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Thailand -2007

2007


Bangkok and Chiang Mai, was a bit of a surprise. It was our 40th wedding anniversary. An innocent question, "Where would you like to eat for our anniversary dear", received the reply, "A rice barge, on the Chao Phraya river would be nice". So a surprise was arranged, tickets obtained, hotels booked (thank you Trailfinders for the last minute arrangements).

The decision was made to avoid Heathrow and try a flight from Gatwick. The choice of flights was, perhaps, unusual but it looked good. LGW-AMS, with British Airways economy; AMS-BKK with China Airlines, business; followed by, a few days later, BKK-CNX with Thai Airways, economy. This would work well for anyone who normally has to take a regional flight to Heathrow and can fly, instead, to Amsterdam.

At Gatwick, helpful as always, British Airways refused to check our bags through to BKK as CI were not a "partner" airline (rather strange as we were able to check bags all the way from Chiang Mai via BKK and AMS to LGW on the return). BA also managed to upset the apple cart on the return journey, but more about that later.

Utility flight by BA from Gatwick to Amsterdam, on an ageing 737, landing on time. Then the fun began. After retrieving our bags, going through Dutch Immigration, checking in for CI, passing back through security and immigration, we only had an hour or so to spare. We only had a short time in the KLM business lounge at Amsterdam, before our flight was called.

The China Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Bangkok, by newish 747, seating, service and food were all excellent.

There were some delays at Bangkok immigration, but as the flight landed fairly early in the morning there was no rush, transport had been arranged to take us to the Shangri La.

Shangri La pool - Beside Chao Phraya River
Soi Cowboy Bangkok

Shangri La pool - Beside Chao Phraya River

Soi - Cowboy, Bangkok


At the Shangri La, we had requested an early check-in in and a double room. Only a twin room was available as the hotel was full. The staff were all very helpful, efficient and polite and we accepted this room. Lovely river and pool view on 14th Floor. The state of the room however left much to be desired, which we realised later. We took a rest as we had arranged to meet friends in the evening. Whilst getting changed to go out in the evening, a large amount of mould was noticed in the bathroom, the room carpet was badly stained, as was the sofa in the room. We decided not to make a fuss, but to ask at the reception desk for it to be cleaned.

We met up with our friends and ate in some "trendy" restaurant off Silom on the first night. Have now lost the name, but small bland portions eaten in a stylish atmosphere - not particularly Thai, not particularly good, not particularly cheap. We nevertheless had a very nice evening, catching up with all the news and seeing Patpong, Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza by night.

The following day we did some general sightseeing in Bangkok taking in the river, Grand Palace, several Wats and, of course the shops. Other than visiting different Wats, we had done this before so nothing new. The Grand Palace was busier than we have ever known and it was difficult to take decent photographs - but hey we already have loads! Unfortunately, returning to the hotel in the early evening, not only did the mould and stains remain, but our room had not been made up! As we were to meet up shortly with our friends, this did not go down at all well, and a formal complaint was made. They quickly changed our towels and made up the room, but the mould and stains remained.

We ate at Suda (Sukhumvit Soi 14) with our friends, who live in Thailand, on the second night - very cheap, very Thai (looks unappetising), very good. They did not know that Suda existed and were very impressed.

Then off we went to an Issan (spelled Y'San) disco. My memory gets rather vague about this particular part of the evening, but my brain still reverberates to the "rave" beat of the music and the picture of Issan Thai people, of all ages, gyrating to the music. It is somewhere in the suburbs way away from the tourist trail and we would never have known about it if it wasn't for the "local knowledge". They made we, ageing, westerners most welcome - which probably explains why it was a great evening, never to be forgotten (but only through the vagueness of alcohol fuelled, fuzzy memories).

The third night was our anniversary and we had booked the Manohra dinner cruise for ourselves and our friends. The Marriott (who run the cruises) had no problem reserving a table for 4. We simply booked by phone when we arrived in Bangkok and paid by card after the meal. This meal was as good as we remembered it from 18 months previously and we had a memorable evening. We somehow managed to blow almost GBP 200 for a meal for the 4 of us - but it was a great evening (we recommend the Singapore Slings and the Fizzy Pop - perhaps that's where the money went?).

We said goodbye to our friends, as we were leaving for Chiang Mai the following day (though not too early). Had an excellent, leisurely breakfast, before we were collected for the next leg of our trip.


Dinner on Manohra River Cruise
Golden Triangle

Dinner on Manohra River Cruise (Singapore Slings were good)

The Golden Triangle
Thailand (foreground), Burma (Left) Laos (Right)


Off we went to the Amari Rincome in Chiang Mai. A good internal flight by Thai of about 1 hour duration on a newish airbus. Smooth transfer from the airport, by the hotel mini bus - and what a surprise.

Most hotels in Thailand are good, with friendly helpful staff. The staff at the Rincome were exceptional and their welcome was efficient and warm. We had booked a deluxe room with terrace overlooking the pool (the quieter side of the hotel). The room was excellent - a smaller version of the Shangri-La layout. It was clean, well furnished, had a newish carpet and had obviously been redecorated recently. Absolutely superb. There are two pools here and two restaurants. The breakfast buffet is extremely good - almost up to the Landmark (Bangkok) standard.

Several days exploring Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Golden Triangle (including Laos) and the Myanmar border at Mae Sai. This was all far too fast and we will need to go back to Chiang Mai to visit all the things we missed (oh dear!). One sight (and site) not to miss is the, still being erected, Wat Rong Khun at Chiang Rai.

Restaurant recommendations
(apart from the hotel which was good) Riverside Inn, on the far side of the river Ping (a wonderful evening, overlooking the river), and the Hong Taew Inn (almost opposite the Amari. Great food, great ambiance, reasonable price).

We took a couple of Spa packages at the Sinativa Spa, close to the Amari. This Spa is not the prettiest, but the first package of Thai steam, body scrub, four hand massage and petal Jacuzzi was excellent. We repeated the package a few days later and it can only be described as poor with the Steam coming at the end and treatments being rushed. Not the relaxing experience (although I did nod off during the four hand massage - spoil yourself try this one!).

It should be borne in mind that the Amari is slightly out of town (too far to walk comfortably) and is over flown, as it is close to and on the flight path of Chiang Mai airport. This did not spoil the hotel for us, but the aircraft were more than noticeable - fortunately it is not an over busy airport.

The start of the Loy Krathong (festival of lights) celebrations coincided with our last night in Chiang Mai, This was spectacular. The city was adorned with bright lanterns and the local people were releasing their lighted Krathongs on the river and releasing lighted lanterns into the night sky. The river and the sky were absolutely filled. What a bonus this was - apparently the spectacle in Chiang Mai is just about the best in Thailand!


Wat Rong Khun near Chiang Rai
Lanterns - Loy Krathong Chiang Mai

Wat Rong Khun near Chiang Rai

Lanterns - Loy Krathong Chiang Mai


All too soon it was all over.
The Thai Airways flight to Bangkok was good, China Airlines flight to Amsterdam was excellent (great service and food and we both had about 5 hours sleep - unknown before!).

Then it happened - the British Airways transfer desk at Amsterdam was closed, with a note telling passengers to check in at the gate. We duly went to gate, but they would not issue boarding passes unless we went through the gate and security checks, unless we went back for normal boarding, 40 mins. before flight.

Soooooo we were stuck in AMS airport, in transit, for ages, with no boarding card (therefore no tax free shopping) just for the dubious privilege of eventually being able to board an old, dirty, packed, 737 with no legroom, to return to Gatwick.

Oh yes, we did get a biscuit with our coffee on the flight - I must be fair!

The British Airways staff that we met blamed the problem on AMS security - they just did not seem to get the point that all the problems were caused because their transfer desk was not manned (not much demand apparently). We have vowed that we will not travel BA again unless there is no realistic alternative.


Footnote.

Following our experience at the Shangri La, in Bangkok, we were pleased to receive a written apology from the General Manager. The Shangri La management had obviously taken our comments very seriously and they have offered us a complementary stay, with full Club facilities, on our next visit to Bangkok.

This was most welcome and it is difficult to imagine that, after the event, their response could have been any quicker, fuller or more generous.

Thank you Shangri La!


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