Our first big trip of 2018 was to Bangkok Thailand. Why? Because we had not been there. It was highly recommended. We know a couple people who retired to Thailand, so there must be something good!
You can jump ahead to the Train Market
You can jump ahead to the Floating Market
You can jump ahead to the Temples
You can jump ahead to Museums and Chinatown
We left home Wednesday morning February 14, with a fairly routine flight Austin to Los Angeles (4 hours) then on to Tokyo Narita (12 hours), then change to Japan Airlines for another 7 1/2 hours to Bangkok, arriving late Thursday night, a total of 23 1/2 hours in the air over 30 hours, from home to hotel. Our visit really started Friday February 16
Most airlines have a complex seat configuration for business and first class seats ... looks fancy but remarkably poor storage, and little chance for a couple to travel together - able to visit during the flight. JAL has a very interesting seat. Full lie flat sleeping, and convenient storage for everything. The configuration is 2-2-2 across, but it felt more roomy than the traditional 1-2-1 configuration, where seats are angled so that adjacent passenger's heads are far apart.
The train between the airport and town only runs from 6 am to midnight, so we took a taxi. Insist on using the meter (negotiated prices are usually twice as high as the meter), accept the toll road (you will be asked to pay the tolls), and the trip will take about a half hour with a total cost about US$15 (paid in their local currency).
The hotel arranged a taxi back to the airport for a flat fee of Bht 500 - approximately US$15.
Return began Thursday morning February 22 from Bangkok to Tokyo, 6 hours on Japan Airlines, followed by 12 hours on American to Chicago, then almost 3 hours from Chicago to Austin, arriving Thursday evening. 21 hours in the air (rather than 23 1/2) due to tail winds, over 32 hours from hotel to home.
Bangkok has good public transit, sort of. Too many pieces, not all going directly where you want. Bangkok is a city of 12 million people, spread out without a clear center or historical area.
There is an above ground BTS Skytrain "subway" with two lines. Look at the map for where you plan to exit to determine the fare, then purchase a ticket (cashier or vending machine) for the amount of the fare you need. Your ticket is returned as you enter, and when you leave, your ticket is retained. We paid about US$0.50 to 1.50 depending on distance.
Not all the BTS stations had escalators from the ground to the ticket lobby. Nana station, closest to our hotel, had 46 steps up to the ticket area. From the ticket area to the trains, there was an escalator.
There is an under ground MRT Subway with separate tickets and routes. There were only a couple locations where transfers were physically practical, but separate systems with separate tickets. The MRT has a 50% discount for seniors but we never got to use it. They are just starting to introduce a stored value ticket that can be used for both systems, so we will have to explore the details when we return.
Taxis are widely available, but you can get stuck in traffic. Insist on travel by meter. One time we were offered a trip for 400 bht by two different taxis who refused to work by meter; the third taxi agreed to take us by meter, and it came to 180 bht ($6)
Motorcycle Taxis are common for short trips - drivers with orange vests and their license on their back are able to quickly negotiate between the often blocked traffic. Reportedly a short trip starts at 10 bht (30 cents). I saw a couple teenage girls come off the BTS and hop on a couple motorcycles and zoom off together. Another time I saw an older lady, carrying a shopping bag, hop on and go. We chose NOT to try this means of transportation, but we saw them in formal queues on side streets and near stations.
TukTuk (3 wheel motorcycle based taxis) are widespread, but they will try to talk you into a tour, rather than deliver you directly where you want to go. We only used the Hotel's free TukTuk to take us to the BTS station. It was very conservative.
The far more colorful TukTuks that are for hire on the street. Rates are reportedly similar to a regular taxi, and rarely a bargain, and the ride is far more exciting.
Many of the tourist attractions are on the Chao Phraya river that runs through town. We often took two BTS trains to the Saphan Taksin BTS station at Tha Sathorn - the central pier. From there the "blue flag" river boat ran to the dozen or so primary tourist stops to the north, every 30 minutes. A single trip cost 50 bht ($1.60), an all-day pass was 130 bht ($4.20), with English speaking "conductors." The far more crowded orange, green, and yellow flag boats for the local commuters are more frequent, much cheaper (I heard 17 bht) and not tourist friendly.
Along the river was this temple - I never found the name, but on the Internet many people had noticed the contrast between the traditional temple, the brick clock tower at the right, and the glass skyscrapers behind it.
What was this pagoda doing along the river? Something historical? No, it was opened in 2001, by the Chee Chin Khor Moral Uplifting Society. One of many charitable groups in Thailand that are dedicated to doing good, such as providing school lunches, disaster relief, and providing the poor with rice, blankets, and coffins. (Yes, coffins, that is not a typo).
We were advised to stay in the Siam area. Remember that Thailand was called Siam until about 50 years ago. But Siam is NOT pronounced SI-am as in "The King and I" on Broadway, but is more like see-HAM. Siam is a major transit hub, with huge shopping centers, but not close to any special tourist sights unless you are looking for shopping. And no hotels that we would choose to stay in, so we stayed in the nearby Sukhumvit area. (See "getting around," below)
We found a very nice hotel at a reasonable price in the right area and booked it on-line. When I checked Google Maps Street View, so I would recognize the hotel, I was shocked. Later I learned that the Google picture was 6 months old, and the hotel had only been open 3 months.
Out of fairness, this is the same "Solitaire Hotel" in finished condition, without construction barriers. Eventually we learned that there are actually four buildings in the hotel, served by this one entrance. The hotel facilities and service were absolutely outstanding. Why haven't we (or others we have talked to) heard of this hotel? Perhaps because it is a chain based in India, rather than North America.
Of course, a hotel in a tropical area has to have a pool. It was pretty nice, with a bar behind where the camera was located. I "borrowed" this picture from the hotel since I didn't take my camera to the pool.
We did stop at the Siam shopping centers, at the change point between the two BTS lines. In front of the mall was a large bunny. Yes that in Jenny at the bunny's feet
The nearest large street to our hotel was Sukhumvit, basically running east-west. The streets running off a main street have the same street name but with a "Soi" number - odd to the north and even to the south. Thus that large street becomes a de facto neighborhood name. Just to make things interesting, not all the Soi (side streets) are straight or at right angles, and not all the numbers are used. Sukhumvit Soi 11 is a party street that starts at the Nana BTS station- lots of hotels, bars, and restaurants. After several blocks it takes a sharp right turn, passes our hotel, and ends in Sukhumvit Soi 13.
To make things confusing the official address of our "Solitaire Bangkok Sukhumvit 11" Hotel is "75/23 Sukhumvit Soi 13." They may have an office on Soi 13, but the hotel isn't there. Furthermore, the street numbers like 73/23 are not on any building. It turns out that it is lot parcel 73 and building 23 on that parcel. Somehow the taxis know, but we never figured it out.
The area around our hotel was a tourist area with lots of bars, hotels, and restaurants, and of course, a laundry where you could get your hair cut. Whatever.
Thailand money is the Thai Baht, abbreviated THB or Bht or Bt. 1 THB is about 3 cents. 1 USD is almost 32 THB. We were able to use our credit cards at nice restaurants and our hotel, but it is a cash-oriented society (like Japan). For one purchase we had to pay a 3% premium to use our credit card. The ATM fees are very high, often 250 baht ($7.50) per transaction, but when we tried to withdraw a larger amount on arrival, we were consistently told the amount entered was invalid (the hour was late, perhaps the machines were empty).
We were able to exchange US dollars easily at good rates, but the US currency has to be the latest version ("big heads") in pristine condition - with NO ink marks, tape, or hard folds. One bank rejected three of my "clean" $20 bills because their scanner detected ink marks. Mid-trip we found an ATM at the entrance to a Thai military base, and it gave us all the Thai money we wanted to withdraw.
The natives are very polite and quiet. They expect to negotiate 25-50% off the asking price, but it is done quietly, and patiently - make a low offer, smile, and wait, and wait. Eventually they will make a counter-offer, higher than their minimum price, and it becomes your turn.
Continue with the travelogue at the Train Market.
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