Friday, March 11, 2011

A Double Dose of Bangkok

I am long overdue in posting this but the reality is, once we left Thailand, we had very limited internet access for the almost three weeks we were in India. The link to all of my Bangkok photos is embedded in this post's title.

Bangkok Part I: 21-24JAN2011

We decided to stay in Sukhumvit for our first three nights in Bangkok. During my research, multiple sources had mentioned that the popular backpacker haven of Khao San Road was not near any SkyTrain or subway stations although it was a reasonable walk to the river and express boats. Plus, many of the most recommended budget places were fully booked for our dates. Surprisingly, many of the most popular “hostels” were also quite expensive, with a private double ensuite averaging well over $50 per night. We ultimately chose to book a room in small hotel, City Lodge Soi 9, which was conveniently located adjacent to the Nana SkyTrain station and a short walk to Soi 11 which has many bars, restaurants, a large grocery, etc. Our modern, clean and comfortable room complete with A/C, cable TV and minibar plus a large bathroom (with a tub!) was $43 per night including free in-room wifi and American breakfast.
reclining Buddha at Wat Pho
A few notes from our first stay in Bangkok:
  • I like that they have hand sanitizer spray at the SkyTrain security checkpoints
  • Ate dinner at a cafĂ© on Soi 11 (a 24 hr diner) but 640 ml beers were 140 baht vs. 44 baht at the nearby grocery store
  • Enjoyed exploring The Temple of the Emerald Buddha (located within Wat Phra Kaew) and the Grand Palace but you can’t go inside most of the buildings. Also checked out The Pavilion of Regalia, Royal Decorations and Coins.
  • Wat Pho and it’s huge reclining Buddha is fantastic
  • Ate lunch overlooking the Chao Phraya river - cheap pad thai (50 baht)
  • Took a ferry to Wat Arun but was terrified to climb the almost vertical stairs to the top (it was even worse going back down!)
  • Took a boat to Phra Arthit to explore the area around Khao San Road. Wound up getting haircuts for 130 baht each. We also stopped in a pharmacy to inquire about something random. The pharmacist spoke good English so I asked for her opinion on Greg‘s foot problem (which has not healed); she ended up giving us a thorough, and completely different, diagnosis than anyone we have spoken with previously. As I write this over one month later, he’s 100% better.
  • Walked all the way back to the SkyTrain at National Stadium. An interesting, but very long, hot and not always particularly safe walk as there were often no sidewalks.
  • Ate green curry at Gallery Restaurant on Soi 11 - spicy and more authentic than in U.S.
  • Took the SkyTrain to the weekend-only ChatuChak Market. Amazed at the enormity of the market when viewed from the train. Noted the rainbow colors of Bangkok’s taxis. As we weren’t actually shopping for anything, we focused our attention on the pet section which did not disappoint. I never knew there could be so many shops selling pet clothing!
  • Walked along Dusit Park to Vimanmek Mansion (free entrance was included with our expensive Grand Palace ticket). Entry was timed and you are required to go with a guide but the tour groups were too close together so we couldn’t hear anything. They also have a strict no electronics policy, you can‘t carry any bags with you and you have to take your shoes off and walk barefoot through the mansion. Interesting but probably not worth the effort to get there.
  • Took an express boat to Chinatown. Enjoyed exploring the alleyways off Yaowarat Street. Most shops closed by 6 pm but the street itself comes alive with food vendors.
  • Ate dinner at Hua Seng Hong - noodles with shrimp dumplings and roasted duck, sweet and sour chicken, beef with oyster sauce, 2 large Singha beers (550 THB = $17+, a bit expensive but delicious!)
  • Walked to the main train station (Hua Lamphong) to catch the subway back to Sukhumvit. It (the subway) is very modern and clean.
  • Took a quick walk through the red light district known as “Soi Cowboy” (between Sois 21 and 23) - pretty tame but gaudy
  • Saw no sign of any political protesters although we read in the news that there were protests on Sunday 23JAN
  • Took the overnight 2nd class sleeper train to Chiang Mai - had 4 berths but only curtains, not doors on compartment; our car was kept very clean by sweepers; only squat toilets but had toilet paper and soap
Soi Cowboy

Bangkok Part II: 17-19FEB2011

We decided to stay in Silom this time around. Centrally located with easy access to the SkyTrain and subway, it is a short ride away from Central Pier (river boat access), Siam Square (shopping malls) and Patpong (nightlife). As we had already visited the primary tourist sights during our first stay, we were focused more on the convenience factor (and overall cost) than anything else. Some of the highest rated places were still over $50 per night, but we eventually found a few options for just under $40. We decided to stay at Om Yim Lodge, a simple, locally run affair at the foot of the Chong Nonsi SkyTrain station. I had requested the cheapest room, which would have cost around $30 per night, but was not available. On arrival, we discovered we had been upgraded to the largest room on the top (4th) floor, but were still only charged for a mid-category room, around $36 per night. A simple continental breakfast (eggs, toast, juice, coffee/tea) was an additional 50 baht per person.

Despite our best efforts, we did not get to go to the Forensic Museum at Siriraj Hospital due to the Buddhist holiday, Magha Puja. I was looking forward to the gory displays of murderer’s embalmed corpses, abnormal body parts, and other intriguing medical artifacts. :) Not to mention the whole city seemed to empty out that night (a Friday) -- an eerie feeling in hectic Bangkok. Stores were prohibited from selling alcohol for that 24 hour period and since we were “thirsty” we had to pay twice as much for beers at our hotel.
interior of MBK mall
We spent the better part of our last two days in Bangkok staying cool in shopping malls and roaming around Patpong. We were pleasantly surprised by the low prices and multitude of choices in the mall food courts. We thought about watching a movie at one of the VIP theatres but they weren’t showing anything we were particularly interested in. We ate a wide variety of foods in two days: Chinese food one night, decent steak at the mall, soup and sandwiches from one of the ubiquitous 7-11‘s found on every street corner, and a one good Thai meal.
Greg eating lunch at Santa Fe Steakhouse
On our last night in Bangkok (and in Thailand), we went to the Baiyoke Sky Hotel’s 84th floor outdoor revolving observation deck for a sunset view of the sprawling city. The tower is currently the tallest building in the country and one of the world‘s tallest hotel-only buildings. A ticket to the observation deck including one drink at the “Rooftop Bar” cost 250 baht per person or $8. Compared to similar venues in the U.S. (Top of the Rock in New York City is $22 per person as of this writing) or the Shanghai World Financial Center (150 CNY or $23 per person), this is quite reasonable. And you get the added bonus of an adult beverage to calm your nerves!
view from the 84th floor observation deck at Baiyoke Sky Tower
All in all, I actually liked Bangkok a lot more than I expected. With its excellent public transportation options (although the river boats spew fumes and pollute the water and don‘t appear to be entirely safe), friendly people, interesting sights, yummy food, diverse neighborhoods, rich culture and more, I might consider living there for a while if it wasn’t for the HEAT!!!

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