Part Four - Phuket Town & Bangkok
After we and our stuff had been dropped off at Kata harbour mid-afternoon, a minibus arrived to transport us to Phuket town. If we were staying in Kata/Karon/Patong area the Greta crew would have transported us to our hotel as part of the deal, but as we were staying further away from tourist central, instead in Phuket town, we had to pay the freight, although the van was organized for us by the guys at Siam Dive n Sail.
Unfortunately, the lovely Indigo Pearl (which is conveniently near the Phuket airport) did not have any rooms for us on the evening of January 1 – and, after many queries, I could not find any other airport hotels nor resort towns that did either, so in desperation, I started looking at Phuket town and found Sino House, which ended up being very well-priced and very nice. Hotel staff were able to recommend a good Thai restaurant just around the corner from the hotel, and the hotel was happy to arrange transportation to the airport for us.
Breakfast (included) was on the top floor with a bit of view of the town – neither view nor food were particularly inspired, but we were happy not to have to go too far looking for grub.
The way the flights worked out, we had 3 days to kill on the end in Bangkok – so although we’d rather be diving, we made the best of it. The older Ps had transited thru there a few times on their journey, so they took us touring and eating and they got to enjoy it on the other end of the scale from the insecty guesthouses they had stayed in off Khao San Road.
We spent the 3 nights in Bangkok at the Dusit Thani hotel. It is a very nice property, situated in a great location very near a skytrain station (Silom) and across the expressway from Lumphini Park. There are many, many hotel options in Bangkok, in all price ranges. We decided to spend enough to ensure we had an oasis to return to after a day of exploring the sticky city, without breaking the bank. Despite being in the center of the huge sprawling metropolis that is Bangkok, the hotel was very quiet and our room was beautifully appointed. Staying by the river might offer better views, but those hotels are very pricey in peak season, so we settled for the Dusit Thani, which was quite a bit more modestly priced, based on good reviews on tripadvisor.com, and we were not disappointed.
If you decide to stay, I highly recommend upgrading to the “Club” rooms at the Dusit Thani – for very little extra cost, the added amenities were most welcome, including separate lounge with coffee, tea and soft drinks as well as light snacks available throughout the day, and in the evening, from 5 – 7 pm they have a complimentary cocktail bar and substantial appetizers. Sweet. There are also several computers to use for free in the Club Lounge, and the final bonus was breakfast (aka ABF, therefore twas included in the price) served in one of the hotel’s many restaurants for Club guests only – fabulous food and service. Other guests eat in a more generic cafeteria style restaurant on the ground level of the hotel.
This is a hotel that has historically accommodated movie stars and other notables, although it has been surpassed by The Oriental Hotel, and several other chic hotels in the city. You can expect to spend big baht to eat in its premier restaurants. We only ate dinner in the hotel once – in the Thai restaurant – one of 10 or so eateries in the hotel. It was very nice and not outrageously spendy ie close to what we would pay for a similar meal in a modest Thai restaurant here at home.
There is a night market near the Dusit Thani where you can cash in on all the cheap designer knock-off stuff, and there are a reasonable number of restaurants nearby. Tuk tuks (funky two person open conveyances) and cabs are ubiquitous and cheap for getting around the city, although we preferred the skytrain when possible – it is very new and high tech and whisks passengers on elevated lines over several parts of the large, sprawling city, giving interesting views and avoiding the snarls of traffic. Eventually the sky train will connect to the new Suvarnabhumi Airport. As of now, cabs and vans bring visitors into the city – it is about a 45 minute drive (when not in rush hour) and costs about 600 baht (about 20 bucks), give or take, according to your fare negotiation skills and number of people in your party.
Bangkok was better than I expected - not too hot, sticky or dirty. We stayed away from the sketchy/sex tourism areas, although we did manage to stumble upon a prostitution alley clearly marketing itself to Japanese businessmen when we tried a short cut from the night market back to the hotel. That was a bit of an education ;^)
We enjoyed bargain shopping for fisherman pants and hand-crafted bags and carved wooden doodads on Khao San road. Highlights of our self-guided walking tour were Chinatown, the beautiful flower and fresh produce markets that went on for blocks, and blocks, and blocks, and strolling through the distinctive jewelry and garment districts.
The Lonely Planet Guide book was most helpful for our travel in Thailand. Reading it, we found out that for less than $1 per person you can ride the skytrain to one of the southernmost stops on the city river ferry system and then ride the ferry for about an hour north, seeing Bangkok and some of its many, many temples from the water. From the northernmost stop, we got off and hired a longtail speedy canoe (one of the small ones with bigass engines that you don't see in Bangkok city proper nor out at the beaches on the islands as the water is too rough). We flew upriver on the thing to be deposited on the "pottery island" (Ko Kret) where there are no cars. You can arrange for the longtail to come back to fetch you and return you to the ferry dock at a pre-determined time. You can also reach this island el-cheapo by taking connecting ferries, but it is apparently an arduous journey when traveled this way.
It was almost surreal to be that close to a massive, bustling metropolis and find that kind of quiet - almost as surreal as sighting innumerable Buddhist monks, swaddled in pumpkin orange or saffron yellow robes and bald-as-a-baby's-bottom pates, perambulating around both this little island, and the city of Bangkok. Terra Cotta style pottery (gleaned from the clay from which the island is formed) has been produced on the same island for many centuries, and there is a massive old kiln and pottery shed that visitors are welcome to tour. There are also several beautiful temples adorning the quiet island, and for those wanting to circumnavigate the island, there is a path where you can walk (it’s about 6 km around) or locals on scooters will (continuously) offer to double you (for a fee) on a circle tour on the narrow path. There are several shops selling the locally-produced pottery. Food and beverage on the island looked a bit sketchy from what we saw (although we did indulge in some deep fried bananas from a kiosk), so I would not recommend planning to eat a meal there and bringing your own bottled water.
Two days were not enough to do Bangkok justice. There are many wats (temples), palaces and other sights of historical significance that one could spend a week touring and not see them all. That being said, there are so many more beautiful and serene places in Thailand that I would not want to commit any length of precious travel time to Bangkok.