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Trip report - Zinders honeymoon in Thailand/Cambodia

Trip report - Zinders honeymoon in Thailand/Cambodia

Nov 11th, 2007, 02:53 AM
  #1  
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Trip report - Zinders honeymoon in Thailand/Cambodia

So many people on here helped me plan this trip, so I thought I'd give back with some thoughts from our honeymoon. Plus, I'm jet-lagged!

We chose Thailand/Cambodia for our nearly three-week honeymoon, with stops in Bangkok, Siem Reap, Chiang Dao (north of Chiang Mai) and Phuket. Lots of people have asked me if these countries are really “honeymoon” destinations. I would say yes, if you are looking for more of a cultural learning experience instead of simply lying on the beach. We were very busy touring on many days, so we didn’t have that “do nothing” mentality that many honeymooners want. In any case, we were fascinated by Asia (first trip for both of us) and can’t wait to go back.

We started our trip by taking the non-stop direct flight to Bangkok out of New York. We had bought preminum economy seats and tried to use the “honeymoon plea” to get upgraded – no dice (we found that it got us very few perks in Asia). They did give us the bulkhead row – great for my 6’5 husband – and we found that we had plenty of room. Didn’t sleep much as we were too excited. Thai Air does give you three meals during the flight so you won’t go hungry – quality was a step above the food you get on other airlines.

Day 1 – Bangkok. We arrive around 4 p.m. The driver from the Shangri-La was there to greet us. Once we get to the hotel, the clerk suggests upgrading (at our expense) to the KrungThrep wing as there is a big conference in the other wing. We decided to do it and are very happy we did so. Our room was spacious and had a balcony on the river. Great way to start out the honeymoon! We tour the hotel…love the pool and garden area (although we ended up not having enough time to use it). In short – if you book here, you won’t be disappointed. We are too tired to do much other than get a foot massage from a store near the front of the hotel – for about $8 US, we are in heaven! I immediately vow to get a massage every day of the trip, a promise that I very nearly keep.

Day 2 – Bangkok. We go down for the Shangri-La breakfast buffet and are impressed with the variety of the selections (this starts an overeating trend that continues for most of our trip!) We have booked Tong for two days in Bangkok, but today we are on our own. We grab a map and take the Skytrain to the Jim Thompson House. The Shangri-La is right on the Skytrain line and we find it very easy to use. We enjoy the architecture at Jim Thompson, the tour by the site-required docent and have a coke in the gorgeous gardens.

After Jim Thompson, we go into the MK shopping complex. What a trip! It’s exactly what I thought an Asian shopping mall would look like, with seven floors crammed with all kinds of stores and kiosks. It’s a little overwhelming for actual shopping, however, and I quickly get a headache. We meander along the Skytrain line, getting off for various shopping. We go into Gayson mall, which has very upscale brands, as well as Siam Paragon.

On our way back to the hotel, we venture upon the shrine outside the Erawan Grand Hyatt and take a look. This is our first experience watching people make merit so we’re a bit confused by the offerings of jasmine, marigolds, incense, fruit and the like. (Reason #1 where it’s great to have a guide). I am dying to have tea at the Oriental Hotel, so we finish up our first day of sightseeing by sampling both the Thai and English high tea in the Author’s Lounge. We then collapse in the hotel.

At night, we decide to venture out to Patpong, just to see what the fuss is all about. We’re underwhelmed by all the touts asking us if we want to see ping pong shows. And I hate fake handbags so the stalls don’t have much to offer. We leave and go down a side street to find Eat Me, a restaurant recommended in my guidebook. It’s a hip place, filled mostly with Westerners and trendy Thais. We have a snack and exhaustedly find our way back to the Shangri-La.

Day 3 – Bangkok. This is our first day with Tong so we meet up with her in our hotel lobby at 8 am. I had booked her on the recommendations on the Fodor board, and she really lived up to her billing. Tong is a dream! I would place her in her late 30s, very bubbly, great personality. She’s also a former journalist, a bonus for me as I’m in the news industry, and we had lots to talk about.

Many people have asked me if you really need a guide in Bangkok. I would say that one is essential if you know very little about Buddhism or Thai culture. Tong’s explanations put everything that we had seen the day before into context, and in our two days with her, we received a foundation in the culture that helped us the rest of the trip. Sure, I could have read the guidebooks, but it was much more fun to learn about things on the spot (and it really helped my husband, who had done very little research before we left). Good value for the time that she puts in – about 3,000 baht per day, not including admission fees and other costs (boat trips, train tickets, etc.) And she does have a great personality – so if you haven’t booked her for your trip, try to get on her schedule! ([email protected] she’s booked through the rest of 2007 and into 2008, however!)

Our time with Tong starts with a trip to a temple, where we receive our first course in making merit. Next, we had intended to go to the Grand Palace, but as the river is going to be closed later in the day for a dress rehearsal for the king’s barge procession, Tong recommends taking our Klong boat trip first. So we head out to the water for a tour that lasts about 1 ½ hours. We really enjoy this part of the day – sociologically, it allows you to see parts of the city that you can’t imagine from the road. And I’m fascinated by the “spirit houses” that people place outside their homes for former occupants…I tell my husband that we’re going to get one when we get back.

Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha. Wow! I had worn capris that fell below my knees, but these weren’t long enough: you really do need to wear ankle-length pants. Tong is a great guide for the complex: she steers us around and gives us the full story behind this amazing collection of structures. I’m fascinated by the history; my husband is more intent on taking photographs. We probably stayed there close to 3 hours. Definitely recommended as a crash course on Thai history.

Wat Pho. A short tuk tuk ride away from the Grand Palace. Tong tells us that the Reclining Buddha is her favorite, so we are set for something spectacular. And wow, is it ever! We are in awe of how huge the Buddha is. We get some coins and make merit in the buckets alongside the Buddha. Tong tells us that it’s good luck for newlyweds to make the wishes together, so we have fun with that. We spend another 30 minutes or so walking the grounds, where she explains the Chedis to us.

We are starving at this point so Tong brings us to a Thai restaurant near Wat Po where we see no other tourists. We ask her to order for us, just to see what she selects (my husband likes food that is really spicy; me, not so much). Our resulting feast is delicious and satisfying – and under $30 for the three of us.

Tong suggests going to see another temple, but we’re a bit templed out (and I’m dying for another massage!) So we go to the masters at the Wat Pho school, in an air-conditioned building that the temple runs not far from the site. It’s our first traditional Thai massage and it’s a bit brutal, especially for my husband who had only had Swedish massages in the past (and his masseuse was a big guy!)

Tong drops us off and we immediately collapse. In retrospect, this would have been a good night to take advantage of the hotel’s fabulous pool, but we’re way too knackered. As Tong has a packed day for us tomorrow, we go to bed early.

Day 4 – Bangkok. We meet Tong in the hotel lobby at 6:30 a.m. Our first stop is the Floating Market outside of town, although she does take us to a lovely temple along the way. As we pass a “cat museum,” we stop for 15 minutes (I love cats). This museum is allegedly trying to “save” Thai cat breeds. It seemed dirty and mismanaged to me, but I did like playing with the kittens.

The Floating Market. Tong grabs us a boat with a paddler, not a motor (there is a difference in how you experience the market with these different boats, I think) and we set off on an eating adventure. Everything that Tong selects for us is yummy and I laugh myself silly when she orders my husband a soup that is too spicy for even him to eat. It’s raining a bit, but we don’t mind as we float down the canals, throwing leftover food to stray dogs on the bank.

Tiger Temple. Tong tells us about the disputes involving the place – that the tigers are drugged, that the monks are too commercial, etc. – and she tells us to make up our own minds. I was just excited about petting the tigers! (My husband was much more cautious and asked many questions, just to make sure his new wife wasn’t going to lose an arm!) When we get there, it’s obvious that Tong is a regular and that she knows how to work the system. She positions us so we’re first to play with the tiger cubs and we have a ball petting them. Then she makes sure that I’m first in line to walk the big tiger down to the canyon. I pay the extra 1000 baht to get my picture taken with the tiger’s head in my lap – well worth it for the sensation as well as the shock value back home! We are there for about 3 hours, playing with the sunbear, the tigers and other animals.

River Kwai. It’s another hour to get here, so we stop for lunch. Again, Tong does the ordering and we love all of the dishes (although I can’t eat the tom yam soup because it’s way too spicy!) Tong tells us the story of the death railway, which I had never heard before, so we’re solemn as we take a half-hour trip along the river. We arrive at the River Kwai bridge and do the requisite walk across it. By this point, we are exhausted, and we sleep in the back of Tong’s car (she thoughtfully puts on Norah Jones) until we get back to Bangkok around 7 p.m

Summary thoughts on Bangkok: On our first day, we were a bit underwhelmed and thought the city seemed crowded and overwhelming, with very little green space. After some time with Tong, however, we were able to appreciate the city’s hustle and were more curious to explore. We wish that we would have had another day actually in the city on our own, to do some shopping and see some other sites such as Wat Arun, which we only glimpsed from the water (and to actually use our hotel’s fabulous pool!)

Coming up next: Siem Reap with Dara/Ponheary
zinders is offline  
Nov 11th, 2007, 04:39 AM
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Hi Zinders! I'm reliving our trip earlier this year via your trip report - I would guess the restaurant near Wat Pho was Coconut Palm? Tong wrote out an order for us to take there one day when we weren't touring with her - it was terrific.

Looking forward to Siem Reap!
Elizabeth_S is offline  
Nov 11th, 2007, 06:02 AM
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Zinders-
Excellent report! I return to BKK and SR in a couple of weeks.
I've never used a guide in BKK but have Tong booked for a day to go to the floating market and Tiger Temple.
We're also going to SR to spend time with Ponheary. I've been before but my mother (my travel companion for this trip) has not.
Can't wait to read more!
Oh, I'll be flying PE on Thai as well. How were the seats? Did they seem significantly better than in Economy? How was the entertainment system? I can never sleep on planes so I like to watch movies...
Kristina is offline  
Nov 11th, 2007, 10:31 AM
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great report....i love it...glad you enjoyed tong....

i found your initial impressions of bkk interesting as many of us regulars forget our first visit...each visit makes it more special...

looking forward to your next section..

bob
rhkkmk is offline  
Nov 11th, 2007, 01:19 PM
  #5  
jgg
 
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Really enjoying your report as we have a similar trip planned for March - only we won't be on our honeymoon but travelling with our 2 kids=). Really enjoyed hearing about your days with Tong as we have her booked for two days as well - although we will have that extra day after to explore on our own.

Looking forward to the next installment.
jgg is offline  
Nov 11th, 2007, 01:26 PM
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Join Date: Aug 2007
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Hi Zinders
Your report is making me soo excited. We are leaving for Thailand in Jan and have Tong booked for 3 days at Chinese new Year. Glad to hear you had a great honeymoon. Looking foward to hearing about Siem Reap. We are also going there but we haven't booked a guide.
skittle is offline  
Nov 12th, 2007, 04:18 AM
  #7  
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Kristina - It did look like PE had more room than economy. Try to get the bulkhead seat when you check in - then you get even more room. Even my tall husband, who complains about legroom on nearly every mode of transportation, was happy!

will post more asap...have to go back to work after a month off today. not happy!
zinders is offline  
Nov 12th, 2007, 04:48 AM
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Z-great start to the report. Tong is a treasure. We're going to be with her for a day later this month. It will be our second adventure with her. Penalty avoided.
Gpanda is offline  
Nov 12th, 2007, 05:36 AM
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Join Date: Apr 2005
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Great report... Tong is really great.So glad you enjoyed your time with her. Looking forward to the rest...
sharon1306 is offline  
Nov 12th, 2007, 08:59 AM
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Tong sounds like a great resource. We are going to be in Bangkok for several days in June 2008 so we would have time to arrange things. Zinders - when you say 3000 baht per day, is that total or was that per person? Based on the cost of some of the full day tours you can book on various websites (many of them run at least that per person), it would seem that for the two of us even if we need to also pay for entrance fees, the 3000 would be a great deal. Especially given the great service and experience you got.
jcasale is offline  
Nov 12th, 2007, 09:16 AM
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Great report - anxiously waiting to hear about your time with Ponheary and Dara.
Craig is offline  
Nov 12th, 2007, 10:21 AM
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The 3000 is complete for Tong. There will be added costs for admission, meals and perhaps donations. There is no per person charge. She is a bargain.
Gpanda is offline  
Nov 12th, 2007, 01:24 PM
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yeah, we felt tong undercharged. we tipped accordingly!
zinders is offline  
Nov 12th, 2007, 11:07 PM
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tagging
offwego is offline  
Nov 13th, 2007, 08:21 AM
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Tong sounds like a terrific bargain. I will be contacting her soon to get on her calendar for June !

Can't wait to see the rest of your report. It sounds like you are going all of the places that we are and you sound like the same kind of "Type A" traveler that we are. Thanks for posting.
jcasale is offline  
Nov 14th, 2007, 01:19 PM
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Day 5 – Siem Reap. We take an 8 a.m. Bangkok Air flight from Bangkok, arriving at Siem Reap around 9:30. We are amazed at how new the Siem Reap airport is, but it could use some signage, as there is confusion as to which line to stand in first when you go through immigration. We walk out and our driver from Bopha Angkor is waiting for us.

On the short drive to Bopha Angkor, we pass a bunch of brand-new hotels that have been built for the city’s increasing tourist trade. The luxury stands in markedly contrast to what we’re seeing on the street, which are lots of people on motorbikes, regular bikes, tuk tuks, etc. You can instantly tell that cars are a luxury here; even though the new hotels are impressive, you know that you have entered the Third World. At the same time, we are happy to see the green space in Siem Reap proper – the park outside Raffles, the trees along the river, etc. A nice change after Bangkok.

We arrive at Bopha and settle into our room. Dara and Ponheary tour in four-hour segments to beat the heat of the day (8 a.m. to noon, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.), so we don’t have anywhere to go for a while. We have an upstairs room right by the pool, with its own deck. The room itself is spacious, with a nice bed that has mosquito netting and a sitting area. The bathrooms are a little Spartan –no luxury here, but overall we are happy with our accommodation. We go to the hotel’s restaurant for lunch and are very happy with the quality of the food.

Dara picks us up at 3, and we head out to Angkor Wat complex. I am pleased to see that the place not only has the Western tourists that you’d expect, but many Cambodians as well. Dara tells us that the people of Siam Reap treat the Angkor Wat complex as a park, and frequently come out in the afternoon for picnics, family gatherings, rest and solitude, etc. Because we’re there just as the rainy season is ending, some of the active temples at the complex are having services, so we see many monks as well. There’s something very cool about seeing the monks, with their bright orange robes, up against the ruins!

Dara tells us that to avoid the crowds, we’re going to start off with Angkor Thom, which most folks see in the morning (conversely, the next day we will visit Angkor Wat in the morning). This is the temple that has all of the faces on it. On the way there, we pass by the area where people feed all of the wild monkeys. It’s tempting (and lots of Cambodian children are there, selling bananas to tourists), but we heed the advice that our travel dr gave us before the trip and simply snap photos.

It can be tough to keep all of the temples straight (there are more than 300 in the whole Angkor Wat complex), but I’ll do my best. Simplistically, Angkor Thom is the one with all of the faces, and it’s quite large, encompassing the Bayon, the Terrace of the Elephants and many others. We tour Bayon and go through a couple more (I’ve forgotten specifics, of course). Dara likes photography, so he helps my husband get the best shots.

It is deathly humid so I am not sad when it is time to leave. How humid is it, you may ask? So humid that the acrylic nails that I put on for my wedding are starting to melt! After a shower, we venture down to Pub Street and are a little amazed by the carnival atmosphere going on – definitely backpacker central. If you can’t beat em, join ‘em, we say, and we have a slightly tipsy dinner at Dead Fish Tower. (Food was only ok – I don’t necessarily recommend this place). We decide to get a foot massage after dinner and are less than impressed – while the simple massages off the street in Bangkok were nicely done, here the girls use basic soap and little technique. We decide to hold off on foot massages until we’re back in Thailand. Obviously, we're exahusted after such a long day.

More to come...
zinders is offline  
Nov 14th, 2007, 01:47 PM
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I'm enjoying your report. Thanks!
Marija is online now  
Nov 14th, 2007, 02:11 PM
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Day 6 – Siem Reap.

Our breakfast at Bopha Angkor gives us a choice of Khmer, western or Asian. After trying them all, I would recommend the Khmer, which is a sunny-side-up egg atop of fried rice. Yummy. Ponheary is right on time and we set off for Angkor Wat.

It’s hard to find the words to describe Angkor Wat; it’s impossible to do the place justice. Let’s just say that you know when you are there that you are at one of the man-made wonders of the world. The carvings are so intricate; the scope so immense. Not to mention the sense of history that pervades the place, from the 9th century carvings to the near-recent bullet holes where Khmer Rouge fought the Vietnamese.

Ponheary is a thorough and knowledgeable guide, although she’s not as on-the-surface perky or entertaining as Tong. (Her sense of humor and smiles emerge the next day, when we go with her to visit the school that she works with). I preferred her to Dara, although Don missed having Dara’s photographic eye.

It takes us the entire morning session to go through Angkor Wat. By noon, we are dying from the heat and I see the wisdom of always booking a hotel with a pool when traveling to Asia. Our midday break is refreshing, and I actually have a chance to start reading some of the fiction I brought along. A friend recommended Bangkok 8 by John Burdett, and I wish I would have finished it before I went to Bangkok – immensely entertaining! Definitely put it on your reading list if you are going there. I also take advantage of the Thai massage that is included in our room rate. While it’s not as good as the one we received in Bangkok, it is delivered in a cool boat-shaped outdoor space not far from the pool.

We go back out at 3 p.m. I think we may have seen another temple before this (the smaller ones blend together in my memory) but the main agenda item is Ta Prohm, more famously known as the “jungle temple.” This is the one where huge banyan trees are engulfing the building and crushing the walls with their roots. Don is excited, as he’s seen countless pictures and can’t wait to see it for himself. And, well, I’ve seen Tomb Raider so I’m looking forward to it too.

On the way in, we hear some musicians playing some haunting music. Ponheary tells us that we’ll see them periodically around the complex; they are victims of landmines. Once we get to the temple, it’s packed with tour groups. There’s a lot of maneuvering to get the same shots, although no one is obnoxious about it. We easily spend a couple hours here, marveling at the trees.

Ponheary asks us if we want to join the hordes who walk up the hill to watch the sunset from one of the temples. Don is tired; he says that he’ll do it if I really want to, but I can tell that doesn’t. So we decide to check out the “golden hour” light at Angkor Wat instead. See what a good wife I am!

That night, Ponheary books us seats at an Aspara dance show at Kowloon; we end up in nearly the front row. We aren’t impressed with the buffet (I am not, as a rule, a buffet fan), but do enjoy the dancing. I think I can even pick out some of the Hindu stories that Ponheary told us earlier in the day. We make it an early night, as Ponheary is picking us up at 7 a.m. the next day to visit her school.

Still more TK...
zinders is offline  
Nov 14th, 2007, 02:30 PM
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Lovely report, thanks! Can't wait to read about your school visit!
Tim_and_Liz is offline  
Nov 14th, 2007, 03:19 PM
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Join Date: Nov 2007
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Great trip report! Loving it! We are also considering Bangkok for April 2008 so loved reading about your time there. We are also looking at staying at the Sh-La... The KT wing looks more like a Club/Executive Lounge-style area.. is that correct? If you don't mind me asking, how much more was it to upgrade to the KT wing when you checked-in?
Kooba is offline  

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