Bangkok Update – January / February 2020
I flew into BKK late January and left middle of February. These are my thoughts of what I observed in and around Bangkok. Ideally I would have liked to have written this earlier to give an up to date report but flying back on a Sunday and going straight back to work on the Monday left me very little time in the last 2 weeks to actually put any pen to paper!
The Coronavirus was obviously a hot topic. People everywhere were wearing surgical masks, Thais as well as tourists. It all started at Melbourne airport where it was clear that there was a fear factor of the virus with people putting on masks the moment they walked into the airport even before the flight. My personal view is that the virus is somewhat exaggerated and whilst I acknowledge it isn’t a normal strand we’re used to, at the time; the only people which had died of the virus were the elderly or people with weak/ deficient lungs. As I fitted into none of these categories, I wasn’t concerned of it, or to put it in a more realistic view – was concerned but definitely not alarmed or scared of it to the point some people were. The pollution in my eyes was a bigger problem. On average, every second day in BKK the AQI readings were above 165. That is ‘Unhealthy’ and the air felt heavy all the time. I wore an N95 mask purely because of this reason. I brought one from Australia as it’s extremely difficult to purchase a N95 mask in Thailand.
One of the perks my partner has as part of her job with a Bangkok university is the allowability to stay at a hotel for approximately 60 days per year. As her condo was being renovated with minor maintenance issues, we thought it’d be a lot easier to use this generous offer. Obviously there was certain criteria which had to be met. The first was a budget of 1,500 baht / night and the second was the proximity factor, i.e. It had to be a certain distance away from the major campus of the Uni.
Ibis Hotel – Sukhumvit Soi 4
The first week was spent at the Ibis Hotel on Soi 4 in Sukhumvit. I have stayed at this hotel before. Whilst central to the city, it is deep down Soi 4 which can be a bit of a walk if you’re walking to and from Sukhumvit Road. They do have a free shuttle bus which departs to the station every half hour which is convenient.
I wasn’t exactly impressed with this hotel. It seems to be made for the budget traveller with all the rooms fairly compact. The walls I notice are paper thin so it doesn’t take much noise to really go through the wall. One huge positive though is the breakfast buffet, it’s quite nice, not to mention that for a few hundred baht anyone from the street can also partake in it which makes for a very cheap meal. (I remember back in 2012 when at the time the hotel I stayed at didn’t have breakfast included and I used to walk up to the Ibis everyday for their breakfast which used to be 199 baht. With the exchange rate it was around $6 AUD which probably made one of the cheapest quality breakfasts in Bangkok).
Dusit Hotel – Hua Hin
There’s hotels and then there’s hotels. I was absolutely blown away with this hotel. My partner had 1 night as a gift from her Uni (Thank God because this is beyond our budget!) We had a room with ‘Club room’ access which sets you back around $390 AUD/ night. This hotel is immaculate. People give ratings out of 10, this hotel literally deserves 10/10, and in fact if I could give it 11/10 I would! It really is that nice. All the staff speak good English. Yep, every single staff member I came across may not have been fluent in the language but could definitely speak it. From the waiter right up to the manager. The food is very nice and the buffet breakfast has just about every type of food you could possibly imagine. I think you could have breakfast there and eat only once a day! When we parked our car, hours later I came back downstairs to see a white cover over the car. Yep, the security guard comes across and covers your car to protect it from the sun! Now that is first class service.
They also have a separate seafood restaurant which is located right near the beach but still on the premises. My partner being a seafood lover indulged and said it would have to be one of the freshest she’s had. Cost of the buffet was about 1,300 baht.
I told my partner that next time she has to travel down to Hua Hin and I’m with her, we have to spend another night at the Dusit Thani, even if we have to pay for it ourselves. It really is worth every single baht. I have heard that the Dusit Thani hotel name is a chain of hotels which brought in a group of Western consultants who advised how to make a great hotel with Western standards but which also captures the Thai culture within it.
It’s a pity my partner had to work as we only had 24 hours there so we tried to make the most of the amenities available.
As for Hua Hin in general, I really cannot comment as I was only in town for a few hours on a Sunday morning and it was quiet (as is every Sunday even in high season) so I cannot make a valid comment being there for such a short period of time.
Ibis Styles – Soi 4 Sukhumvit
As we weren’t thrilled with Ibis, we thought we’d give Ibis Styles a try as it’s a slight upgrade. LOL Ibis Styles is situated about 100 metres from the Ibis hotel on soi 4 across the road from the therapeutic massage place. The breakfast was joined with the Novotel hotel (next door but same building) and overall a nicer experience. For an extra few hundred baht a night, it’s definitely worth the upgrade. Again they also provide a free shuttle bus that goes to Nana BTS station. The highlight of this hotel would have to be the pool. The views of the city were magnificent.
Holiday Inn – Siam
We went away to Nan in Northern Thailand for a few days (see below for details of that trip) and when we came back to Bangkok, the last hotel we stayed at was the Holiday Inn near Siam Centre. I’d have to say hands down, for the price you pay the location would almost have to be perfect. Situated about 200 metres from the National Stadium BTS, it’s walking distance to MBK and 1 BTS station away from Siam. You could actually walk it to Siam via the Siam Discovery Centre. For location wise and the price you pay I’d have to say this is great value for money. You also have a better type of tourist around as it’s away from Soi 4. Once again we were lucky getting a great view, overlooking the National Stadium.
One of my list of places to visit this time around was the new Patpong Museum. Having an interest in history in general, I made my way to Patpong. It was interesting to see the background of how Mr. Patpong came from China and how he eventually purchased the land and then developed it in to what it is now.
I was very impressed by the miniature replica of the buildings around Patpong. The amount of detail is unbelievable. It must have taken a fair amount of time to put together.
Whilst I enjoyed my time at the museum I thought it was a little small. Also, I thought it was a little sleazy….not surprisingly as there’s a famous red-light district right within the area, but things like the ping pong game really didn’t impress me. A bit cheesy, I thought….
BTW Stick, I noticed you in one of the photos in one section of the exhibition. Missed it the first time around and when I got talking with one of the staff members he mentioned you did a column on the museum, when I mentioned I did read your column he pointed you out. Haha. Famous you! ?
This brings me on to my next topic which is the naughty nightlife, or as I plainly put it; the obvious decline of. The naughty nightlife in my eyes continues to change. I have said many years ago that what will eventually happen is the go-go bars will turn into western style strip clubs and the massage parlours will turn into Western-style brothels. I believe these changes are actually starting to happen.
I only made it to Nana Plaza and didn’t make it to Patpong nor Soi Cowboy but in Nana Plaza the times I was in go-go bars I saw a lot of girls talking with & giving Western style lap dances to customers and very few barfines being paid. In fact I could count on my hands the amount of times I saw girls being barfined. I also felt that even the bigger bars of Nana Plaza didn’t have the same feel as when I last visited 6 months ago. I could have grown out of the whole nightlife concept but I don’t think it was that, I feel more that the sanuk of yesteryear is definitely over. (I’m probably the 1,000th person to say that in the last year……).
The Nana carpark is still popular with freelancers, a few being from Vietnam. I have heard that the local police know this, they take them to the station where they tell them that for a fee they’re more than welcome to ply their trade alongside their Thai sisters. There must have been a shakedown on one Thursday evening (I can’t recall the date) as I walked past and saw no one there and a person told me the cops were there a few minutes ago. Probably to top up their benevolent fund…..
I’ve also stated before that the price for P4P these days makes it cheaper to stay home. The AUD is incredibly weak against the Thai baht. In fact it’s the weakest it’s been since the Asian crisis in the late 90’s. One could argue that the same could happen and the Thai baht could crash again like it did back then, but I don’t think that will happen. Although it is stronger than what I believe it should be, the Thai economy is a lot more stronger than it was back in the 90’s and I believe there was a lot of manipulation going on in the background before the crash which caused it to happen.
Our getaway from Bangkok was Nan, a small province in Northern Thailand about 8 hours drive just slightly towards the east of Chiang Mai. This province also borders Laos.
It was my partner’s idea to visit this place. I have never heard of it and when my partner told my sister to go there based on all the reviews she’s read about the place, my sister went and loved it. So I suppose it only made sense to check out the place ourselves to see what all the fuss was about. The verdict? Not as great as what people make it out to be!
Firstly, to get there it’s an 8 hour drive, about the same distance from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Or if you want to take the quickest route, a 1 and a half hour flight. We chose to drive. The first thing we noticed was the boring scenery. Take a look at the photo below. Not exaggerating, this is what the scenery looks like for 8 hours….
The next thing we noticed was that there’s not a great deal to do there. To see any decent forestry, you have to travel 60 to 90 minutes out of Nan city to get there. Then there are the temples. Being respectful towards all religions I still must say, how many temples are there to see before they all start to look the same? There’s literally thousands of them in Thailand and after a while they all start to look the same to a foreigner. I must say though, one of the temples did impress me. Wat Si Phan Ton was pretty good – the detail on the architecture on the outside of the building was really impressive and it was all covered in gold!
If you do make it up there, one place I highly recommend for coffee and western food is the Coffee Sound restaurant, just opposite one of the indoor markets they have. The other place which you simply MUST visit is ‘Gin’ restaurant. It’s run by a gourmet chef who opened up a number of restaurants around Thailand and the world. We ate there twice and the food was outstanding and very well-priced.
I must say though, in general I find myself not a big fan of the north of Thailand. Whilst Chiang Mai is authentic and unique (it had its own Kingdom for many centuries until it joined Thailand, in fact a lot of the northern provinces were the same), I feel that the north is a little bland. I’ve been to Sukhothai and Ayutthaya and whilst I would recommend both places, I can’t see myself being there more than a few days without getting bored. I don’t seem to have that feeling when I’m in Isaan….
One really pleasant change was that it gets quite cool in the mornings. You could switch the air-conditioning off at night and wake up to a cool 15 / 16 deg C. I took a jumper every day to go downstairs for breakfast. It was really that fresh and a nice change from the Bangkok heat.
PS – On the way to Nan we stopped and had dinner in Phrae. I think that place seemed nicer than Nan…..
Some final thoughts
If you want a healthy alternative to the street food and food courts, try the Sunshine Market on Sukhumvit soi 22 which is the best place to get your health fix. They have a range of gluten free food as well as dairy free food. Highly recommend the place. They also do take away food as well as fresh juices. Prices aren’t cheap but as the old saying goes, ‘You get what you pay for’.
Another great food option is Sizzler. Fresh salads and the main courses all seem pretty nice. Every time I go there the two of us eat for under 1,000 baht. It’s a great healthy alternative which isn’t that costly. And Thailand has heaps of Sizzlers around!
Thailand still seems to be a favourite tourist destination. It will be interesting how the Coronavirus will affect Thailand but if history is anything to go by, Thailand always seems to bounce back even stronger from any crisis, be it health related or political.
Thailand still remains one of the favourites for retirees. I’d say Thailand is great if you have a nest egg and can afford to retire on decent funds. If you don’t then I can’t see Thailand as being a good choice. One thing to consider is Thailand is still a third world country so you’d have to think carefully about paying high prices in a third world country, which to me doesn’t make sense. One can justify doing this in Singapore or even Malaysia where things are more expensive but at least you get service and standards for the price you pay. Thailand is renowned for being a third world country pretending to be first world. Whilst the average Thai continues to make more money than ever, the country is still lacking behind in fundamentals such as infrastructure, road safety and pension funds. The maximum pensions paid out by the government is 500 baht/ month. I think the poorest of the poor would struggle to survive on this amount.
For the country to even come close to second world status, it needs to clean up its corruption. Whilst the new government is making a difference and tackling this problem, corruption seems to be ingrained in most Thais and will take generations to change. Thailand will prosper on a world scale, but I think it will take a long time and if it does happen we’d have to see some big scale radical changes to take place first.
The author of this article can be contacted at : email@example.com