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February 14-22 was our first big trip of 2018 – 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!
Getting there … and back
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, a total of 23 1/2 hours in the air over 30 hours home to hotel
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 from Bangkok to Tokyo was 6 hours on Japan Airlines, followed by 12 hours on American to Chicago, then almost 3 hours from Chicago to Austin. 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.
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.
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.
TukTuk (3 wheel motorcycle based taxis) are widespread, but will try to talk you into a tour, rather than deliver you directly where you want to go.
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.
What was this pagoda 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).
Where to stay
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.
We found a very nice hotel at a reasonable price in the right area and booked it on-line.
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.
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
The nearest large street 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.
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”) with NO ink marks. 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.
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