Delightful Thailand – My Stay At Windsor Hotel
Delightful Bangkok – My Stay At Windsor Hotel
It is the week after New Year, my regular lodge on Sukhumvit Zoo is full, and by accident I land in the Windsor Hotel in soi 20. The Windsor Hotel is the discount outlet of the much more expensive Windsor Suites next door and also called "garden wing"; maybe at one point in history they did actually nurse a few bushes there. At 2,470 baht per day, including breakfast buffet, Windsor Hotel is way above my usual budget, even for Bangkok. But paying by credit card causes no immediate pain, so I will take a curious look at a more expensive place.
They ask if I want one big bed or two small ones. I opt for one big one. I do not ask the lovely receptionist if I may bring a friend along. But I get only one breakfast coupon; upcountry, they often dish out two coupons, even though I explicitly check-in "alone".
At 3 AM one night, after dancing our socks off at Muzzik Café, I bring home charming new friend Khun Gop from Mukdahan who would like to see the MP3 Thai music collection on my laptop; the nightshift security sleeps, and the reception is empty, so nobody cares for the new guest. When Gop and I walk out next noon, we use the elevator on the eastern side of the building that bypasses the lovely receptionist. And the regular doorman, who usually loves to teach me Isaan-Lao, now just flashes an amused and somewhat acknowledging smile.
The room is spacious and has a linoleum floor imitating oakwood – still better than a smelly carpet. The window is wall-to-wall, but not floor-to-ceiling. The "one big bed" is not that big, maybe 1.40 meters wide, maybe they see it as a single bed. One window segment cannot be fully closed, because the steel frame is bent; this gives me extra street noise in the night, but no mosquitoes. The room faces straight south and gets really hot also with curtains closed; unfortunately, the air condition cannot be remote-controlled, and the main switch is far away from the bed; it is quite noisy even on the lowest level. The elegant, but smallish bathroom has a tub with a shower head on a hose; no separate shower cabin. Hot water comes out with good pressure.
The fridge features free drinking water; Coke is 90, Heineken 140 baht. The room also sports a cotton-clad scale. "This one might look fine in my house", I ponder… but the nasty unashamed thing claims I gained weight again, so the plan to steal it is abruptly cancelled.
Windsor's laundry prices are outrageous, 130 baht for a trousers etc. I just come back from a 1000-baht-hotel in Phitsanulok, where the laundry menu featured several services with one-digit-prices, and nothing exceeded 30 baht or so. I only wear cheap stuff from Bangkok's Pratunam Market, from Phnom Penh's Russian Market plus the ugly Christmas presents from my mother. Washing my cottons at Windsor is more expensive than buying new outfit daily; or I could do laundry flights back to my cheap washing mecca of Phitsanulok.
Windsor's soi 20 is no help either: It features not one single useful "Laundry" sign (maybe Windsor Suites bought all of the laundry shops there). Walking out of the hotel, there are always a few taxi drivers barking and gesturing at me as if I were a buffalo; I wouldn't take these rude blokes even if I needed them.
Soi 20 is also useless otherwise. There are no economical internet access centers, no nice coffee shops between hotel and Sukhumvit road, no travel shops. The lane boasts two German restaurants, but who would swallow Wurstl and Sauerkraut "Bei Otto", when the whole town is full of gorgeous Thai, Indian and Italian food? Where the soi connects to Sukhumvit, you pass through that most typical subbiotop of Sukhumvit Zoo – tailors and massage shops. They all display their wares on the pedestrians' walk (ties, suits, ladies); tukuks and their obnoxious drivers fill up the last free square centimeters; so you have to walk on the road, where frenzied taxi drivers overrun you and then graciously offer you a ride to Hua-Hin.
From soi 20, you CAN walk to Asoke skytrain station and the underground station there – but it is a lengthy hike along boring walls (no more slimey turbaned tailors lurking, though). And walking to skytrain station Phrom Phong (near Emporium) seems even longer and more boring. I end up taking motosai taxis a lot, and mostly they drive at hairraising speed along Sukhumvit's pedestrians' walk, honking away scared strollers – annoying not only for the pedestrians, but also for the passenger.
On my restless pothole research in Bangkok, Windsor's inconvenient location at soi 20 is a problem: I do less shower trips back to the hotel than with a room next to skytrain; thus, I save my very last organic Farangland shampoo and my last fresh shirt, but not face. Because of the lack of economical internet and travel shops in the hotel's vicinity, I later do hotel and airplane reservations by mobile phone, which is more of a hassle (and always I first dial their fax line).
The Key-Card (1)
I got a key card with no room number on it; so I keep my number on a paper in the wallet, in order to avoid awkward mistakes. After ten minutes of trying, I actually manage to open the door with the keycard: Shove the card into the slot, then OUT again, then wait for the green light, then press the handle. Inside the room, put the key card into the slot in the wall to get electricity.
All electricity is turned off when you take the key card out of the slot to leave the room. So first I think I can't recharge digicam, mobile, laptop or shaver in absentia; but luckily I have a glossy business card of PN Motors, my motosai renter in Phitsanulok; that piece of cardboard fits well into the keycard slot and keeps the room wired. On another occasion I use one of the Lipton tea bags that the hotel provides with the water kettle; the tea bags fit into the key card slot – so finally we know one thing you can do with Lipton tea. And thus, I can keep the keycard in the wallet at all times; no worries that I leave the card in the room and lock me out. One day I return to find the room chilled down to zero degrees, aircon and all lights turned on: The cleaning girl had put a 1-2-call phonecard into the room key slot and forgot to take it out.
Breakfast takes place in the Windsor Suites' coffee shop, where small plastic tables are lined up in long, even rows reminiscent of central Belgium district hospital canteens. This place is enclosed, forget al fresco breakfast. Large parts of this coffee shop do not see much daylight. Now who would like to start the brandnew day in gloomy halogene light – as it seems, a lot of German speaking tour group members would.
The breakfast buffet features good cooked Asian food, including delightful unoily items, while the bread section is weak as usual. They have corn flakes and choco flakes, but no muesli; yoghurt comes plain or with fruit, either way too sweet. One tourist tries to order "freshly squeezed orange juice" from the waitress; I can understand his yearnings: the default orange juice bubbles in one of those transparent plastic tanks, you wouldn't pour it to your potted yucca.
Still, Windsor's breakfast place has it's highlights: Except for one unlucky day with a horrible war movie, they turn on neither TV nor music. Better yet, when I order a cup of "half coffee and half fresh milk", I get half a cup of coffee along with a pot of hot steamed milk which I can add to the coffee to my liking. It is the first hotel breakfast in Asia where I am not forced to use cold fresh milk. They remember my faible for milk coffee from day 2 on.
On my very last morning, they have a brand new waitress with a stunning smile: "Sawadee KHAAAaaa, wootchoo like coffee or tea, sir?" – "Oh, half coffee and…" She has not only a stunning smile, but also a very short skirt with a pair of legs to match, and I lose my vocabulary for a moment: "Half coffee and, ehm…" – "…Half coffee and half tea, sir?", she smiles, nodding enthusiastically. – Talk of fusion cuisine.
Right now I torture my laptop under palm trees next to a sexy curvy poolscape – amidst dito ladies from Japan, USA and even Thailand. Where is that? It is not Samui's Amari Palm Reef Resort, it is still the Windsor complex in Bangkok! Because even if you stay at the cheaper Windsor Hotel, you can use the facilities of the Windsor Suites, including the open-air pool on the 14th floor. Actually, even if you stay in the much cheaper Premier Hotel on the other side of the soi, or if you sleep under the Nana skytrain stairways, you can still simply walk in and take a dip.
In the morning, the shadow of the huge Windsor Suites building looms over the pool area. After 11.40 AM the sun heats up not all, but most parts of the water place – happily welcomed by the poolside population who stretches out in the blasting rays (not the Thai ladies, of course). While I hack this in the shade of my miniature palm tree grove, it is windy, too: the Bangkok Post from the news rack flies around, with staff running behind.
The surrounding skyscraper panorama is not very impressive, but you see the back side of a few good buildings standing guard on the northern end of Ratchadapisek road (which is the southern extension of soi Asoke). To see the full front side of these same buildings, head to toe, go to the brand new Benjakiti park between Ratchadapisek road and Sukhumvit soi 10.
The bush-clad fence around the pool platform mostly prevents you from looking down to street level, the attached fitness center has more complete views. But when you climb onto a little wall at the poolside, you can look DOWN onto the skytrain zooming in from On Nut, which for me is an unusual perspective. Of course there is Bangkok style "beautiful noise" from all directions (construction, destruction).
The "waiters" at the poolside live up to their job name. I wait ten minutes until a guy comes, wait twenty minutes until he comes back with a mediocre cappuccino. For paying I don't call the apathetic waiter, but walk straight to the counter. There I still have to wait ten more minutes until they can name the price, calculating tax, service charge and what else; "please take a seat, sir".
The Key Card (2)
Coming back from the pool around 1 PM, the key card fails to open my door. I take the elevator back down to my lovely receptionist, who is quick to answer: "Yes, sure you can't go in, because you extended your stay today, but the card isn't updated." – "But I had told you before that I need one more night." – "Yes, but I forgot to update the card!" – The card then disappears in diverse slots, lovely receptionist hacks frantically onto an array of keyboards, and I get back my card which now finally lets me enter my 2400-baht-room.
One morning, lounging on the poolside after breakfast, I feel I have had enough of Khrung Thep, and Chiang Mai would be fine for the afternoon. For a moment I ponder using the hotel's travel desk for airplane and hotel reservation in the northern capital; then I worry they might levy a hefty extracharge and decide to arrange it on my own. The phone call with THAI only takes about 15 reconnections and 30 minutes talk, until flight details and credit card numbers are exchanged. Always surprising how bad their English is. They have a seat for me on TG 112 at 1.50 PM, says the lady. That's perfect: after arrival in CNX, it leaves enough time to shower, rent a motorbike, visit Tourist Information, take an evening stroll in the park and have a relaxed dinner on the riverside before checking out the nightlife.
With the airlift secured, I browse my Lonely Planet for hotels in Chiang Mai. There are good recommendations between 1,000 and 2,000 baht. After the relative luxury of Windsor Hotel it feels bad to fall back to a 700 baht place – how can I now stay in digs without a poolside? The first two hotels I call are full. The next hotel's phoneline remains busy while I walk three times around the Windsor pool. So I try Chiang Mai Plaza, but they never answer.
Heck, I decide to book the place online and to finally use the web terminal in the Windsor Suites' lobby. The price is a whopping 150 baht for a 30-minutes-password, which is handed over in an ironed envelope. They provide a very fast connection with a nice flatscreen monitor. In case I want to store any information, I plug in my USB stick before starting my online time. On sawadee.com and precisionreservation.com I have to realize that normal bookings for the same day are not possible, and I am in no mood to chat to their online operators. It is 11 am now, and I still have to pack my stuff and to check out. I google for Chiang Mai Plaza's phone number, and there it is – different from the entry in Lonely Planet. Now I can ring them up; funny, the reservation lady promises to have room for me when I walk in, but refuses to make a reservation by phone. But she agrees to send a car, which will meet me after TG 112 has landed.
I still have a few online minutes left; but I don't know how many, because I don't see a counter for used-up time. From many dirt cheap and still good internet shops upcountry I am used to online time counters like the NetCafé system; so I didn't care to control the used time with a clock. Why not check e-mail with my last minutes, I log into AOL. Just when they list my new e-mails, my online time suddenly expires, and the terminal shuts down. I could buy a new 30-minute-password for 150 baht, but it is late anyway, so I rush to my room. Maybe the next internet customer will see my e-mails, but AOL will end the session automatically after some time of inactivity.
Quick shower in the room, all the dirty unwashed dress and a few other things, but not the scale, into the bag. I also find Khun Gop's forgotten cheap necklace, what to do with that?
Then goodbye to my lovely receptionist. I fumble for the keycard in my wallet to return it to her, but I obviously forgot the keycard in the room. This doesn't worry lovely receptionist, and with her delicately manicured Thai fingers she hands me another ironed envelope, containing a bill of 12,000 baht for 5 nights.
Walking out, I happily ignore the shouting-barking-screaming buffalo herders turned taxi drivers on the hotel driveway; I hike 20 meters until another taxi passes by. The car crawls really slow towards Sukhumvit's lower sois until the highway. Around Asia Books on Soi 15 I have a bad suspicion: I raid my handbag, and yes – the USB stick is not there, it is still in the PC at Windsor Suites. This 512-MB-Kingston-thing contains quite some confidential information. Should I forget it? (It was 200 USD back then, but I don't know the current price.) Would Windsor Suites send the USB stick to Chiang Mai? We have made it to soi 11 now.
I grab the envelope with the bill, find the printed telephone number, call Windsor's, talk to reception, she treks to the PCs table and is back: "Yes, computer have small thing called King-e-stonn." – Soi 7 now, but in no mood for the beergarden. I check time, it seems not too late to drive back for the USB stick and to still catch the 1.50-pm-plane: "Please keep the King-e-stonn for me, I come in ten minutes!" I instruct the driver to go back. It would have been faster to go back by motosai taxi, but what with the driver and my heavy bag?
The Final Call
Back to hotel, then finally all the way to Don Muang, where we arrive around 12.55. I am in a hurry now, for my very first flight into mountainous Chiang Mai I want to secure a window seat. When I enter the Domestic Terminal, a serious guy in a blue suit asks about my destination and shows me where to go for x-rays and check-in. Must be security, I think, a bit in a hurry now. Then he babbles on about my hotel options in Chiang Mai; I check the miniscule tag on his business jacket – hell, he is just another lousy agency tout. Thinking I need to learn some Thai swearwords, I storm off to x-rays and check-in. I produce my booking code to the THAI clerk, and: "Sorry, sir, this flight is already closed, because it starts in ten minutes." – WHAT??? – "Yes, because departure is at 1.15, and now is 1.05 already!"
In the morning, my THAI agent on the phone line must have meant "one-fifteen", not "one-fifty". But I had sounded like "one-fifty". Heck, next time I will double-check in Thai language, to avoid any mix-ups due to unclear pronounciation.
"Ok, I take next airplane." – "Next flight TG 114, 3.15, full already!" – "Oh no!" "Yes, but we can put you on standby. Please go to standby service, counter 32." There my name and the number of check-in luggage is registered; I am told to come back to the standby counter by 3 PM I call Chiang Mai Plaza and cancel the driver, but promise to show up later that day.
2.50 PM, 20 eager passengers without confirmed seats are waiting at THAI's standby counter. Everybody is quite nervous. The traveller next to me holds an itenerary that shows she arrived here through Paris and Singapore; she must be very tired. The THAI lady looks onto her monitor all the time. Should I return to my lovely Windsor Hotel receptionist for one more night? The PA says: "This is the final call for flight TG 114 to Chiang Mai. All passengers proceed to gate 8 immediately!" We, the poor standbye guys, we proceed immediately one millimeter towards the THAI standby lady. Her eyes are glued to the monitor, she doesn't even see we are yearning for her care and attention. At 3 PM sharp, she gets up and asks: "Mister Pothole? Give me your luggage. Here your boarding card with luggage tag already. Gate 8 this way."
The Key Card (3)
Not two hours later I stand at the reception of the Chiang Mai Plaza. Yes, they have a room for me, and would I kindly produce my credit card? I fish in my wallet, and what I first find is a souvenir from Bangkok's Windsor Hotel.