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Impressions from a Bangkok walkabout Nov 22

The sun was shining without mercy on my pale winter skin and I thought to myself that I should have listen to my wife that morning when she was mentioning sunscreen. I was on a Bangkok walkabout and even if it was still before 11 am , the temperature was reaching 30 degrees Celsius (85 degrees Fahrenheit) and combined with the humidity I could feel the sweat running down my back already after a few steps.I started my walkabout near the Siam Skytrain station. At this point the two skytrain lines of Bangkok connect and including the traffic on ground level there are traffic on three floors!! The area is lines with large shopping malls and it becomes a meeting point for locals going to/from work and tourists that are browsing through the selection at malls like Siam Paragon, MBK and Central World Plaza. This futuristic concrete jungle makes me get flashback to the movie Blade Runner – all the people, the noise from the cars and trains, the large billboards, the neon lights…

My goal that morning was Wat Saket or Golden Mount temple as it is called in English. There are lots and lots of temples in Bangkok (known as wats) and the most famous ones for tourists are Grand Palace, Wat Pho og Wat Arun. But sometimes it is better to go to the smaller temples to avoid the large crowds and that is why I decided to go to Wat Saket. Armed with the memory of the Google map that I looked at in the hotel room that morning, I started walking in the right direction. Already on my way out of the shopping mall I got a reminder that there are large contrasts in Bangkok and Thailand – a couple of women was begging with young children on the laps. I also ran into a familiar face from previous Bangkok trips – there is one guy that hides his arms on his back and he begs for money by holding a cup with his teeth. It seems a bit brutal to play handicapped to bring in money but who am I to judge?

After walking along the main road for a while I realized that I had to get away from the road if I wanted to see something apart from roaring buses, motorcycles, tuk-tuk’s and taxis. I was not very happy to breath in the pollution of the road either and in some cases I felt like I was playing Russian roulette just to cross the road. When I broke away from the main road it didn’t take many minutes before I was in a more quiet area. I walked through one of Bangkok’s many small markets where they sold everything from t.-shirts, toys, copies of various things etc and all of a sudden I ended up in a quiet alley. I realized that I had gotten a bit lost but it is not the first time that has happened to me in Bangkok. I walked though the alleys and all the noise of traffic was gone and it was replaced by the sound of a child crying, someone watching an action movie on a TV, sounds of pots as someone was cooking a meal. The locals were looking a bit funny in my direction and I guess they were wondering why I was walking though their neighborhood. And I guess they were also wondering why anyone would find it interesting to walk into their alleys – but for a Norwegian this is a completely different world and that makes it interesting.

I tried to think back to the Google map that I was looking at that morning and I guess it would have been easier if I had brought a map with me – but then my walkabout wouldn’t be much of a challenge. In the end I maneuvered so that I ended up on a path going along one of the canals of Bangkok (known as klongs). Today the Chao Phraya river is still an important for transportation as it cuts the city in two but there are also a lot of canals that runs around Bangkok but as the big skyscrapers have popped up, the canals have gotten more hidden. One of the canals goes more or less right behind the big shopping malls at Siam and past Jim Thompson house and it goes sort of parallel to the busy Sukhumvit road. The canal that I was walking along was pretty typical for Bangkok – the water was pretty black and the scent in the air indicated that the water was not that clean. But on both sides of the canal people were living on the edge of it.

I started to walk on the path that went parallel to the canal as I knew it would lead me to the temple and once again I felt like I was walking though people’s backyards. It was pretty quiet apart from when the “river busses” roared by from time to time. Apart from that the silence was only broken by children playing inside the house, a washing machine working on a new pile of laundry etc. On some parts of the path the scent of freshly washed clothing was dominant. Maybe someone was doing to weekly laundry or maybe someone had set up a business doing all the laundry for the neighborhood. I had to sneak by clothing hanging to dry and an old woman that was washing some clothes with her hands on the pathway.

The pathway seemed to be a combination of a garbage place, people’s back yards, place for cooking etc. At one point there were several toilets placed outside and at other places I had to sneak past women frying up spring rolls in large woks. Wherever I went I always got a friendly smile when I looked at people with curiosity. Thailand is known as the land of smiles and I love it when I can look at strangers and get a smile back. I see that on some forums it is being discussed it the smiles are genuine but it seems like it to be at least.

At some places I had to step over dogs that were taking a nap in the Bangkok heat. There are quite a lot of stray dogs in Bangkok and some of them look pretty scruffy. But I can’t remember seeing any dogs being aggressive but I don’t really like to step over sleeping dogs that looks like a pitbull mixed with a Rottweiler. There were also quite a lot of cats around and as usual some of them were missing the tail. I guess it is easy to assume that this is due to a hard life but it is actually a mutation that leads to a lack of tail for many of the cats in Thailand.

I found it hard to take many photos as I walked through the alleys. I felt that I was invading people’s privacy just by walking there and I didn’t want to make it even worse by bringing out a large SLR camera. In the end I got of the pathway and I came out on a street where there were little bike trolleys selling stuff like fresh juice, satay etc. It seems like Thai’s snack all the time – how do they stay so skinny?

When I came to Wat Saket, a couple of tuk-tuk’s rolled in with some German tourists. I was tempted to ask them how much they had paid for the “pleasure”. Tuk-tuk’s are three wheeled motorcycle taxis with room for a couple of passengers behind the driver. It can be an efficient way to get around but the problem is that a fair share of the drivers are into scams. They trick tourist when it comes to price and even where they are taking their passengers. I have “been there, done that” so these days I don’t waste time on tuk-tuk’s. You might as well go for a taxi instead as it is usually cheaper, it is safer and you get an air-con environment to get out of the Bangkok heat for a few minutes :-)

Around the temples of Grand Palace and Wat Pho there are usually “con men” that walks up to tourists and informs them that the temple is closed due to the Buddhist celebration, because of the King’s birthday etc. They seem pretty trustworthy as they speak good English and they are well dressed. But their stories are of course lies and they just try to get you to go on tuk-tuk rides or similar. You can also meet con men at skytrain station and on the street and they always try to start a conversation asking where you are going or where you are from. So it is best to be a bit street smart.

I climbed to the top of Wat Saket Ratcha Wora Maha Wihan and at the top of this artificial hill you get a good view of Bangkok. As I reached the top why t-shirt was pretty wet from sweat – one of these days I have to learn to slow down a bit in the Bangkok heat. Inside the temple there was a scent of incense and locals where praying and placing gold leaf on Buddha figures. Most of the tourists seemed to have gotten the message when it comes dressing in a conservative way and all had seen the sign about taking the shoes of before going into the temple.Here is a video from Wat Saket: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMO8WHXEXz8

When I came out of the temple a couple of tuk-tuk drivers tried to get my attention by offering tours but I said no and gave them a friendly smile and it seemed to work. In Thailand it is not use losing your temper or get annoyed when you are asked for the 50th time if you want a tuk-tuk. I decided to take one of the river busses back to Siam as there is a stop near the temple. It is not that easy to know which boat to get on but if you ask you normally get some feedback about this even if there can be some communication problems . The ride with the boat took me past the places I had walked earlier that day and I used the opportunity to take some photos. But in the end the boat speeded up and the passengers pulled up the fabric along the sides of the boat to avoid being splashed by the dirty canal water. Check out this video of the canal busses: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXk9bSlM7KQ

It is always a challenge getting off at the right stop but I managed to find the right one and soon I was walking back to Siam Paragon. As I walked through the doors of the shopping mall the cold air from the air-con hit me and the luxury of the shopping mall is quite a contrast what I had seen on my walk.I hope that this has given an impression of Bangkok. If you are going there I will recommend you to get a bit lost and check out some of the temples that are not that known. Maybe you will find “the real Bangkok” if there is such a thing.

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Using the canals to get around Bangkok Nov 12

There are many ways to get around Bangkok. You can take the skytrain, the subway, use a taxi, live on the wild side and use a motorcycle taxi, get ripped off when taking a tuk-tuk etc. But there are also a few canals around Bangkok where you can find a regular “bus service”. The canals (known as klongs) are quite dirty so it is best to avoid splashes. But the view from the boat is quite nice and it takes you quickly from e.g. Golden Mount (Wat Saket) to the Siam area. Here is a video showing a bit of the experience.

At Wat Saket in Bangkok Nov 11

A short video from a visit to Wat Saket in Bangkok. From the top of this artificial hill you get a pretty good view of Bangkok.

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Some images from Bangkok Nov 10

I like to walk around Bangkok when I visit the city as it is a strange combination of noises, traffic, beautiful temples etc. Here are some images from day one when I took a walk around after donating blood. I took the river express to the Grand Palace area and walked over to Wat Suthat.

Time to go to Thailand Nov 07

We are going to Thailand today :-) This will be the last vacation this year and we look forward to some beach, sun and relaxation. Going from Stavanger in Norway at 8 degrees Celsius to Thailand with 30+ degrees is quite a change that’s for sure. But we look forward to the hectic city life in Bangkok and the relaxing beach life at Phuket. This is not our first time in Bangkok – as you can see from our homepage we have been to this city a few times before. It can be a stressful city to start with…all the noise, the traffic, the tuk-tuk drivers that tries to trick you, the scent on the streets, the hot and humid weather etc. But once you get past that you will find a city full of contrast, good food, friendly people, peaceful and colorful temples, great shopping etc. After a few days in Bangkok we are going to Phuket and to Kata beach. We went to Phuket many years ago and back then we stayed at Patong beach. Obviously things have changed quite a lot as we all remember the tsunami in 2004. Our hotel is Avista on Kata beach and it is actually brand new so it will be exciting to see if everything is up and running when we arrive :-)  So if you do run into us on the streets of Bangkok or on the beaches of Phuket, don’t hesitate to say Hi :-)

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Greetings from Royal First Class lounge Bangkok Oct 01

After the stay in Hong Kong and a short stop in Bangkok it is now time to go home.  So this morning (October 1st) I took a taxi from Bangkok to Suvarnabhumi airport (pronounced something like su-waan-na-poom if you wonder) and it was a slow process as the remains of the typhoon Ketsena made it pour down. But I got to the airport eventually and walked over to the Royal First sign outside of the airport and a guy in Thai airways uniform helped me with my suitcase and escorted me to the First class check in area located at the one end of the terminal. Check in was fast as I was the only one there but it was a bit of a surprise when I had to pay a 700 Baht (21 USD) airport tax – I have not done that in a while at Bangkok airport – I guess it has been included in my tickets before.

From check in I was escorted to the immigration control where I got my passport stamped and through the first class security control where there were no other passengers. And right behind security was the escalator down to the lounge. I thought I was there already but this turned out to be the regular business class lounge. But as soon as I came down the escalator a small buggy car turned up from nowhere and I was asked to get on to be transported to the First Class lounge. I know the business lounge is kinda long but I still feel silly being transported in a small car when I’m still capable of walking ;-)

I was pretty much alone in the Thai First class lounge and it was of course with some anticipation that I entered the lounge – after all this lounge has been voted the best First Class lounge in the world in 2009 by Skytrax . So how would it compare to the Lufthansa First Class Terminal experience? (see previous entries on http://gardkarlsen.com/blog/?p=457 and http://gardkarlsen.com/blog/?p=466 . As in the business class lounge I was met by lots of staff greeting me with the traditional wai and I was led by one girl to the seating area. In this lounge you can choose to have a separate room with a few recliners and a TV or you can sit in recliners in the main seating area. The lounge looks pretty exclusive with the large chairs, the soft carpet and this use of dark wood on pillars and walls. I did ask if I could take some pictures and a guy escorted me around and proudly showed me the Skytrax award that is on display in the lounge itself. There is of course a business center where you can use a PC, a separate dining area, a smokers lounge with great ventilation etc.

The food selection was not really that impressive – all the hot food was to order and not buffet style and I had the option of spaghetti Bolognese, spaghetti cabonara, wonton soup, chicken in green curry Thai style, pork in teriyaki and I think that was about it. So all in all the food selection is not spectacular if you compare it with the Emirates lounge in London or the Lufthansa First Class terminal. The drink menu is also a lot shorter in the Royal First lounge but I think that most people will find something they like as they can offer cocktails, beer, port, a couple of red wines and Moet & Chandon champagne.

Another difference from First Class Terminal in Frankfurt compared to the lounge in Bangkok is that the lounge in Bangkok is located above one of the main areas of the airport and you get the constant buzz from the rest of the airport. I think I prefer the serenity of the First Class Terminal ;-)

There are also 4-5 shower rooms at the First class lounge that seemed to be very nice and also 4-5 slumber rooms were you can catch some sleep.

One great thing about the lounge in Bangkok is that fact that you have a Royal Orchid Spa. If you have been to Thailand you know that getting a message is quite common so even at the airport they have a spa. When I first arrived I was asked if I wanted a message and I said sure of course. Initially I asked for “just” the neck and shoulder message but everyone I talked to asked me I wanted the 1 hour full body massage….so in the end I caved in and agreed on that. The spa is located just a minute walk away from the lounge and I walked over there and got a lemongrass drink and a cold cloth while I was waiting, But soon I was led into a spa room and told to get undressed and take a shower and get ready for the message. I would of course post some pictures of myself in disposable underwear but in fear of scaring away new readers I think I will avoid that ;-) Anyway, it was really, really nice to get a one hour massage at the airport while waiting for the flight.

After the massage I went back to the lounge, had some teriyaki pork lunch and enjoyed a few glasses of champagne before I was told that my flight was ready for boarding. My flight was due to leave from C6 and a lady walked with me to make sure that I went the right way (not that I had been drinking THAT much) and once I got to the gate it looked like I was the last one there….perfect timing in other words. But more about the flight in the next chapter

So what is the conclusion? Which lounge is better…the First class lounge in Bangkok or the Lufthansa First Class terminal? Well, I have to say that I think Skytrax is wrong. The Lufthansa First Class terminal is far better than the First class lounge in Bangkok. First of all the First class terminal in Frankfurt feels more exclusive as it is separate from the main terminal and you don’t get the noise from the airport as you do at the lounge in Bangkok. The food and drink selection at the Lufthansa first class terminal is far better than in the lounge in Bangkok. But I have to say that having a one hour full body massage as a part of the service at the lounge in Bangkok was very, very nice.  But in the end…the Lufthansa First class terminal wins in my opinion.

Weird museums around the world Aug 20

I got a newsletter from the Norwegian travel magazine Zine travel today and one of the topics were weird museums around the world. You can view the article here (only in Norwegian I’m afraid). Did you e.g. know that there is a sewer museum in Paris? And there is a British Lawnmower Museum. I think the weirest museum I have been to is the  Museum of forensic history in Bangkok. I went there during a trip in 2002 and the brochure said that this was a museum “not for the squeamish”…and they were quite right. It is a place were you can see mummified criminals, body parts on jars, babies with various birth defects, skulls with bullet wounds etc.  It was really a bizarre place and I left the place kinda nauseous.  But I guess it depends what you are used to seeing…when I went there, there were school classes visiting and they did not seem to mind. Anyway, you can see more photos at the bottom of the Thailand 2002  trip report.
Now it is your turn…have you been to any weird museum? Tell us all about it :-)


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Majestic hotel in Bangkok – not the best hotel Aug 15

I stayed at the Majestic Grande hotel in Bangkok from Friday 28th of September until Monday October 1st 2007. I had room 1605 located on the 16th floor and I had a view from the Sukhumvit area where the hotel is located towards the Lumpini park area. We chose to stay at this hotel as it was rated very high on TripAdvisor.com and the price was quite low (which seems to be a great combination) but as we found out you can’t always trust the ratings on TripAdvisor. Please click on the link below to read the entire review.
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Tourists warned of Thailand airport scam Jul 30

It seems like quite a few tourists have been detained at the Bangkok airport this year with allegations of shoplifting. In order to get out of this they have been forced to pay thousands of US dollars. Please read this BBC article for more information. I have been through the Bangkok airport many times over the last couple of years (see my Bangkok trip report) but I have not experienced anything like that…yet. I hope that they will sort this out or else it will be another set back for tourism in Thailand.

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Centara Grand at CentralWorld in Bangkok Jul 25

I stayed at Centara Grand at CentralWorld in the beginning of December 2008. I booked the hotel via the internet and it was 4000 THB per night. As I booked it via the internet I also got the promotion of either getting a room upgrade or getting access to the lounge on the executive level. For reference: I have been to Bangkok a number of times before and I have stayed at places like Lebua at State tower, Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit, Rembrandt, Majestic, Dusit Thani etc. Here is a trip report that I made from Bangkok when we went there in 2007.
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