Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (
-   Asia (
-   -   Trip Report -- Thailand in February (

chicago999 Mar 10th, 2006 03:55 PM

Trip Report -- Thailand in February
We’re back from our 2+ weeks in Hong Kong and Thailand and thought I’d try to write a trip report as a gesture of thanks to all of you who’ve done the same in the past! As others have said many times before, this site was SO helpful. I think this report will be most worthwhile for first-time visitors. I say that because Bob Kathie Gloria, your advice was invaluable but can’t imagine that I’ll have any new info for you. But I know how much you all love Thailand and I carried all of you with me in spirit, that’s for sure. Hope you enjoyed :-)

This trip was more than a year in the planning! I was literally on the computer searching for flights on Dec 26, 2004 when the tsunami hit the coast of Thailand. We had originally planned to visit in February ’05 but were afraid that was too soon after the disaster. We really wanted to bring our tourist $$ to the country, plus reading this board made me more and more interested in going, so instead of going somewhere else we waited til Feb ’06 to take our trip. It was everything we expected, and more!

We stopped in Hong Kong on our way from Chicago to break up the trip, and to ease our way into Asia. I’d visited Japan and HK before, but my husband had not. This way, by the time we got to Bangkok, we were both rested and prepared to hit the streets. Or so I thought. It didn't quite work out that way but that's a story for later.

My first story begins before we even left the ground in Chicago. United Airlines really got us off to a bad start. We were oh-so-comfortably seated in our upstairs business class seats awaiting take off, sipping orange juice really starting to get excited about our journey, and fully appreciating our roomy seats, when a gate agent came upstairs to tell us that we had to move to Economy. WHAT? YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING. It was true, we had upgraded our Economy tickets with miles, and when UAL oversold the flight, they bumped us, literally right out of our seats. They said they had two passengers who had paid full fare Business Class downstairs, and they were very sorry but we had to go. Well you can imagine how mad we were, I won't even try to describe my emotions. We were asked to "discuss” this downstairs with the gate agent’s supervisor (who had a security guard behind him). We really lost the battle then, we never should have left our seats, but who wants to make a scene in front of other passengers? We argued that we had made our reservations, and had confirmed seats, 7 months ago. They would not budge. Unfortunately we are not frequent United flyers anymore, so we had no leverage, and the only thing they would offer is that we could fly the next day. Well, that was tempting, but that would have screwed up our whole itinerary. In the end, they relocated several other Economy passengers in order to give us 3 seats for the two of us (OH BOY did we get dirty looks from those poor souls) but I was so upset I am sure they could tell we weren’t exactly happy campers either. Oh, and they did give us an upgrade certificate, which at the time felt absolutely useless.

When they told me that I’d have my miles back in my account by the next morning, I couldn’t resist asking if they could transfer them to my American account :-)

Well we put this behind us as soon as we could, which took a couple of hours, a glass of wine, and a lot of deep breaths. Needless to say my husband (to be referred to as Ken from now on!) mailed a letter to the CEO the day we came home.

Has anyone ever heard of this happening before???

laurieco Mar 10th, 2006 04:34 PM

Chicago, while I haven't personally heard of this happening, it doesn't surprise me. United sucks, but, to be honest, American is no better. I've had my issues with both American and United and have written to the CEO's of both. I'm currently deciding whether to sue American in small claims court but wondering if it's a waste of my time. I think it really stinks that they would kick you out of your seats for some last minute passenger who pays full fare so the airline can make a few extra bucks. It just goes to show how U. S. airlines don't give a hoot for their passengers. If I were you, I would send letters to the CEO and cc them to United's customer service departmant (an oxymoron if I've heard one).

Craig Mar 10th, 2006 04:43 PM

Unbelievable-if it's any consolation, you will be able to use Mileage Plus miles for upgrades on Star Alliance partners in the not-to-distant future so you will be able to upgrade on Thai and Air Nippon and others shortly. In your situation, I would have never given up my business class seat until I was physically dragged from it.

laurieco Mar 10th, 2006 04:47 PM

Sorry, I see you've already written to the CEO. Good move.

Kathie Mar 10th, 2006 05:41 PM

Yipes! That is frightening! On our last trip (we always upgrade using miles) we were re-assigned from our business class seats side by side, an aisle and a window, into middle seats for both of us. I wouldn't have minded if they had kept us together, but was pretty annoyed. It was for the long leg of the flight - Seattle to Narita - so we couldn't even talk to each other. The gate agent made a comment like, "you're lucky you're in Business Class," intimating that they could have moved us to economy. When I made my reservations this year, I asked before reserving the seats whether our Business Class upgrades were guaranteed (or whether we could be bumped) and was told that our seats were guaranteed. Now I'm not so sure...

Sorry you had such a bad beginning to your trip.

rhkkmk Mar 10th, 2006 08:03 PM


so now we have heard the bad so it will be all uphill from here....anxious to hear the good things...

fyi...we had a delta problem some years ago in mexico....i wrote the CEO and after a month or two received a very nice letter from him....we had had assistance from the assistant staion manager in mexico city so that helped i am sure as i could refer to our interactions with him...

so what did we addition to a speedier return home from mexico the CEO sent us each 40,000 FF mile and a voucher each for $400....that sealed it...i use delta as often as possible now....but of course it is almost useless to asia..

wishing you a similar outcome....don't hold your breath however

rhkkmk Mar 10th, 2006 08:03 PM

oh by the way we were delta newbies and our seats were cheap coach seats

LA_FadeAway Mar 10th, 2006 08:06 PM

United Airlines is the absolute worst. After they screwed me over multiple times, I boycotted them for several years. I've only flown them a couple times since when I basically had no choice. They're so bad, that there is an entire web site dedicated to people that have been screwed over by them. Check it out:

mise Mar 11th, 2006 03:14 AM

I'm so sorry that you had such an unfortunate start to yur trip.
Let's hope it didn't spoil things for you.
I'm looking forward to your report.:-)

DonTopaz Mar 11th, 2006 05:24 AM

It must have been tremendously disappointing for you, and trying to figure out the best alternative on the spot would be next to impossible. I don't know for sure what happened, of course, but my best guess is that you got bumped for federal air marshalls. If that's the case, then it's up to you to decide whether or not UA made the best of the situation. (UA would certainly have had to seat the air marshalls in the location that they wanted, and upstairs in a 747 would seem like an likely place.)

Gpanda Mar 11th, 2006 06:07 AM

You clearly handled this atrocious situation with far more grace than I could have mustered. I would have been apoplectic. One wonders how you were chosen to move as opposed to the other passengers in your class.

I look forward to your report.

chicago999 Mar 11th, 2006 07:14 AM

Well Rizzuto that's certainly a consoling thought -- that we were bumped for air marshalls. Hmmmmmm...

At any rate the drama was over by the time we yawned our way into Hong Kong. Let me get on to the good stuff now!
Our 18-day Itinerary
With help from this board, I worked really hard on our itinerary and ended up being perfectly satisfied with it, with one exception: you’ll see that we had limited time in Bangkok. But I made that sacrifice knowingly, and upon reflection I would not have taken any days away from the other places we visited, so given the amount of time I ahd, I was happy overall. We wanted to move around a bit, but not TOO much, so we did not go over to Laos or Cambodia (Angkor Wat) given our limited time, and I did not regret that either. And I HAD to a few days for relaxation at the beach, that was a must.

Here’s how the itinerary worked out:
Day 1 and 2: depart Chicago and arrive late afternoon (the next day) in Hong Kong. We stopped over in HK to break up the trip, to recover from jet lag, and to ease ourselves into Asia (this was a very good move especially for my husband, who had not been to Asia before.)
Day 3 and 4: Hong Kong
Day 5 and 6: early morning flight to Bangkok, leaving a day and a half for sightseeing, plus one more day at the end of the trip. (I stressed out over our limited time in Bangkok because I know it offers wonderful sights and meals, and if there was anything I was disappointed about it was this, because my husband ended up feeling punky enough that we holed up in the hotel a bit. Had he been feeling good, this would have been just barely enough time for us, given our priorities.)
Day 7 – 8 – 9- Flight to Chiang Rai, going directly to the Anantara Resort (Golden Triangle) which is near Chiang Saen. Stayed in that immediate area for three days, enjoying the resort’s activities, the nearby town, and the Hall of Opium Museum.
Day 10 – 11 – 12: Hired a driver and guide to take us north and west to visit the border with Burma, Mae Salong, Hilltribe villages, and ending up in Chiang Mai. We spent one night along the way at Lisu Lodge, and 2 nights in Chiang Mai at Rachamankha.
Day 13: Travel to Beach resort via Bangkok
Day 14 – 15 – 16: Koh Lanta, staying at the Pimalai
Day 17: early flight to Bangkok, with time to do more sightseeing there
Day 18: fly home

chicago999 Mar 11th, 2006 07:22 AM

So here's some more detail on the trip>>>>
We arrived in HK about 6 PM and easily made our way through immigration and customs. What a WONDERFUL airport! We went straight to our hotel, the Intercontinental Honk Kong (formerly the Regent) which was perfect for us. (I should say upfront that for us, the hotel is a big part of our enjoyment and pleasure of a trip. I generally prefer not to stay at US chain hotels, if there are other good options. And there definitely are, in Thailand. We like quiet hotels without big groups, and don’t need nightlife, I loved every place we stayed.)

We were greeted outside by the staff, then taken directly to our room with floor-to-ceiling views over the harbour to HK Island. We were practically on top of the Promenade which looks over to the Hong Kong skyline. It was easy to take the ferry across to HK Island and visit the Central business district, Stanley, etc. Staying on Kowloon was a tad quieter, which we liked, but that is probably because we were right on the water (and I mean RIGHT on the water in this hotel). Anyway, as soon as we checked in (in-room check in, by the way, as opposed to standing downstairs in the lobby), they brought us some tea, then we went down to the lobby to watch the fireworks and laser show, put on by the city 3 or 4 nights a week. We made our way down to the Promenade which was jammed with tourists there for the show. We had a light dinner at the lobby restaurant. (Harbourside, recommended on this site, was only buffet, too loud and crowded, and too much food for a late dinner.)

More to come....

rhkkmk Mar 11th, 2006 07:24 AM

so to the have set us up nicely now.....

chicago999 Mar 11th, 2006 07:48 AM

Day 3 I started the day with a bath to soothe sore muscles from the plane (I’ll never understand why sitting for 15 hours makes your muscles sore!) By the time I got back from a walk with a Starbucks for Ken, he had turned on the TV only to see the kick-off of the Super Bowl. Were we really in Hong Kong? You certainly can’t call this culture shock yet! Later that morning we took the Star Ferry over to HK island and walked around Central, then up to the mid-levels. Loved the hustle-bustle of the streets. Lunch at TOTTs in the Excelsior Hotel (great view, great buffet) then took the tram up to Victoria Peak to do the scenic walk. Avoided the indoor mall-type thing up there. Lots of construction noise as they work on the new tram terminal. We enjoyed the views but we were both dragging so we headed back to the hotel, where K worked out and I relaxed.
Dinner was a disaster! The concierge recommended (at my request) a nearby regional Chinese called HuTong, in One Peking Place. The strange menu (fish jaws?! And that was the least of it) and standoffish staff made us happy to go back to the the hotel for dessert and coffee. Great people watching in the lobby bar, then another early night so we could get rid of our jet lag.

chicago999 Mar 11th, 2006 07:51 AM

Day 4 Our second day in Hong Kong was spent in Stanley. On my previous trip I’d avoided it because I don’t like flea market –type places, and that was not far off from what we saw there. BUT it is a lovely little seaside town with a row of little café-type restaurants, a little harbour (they are building a promenade which should be lovely) and a perfectly delightful town square. We visited the Tau Nin shrine (she brings good luck to the fisher-folk) and lit incense there (maybe she’ll bring us good luck too!) A cute old lady who was tending the shrine took our pictures.
We wandered along Nathan Road before dinner, but we were put off by the aggressive store vendors and touts. A different way of retailing, I guess, but not to our liking.
Dinner was wonderful, up in the mid-levels at a place called Scirocco, on Staunton Street in SoHo overlooking the escalator (which everyone uses to commute from their job in Central to their home in the mid-levels. It’s officially the world’s largest escalator!) We were early enough to watch a steady stream of commuters heading home after work. Delicious meditteranean food – warm brie and roasted garlic; greek salad; risotto croquettes; and prawn.

chicago999 Mar 11th, 2006 03:33 PM

Day 5 – Up at 5 am to leave for Bangkok! Now the trip really begins! Easy flight on Thai Airways. I worked on our itinerary for the day, working through a LONG list of things to do that I developed from this board. We were delivered to the Oriental, which is almost beyond belief. Elegant and IMO just BARELY shy of pretentious. The staff is overwhelmingly attentive if a bit robotic. We had a lovely lunch at Bin Sala Nim across the river (included in our special “Seasonal choices” room rate). It’s brunch style so we got to try a lot of different things; all I can say is that I had never had such good Thai “staples” like fried rice, pad thai, spring rolls.
For our first outing, we took the water taxi to the bridge and got off to walk through the Flower Market on our way to Wat Po. Unfortunately, Ken began to feel increasingly ill – from the food, the heat, the boat trip, the smells at the market…. By the time we got to Wat Po, he was really feeling punky and we had to head back. We made the mistake of taking a taxi, even though the water taxi isn’t far from there. The taxi just seemed easier. Well, what a mistake! Having done my homework (but not learned my lesson) I leaned in to say “do you have a meter” and the driver acted as if he couldn’t hear me. By the time I crawled in far enough for him to hear me, and to realize that (of course) he didn’t have a meter, Ken was in the car too and, well, against all advice, we stayed. We negotiated the fare but of course when you tell someone you’re going to the Oriental then you can’t expect to get a bargain rate, and I felt like a jerk arguing over pennies. Then naturally traffic was awful. My poor husband just wanted to get to a bed! So when we finally got there, he fell into bed and slept for 14 hours. I felt sorry for myself for a while – I had so many things on my list of things to do! But after a swim at the lovely pool I scolded myself (Shame on you! How dare you feel sorry for yourself for being abandoned at a place like the Oriental!)

And, now I had a reason to call the butler and see what he could do for us! Ken had slept through turndown so when I came back to the room around 7, I called to ask for the service (mostly because the bedcover and pillow covers were sort of mysterious and seemed to need an expert. When he arrived I explained that Ken wasn’t feeling well and I really expected the butler to convey (at the least) some sympathy and (even better) an offer to get us something: fruit juice, aspirin, tea. He did not even acknowledge my explanation, just provided us the standard turn-down service. Ah well.
So, to end the day, I treated myself to a martini and dinner at the riverside restaurant – delicious bbq duck curry- - then went to bed early, hoping for a better day tomorrow.

Day 6 – This day, we had a guide arranged to take us on a khlong tour and to the Grand Palace. Nat was a delightful girl, with excellent English. First she made me change my clothes – she wasn’t sure if I could wear capris to the Grand Palace. We headed out on a longtail boat, up the river, but the tide was so high that day that we were unable to go into the smaller canals. We made do on Bangkok Noi, then went to the Royal Barges Museum along the way. Very interesting to see the barges that are used for royal processions. Nat gave us lots of insight into how much the people love the King, he’s 78 and in poor health. The people seem to respect his daughter more than the crown prince, but she was careful not to say too much. Just that it is possible, though not likely, that the king will make his daughter the Queen on his death! After visiting the Grand Palace (a sight to behold, despite the crowds) we went back to the hotel, Ken still hadn’t eaten much and wasn’t up to par. He had some consommé and then we treated ourselves to massages – he, because he’d been having a lot of leg cramps after that long crummy plane ride, and me because I decided I simply deserved it if I couldn’t be out sightseeing! It was a treat to have the treatments together, in the same room. I did a Thai massage – a little tiny girl was my masseuse but boy oh boy she was tough! I had to ask her twice “softer please!” and finally, after the loud popping sound in my left cheek (the cheek you sit on, that is) she got the message. Fortunately – really fortunately – I wasn’t hurt badly but whatever muscle she pulled while stretching my leg back is still a bit sensitive when I stretch! Ken loved his abayhangha massage
I had to cancel our reservation at China House due to Ken’s stomach issues, but we did take the Peninsula boat across the water for a drink before we ate at the Italian restaurant at the Oriental (good comfort food for Ken. It was fine, nothing remarkable about it.) To me, the Penn is slick, but lacks the SE –Asia feel that I so enjoyed at the Oriental. I’m sure the service is equally good at both places. It was also a bit deserted.

By this time I think we had used our only two Thai phrases (Sawadee and Khup Khun Kha, which is Hello/greetings and Thank you) about a million times. We were even starting to pronounce it correctly, I think, or so they told us. I can’t even begin to imagine how many times we said Thank You during our time there, because the service is so incredible.

Day 7 - 8 - 9 This was one of the days that the protestors were gathering to try to get rid of the Prime Minister, Thaksin. We were glad not to have to worry about the traffic caused by their demonstrations. We took a morning flight up to Chiang Rai. Very pretty country up there – tropical landscape, but sort of hilly and misty. The people are more Chinese looking, very very friendly at least at the Anantara, where we stayed. Many of the waitstaff are Burmese or from the NE area of Thailand. They speak a different dialect but fortunately for us, the words we knew – all four of them -- seemed to be the same as what we learned in Bangkok! As others have said, the Thai really appreciate when you learn their words, even though they all understand basic English phrases like Thank you and good morning etc. etc.

We spent all three days in and around Anantara and the Golden Triangle. Thoroughly enjoyed their cooking class (I was the only student that day) and even more, the elephant camp, which is part of the Thai Elephant Conservation Foundation. The six adult and two baby elephants have been rescued. In fact a 2-year old baby had just arrived a couple of days before us, wounded in the back legs from a traffic accident in Bangkok. The mahout training is awesome, if I'd known how well they treat their animals I'd have booked in advance, but I didn't. So, instead, I enjoyed vicariously, watching the four others who were signed up. I did get to help with the river bath the elephants get mid-afternoon. Loved this part.
About Anantara: The rooms are really lovely, large, comfortable, all with nice views to the tropical forest outside. Lots of birdsong in the morning and at night. Lovely pool, nice bar/lounge area to read, have a cocktail, relax. Nice spa. Friendly, friendly people especially as compared to the Bangkok service (who were respectful but more distant and citi-fied.) They are trying to deliver really great service; for example, you have a choice of seven or eight types of pillows. Seriously!

We were quite disappointed with the food at Anantara, and it’s the only game in town. Very expensive and just OK quality.

Days 10 - 11 - 12 We hired a guide and driver for three days to take us from the Golden Triangle, over to Lisu Lodge, visiting hilltribes along the way, and finally to Chiang Mai. I was glad we worked the time in to visit the hilltribe villages; I was fascinated that the Thai Government has been so hospitable to them over the last century, giving them Thai citizenship, free education, and lots of assistance helping them establish ways to make a living without growing opium and/or cutting down all the teak trees. The Akha and Hmong seemed to be poorest and least industrious. I bought some embroidered fabric just to support their handicrafts. The Yao and Lisu seemed to be in better shape -especially the Lisu. They immigrated to Thailand in the late 19th or early 20th century from S. China. They teamed up with a large tour operator, Asian Oasis, to create a small lodge that simulates their village life. The lodge is managed by the Lisu villagers. They make and serve the meals, clean the lodge, etc. And the children entertain you after dinner with some dancing. It is eco-friendly, with hot water powered by solar energy. There is one main room with six double rooms and small bath in each building (there are three buildings) Mosquito nets, no air conditioning, very simple. Traditional seating on the floor for meals though they served us at built-in picnic tables under the same roof. The kids are darling, the twenty-something boys who served the meals and seemed to be in charge were really sweet. Very clean despite the spare furnishings. It was cool and comfy, with rooster wake-up calls beginning very early. And you’re helping out a village!

We really enjoyed Chiang Mai, it is a kinder gentler Bangkok. We did traditional tourist stuff: elephant trek, handicraft village, Queen Sirikit botanical gardens, and of course Doi Suthep. Spent lots of money at the Orchid Jade Factory.
We stayed at the Rachamanka. This is a wonderful alternative within the walls of the old city of Chiang Mai. Many others stay at The Four Seasons, which I understand is incredible, but it is about 30 minutes outside the city. There is also the new Mandarin Oriental, which we visited for lunch, and felt it was over the top. The architecture mimics a wat in Lampong which I personally find distasteful, though it is certainly stunning. There seemed to be lots of groups there, and the hotel is vast.
Rachamankha has lovely grounds, indoor and outdoor seating in the restaurant (we sat outside for every meal, it’s set in a nice courtyard), a very nice pool. Peaceful and nice, understated, architecture is a combination Thai and Burmese. A good value. It’s fun to walk across the street to the nearby wat.
Also went to the Cultural Center for the traditional khantoke meal and Thai dancing. Not recommended.

Day 13 - 14 - 15 - 16
We headed south now, Pimalia Resort, Koh Lanta. Pimalai is hard to get to, and that is definitely a benefit in my book. After a 45 minute drive from the Krabi airport, they take you on a 45-minute boat ride to Koh Lanta. It’s a very unspoiled area, with just a few fishing villages and the sea gypsies along the way. The resort is built on the hillside and though it is reasonably big, you never feel crowded. The beach is almost always deserted or has just a handful of people on it. You can walk the beach from end to end in about 15 minutes, a decent walk. We had a fantastic room, we splurged on a Pavilion Suite (with a bedroom and a living room.) Very secluded, lots of privacy even with an outside shower! The smaller Superior rooms are higher up on the hillside. There are only four Bayfront deluxe rooms, which is what I had originally wanted; these are in a nice location and are surely a better value than our suite, but we sure did enjoy our rooms. Great access to the beach.

The people were great, really great. If you are looking for a quiet resort you can’t go wrong. We didn’t venture off the grounds for three days and we were happy as clams.

Day 17 - Our last day in Bangkok, and it was a Jim Thompson extravaganza. I am not a big shopper, but when I walked into the little shop at the Jim Thompson house my jaw dropped. I said to Ken "let's get the tour over with; and then we're going to the big store." I loved loved loved their textiles, and did a lot of damage in a couple of hours. Only wish I had more time! We also enjoyed lunch at the Cafe at the JT House.
We finished our trip in true Oriental style: with a wonderful martini at the Bamboo Bar, followed by the (expensive) riverside buffet. The lights twinkled on the boats, the food was delicious, and we had a glorious evening.
I was really sorry not to try Tongue Thai! But I was enjoying the food so much more than Ken, and I just had to pick a place that we both would like, not just me.

Next morning, back to the airport for our flight home, via Narita, holding our breath and crossing our fingers that our "confirmed" business class seats would be really be ours. They were, and we smiled all the way home. :-)

rhkkmk Mar 11th, 2006 08:13 PM

great report....thanks so much for doing it...

bangkok is awaiting your return!!

Kathie Mar 11th, 2006 10:17 PM

Great report! Glad you had such a good time.

DonTopaz Mar 12th, 2006 04:59 AM

Thanks for the brilliant report, <b>chicago999</b>. Great writing, great eye for interesting detail.

The InterContinental in Hong Kong might be my favorite hotel anywhere: the service and facilities are wonderful, but the view -- THAT VIEW!! -- sets it apart from anywhere else I've stayed. I'm often torn about where to stay in HK -- I find the streets and neighborhoods on the HK Island side to be much more interesting and hospitable, but the sight from the IC at night is a magnet. (By the way, the HK IC also has a terrific spa, and a massage there after a day on the gritty streets is an indulgent tonic.)

It is unfortunate that Ken was laid low for a time in BKK, but your choice of a fine hotel certainly paid off. (Bad enough to feel horrible, but far worse to feel horrible in a crummy room.)

Hope that United adds plenty of miles to your accounts for the nasty downgrade, and that you'll be able to make another trip (in comfort) soon.

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 03:39 PM.