August 28, 2014
During our month in Thailand and Myanmar we were in Bangkok four times, once just one night, once just during the day, a third time for a few hours, and at the end of our trip two full days and one night, for last minute shopping before we went home. The day we arrived with the plane from Belgium, we had time to kill between the landing at 7 AM, and our train to Chumpon to go to Koh Tao at 6 PM. I hadn’t put much thought in it when first booking the flight and the plane, but when de departure date came closer I realized we would be without a shower for about 48 hours, and that while we would be spending time walking around in de sweltering heat of Bangkok somewhere in the middle. So I started thinking about a place to take a shower. The airport seemed the most logic solution, but online search learned that there were no public showers in the airport of Bangkok. (oeps forgotten by the designer!) There was a lounge where you had to pay 380 bath to use the showers and that would be before our venturing out in Bangkok. Hua Lampong station where we would take the train had public showers for about 29 bath, but that would probably be a lot of hassle with all our luggage. Our plan was to get a massage if possible in Bangkok. We preferred the massage of Wat Pho, but last time we checked they did not have showers! Best option was to find a hotel just for the day, to leave our luggage, take a shower and maybe even take a nap. We could take one double room and share it with the four of us. No one seemed to have good suggestions for a hotel for the day in Bangkok. One possibility would be to go to Koa Sarn road and look for a room in one of the budget hotels. I looked up some decent hotels in and around Kao Sarn road. But then came to realize that Kao Sarn is not reachable by public transport, so we would have to take a taxi with all our luggage, hmmmm.
There was the hotel Makkasan link I had booked for the night we were staying in Bangkok between Hua Hin and Myanmar. I had chosen this hotel for its proximity to the skytrain airport link, so it might also be the best solution for our shower problem. We decided to give them a call to ask if we could just get a room for a few hours. The communication in English via the phone was a bit problematic, but we came to understand they had rooms available, so decided to just head there. The hotel, Makkasan link, is located at Petchaburi road, at Makkasan station, the end station for the skytrain express, a line that goes directly from the airport to Makkasan. From Makkasan you can also take the city metro line, with Hua Lampong station as it’s end station. A ticket with the express line costs 90 or 100 bath one way and you buy the ticket in the basement of the airport. You get a plastic token, that allows you to get out of the station in Makkasan. The train leaves every 15 minutes, and takes 15 minutes to get from the airport to Makkasan station. When arriving in Makkasan, it took us some time to find the hotel. You have to follow the fly-over pedestrian bridge to the metro station, come back up after crossing the street underground. The hotel is just behind the corner to the right. It took some time explaining the person behind the counter of the hotel that we only wanted a room until 4 PM and get some reduction on the regular price for a double room. A room normally costs 1500 bath for one night if you book online, we got the room till 4 PM, for 1300 bath. Releived we dropped our luggage at the room, took a shower, and changed clothes. The easiest way to reach Wat Pho is to take the metro to Hua Lamphong, and then a taxi to the temple.
We paid the entrance of 100 bath to the temple, visited the famous reclining Buddha and the temple grounds followed by a 30 minute relaxing traditional massage at the Wat Pho massage school. Contrary to long ago, you now get a massage in an air conditioned room, but for the rest nothing much changed. Half an hour costs 260 bath.
We continued towards Wat Phra Kaew following the riverside, where an amulet market is located towards the Tha Chang Wang Luan pier. On the pier is a public toilet for 3 bath. Being hungry, hot and sweaty we chose one of the little restaurants on the entrance market to the pier, and ate a Kaw pad (fried noodles), with a fresh fruit juice. We took some sliced fresh mango from another shop to eat as dessert. We walked past Wat Phra Kaew (the impressive grand Palace), Silpakorn University (university of Arts) and the huge public square Sanaam Luang towards Kao Sarn raid, the backpacker street. I have never been attracted to the noisy, busy street, but I guess it is convenient to stay here as a backpacker.
Tired and hot we took a taxi back to the hotel, to get some sleep, and a shower. We grabbed al our luggage and took the metro to Hua Lampong station, in time for a noodle soup at the station and some shopping for cookies and drinks to take on the train.
Our second stop in Bangkok, was for the night between a train coming from Hua Hin and arriving in the evening in Bangkok, and a flight to Yangon from Suvarnabumhi airport the next morning. For this we had booked two rooms at Makkasan link hotel for one night. We just had to take the metro to Petchaburi station and walk to the hotel just around the corner, and then take the skytrain the next morning to the airport from Makkasan station. We had to be at the airport at 7 AM, and the skytrain starts running at 6 PM, every 15 minutes. We managed to catch the one leaving Makkasan at 6:30 AM. (Skytrain: 100 bath, metro: 40 bath) and arrived at the airport 15 minutes later.
The third stop in Bangkok was only for a few hours between a plane coming from Yangon in the morning and a night train to Chiang Mai in the evening. It was already past lunchtime when we arrived by express skylink to Makkasan and metro to Hua Lampong railway station. We left our luggage at the left luggage at one end of the trainstation. It costed us about 340 bath to leave four big suitcases and some backpacks till 17:30. We took the metro to Saladaeng and there the connecting BTS skytrain to the National Stadium. We wanted to do some shopping at MBK (Maboenkrong) a huge discount shopping mall close to Siam Square. On the two top floors there are large food courts, with a wide selection of Asian and Western style dishes. On the floor just below is a whole floor with only technology, mainly mobile phones, tablets and accessories. Our kids both needed a new mobile phone. The Western brands are not that much cheaper than in Europe, but there are many Asian brands that offer really nice phones for a lot less than their more famous brothers. (Apple, Nokia, Samsung) They both chose a Thai brand phone with nice features, we all got new screen protectors and phone cases. (They will clean your phone and put a screen protector on it for 2 euro. ) We almost missed our train to Chiang Mai, because we forgot about the 30 minute time difference between Thailand and Myanmar. After some running between stations (not good in Bangkok temperatures…) we managed to get to our train in time, only to see it leave 30 minutes late! We ordered some found and drinks on the train that evening.
Our last stay in Bangkok was for two full days and one night. We had just come back from Chiang Mai with the night train in first class sleepers. I really recommend the first class sleeper if you can lay your hands on those tickets. They cost a little more but add a lot of comfort to your trip. You are less disturbed by light, noise and other passengers, and thus sleep a lot better. The beds are also a bit wider, and you have more storage place and leg room. And you have your own sink in the coupé. The train arrived in Bangkok around seven in the morning. You can get of at Bang Sue station where you have a BTS line into the centre, or get of at Hua Lamphong station where you connect with the metro. We got of at Hua Lamphong, and took the metro to Paya Thai station, the closest stop to our hotel. As it was our last night in Thailand, we had booked two rooms at Loog Choob, a kind of bed & breakfast -homestay in the centre of Bangkok close to Victory Monument (Anusawadee Chai). It is close also to Bo Be market, a famous wholesale clothes market.
We wanted to end in style, and Loog Choob did not dissapoint. The small hotel is smart and beautiful in design, the rooms spacious with gorgeous bathrooms, and a great shower. The rooms are extended with a sitting and kitchen area, where you can make coffee, tea or hot chocolate whenever you want. Breakfast is not included, but the owners do provide some breads and cereal in the morning. There is a wonderful roof terrace with a view over Bangkok. But what pleased us most was the extra service. We arrived very early the first morning with the train from Chiang Mai, and would only leave Bangkok very late the next day on our homeward fligth. You can only check in to your room at 2 PM and should check out at lunchtime. The first morning and the second afternoon we before check in and after check out we could use their extra living room, shower room and bedroom, and could store our luggage. We gratefully used this service twice, to freshen up after arriving on the train, and again before leaving for the airport after a warm day shopping on Chatuchak market. The owner is very helpful providing information, with a map for taxi drivers to find the way, another map to find your way around the little food market at the other side of the canal, ….. The only downside of the location is that at some hours of the day it is really, really hard to find a taxi. But if needed the owner will phone a taxi if asked in advance. (we did so to go to the airport)
Our last two days in Bangkok were planned especially to do some last minute shopping. We would better know how much money we could still spend, and how much place was still left in our luggage. Also Chatuchak market can only be visited on the weekends, and we left on Sunday, so we could still go to the market on Saturday before leaving.
After feeling all better after a shower we headed out to visit Jim Thompson’s house close to Siam Square.We first took a breakfast (or brunch) in Siam Center, at Greyhound café, a smartly decorated cafe with Thai and Western dishes. We then walked to Jim Thompson’s house on the other side of the street from MBK and the National Stadium. Jim Thompson’s house is a beautiful example of a traditional Thai house, place in the middle of the highrises in the centre of Bangkok, with one of the canals passing just behind. Jim Thompson did a lot to promote Thai silk in Thailand and abroad. He was also an arts lover, and collected many beautiful items in his house. There is a shop where you can buy silk items with popular prints first used by Jim Thompson. You cannot visit the house by yourself, you have to join one of the many tours, which are offered in many different languages. There is also a small but cute garden where you can wander around while waiting for your tour to start.
We then decided to try one of the malls, and took a taxi to Central Chidlom, which we remembered as one of the cheaper shopping malls. Unfortunatly the mall became quite bland and the prices quite high. So we did not do a lot of shopping and decided to enjoy a siesta in our hotel. We booked a table for the Saxophone café at Victory monument for that evening. We managed to have a table for four. When leaving the hotel to get to the café, it started to rain massively. We walked to the end of the street trying to get a taxi, but really not one taxi wanted to stop and if we managed to stop one he did not want to drive. A bit later we noticed all traffic was blocked because one of the Royals had to pass (in a canary yellow beatle!). But even after this blockade, it was impossible to get a taxi. We asked a policeman for the way, and he pointed out that the bus he was to take, went straight to Victory Monument. We paid 32 bath for four and were happy to be on our way to our dinner. We were almost an hour late; but then I guess this is not unusual in a city with this kind of traffic. Our table was still there for us. The first musician was already playing. A man alone on a guitar, playing traditional rhythm and blues songs. We ordered beer and food. The second gig was a band playing blues, some songs were better than others. I had ordered a cocktail, but the quality of it was disappointing. We took some snacks to enjoy the music. The café is already going strong for a few decades, and has not changed a bit in those years. Even the musicians seem to bring the same repertoire.
The next morning we decided to try the market close to the hotel for our breakfast. We chose a place where they served rice with duck. We returned to Loog Choob and checked-out, and stored our luggage. We took a taxi to Paya Thai station and took the BTS skytrain to Mo Chit station, just next to Chatuchak market (also known als JJ market, as in Jatujak). The market has spread further with stalls as for as the entrance of the skytrain. We first went to get a map of the market, which can be found at entrance nr. 1, where there is an information center, and where you also find ATM’s, toilets, the post office…. With the map we looked for the areas that interested us most. We wanted to buy traditional Thai blue and white ceramics. The market more or less groups shops together in what they sell. But you sometimes find certain items also in other sections. There were only a few shops left with the ceramics we were looking for. It seemed to be less popular these days. Initially we planned to send the ceramics by post or other shipping company, since it is quite heavy to carry home. The problem was that shipping the items by TNT or UPS costed about three times the cost of buying them. We informed ourselves at the post office and there the cost was about half of what you paid with the shipping companies. Once bought though the post office said they did not send ceramics since it was too fragile and would probably break. So we decided to carry them home in hand luggage and went to buy two small hand luggage bags to put the ceramics in. Luckily we know the owner of the famous Viva café on the market, and could leave our shopping bags with them for the rest of the day. (makes me wonder if there are places on the market where you can leave bought goods for a while when you continue shopping?) We had left the kids to shop on their own, and they had obviously enjoyed it.
We stopped at Viva 8 ( Viva in section 8), for a drink and a bit further ate Som Tam (papaya salad), Nam Tok (grilled pork salad), grilled chicken and Kaaw Niaw (sticky rice) as lunch. We then continued our shopping for some clothing and last minute presents. We ended our day drinking Lao beer and margaritas with our friends in Viva 8, where the atmosphere was at its best with the great music from the dj’s, with dj Ae as upper dj of the house. We ate some paella that is made freshly all day long in front of the café. The other branch of Viva is located in section 26, at the same place where this iconic café started 20 years ago! There is now also Viva and Aviv the River next to the Chao Praya river. Viva and Aviv the River often organises parties on Sunday afternoon in the sunshine, with great dj’s. They hosted the first Kolour Sunday party in Bangkok. We had trouble leaving for our hotel, since we were enjoying ourselves so much talking to old time friends. We eventually took the BTS train back to Paya Thai station and grabbed a taxi to the hotel; where we took an shower, and where a taxi was waiting for us, ordered by the hotel, takin us to the airport and back home…