I should preface this post with an NSFW (Not Safe For Work) since some of the photos will be of scantily clad women…
Our timing had worked out and we were back in Bangkok a couple of days before our flight. We’d wanted to do some shopping since it’s near-impossible to shop on Jeju Island, where we live. For Maria, the largest size shoes to be found on Jeju are at least two sizes too small for her. For myself, the largest size shirt I can find on Jeju is still about the size of an American small. In North America I wear a large-sized shirt. In South Korea I wear XXL, which no one ever carries. Which is kind of ridiculous since there are plenty of tall Korean men.
We went to a few places and found a few things, and I bought a new computer from the IT mall. I’d been in need of a new laptop for some time, but could never get one in Korea because the operating system would be in Korean, and to get one in English would mean to order from outside the country, where I would pay ridiculous amounts in duty to have it imported.
Overall, shopping in Bangkok is fantastic. Allow yourself lots of time, and you will find many interesting vintage and unique items. Or if you prefer, you also have the option of shopping in the designer stores that many metropolitan cities and duty frees usually offer.
We also found some time to re-visit the Chatuchak Weekend Market because we’d loved it so much the first time. A local busker and budding hustler:
We’d returned to Bangkok earlier to leave time to visit the Grand Palace, but as it turned out, the only morning we could have seen it, the Palace was closed to tourists for some special prayer time. Maria was pissed that we’d been thwarted twice. I guess we have to go back one day…
Encore: The Cabaret
We’d seen the show in Chiang Mai, and so we wondered how a Cabaret show in Bangkok would measure up. It was definitely a higher production value and a much more formal show, but we still loved the Chiang Mai show the most. In Chiang Mai the show had seemed like a passion project for those involved (there had been no cover charge so I don’t know how they made any money.) In Bangkok, the tickets were $40 a head, and while you could see that in the production value, it definitely didn’t have the same spirit as the Chiang Mai event. Regardless, we had a great time.
A Final Note on Hotels
Because it was the end of our trip, I figured we could pay a bit more for a little bit of luxury. The first couple of places we looked at were abysmal – they had the charm of mental hospital rooms circa 1960. We got tired of looking, and settled on a place that was old and smelled of last decade’s cigarettes, with a yellow lampshade. The lampshade had a large burn hole on a side that had been turned toward the wall. Charming. For all the attention paid to perfectly folded sheets and towels, would it have killed them to have bought another lampshade? We stayed for the night but decided for the price we could find something considerably better the next day.
In the morning I went for a walk and saw a place that looked great. A great big fancy hotel for grown-ups. The New World City Hotel. I entered off a canal and found the concierge. I asked if I could see their rooms, and she showed me a pamphlet. Super fancy. I put down the card and booked two nights.
I collected Maria and the bags and we went to our room, only to find that it too, was very old and looked nothing like the brochure she’d showed me. Always check the rooms first. What was with our luck with hotels? Was this consistent across Thailand? It had been in our experience. Clearly we were paying for the size of the room, it was huge, but still felt like the 1960’s. At least we had a view of the canal.
Maria showered and came out scratching her chest. “Something bit me right here.” She had pulled a small bug off her skin and found it painful to remove. I’d just assumed that the bug had come from anywhere we had been that morning (perhaps even the previous hotel,) and decided to have a shower also. As I came out of the shower, I found my leg itchy and looked down to find something also eating its way into my skin. Unbelievable. I pulled it off with a large chunk of skin, and then Maria and I inspected each other like a couple of monkeys to see if there were any bugs anywhere else on us. She found yet another one was eating its way into my back, and removed it as well. The bugs hadn’t come from outside, they had come from the shower in this hotel room.
I got dressed and went to the hotel desk. When I told the clerk what had happened, there were no apologies of any kind. She checked her computer terminal and said “we’ll put you in another room.”
We moved our bags into a room the next floor down, to find we’d been given a nice view of the hundreds of air conditioning units tucked between two buildings. When I was at the desk later, I mentioned that I really hadn’t been happy with the hotel and they asked why.
“Insect infestations, for one. The lack of a view [the only redeeming quality of the hotel,] and the room itself is nothing like what you showed me in the brochure before I checked in.
She promptly grabbed the brochure and opened it. “Well this is the [super fancy] lounge. And this picture is our [high end] Suite room.”
Despite my discontent, the hotel made no further accommodation. They’d had no other rooms on the canal side, so asked me to come back and check the next day.
So there you have it. Avoid the New World City Hotel in Bangkok. When I’d arrived home and looked up the hotel on Trip Advisor, I found that several other travelers as far back as 2007 had gone on to complain about bed bug and cockroach infestations. Once again, here was something in Thailand that had overvalued itself and been spoiled by the wealth of tourism. Even in large hotels, where you would expect the basic cordiality that the hospitality industry is supposed to offer, we found the staff unfriendly and borderline rude. Spend your money as you will in Thailand, but don’t expect a land of smiles. Stick with smaller hotel operations (guesthouses) if you can, but always inspect the rooms beforehand. A great example is the guesthouse I loved in Chiang Mai.
We’ve been home for a couple of weeks now. I ran into someone yesterday who asked me “how was Thailand?”
“It was all right. I liked Laos better.”
“Yeah, I hear that a lot.”
And that pretty much sums up our trip. Thailand was fun, the food was great, but it seems like another place overrun and spoiled by tourism. Thailand is called “the land of smiles,” which seemed profound to me. There were hardly smiles anywhere, even when we were handing over money. There were plenty of smiles in Laos, where people seemed happy to do business.
I would recommend Thailand to anyone who wants to visit. The food is great, the culture is broad and compelling. We stayed in both the cities and off the beaten path, and found people in general were helpful but not necessarily friendly. Which is fine. As I had been told before I left, if you’re going to make it to Thailand, you might as well make it to Laos too. Any bit of magic that might have gone missing from Thailand might still be found in Laos. But as with all travel experiences, my trip will be very different from any you might take. The best thing to do is just go, do your best to avoid bullshit, don’t reward bullshit, and have a good time.
Here are some remaining pictures from our time in Bangkok:
And finally, the end.