Two Weeks In Thailand
Up until this spring, my sole “visit” to Thailand was changing planes at the airport going to Siem Reap from Singapore in 1999. This year I planned a 2-month round-the-world trip using frequent flyer miles, and definitely wanted to add Thailand
to the mix. I had found the Stickman site via a reference from the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forum, and started to read the submissions and weekly columns.
Prior to arriving in Bangkok, I spent three weeks in Nepal doing the Everest Base Camp trek in the Himalayas, followed by a week in India. So after a month in the third world, arriving in Bangkok was a pleasant respite from the more frenetic atmospheres of Delhi and Agra. For some reason my Air India flight from Delhi did not have the Thai arrival forms, and my first 45 minutes in Thailand were spent trying to chase down a copy. It was rather surprising not to find blank forms near immigration, and after the airline “customer service” desks sent me and a few others on a wild goose chase I finally obtained it at the diplomat’s desk at immigration. <A classic case of the classic Bernard Trink quote, This Is Thailand – Stick>
I’d reserved a room at the Boutique Hotel Sathorn on Chan Road (former Forum Hotel). I had the address, but my taxi drive still had trouble finding it (at 8 PM and raining) and needed to call the hotel on his cell a couple of times before we finally arrived. The driver seemed a little strange as he talked to himself continuously during the trip. I wasn’t sure what the tipping custom was for cabs, and gave him ten percent of the fare. This wasn’t enough apparently as he tapped his shirt pocket and grunted at me. The doorman at the hotel said 10 percent was enough, so I left him there in his unhappy state. I can say that this hotel was very satisfactory during my stay. Clean modern room with cable, TV, AC, internet, and breakfast included for 1,200 baht. They ran a shuttle van to the BTS station every morning, and the taxi fare back was generally 40 baht or less. <Agree, the hotel is pleasant but there can be awful traffic jams on that stretch of road to the skytrain – point being that alone is reason not to stay there – Stick>
I found that having the hotel’s business card to give to the taxi drivers to be a big help in getting back in the evening. I used the BTS whenever possible, but also took taxis frequently. I’d had my fill of tuktuks in India. Other than the first driver, I never had anyone ask for a tip, and all of them automatically turned on the meter without being asked.
Although I was travelling solo and am in my 50s, I am still soundly married with two children at home, and was not inclined to sample the “naughty” nightlife. I will leave that subject to the numerous other contributors on this site.
Having been in India the previous week, I didn’t find Bangkok’s heat overly oppressive. I had my trekking gear with me, including several Capilene shirts that wick away sweat. By wearing these and washing them each night I was able to walk about in relative comfort, as well as to duck into one of the air-conditioned shopping malls when I felt the need. I took some morning walks in Lumpini Park and quite enjoyed them.
After weeks on the road I was badly in need of a haircut, and found an interesting “salon” in a mall at the entrance to the street with all of the Japanese clubs near the BTS station. The salon offered a haircut for 100 baht in 15 minutes or less. It was laid out in pods containing a chair and sterilizers for the scissors and clippers, something that apparently was imported from Japan.
I did the obligatory tourist sites the first few days: Wat Po, Wat Arun, the river ferries, a visit to Khao San Road, Jim Thompson's House, etc. A few other visits I enjoyed are perhaps less often visited by tourists: Suan Pakkad palace was truly fascinating, and a spot I can highly recommend. I also spent an afternoon at the zoo, which I thought of more as a city park with some animal enclosures than as a stereotypical zoo.
As someone who enjoys the sport of “geocaching” (www.geocaching.com), I was led to visit a part of Bangkok that few farangs ever penetrate. The area is apparently called Phra Pradaeng, and lies in a loop of the river across from central Bangkok. To get there I was led to the Bank of Bangkok building, behind which is a rickety pier with a couple of dragon boats that can take you across for 20 baht (tourist price?). Once there you are in a low lying area where the sois are narrow, raised concrete pathways and the houses are built on stilts. My GPS led me for several kilometers until eventually I arrived at a large well-kept park. There were no signs in English, but later I found that the name of the park is Sri Nakhorn Khuan Khun (Great City Dam Reservoir). Walking along the shady narrow paths was quite pleasant, and I found several vendors selling drinks, so I passed a very pleasant afternoon exploring this area. For the return I took a long taxi ride, so the park can be accessed other than by ferry.
One thing I found interesting was visiting the Paragon center on a Friday night, and seeing all of the young Thai couples eating and going to the cinema. I was surprised that there would be enough upper and middle class customers to support all of the expensive shops there and in the adjacent malls, but apparently it’s so. I went to the cinema a couple of times. The second time I spent 600 baht to watch The DaVinci Code in the plush theater, where the seats recline almost flat and they provide a thick blanket and pillows. I would have been better served by sleeping through that film, but the experience was interesting and similar to watching a film in the business class airline cabins.
One of my goals in visiting Bangkok was to get a thorough physical exam. I hadn’t had one for a number of years, and the cost in Thailand is much less than in the US. I spent most of a Sunday at Bumrungrad being poked and scanned, and was happy to find out that there is nothing much wrong with me. I discovered that the physical package I had selected did not include examination of the prostate or the blood test for prostate cancer precursors, so I had to schedule another visit for the following Tuesday. Luckily nothing bad was found, so I should be good for a few more visits to Thailand in the future. I did walk by the Nana Plaza one evening about 6:00 PM. In the daylight it looked quite seedy; I suppose that after dark it must be somewhat more attractive (or not).
After the physical I took a Nok Air flight to Chiang Mai for a four day visit. I stayed at the Central Duangtawan hotel near the night market. The price was 1,300 baht without breakfast, and the room was quite satisfactory. I enjoyed visiting the Night Market each evening and eating in some of the small restaurants in the vicinity. My children were insistent that I purchase numerous pirated PS2 games; these were only 100 each, and I bargained one guy down to 90 when buying 4 or 5 from him. Unfortunately none of the games worked on US version PS2 stations, so I wasted 1,000 baht or so that way.
Two of the days in Chiang Mai I spent at a cooking school, learning to make a variety of Thai dishes. For about 950 baht a day I was entertained and got to eat what I cooked (lunch and dinner). The students were from quite a few other countries, and we all had a fun time.
The third day I went to the Chiang Mai Zoo. This is quite different from Bangkok’s, as the cages are arranged along a series of quite hilly roads that give a good workout. They have a panda exhibit which costs extra, but I decided to skip it, and instead spent a good while in the enclosed aviary, one of the largest I’ve ever seen. If you are a bird lover, I can recommend a visit to this zoo just for this. There are numerous feeding stations set out for the birds (fruit and seeds), so if you are quiet and still you can see dozens of tropical birds coming to eat.
After the zoo, I took one of the red trucks up to Doi Suthep and hiked up the 305 steps to the wat. There is a sort of “terminal” there at the zoo, where they try to collect multiple tourists to share a single truck. When I arrived there was no one else, and they demanded 500 baht for the trip. I eventually managed to bargain them down to 250. When we came back down it was pouring rain, and I had to pay another 100 to get back to the hotel.
Before concluding, I wanted to comment on the issue of older western men and young Thai women. I admit I was somewhat conflicted at first, as I saw quite a number of such couples during my stay. I eventually came to the “logical” conclusion that if both were happy with the arrangement then there was no reason for me to object. And as someone who is retired myself, were I single and living in Thailand, I would probably be among them.
It makes a nice change to get a "regular" trip report.