"What's a guy like me doing in a place
First and foremost I must point out that
this report is based on one trip to Thailand and that I am by no means an
expert after such a short visit. To claim otherwise would be insane. I
am however a seasoned traveler in Asia and many of the survivor and
tourist skills I have learned in other parts of Asia served me quite well
in this new land.
I must also state that everything you
read here is quite possibly wrong. The observations and viewpoints in this
report are totally my own work and
based on my experiences over 7 days and 6 nights in Thailand and therefore
a first person view of life in and around Bangkok and Pattaya and
should not be viewed as a travel guide to Thailand. For example I
stayed at one hotel in Bangkok and then one in Pattaya. How on earth could
I ever recommend a hotel as I have nothing to compare them with, however I
will comment on the places I did stay at and try to give you a flavor of
what I saw and felt. Also where possible I will give advice from seasoned
Expats or tourists where applicable on certain areas of my trip where I
feel their perspective my help shed light on a particular topic.
As my father once told me, you never get
a second chance at a first impression. Given that I will share with you my
first impressions on Thailand. But just realize that my viewpoints are skewed
and probably different from many others who have traveled to the land of
As far as that goes I might as
well say up front that every reference to a nefarious event or act in this report
could very well be a figment of my imagination. (This is known in the
legal community as a disclaimer and prevents me from incriminating myself
in case I say something a little too unconventional or personal.) I can
always say none of this ever really happened without fear of retribution.
It's sad that I have to do that here, but certainly prudent. There are
just too many people waiting to pounce on any little detail they think is
incorrect or misrepresents their viewpoints.
So sit back and relax take
everything I say with a grain of salt (or should I say a grain of rice?) and I'll
share with you my viewpoints on Thailand from a first time tourist.
When you see this Tuk Tuk graphic it will take you to a link with more
information on the topic listed. The Tuk Tuk is the Thailand version of
the Philippine's trike and takes you where you want to go cheap, or in this case,
"It was time for a time for a trip."
That is what I was thinking after being
in the Philippines for 13 months. Yes, it was time to go somewhere and
experience for myself the things I have read about for so long. The only
question for me was should I go to Cambodia or Thailand?
didn't have to go for any visa reason or anything, but I told myself that
when I moved to South East Asia I would travel more and it had been too
long since I went somewhere new. Cambodia has held a fascination with me
for a long time but Thailand won out for various reasons.
Planning was weird as it was not only
last minute, but I had to sandwich it between a lot of activity here in Angeles
City like the opening of the Camelot Club and the Roadhouse anniversary party.
So I only had
about a week to ten days to fit something in. In the end the only reason I chose
Thailand over Cambodia is that there was more readily available
information about Bangkok and Pattaya, both on the Internet and people I
could talk to in town, than information available on Phnom Penh or other
places I want to visit.
So it was The Kingdom of Thailand that
would be my cherry trip. I drove my scooter down and booked
my tickets at the local tour and travel center and off I went. The
cheapest tickets were on Egypt Air (about 250 US dollars) but they only
had flights on Wednesday and Saturday and those days just didn't fit into
any of my plans. I then had a choice of either Thai Airways or Philippine
Air Lines (PAL) and I chose the PAL flight as I like the new terminal in Manila a little
better than the older terminal but in retrospect should have gone with Thai
Airways, but more on
that later. Tickets on both were pretty cheap and the same at 323 US
I should take a moment to talk about prices and money in this report. I
realize that things constantly change as far as prices go but I
will try to give all prices I paid for things but ensure you realize that the exchange
rate was 1 US dollar to about 42 Thai Baht when I took my trip. At this same moment in the
Philippines one US dollar was exchanging for around 52 pesos. Even if
things cost the same per dollar I was behind because of the conversion
rate. So you can already see that Thailand was going to be more expensive
that back home in Angeles City but I had no idea
what was to come.
...but again I get ahead of myself.
While I am at it and explaining myself,
I will say now that many times I will be comparing Thailand to the
Philippines. This is by design as I know the Philippines very well and the
most often asked questions I get are "How does that compare to Thailand?" or "Is
this the same as it is in the Philippines?" So as often as possible I will try to
give my opinion on the two places when possible and where it applies.
Anyway, with passport in one hand,
carry-on bag over my shoulder, tickets in the other hand and some money
stashed away in my money belt, I was off to the airport.
I had booked my flight for Sunday as I
knew traffic in Manila would be lighter on this day, but I still managed
somehow to get caught behind some marching students on their way to the
Culture Center in Manila and was almost late for my flight. The Honey Ko
came to the airport with me as she wanted to make sure I was going to
Thailand and not spending time in Manila. Strange how she trusts me over
in Thailand but not in her own country, oh well. I stopped trying to
understand every nuance of the Filipina psyche a long time ago.
Once I got to the airport checking in
and getting on the plane turned out to be easy and I even managed once on
board to get an exit row to stretch out a little.
The Kokomo's wet T-Shirt contest was the
day before and then the opening of Camelot followed that. With a farewell
barhop and back to do final prep for my trip and the cab coming to pick me
up at 5:30 AM, by the time I hit that airplane seat I was up for 24 plus
hours so I was wrecked. I crashed hard and slept quite well all the way
waking up only once to shoo away a flight attendant trying to shove some
sort of food in my face and then waking up once again about 10 minutes out
My first impressions of Thailand were
strange. I knew flying into this country that things are much different
from what I was used to in the Philippines, Japan, or 8 years living in Korea.
The first thing that struck me was how
flat the place was around Bangkok. The landscape seemed to stretch on forever with no variations in
elevation. Also very noticeable were the waterways spread out everywhere.
These canals (or "Klongs" as it is known in Thai which means a small
river or canal) are all over the place. Judging distances while in an aircraft cruising a couple hundred miles an
hour is difficult at best, but there seemed to be a long straight waterway
running well past line of sight every 15 miles or so. As we got closer to
the airport the waterways got bigger and more and more construction and
housing around the shores. Nothing but farms and fields in-between them.
Along each side of the waterways were straight and long highways with
little traffic on them. I was thinking to myself how fun a Ninja motorbike
would be here as they looked like raceways and not highways.
As the plane got closer to Bangkok the
houses popped up. Very strange looking houses from the air too. They
looked like those little red plastic monopoly houses, all lined up
straight as can be.
we got closer to Bangkok more of the red plastic houses peppered the
landscape. It looked as if some property owners got the four in a row and
changed their little red houses up to the green plastic hotels. These also
were all lined up and in a row after row after row.
Right before the airport one could start
to see the city itself and regular (regular for Asia that is) buildings
and high rises all over the place. Even from this height you could see
temples all over the place seemingly scattered about. It was if the city
was built around all these temples with little regard to city planning.
And then just like
that the plane was on the ground at
Don Muang International Airport.
A 3 hour flight from Manila and I had
about 10 minutes of sightseeing from the air. Oh well, maybe next trip as
my flight out was at night and I certainly wouldn't see anything then.
Immigration was a breeze. There were
plenty of windows open and while most lined up behind the first couple of
windows open, I walked down to the left and found 3 or 4 just waiting for
tourists. I picked a line with a cute little immigration officer working. As
I took a mint that was in a small bowl by her desk she quickly stamped my
passport and I was through. I then got my first taste of the accent.
"Tank yew sir. Havva
nice holiday." she rang out in a cute little voice. Her smile was glowing and I
felt some excitement ahead. It was a strange feeling being a newbie again,
but I liked it.
A weird thing I read on the airplane
about immigration and a rule I had not heard of in any other country I
have visited was
that entry into Thailand may
be refused to people with long, untidy-looking hair who are dressed in a
manner considered by the authorities to be 'hippyish' or offensive. With all
the untidy people I saw this trip I seriously doubt this rule is being enforced
but it may behoove some who keep their hair long and like to dress like an
extra on That 70's Show to wear more conservative clothes until they are
through immigrations and customs.
On the airplane
they handed me a form to fill out that had both a disembarkment card and a departure card attached to
it. I was glad I took the time to fill both these forms out as the immigration officer took the
departure card and literally stapled it to the inside of my passport on the same
sheet as my entry stamp. I didn't like someone putting holes into my
passport, but when in Rome...
Overall a very
fast and very efficient immigration system in place at the Bangkok
airport, onwards to customs...
As I only had carry on for this
trip I got through customs even faster than immigration so from time of landing and
stepping out the airplane door to being ready to get transportation to
downtown was a maximum of 5 minutes. Then the other side of Thailand (at
least how I experienced it) came to light. I was approached by about 15 to
20 people all asking me to use their car service, or stay at their hotel,
or take their tour. So many touts here in the airport but little did
I know this was only the beginning. There are touts everywhere in this
country. Everywhere I went on this vacation there was someone trying to
sell me something or get me to spend my money buying a service or product.
Some words on touts from an Expat in Thailand named Mack:
talk about touts. A variation on the "vendor" theme here is the tout. You'll
see guys hanging out in front of all of the bigger hotels that are
frequented by tourists and also out in front of Patpong and Soi Cowboy.
They're easy to recognize, because as soon as they see your portly
non-Thai face shuffling up the road, they'll call out to you, "Taxi, Sir?"
Tell them "No". They'll sometimes persist if you look like you're new here
and ask, "Where you going?" Give them a peeved look and tell them
Have seen them quote prices to newbies that usually were five or six times
what the actual "meter" fare would be. Therefore, have no dealings with
taxi touts. Don't tell them where you're going, just flag down your own
cab, tell the driver to put the meter on and tell the guy driving the cab
where you want to go. They all know where Soi Cowboy, Nana Plaza, Pantip
Plaza, Patpong and a few more places are since so many Westerners go
there. But if you're headed somewhere obscure, just ask the girl at the
front desk of your hotel to write down in Thai the name and address of
where you want to go and show that to the driver.
Likewise, get a few cards from your hotel with its address written on it
in case you get a cab driver on the way back who isn't familiar with your
[If you're headed anywhere where the Skytrain goes, that's the fastest way
to get anywhere, it's cheaper than cabs and the girl-watching is usually
pretty damn good.]
In a related vein, not all cabbies want to turn on their meter ... if you
ever get into a cab and tell the guy to turn on his meter but he won't
turn it on immediately, get right back out of the cab and flag down the
next one ... most of our cabbies here are honest, so don't reward the
occasional cheat. As a rule of thumb, I've found that almost every cab
I've taken will turn on the meter without a fuss if I have flagged the cab
down as it was driving down the street. But if the cab was parked at the
side of the street, the drivers almost always seem to try to negotiate a
much higher fare. My practice now is to never get into any cab that wasn't
already moving before I flagged it down. That cuts way down on the
The other area you'll encounter touts is along Sukhumvit Road. If you are
a Western male under the age of about 135, you'll regularly walk past guys
who will ask "Massage, sir?" or something similar. Just tell them, "No"
and keep walking. Many massage parlors (and also jewelry stores) will pay
touts a commission if they bring a tourist into that place of business
(the usual commission for massage parlors is 500 baht, which the parlor
recoups by upping the price it charges you by an extra 500 baht). That's
about three days pay for the average unskilled Thai wage-earner, so there
are a lot of Thai guys who try this for a vocation.
Fact is, there are plenty of web resources about all of the different
massage places in Thailand
so there's no need to get gouged an extra 500 baht that way.
That "commission" is also available to cabbies, and so cab drivers might
occasionally try to take you to one of the massage places that DOES pay
commissions (if you had asked him to take you one that does NOT pay
commissions). For example, three well-known massage parlors here are named
"Chayao Phraya" ... there is a CP-1, a CP-2 and a CP-3. To a tourist, they
all sound the same ... but the best deal is at CP-2. They don't pay
commissions and the service and value is the best there. So it's not
unknown for a driver to take you to CP-3 down the street instead of to
CP-2 as you had asked, since CP-3 pays commissions but offers inferior
service at an inflated price. As a general rule of thumb, if a cabbie
gets out and tries to follow you into a business establishment, that's a
pretty good sign that he thinks he can get a commission that will be
added to your tab. I don't allow that sort of nonsense. If it happens to
you, just tell the cabbie to get lost and tell the manager of the business
that the cabbie is not with you. And if you tell a cabbie to take you
somewhere and he claims that it's closed, he's trying the same scam ...
insist on going where you asked. Doesn't happen very often and they back
down if you tell them to knock it off, but such is life in the Third World
now and then.
These are the sorts of things that just trip up newbies ... once a guy has
been here a couple of times, he's street-smart enough that he won't get
taken advantage of much the same as old Angeles City hands know not to
agree to join card games with Filipino males at a remote location or to
agree to a shoeshine before having agreed to the price clearly in
"Money makes the World go 'round..."
first thing I needed was some Thai Baht.
My research paid off and I knew that a favorable rate could be gotten at
the airport so I exchanged 200 dollars here. There were a couple of
different booths here to exchange money but their rates were so close I
used the Thai Military Bank exchange booth only because there was no line.
A great thing about Thailand is that it seems most exchange booths are run
by banks and they will not try to rip you off on the exchange rate. For
example when I exchanged my US dollars at the airport I got 42.35 and when
I checked the street exchange rate a couple hours later I saw their rate
was 42.64. Not too bad... I would never tell someone to exchange money at
the airport in Manila and to wait until they could use a street place, but
here in Thailand you get basically the same rate wherever you go. Well,
everywhere but the hotels, but more on that later.
"Are you sure this isn't Monopoly Money?"
The Thai unit of currency is called "Baht". One baht is divided into 100
satang. The best exchange rate of course being in places that specialized
in that service but good rates (unlike in the Philippines) could also be
found at the airport in Bangkok.
Coins are used in
denominations of 25 satang (brass), 50 satang (brass), 1 baht (silver), 5
baht (silver with a copper rim), and 10 baht (brass with a silver margin).
Bank note denominations comprise 10 baht (brown), 20 baht (green), 50 baht
(blue), 100 baht (red), 500 baht (purple) and 1,000 baht (gray). Both
coins and banknotes have western and Thai numerals on them.
At no other time in Thailand did I
feel more like a newbie than when I was dealing with their money. I
handle the Philippine Peso like I grew up with it and can tell
denomination by size, color, and of course amount, but the Thai Baht
was a new experience for me. The new colors and most of the writing
was in Thai with only one little roman numeral in the corner.
Another weird thing was that the 20 Baht note in Thai looked like
100 written in roman numerals. The 500 Baht bill was the color of a 100
peso bill and the 100 Baht the color of the 50 peso bill in the Philippines. Then
looked like 900 in Thai and also of course another color. Not to mention
they use coins here more than in the Philippines. By the time you
know it you have a pocket full of ten Baht coins that adds up to
some real money fast.
It really took a while to get used
to handling this currency. By the time I felt I could open my wallet
without looking like a complete fool it was time to leave!
"Nice weather, huh?"
I did enough research before this trip
not to take any of the private cars offered inside and proceeded outside to the meter cabs. After I stepped through to the main
street where all the cabs were waiting I was ushered to the main desk
where I got a receipt for a cab. She simply asked where I was going and
then handed me a receipt. This receipt has the number of the cab you will
be using and a small section for a complaint form. The driver may ask to
get this from you but it is not necessary to do so. A private car to the hotel would have cost about
500 to 600 baht inside but a meter cab at max 300 baht including all the
tolls and taxes. As
Don Muang International Airport is only
about 25km north of central Bangkok I was not willing to
pay that much to get there. Not that I am a Cheap Charlie, but I like
value for my money. Something I would learn can be sometimes hard to get here in
There looks to be two types of meter cabs in Thailand. There are the blue
and red cars that are drivers that rent the car or work for a cab company
and there are also yellow and green colored cabs that are owned and
operated by the driver. I
used both while in Thailand and saw little difference in attitude or
knowledge of the areas I wanted to go to.
When I got in the cab (Yellow/Green this time) I got my first
shock in the Land of Smiles and reinforced my opinion that no matter how much you
read about a place or talk to people who have been there before you go, there
will always be surprises. The steering wheel was on the wrong side!
I know many reading this will think that it was on the correct side and we
in America and the Philippines are wrong, but for me this was a shock. I
don't know why but it just never occurred to me that the steering wheel
would be on the right and not the left. I can't tell you how many times
this trip I almost got hit by a car because I was looking the wrong way
before crossing a street. I had spent many a night in Japan while in the
service but usually with night landings and out in a few hours for various
reasons after a quick meeting. This would be the first time in my life
spending some considerable time traveling around with this type of driving
My reservation was a standard room at
the Ambassador Bangkok Hotel for my time in the capital city and even
though I told the main cab dispatcher and she assured me she knew where it
was, I was happy I printed out the address and was able to hand it to the
driver as he had no clue where to go.
When I first got in the cab at the
airport he started to drive and quoted me a price of 300 Baht which would
include the 50 Baht airport surcharge (something all cabs that pick up
from the airport must pay) and the highway tolls if so desired. The
metered highways that are elevated through the city have much less traffic
on them and can shorten your trip considerably so I told him to go the
toll way. I knew that there were two different tolls he would have to pay
of 30 and 40 Baht so the total of extras of 120 Baht made the trip only
180 Baht. A good deal for 300 as I knew if I had asked to pay meter it
could have possibly been more so I did not mind he did not turn the meter
on. Had he asked for 400 or more I would have insisted he do so. I also
knew if I had arrived at night not to use the toll ways as traffic would
be light enough, but it was around 12 noon and I didn't want to waste time
stuck in this cab.
He must have asked to see the paper I
had printed the Ambassador Hotel address on about 3 times but found it
with little problem. I had read also on the net that there are no
exams that have to be passed to become a taxi driver in Bangkok, and so
many have a less than encyclopedic knowledge of the city. Communication
can be a problem with the majority of Bangkok's taxi drivers too. It's
worth bearing in mind that many taxi (and tuk tuk) drivers are from
Thailand's poor Isaan (northeast) region and are likely to be fairly
uneducated and many speak very little English. Even the ones that can will
probably not be able to read a map that's written only in English. However
I had no problems during my small stay in this town and got around pretty
well with no hassles and only taken once I believe but for a few Baht
The cab ride from the airport to the
hotel took about 20 minutes or so and I spent most of the time staring at
the wad of cash I now had. I tried speaking with the cab driver a few
times but the English level was so poor the conversation went something
Me: "This money is colorful, isn't it?"
Me: "Yes, your money. I mean look at this 500. Very pretty with that gold
Cabbie: "No, not 500, 300 only hotel we go."
Me: "Ummm, no. I mean the 500. It's a good looking bill."
Cabbie: "Mai 500, 300."
Me: "Yes, 300 hotel. I was just saying that your country has nice money."
Cabbie: "You want rice money?"
Me: "Nice weather, huh?"
Cabbie: "Yes, nice weather."
And I went back to looking out the
window and enjoying my ride into town.
A major difference from the Philippines,
and even Korea, I noticed on the highway was the lack of English on signs
and poster ads everywhere. There are of course the occasional word like
"SONY" or something, but for the most part everything is in Thai and I
think very hard for a first time tourist to get around in a rental car or
something. I think cabs, trains, and tuk tuks are the way to go here. Even
though the road signs have the English equivalent (sometimes) written
bellow the Thai it is written much smaller and still hard to pronounce.
"I bet you can't say that three
I think we all realize that The
Asian stereotype of Westerners is that we are loud, blunt, clumsy,
and insensitive to matters of dress and general social behavior.
While this is mostly correct (just a little sarcasm guys, relax) I find
that speaking a little of your host country's language goes a long
way and I was bound and determined to learn a little while I was
here. I think given a lot of practice I could learn this language
but after talking with some seasoned travelers and Expats here I knew it would
not be an easy task.
I first looked at the Thai language it looked like some of the most
bizarre script I have ever seen. I guess growing up in California I
got enough exposure to Chinese and Korean writing that by the time I
moved to Korea I was used to it and even read a little. But this
Thai alphabet was peculiar.
It looks like that episode of
Sesame Street where some snakes come out on the screen and twist and
turn their bodies into letters spelling out words. Just look at it!
Almost every letter has a little head on it. Not to mention the
strange accents some of the letters have on them. I knew this was no
language I was going to pick up fast.
Some information I learned about
Thai off the net:
The official national language,
spoken by almost 100 per cent of the population, is Thai, classified
by linguists as belonging to a Chinese-Thai branch of the
Sino-Tibetan family. It is a tonal language, uninflected, and
predominantly monosyllabic. Most polysyllabic words in the
vocabulary have been borrowed, mainly from Khmer, Pali or Sanskrit.
Dialects are spoken in rural areas. Principal other languages are
Chinese and Malay. English, a mandatory subject in public schools,
is widely spoken and understood, particularly in Bangkok and other
I would argue with that last
sentence. As even classic signs you would take for granted are also
translated into Thai. In the Philippines and Korea these icons were
for the most part left alone, but here in the land of smiles you
would still get some strange looking font staring at you even though
you recognized the graphic.
Can you tell what these two
Lastly, how do I explain what the
language sounds like? Try if you can to imagine listening to French
spoken backwards. That is Thai. Add to that it is a tonal language
and most foreigners will have one hell of a time trying to learn
some basic conversation. I met a girl in Bangkok I shared a drink
with at Clinton Plaza that spoke very good English and she tried to teach me some
basic Thai. I think the best phase I learned when trying to speak
Thai was (don't quote me on the spelling) "pom chiep lim!" or "This
is hurting my tongue!" Hmmm, come to think of it that phrase can be
used elsewhere as well...
one guy at Nana Plaza that had studied formally for years and he
said that he still makes major mistakes. He said once he took his
Thai girlfriend and family in the states up to his home in New York
and said in Thai (or so he thought), "Look, that mountain has snow
on it. Have you ever seen that?" when in fact he said something to
the effect, "Look, that vagina is cumming. Have you ever done that?"
While I have no clue if his story is true, it was very funny and
worth repeating. :)
"Reservation? We don't need no stinkin'
When the cab pulled up to the Ambassador
Hotel I thought surly I was at the wrong place as this place was far too
elegant for my budget and one night in Bangkok. It looked like a 4 to 5
star hotel minimum but I paid the cab (meter was 190 so with the 50 and
toll ways the total would have been 310, so I actually did get a lower price from
his flat rate) then got out and walked up to the check-in desk.
Problems, problems, problems and a taste
of that Asian stubbornness was soon to follow. I told the lady at the
front desk (of which all hotel staff spoke not only perfect English, but I
noticed the receptionist next to me helping another lady was speaking
impeccable French) that
I had a reservation for a standard room and I gave her my confirmation
number from the online booking I had made while in the Philippines.
A quick check of the computer and she came back with no reservation on
record. I asked her to check again which she did to no avail. She then
asked me what service I had used and then called someone on the phone to
check. As I speak no Thai for all I could have known she was ordering
lunch, but after a 5
minute conversation she again replied that there was no reservation. I
then asked her for a recommendation on what to do or where to go. She
seemed confused but took the printout I had handed her and walked into the
171 Sukhumvit Road
Bangkok, Thailand 10110
Tel: (66-2) 677-6240 to 5 and 254-0444
Fax: (66-2) 677-6246 to 7 and 254-7503
About 5 or 6 people have checked in by
now and I was starting to get a little impatient as I wanted to get out on
the town and not waste time looking for a place to sleep. But she finally
came out and again said that no reservation was found. I then, quite by
accident but mostly because I'm a sarcastic twit, asked
"Well, do you have
any rooms anyway I can take?"
"Of course sir. How many nights would
The REAL funny part is that I got a
lower rate as a walk-in than I would have gotten with a reservation. A
standard room in the main wing only cost 1000 baht. Confirmed reservation
(or so I thought) online was 1200 baht. Amazing...
The room itself while small was rather
nice. I didn't mind too much because after all, how much time do you spend
in a room? The bed was firm, the CR was clean and the cable TV worked
although there certainly was nothing on worth watching that could make me
stay in the hotel!
Something that was a little different
though, I did notice that while there was mineral water in the small
mini-bar provided for sale, there was also bottled water complimentary
available as well. Nice touch. I put both these bottles in the fridge so I
would have cold water later.
Rates were the following (in baht) when I was
Rates - Nov 2003
To top off the fact I was now in a
Buddhist country and not a predominantly Catholic one, I noticed in the
nightstand was a copy of the Teachings of Buddha and not the standard
Bible that one would normally find there. I had studied Buddhism in college
(minored in Eastern Philosophy) but this was the first time I was immersed in it and it was a foreign
feeling. It was one thing to study a religious belief but it is another
visit a place so heavily dominated by one. Even when I was living in Korea
there was still a huge
Christian population and many of the same cultural markers were held in
common with the Western visitor, but this small symbol was only the
beginning of things to come as I would see signs of this influence all throughout my stay in
the Land of Smiles.
It is funny when one's cultural
background is called into question and things we take for granted no
longer apply. An example of this was once while I was talking to a street
vendor deep into the barter negotiations he quite abruptly (and without
covering his mouth I might add) loudly sneezed. Without even thinking I started to blurt out "God Bless
You." but had a brain freeze and got stuck in mid-sentence as I realized that would make
absolutely no sense to a practicing Buddhist. So instead of looking polite
and well mannered I came across looking like a blabbering idiot as I
stammered out, "Gaaa blemph phew" as I struggled to suck back in the words
that were trying to escape my mouth.
"What you say? You
want or not?" the vendor replied.
"Umm, I said 'Lot of Baht for you'. It's
just too expensive. Never mind... Bye." And I
Anyway, I digress. I quite liked the Ambassador for my one
night plus stay in Bangkok but as I have not stayed at any other hotel I
can't compare it much to any other available. Once again some
information by Mack about hotels in Bangkok. The best advice I
have seen written on the subject:
I've lived in Thailand for about three years now, perhaps I can add some
additional observations to yours.
Be aware that many of
the medium and high-end places will not allow female "guests" to go to the
rooms. And quite a few other places that do allow it will stick you for a
"joiner fee" (of several hundred baht per night) if you do try to bring a
girl to your room. If any of you are headed for Thailand, here are two
suggestions if you do plan to bring girls back to your room:
(1) Book your room as a "double" rather than a single. Most times, it
costs the same price either way. For many hotels, they charge a joiner fee
if you booked a single but not if you booked a double (even at the same
price). And if it costs you a bit more to book a double, the difference
will still be well below what they'd try to get as a joiner fee. As a
general rule of thumb, if a hotel lists an "extra bed" charge in their
tariff, that's what the joiner fee will add up to.
(2) If you make hotel reservations yourself, insist that the booking
confirmation that the hotel sends you mentions that the hotel will place
no restrictions on having overnight guests and that there are no joiner
fees. Ask them to confirm this when you make your room reservation
inquiry. And if their response does not specifically address both of those
points, send them back another e-mail and again tell them that you will be
unable to book that space until they give you both assurances in writing.
Then bring a copy of their e-mail with you.
A bit of background here ... Bangkok is a big city and has thousands of
hotels. Some cater to nationals of certain countries, some cater to
businessmen, some cater to tour groups who come to shop and some cater to
poon hounds like us (unlike Angeles City, where guys come to visit for
pretty much just one thing).
Places that don't cater to poon hounds tend to either restrict access for
bargirls or to charge a big joiner fee in order to discourage that sort of
traffic (and if the poon hounds come anyway, it's free extra money for
them). Guys in the know here quickly learn which places cater to our hobby
and which give the best value, so this is rarely a problem except for
Case in point, Ambassador Hotel is reputed to have a stiff (no pun
intended) joiner fee. Haven't had any of my buddies stay there the last
two or three years so I don't
know for certain that they still have a joiner fee. But it'd be worth
asking about if you plan to stay there. They cater to tour groups from
India and China (who come to Bangkok with their wives mostly to shop)
rather than to the poon trade, by the way.
Grand President, where I live, mostly gets the poon trade but is toward
the pricier end of the scale (being well located, very nice rooms, marble
bathrooms with full tubs, three swimming pools and so on). But no joiner
fees here at the Grand President.
Because Bangkok has so many hotels and is such a big city, here is a quick
summary of the places I recommend to buddies (based on their travel
budgets). All are in the Sukhumvit corridor, between Nana Plaza and Soi
Cowboy (the two main poon areas for guys who come here a lot) and on the
Skytrain line so that you can get to Patpong (the higher priced poon area
that first-timers gravitate toward) and to shopping easily, quickly and
For guys on very big budgets that want a lot of luxury and don't care much
about the cost, the place to stay here would be the JW Marriott (it's the
fanciest place in town I know that still allows you to bring back
overnight guests). Great ($$$) restaurants, also, if you want to eat
upscale but not travel far.
Next up in elegance would be the Landmark Hotel, very well located and
also excellent restaurants (I eat there often when I have guests in town).
Overnight guests are okay, my better-heeled buddies tell me.
Another notch down in price and opulence would be the Grand President on
Soi 11 (where I live) or one of its sister hotels in the area (those are a
bit less well located and tend to have only the larger, more expensive
If you do book space at the GP or one of its sister hotels, be sure to ask
for "the TSM discount". That was negotiated years ago when many of us were
still TSM members and they still honor it (I doubt that they even know
what "TSM" is, other than "some sort of travel club"). But just for the
asking (no need to prove anything), they'll lop 20% off the rack rate.
They'll give another 20% discount on top of that if you will be there for
at least a week (ask for "the weekly TSM rate") and yet another 20%
discount on top of that if you will be there for at least a month (ask for
"the TSM monthly rate"). For long-time residents like me, the price is not
But it's a popular place (thanks to all the great publicity and word of
mouth), so it's often full during the busier times ... book early. One
other tidbit ... most places in Thailand levy a credit card surcharge (to
reimburse them for what the credit card companies nick them). At the GP
when you're checking out, if they mention a "credit card surcharge", just
shake your head no and say "TSM member ... no surcharge" (and they'll
usually absorb it).
For poon hounds in the moderate budget class, the two standards around
here are the Nana Hotel (right across the street from Nana Plaza) and
Dynasty Inn (right next door to Nana Plaza). These two have been around
for a while and they do a brisk business at not a bad price.
If you ask different guys, half will say they like the one a little better
and the other half will say they like the other a little better. But they're extremely well located,
have swimming pools and full bathtubs and big beds plus good coffee shops
where you can get a wide range of tasty menu items (Thai and Western) and
very decent prices.
In that rough price range, a newer competitor around the corner is
Majestic Suites. I haven't stayed there myself but have had several
buddies try it out and they speak well of the place and come back again
to it on subsequent trips.
Moving further down into the cheap lodging category, one place that
several buddies of limited means stay when they are here in Bangkok is a
place called Thai House Inn just around the corner from the Soi 7 Beer
Garden, one of the premier freelancer pick up places in town. Their rooms
are basic but are still air-conditioned but with no swimming pool. I'd put
their rooms into a similar category as several of Angeles City's hotels
(such as the Vegas Hotel) but a cut below the Orchid Inn's new rooms. But
at 550 baht a night it's a
good price for a well-located lower-end hotel.
But on the low-end price-wise, the absolute best deal I've seen yet is at
a new place on Soi 4 a few hundred meters down from Nana Plaza called Woraburi Inn. As I noted, it's quite new and the facilities are quite nice
with a good swimming pool, good restaurant, nice rooms, and so on. They have a
range of room sizes that go all the way up to what they call a
"presidential suite" at 1500 baht per night.
[For comparison, the new rooms at Orchid Inn cost $45 per night, the
equivalent of about 1925 baht per night.]
But the standard rooms at Woraburi are a mere 360 baht per night (about
$8.50/night), an outstanding value. That's the nicest "really inexpensive"
room that you'll find around here.
Two other resources for hotels in this part of the world are Asia Travel
and Planet Holiday, both of which are hotel consolidators, so to speak.
They can often get you a cheaper rate at lots of hotels than you could get
going direct to the hotel yourself. They post the rates they can get you,
so it's worth comparison-shopping if you're doing your own planning
One other side comment on hotels being "guest friendly" or not in Bangkok.
Do all those tourists who stay in the fancy hotels keep their pants zipped
up the whole time they are in Bangkok? Hardly. They'll send the wife off
shopping or to the beauty parlor and then slip out for a little fun on the
side. They may not take the girls back to their own hotel room, but
Bangkok is a very customer friendly town and has many "short-time hotels"
in and near all of the poon venues.
That includes short-time rooms
upstairs at several of the Soi Cowboy places, a short-time hotel just
around the corner (on Soi Asoke) from Soi Cowboy, short time rooms at Nana
Plaza and ... the favorite of many old Bangkok hands ... the Playboy (PB)
Hotel just off Soi 3 which is around the corner from the Grace Hotel. As I
recall, the PB charges 240 baht (less than $6) for a three-hour stay and
their S/T rooms are designed with boinking in mind. They aren't nearly up
to the level of some of the "love hotels" I've seen in Japan, but they do
have some nice touches ... such as "gyno chairs" in the rooms. Nothing
like seeing your new-best-friend-du-jour pull off her towel, hop into the
gyno chair and "slip her feet into the stirrups" to get the evening's
festivities off to a fun start. You always liked to "play doctor" with the
little girls when you were growing up? You can do the same here with the
big girls ... how great is that?
I was not here to spend time in a hotel so I quickly showered, changed
clothes, and headed outside to get a taste of the city.
But not before first getting a hotel taxi card!
These are handy little things I had read about on the web that have your
hotel name on them and a small map all in Thai so there is no confusion on
where you want to go. I highly suggest grabbing a few of these as you
never know how far away you'll end up away from your hotel and this is the
easiest way to get back. You simply jump in a cab and hand them the card
and he will know exactly where to go, no mistakes. This saved me a few
times as I like to wander about a bit and when I grabbed a cab I had no
clue how to explain how to get back to my hotel.
"Nice weather and bad traffic..."
Here I am in a brand new Oriental City
of legend, the infamous Bangkok, and where do I choose first to visit?
Is it some temple of ancient splendor?
Is it some fabled den of ill repute?
Is it a fine restaurant for some exotic
Nope, it's the computer mall!
Ok, admission is the first step on the way to recovery. I admit
it, I am a closet techno geek.
I couldn't help myself. I had heard that
the place was amazing and that any software you could possibly imagine
would be there. I just had to see for myself. I walked out of the hotel
and told the door-man (in a much slaughtered version of Thai) that I
wanted to go to "Pantip" which was the huge mall people told me about
that would have everything I desired.
Of course he wanted to procure me a
private car and thus quoted me a price that was way too
much Baht so I walked towards the main street to catch myself a metered cab.
was always the way to go, no need to use any other means of transportation
for such short trips. The Tuk Tuks were fun, but loud and no air
conditioning. Even in November I appreciated the flow of cool air and it
was worth paying the few extra baht for the comfort.
However when I reached the main street
while walking looking around for an empty cab I was having way too much
fun with all the eye candy everywhere so I decided to get some food real
quick before going to Pantip.
The street vendors look like they
are a lot cleaner and safer than those in the Philippines. Back home in
Angeles I will only eat the lechon manok (BBQ chicken) from the street
food vendors as I have had some
bad experiences in the past and know of a few others that got real sick
from the BBQ beef (or so they claim it's beef) but here I was in a new country and
willing to give it a shot. Kind of like a culinary version of Russian
I bought and ate a few skewers that were
quite good and then got some watermelon in a bag. The fruit was excellent
and all of it quite cheap. The fruit guy at first claimed he had no change
for the 100 Baht note I handed him, but when I told him I would pop into
the 7-11 and get some change he all of a sudden remembered he had some
spare change on him.
to get brave. I walked down a side street around Soi 15 ("Soi" is Thai for
"street") and found a small restaurant that looked half clean.
There really was no building to speak of but there were a few chairs and
tables to sit at and I saw a bunch of ingredients that looked edible as
well as what looked like a cold beer one patron was enjoying. Might as
well start now, I was after all on vacation, right? Besides, it was time
to taste the infamous Sing Ha beer. I just watched for a while and saw
that the customer basically told the woman cooking the noodles what he
wanted added to his soup and she would make it right there on the spot.
of a noodle version of the Mongolian BBQ. I sort of grunted and pointed at
this and that trying to look like I knew what I was doing and in about 5
minutes a bowl of hot (and spicy!) soup was delivered to my table. I then
ordered a beer. Wow, Sing Ha... Not a bad beer but I already miss my San
Miguel. Sing Ha would have its revenge on me many times this trip, this
was just the first day. The skewers, fruit, noodles, and beer I think set
me back a total of 100 Baht or less. I was already starting to build up
coins and made a mental note to start spending them and not go home with a
suitcase full of Baht.
Ok, enough fooling around, I found a cab
and got in and told him again in a VERY bad Thai accent
pai Pan Thiep." (I want to go to Pantip). After the confused look on my
drivers face I handed him a card I had the door man at the hotel make for
me which he replied, "Oh! Chan yahk-ja pai
Pan Thiep!" Yeah, that's what I
said. I felt as if I was in a very bad Abbot and Costello skit.
On the way I thought I would try some
English conversation again. I really am a people person and wanted to learn about
this new country I was visiting. While I of course enjoy going and seeing historical
landmarks and tourist attractions, what I most enjoy is talking and diving deep
into the street culture of a place when I visit as these memories last
far longer for me.
Me: "How old is your king now?"
Cabbie: "King of Thailand good."
Me: "Yes, very good King. How old is he now?"
Cabbie: "What you say about King?"
Me: "No, nothing bad, just how old is he now?"
A prolonged silence...
Cabbie: "I don't think he like cow."
Me: "Ahhh yes, ok. Oh, hey...nice weather today, huh?"
Cabbie: "Yes, we nice weather but bad traffic."
I continued to look out at the window
and enjoy the day.
"I have died and gone to cyber heaven..."
The ride to the shopping plaza is on
Phetburi / Petchburi Rd in the Pratunam district (not far from the Amari
Watergate hotel) and was only about 20
minutes from the Ambassador. As this was only my second time in a cab (the first being from
the airport) I was unaware of distance in this new city I found myself in
so I was not at all suspicious when we arrived and I simply paid the fare
and got out right in front of the mega complex.
Before entering I once again stopped by one of the
street vendors and tried some more fruit. The watermelon was simply
delicious and I snacked on a slice before entering into the mall. That done
I went inside and felt weak in the knees. The sight before me was like a
cyber wet dream. Everywhere I looked I saw row upon row of vendors. Where
I went up to the first booth and started to look through
their selection. I had a very specific list of software I wanted and knew
myself. If I didn't look for specifics I would probably go hog wild and
buy up everything in sight.
Well, luck was not with me and I found myself actually
quite disappointed in the selection of this place. None of the graphics
software I wanted could be found and I quickly realized that each booth
basically had the same selection minus a few differences. Talking to the
touts was no good as they just wanted to push what they had and no matter
how many I asked they kept trying to get me to buy something else and
really didn't seem to know what they had. Folder after folder was shoved
in front of me and I was practically begged to just pick something.
"Come, you need
Windows XP. You buy Red Hat. Here, you try Adobe bundle!"
"I'm looking for Wildform Flix software."
"We have lot's of software. What number
"No number, I need Wildform Flix ."
"Wild storm chicks?"
"Hmmm, nice weather outside, no?"
DVDs seem to have overpowered the VCD
market in Asia and Pantip Plaza just shows more evidence of this. Just as
many pirate software dealers in this mega mall you will find touts trying
to get you to buy the latest and greatest DVDs available on the Thai
market. However just as in the Philippines these are all illegal copies
and while some are good to fair class versions (minus the copies of current release
movies which are simply some guy in a movie theater holding a camcorder
and capturing the film) don't expect the best quality merchandise. Going
prices while I was there was about 120 to 300 Baht depending on how
current the movie was and how good your barter skills were. One final
note: Thailand is region 5 so you may not be able to play these DVDs on
your home machine unless you have a multi region DVD player.
"Yeah right, I'll give you half that..."
I should take a moment here to explain
how to shop for things. This may seem obvious to the novice and you might
think to yourselves why you would need a lesson here, but you must realize when
buying things in Thailand that bartering is a national pastime. I'm sure
that when babies are being weaned from their mothers they are expected to
barter for extra time.
The first thing to realize is that 99%
of items you wish to buy are open to a negotiation. This includes inside
of malls and stores where the normal tourist would assume prices are
fixed. The only place I think I visited that the prices were indeed
written in stone was the 7-11 where I bought a Gatorade once. Everywhere
else the game was on.
The second thing to realize is that the
first price given is usually 100 to 200 percent inflated from the actual
price the vendor will accept. Of course all vendors have a rock bottom
price where they are receiving little to no profit, it is your job to find
out where that margin is and get as close to it as possible.
important tool to use when starting this process is the ever present
calculator that you will find at every vendor, in every store, on every
salesperson. This is a tool that both the buyer and seller must be
familiar with in order to arrive at a good deal. Skill in using this tool
can help drive the price lower and will show that you are not a novice at
the barter process. Any weakness shown at this time will only drive the
When a price is given you should
assume it's inflated and offer about half or lesser the amount. The
seller will then come back with a lower price and you again come
back at a lower price. Be sure not to raise to fast as the second
quote from the vendor is still probably miles away from the lowest
price he will accept.
Again, here is some advice on
shopping from Mack, a long time Expat who lives in Bangkok:
Shopping. Just about everything you see for sale along the
Sukhumvit corridor will be priced higher than elsewhere in town (often
dramatically higher). That's especially true of any situation where you
have to "negotiate" a deal (which is at all the street stalls).
The way business is done here is the opposite of how Wal-Mart does it ...
here, the % mark-up is huge but turnover (number of sales) is low. I knew
a girl who had a dress kiosk in Phuket a few years ago from which she sold
dresses to Western women tourists. Since there often seems to be more
kiosks than customers, I had asked whether she was able to make enough to
live on that way? She cracked up laughing and explained that she cleared
the equivalent of about US$70,000 per year from her kiosk. I thought she
was bullshitting me until she explained her pricing. When a tourist came
up and asked how much for a dress, she'd quote a price equivalent to about
US$25. Most tourists would haggle and so she'd shave the price a bit. For
the best negotiators on slow days, my friend would go as low as the
equivalent of US$12 or US$13 per dress. Care to guess how much it cost her
to have the dresses made up-country? The equivalent of about US$1. With
mark-ups that stiff, it doesn't take a lot of dress sales before the money
begins to add up. If you figure that the average cashier at 7-11 or clerk
or maid in Bangkok makes less than US$5/day for a nine or ten hour shift,
she could sell only one dress once second day and still be ahead of the
curve. That's why you see so many vendors crowding Sukhumvit Road (and any
other place that tourists go) ... that calculus is compelling.
If something catches your eye and you want it, feel free. But if you plan
to do much shopping here, your savings will quickly add up if you instead
shop where the local people shop.
There are three places that I'd consider if I were loading up on the sort
of stuff that they sell on Sukhumvit Road (and in fact, most of the
vendors out on Sukhumvit Road actually buy their stuff at one of these
three places and then mark it up by 100% to 300%).
The easiest place to get to is MBK Center ... it has its own Skytrain
station (get off at "National Stadium"), just walk through the Tokyu
Department store and behind them will be about seven floors of mall that
will have anything and everything you can imagine. If you want a wide
range of inexpensive Asian food, they have a very big "food court" area
with well over a hundred places to pick from (and they've also got a Pizza
Hut and McDonald's and Baskin-Robbins for Western food fans, along with a
whole bunch of other restaurants of differing ethnic heritages). Plus
they've got several movie theaters on the top floor (Thai girls LOVE
Western movies, so this makes an ideal "date" if you pick up a "good girl"
or if you want to take your favorite "bad girl" out for a real "date").
They've also got bowling alleys on the top floor if you want a change of
pace. Prices are all posted, so no haggling is required.
And as luck would have it, MBK is right around the corner from the top
University in Thailand (Chulalongkorn University). And since Thai girls
love to shop, MBK tends to be packed with co-eds in their snug-fitting
school uniforms meandering about window-shopping. Most of the guys I've
taken over there can spend a couple hours there and have wood for the
entire time (and for another half-hour after they leave) just from ogling
the university girls. Oops, feels like I'm starting to get wood myself
just from reminiscing, it's time to change the subject.
The second place with big selections and low (posted) prices is Pratunam
Market. I've heard a lot about that one but haven't shopped there as it's
not as easy to get to (it's not close to a Skytrain stop, so it would
require a taxi ride in traffic to get there). But if you're planning to
stop by Pantip Plaza (where anything computer-related is on sale,
including dirt-cheap software), then Pratunam is just across and down the
street from Pantip.
The third place is maybe the cheapest of the three but is only open on the
weekend: the Chatuchak Weekend Market. It's close to the "Mo Chit"
Skytrain station and is very extensive. Unlike MBK, this market is not
air-conditioned (it's open air under an extensive network of big tents and
all the stalls will have fans), so Western tourists can get pretty warm
after traipsing around for a couple of hours.
If you've got a ton of souvenir shopping to do for hoards of your
relatives back home, it's probably worth the trip out to Chatuchak if
you're here on a weekend. But for me, MBK is ample for my needs (it's my
preferred destination for taking "good girls" on dates). And if you're
just shopping for "normal stuff" for yourself, there is a local equivalent
of a Wal-Mart out here. It's a British "super store" chain called "Lotus
Tesco" and there are several in town (much to the ire of most local
vendors who have to compete with them). The easiest one to get to is at
the "On Nut" Skytrain station as you can walk from that station directly
into the store. They've got most of what you'd find in a Wal-Mart, at
prices well below what you'd find for the same stuff in retail outlets
along Sukhumvit Road near the nightlife. They also have Pizza Hut and
McDonald's and KFC and a bunch more places (plus an ample "food court"
since Thai people do like to eat ... amazing how most stay so slim).
not finding what I wanted I expanded my search and was still able to find
some software that looked interesting. Remember that this stuff is pirated
software and there are no registration codes that will allow you to get
online help with your purchase and there are also no manuals unless there
is a digital copy that comes with the software you purchased.
However there are literally thousands of titles
to choose from and along with the software you can find disks with nothing
but MP3s on them, the DVDs I mentioned earlier, and some VCDs as well although not
as many as that format is quickly giving way to DVD. So I am sure you can
find something that will peak your interest and open your wallet.
The way it works is that you thumb
through folder after folder after folder of the labels of these disks and
select by number which one you want. "Ummm, yeah. Give me 17a, 147-c, and
two copies of 34-F." or something like that. And then they tell you it
will be about 15 minutes and proceed to run off and get the things you
ordered. To combat the raids which I understand are becoming more
frequent, none of the pirated software is on premise and is kept in some
secret truck or building nearby so if a vendor gets raided all they lose
are the labels. This seems to have cut down the number of raids although
it can be frustrating when you wait 15 minutes and they comeback and say,
"Sorry sir, we are out of 147-c. You choose another."
"One night in Bangkok makes a hard man
enough shopping, enough eating, enough walking around. It was time. Time
to taste what this city had to offer in the area of carnal delight. Time
to see what all the fuss was about by those that have visited here before
me. I had to find out once and for all it it was all hype or if in fact
there was no place like Thailand for pure hedonism.
In other words, it was time for the Eden Club.
So much has been written about this
place. So much has been said about this place. So much... I just had to
see and feel for myself. I wanted this vacation to be something I will
remember for the rest of my life, and well, there is no better way to do
that than take a visit to Eden. Everything you have read, everything
you have heard, and I mean everything, is true.
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