Thailand, Cambodia: Trip Planning and Hotel Reviews 2008

Thailand and Cambodia: monks, massages and mahouts; tigers, temples and Tonging!!

After our trip to Morocco in March 2007 we knew we were up for still more adventure and zeroed in on Thailand and Cambodia.  We spent four nights in Bangkok, four nights in Chiang Rai, four nights in Siem Reap and two nights back in Bangkok before flying home.  We had an incredible trip doing, seeing and experiencing incredible things.   For those just beginning to plan their first trip, especially with kids/teens, I trust you will find this helpful as I did other’s trip reports when planning for this trip.

The three things I was most worried about:

  1. The heat
  2. The mosquitoes
  3. The smoke from burning at that time of year

First, the heat.  We knew we were going at the hottest time of the year (April being the hottest month).  Yes, it was VERY hot, probably affected Stephen the most and Michael liked to use it as an excuse when he got bored of say, temples.   So, no doubt it was hot, sometimes VERY hot, but it did not ruin the trip, and I am really glad we did it!!

Second the mosquitoes.  Frankly, were not that big of a problem.  Stephen and I did not get any bites.  Kids each got maybe six to eight, but they, again, were not that big of a problem, at least where we were and when.

Third, the smoke.  When I started planning the trip, several people who had gone the same time the previous year said there was awful smoke from the burning of the fields in northern Thailand, Burma and Laos.  Stephen, Michael and I are all asthmatics so I was particularly concerned about this.  We stocked up on prednisone, albuterol and meds for our travel nebulizer machine.  We did have some smoke when we were up in the Golden Triangle which definitely did obscure the views a bit, but thank God no asthma flare ups!!

PRETRIP PLANNING

I did the majority of my trip planning on the fodors forum (http://www.fodors.com/community/).  The folks there are a wealth of information (and nice to boot!!)  In all honesty this was ‘the easiest trip to plan as all recommendations were laid out for me.  There are however, several somewhat controversial subjects regarding traveling to Thailand and Cambodia on the fodor’s forum.  I will weigh in when appropriate.  I did read through Lonely Planet’s Cambodia Guide as well as a DK Bangkok Top 25.  Lauren and I also read First They Killed My Father, an autobiography of a woman who was about sis years oli when the Khmer Rouge came to power.  Stephen and I had already seen the “Killing Fields”, but I had Lauren watch it as well.  Was a bit concerned to have Michael watch it as I suspected it may have made him nervous about going to Cambodia, even though we knew it was safe.  In addition, I read about 1/3 of The King Never Smiles  (a biography of the current King) before I left it somewhere accidentally and was unable to finish it, A Record of Cambodia – a firsthand account of a visitor to Angkor Wat in the 13 th century, and John Burdett’s Bangkok 8, which I personally did not care for it, but if you are interested in knowing about the seedier side of Bangkok, go for it!

Regarding travel meds/immunizations, we tend to be very cautious.  I actually had us each take a two to three day dose of malarone back in July before I purchased the plane tickets just to make sure no one was going to have a strong reaction.  We took malarone on the trip with no side effects – yea!!  We were up to date on all our immunizations, including typhoid from our trip to Morocco the previous March.  Stephen and I decided to also do HEP B.  Since we have been doing so much traveling and one never knows when one might end up in the hospital we thought it was a prudent idea – and seemed like a really smart idea after spending so much time on the roads of Thailand!!!

 CLOTHES

 What to wear, and how about those shoes for the mahout training????  How to stay cool and still look good?  Really hard to do when you are profusely sweating and your hair is frizzed up, but I used a combo of wicking fabric shirts and cotton shirts.  I found cotton skirts and dresses to be the way to go to stay dry and also had two pairs of long (below the knee shorts) which were also great.  If you wear a skirt with a little cap sleeve top you will have no problem getting into Grand Palace, etc. and you will be cool.  So, weighing in here on Controversy #1 What type of shoes to wear for mahout training (elephant riding)?  (Okay I started this controversy by asking a question on the fodor’s board) – anyway, at least at the Anantara where we stayed,  there is no shoe requirement.  You can go barefoot as many of the mahouts do, although I would not recommend that as the elephant’s skin is very rough.  I would eliminate flip-f lops as they will fall off your feet.  Stephen wore Keens and kids and I wore crocs which all turned out to be great choices, as they are easy to clean –  which the kind man at Anantara did for us – don’t you love it??!!

One more thing about clothing is that I was not expecting people to be as dressy as they were for the hotel restaurants (at least in Bamgkok).  I was thinking more Hawaii like, but people were definitely dressier. Thank goodness we were never refused service anywhere (LOL!!) and even ate at Lord Jim’s one night. However, I wished I had brought a nicer pair of sandals and a pair of khaki pants for Michael as the only ones he had were his zip off pants.

Our Accomodations

The Peninsula (Bangkok)

This is one of the highest rated hotels in the world and we could see why.  We had two lovely rooms that had a little foyer and front door that we could close so we could keep the doors open to our rooms but still have privacy from the rest of the hotel.  The rooms are large with nice closet space and I loved the luggage bench they had across from the closet to keep your suitcases on.  Both of our rooms had beautiful views of the river.

Controversy #2 – Should you book a deluxe room (on the lower floors) or Grand Deluxe Room (on the higher floors)?  I had originally booked Grand Deluxe rooms as that seemed to be the consensus on fodors, then someone mentioned that they liked being on the lower floors so they could see the river traffic.  Well, that instantly reminded me of our canal view room in Venice and I immediately changed our reservation to Deluxe rooms (which are also cheaper!).  Our first stay we were on the 9th floor and upon our return to Bangkok we were on the 8th floor – both were great, and we loved to see the river traffic.

The breakfast buffet was incredible with wonderful American as well as Thai dishes.  Fabulous pastries, delicious fruit.  I loved the mini-french toast and small chocolate croissants.  Just enough for my taste, but if you want more you can get it.  The only thing that was missing was oatmeal, which I love, but we never found it served anywhere on our trip.

The service here was just incredible.  From housekeeping, to room service, to concierge, to food staff everyone was so nice, helpful and genuine.  We broke down and used the laundry service a few times, and they even sewed a button on a pair of pants without us mentioning it (the button was in the pocket).  The night before we had to leave, the zipper of Michael’s zip off pants broke.  We called them at 9:30pm.  We told them we were leaving about 9am the next morning, they fixed them in about a half an hour.

Controversy #3 – Is the Peninsula on the “wrong” side of the river?  We would answer a resounding “NO”.  The Peninsula is across the river from the main city of Bangkok, some people prefer to be on the city side of the river so they don’t have to cross it every time they head to the city.  We loved being on the other side of the river and really enjoyed our short boat rides across.  After the hustle bustle of Bangkok, just stepping onto the Peninsula boat made you immediately relax.

Anantara Golden Triangle (Chiang Rai)

We had originally thought we would spend time at the beach but chose to skip it and do Siem Reap instead.  So my hope was that the Anantara would allow us to have some nice relaxation time – it did not disappoint.  For me, our whole time at the Anantara was my favorite part of the trip.  While the rooms and service were not quite up to par with the Peninsula, they really were not far behind.  This is a beautiful resort with stunning lobby, great restaurants, beautiful pool area, nice rooms and another fabulous staff.

 

 

We stayed in one of the suites which allowed the four of us to be in one room.  In addition to one king bed, they had a large sort of daybed that they converted into a bed and then we also had a twin rollaway in the room.  There was still plenty of room.  There was a nice walk in closet with a lot of space that allowed us to keep our suitcase outside of the main room.  My only complaint was that the shower was more open so privacy was more of an issue, but not too difficult.

I just enjoyed the extra grounds at the Anantara that you can not get in a city hotel, and appreciated the relaxing peaceful atmosphere.  The lobby was beautiful.  The staff was really wonderful.  We really appreciated when the guy offered to clean our shoes after our mahout training.  Stephen said his Keens had not looked that color since the day he bought them.

Hotel de la Paix (Siem Reap)

It was great, but our least favorite hotel of the three we stayed in. (Although the others were fabulous so hard to compete).  The service was great but not quite up to par of the other two; I think that may be just Siem Reap in general.  Nice breakfast buffet, but hot items needed to be ordered off the menu (though included).  Just takes a bit more time then getting everything off the buffet, so need to plan time accordingly in the morning.

The rooms were very nice but we did find the beds very hard. (Even I noticed it as soon as I laid down, and I usually do not notice those types of things, though hubby does).  Some of the nicest hallways I have seen.  There was a computer on every floor, which we often found available.  Here we had two rooms that had a similar set up to the Peninsula where we were able to keep our room doors open to each other, but there was another door to close off to the hallway.

It was in an excellent location right in the heart of town just a few blocks walk to Pub St. and Old Market.  For the record, despite the traffic noise in the town, we never noticed it anywhere in the hotel.

We did encounter a few mosquitoes in the room.

The architecture is very cool and hip, done quite nicely, although I did not really get the large art gallery in the middle of the lobby. The pool is nice with some of the most relaxing pool chairs as they are nicely padded and quite wide.  They also have some bed type things but they are covered and kind of dark.  My one complaint was that this was definitely more of a city hotel when it came to the pool area.  Not a lot of room and no view to look out on.  We had dinner one night at another hotel’s restaurant and their pool area was more spread out with more grounds around it.

Our day in Los Angeles – or what to do when someone has a bad ear infection!!

We live in Southern Oregon so we left there at 4pm to fly to LAX, spend the night there and leave the next day at 9:30pm for Bangkok.  We had to spend our day in LA looking at some colleges for Lauren.

The day before we left Stephen decided that he might have a sinus infection or something and needed to go to the doctor before we left town.  The doctor confirmed that he had an ear infection and gave him some antibiotics.

Our flight the to LAX was on a turboprop plane.  As we started to descend Stephen began holding his ears, and as we continued to descend the pain got worse and worse.  He got very pale and we both honestly thought he might pass out.  When we finally landed he was just drained and in pain.  He said he thought he needed to go to the emergency room tonight and that he was wary of having to fly again tomorrow, as it had been so painful.

We had made plans to meet friends for dinner near LAX so we went ahead with those plans and had a nice dinner.  We were staying that night in Claremont so we could visit some schools nearby the next day. Stephen decided he wanted to go to the ER at Huntington Memorial in Pasadena as we used to live there and he knew where it was and the area.  It was only slightly out of the way for the final Claremont destination.

We arrived at the emergency room about 9:30pm and unfortunately it was  packed!  It took almost 1.5 hours for him to even get called by the nurse just to be triaged.  As we sat there and waited he said, “This is so painful, I may not be able to go tomorrow.”  Hmmmmmm…….now, I had been contemplating that he may say that, and I really am a loving wife, but my first response was to say “Well, the kids and I can go.  When you feel better in a day or two you can catch up with us.”

Well, he was not too thrilled with that and frankly neither were the kids.  However, at the time that it seemed that it would be easier for just him to wait a day or two than for all four of us. Honestly, after nine months of planning the thought of renting a car and driving home  just did not seem possible!!

After a few tears by all, we agreed to just relax  and wait to see what the doctor would say.  Well, the doctor did say it was probably best not to fly, however, he said the worst that could happen was that he could pop his ear drum which would mean a loss of hearing in that ear for about 30 days.  In addition, he could not go  into water, even needed to be careful when showering because it is important not to get any water in your ears as you are at a great risk of infection.  Since I knew that both ears were hurting, I asked “what would happen if both eardrums broke?”  I am thinking that being completely deaf for 30 days was not a risk Stephen would want to take.  The doctor said it would be highly unlikely for both to pop.  He prescribed numbing ear drops and a  narcotic pain medication and said “Good luck if you go!”  So, three hours later at 12:30am we were finally done and headed out to our hotel in Claremont.  Stephen said it would be a “Game Time” decision.

We visited the colleges the next day and he got his prescriptions filled at Walgreens.  While there he found these little plastic things (they almost look like screws) that you put in your ear prior to take off and descent.  They are called Earplanes (http://www.amazon.com/EarPlane-Pressure-Regulating-Plugs-Adult/dp/B00023DIFO).  They are supposed to help equalize the pressure in your ears.  All day we kept asking “Do your ears feel better?”  but he kept saying “no”.  However, armed with his medication and plastic ear thingies he got on the plane!!  Now, when I first booked the flight it was nonstop LAX-BKK, but a month or two earlier they had switched the flight to a different plane and so it was going to have to stop and refuel in Osaka – not good news for Stephen.  This meant an additional landing and take off.  Well, the good news is he made it.  He did have some pressure and pain, but nothing like that first turboprop flight.  It definitely helped that we were on a jet as opposed to a turboprop, plus he thought the Earplanes really worked!

A few words about the flight.  We had economy tickets.  They were free using a FF mile plan that allows you to get tickets on any airline.  However, they have to be the lowest fare so I was not able to use more miles or pay additional cost for premium economy.  I was really worried as the flight changed from 17.5 hours to 19.5 hours when they added the stopover in Osaka.  Plus, with all the comments on fodors about how great premium economy was and worth the extra cost I was a bit wary.  However, I am here to report that if you end up taking regular economy it is not that bad!!  The seats are wider and have more leg room then the majority of carriers in economy class and in addition there is a foot rest, plus the individual, on demand movies/tv/etc. are great!!  I usually can not fall asleep for very long on a plane and was a bit concerned about being on there so long with no sleep.  I contemplated sleeping pills (which I never take) and did get a prescription for Ambien, but I appreciated the comments a  lot of people said on Fodors about why they do not take sleeping pills, if you are tired your body will sleep.  Well, that is exactly what happened.  I think I slept for about five hours on the plane (I do not think I have ever slept more than 30 minutes at a time before!)  The food was not bad (but it is still airplane food) and the service was great!!

To read about all the adventures – click on the link below:

Bangkok

Chiang Rai

Siem Reap, Cambodia

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2 responses to “The Golden Triangle – Chiang Rai 2008”

  1. That elephant ride must have been a blast! Hope you don’t mind, I had to add a link to your blog on my blog (www.cityoftheweek.wordpress.com), I absolutely love it! Keep up the good work, I’ll sure be back!

    • Judy Gambee replied: — September 12th, 2012 @ 3:43 pm

      Glad you enjoyed the blog! Yours looks amazing too!

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