Daily Meander: Silom, Bangkok

I’m not a good blogger. I procrastinate. I figure I can always update later, which defeats the whole purpose of the chronological order of a blog. Lately though, I’ve been worrying about forgetting things that pictures can’t record. For example, how long was our bus ride from Kuala Lumpur to Had Yai? (9 hours, from 10am to 6pm, plus a one hour time difference we didn’t figure out until the next day.) how long was our bus ride from Had Yai to Krabi Town? (5 hours, from 1pm to 6pm, about.) i can definitely tell you though, that from Ao Nang to Surat Thani, with its waiting and transferring of busses and 2am snack breaks was 14 and a half hours long (from 4pm to 6:30am). I don’t think we slept more than 3 of those hours between the 2 of us. We unloaded onto a triangle of traffic and fought our way through perched taxi drivers.

I spend a month in the vicinity of Bangkok a couple of years ago as a student, but I can’t claim to know much of it. I was busy being a student. I did make daytrips to Jim Thompson’s House and Chinatown and Chatuchak, to Hua Hin and the Middle Eastern District and went on a night bike ride, but I never did get a sense of the city as a whole. And if I had ever known what a taxi cost, I didn’t know anymore.

In hindsight, saddled with baggage and not staying in the vicinity of Khao San Road, where we were dropped off, We should have just grabbed the first taxi and paid the tourist farang price. Instead, we fought our way out of the ring of taxi drivers, asked several taxi drivers on Khao San Road how much it would be to get to the. Myamnar Embassy, and were quoted 200-400 baht.

After walking south for awhile in righteous, touristy indignation, we found a taxi cab driver who was willing to take us on the meter (the green ones seem to be better). The end price? 100 baht. It’s probably best to always be on the meter, but if you do choose to negotiate with non-metered taxis in Bangkok, the following may help you out.

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Unfortunately, trekking to the Myanmar Visa Entrance with all our earthly possessions for the next few months (like real backpackers!), we found the following notice:

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I guess we should have checked Myanmar’s national holidays. At least we knew where the visa entrance was, and after breakfast and wifi at the fashionable, but pricy, hostel Saphai Pai and checking into and using more wifi at our own hostel, New Road Guest House, we went in search of some one to provide us with visa application forms, passport copies, and passport photos. Approaching from the north, we passed by at least three. The one we used though, was the one closest to the Myanmar Visa Entrance going north on Than Pon, on the right.

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It was the most low-key place, and didn’t seem to have a name, but it provided everything we needed, including printing our air itinerary just to be safe, had a handy sample visa application, took about 10 mintues, and cost 336 baht for 2 people. We were advised to go early to the Embassy tomorrow, as there would be a lot of people. This handy visa station doesn’t seem to have a name, but it’s near this laundry:

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Now, having been up for about 33 hours, we decided to try and stay awake until a reasonable time. We purposely wasted time taking pictures of flower markets and Hindu temples, and walked down a street to see a mosque, where we discovered a wet market that sold the same tasty, salt-encrusted grilled fish we had in Krabi Town one rainy night before.

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We also comparison shopped beer and yogurt between 7-11 and a grocery store.

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The grocery store didn’t seem to differ too much from my experience with US grocery stores, although I didn’t look at the produce. It might have been a higher end one. There was no price differentiation between the yogurt there and at 7-11, though the beer was cheaper by 3 baht. Unfortunately, while purchasing it, we ran into this problem:

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Mike was pretty upset at the inanity of the rule, but I wanted a pretzel and lemonade in a stand outside the grocery store, a stand which reminded me of the pretzel booth I used to work in during college, except there were 12 people behind the counter instead of 3. Also, the cashier had better English than the people running the exclusively farang bus we had taken to get to Bangkok. Anyway, by the time I was done with my buttered piece of carbohydrate, it was 5pm and he could go and buy his beer.

Now we’ve been up for 35 hours, and we agreed early on that we would not be held accountable for any incoherence during this time. Overall, I like what I’ve seen of the part of Bangkok we’re staying in. Silom is full of embassies. We came here for the Myanmar Embassy, and we navigated our way to our hostel by following signs to the French Embassy. Our neck of Silom is home to the Pakistani-Thai Friendship Association, and boasts quite a few Pakistani/Indian restaurants (in addition to the tourist staples of Italian/Thai). There are also a lot of jewelry stores, and wholesale semi-precious stone and silver stores.

I’ve read at least one derogatory comment about flying to Thailand to stay in a commercial area like Silom. Yes, it is a bit far from the city center, and the Thai National Museum, and the backpacker vibe of Khao San Road. But it’s 10 minutes to Chinatown, and 5 minutes to a Skytrain station, and it has its share of temples Hindu, Muslim, and Chinese.

As far as its reputation as being a commercial center, that’s definitely true. But just as I got over being stationed near Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur due to its malls and shopping centers being great places to eat cheaply and watch locals and tourists shop, I hope others can get over Silom being a commercial center when they do thesame. You can also observe office workers on their way to work and from work, and schoolchildren with their matching uniforms and hairstyles buying snacks, hanging out, and generally being kids. Life seems more quotidian here.

But what do I know? I haven’t even been here 12 hours. There are plenty of hotels, hostels, bank ATMs, and a currency exchange or two, as well as at least one Starbucks. I’m not sure how to yet review the hostel I’m staying at, but it is cheap and has free working wifi. Hopefully I will update more later.

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Getting What You Pay For (or a little less)

I started this almost two moths ago after Lucy and I stayed at the Hong Ping Hotel in Penang. I just got around to finishing it up. It isn’t really relative to what we are doing now, but it still might be useful for anyone looking for accommodations in Penang.

 

After staying at the Oriental Hostel (or, from the look of some of the guests, the “Gary Glitter Hideaway”) for a few nights, Lucy and I thought that we would try our luck in another venue, hopefully one with an indoor restroom and a functioning toilet (also, I hate to harp on the place, but when we asked for our deposit back the fellow was somehow able to convince us that we hadn’t paid one, which we later realized was not true).

We settled on the Broadway Budget Hotel, which was a little bit more expensive than a hostel, but it was clean and there was a functioning bathroom in the room. Unfortunately we didn’t plan well and had to leave because all the cheapest rooms were booked after we were there for a couple days (we neglected to reserve a room for more than the first two days) and we didn’t want to spend the extra ten ringit for a room with a TV, especially considering most of the programming available is not even in English.

We ended up moving into the Hong Ping Hotel, which was only a couple of blocks from the Broadway Budget Hotel. The weekend cost was lower than at the Broadway, and although the Hong Ping looked a bit shabby and run down, it still seemed like a bargain considering it had a TV (not needed, but usually costs more), in-room shower with hot water (hot water not really needed in the weather we were having, but again it usually costs more), and the room had a small desk, table, and a couple of chairs.

We arranged to move in the next day. When we arrived the man at the desk brought us to a different room from what we’d been shown the day before, which made me suspicious. It seemed smaller (which it might not have been) and the bathroom looked dingier. It seemed like we were falling victim to the old “bait and switch” routine, which seems like a very popular rouse for people in the tourist industry in Malaysia. Nevertheless, I was pretty resigned to staying there, so I followed the man back down to the front desk to pay. On the way down he asked where we had stayed before. When I told him, he shook his head and said disdainfully, “They’re no good,” and made some disparaging remarks about their rooms. I started to defend the place by saying it was very clean, but then dropped it. After all, what do I care what the different hotels say about each other? I paid with a credit card, which was a plus, as the exchange rate when using our credit card is much better than when we have to exchange dollars or cash a traveler’s check (we have a travel card, so there are no added charges for foreign transactions).

When I went back to the room, I made a more thorough inspection. On the plus side, it had a great view. On the negative side, the bathroom was pretty gross. It might have been cleaned (except it wasn’t), but because of the worn out fixtures it would be impossible to make it look clean. The toilet (like most toilets I’ve seen in Malaysia) was cheaply constructed out of plastic, so the tank was misshapen and the lid didn’t fit anymore. To get it to flush you had to pump the handle up and down four or five times. Also, the light in the bathroom was very dim, not that you would really want to see things that clearly. There were very old cobwebs hanging from the ceiling.

Another problem was that the TV didn’t work. I didn’t actually want to watch TV, but if one is available I usually turn it on to see if I can catch any news. When I tried using the remote, nothing happened. I tried using the button on the TV itself, but nothing happened. Since it didn’t work, I thought I’d use the outlet to plug my computer in, but it turned out that the problem wasn’t the TV or remote, the problem was that the outlet didn’t work. This wasn’t a huge deal, as there were other outlets, but it still seems like a basic maintenance thing that the management should have kept up on.

The thing that bugged me the most (well, at least as much as the gross bathroom) was that they gave us water in used water bottles. When I first saw a 1.5 liter bottle of water on the little table, it was a definite plus. Then Lucy opened one and realized that it hadn’t been sealed. In fact, when I looked at the date on the bottle, it was from two years ago. Now, I appreciate them providing water, but using old, used bottles is just cheap and gross. There is no way to know where the water came from, and if the bottles are two years old, there’s no telling whether they were sanitized when the water was put in them. We ended up going out to buy water because for all we knew the water they put in the bottles was just out of the tap.

One other thing that bugged me about the place was that the guests were very noisy until late at night, and the staff was very noisy early in the morning. From my ten years living in Taiwan I’ve come to the conclusion that Asian people–at least those of Chinese heritage–not only don’t mind noise, but they embrace it. They actually seem uncomfortable in quiet situations (hence the loudspeakers installed to play music in nature areas and the candystripers employed to keep patients awake in hospitals).

We are on a pretty tight budget, so we’re willing to live in pretty dodgy conditions, but when we fork out for a hotel, we’re doing it in part to use a nice clean private bathroom. The Broadway Budget Hotel worked out for us in this capacity, as it was small and no frills, but very clean.  Hong Ping did not provide this luxury, which was a little disappointing. All in all at the Hotel Hong Ping you get what you pay for, which isn’t saying very much.