Travelogue - Bangkok
Chaophraya River - Taksin Bridge from our hotel room
Saturday, 25 November, 2000 - Bangkok
We landed around 11:00 p.m., cleared immigration, customs, exchanged some money in the arrival hall (1US$ = 43 Baht) and exited the terminal to get a taxi. As soon as we hit the open air we knew we were in Asia again - even if blindfolded, I am certain the smells, sounds and climate could not be mistaken. We were thinking it was good to be back.
You have a few options for transport into the city, including public bus, meter taxi, airport limousine, hotel van/car (if you are staying at a nice place), etc. Being on holiday and wanting to stretch the shopping funds a bit, we generally take the meter taxi. The bus is cheaper, but after 20+ hours commuting and with a load of luggage, it is not that attractive.
TIP 1:Most first time visitors (I fell into this trap a few years ago) will see the large Airport Limo sign near a booth by the exit of the Arrival Hall and gravitate to it for transport. Skip the Airport Limo booth inside the arrival hall and continue on through the exit. About 5-10 meters outside the terminal and near the curb, you will see a meter taxi booth. This is for conventional city taxis and will cost you the meter + Bht 50 for the driver and tolls if you choose the toll road. To downtown hotels from the airport with the meter taxi, the total should be under Bht 300. The Airport Limousine service inside is a more comfortable car (not a true 'limo,' but a cleaner and newer mid-size car) and will cost Bht 600 for the same trip.
TIP 2:If you are staying at a nicer place, but still want to watch your shopping money, be careful of the courtesy hotel vans/cars at the airport. Yes, they are convenient and dedicated to arriving hotel guests. However, they are usually not free, and will likely cost upward of Bht 1,000 for the journey. You won't discover this unless you ask upfront at the curb or look at your hotel bill when checking-out.
TIP 3:Recommend you get a hotel within walking distance to the SkyTrain or the River Taxi. This will make getting about the city a breeze.
Sunday, 26 November, 2000 - Bangkok
While Lao was the primary destination for this trip, Bangkok was a perfect city through which to transit and spend a few days at the start and end of our Lao adventure. We love Bangkok for the chaos, the temples, shopping, fantastic choice of restaurants and street stalls, etc. The chance to visit again was too much to pass up - we only had to be careful not to spend too much time as it would cut into our time in Lao. We had a full day on Sunday, with many things we wanted to see and do before heading up to Lao. Shopping at Chatuchak and arranging train tickets to Nong Khai and finding a tailor were the three things that we had on our agenda for Bangkok for Sunday/Monday. Being fully jet lagged, we were early (5:00am) to rise on Sunday morning.
Chatuchak - Weekend Market
Top priority for Sunday was to hit the Weekend Market, Chatuchak. This large outdoor market covers approximately 35 acres and is opposite the Northeastern Bus Station on Phahonyothin Road. Now the best way to get to it is with the Sky Train. Mo Chit Station (N8) on the Sukhumvit line of the Sky Train is only a block or two from Chatuchak.
You will see quite a few tourists at Chatuchat, but this is a market for the locals and not a tourist trap. I would guess that 80-90% of the shoppers are locals. Chatuchak has literally thousands of stalls (some say over 6,000 stalls), selling all kinds of goods ranging from clothes, handicrafts, antiques, hill-tribe products, plants, pets, rare books, fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood, and utensils from all over Thailand and neighboring countries. The stalls are open-air, yet covered by canopies and tent-like structures. One walks through narrow and usually quite crowded paths. It is easy to get lost or at least twisted about in this place, but that is half of the fun - because you stumble across some interesting things this way. We tend to dedicate the better part of a full day when in Bangkok to Chatuchak. Great place for textiles and handicrafts and decorative house items. You can even buy your lunch there at one of the many food stalls/restaurants. The Weekend Market is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 07:00 - 18:00. Checked out Kaewjai Jewlery Shop for some interesting gold necklaces (Section 10, Soi 14 - Tel 906 4978) and Malee Beertar for handicrafts (Soi 3, Section 25, Tel. 01-672 4038).
TIP 1:Chatuchak is huge and if you are looking for a particular item, say textiles, you may want to consult a map of the place. There are some on-line or in guidebooks. It is easier to pick one up at the Information Center at Chatuchak. A small public service window in the building on the edge of Chatuchat provides a simple one page map for free.
TIP 2:Bargaining is expected (to some extent) for nearly everything at Chatuchak (not at the food stalls). Don't be unreasonable or raise your voice when bargaining. Keep a smile on your face and try your skills at polite haggling. Nearly all of the merchants will speak some english (and probably 4-5 other languages), but learning some numbers in Thai and a few phrases for shopping will prove useful as well.
Custom made shirts, blouses and suits are a far better deal in most parts of Asia than in North America or Euorpe. As a result, if you are in the market for some new clothes, you might want to consider having some made while in Thailand. We called on Siam Emporium, located in the Siam Center (Sky Train - Siam Station). Siam Emporium is located at 207 Siam Center, Rama 1 Road, Tel. 251 9617. Contrary to the L.P. and other guides, the shop is located on the SECOND floor of the Siam Center - just as you exit the Sky Train. Mr. Jit is the man you want to see at Siam Emporium. Jit is an expat Indian who has been in Thailand for 16 years and knows the business. I have had shirts made in other countries, and his stuff is equal or better than most tailors in terms of quality of fabric, cut and service. Jit can also produce silk shirts for both men and women. We both ordered some things and would pick them up after our trip to Lao.
The Bangkok Mass Transit System's Sky Train is a welcome relief to some of the traffic problems of Bangkok. As the name suggests, it is a completely elevated system. We used it extensively during our stay in Bangkok and managed to get along on the system w/o any difficulty. If you have spent anytime on subway systems in other cities, the Sky Train is a snap. For a detailed map of the system please refer to theBangkok Mass Transit www page: http://www.bts.co.th/map_eng.htm. The network is fairly simple, comprised two lines, extending to a total of 23.1km. The Sukhumvit line is 16.8km long, and runs from On Nut to the Mo Chit bus terminal (near Chatuchak Weekend Market). The Silom line, meanwhile, runs 6.3km from the National Stadium to Sathorn Bridge (River Taxi pick-up point), on the banks of the Chaopraya River. The system works on stored value cards, basically you can buy a single trip ticket or a stored value card for say Bht 300. The average trip is something like Bht 25, so you can take about six round trip journeys on that stored value card. The cars and stations are clean and well marked in english as well as Thai. The cars are all airconditioned and we did not experience too much crowding except during rush hour.
Continue to Travelogue - Getting up North to Lao
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