One Night in Bangkok

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. This report is totally my own work and based on my experiences over 7 days and 6 nights in Thailand and therefore a first person impression 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.

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 my viewpoints are skewed and probably different from many others who have traveled to the land of smiles.

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.

NOTE: 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 free!

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? I 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.

Planning was weird as it was not only last minute, but I had to fit it between a lot of activity here in Angeles City like the opening of Camelot and the Roadhouse anniversary party so I had about a week to ten days to fit something in. 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.

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 Dollars.

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.

Current exchange rates

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. 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 wreaked. 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 of Bangkok.

Data on Thailand from the CIA Fact Book

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 or 8 years living in Korea.

The first thing that struck me was how flat the place was. Seemed to stretch on forever with no variations in elevation. Also very noticeable were the waterways spread out everywhere. 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. As 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.

Don Muang International Airport

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 immigration.

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:

Next topic: Touts. A variation on the “vendor” theme here is touts. 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 “Nowhere!”

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 hotel.
[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 game-playing.
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 advance.

The 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. 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 there 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 the 100 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!

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 hard to get here in Thailand.

When I got in the cab I got my first shock in Thailand and reinforced my opinion that no matter how much you read about a place or talk to people who have been there before you 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 a few nights 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 orientation.

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.

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 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 110 Baht made the trip only 190 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, are likely to be fairly uneducated and many speak 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 only.

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 like:

Me: “This money is colorful, isn’t it?”
Cabbie: “Money?”
Me: “Yes, your money. I mean look at this 500. Very pretty with that gold stripe.”
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.

“What in the heck did you just say?”

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, 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.

When 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 major cities.

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 products are?

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 lunch with 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…

I met 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. 🙂

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, I actually got a lower price from his flat rate) 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 one next to me helping another lady was speaking 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 back office.

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 you like?”

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 only cost 1000 Baht. Amazing…

Ambassador Hotel Bangkok

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.

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 here. I had studied Buddhism in college but this was the first time I was immersed in it and it was a foreign feeling. It was thing to study a religious belief but it is another to visit a place so heavily dominated by one. This small marker was only the beginning as I would see signs of this influence all throughout my stay in the Land of Smiles.

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:

Since 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 newbies.
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 cheaply.
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.

JW Marriott

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.

Landmark Hotel

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 rooms).
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 half bad.
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).

Grand President

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.

Nana Hotel

Dynasty Inn

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.

Majestic Suites

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.

Thai House Inn

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.

Woraburi Inn

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 legwork.

Asia Travel

Planet Holiday

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?

Anyway, 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.

“Ok, I admit it… I’m a geek.”

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 cuisine? Nope, it’s the computer mall. 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.

He quoted me a price that was WAY too much Baht so I walked towards the street to catch a metered cab. While walking looking around I was having way too much fun with all the eye candy everywhere so I decided to get some food real quick before getting into a cab.

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 Roulette!

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.

Time 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. Kind 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 of Baht.

Ok, enough fooling around, found a cab and got in and told him again in a VERY bad Thai accent “Chan yahk-ja 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 made 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 conversation again. I really am a people person and wanted to learn about this new country I was visiting. While I 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 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.

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 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 snaked 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 to start?

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.

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 quality (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.

An 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 price up.

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:

Next topic: 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).

Anyway, 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 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.”

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