|Travelogue: A stopover Bangkok 2000
Monday March 6, 2000
Arrived at Bangkok International airport with no problem, immigration was a breeze as always, and my bags were quite early off the conveyor belt. But boy is it late. What a brutal time to fly - leaving Sydney at 5pm local time, we arrive in Bangkok at 10pm local time, which is 2am Sydney time. Ugh.
This time I am staying at the Sheraton Grand Sukhumvit, one of Starwood's Luxury Collection hotels.
Tuesday March 7, 2000
Wow is this hotel amazing. The buffet breakfast, which is included in my room rate, is great. The lobby is stunningly beautiful. Great art, woodwork, water features, it goes on and on. My room (2711) is awesome. Huge marble bathroom with both shower and bath, every bathroom amenity known to man, including little cozies to cover the extra roll of toilet paper and the hair dryer. My room even has a stereo with CD player. This is one of the quietest hotel rooms I have ever been in; one whole wall is covered with cloth padding that adds to the soundproofing. It is all brand new looking, immaculate and beautiful. There is a lovely plate of native fruits. I got all of this for the amazing rate of US$100 per night. Move over Landmark hotel. Of course, it doesn't hurt that I got the Starwood Gold room upgrade.
I must say that this Sheraton and the one in Melbourne have really restored my faith in Sheratons. The awful experience I had at the Sheraton Tucson really left me unsure of whether I could count on Sheraton hotels for a fine experience. This hotel is just awesome. I went for a walk around the 3 lower floors and was blown away by the spiraling staircases, honey colored woodwork, beautiful areas for meeting with associates or reading, and the astounding pool area. The outdoor pool is magnificent, which is really saying something when it is sitting on the 3rd floor of a building in downtown Bangkok. Various palms and flowering trees hang over a meandering neck-deep pool with Thai statuary for fountains and areas of musically bubbling water. This is great.
For some reason I had lunch at Yong Lee Restaurant on Sukhumvit. Last year I had eaten there and the food was OK but the atmosphere was terrible. This time the atmosphere hadn't improved, but the food was bad. I think that's it for the Yong Lee! I went back to the hotel and spent an amazing amount of time researching flying to Port Blair, India for my dive trip next month. A terrible waste of time. When I finally got it organized (though not yet booked) I went down to the pool at the hotel lazed around, then went for a traditional Thai massage at the hotel spa. It was only 5 times more expensive than a Thai massage would normally cost, and only 3 times more painful. After I had yelped loudly three or four times, the masseuse took it down a notch or two.
Had dinner tonight at the hotel's Thai restaurant, Basil. It was quite excellent and reasonably priced too. The place is beautifully decorated, chic but understated. Nice. I started with a spicy green mango salad, then moved on to chicken with dry curry served with three different kinds of rice. Each dish was great, and the trio of rices was an interesting touch. Recommended.
Wednesday March 8, 2000
Boy am I jet lagged! I woke up this morning at 7am, wide awake but with the weird fully rested and wired but exhausted feeling that I get when I am seriously jet lagged. I should be moving my schedule further and further ahead to match up with Prague time, but it is not happening. Oh well.
I had another excellent breakfast of congee (Chinese rice porridge) and fruit at the hotel, then puttered around a bit and tried to sleep some more. Eventually I headed out buy some airline tickets for my trip to the Andaman Islands next month. Walking out of the hotel I was hit with the wall of atmosphere that is Bangkok in summer. It really is a full frontal assault. Fortunately, the Sheraton is right next to the "Anok" SkyTrain station, so I didn't have to walk far. The SkyTrain is making it so much easier to get around. This city really needed the SkyTrain.
With some effort I found the offices of Nancy Travel Center in the SurawongseWatthanakam building, the only place in Bangkok where one can buy tickets on Jet Airlines, which is one of two airlines that fly to the Andaman Islands. This dive trip had better be awesome, because getting there is a serious pain in the ass. It only took about an hour to get my tickets (sigh.) Afterwards I realized that I was in the neighborhood of the Oriental Hotel, a place I had stayed during my first trip to Bangkok, but had not been back to since. After ambling around for a while and remembering that there really wasn't much in the way of food in this neighborhood, I noticed the provocatively named "Tongue Thai" restaurant, offering "hot Thai cuisine and more." Well, how could I not? Inside the place was beautiful and quiet. I had a dish of pork cracklings with beans and curry. Yummy. They were very concerned that it would be too hot for me, but it was perfect. Of course, how could it not be great, since it was basically pork fat with beans. Not for the weight watchers out there. For desert I had one of my favorites, sweet mango with sticky rice. Ahhhh. Gotta love it. All the while there was a cool Billie Holiday CD playing. It was great. Highly recommended, Tongue Thai is at 18-20 Charoen Krung Soi 38, telephone 630-9918.
Heading back on the SkyTrain, I was again impressed by how much it is helping me get around town. However, they keep the trains astonishingly cold. That will certainly keep the ridership down, as Thais generally don't like cold. I really don't know why the trains as so damned cold. It's like stepping into the refrigerated beer cooler at Larry's Supermarket. There it is so cold you want to find your beer and get the hell out. On the SkyTrain it is every bit as cold, but you know you're in for a 15 minute freezer ride. Ugh.
Thursday March 9, 2000
A bit drizzly out this morning, but it looks like it will be clearing. This is going to be a strange day. I've arranged for late checkout at 4pm, but that still leaves 5 hours with nothing in particular to do before I head to the airport for a real nosebleed red-eye flight.
I basically did nothing today. Had both lunch and dinner at Suda Restaurant on Sukhumvit Soi 14, which is very close to the Sheraton. It was good, but not as good as I remembered. Poked around in the Robinson department store, and like that.
Though I am travelling with way too much luggage, checking in at the Bangkok international airport was no big deal. I carefully made sure that I didn't have all my bags on the scale at once, and the baggage handling guy gave me kind of a knowing look, making a show of looking the other way at my over- weight baggage. I smiled. I wonder how long I can continue to get away with this. I suspect that Lufthansa leaving Germany will stop me; they don't seem like the kind of people who are willing to give any slack.
Speaking of Lufthansa, the Lufthansa lounge at the airport in Bangkok sucks. I mean it really sucks. There are two desks suitable for working on a laptop but with no phone lines. If you want to dial out you have to carry your laptop (and a chair in my case) into a phone booth in the lounge room. Worse yet, the room was pretty full and there does not appear to be a no-smoking section. There was no food and a limited selection of beverages. After downloading my email in the cramped phone booth, I packed up my stuff and headed over to the United Airlines Red Carpet club. The Bangkok Red Carpet Club isn't very good, but it is one hell of a lot better than the Lufthansa lounge. At least they have fresh squeezed orange juice.
I'm off to Prague, Flying a Boeing 747-400 in business class in seat 3K. On Lufthansa, first class is upstairs (which makes the most sense to me), with business class taking up the whole front of the first floor. The seats are the relatively new Lufthansa style seats, which are non-electric, move mechanically, and don't have laptop power points. They are also less spacious and comfortable than the United business class seats and lack those great noise-cancellation headphones. For some reason they are chilling the cabin down to the temperature of a fine wine cellar. Fortunately, in a fit of I-don't-know-what I pulled a sweater out of my luggage in Bangkok and hand carried it on. I am grateful to whatever force of the universe made me do that. The cabin crew are basically unpleasant. I was asleep before we left the runway and slept right through dinner. Thankfully they didn't attempt to wake me, as I wasn't really hungry. When I awoke they were just about to serve desert. I asked for just a cup of tea and some bread. No biggie. It took them about 10 minutes, and though they didn't complain or say anything negative, they were so cold about it that I really felt like I had put them out. On Thai they would have smiled, bowed and said "yes, sir. Is there anything else I can get you sir." On United they would have joked with me about sleeping through dinner. Here it was the cold, blank stare of an automaton. I have not yet flown all of the Star Alliance carriers, but so far I like Lufthansa the least.
© 2000, Andrew Sigal
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