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By Way of Bangkok

View from the Ibis Riverside

Jan & Feb, 2011: Lots of people love Bangkok. Me? Not so much. I’ve tried, and I’ve failed, but unfortunately Bangkok is a major transit hub for southeast Asia, so I keep winding up right back there. This trip I passed through four times, so I took the opportunity to try a couple of new hotels, along with revisiting two old familiar ones.

Although Bangkok now has a metro system as well as the Sky Train, my favorite way to get around is still the ferry on the Chao Praya river,  and the view of the river is pretty cool too, so I stayed in two riverside hotels: the brand new Ibis and the Menam Riverside, now rebranded (and poshed up a bit) as the Ramada Plaza.

I booked both hotels through agoda.com, paying twice as much for the Menam, which also had pricier (if unquestionably better) restaurants. The Menam has a better location, on the east bank close to a ferry stop, and with its own shuttle, but it was so hard to get a taxi when I left that I almost missed my train. I had river view rooms in both hotels, and have to say that the Ibis was overall a better value – I’d go back, even though I managed to lose a favorite shirt there.

The pool at the Menam Riverside

My third hotel was the venerable Viengtai, over by Khao San Road, in the heart of backpackers Bangkok. I first stayed there on an Intrepid tour – it’s their base in Bangkok – and it’s still a comfortable oasis, if somewhat more expensive these days. I had hoped to pick up some cheap second-hand guidebooks on KSR for the rest of my trip, but no such luck. The used book scene was much worse than it had been in 2004, and KSR seemed now to be all clothes shops and travel agents.

For my last stay I moved to the heart of shopper’s Bangkok, staying at the well-reviewed Baan Sukhumvit Soi 18 and finding all the praise correct – clean, comfortable, cozy, convenient and friendly. Although I did manage to damage a toe again, hitting my right foot on the stone ledge in the bathroom doorway. After that I padded the ledge with the bathmat, but it didn’t repair the damage, and I started limping yet again.

My room at Baan Sukhumvit

I spent most of my time at the Menam luxuriating in the cool shade by the pool, surprised by the contrast with the steamy heat downtown, but I did get out some. Aside from my unsuccessful foray down KSR, I also returned to Wat Po for a proper Thai massage. I indulged in a foot massage there as well, only marred by two crass young westerners who insisted on sneaking photos of their girlfriends’ massages, despite the masseuses requests that they refrain.

I found a better bookshop on Sukhumvit, then revisited the Jim Thompson house just for lunch. I ate twice at my favorite Thai restaurant, Taling Pling (don’t miss the sator beans with prawns and pork) and wasted one meal on the dumbed-down-for-foreigners food at Ban Chiang, which I picked from the normally useful Nancy Chandler annotated map.

No, this wasn't dinner, this guy was at the aquariom

But the best meal was the one I shared with new friends I had met on Fodors’ Asia forum. We foregathered at Lemongrass on Sukhumvit, Soi 24, not too far from my hotel. The travel chat was great fun, and although the Lemongrass was full of foreigners, the food was very good, especially the beef and ginger appetizer, the shrimp and noodles, the chicken….

I spent my last afternoon in Bangkok, and, alas, in Asia, staying cool in the air-conditioned Siam Paragon shopping mall, finishing with a long visit to the aquarium in the basement, Ocean World.

Strange fish at Ocean World

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