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Part 3: Bangkok

Back to part 2 of the Thailand 2013 travelogue

17.8: Khao Lak -> Ratchaprapha dam -> Surat Thani -> Bangkok
Pantip Court Serviced Residence, Bangkok. 3480 Baht for a huge (really huge, perhaps almost 200 mē) apartment with lots of space and several rooms. Largest room/apartment I've ever booked. You could play football in this place. The room is on the 14th floor with a balcony and a great view of Bangkok. There are windows with views to the east, west and north. The only negative is that this place is old. You can see from the furniture that this place must have been built 20+ years ago. Otherwise the place is great. A huge living room with a sofa, several chairs, a sofa table and an additional table with chairs. Kitchen area with fridge, microwave, stove etc. allowing you to cook should you wish to do so. No hair dryer in the toilets. Cable internet in the rooms for a fee (268 Baht/hour), ridiculously expensive given that for 49 Baht you can purchase one day of Internet on a smartphone (160 MB with AIS, possibly there are cheaper offers).
Weather: in the morning overcast in Khao Lak, but some blue sky here and there. As soon as we start driving towards Surat Thani it starts to rain heavily for about an hour. Then the weather improves and the sun comes out. Dry initially at the Ratchaprapha lake, but also there it starts to rain a few minutes after we arrive. The rain lasts only about 20 minutes, then the weather improves. Sunny again in Surat Thani and only a little rain in Bangkok in the evening around 6:30pm.

We leave the hotel in Khao Lak at 9am and start driving towards Surat Thani. The idea would be to make a stop at the Ratchaprapha dam on the way to the airport in Surat Thani.

When it starts to rain heavily I regret to have woken up so early. But by the time we reach the Ratchaprapha dam at 10:55am, the weather has substantially improved.

At the dam there is a visitor centre with a large parking. From there there is a nice view of the lake. Lots of visitors, most of them Thai, some school classes. It's even possible to do boat tours on the lake (on a long tail boat for instance). The boat seems to be an excellent way to explore the lake and the Khao Sok national park as well, given that the lake extends deeply into the park.

We are at the dam until 12:10pm, then start driving to the airport, arriving there at 1:20pm. It's still too early to check in for the flight to Bangkok with Nok Air, so we wait for a while. At 1:40pm we finally check in. Still over two hours to go until the flight takes off. We ask about a shopping mall nearby, but the one I had in mind is very far away (25km). So we just spend the time in the airport (cold A/C by the way).

The Nok Air flight leaves on time and arrives in Bangkok (Don Muang) a bit early.

After that we take a taxi. Long queue at the taxi stand, but then the taxi only charges by the meter + 50 Baht. This totals just 230 Baht for the transfer to the hotel (in central Bangkok). Compare that to the fixed 300 Baht fee for the short distance in Khao Lak.

We are in the hotel shortly after 6pm. After a rest, we leave the hotel at 7:15pm and take a taxi to the Paragon shopping mall. This is not far from the hotel (in fact you could walk), but due to the traffic jam it takes a while to get there.

The food court of this mall is outstanding. An incredibly wide choice of different types of food, all very good and high quality. The prices are quite high however. I spend 300 Baht on an Indian dish, Shirley spends 100 Baht on an icecream. Very special ice-cream which you can't find in Europe, but not exactly cheap. Delicious cakes by the way.

After a while in this food court we have a look at the mall. It's actually not a mall, but a department store. So we get on the street. There is sort of an open air market with stalls along the pavement. Could be interesting to shop around, but it's a bit late already (9:15pm) and there are just too many people.

I check again an ATM and again it charges a fee of 150 Baht for each cash withdrawal. As I later find out when checking in the Internet, all Thai banks now impose this fee on foreign cards.

So after a while we decide to get back to the hotel. The taxis now are refusing to use the meter and charge three times the standard rate (200 Baht for a trip which cost 73 Baht when we came here). After a while and some negotiations we find a taxi for 150 Baht and get back to the hotel.

18.8: Bangkok
Pantip Court Serviced Residence, Bangkok. The breakfast is buffet type. It's ok, although not on the same level as the one in the hotel in Khao Lak.
Weather: overcast in the morning, then around noon the sky opens up. Some rain around 5pm for about 30-40 minutes, then in late afternoon the sky opens up.

We leave the hotel after breakfast at 10am and head to the Chatuchak market. The main purpose is to buy the dried mango fruits of which Shirley and her family are so fond of.

We arrive there at 10:30am (taxi trip costs 130 Baht, including 45 Baht of highway toll).

The Chatuchak weekend market is a huge open air market located in the north of Bangkok. The market stalls are located under roofs which protect them against the sun and the rain. There is no A/C, but the temperatures inside are somehow bearable.

A huge variety of things are offered for sale. Lots of decorative stuff, handicrafts, cute things. Not so many stalls selling food or eatable stuff. In fact it takes us a while to find stalls selling dried mangoes. There is a food court area in the inner part of the market.

Quite a few western tourists in this market, although most visitors are Asian. The prices are somehow high and the vendors are unwilling to lower them significantly. Maybe up to 20%-30%, but not much more than that. Overall the price level is surprisingly high, given that this is Thailand. Some things are even as expensive as in Germany.

We are in this market until about 12pm, then wonder what to do next. I suggest to get back to the hotel where we can deposit the stuff we bought and can take a rest. I'm also low on cash because I was hoping to find an ATM which doesn't charge the 150 Baht fee, but couldn't find one.

So we get out of the market and start looking for a taxi. Not that easy, as all taxis we speak to refuse to use the meter and are asking ridiculously high prices (400 or 500 Baht - we paid 130 to come here).

It seems to me that Thailand is no longer as cheap as it used to be. Lots of things here are more expensive than in Malaysia and in fact some items as as expensive as in Germany.
Taxis are definitely cheaper in Kuala Lumpur, and taxi drivers in KL when they don't want to use the meter charge twice the meter fee, while here in Bangkok taxi drivers refusing to use the meter ask for three times the amount.
Overall a holiday in Malaysia is at the moment less expensive than one in Thailand.

Since there is no taxi, but there is an MRT station nearby, we walk towards it. We stop in the Queen Sirikit park. There we rent a mat for 20 Baht, after skipping the offer of another guy who was asking for 70 Baht and we rest on the grass.

Then, while I'm here and watch the bags, Shirley and the kids do more shopping in the market. I guess if she were alone and had enough cash Shirley could easily spend a whole week in this market, shopping for nonsense.

Finally Shirley and the kids are back and at 1:45pm we walk towards the MRT station. Direct line until Lumphini park, quite convenient. The tickets for the four of us cost 140 Baht, as much as a taxi ride. I wonder why the MRT is so expensive in Bangkok.

Finally we are back in the hotel. There we take a rest. I call the Mantanani resort in Sabah, Malaysia and check for room availability. Only dorm rooms are available, sigh. Then I book flights with Airasia, BKK-KUL and KUL-BKI (Kota Kinabalu).

Around 4pm it starts raining. At 4:40pm I go down with the kids to the pool. It's still raining a bit, but never mind. I'm in the pool until 6pm, then go back to the room.

Once there I tell Shirley I want to go to a place for some sunset shots and will come back after that to pick her up with the kids. Surprise, she wants to go with me. But the kids have wet hair, need to take a shower and get ready etc.

We manage to leave the hotel at 6:20pm and get into a taxi. We tell the driver to bring us to the nearby Benjakiti park. After a while driving I switch on Google Maps on my smartphone and realise that the driver is driving to the wrong place. I tell him that we want to go to the Benjakiti park and he keeps saying "yes, Benjasili, Benjasili". One more check on the map and I see that there is a Benjasiri park and he is driving to that park.

More discussion, I repeat a few time very clearly "Benjakiti", stressing the difference between -kiti and -siri. Finally he gets it and tells me, no problem he will turn left at the next possibility.

No problem my ass, we are stuck in a traffic jam, not moving and running out of time. Close to the equator the blue hour time window is very short. It's basically few minutes in which the sky has the right brightness and colour. After these few minutes the sky gets dark very quickly. Within 10 minutes or so the day turns into night.

I am getting impatient and strongly tempted to tell this idiot what he is, because we clearly explained this driver where we want to go to, even showed a map excerpt and the name in Thai script. Either he is too dumb or wants to make more business by making a big detour.

At some time I get out of the taxi, tell the driver to bring Shirley and the kids to the Benjakiti park and start running towards the Benjakiti lake. What looked like a short distance on the map turns out to be a larger distance in reality. I find myself running with a heavy camera bag and rubber slippers.

Finally at 7pm, with a fully-sweated T-shirt I'm in position at the Benjakiti lake and start shooting the panorama sequence. Luckily it's not too dark yet and in fact I get some very good shots. In addition there is the full moon in the sky and the images turn out great.

At 7:07pm I get the last shot and check where Shirley is. Several phone calls later I finally realise that the driver dropped her off in the wrong place. Turns out that the idiot dropped her off at the Benjasiri park. What a mentally retarded guy.

We are finally reunited at 7:45pm. Then we spend some time looking for a large mall with a food court, but find none in the area. So we take a taxi to Siam square (150 Baht, no meter) and spend the rest of the evening there, having dinner and buying some stuff.

I get a closer view to the Siam square complex and must say that the architecture is quite impressive. Really beautiful shopping malls. Great choreography, especially at night. I wish there was a mall like this in Munich.

19.8: Bangkok
Pantip Court Serviced Residence, Bangkok.
Weather: mostly sunny, blue sky and some clouds, although there is always a thin clouds layer. No nice clear blue sky as for instance in Germany. Quite hot today. No rain the whole day.

At 10am we take a taxi to the Vimanmek palace. The trip takes less than half an hour, but it turns out that today (Monday) the Vimanmek palace is closed for tourists. So we take another taxi and stop on the Dusit square, from which there is a nice view of the Anantasamakhom palace.

Then we proceed to the nearby Wat Benchamabophit marble temple (entrance: 20 Baht), which we reach at 11am. This is a very cute temple, built with white marble. Quite photogenic, as most wats in Thailand. Rows of black Buddha statues in the interior.

At 11:45am we take a taxi to Wat Arun. The trip takes only 20 minutes and we actually don't make it there, as the taxi driver drops us off at a pier where we have to take a boat. I was initially thinking that the driver would cross a bridge and bring is straight away to the wat.

So we cross the river by ferry (3 Baht/person) and reach Wat Arun (entrance fee: 50 Baht) on the opposite side and 12:15pm. Lots of tourists today.

Alissia and Natasha dress up like Thai deities or Balinese dancers (some kind of costume from the Ramayana) and we a photo shoot of them with the background of Wat Arun.

We then spend about an hour in this place. Wat Arun itself is richly decorated, with a huge central Buddhist stupa structure. It is possible to climb up this central stupa and get some good views of the surroundings and the Chao Praya river. There are some other temples near Wat Arun, all also interesting and free of charge.

At about 1:30pm we head back to the pier and cross back to the other side. Then we have some lunch (noodle soup with chicken, 40 Baht) at a stall near the pier.

We continue walking around a bit, checking out the various stalls selling tourist stuff, then start looking for a taxi. What a "surprise", nobody wants to use the meter. In the end, after some searching we negotiate a fee of 200 Baht for getting back to the hotel.

As we later realise, this 200 Baht fee actually is a good deal for us, because the return trip takes forever. The distance is big, but we are stuck for a long time in traffic jams. We are only back in the hotel at almost 4pm.

After that, while Shirley goes down for a foot massage, I spend some time with the kids in the hotel room. I check again the Mantanani island place (still no confirmation of the reservation).

Actually, while in the taxi I had given a call to the Mantanani Backpacker Lodge and sent them another email.

At 5 something pm Shirley is finally back and I leave the hotel room for the Pantip Plaza mall. Massive traffic jam. I reach the mall only after 6pm. Pantip Plaza is a centre for IT: you can buy hardware and software, all possible PCs, PC parts, mobile phones, tablets etc.

I end up spending quite some time in this mall (too much as I realise later) and only get out at 6:40pm. I then quickly rush to the Paragon mall. I'd like to take a blue hour shot of the Bangkok convention centre right behind the mall, but am about to miss the blue hour.

The problem is that I need to find an elevated spot from which to take the picture. I get into the mall, first up to the 6th floor, then down to the 5th floor, the 4th. On each of this floor there is no opening or window with a view of the convention centre.

Finally I reach the 3rd floor and, coincidence, I happen to spot an arrow pointing to a garage. Usually garages are open... I quickly get to the garage and finally I find an opening with a view of the convention centre.

It's 7pm. I set up the tripod and start shooting a few panorama sequences. As usual I check each shot for sharpness on the LCD screen, to avoid blurred shots. It appears that the wall on which the tripod is staying vibrates a bit. I find myself having to retake some shots several times until I get a sharp one.

After I'm done with the shots I call Shirley who by now has arrived with the kids and is in the Siam Paragon mall. We meet in the food court of the Paragon mall and have a dinner there. Then we head back to the hotel.

20.8: Bangkok -> Kuala Lumpur -> Kota Kinabalu
Hotel Le hotel, Kota Kinabalu. RM 138 for a tiny basic room (12 mē) with adjustable A/C, flat screen TV, free WLAN, attached bathroom with shower, tea making equipment. Very little water coming out of the water basin. The room is on a busy and noisy street (very noisy even after midnight). The room is ok if you don't mind the noise, but not terribly good value.
Weather: overcast in the morning in Bangkok, around 11am the sky opens up a bit. Similar weather in Kuala Lumpur. In Kota Kinabalu in the evening quite fresh. Apparently it has been raining the whole day.

We take a taxi (200 Baht + 105 Baht of highway tolls) to Don Muang airport at 10am. The trip takes only 25 minutes, because there isn't much traffic. Then we check in and proceed to the gate.

At the airport I call again the Mantanani resort because they still haven't sent the booking confirmation, even if yesterday I sent them all my details. Today they tell me that the weather is bad in Mantanani and they don't recommend that I come. This is strange, because the Internet weather forecast for tomorrow is good. I wonder if they really want to have me as a customer.

Don Muang airport is a shadow of what it once was. The infrastructure is old and there are far fewer shops now than there were years ago when it was the main airport of Bangkok. I notice three airlines serving it: Airasia, Nok Air and a third one (offering a flight to Nanning this morning).

The Airasia 1:10pm flight takes off on time and lands in KLIA LCCT about 10 minutes early at 4:10pm. Huge queue at the immigration counters. We retrieve our luggage and then I split from Shirley and the kids who will stay in KL.

I check in for the Kota Kinabalu flight and have a meal in the food court. Then I proceed to the gate.

The 18:35 Airasia flight is delayed for some reason and only leaves at 7pm. The plane is about 3/4 full. It lands in Kota Kinabalu with a delay of 15 minutes. After that I proceed speedily through immigration, retrieve my luggage and take a taxi to the hotel. Quite expensive taxi (RM 30), given the short distance (only 7km).

Copyright 2013 Alfred Molon