Friday, November 1: Transportation Travails

Friday was our last full day in Bangkok. As we had deliberately limited our pre-booked tours here to only one on Thursday, we had to find something to do. We had extensive conversations with our butler, Bright (1).

Bright the Butler, November 2019

A butler at the Siam Hotel is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. He is a combination personal concierge and personal customer service representative to the hotel. He will make dining reservations at the hotel or elsewhere, make suggestions for tours and arrange transportation, get housekeeping to bring towels, etc. Bright was an engaging and friendly young man who seemed to unobtrusively follow us around. In fact, he always seemed to appear whenever we were somewhere in the hotel. Late each day, he would talk to us about our plans for the following day, making suggestions and discussing alternatives.

Long-tail boat, November 2019

After deep discussions, we agreed that a long-tail boat ride down a canal to an artists’ area would be just the ticket, and so he booked a boat. Long-tail boats are long, narrow boats with an eight cylinder car engine mounted above the stern driving a propeller at the end of a long exposed driveshaft. They are loud – very loud – and go fast. Unfortunately when we came down to the dock to meet our boat, the wind was making the river too choppy for us, so we cancelled the boat ride (2).

Jim Thompson House, November 2019

We developed a backup plan, which was to take a taxi (3) to the Jim Thompson house. Thompson was an American OSS (4) operative during World War II who worked in Thailand, and who decided to stay after the war, and developed the Thai silk industry. After he disappeared while vacationing in Malaysia in 1967, the home he had created was turned into a museum. It’s quite nice, with a number of buildings he relocated to the site, reconstructed and furnished with Asian antiques. Unfortunately pictures are not allowed in the main building, so you’ll have to look elsewhere (5).

From there we walked over to an the Bangkok Art & Culture Center, but first went to find some lunch. We found that unique Thai restaurant, Jamie Oliver’s Italian Bistro. Pizza and pasta! After lunch we went back to look at the art, which was okay, but not great. A bunch of the pieces looked like parent visiting day for second grade.

How do I find the Siam Hotel?, November 2019

Getting home was an adventure. I stupidly decided to try a tuk tuk (6), although a 25 minute ride in one is probably not a good idea. But the driver I chose not only had no idea where the hotel was, but couldn’t understand the printed direction card I gave him, use Google Maps, or get directions from his friend – another tuk tuk driver he flagged down. So after 10 minutes of driving aimlessly, we bailed out (without paying) and found real taxi.

Street food in Chinatown, November 2019

We had dinner (for the second time) in the hotel restaurant, then afterwards I went down to see Chinatown. Chinatown in Bangkok is several blocks of street food. I mostly wanted to see the crowd and the action, as I had already eaten and wasn’t really interested in trying the boiled squid with egg and other delicacies on offer. And crowded it was.

Posing, November 2019

The main part of the area runs along both sides of a wide boulevard. The crowds significantly overflow the sidewalks onto the street.

Food for sale, November 2019

Some of the vendors apparently are renowned, as the lines to buy their take-away food, or sit at tiny plastic tables on plastic stools, was very long.

Crowded streets, November 2019

Getting home was again an adventure. The first two taxis I tried (no tuk tuk for me this time) wanted double what I paid to get there. After futilely bargaining with each, I finally found a driver who (a) was willing to run the meter, and (b) could find the hotel. Twenty minutes and $3 later I was home.

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(1) I’m pretty sure “Bright” is not what his mother named him. Yet that’s what his name tag said. All of the butlers (there were several) had western names on their tags.

(2) Bright negotiated a big discount on the cancellation fee with the driver.

(3) I didn’t know what to expect, as there are three levels of taxis: cars, tuk tuks, and motor bikes. The 25 minute car taxi ride cost about $3 on the meter.

(4) OSS: Office of Strategic Services, the WWII predecessor to the CIA. Yes, he was a spy.

(5) You can look here: http://www.jimthompsonhouse.com/

(6) Tuk tuks are motorized tricycles. The front looks like a motorcycle with a windscreen, while the back is a canopied seat for two that occasionally holds up to four. They don’t appear to be equipped with mufflers.

Thursday, October 31: All that glitters

Our guide, Moo (1), picked us up at 8:00 this morning for our half day Temple & Palace tour. Meeting at 8:00 means getting up before 7, which seems very un-vacation like, but we’re 11 hours ahead of EDT and still jet lagged anyway. We were a bit late, but light traffic enabled us to recover the time and we got to the first stop before it even opened at 8:30.

I can’t even tell you what we actually saw, at least not without doing a lot of research from guide books. It felt to me like we ran for three hours straight, visiting temples and palaces built by various kings over the last hundreds of years. Between Moo’s accent, my unfamiliarity with anything to do with Thai history, and the seemingly endless number of Kings named Rama (2), I quickly lost track of who built what.

Not that it mattered.

Can you say “glitz”, children?, October 2019

Everything was covered in gold and jewels. I don’t mean swords, crowns and furniture, I mean entire buildings. And statues of angles, Buddhas, devils, and monkeys.

Monks, a guard and us, October 2019

By shear luck, we came to a temple built by someone or other where a group of monks were chanting and blessing people. We got sprinkled with holy water, were given string bracelets and apparently were blessed. He didn’t say much (that I could understand).

More glitz. And us. October, 2019

There were an endless number of statues of angles, devils and monkeys. And lots of gold leaf, except for the stuff that was solid gold. And Buddhas.

After three hours of this, we were ready to retreat.

Siam Hotel, October 2019

We came back to the hotel around noon, where we had lunch. We spent the rest of the day at the hotel, getting massages, lounging around, using our private pool, and just generally relaxing.

The spa at Siam, October 2019


(1) She told us Moo is the nickname her mother gave her as a baby. Confusingly, it means “pig” in Thai. Which is not considered an insult.

(2) Rama IV was immortalized by Yul Brenner in The King and I

Wednesday, October 30: River of dreams

Today was our first full day in Bangkok. One of the choices we made in planning this trip was to have a mixture of scheduled and non-scheduled days; this was a non-scheduled one, mostly because we assumed we would be pretty jet-lagged, as we are 11 hours ahead of EDT here. We both took sleeping pills Tuesday night and both managed a few hours of sleep.

River scenes, October 2019

After breakfast we took the complimentary shuttle boat that the Siam Hotel runs up and down the Chao Phraya River, which runs through Bangkok. Traffic is terrible, and boats are a very efficient way of getting from one place to another as long as your start and end points are on or near the river. Our hotel sits right on the river, with its own dock, and we headed 30 minutes down to an area with some art galleries and other shopping to see what’s up.

Just another glitzy mall, October 2019

The art galleries were mildly interesting. We took a ferry across the river to ICON SIAM, a very new and very large shopping center that rivals any upscale mall in the US. After cruising through it (1) we found a place that we thought might have acceptable food (2) and had lunch.

We came home on the hotel boat after some uncertainty about where they would pick us up. Then after relaxing and cleaning up, we got back on the boat to return to the same area for dinner in a restaurant that wasn’t all that good. I enjoyed mine, but I think that was more from being hungry than the quality of the food. And finally another boat ride home. So more than two hours on boats today, going up and down the Chao Phraya.

Night on the river, October 2019

I promised some pictures of our suite at the Siam, so here you are.

Room 105, Siam Hotel, October 2019


(1) Everyone at the hotel and Moo, our guide, all thought the mall was worth seeing. But once you’ve seen Gap, Apple, Uniqlo, Dior and Louis Vuitton at a hundred malls, the next one isn’t that exciting.

(2) Between Sally’s garlic issue and my food pickiness, we run out of good choices real fast.

Tuesday, October 29: Here we are

The flights from home to Dubai, and then from Dubai to Bangkok were uneventful but long. The first and longer flight was on a 777, and had nice but pretty standard business class with all the usual amenities: big screen tv, power outlets, lay-flat seats for sleeping. The second flight was on a 380 and we were on the upper deck in the newer and more luxurious “pod” style seats. On both the Emirates attendants were excellent.

Sky Pod, October 2019

After landing in Bangkok we found our airport escort who guided us through the maze and crowds that is Bangkok’s airport, put us on the Fast Track passport control line, collected our luggage and took us to our guide, Moo, and driver. The ride into the city was okay until less than a mile from the hotel, where it took us 20 or so minutes to go one block. Moo chatted for the entire 1:15 trip. I know she was just doing her job and trying to entertain us, but neither Sally or I were in the mood.

Antique horns in the bar, October 2019

We’re staying at the Siam Hotel, which is furnished with antiques of all sorts. Our room has the usual chests and accessories, but one bar has 20 or more tubas, French horns, etc. hanging above the bar.

I did take pictures of our room (of course), but it was dark already when we arrived. I may try again later. Suffice to say that it’s quite spacious with a private pool and roof deck, where one can sit in the heat and humidity.