Bangkok, Thailand 2008

Five nights in Bangkok

DAY ONE

We were set to arrive at 8:00am.  We actually arrived about 45 minutes early and immigration was a breeze.  I had booked with AAC Limousine for a car to pick us up because when arriving in a new country like this after a long flight, I like to see someone holding up a little sign with my name!!  Well, we walked out and no sign with our name!!  I started asking for AAC Limousine, someone pointed me to an agent and she said, your flight must have come in early.  Well, it did, but there was a big board with flight information right in front of them so I figured they would check.  She loaded up our bags on a cart but said the driver was not here yet.  We had to wait about 15-20 minutes, which was a bit of an annoyance considering what they charge.

Well, he finally arrived and whisked us off to the Peninsula (read my review here).  The drive took about 45 minutes.  We arrived at the Peninsula about 9:15am  and luckily our rooms were ready.  We were on the 9th floor with fabulous views of the river.  We settled in and then headed down to the breakfast buffet.  It was an incredible buffet, with just about anything you might want.  Michael was ecstatic that he could have fried rice and pork buns for breakfast.

We went back to our rooms to shower and clean up.  We had a 1:00pm appointment at FACE  Spa (http://www.facebars.com/en/bangkok/restaurant/Thai-spa/) for one hour Thai massages.  We took the boat across the river to the skytrain.  We bought skytrain tickets for (I think) 30 rides, whatever the minimum was and headed to Face.  By the way, they do have student prices for the skytrain cards.  We found Face Spa easily as the street it is on is right at the  skytrain exit.  They only had two massage rooms so the kids were in one and Stephen and I were in another.  They started outside with a relaxing foot bath and massage and some really delicious fruit juice.

They had clothes for us to change into and mats on the floor.  This was our first Thai massage and I really liked it.  I actually usually do not enjoy massage because it just tickles me – but no tickling here!!  I really liked when they did the stretching.

Back at the hotel, kids and I headed down to the pool.  We probably were not there for more than an hour, but while we were there people came by with ice water, cool washcloths, fruit and a special eye moisturizing application.  What service!!

We wanted to eat dinner early so we could get to bed early as we were beginning to fade.  We had a 5:30pm dinner reservation at Tongue Thai (which we picked since it looked the closest and easy to get to – this is called foreshadowing!).  We took the boat across to the Oriental Pier and started looking for the restaurant.  Now, I do all the planning for the trip but Stephen has to do the navigation on the ground (I stink at reading a map).  He is usually very good at it.  A combination, of not feeling well, jet lag and the fact that the restaurant is not actually on the street it says but behind it, means we eventually got lost.  (I know those of you who know where Tongue Thai is are laughing now – since it is so close to the pier).

We had several tuk tuk drivers stop and ask if we needed help but we kept saying no.  Then it was getting past our reservation time so we agreed to have a tuk tuk take us there.  Well, he definitely “took us”.  The street we were on was one way so we knew he would have to turn up a street to go back the other way which he did, but when we got to the other street it was packed with traffic – we definitely could have walked faster, but then we realized  he was going way too far without turning in the right direction.  We could tell we were going further and further away from the river – we were livid.  He finally stopped at a  restaurant and said “this one?”  We said “NO  – and just take us back to the Oriental Hotel”  which we knew was near the restaurant.  He did, and the sad thing is that he just us an awful impression of all tuk tuk drivers, which luckily was reversed in Siem Reap.

This time we realized what our mistake was and found the restaurant right away.  The food was good, but nothing spectacular, but we were so beat I am not sure we could have appreciated too much more.  We were back at the hotel by 7:45pm and went straight to bed to be ready for meeting with Tong at 6:30am the next morning!!

 DAY 2 – Tonging!!

We came up with this term “Tonging” to describe anything we did with Tong.  As the trip progressed we would ask, “What was your favorite part so far” and the answer was usually “what we did with Tong.”  One day when asked this question Stephen just said “Tonging!!”  Now, Tong is a guide that comes highly recommended on the Fodors and TripAdvisor forums.  She is crazy, informative and just all around amazing – we loved her.  Here is a link to her website (http://www.tourwithtong.com/), sometimes you do have to be patient – she may take a while to answer your email since she is out guiding most of the time.  If you do not hear from her in a few days, do not hesitate to send another email. You definitely need to contact her far in advance if you want to actually have her guiding you, although she does have several other guides on her team that come highly recommended.  We had one for a day and he was excellent (more details to come).  She really trains her team well.  Just be patient and persistent when trying to reach her by e-mail – but trust me your work will pay off!!  She is fabulous.  She does everything to make your day fascinating and comfortable.  She knows where all the good “Happy Rooms” aka bathrooms are along the route, has a big cooler of cold water and towels in her car/van and basically will do ANYTHING to make you happy.  Plus, she is just hilarious!!!

We woke up early and made it to breakfast by 6am.  It was great to see the morning river traffic as the sun rises.  Tong had called me the night before to say she was not feeling that well, but would still be picking us up in the morning.  We met Tong in the lobby at 6:30am.  She really was not feeling well and had a terrible cough, but said she actually felt much better than yesterday since she was now on medication.  She went to the hospital the night before after touring with others all day.  She says, “sorry I have a sexy voice – I sound like a Ladyboy!”  We knew we were in for some fun!!  We were originally just going to use her car, but she was worried the medicine might make her sleepy so she got us a van and driver for the day (personally can not picture her sleeping – but we all agreed it was a wise decision).

Our first stop was “fast food”.  We stopped in the middle of the road where one of her favorite vendors for coconut puffs was lcoated.  OMG!!  These were delicious!!  Flour, coconut milk, chives (family debating now whether there was rice in there or not).  Anyway, they were fabulous.

Next, we  stopped at a beautiful temple with intricate wooden carved walls.

We were now on our way to the Floating Market.  Controversy #4 – Is the floating market just a tourist trap??  NO, NO, and NO!! (Perhaps this is like asking if you should take a gondola ride in Venice – which of course the answer is YES!!).  Anyway, from what I have read on the boards, many who go there by themselves hate it, but those who go with Tong love it!  Well, we LOVED it.  Probably one of our favorite things from the trip.  We would normally shy away from street food, but we felt in good hands with Tong, and all the food we ate with her was fabulous – actually, the best food on the trip!!  We had chicken wings on a stick, satay, two different kinds of noodle soup/dishes and some other stuff I cannot remember.

Just a tip, do NOT eat a big breakfast before you leave the hotel to go to the floating market, at least with Tong.  If you leave about 6:30am you will get there around 8:00 and have plenty to eat.  Stephen asked Tong if he could get coffee and she said of course.  So we floated by a place that made ice coffee and served it in a plastic bag with a handle (kind of like an i.v. bag in the hospital) with a straw.  The coffee is strong which is just the way he likes it!!

We enjoyed seeing them cook the food on the boats, and watching them sell their wares.  Then our boatman took us down some quieter klongs and we saw a small slice of daily life and living on the klongs.

After the Floating Market we stopped at a Thai handicraft site where they were making incredible handcarved wood items.  However, we mostly stopped here for a much needed “happy” room break.

From here we drove another 1.5 hours to the Tiger Temple in Kanchanburi.  We hurried to see the tiger cubs playing.

Okay, the Tiger Temple was where Tong really shines.  She had the whole system dialed in.  Figure there were about 50-60 other people there.  Despite that Tong managed to get us first in line to walk the tigers, first in line to take pictures with the tigers, first in line to take the “special” pictures with the tigers AND when we were down in the canyon waiting for these things to happen she got us seats on the front row benches (when there were not even enough seats for everyone) – she is truly amazing.  We did pay the extra 1000 baht to have pictures with the tiger’s head in your lap.  Michael was the one who did it, and then we all got in the picture as well.

Controversy #5 – Are the tigers drugged?  Basically, I do not feel in anyway qualified to weigh in on this one.  Suffice it to say it was an incredible experience for all of us.  I will just say that spending time with Tong, one was well aware that she is a huge lover of animals and spends quite a bit of time at the Tiger Temple (she goes there several days a week).  If she felt the animals were being mistreated she would not take people there.

Next Tong took us over to see BamBam the bear, Tong’s second daughter!!  She had brought fruit and milk for us to feed her.  Lauren and Michael both enjoyed feeding her milk from a bottle.  They thought playing with BamBam was one of their favorite parts of the day.

We left the Tiger Temple and Tong took us for a late lunch at a restaurant not far away.  Tong had pre-ordered for us and we sat in our own little thatched roof hut and enjoyed a wonderful, relaxing lunch.  Before we left we bought ice cream cones, the perfect treat – and ice cream for all four of us was only $1.20!!

We decided to drive to the Bridge Over the River Kwai since it was not really out of the way on the drive home.  Just as we arrived the train was starting to come.  People were walking on the tracks and as the train came people just walked over to these little platforms that jut out from the tracks to be safe.  Not something we would normally see.  Tong told us all the history of the bridge as we drove home.

We arrived at the Peninsula at 6:30pm.  We were beat, headed upstairs and ordered room service for dinner and went to sleep!!

Day 3 – More Tonging!  Tong’s “Secret Place”

We  were up early again to meet Tong at 7am.  Today we were going to Tong’s “Special Place” aka the fishing village.  A few years ago, through a mutual friend, Tong met Reed who is a fisherman.  He was trying to find a way to get visitors to come see the fishing village and learn more about life on the sea.  They met and the rest is history.  Now, we visitors had the pleasure of spending a day with Reed and his boat.

Our first stop was the Railway Market.  This place was truly amazing.  The market is setup right on the railroad tracks.

When the train comes by the stallkeepers just move everything over until the train goes by.  After the train goes by they just put everything back out.  The amazing thing is this happens eight times a day!!  As the train started to come a whistle blew and everyone began moving their things over and rolling up their tarps.  Tong asked one vendor if we could use their space to stand in.  Incredibly, they keep the food right up to the track.  I kept thinking they needed to move it or it would get squashed, but Tong said it was low enough – and so it was, the train went right over it!

We drove on to the fishing village but not before we stopped at a small market for a TON of monkey food – huge bags of bananas, tangerines and cut up watermelon.  We stopped for a “Happy Room” break.  There was a toilet but you have to pour water into the bowl to make it “flush”.

We got into Reed’s boat and first he took us along the riverbank by the mangrove trees to feed the monkeys.  Reed started calling for them and so did we.  First one or two started to appear.  Then tons of monkeys showed up on both sides of the riverbank.  We started throwing them food and they could not wait!!  There were a lot of babies on their mother’s back or stomach.  At first it was a lot of fun, but then one monkey jumped on the front of the boat right in front of Stephen.  He got it to jump off by throwing some food into the water.  Tong said they almost never jump on the boat – lucky us.

Then several of the monkeys started to fight over the food, making that “EEAAHH” noise and even drawing blood from one another.  Tong said, they usually do not fight this much – again, lucky us.  It was a great experience – a real “jungle cruise” but so many screaming monkeys fighting right near you on both sides of the riverbank was a bit freaky!!

We left there and headed to another part of the river with more monkeys – however they were not so skinny and did not fight as much.

From here we headed out to where the river and the sea meet.  Out here are many stilt homes in the water and many stakes on the ground collecting mollusks.  They were fairly well organized out in the sea.  We also saw some fishermen swimming in the sea catching shrimp with nets or catfish with bamboo spears.

We rode over to Reed’s stilt house where an incredible seafood lunch was waiting for us.  Prawns, crab, chicken, soup, fish.  Everything was wonderful.

Then they laid out beds for us to take a nap on – how great is that?  Michael did a little pole fishing with Reed while the rest of us napped.

We arrived back at the Peninsula about 3:30 or 4:00pm.  We showered and rested up a bit before walking to Harmonique for dinner.  I had read so many comments about the rude service there that I was a bit leery, but we had no problems with it.  We had a delicious meal, my favorite being some sort of small soup that was on an appetizer tray.  Stephen thought they had the best fresh spring rolls of the trip.

Lauren and I wanted to go to Suan Luam Night Market.  We wanted to take a taxi, but the street we were on was a one-way street going the wrong direction.  With the awful traffic we decided it would be quicker to take the skytrain.  So we hit the skytrain and got off at Dala Saeng exit.  Now, on the map it looks like you walk by a park (Lumpini Park ) and then hit the night market.  Well, who knew how long of a park this was??!!!!  By the time we arrived at the Night Market we were all hot and sweaty and Stephen was not feeling great.  We quickly bought a few things and then took a taxi back to the Oriental Pier and took the boat back to the Pen.

Day 4 – Grand Palace, Wat Arun, Wat Po, Reclining Buddha

Stephen decided that he just was not feeling well today.  He thought he needed to rest, especially since we were headed back on a plane the next day for Chiang Rai.  So, he slept in, rested and had a two hour thai massage – the best one of the trip!!  I was disappointed he was not going to get to see some of the treasures of Bangkok, but the rest seemed to do him good and he was ready to go the next day.

I originally thought we would do Grand Palace, Wat Arun, etc. on our own, but about six weeks before we left I decided I would rather have a guide.  I contacted Tong knowing that she probably would not be available herself, but hoping one of her team would be.  Lauren, Michael and I met Q in the lobby at 8:30am.  Q is a young man, very sweet, very knowledgeable and eager to help.  We thoroughly enjoyed spending the day with him.  We started out seeing the Golden Buddha, Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha.

From there we planned to do a klong tour.  We went up to the counter and Q did all the communicating.  It appeared they were having some work done on one of the klongs so we could not do the route he normally liked to take.  We agreed to do a shorter version, but when we actually did it, it was REALLY short.  We all thought it was going to be an hour, but we were lucky if it was 30 minutes.  I was a bit annoyed since we had paid for an hour, but I just let it go.  Tong would have never stood for that, but I did not think Q was quite as tough as Tong can be.  We stopped at Wat Arun, but the steps looked daunting to us with the heat, so we did not climb up.

Q took us to Coconut Palm for lunch, across the street from Wat Po.  It was almost all locals and the three of us had a great lunch for about $7.

Next we went to Wat Po and the Reclining Buddha.  This was definitely our favorite of the day.  No matter how many pictures you have seen of the Reclining Buddha it does not prepare you for actually seeing it in person – definitely a big WOW!!  Especially for Michael who really did not know what he was going to see!

While we were there a very large group of young novice monks came through, some of them as young as five or six.

Later on we enjoyed hearing them being lectured to and chanting in the chapel.

One of the buildings in the complex was being remodeled and we could pick a roof tile and write our name, etc. on it for a donation.  It was interesting to see all the other tiles as they were signed by people from all over the world.  We donated tiles for the kids.

Q took us back to the hotel about 3pm.  Stephen had left a note that he would be back from the spa about 4pm.  Michael wanted to sit in the bathtub and watch ESPN (there are flat panel tv’s right at the end of the tub).  Lauren and I decided to get some quick shopping in before dinner, so we hopped on the skytrain and headed to Siam Paragon.  Now, we live in a smaller town in Southern Oregon where “retail therapy” is limited.  The closest Nordstrom to us is a four hour drive away, so shopping is always of major importance to us when we travel!!  Siam Paragon is incredible.  Just about every designer is there.  For those of us from Medford, OR this is quite a treat!  We particularly enjoyed shopping in Exothique Thai on, I think, the 4th floor, as well as some of the shops of the Paragon Passage.  We did not have enough time to do it justice so knew we would need to come back when we returned to Bangkok at the end of our trip.

We rushed back to the hotel just in time to quickly change for our 7pm reservation at China House.  Ever since we passed it on the way to find Tongue Thai, Michael had been begging us to go there since he LOVES Chinese food.  Lauren and I were a bit hesitant due to the controversy over it’s apparent decline after a recent remodel, but since it was close and we knew where it was (no risk of getting lost) we decided to go for it.

Controversy #6 – Did the China House get worse after it’s remodel?   Well, since we were never there before the remodel we obviously can not compare but we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner.  Some have complained about how they cut up the inside into smaller sections.  We found the décor to be beautiful and very nice, and found the smaller areas afford you privacy.  We ordered dumplings, Michael and I won ton soup and Lauren and Stephen a spicy noodle soup and we all shared the Peking Duck.  We thought everything was fabulous.  Our only disappointment was that since the Peking Duck was so much food the waiter cautioned against ordering anymore dishes, which was excellent advice, but we would have liked the opportunity to try more things.

The next day we were to leave Bangkok and fly to Chiang Rai.

BANGKOK – a few impressions

Before I move onto Chiang Rai, I wanted to list our observations about Bangkok.   Now, I realize we did not spend that much time in Bangkok, but I have to admit it was not one of my favorite cities in the world, and I love big cities.  However, I think we felt it lacked any sort of charm, and was a bit grimy (not really dirty, just grimy, if that makes sense), and basically just a large, big, crowded city.  We absolutely LOVED the Peninsula and staying on the river and thoroughly enjoyed our visits with Tong outside of the city.  Since our return I have had several people ask me if people were constantly trying to get you to buy stuff and beg, etc.  We actually did not encounter that much.  Aside from one lady who was set at the Skytrain station by the Oriental Pier we rarely saw any beggars.  We were rarely bothered by people trying to sell us stuff.  Actually our only negative experience was with the tuk tuk driver. Although our first day there, when headed to Face Spa, a lady did stop us at the skytrain and try to get us to go to some large market that was “only open for one more day.”  Other than that we found most people to be extremely nice and hospitable.

I was also surprised by how few American tourists we saw.  Most of the tourists we saw were Northern European or Australian.  We were also surprised at how few foreigners took the skytrain.  Considering the large amount of tourists visiting the city, very few of them seemed to use the skytrain.  We found it extremely easy to use and the best way to get around the city.  My only complaint was that the skytrain does not get close enough to some parts of the city.  However, we were not there long enough to make it a real issue for us.

Next up Chiang Rai. Read about it by clicking here.

 

 

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6 responses to “Siem Reap, Cambodia and Angkor Wat 2008”

  1. Eleanor Hoague says:

    This was one of the most useful reports that I have read. Very, very helpful Thank you

  2. Mike Medina says:

    Hi… I found the account of your travel experiances in SE Asia very interesting and informative. Just having returned from a 5 week trip myself I was wondering what your overall opinion of the region is in regards to tourist. Personally I felt that Thailand Bangkok and Chaing Mai specifically were not foreigner friendly. I was subjected to numerous scams, acts of trickery, price gouging, and repeated attempts to seperate me from my money while in Thailand. Overall I would say that my experiance was that a majority of the Thai people looked at me as a walking ATM machine and it was a real turnoff.

    My opinion of Vietnam was quite the opposite as I found the people to be much more helpful and much less money hungry.

    My Cambodian experiance was even better than my Vietnamese portion of the trip. The people seem genuinely happy to have you in their country and very proud of their history (past not recent). But even where their recent history is concerned, the way the killing fields memorial was presented with such reverence and spirituality that it turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip, not morbid at all as I had feared.

    I am planning a rtw trip starting in August 2013,and I will definey spend a month or two in Cambodia.As for Thailand, well I think a one day layover or flight transfer is about all the time I would ever want to spend there!

    • Judy Gambee says:

      Mike – It sounds like you had an amazing trip! I have to agree with you that we preferred both Cambodia and Vietnam to Thailand, though not entirely for the same reasons. We did not get haggled too much, but did have a situation in both Bangkok and Hanoi where a taxi or tuk tuk driver tried to take advantage of us. Overall, we just didn’t care much for Bangkok but really loved Saigon and enjoyed the craziness of Hanoi. I agree that the Cambodian people were very proud of their history and really appreciated that we were there. We felt the same about the Vietnamese, and appreciated their willingness to discuss the war. I think they are more willing to move on from it then some Americans are!!

      Good luck on your rtw trip in August – sounds fabulous!!

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  4. Jacelyn says:

    Good post. I absolutely love this website. Keep it up!

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