Friday, March 28, 2014

THAILAND: PREPARATION


     This was a DIY trip.  I started planning for this months in advance.  I relied heavily on Trip Advisor and Fodor's for advice and information.  I chose hotels from reviews on TA.  Location and the amenity of a pool were the main considerations.  My husband happily went along with everything I planned.  His only request was to try to book a hotel with a pool.  I did that and we utilized the pool quite a lot.  All the hotel prices included breakfast and taxes.  I bought the Nancy Chandler maps of Bangkok and Chiang Mai but to be honest I used them more before I even left home.  The maps were great in helping me draft a day to day itinerary with maximum efficiency.  Once we arrived in Bangkok and Chiang Mai I used maps from the airport and/or the hotels and they were free.

     HOTELS:

          I booked hotels through Sawadee.com, Agoda.com, Booking.com and directly by myself using the hotel website.

          Bangkok-Bossotel-great location minutes walk to Saphan Taskin BTS and Sathorn/Central Pier, almost next door to Shangri-la.  This is a good choice if on a budget.

          Chiang Mai-Baan Orapin-lovely property with the wonderful staff of Pepsi and manager Opas.

          Chiang Rai-Baan Soontree-another great property but a little bit away from town.  I booked this anyway as we had our 2 full days booked with Jermsak so location not the priority here.

          Khao Lak-Le Meridien-My husband was going to be scuba diving so I wanted a place with a great pool and nice beach.  This property didn't disappoint.  Loved the house made sugar donuts at the breakfast buffet!

          Phuket-Tropical Garden-located in Kata beach area.  Very busy, lots of traffic.  Beach was a few minutes walk right across the street.  This place was booked due to cost as our daughter and grandson were meeting us and she's a teacher on a budget.  I would have preferred a place that was beach front.

          Kanchanaburi-Sabai @ Kan Resort-walking distance to town and that famous bridge.
   
     TRANSPORTATION:

          Flights-Air Asia was great in that you can purchase extra baggage weight.  Nok Air advertised that you could purchase extra baggage weight but when I tried to do this via the website that function was not working so I ended up paying an obscene amount of money for the extra weight as compared to Air Asia.  Cambodian Angkor Air to fly from Phnom Penh to Bangkok.  They charged almost the price of the one way ticket just for my husband's scuba bag!

          Train-Used Man in Seat 61 website for information.  Originally wanted to book overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.  Tried to book this on line while we were in Cambodia.  Response received from Thailand Train Ticket on January 28, 2014 was that due to the "political crisis" in Bangkok since their office was near the scene of the protest it had been closed down until February 2014 and they advised us to directly contact the train station.  We did end up on the overnight train to Chiang Mai but not on the recommended train #13.  I will expand on this experience in the relevant post.  Used the train from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi.  While pleasant, there is no A/C and it was horrendously hot.  My husband was not happy.  We returned to Bangkok on a bus with A/C.

          Bus-Used Green VIP bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.  It was most comfortable and we really enjoyed the short trip.  Local bus from Erawan Museum to BTS station to get back to BTS station Saphan Taskin.  Bus had comfortable seats, great A/C, and cheap at 30 baht for the 2 of us!  Also took the bus from Kanchanaburi back to Bangkok.  Bus was great with much needed A/C.

          Car-Rented a car from Economy Car Rentals for our time in Khao Lak and Phuket.  Picked it up and dropped it off at the Phuket Airport.

          Other forms of transport were BTS, MRT, Chao Phraya ferry system-tourist and local, long tail boat for khlong tour, tuk tuk, songthaew, taxi, private car, and of course-these feet were made for walking!!

     MONEY:

          ATMs all over the place.  We never had a problem changing USD to baht.  Some places took USD and credit card.

     IMPRESSIONS:

          Bangkok is a big city with all the pros and cons.  Loved it, hated it.
          Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai were favorites.  Loved northern Thailand.
          Khao Lak and Phuket were our beach destinations.  My husband and I much preferred Khao Lak over Phuket.  It was much quieter which was a plus for us seniors.  I also like the beach in Khao Lak better than the beaches in Phuket.
          Kanchanaburi was very nice.  Loved learning more about the WWII history that took place here.

          There is a place in Thailand to suit everyone's interests. Whether you want big city vibe or peace and quiet there is a place for you.
          The food was very good but there was one place we went to in Chiang Rai where our meal was horrible.  My husband, who will eat anything, could not eat what he ordered.
          We had great weather but it did get very hot towards the end of our stay in March.  Water became a necessity when sightseeing.  Hat and sunscreen also.
       
          Other than a month long trip to China in 2007 we had never been to Asia.  Our experience in Thailand was full of great memories and a few not so great ones.  Overall I'm glad we spent this time in Thailand.  It is a very easy country to do a DIY trip.



   
            

THAILAND: BANGKOK ARRIVAL, BOSSOTEL-JANUARY 29, 2014


January 29, 2014

     We arrive at the airport in Phnom Penh for our CAMBODIA ANGKOR AIR flight to BANGKOK.  Details of this day leaving Cambodia are in my blog post for Cambodia, January 29, 2014.  Flight is short and soon we are in Thailand!!  Our flight is on time and we easily claim our checked baggage and get through passport control/customs/immigration with no problems.  Next order of business is to change some money.  I use one of the many ATMs located in the airport area to withdraw 10000 baht from my debit account.  Unfortunately I took no pictures of this arrival to the airport!  Must have been having a senior moment.  I find a 7-11 store in the airport and make my first Thai purchase-a bottle of water for 10 baht.



Our plane from Phnom Penh to Bangkok

     Then, remembering my research, we head to the public taxi desk.  We show our hotel voucher/info for our destination.  It's very straight forward.  You give the destination, they tell you the approximate price, and give you a slip of white paper which says (For passenger) on top.  It has instructions written in Thai and English.  The dispatcher gives another part of the form to the driver.  The driver takes you to your destination.  Because of all our luggage we are going in a van instead of a car.  This will cost more.  The meter fare was 660 baht.  I rounded it up to 700 baht.


     Lots of traffic everywhere but we arrive at the BOSSOTEL in one piece.  I will learn during our many trips in taxis that they all drive like maniacs!  We complete the check in process and pay our hotel bill for the remaining 2 nights.  I had paid a deposit of 1 night on May 27, 2013 when I made our reservation for this hotel through booking.com.  My rate through booking.com was 1900 baht per night.  The room rate is cheaper if you reserve directly with the hotel which I did for our subsequent stays.  The hotel rate for a superior double/twin room is 1800 baht per night when booked direct.  The rate includes breakfast and all taxes.  We are given a welcome drink which seems to be the norm for most of our hotels.  The hotel has a great location with a few minutes walk to Saphan Taskin BTS and the Sathorn/Central Pier.  Also walking distance to Silom area.  There is a long, narrow pool with views of the city, a small exercise room, a tour desk, and an in house restaurant.  We are escorted to our room, #518.  The room is nice with beds that will prove to be comfortable.  I will have to request a softer pillow however as it was too firm for me.  There is a small couch for seating,  a TV, and equipment/supplies to make coffee/tea in the room.  Plenty of storage space.  The bathroom has a separate shower and tub.  No view of the river but at this rate I'm more than happy with our room.



Hotel lobby

Pool
View from the pool area

Exercise room right by the pool


Bathroom opens to sleeping are but can be closed off.  Nice deep bathtub.

Separate shower area


Nice comfortable beds

Small couch for sitting and TV that we never turned on

Mini fridge and coffee/tea making supplies


     We head to the tour desk located in the hotel as we need to get train tickets for Chiang Mai.  I had planned to take the overnight train on February 1, 2014.  All the seats on the overnight tourist recommended trains are booked.  Nothing left.  Chinese New Year!!   We have no choice but to take seats on train 51 which leaves at 10:00 pm and arrives in Chiang Mai at 1:05 pm the next day.  It's going to be a LONG night.  We are told that the seats don't recline and there is no A/C.  The tourist recommended train that I wanted would have had us in a sleeping berth with A/C and while it leaves a few hrs. earlier it gets in to Chiang Mai in the morning.  Those trains are #13 or #1.  Our seat on this train cost 431 baht each.  We are in car 9, seats 15 and 16.  Cost of getting the 2 train tickets from the tour desk was 1200 baht total for her fee plus the cost of the tickets.



     Now that our train ticket situation is settled we decide to have dinner at our hotel as we are too tired to go elsewhere and I'm still recovering from my stomach illness that started in Phnom Penh.  I order a nice cup of hot tea, my husband who has an iron clad stomach rejoices with a Singha beer.  French fries and vegetable noodle shrimp soup round out our meal.  Cost which includes 10% service charge was 297 baht.  I should also mention that today was our 46th wedding anniversary.  I had plans for a great dinner with after drinks at one of the sky bars.  Oh well, there's always my birthday on March 31st when we will be back in Bangkok!




So so fries

Great soup
     I decide to scrap my planned itinerary for tomorrow.  Instead we will take things easy.  Originally I had scheduled our day to include the National Museum, City Pillar, Wat Mahathat, and Loy Nava for dinner but I want to enjoy the dinner so I change up things to the Erawan Museum only.  

JANUARY 30, 2014: ERAWAN MUSEUM




January 30, 2014

     Woke up feeling much better but still plan to take things easy today.  Breakfast buffet pretty good with usual variety we've found at our other hotels-egg station, breads for toast or sandwiches, salad fixings, cereal choices, juice, fruits, etc.  I'm very boring as I have my breakfast of 1 egg, toast, juice, coffee, fruit.  Decided to call Tong of Tour with Tong and surprise-I got Tong herself on the phone.  Made arrangements for a guided tour to Ayutthaya for tomorrow.   Much better results when you contact by phone as sending e-mails didn't elicit a response.  Very happy that we will be able to do this at such short notice.

Getting ready to make up an omelet

Hot foods like potatoes, rice, noodles, sausage, or bacon

Cereals and fruit

Salad fixings

Juice, sweets, and breads

Egg, pancake, waffle station
     Instead of doing the things I had originally planned for this day we will just visit one place.  We decide to go to the ERAWAN MUSEUM.  In order to get there we will take the BTS so we walk to the station that is close to our hotel-SAPHAN TASKIN.  Along the way we get our first experience of the sights, sounds, and smells of morning Bangkok.  Some of the smells are already overpowering in this heat!  We pass several ATMs, a McDonald's , Robinson's, lots of sidewalk vendors, the Bangkrak Market.  We arrive and walk up the stairs to the BTS station.  I see people putting coins in machines for their tickets.  There is a map of the stops.  Knowing we have to go to Bearing I see that the cost is 52 baht one way.  I head to the info window, tell the man where we want to end up and that there are 2 of us.  I hand over paper baht and receive back coins for the ticket machine and change.  The ticket machine has buttons for you to choose with different number prices.  I press the button for 52, keep putting in the coins until the ticket is spit out along with any change.  The BTS system is very easy to navigate.  We locate where we need to board.  We get off at the Siam interchange because we have to switch from the Silom line to Sukhumvit line.  The Sukhumvit line goes from Mo Chit to Bearing and vice versa.  The Silom line goes from Bang Wa to National Stadium and vice versa.  The BTS, both lines, were very crowded so we end up standing-hanging on to a strap or a pole for the majority of the journey.  We arrive at BEARING so now it's time to find a taxi to take us the rest of the way as it's too far to walk.

Saphan Taskin BTS station


BTS to Bearing, Sukhumvit line
   















Once we are at BEARING we take the left side exit and find a taxi to take us right to the museum.  Taxi cost 54 baht rounded up to 60.

ERAWAN MUSEUM  Tourist Pass 400 baht per person.  www.ancientcitygroup.net/erawan/en/home        Founded by Lek Viriyaphant and his son Phakphian in 1967.  Displays of art, religion, and culture.  The elephant symbolizes  the greatness of Suvarnabhumi and the Kingdom of Siam.  The 3 levels refer to the Thai cosmos.  The first level is the dim basement representing the underworld where you view the artifacts and antiquities which belonged to Lek.  Here are displayed Benjarong ceramics, Chinese porcelain, Chakri dynasty tea sets, jade ornaments/figures, Chinese furniture, Vietnamese vases all with explanatory notes.  The next level has a statue of Bodhisatva Guan Yin at the entrance.  This level is supposed to represent Mount Meru with all the opulent craftmanship.  The 4 pillars represent the 4 main religious groups.  Brahma/Hindu, Theravada, Christian, and Mahayana.  They appear to prop up the roof or earth.  The stained glass ceiling is the roof of the world.  The last level in the belly of the elephant is Tavatimsa Heaven, solar system.
     As you go through the entrance area and look you see this huge 3 headed elephant on top of the circular base part of the museum.  This place is beyond amazing.  The beauty is everywhere you look.  It's spiritual.  The bottom level is the museum but no pictures are allowed.  Then there are more levels.  You need to go all the way to as far up as you can go.  Once there you will see a small window and the views are pretty nice.  Thanks to the Fodorites and TA posters who recommended this place!



View as you're walking to the museum entrance


Entrance to 2nd level













Bodhisatva Guan Yin



Here you see 3 of the 4 pillars/religions propping up the stained glass ceiling/roof of the world or earth





























Surprise!




View from the belly of the elephant


Tavatimsa Heaven and solar system room



     In addition to the museum the surrounding gardens are very peaceful and there are places where you can just sit and do nothing.  I buy a postcard of the museum for 15 baht.  I try to buy postcards of places we visit since when I get home I will make a scrapbook of each country.  That's why I keep all my admission tickets, info pamphlets...  We have spent several hours here.










Can purchase flowers to float in the water moat that circles the museum
Leaving





     As we leave I look for a taxi to take us back to the BTS BEARING station but all the taxis are waiting for the fares they have brought to the museum.  I never thought to ask the taxi to wait.  One taxi said he would take us for 200 baht!!   You got to be kidding.  I let him know that since I paid 60 there was no way I'd pay 200.  My husband talked to a guy at the entrance and he said we could just take the PUBLIC BUS.  We hailed one down. We wave to the taxi guy as we board the bus.   Fare 15 baht each.  This bus had really comfortable seats, A/C, and there were only a few other passengers.  In no time at all we're at our stop.  We walk up, get our coins, get our tickets 52 baht each or 104 to get back to SAPHAN TASKIN.   We arrive back with no trouble and walk back to our hotel.  We decide to relax for the rest of the afternoon.

Public bus

I'm smiling beause it's costing us a total of only 30 baht to get back to the Bearing BTS station
Public bus




Sukhumvit line-Mo Chit is the last stop going back from Bearing

     We aren't hungry but grateful for the complimentary bottles of water.  We decide to cool off in the hotel pool.  There is no one else there.  My husband loves swimming up and down the length of this long, narrow pool.  I just enjoy splashing around in the shallow end.  Soon another lady joins us for a swim also.  We start talking about our families, our trips, etc.  She is American also.  Her daughter is teaching in Kuwait.  Our daughter is teaching in China.  She asks for info on the school where my daughter teaches.  I also am able to check my e-mails and other stuff on my I Pad as the wifi is working fine.



     Time to think about dinner.  Since yesterday was our anniversary and we didn't celebrate with a nice dinner we decide to walk to the Shangri-la.  This much more expensive hotel is almost next door to ours-just a few minutes walk down the same street.  We are directed to NEXT 2 as ANGELINA'S under renovation but we can still order from that menu.  We decide not to do the all you can eat buffet but order from ANGELINA'S alacarte menu.   To begin, we are given cold towels.  Nice.  Pinot grigio for me, Heineken for my husband.  Mixed green salad, individual bread loaves.   Penne classic bolognese and grilled salmon with roasted potatoes and grilled vegetables of asparagus and bok choy.  The food is very good.  My husband says the salmon is grilled perfectly.  Dessert-chocolate and mocha ice cream.  We are given free shot size glasses of mango with sticky rice.  Credit card 3166.13 baht which included 10% service charge.  We walk outside the restaurant to take in the lovely river views from this hotel.  We're back at our hotel by 9:30 pm.  It's been a wonderful day.


Inside the Next 2

Looking into Next 2 from outside

Mixed green salad to start

Penne classic bolognese

Grilled salmon



Night views from Shangri-La






















Shangri-La Hotel at night

Pool at Shangri-La