Bangkok, we are very lucky people

Trip Start Jun 01, 2010
Trip End Mar 11, 2011

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Where I stayed
lebua at State Tower Bangkok
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of Thailand  ,
Monday, January 17, 2011

We did not feel like the boring eggs from the breakfast buffet, so we decided to head out for our last breakfast. The restaurant across the street was still closed, although it was already past ten o'clock, the opening time they had advertised on the board outside. So we walked a bit and found a small cafe at the back of the road. The lady took her time preparing our order, but the food was good and we had enough time. We have scheduled our transfer to the airport with the hotel for noon, just after our check out. Still we have to wait for half an hour before our driver shows up. The drive to the airport is about two and a half hours, again with two ferry crossings. At the last stretch our driver was stuck behind a truck for a couple of kilometers and made some fearsome tries to overtake it. Luckily the road turned in to a double lane 'highway' so he could pass the truck without killing anyone. The girls from Air Asia were very strict on the 20KG weight limit and we had to take a whole 2KG out of our check in luggage and put it in our carry on, as we were 2KG over. Ah well, this silliness happens from time to time. The flight was short, but this time we booked a 'hot seat' so it was comfortable from the beginning to the end. Arrived in Bangkok, we took a cab to take us to the hotel. We booked a room at the Lebua at States Tower, one of the two big buildings in Bangkok.

The Lebua hotel, a very good one but the decor has a bit of an identity crisis though. It is a wild mix between the Venetian, the Four Seasons and the Hyatt. But the service is definitively five star, everyone is helpful and friendly, apart from one individual, but we will come to that later.

We were welcomed at the hotel and got an upgrade to room 5704 on the executive floor. The view from the room is magnificent. We oversee the river and Bangkok as far as the eyes can see. We unpack, take a nice shower and head out for dinner. Today we will have an Italian feast at Opus. This is supposed to be a top Italian restaurant and wine bar (according to tripadvisor) so we are going to give that a try. It is a nice break from Thai food we figured. The restaurant is conveniently located a few blocks behind the hotel so a short walk takes us there. We were welcomed by the executive chef and got a nice seat next to the wine cellar (an air conditioned glass room filled with stock of fine wines). We ordered our starters and the host took me in to the cellar to select a bottle of wine. Quite a different approach than ordering from a boring list of names.

After our starters of Foie Gras and a plate of cold cuts we ready for our mains. Again the executive chef came out to give us some advise on this creations. We decided on a small order of scallops and a cut of beef. As we were observing the comes and goes in the restaurant we noticed that the executive chef spend an awful lot of time in the restaurant, even to the point where we figured that he must be doing very little of the cooking himself. It turned out that he had just joined the restaurant and was trying hard to establish a relation with his customers. He was trying a bit too hard in my opinion. Still the kitchen made some very decent Italian food. A very welcome break from the spicy Thai we have been having the past few days. Unfortunately our stomaches did not agree with the sudden change of course, so we both had some tummy aches that night. Is this our punishment for having Italian food in Thailand?

The next day, our day did not start too good, our night was broken by an upset stomach and a rather uncomfortable bed. It was a tad too hard for my likings, so my back was acting up in the morning. We both don't feel like breakfast so we decide to head out to the strain station to secure our train tickets to Chiang Mai. We hopped in a taxi in front of the hotel and a few minutes later we arrived at Bangkok Central Station. But just as I got out of the taxi we realized we forgot something. Our camera bag was still inside the taxi, which we saw disappearing in the distance. Stupid, stupid, stupid. The security guard outside the station saw all of this happening, and summoned a motor bike that appeared out of nowhere. Linda acted quickly and jumped on the back of the bike trying to pursue the taxi driver. It looked like some kind of James Bond movie. But it was too late, the pink Toyota had disappeared into the busy Bangkok traffic. As she returned we were addressed by a very helpful police officer. He guided us to someone that spoke a bit better English to translate. Linda was on the phone with the hotel to get the taxi number from the bell boy. This is something that every good hotel would write down when they send off a client, and in most cases they hand you a slip of paper with the number of the taxi on it. Unfortunately we did not get any.

The man on the other side of the phone (whom turned out to be some concierge) was very unhelpful and instead of trying help out and find a solution as in checking the hotel security cameras, he kept disclaiming responsibility. Quite disappointing and annoying. As Linda hung up the phone a woman approached us and listened to our situation. She was incredibly friendly and tried to help us further. She got the station security staff to check their cameras in the search for the taxi number. After about 15 minutes there we were with five officials in a little room staring at the computer surveillance system. Clearly, non of them ever operated the equipment before, but they felt like Sherlock Holmes, trying their best to help out. Another ten minutes later we received a phone call from the hotel telling us that the taxi driver had returned our camera bag. It was the same concierge guy which kept on telling Linda off, he kept repeating: “You are very lucky people, you must take care of your belongings”. Yeah yeah, we know, there is no need to repeat that a trillion times.

Relieved the thanked the officers and the friendly lady. I've heard that Thai people are friendly, but I would never have expected this much, incredible.

Knowing that our precious 550D is safe from harm, we try to get our ticket. The friendly lady even helps out here as she asks someone behind a closed counter to check for us. Too bad, there are no train tickets available to Chiang Mai for the coming days. Everything is booked solid. She tells us there is some kind of flower festival up North. If only the website of the Thai railway would have worked, then we could have booked the tickets in advance. Could have, would have, no good to us today.

We briefly talk to a travel agent in the station to check for Airline tickets to Chiang Mai instead. But this goes in the 1970 way, no computers, so the girls just call an airline and check for prices and availability. Very ineffective, and as we can do this research ourselves in minutes using our computers in the hotel, we thank the girl of the travel agency and make our way back to the hotel.

For a moment I thought about taking a tuk tuk, but the driver asked for four times the rate as our taxi has cost us before. I did not feel like going in to a haggle with him, so we just jumped in to another cab, back to the Lebua tower.

Back at the hotel we picked up the camera bag, and the concierge guy raised the hairs in my neck one more time, reading to us from his 'how to annoy a customer script'. Whatever, I thought, and we went back to the room. We were still not feeling 100 percent, so we relaxed for a bit and booked our flight to Chiang Mai. Air Asia again, no train, boohoo.

As we were staring to feel a bit hungry, we enjoyed a lunch (some noodle soup) in the restaurant downstairs. For the rest of the day we did not do much, just read, sleep and watch a little TV. As we have lost this day in Bangkok and have not seen much of the city we extended our stay for a day. So tomorrow we will explore some more.

We woke up feeling a lot better, today we set out to explore the chaos that is known as Bangkok. The streets are alive and covered with hawkers selling all kinds of obscure bites. As we exit the hotel and find our way to the river a man approaches us, recognizing us from the hotel. He asked us what our plans were for the day, disguising his intentions to sell us some tour or boat ride. How did we uncover his plot? That is simple, whenever someone in Thailand tells you that the temples are closed for whatever reason, in this case, Buddhism day, they are up to selling you something you don't want. He tried so in a friendly and not too pushy way, and the moment he noticed we did not buy in to the 'the temple is closed' trick, he backed out and showed us where we could find the pier from where the ferries leave.

Here we were told that we would have to wait for half an hour for the public ferry to arrive, so we would be better off taking a private longtail boat. No thanks, we just wait for a bit. And after a short five minutes our public boat arrived and we were off to the grand palace. It was a comfortable boat ride heading up the river. About ten minutes later we arrived at the temple and palace complexes.

The walk to the entrance led us through a forest of low umbrellas sheltering the souvenir market from the burning sun. We followed the crowd and ended up at the entrance of the Wat Phra Kaew, the temple of the emerald Buddha. It is believed that the green statue, about one meter sixty high and cut out of a solid block of Jade brings the country good fortune. Only the king is allowed to touch it, and at the changes of the seasons, he personally dresses the statue in a different coat. This is three times a year, as Thailand only knows three seasons, Summer, Rain and Winter. The statue traveled far and long, being housed in several cities in Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.

The temple complex is very 'bling bling'. Lots of colors, shiny ceramics and glass and of course gold, lots of gold. As always I wonder how people can create such extravagant shrines to worship their beliefs whilst others don't even have a roof over their head. But it makes an interesting site to visit, and certainly a very nice environment to shoot some photos. And such we did, we took many photos of the temple, the countless Buddha statues and ornaments. As we exited the complex we were decided to look for the famous reclining Buddha statue, Wat Pho, which is located close by. But in the afternoon heat, not close enough for us to walk to.

We tried to get a tuk tuk to take us there. When we sat down in the tuk tuk, the driver wanted to bring us around to shops and other sites where he would get commission on visiting tourists. We really did not feel like needlessly driving around Bangkok and visiting these tourist traps. So we got out of the tuk tuk and jumped in to a cab, as these have an honest meter and don't need any haggling.

The Wat Pho temple was a lot quieter than the Wat Phra Kaew one, it must have been lower on the list of the ten must see sites in Bangkok. We wandered around for a bit in search of the reclining Buddha statue. This temple complex had a more serene and authentic feel to it than the previous one. We found the reclining Buddha, and heard a continues 'ting ting' sound coming from behind the statue. It turned out that you could buy a handful of coins and deposit one in each of the many buckets on your way out. A very creative way to receive the pledges I thought.

Two temples in one day is enough for us, we were 'templed out', so we found our way back to the ferry. This time we had to wait a bit, and the ferry was packed with people. We managed to get a spot on the railing and held on while the boat made its way back to our pier. At every stop the boat boy blew on his whistle so loud that it split our eardrums. From the pier we took a BTS train to the Siam Paragon Mall. This is the part of town that Linda is very familiar with as she usually stays in this area.

The Mall is just another temple of commerce with the usual LV and Prada shacks, nothing to our likings. But the food court in the basement was magnificent, a wild collection of dishes from all around the world. We stranded at a Japanese restaurant where a very appetizing bento box had caught my attention. After lunch we made our way back to the hotel, our feet were soar and we were in need of some pampering. Downstairs at the hotel arcade, which was surprisingly empty, we found a massage and nail place. So a nail job for Linda and Thai massage for me. The little Thai girl was freakishly strong and made a serious attempt on cracking every bone in my body. Still, after the 'treatment' I felt good.

That evening we made it to the top floor of the Lebua tower. Here there are some outdoor restaurants and bars with a magnificent view of the city. It was a nice and quiet night, so hardly any wind and a comfortable temperature. At first we thought on having a few snacks at the bar, but the bar turned out to be a small standing area where a flow of overdressed tourists come and go to zip an overpriced martini on the 70th floor. Not our cup of tea, so we took a seat at the restaurant where we ordered some appetizers and a nice cocktail. A way better way to enjoy your drink, with a little snack, comfortably seated.

Tomorrow we leave for Chiang Mai, unfortunately by air as we could not get a train ticket. I would have loved to traverse the Thai inlands by rail, but not this time. Ah well gives us another reason to come back I guess.
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