest with sundrenched, cool-air vistas for viewing hilldsides and valleys.

NOTE: There is a lot of fundamental misinformation about this hike provided by the tour guides, drivers, information on the Internet and even by the park brochure. First, it's easy to get the wrong impression that the trail is not well marked, that you might get lost, and that the park requires that you use a guide. Not true! You couldn't get lost if you tried. Second, it's easy to incorrectly conclude that the hike ends at the two modern chedi rather than at that parking lot 500 meters up the road where the hike begins. Regardless of what you read, trust me that the hike ends exactly where it begins. You're even required to sign in and out in the same book.

KODAK PICTURE SPOT: In the non-forested part of the trail, there is an unmakred option to proceed straight ahead or turn to the right. Go to the right and walk the short distance to the end of that spur, a very short walk. You'll see a gorgious view of the two modern chedi. Retrace your steps on the spur to return to the original path and proceed on the original course which eventuially re-enters the forest.

MikeBuckley is offline  
Feb 16th, 2004, 10:34 AM
  #2  
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The "edit" feature didn't work for the above post. The following amends it.

Regarding the Waterfall Bar and Restaurant on Phi Phi Don, that's part of the P P Princess Resort.

Favorite Foods
Steamed fish (especially snapper) in lemon/chili sauce
Pork in curry/coconut sauce
Pad Thai with dried shrimp
Shrimp cakes (to die for at Gallery Restaurant in Chiang Mai)
Thai spring rolls (better than Chinese)
Duck medallions in red curry sauce
Green-tipped mussels in young ginger
Shrimp in tamarind sauce
Grilled fish and river prawns

Desserts:
Sticky rice and milk topped with longenan (sp?)
Sticky rice and mango
Tora in cocount sauce (served deliciously warm)
MikeBuckley is offline  
Feb 16th, 2004, 06:27 PM
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great report...i can't wait for my 6th trip in 10 years.....may 22....don't know your budget but i highly suggest the marriott resort and spa on the river for your next trip...its great and around $100 per day and worth every penny....
i was glad to hear a report on centre point...there was quite a lot written last fall about it but not too many details....

our general feeling is that you need a 4* rated place in thailand usually to avoid things that will ruin your vacation....all day you experience the travails that thais put up with everyday and so when you go home at nite you need to get back to what you are more used to...namely 4*....a 2 or 3* place is great in europe and the usa, but not in a developing nation...
rhkkmk is offline  
Feb 16th, 2004, 08:23 PM
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Great report - I like it when people give such detailed information. I have a question for you regarding your stay at Center Point Silom. How many beds did the room have and could it accomadate 3 adults or would we have to get an extra bed? How did you book this - direct to Center Point or through a booking agency? Same for the Rama Gardens. Thanks for the info.
bizzyb is offline  
Feb 16th, 2004, 08:42 PM
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don't know your budget but i highly suggest the marriott resort and spa on the river for your next trip...its great and around $100 per day and worth every penny

Bob, that's a kind thought and I'd like to offer some perspective about it. In order for the resort to be worth every penny, the customer would have to benefit twice as much compared to the Center Point Silom. That's because the Marriott is twice as expensive.

For those whose travel lifestyle is similar to that of my wife and me, the property is used almost solely to sleep at night. Because we don't make use of the resources provided by the more expensive places, the extra expense isn't justified. Instead of spending $100 at Marriott, I can spend $55 at Centre Point and give the other $45 to charity or do whatever with it.

My point is that the decision is not necessarily a function of budget; it's also a function of whether or not a customer makes use of the resources provided by a more expensive property. For the customer that does, I'm sure the Mariott and other places are indeed worth every additional penny.
MikeBuckley is offline  
Feb 17th, 2004, 09:52 AM
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bizzyb,

Regarding your question about the number of beds and accomodating 3 people, my recollection is that all of the websites offered the choice of one or two beds. (Because it was just my wife and me, we always selected one bed.) Most sites also offer the option of a bed (a cot?) for a third person.

Because the standard room at the Centre Point Silom is so large, there certainly is room for another single bed. Another option is that the third person could sleep on the sofa. (I didn't notice whether or not it is a sleep sofa.) A third option is that the Center Point Silom also offers 1-bedroom appartments, offering even more space for the third person to sleep in the completely separate living room.

The room at the Rama Gardens was a little smaller but would still be large enough to accomodate a single bed. It had no sofa so that option would not be available. On the other hand, I understand the deluxe rooms are significantly larger so that might be worth exploring.

When booking all of my hotels, I looked at multiple web sites of agencies and the site maintained by the hotel when available. (Many hotels book only through angencies.) The prices can vary significantly sometimes from site to site, so the hassle of looking up various sites can occasionally pay off by preventing you from being ripped off. There was a wide vareity of payment policies and whether they send a confirmation e-mail or a full-blown voucher, but I had absolutely no problems upon arrival or checkout at any of the hotels. I booked the Centre Point Silom at hotelthailand.com and Rama Gardens was booked through directrooms.com. But if I were to book them again, I would go through the procedure of looking at multiple sites.

If I didn't answer all of your questions, try me again.
MikeBuckley is offline  
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