Thailand trip report

Apr 16th, 2007, 11:41 PM
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Thailand trip report

Boarded Bangkok Air and we were back in luxury. The plane only one third full and we were given a Wai (praying hands greeting) and told be sure to move up to be comfortable. On this two hour flight (movie included with free headphones) we were given a light dinner and wine in coach.. Service, as others have said, was impeccable given by the beautiful flight attendants. We arrived very late and stayed at a fabulous Bangkok Airport Novotel Hotel with a huge atrium. It was marble, glass, and modern with a water channel of. changing colors running down the middle. The lotus theme continued with a giant one on the top of reception desk.
We left very early the next morning and they took us by shuttle out to the small plane bound for Chiang Mai, Thailand. We got a taxi to the Yaang Come Village( Thanks Kathie). The city was still Asian but had a little more order. Our hotel grounds had trees and lovely flowers and a nice open-air deck reception with lots of Thai decoration and colors. We wai-ed, were given a cool washcloth (scented) and a lovely lemongrass cold tea in a cup. We were escorted past the open-air restaurant and pool. Our room again was very large and everything was decorated with fresh flowers and green leaves (our silverware, bath towels, etc). We had a basket of exotic fruits.
I determined that we must see the 4 famous city Wats (temples} because we were heading out of the city the next day. We went out to the street front of the hotel and procured a red taxi, which consisted of a covered flatbed small truck with an open back and benches}. It was extremely humid and hot but we bargained for four temples that were in the city center and he would wait while we toured ourselves.
The first one we went to was the Chedi Luang. It was a large stone temple. Half the top had come down in an earthquake but it still had a row of stone elephants on the side. We went in a side temple building and saw the monk in the glass box. Now I had read they were wax figures but I swear that he looked at me when I walked in. The heat was getting to me! The second stop was the oldest Phra Singh. We were lucky as the monks were teaching the novices and we were allowed to watch and take pictures. It was really hot but I pressed on to the other buildings one of which had the most incredible paintings on the walls. The next temple Bupparam was unusual in that it had statues of animals like zebras out front, but the funniest of all was Donald Duck. I was staring to feel sick and my face was turning red but the last one was only a couple of blocks. There was an old teak temple building and a large soft serve cone-like white Stuppa and a very ornate temple. These were not open to anyone as there are many jewels inside.
When we got back to the hotel we had to sleep as the heat had drained us. When we awoke we went to eat at a very expensive and elegant restaurant called Rachmanaka that was not that good .The spring rolls were tasty but a little oily. G had beef in a clay-pot. I had something else and it was expensive. There was a Chinese musician played with mallets. We took a tuk tuk (motorized rickshaw) to the famous night market that lines the streets. Lots of fake stuff but the most impressive were the woodcarvings. They had many intricately (3-dimentional) carved jungle scenes with hanging banyan vines, trees with individual leaves all out of one piece of teak.
Breakfast was free today at our hotel and it was a buffet of Western and Asian cuisine. We had an hour or so to wait after breakfast for our tour car. We went out to the street and Ping magically appeared with his red cab (truck). We asked him to take us to the morning market (a food market) where I bought some lemongrass tea, some tissue paper decorations, and some chili paste. Our hotel arranged driver arrived and he asked what we wanted to do so I said we really wanted to see the famous Doi Suptep Temple But first I asked if he could take us out to the crafts village ( a shopping area with craftsmen working ). The craft street is government owned ……that is to say owned by government officials. He took us to see the gem and jade cutters, the handmade silk weavers, the lacquerware makers and the wood cravers. They were working the most amazing carvings of a village scenes, Thai mythical figures, Buddhas, elephants and flowers and the thin vines that run top to bottomthey were making for an someone in American for $20,000.
We arrived at the Temple complex, which lies 5500 ft above sea level in a tropical forest, which makes it pleasantly cool. Lining the railing of the steps up the steep steps to the temple are two long ceramic mosaic dragons and at the outer courtyard were a line of wishing The giant Chedi (covered in pure gold and dates back to the 14th century. The were 4 golden parasols represent the four directions. . I was getting overheated and tired so the driver took us to our villa (a private residence at the Four Seasons)The 4 Seasons is $375US and up but we only paid a third of that at the Lana Thai. (same same)
Our butler Nui greeted us and let us up our volcanic looking stone steps past statuary and other art pieces. This place is nicer or just as nice as the Four Seasons in Kona, Hawaii. When you enter our room from the carved double doors to your left is the WC and to the right a huge granite shower. There was a beautiful antique walk- in closet with its carved lattice tops and teak panels on the bottom, a curved vaulted ceiling,carved Chinese bed, teak floors and Asian antiques all over( like the desk in our turret study). There is a Lanai where you can lounge on the pillows or eat your breakfast. The huge front window has a view of the lush gardens. He gave us some ice-cold cloths with a lemongrass scent and some guava juice to refresh us and then we then followed him on a tour of the property. The villas surround a low area where there are rice paddies. From the reception area a steam flows into a waterfall below. At the center of the complex is an infinity pool but he said there was a shade pool near our room. We look at the hotel rooms, which were nice and were not quite as nice as our suite. We asked Nui for recommendations for dinner nearby, as the hotel is extremely expensive.. The place was on a pond and we got to eat on the pavilion over the water. We ordered the green papaya salad, a chicken green curry and the Pad Thai (noodle dish) It was all great. Sorry I don’t have the name .These places are ½ hour north of Chang Mai .I am one of those people that doesn’t really care for CM.
The next day was one I had been waiting for a long time…the trip to the Elephant Nature Park. The park van picked us up at 9:00 and inside was a European couple and a French girl from Canada. We headed north on the populated highway and turned off on a dirt road going west. After a while we started to go up in elevation. We passed a trekking camp and saw the poor slave elephants chained under shelters . We climbed higher in the van on some sheer cliffs and down below looked like minority type shelters with thatched roofs. The countryside was very dry and the underbrush had been burned. The people have been burning the hills to clear for crops like mango and bananas. It was not so nearly lush as the mountain we had just visited yesterday.As we drove in, the landscape and stilt huts with thatched roofs reminded me of pictures I have seen of Africa. We got out of the van and went up to the raised building compound, and its main building with a three-sided porch area with benches with a small simple gift shop in the middle. The eles came over to the porch, reached out towards the visitors Their enormous trunks on the decking looked like lounging anacondas. They know the drill and that it will soon be snack time.. Some had bells on of metal, bamboo or wood.
There was one adult girl with half a foot, a large male named Max who was old and walked very slowly and then there was the poor girl who had a broken back. The mahouts and volunteers had prepared each ele a baskets, with their name on it, of acorn squash, pineapple trimmings, and ears of corn. We were told how we were to offer the food or let them take it. The babies need to have the bananas peeled. I went around and fed a few but it was more fun to feed the babies. You could hand them the food or they will open their mouths and you can throw it in. One baby put the end of her trunk on my wrist and gave me a kiss.
The staff had prepared our buffet lunch and it was served upstairs in the open-air pavilion. There was a long table filled with platters of noodle dishes, rice dishes, a great curry chicken dish, sweet watermelon and pineapple. We ate at low tables on the floor on cushions. After lunch we changed into our swimming gear for bath time with the eles down by the river.
We were led off the porch and the girls followed along at a distance away with their mahouts riding. After the elephants were in the water we took buckets and gave them a good splashing and when they were on their sides we took our brushes and scrubbed their backs. The water felt good after the hike down to the river (not far) as it was cool and clear.
Then we had more education about how bad trekking is on the elephants and how in the trek camps they are not getting enough food because they are walking all day .A documentary video was shown about how they break baby elephants by nailing their ears to a tree. Our guide also told us funny stories as well like the one about the elephant that knew the people used the bell to locate her in the forest so she stuffed hers with mud and grass..
It was after six when we finally got back and we asked Nui to take us to another restaurant. He dropped us off at a place with a patio that had a pond and small waterfall. We ordered sweet chili sizzling fish, coconut curried seafood in a coconut shell and a pork Thai salad.
The next day was opted to rest at the beautiful resort. The bikes are free for the taking so we cycled down the road to an orchid farm. We went down the road and visited an orchid farm and a honey, beekeeping shop where we purchased some local brown rice. They grow rice here three times a year and our paddies at the hotel had grains on them. Then we took it easy at the shade pool and had a refreshing dip. At 4:30 we took the free shuttle bus down town only this time we were headed to the “Sunday Market”.
Sunday Market is a feast for the senses. As well as street vendors there are hundreds of food vendors. The grilled meats (satays) and sausages smelled delicious. I
had a chilled coconut water in the shell but we were afraid the chance the street food. The best part was the music. Blind street musicians were playing all kinds of instruments, there were little bands beating to a Indian style rhythm. Thai New Year is in a few days and the people are going to the Wats and placing colorful tissue paper lantern style decorations with the sticks in the ground.
As we walked west the giant red sphere sank slowly behind the misty mountain beyond. We walked to a nearby restaurant called the Huen Phen that was filled with the owner’s collection of antiques but basically it was a steel corrugated shed but I’m sure no one ever noticed. We ordered the pomelo(sweet grapefruit) salad and it came with sliced chilies which I inadvertently gobbled down before it set my mouth ablaze. G ordered chicken curry with green beans and I ordered the eggplant and ground pork. Mine was scorching and G’s was good actually. Greg was getting tired of Thai food as it was not that great.
Nui prepared us another great continental breakfast of fresh squeezed mandarin and fresh tropical fruits. One was a mangosteen., another a roseapple but my favorite was the rambutan, . Also we had freshly baked croissants. I could get used to having a houseman 24/7. If we needed anything we just rang a bell.
We left early for our flight to the island of Samui. We arrived to the mountainous island with many coconut palms. The water was Caribbean blue and there were quite a few other islands in the distance.. After we arrived at the Peace hotel we walked past the pool to the beach and there was a stiff breeze. There was a mix-up with our bungalow. Our first one had an open bathroom plus bugs,(they tried a switcheroo downgrade but the one we moved to was very new and nice. I really disliked this place partly because of the blue collar Germans that were so rude.( don’t flame me as I am a second generation) Sorry Bob.
We walked down to the hotel next door called the Bo Phut which was new and they were setting up tables for dinner on the beach. They invited us to stay for dinner buffet. This was a 4 star hotel for $350 (cheapest) a night so we figured dinner would be good. The way the buffet worked was you purchased salad bar if you wished and the meat (lamb, squid, lobster, fish) by the gram. The potatoes and rice and condiments were all included. The centerpiece of the buffet had the loved carved fruit I had been waiting to see. G was happy to get a westernized meal and he didn’t care how much it cost.(just 18 dollars for both of us). After our meal we walked on the beach and watched as people set cloth-floating lanterns adrift on the ocean breeze. They got smaller and smaller until they disappeared in a burst of flame. Oh, the southseas island. Nothing like survivor!
The next morning we went to the breakfast buffet and it was good except for the half cooked bacon so I pantomimed “could they cook it on the grill”. And after that I saw them put all the rest of the bacon on to cook.(light bulb time) The day before when I told them there were no screens in the shower just wooden louvers and that there were mosquitoes, they were so puzzled and had to come and look and feel….strange place and people. You have to know Thai culture and the all-important “don’t make waves philosophy”.
Massage is the big thing in Thailand.. I was the first one down at the pavilion for a morning massage (1 hour) and it was great and only 300 baht (9 dollars) so I also had a pedicure. The girls wondered how old I was (I wouldn’t tell) so they guessed I was 35 and said I had beautiful skin. Absolutely worth 9 dollars!
The airport in Samui is a collection of thatched pavilions with check in counters and seating and café and gift shop…all open to the air and noise. In the waiting area for Bangkok Air they had complimentary café with pineapple juice, homemade lemonade, and cookies and pastries…pretty sweet! We were fed n every flight even as short as an hour. Now it’s on to Bangkok.
On the taxi ride in we found the city to be big (10 million people),modern and clean. I I thought there would be more high rises here but this is not like Hong Kong. There are building a new portion of the skytrain to link the airport to the downtown. Arrived at the Sheraton Orchid and checked into the room on the 24th floor that has a great view of the river and boats. We also have a city view in the hallway. The hotel is nice and has two pools .Thanks Kathie….
We decided to try the boat to go the Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) a few stops down. It was nice on the river but stifling on land even though it was late in the day. From afar the Chedi was impressive and you could tell it was tiled with ceramic. The ticket taker we encountered next was far from friendly. We made it just 25 minutes from closing and had time to climb up the stairs and walk around. I’ve never heard of a Wat that you can climb and it reminded me of the Mayan Temples. When you got up close you could see that the decorative flowers on the façade were made of plates of broken china. They had broken the plates in the middle and made the sections into petals. It was a work of art.
When we got back to the hotel we were hungry and made reservation for Tongue Thai. THANK YOU Everyone!!It was a 10-minute walk away but I thought it would be fun to take the Oriental Hotel’s boat down to the next stop we disembarked at best hotel in Bangkok—the Oriental. Overlooking the water a lavish buffet was set out for the evening. The grounds were beautiful and we were impressed as we made our way to the lobby.
We walked around the block and found the restaurant, which was like many nice places we have in the states. There was only two other people there eating. They seemed to rush us a bit to order (maybe going home early?) so we ordered the fried banana flower, scallops with fried basil leaves, beef paneang curry and Mee Krob ( fried noodle with sweet chili sauce). Delicious light tempura, crispy basil leaves and the seasoning all perfection and not too hot. G. pronounced it to be the best Thai ever. The next day we were just about to leave to go to the King’s Palace when a little rain blew up so we headed next door the shopping complex called River City. Lots to look at here like silks, jewelry and expensive Thai antiques but nothing to buy… too expensive. We cruised on down in a packed boat to stop 8 on the river and walked through a small food market and onto a busy street with an air-conditioned café (as the sun was out). So we waited for the palace to open. Then we walked a gauntlet of touts on the most touristed street in Bangkok. Everywhere but worse here are the drivers asking,” Where are you going, where are you from”, They also wave and follow you and try to start up a conversation. G.thought they were just helpful and friendly. I was getting a little sick of them harassing us by now. One man stepped out pretending to be a guard and said the usual,” where are you going”. I said boldly (to usher him out of the way), “Across the street.” The books say the touts will try to tell you that the wat or palace is closed today for a ceremony etc and try to get you to go somewhere in a tuk tuk. I KNEW THAT……
After we got the tickets, we entered a glittery golden world. As you turned around you could see the famous fierce guards from the inside, two for every gate. The first thing we noticed was the huge layered golden Stupa. It was very sunny great for pictures but I was melting….. Glass mirrors and the colors: blue (power), red (happiness) and yellow were everywhere. You could hear the tinkling of bells at the top of the eves. They were renovating the main Bot (temple) and it had scaffolding and fabric covering it. Inside was a golden over the top display with the Jade Buddha. He was a very small Buddha for the building. There was surprisingly a lot of greenery inside the compound. Then we walked over to the Kings old palace and it lovely bonsai trees, which were 120 years…How did we know that? You will see.
After we were done at the palace we stopped by the air-conditioned café to refresh ourselves. A nice looking man came in dressed in a uniform with an official pin. He struck up a conversation and in the course of a few minutes told us he was the head gardener for the palace and two other sites and that he was the over seer for 250 people. He was educated and spoke excellent English. He told us how he had traveled to other countries but in 1999 he was denied a visa to the states. This puzzled him. At any rate he told us that Wat Po was under restoration and not that beautiful right now(which was totally true) about a Wat not far away that was only open once a year and that it held the burial site for the ashes of the some of King’s family. He said that we should see it as it was beautiful and had semiprecious etc. inside .At the end of the conversation in passing he recommended we visit the King’s Lapidary shop near the King’s residence So we hopped in a taxi and Mr.? Said,” Take them to Wat” and they haggled over the price. It was all so elaborate and convincing.
When we got to the Wat there were a line of cars out front and we met a man by the gate who was surprised to see us. He couldn’t figure out how we knew about this place and we told him about the gardener…He than gave us a tour of the complex and was telling us that he was in charge of the restorations of some of the building. Totally convincing. He said that he monks were having an ordination type of service and that in a few minutes they would be closing the door. He helped us with our map and noted the mark that the gardener had left for the King’s Laparity and said that we should go there to eliminate the middleman and save money. Blah, blah, blah…..Like fools our interest was piqued and we bit…when we got there we realized that this was an expensive, high pressure place. We didn’t buy anything of course. Anyway I think it was all a long way to go for a 60 baht ($1.80 taxi ride especially if they had to split it 4 ways (gardener, restorer, taxi and shop) I guess it was the long shot for big jewelry money they were hoping for. G thinks it was all the truth, enjoyed the ride and the tour, but I was not happy when we ended up in the rain on the other side of town during rush hour…so120 baht ($3.20) down and a couple of hours. Can’t believe we fell for it. So beware travelers the scams are getting more sophisticated!!!!
That evening the concierge sent us to eat around the corner to The Gallery as Harmonique was closed for a month. It was a very nice place with great Thai food. We ordered the hot and sour soup with prawns, green curried soft-shell crab, sea bass with garlic slices (lemongrass, chilies, ginger etc) and fried rice with Chinese sausage (very sweet). It was all very hot and delicious. Mine didn’t stay down long as like fools we ordered medium!
Today we headed back up river to the Wat Po. I was really disappointed after seeing the palace. This Wat was in disrepair and I would only recommend it for a quick visit to the giant reclining Buddha. We took pictures of the golden Buddha and it’s elaborate feet with their inlaid mother of pearl figures.
I then made a fateful decision to go to Chinatown. We walked up to the street market and it was only good if you were in the market for jewelry or fancy hair clips. At the bead shop and everywhere else they would not bargain with us and just laughed. I was getting annoyed. They alley was covered…. sort of… Halfway through there was a thunderstorm. It rained buckets and people scrambled to cover their products .The alley became a little river and we were soaked from the knees down (even though we had an umbrella). When it cleared we went to a two-storied shopping plaza called Siam Square. There were silk shops and tailors but in the middle was a food court with stall in the middle. It looked very clean and there were lots of sweets. I bought a steamed cupcake and some little sweets made of sweet bean paste and flavored with almond. They were painted to look like vegetables and fruit (peach, eggplant) and coated with a shiny gel. I was still alive.
. We were so tired that we decided to eat at hotel restaurant…big mistake. Mine was not great. G. had a T-bone steak but the fries were good.
Next day was a shopping day. We took the boat to the skytrain and bought a day pass. We got off three stops up to go to the Jim Thompson Outlet. It was an overrated rip-off (Ties were $40) IMO sorry. The street near the famous Patpong (red light district) was deserted. Next the Siam stop.It was Song ran festival and one guy had a fire hose so off we went to the skytrain and headed in the Siam Paragon department store. G was hungry so we went to the top floor to eat Lebanese food. It is an amazing store. Then we walked along the skywalk to the Thai government crafts store. Stuff is so expensive here. You really need to know your prices and quality well. My impression of Thailand is that tourists are easy marks and after a week I was wise and weary of the constant barrage. I advise other newbies to not speak to anyone near especially the palace.Thanks for the great restaurant suggestions!!!

hypatia is offline  
Apr 17th, 2007, 03:56 AM
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What a wonderfully detailed report! Thanks. You get bonus points for three things. First, dismissing Bob. Second, aprreciating the Royal Orchid Sheraton. Third, the Gallery Cafe.

How did you book the suite at Lanna Thai outside CM? It sounds great.
Gpanda is offline  
Apr 17th, 2007, 07:20 AM
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Sorry it was so long!!I love you Bob ...the ocen bungalowa had a great view!..

.You can book online for the Lana Thai.It has two suites one with tub and one without.Best place I ever stayed and is an extremely good value.
hypatia is offline  
Apr 17th, 2007, 07:40 AM
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Wonderful detail -- so enjoyed your report. It really brought Thailand back to me. Thank you !
jenskar is offline  
Apr 17th, 2007, 08:24 AM
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not sure if you in fact had a good time or not...

thailand becomes much easier each time you go have to learn the ropes...even after all the warnings here on fodors and elsewhere it is very easy to fall into the tourist traps...

we just laugh about the touts and keep going....early on we were taken in a couple of times...

you did not like peace?? our beach front bungalow was fantastic and we really like the people who run the place... did you only go to samui for one day??
rhkkmk is offline  
Apr 17th, 2007, 08:52 AM
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we did have a great time at times but I have to admit the heat was unbearable at times and the money oriented society got to me...I've been to Mexico and the islands but they dont compare to the lying and cheating going on in Thailand.It put a damper on things so to speak for me.We probably tried to do too much,didnt speak any Thai and were "green" yes next time would be better...
hypatia is offline  
Apr 17th, 2007, 09:43 AM
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i have yet to find a society that is not money orientated....have you found one??

in the case of thailand i have choosen to view it as enterprising....

also one question: what did you find lux about bkk air?....i find it pretty basic---nice but basic...
rhkkmk is offline  
Apr 17th, 2007, 11:00 AM
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As far as the Samui,we live in Florida and are not beach people.We went there because there were no connections to Bangkok those couple of days.It was lovely.We would have done the snorkling in the park had we stayed longer.

Bangkok Air? the service and food on a 2 hour flight....
My BF(I love her) is from Taiwan and she is all about making money,talking about money,pinching pennies,very enterprising...She is very wealthy... She's not so much about the good things like living well(the French or Italians) or values.She is changing and has started to travel and finally building a home. When she goes back she finds she doesn't quite fit in anymore..
I just find that ironic in the Buddist society. IMO offense to anyone intended...I guess I was missing the romance and I'm might say I wasn't hooked like I am on Europe.(to each his own)
Did you check out the HK and China report?
hypatia is offline  
Apr 17th, 2007, 12:12 PM
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I'm glad that some of my recommendations were helpful.

We all have such different experiences! Your experience of it all being about money in Thailand is just the opposite of mine.
Kathie is offline  
Apr 17th, 2007, 01:13 PM
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Hypatia-my sense of the Thai people is exactly the opposite of yours. Thailand is one of the very few places where I don't feel as if my wallet is my best personality trait. There are of course exceptions, but they are centered around the main tourist destinations.
Gpanda is offline  
Apr 17th, 2007, 01:18 PM
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Mee too, andy. What keeps me coming back to thailand is the people. Sure there are the "touts" and scam artists around some of the major tourist sites but that is pretty much a world wide problem and one I am much more understanding of in a developing country than I am in places like Rome or Madrid.

But overall my sense is that they care less about the almighty dollar than most americans. I've often said that I am probably the poorest person to stay at the Oriental and yet I am treated as well as all the big shots -- maybe even better.
glorialf is offline  
Apr 17th, 2007, 01:50 PM
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Way better, Gloria.

Gpanda is offline  
Apr 17th, 2007, 02:24 PM
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i'm with bob i thought bk air was average, but maybe we just had a poor experience....
Smeagol is offline  
Apr 17th, 2007, 03:09 PM
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I guess when it is your first time bangkok may seem money oriented- especially around the tourist spots.

That said, I don't think that Thais are particularly money oriented; especially compared some other countries in Asia and India.

lcuy is offline  
Apr 17th, 2007, 03:20 PM
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Thanks for the report....I guess we all can't fall in love with Bangkok. Got to admit that the heat is a killer and I live in Hawaii so it should not have affected me the way it did.

I stopped going to Europe for all the same reasons you give about Bangkok....after a few visits everyone there seemed to have their hands out or literally in your pockets or backpacks or both.

Thanks for being so honest. Really enjoyed reading a different point of view....very refreshing!


hawaiiantraveler is offline  
Apr 17th, 2007, 03:25 PM
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Gotta agree with everyone here, that the Thai people do not strike me as being hungry for money at all!! I have many Thai friends, and it has nothing to do with the money in my pocketbook! My Thai friends are very sincere in just being my friends.

It's the Thai people that impress me the most about Thailand.

simpsonc510 is offline  
Apr 19th, 2007, 03:14 PM
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I didnt think my report was negative but I guess you all can read between the lines.I had such high expectations of Thailand (wanted to go my whole life)and low ones of Hong Kong and I enjoyed HK more.
Our experiences are so different sometimes..Gloria, I went through the Oriental 4 times and all the times I was followed and asked "do I need help" in such as way that the girls do in a shop that don't want you messing up the stuff.There was a sign saying "only for hotel guests"and finally the last night I said, "I just had dinner here!!" I've been to the most expensive hotels around the world to visit and was never made to feel unwelcome elsewhere...

In Asia I was physically accosed by an old woman, followed,scammed and harrased.In Jim Thompson five sales people hovered over me like vultures consequently I bought nothing...At the beginning we just laughed but it just cumminated in Bangkok ...I did meet some lovely helpful people as well.I have come to the conclusion that there are beatuiful enjoyable places (hotels) everywhere and if you want to experience a different culture a poor, touristy place is not necessarily all that enjoyable ..I think people need to be prepared for it is all.
hypatia is offline  
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