Back in January, we saw a great special with luxuryescapes.com for three nights of luxury in the Marriot Marquis Hotel in Bangkok so we rationalised it as being a fitting reward for Christine’s birthday. It was such a good deal but then by the time we had booked airfares, and further rationalised that four days in Singapore needed to be tacked on the end, the costs ballooned out a little.
Thing’s took a worrying turn when we checked in at Perth Airport to find that the Air Asia flights through Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok somehow did not include through luggage and we would have to go through immigration, collect our luggage and re-check in. Shouldn’t be an issue with a couple of hours leeway. Even better when the plane touched down a half hour early. Not so good when we spent most of the extra time sitting parked on the tarmac. We exited the plane and scurried across the ridiculously long KL airport sky corridors to reach immigration. The queues were impossible and the two hours leeway looked like evaporating rapidly. Christine started to go up and down the queue asking to be let in, pleading her case about missing a connect while I sat at the back of the line like a coward. She managed to get let in about a third of the way down the line. When we finally got to the end, I warned her not to carry on with the man at the desk because they don’t like pushy people but she ignored me and grovelled so well he just stamped her passport and waved her through; ignoring all the fingerprint and photography stuff they do these days. He did the same with me.
We raced on to baggage claim, launched ourselves at the carousel and made it quickly through customs, located the escalator to Departures and found the appropriate check in lane. Once again, Christine did her grovelling trick to convince others to let us skip by them. It was awful but it worked. Alas, we were ten minutes too late for baggage check in so Christine started to tear up and mentioned the “Birthday Trip”. This ploy seemed to work because a quick phone call saw us on our way again, boarding passes in hand. The lines through Immigration were as bad as the inbound ones so Christine had the audacity to approach an official in a very fancy uniform and plead our case. He inspected our documents and took us over to the crew and military check-in where we were duly processed and onto the final leg. With no hold ups at security, we actually made it through with ten minutes to spare, exhausted but content. Well done to the Malaysian officials.
We seem to have a bit of a history with poor connects involving Bangkok. We’ll need a holiday just to get over the flight. On the plus side, the flights were excellent, especially the Perth-KL Air Asia X flight which featured excellent leg room and a quiet environment in their “Quiet” section up the front. Even when you fork out for all their extras, it is still a whole lot cheaper than the big carriers and very comfortable for a six hour flight.
Arrival at Don Mueang Airport showed us what real crowds can be like, totally eclipsing the lines at KL. One long snaking line led past a series of signs, indicating 45 minutes, 30 minutes, 15 minutes etc until we then had to break off and choose an individual line. The reason for the slow processing was apparent when we watched people trying to grapple with the fingerprinting machines. People were so incompetent. When we finally got to the head of the line, we scooted through with no issues so we failed to understand why some found it so hard. One guy had been trying ofr a good five minutes before us and was still trying after we had been processed. The official at the counter just sat and stared at him.
In the past, catching a taxi from the airport in Bangkok was a frightening experience, with scams and aggressive touts in abundance. Thankfully, all that has been cleared up and one heads for Door 8 to use the simple and efficient taxi desk with metered taxis. It helps to have some small change Baht because the passenger has to pay the two toll stations (70bht and 50bht) along the way but all was good and we were soon in the famous downtown traffic snarls fighting our way through to Sukhamvit Road and the Marriot Queens Park.
Once at the hotel, a small army of personnel descended on the taxi to take our luggage and escort us like captured prizes to the Reception Desk. There it was discovered that we were more than mere mortals and whisked away once again to the 27 floor and the delights of the “M Club” to fill ourselves with complimentary drinks and canapés while check-in proceeded. Our package includes access to the M Club, a large bar area with sweeping views of the city and all day non-alcoholic refreshments. Alcohol comes out between 5:30 and 8:30 and includes all manner of beer, wines, cocktails and the like, a dangerous thing to let Christine loose on. It is a good thing that wine is included because buying wine otherwise in Bangkok is out of our league. Canapés are also on offer but so vast is the selection and supply that it is really an evening meal.
After a drink and a plate of Mediterranean fare, we headed down to our room to unpack and settle in for a bit, before heading back to the M Club to do further damage to the amazing spread of food. Three days here will be needed to be followed by thirty days in the gym. We spent a very pleasant evening chatting to an Irish couple who have lived and worked in Thailand for the last six years. Fortunately, the only thing we had to drive home was an elevator and even that was a stretch.
Breakfast was back in the M Club, a modest affair by some standards but still with far too much for these ageing bodies to handle. We did our best to consume enough to get us through the day without resorting to lunch, rested up a while in the room then headed out to re-acquaint ourselves with Bangkok’s complex public transport system.
The nearest BTS Sky Train station is within an easy walk of the hotel. Our plan was to ride the BTS and then swap to a Klong Taxi, a high speed long boat that shoots through Bangkok’s canal system at breakneck speed, spraying filthy water in all directions. We paid for an all day pass on the BTS then realised that we had wasted our money and should have just paid single tickets for only two rides. The pass doesn’t cover the Klong Taxi so we had more to pay but we soon worked out the system. Our journey took us over into the old city area, where we had a booking for a bike ride the following day and we were anxious to scope out the trip. We seemed to walk and walk, climbing a great many stairs to access BTS stations and cross over canals. Along the way, we passed fascinating street food eateries and small markets, but the attraction of these had been reduced by the full bellies from the M Club breakfast.
Having located the bike tour place and satisfied we could find it the next day, we worked out way back with more walking and climbing, the tired legs protesting. We got off the Skytrain at Nana station to visit the Nana Plaza, a low cost cheap goods market area in one of the shadier parts of Bangkok. It proved to be a bit too shady for our tastes, with streets lined with bars and nightclubs, full of bored looking young girls and overweight single western men. We decided that the area was not to our liking and got back on the Skytrain to return to Phrom Phong, our home station. Once there, we were exhausted and set off for the walk home. After quite a while, we both came to the conclusion that we were walking the wrong way and had clocked up nearly a kilometre of “wrongness”. There was no chance of just jumping in a taxi to return to the hotel because Sukhumvit Road was just a carpark and walking was much quicker. As we once again passed the station entrance, we spied a tourist couple headed to the steps and offered them our day passes, knowing full well that we would not use them again that day. They were well pleased.
Eventually, we crawled our way back to the hotel, tired and beaten. Our stamina for wandering around SE Asian cities has taken a hit over the years.
The afternoon was spent lounging by the hotel pool and downing a couple of wonderful Chang beers, before retiring upstairs for a well-earned nap.
Rejuvenated, we hit the M Club again for the evening drinks and endless food. The food may not be of the highest quality but it is more than passable and the quantity and variety makes it a standout. We found ourselves sitting next to the couple to whom we had given the day pass and we found that they were from Perth. Like us, they were enjoying the “Luxury Escapes” package, except they had bought the week long package. We passed a very pleasant evening in their company. They still had the all day pass with some time on it so we passed it on to one of the waiters to use on his way home from work.
The highlight of our third day in Bangkok was a bike tour with Just Nok Bike Tours. They are situated in the old city area not far from the busy backpacker zones. We were a little apprehensive about the thought of cycling in the chaotic Bangkok traffic but we need not have had any concerns. Our guide, a wonderfully jovial guy named Jazz, was an expert at negotiating the difficult parts and kept us in the backstreets for 80% of the 13km ride. It also helped that there was just the guide and us rather than a long tour of cyclists to manage. Cycling in Bangkok is so easy and efficient that I am surprised that one sees so few bikes. Jazz put it down to the climate. He said that very few businesses have showering facilities and cycling tends to work up a sweat. We found things pretty comfortable in the 32 degree heat and the rain stayed away.
The theme of the tour was to explore Bangkok behind the scenes. This we did, getting well off the usual tourist path. On the western bank of the river, there is a large Muslim community, living in stilt houses over a large wetland area. Cycling along the narrow boardwalks adjoining the few roads tested Christine’s fear of falling into sewer water (who wouldn’t be afraid) but we came through unscathed. There were places deep within the community where one could easily forget that we were in the heart of Bangkok and imagine ourselves out in the rural countryside.
We stopped at regular intervals to explore places of interest, a Royal Temple, another abandoned temple, sections of the old city fortress walls, some beautiful parks and gardens, the huge sprawling public hospital area and nearby University. We stopped at a fruit stall where Jazz showed us how to eat Mangosteen, Rambutan and another thing that looked like a lychee but was sweeter. All three were very tasty and very refreshing when one is thirsty.
Another food stop was at a large collection of street vendors parked under the huge Rama 8 Bridge. There we ate a snack meal of sun-dried pork and garlic strips deep fried in hot oil and served up with sticky rice. It was excellent fare. Jazz gave us some tips for the safe eating of street food, looking out for clean oil and checking the immediate surrounds of the vendor for cleanliness.
The tour took more than four hours and we ended up quite exhausted but exhilarated by the sights and experiences of the day. It was easily one of the best bike tours we have done. The trip back across town in the early evening proved difficult. A taxi was out of the question. Who wants to spend an hour going nowhere on Sukhumvit Road? We use the Klong Water Taxi for the first part then swapped to the Sky Train. The crowds on the Sky Train were crazy and we stood shoulder to shoulder, back to back and bum to bum with what seemed like a hundred other passengers. The trip took twice as long as usual because the train kept stopping, probably due to line congestion. It was near 7pm by the time we got to the hotel with just half an hour to have a bite to eat at the M Club.
Our taxi ride out to the airport was long but uneventful and the general boarding process was far less stressful than the horrors of KL. We settled in for the short Scoot flight to Singapore, leaving Bangkok with the definite feeling that a couple more days was needed. We generally aren’t ones for staying in at a hotel and so are seldom inclined to spend money on the luxury treatment. However, the Marriot Marquis was a whole new experience, providing a high standard of luxury without the pretentiousness that we often find hard to put up with. The staff were friendly and treated guests in a friendly and familiar manner. We felt totally at home while living in a standard to which we are not accustomed. We’ll be keeping an eye on the offerings from luxuryescapes.com for our next experience of paradise.
As for our opinion of Bangkok itself, little has changed and it still holds relatively few attractions. Moving around the city is difficult and expensive. Taxis actually represent good value but the time it takes to get anywhere makes them a poor option. The Sky Train is quite expensive compared to the MRT in Singapore and the overcrowding is almost unbearable at times. The Klong boats are cheap and fun but the River Boats are also quite expensive. A day wandering around Bangkok soon racks up more than $10 whereas a day on the MRT in Singapore struggles to be $5. In Bangkok, there is a move to get rid of the many street food vendors and locate them in eating areas. This push seems to be unpopular with both locals and tourists alike. The locals rely on street food, with few bothering to cook at home. The food is cheap, of an excellent standard and makes the eating out experience exotic and exciting. Squatting on a plastic stool under a bridge is way better than sitting in a plastic coated food hall. As with everywhere, it probably has more to do with collecting rents and building commercial centres than what the people actually want or need.