Monday, August 20, 2012

MY V.I.P. STATUS - BANGKOK THAILAND

Well, there is not going to be any photos for this post. I simply don't have one, which is so unlike me!

For the second time now I have used Fast Track & VIP Service when flying into Bangkok's Suvannaphum Airport. I was simply sick of the long lines and if there were none at the time of arrival I was freaked out by the press reporting about it beforehand.

I must admit, that I also love the feeling of the whole product offering which includes being greeted at the arrival gate by some smart looking guy with a sign that has your name on it. They give you a nice deep "wai" (the traditional greeting) and then take your carry-on luggage.

I have been in Bangkok many times, so I usually don't have to pay attention to any signs, which direct the way to immigration and baggage belt, but being picked up this way is the most relaxing thing after a 12 hour flight.

You just whisk through the airport, zoom by the long lines at immigration and the most amazing thing is that the immigration officials actually smile and are nice!!! We were actually too early at the luggage belt, so we always have to wait a bit for my suit case to arrive. But even that is unloaded for me and pulled by the guy for me.

We just zoom through customs and none of the annoying people who want to drive you or offer you a hotel will even come close. You are met by your personal limo outside the airport, your luggage is loaded into the trunk and off you go to your hotel in the comfort if an A/C limo with a waterbottle waiting for you in the seat pocket.

There is no forced conversation with the driver which starts with "hello sir, where you from" and consequently also no sales pitch with regards to trips around Bangkok.

It might just be my imagination but I do get a feeling that the Hotel staff is also friendlier when they see you arriving with a V.I.P. limo from the airport.

On the way back to the airport it is the same deal. You do not have to worry about finding a taxi, or bargaining for the fare to the airport. The driver is already waiting and these guys are amazingly punctual. Even for me as a total on time-freak it is impressive!! My last driver was actually 2 hours early and waited patiently in the garage of the hotel.

Again, no conversation, unless you want it. You are being met by your personal assistant at the airport who carries your luggage again ;-) whisks you through check-in, a special immigration counter and security check and then drops you off at your place of choice inside the airport - for me the lounge.

It took a record-setting 30 minutes from leaving the hotel at Lumpini Park until I sat down in the lounge of the airport.

What a way of traveling! Well, it does have a price tag, but for this service I am prepared to pay it!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

MY FAVOURITE FOOD - BANGKOK THAILAND

I am very picky when it comes to food. I am also a vegetarian, which makes me double picky! 

Having stayed at the Pinnacle Lumpinee Hotel in Bangkok I did not really know where to find "acceptable" food but a friend who visited me suggested we just walk across the street to Vincent's Restaurant & the 7 Rooms. I asked if they even have any vegetarian options and my friend did not really know. 

But when I opened the menu, I was blown away to see that Vincent offers most of his selection also as a vegetarian option (unless you order steak or pure meat dishes of course). So that was a total win and I ate myself up and down the menu in the following days!

Vincent offers a wide selection of food and will make everything fresh from a simple sandwich (believe me it is not so simple but very delicious!) to a wide variety of curries (all with vegetarian options) and even classic meet dishes, which of course I did not even look at! 

The restaurant also offers red or white wine, which is well temperated and makes the dining a nice experience. 

Once can sit inside during the heat of the day and stay cool with the air-condition or sit outside in the warm evenings. Both are equally nice to enjoy. 

Having said all this, the best is yet to come! Vincent and his staff's service. I have never felt so welcome before. Even on my first visit to the restaurant, I immediately felt like not eating alone, or when coming with friends it felt like eating with a family. Very friendly, capable and caring people! 

I have eaten at restaurants all over Bangkok and it usually takes several visits before the staff recognizes you and you feel "at home". With Vincent and his staff I felt at home right from the first time I set foot into his restaurant. A definite place to revisit on my next trip! 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

MY MINIBAR - BANGKOK THAILAND

I hate it when I check out of a hotel and they ask me if I had anything from the minibar...I never have and will never have! But in Bangkok and the rest of Thailand they will check... I also hate it when they tell me "have a seat please" ...which is typically followed by "check room"....as if I would steal any of their lousy interior ....

Usually after a few minutes everything is fine and I am "allowed" to leave. In a few hotels it has taken very long and I did voice my level of frustration that I had to wait for housekeeping to pick up that lonely phone which you usually hear ringing on floors and then go check the rooms. 

So this recent Hotel in Bangkok also asked me if I had anything from the minibar and I said "NO" and after a while they came back from checking the room and told me that I had a Coke and something else...it is usually not a lot anyway but it still makes me mad. Not as mad as I had gotten from the infamous Frangipani Fine Arts Hotel in Phnom Penh, where they charged 12 Dollars from the Minibar to my Credit Card and debited it before I could even say "NO". But that was another story

So, what I usually do when I check in is to take a photo of the minibar. We all have smart phones anyway and take a lot of crap photos, so this is just one which helps me proof that I did not have anything from the minibar. 

At check-out of the Pinnacle Lumpini Hotel in Bangkok, I just whipped out my camera and showed her my check-in and my check-out photo and the receptionist smiled and said "good idea" and the minibar bill was off the table...LOL 



 

Friday, August 10, 2012

MY SLEEPS - BANGKOK THAILAND

After my not so nice experience with the Frangipani Fine Arts Hotel in Phnom Penh, I decided that I will always write out my personal review after staying in Hotels. 

I have been wandering around Bangkok for years, staying at Hotels. Being happy for some time. Then, typically when management changes, it was time to move. In the past 10 years, I have had sleeps at the Regency Park, Rembrandt, Windsor Suites, Grand President, Royal Benja, Citadines Sukhumvit Soi 8 and the Adelphi Suites also in Soi 8. The Adelphi Suites was the best of them all so far. Really outstanding!

Since all these hotels were in Sukhumvit road, I had to find a new one for my recent visit. Friends stayed around Lumpini, so I booked myself into the nearest hotel, which turned out to be the Pinnacle Lumpinee. Not the best hotel but the best price-wise at the location I needed to be. Reviews on the reservation sites are up and down the entire scale and I guess it really depends what people expect. 

For the amount I paid for my room, I feel almost like I should not complain about anything. It was so far the cheapest Hotel I have ever had. But the room was clean, on a high floor as I requested and non-smoking. 

The Hotel had free WiFi, which at times worked slow, but most of the time it was acceptable on all levels - Cafe, Lobby, Pool and in my room. Breakfast was also included in the price, which made it a really good offer. 

The hotel is located near Lumpinee MRT station and was thus well connected. Some people wrote negative reviews about the Soi (small street) it is located in, but I found it to be not better or worse of other Soi's I had been in. There is definitely much less hassling from street vendors than in Sukhumvit Soi's. 

The room was comfortably large. My large suite case fits in and that is my personal measurement :-) The bed was large and hard, just like I want it. Ample space for storage (drawers and hangers) around the room, with a desk and chair for my laptop to work on. A table and chair in addition added optional seating opportunities. The TV had several English-speaking channels and movie channels, though I usually do not care about that. The safety box is solidly mounted to the wall and well lit, so one can actually read the instructions on how to operate it. 


2 bottles of water are given for free and with the exception of one time I did get those every day. Additionally there is a water boiler (though that did not really work well) and free coffee and tea is offered. 

Bathroom was clean and the amenities were refilled each day. Towels were large and soft. Shampoo and body wash were available through dispensers on the wall in the shower, but I actually believe most people prefer their own brands. Nothing to complain about, other than the really long time it took for the hot water to come up to my room on the 12th floor. Some days I had to turn the water on and go back to bed for 15 minutes. 

Cleaning of the room happened at all times of the day, but in general, rather late. Ranging from 10am to 3:30 pm. I had to call once to get the room cleaned when I returned from an all day trip. The housekeeping staff seemed very stressed and told me she had to clean several floors today, but she was very friendly. 

The pool area on the roof is acceptable, though nothing spectacular. The sauna I did not use and the fitness room is not really up to date. One of the machines I wanted to use felt like it would collapse. But there were people in there using it daily. 

The lobby is large and has lots of comfy seating areas, two PC stations for free and is also wireless. The staff is "neutral". One can walk into the Hotel without being greeted by anyone while it is a give and take. If I greeted the staff they would also be polite. No complaints there. 

There is a travel office next to the entrance, where we booked a trip with a limo to Ayutthaya. The price was negotiable and I did get a price for an all day trip which was much lower than taxi's offer it and lower than a trip I had 10 years ago. The driver was reliable and safe and did not drink alcohol when we had breaks (not unusual). I made it very clear that I would not do any shopping trip and I would not stop at places which are known as tourist traps, but that I would tell the driver where I wanted to go and stop. Worked perfectly OK. I had to tell him a few times where to turn but in general it seemed that he would have driven us to the same or similar temples and sights around Ayutthaya. 


The breakfast was surprisingly good. I did not expect much, but it was a rather large buffet with lots of options as well as a cook who prepared fresh eggs upon request. Even different kinds of bread (whole wheat) were available. The tea....well, lets not really call it tea! It was a pot of hot water with two tea bags in it, which soaked for however long it took to being used up :-)  But again, given the price of the hotel, I cannot expect to drink Phu Er Tea from China. 

The only thing I disliked where the place mats on which the silverware was placed on. They were white cotton material and looked like they needed to be thrown out, or replaced with on-way place mats. The staff of the restaurant was actually the most friendly one of the Hotel, but again, more neutral than in other hotels. 


The view seems to be an important matter for the Hotel, since my room was the same as the rooms on the lower floors (standard) but with a better view. Hence it is more expensive and called "deluxe". I like views, so I booked deluxe. It is also more quiet than the rooms on the lower levels (street noise). 

All in all it was an acceptable stay. No thrills included at this price, but clean and without any major interruptions. Of course one can always end up in a higher class hotel with a special promotion but for long-term planning and booking this hotel is an acceptable and inexpensive choice.  

Update from the airport after checking out: A friend who stayed at the same hotel this time called me after he checked out and warned me that the Hotel would be playing the "minibar card" upon check-out. So I was prepared, which I always am, and surely they tried to charge me stuff from the minibar as well. That would be one of the few minus points I have for this hotel. Just leaves a bad taste when you see that it seems to be a running game they try to play with every guest.


MY TAXI RIDES IN BANGKOK - THAILAND

Taxi rides deserve their own blogs? Well in Bangkok they do!

Taxi drivers were the reason why I actually learned the Thai language. They kept going to places I did not want to go to or had no idea where I wanted to go to. So, telling them how to get there is essential in Bangkok. Most of them do not speak English or very little English anyway. A recent training that Bangkok Post reported on in July will surely change absolutely nothing. 1000 drivers where trained but there are more than 100.000 taxis in Bangkok and it's neighbouring provinces. The training was held to prepare Thai taxi drivers for the upcoming Asean Economic Community in 2015 and I can only imagine that the cabbies will continue just like they always have: 

- Most of them do not say anything or speak very little. I have had some nice drivers but generally they will not say much.  
- One typically has to "ask" the driver before getting in, if he is willing to go where you want to go to and if they are willing you are met with a nod. If not, they will just shake their head. 
- Traffic seems to be a key decision factor if they want to go your way. If there is any danger of traffic backing up, they will simply not go. 


Twice this week I had to walk for an hour because taxi drivers did not take me (plus, I gave up waving them down, the closer I got to my destination). Bangkok's traffic is known world wide for being one of the worst. So it should not come as a surprise that there is a traffic jam everywhere. To go around the traffic jam (and to screw Caucasians) they offer to go via Expressway and will make a huge detour, which the customer have to pay for. 


In my years of traveling to Bangkok I have always been annoyed with the drivers. Up to a point where I even employed my own driver for a number of years. Which in the end also ran up a huge bill!

Taxi drivers are supposed to study for a licence and are being tested for the streets of the city they drive in. However, I have met many many drivers who had no idea where my main street, small side street, Hotel or temple was. To not lose their face, they curved around for a while, until I asked them to stop and continued to walk. 

Where the taxi drivers are good, is to be politically active. They supported mostly the red shirt demonstrators because most drivers come from the North or North-East of Thailand. Very few supported the then yellow shirts. Stickers on the cars actually identified them as either/or! They are also known as groups who block the traffic to support their demonstrating fellows and who organized transportation to and from the demonstrations. 

They never seem to have change, but to be fair, a taxi ride in Bangkok is very cheap. I usually go from the city across the river to temples and pay about 80 to 100 Baht for a one-way trip. In comparison, a Grande Caramel Macchiato at my favourite Coffee Shop costs 135 Baht!!

A word which one better knows in Bangkok is รถติด (rot̄h tid) ...Traffic Jam! You will hear it a lot. Not surprisingly in a City which is known for it's notorious traffic jams. 

My German friend who shared this weeks experience with me categorized taxi's as follows:

1) find one
2) find one who is empty 
3) find one who is empty and willing to drive you where you want to go
4) find one who is empty, willing to drive you where you want to go AND switch the meter on

Well, happy travel experience everyone!!!


Thursday, August 2, 2012

MY BANGKOK ON FOOT - THAILAND


Stop for pedestrian sign
OK, so the title of this posting might be a bit misleading. But I do love to explore cities on foot. Singapore is a heaven for pedestrians. Cannot get any better, I think. There are even 1000 S$ fines if a bicyclist does not get off his bike and push it through an under path. Also most of the areas in Singapore you can walk in the shade of the galleries of shop houses, or on really nice sidewalks. 

Bangkok on the other side is hell for a pedestrian. There are streets with no sidewalk. And if there is a sidewalk it is usually full with street vendors, food stalls, garbage or anything that can possibly block your way. It is simply impossible for a wheelchair to move through Bangkok and very cumbersome for a regular person to walk. 

Not only will motorcycles and cars be parked in a way where you have to move onto the street, but motorcycles will frequently use it to by-pass the traffic in the opposite direction. And they will not stop for an pedestrian. 

Skytrain or BTS
Attempts to color code the area that needs to be kept free failed completely. Pedestrian crossings are completely useless as nobody will stop for an pedestrian. It is a life and death game to make it across streets like Sukhumvit or Rama IV.  Even signs which ask drivers to stop for pedestrians are a complete waste of money. Even right next to a police station, nobody cares. A crossing which I have been using all week at Rama IV and Sathorn Road is made up of 4 sections with need to be crossed, all marked with pedestrian crossing marks on the street and you basically have to run across or walk halfway into the street and maneuver between the oncoming traffic. There are also pedestrian bridges but they are really never where you need them or you find yourself hiking up and down in a zig-zag movement just to make it across right across the street.

Areas where you could actually walk like small streets, usually have many holes in the pavement, so you constantly have to be on the watch out for holes, leftovers from dogs at the same time while fending off offers for a "welcome massage" or other obstacles. 
 
Subway or MRT

By the way, it is not any different in Indonesia or Malaysia, but I feel it is even more ridiculous in a 12 million people city like Bangkok. 

A nice way to get around though (even though it is very limited) are the Skytrain (BTS) and the Subway (MRT). Those trains are very clean, very reliable and I think cheap. The system is easy to use, even for a foreigner who speaks a minimum of English. Try Munich in Germany as a foreigner...or even as German who does not use the system often. I sometimes have no idea where one zone starts and ends and how expensive a ride in Munich is supposed to be. 

Subway station
So, BTS and MRT will get you around safely, but at one point you still have to get back to the annoyance of either walking or being ripped of my tuk tuks or having a lengthy discussion with a taxi driver that you do not want to go sightseeing but just want to go from A to B with the meter on.