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March 26, 2008

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                 Bangkok, Thailand

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I spent five nights at the brand new 4.5-star Pullman Bangkok King Power Hotel, which opened in late 2007. I had never been in a Pullman hotel before so I wasn't sure what to expect. But from the moment I pulled up, I knew I was in for a treat when an army of beautiful Thai women and men dressed in conservative dark business suits with orange shirts and slick ear pieces welcomed me. Rarely, in any of the luxury hotels in Bangkok (or in other Asian cities, for that matter) will you ever have to open the main door yourself and this goes for the Pullman as well. The lobby was sleek with high ceilings, marble floors, funky background music and a young crowd. For a second, I felt like I was in a W hotel but with 10 times the service for a quarter of the price. Can you believe the rooms here start at just 2,700 baht ($86 USD) a night? Now that's what I'm talking about!

The Pullman Bangkok King Power Hotel has 386 rooms and suites, all modern with a brown and orange color palette. The rooms were masculine, clean, not terribly large but had sliding walls to the bathroom and closets, which, when opened gave the appearance of more space. The desk had an Ethernet cable (no wireless) but not only do they have broadband access, but all guests get one free hour of high-speed Internet with each day. After that, it's 200 baht ($6.40) an hour or 500 baht ($19) for 24 hours. For those who prefer to veg out and watch the boob tube, there's a sweet flat screen TV with 11 or so channels. Most are in English including ESPN but it's not the US version so be prepared to watch a lot of soccer.

The only thing I didn't like about the hotel was that I could hear hallway traffic and I got a phone call at midnight asking if I wanted my TV fixed. Wrong room, buddy! What I loved, besides the two free bottles of water, cool looking pool and Koi pond, was the hotel restaurant. There were two on-site but I only dined at Cuisine Unplugged. After arriving at 9pm, I was famished and exhausted. Instead of venturing out, I went downstairs and ordered some Thai food … well, I guess it's just food when you're in Thailand. Usually, hotels don't have the best food and they rip you off but this place shocked me. My Larb Gai (here’s the recipe) was so good and the bill came to just 180 baht ($5.76). Is that crazy or what? And the morning buffet was even more insane. It was included in the room rate and had everything you can imagine: cereal, eggs, omelets, pancakes, waffles, pastries, donuts, fresh exotic fruit, juices for American patrons. Baked beans for the English and dim sum, sushi, miso soup and a variety of Thai dishes for the Asian travelers. Heck, I pretended I was an international ambassador and tried a taste of everything. Pullman King Power Hotel, 8/2, Rangnam Road, Thanon-Phayathai, Ratchathewi; Tel.: +66 2 680 9999.

The Pullman is not in the city's best location. The prime spot is along the Chao Prayo River. But it was situated in a busy area of town next to a BTS SkyTrain station and The King Power Duty Free Complex. I didn't even go inside that tourist trap … it appeared to cater to mostly Japanese tourists who love to shop. Instead, I jumped on the SkyTrain each day and explored the city. The station was just two blocks away and the Pullman Bangkok King Power Hotel offered free tuk-tuk rides to guests and shoppers.

Here's some advice when dealing with tuk-tuk drivers (with the exception of the drivers at the hotel). If you've never even heard the word Tuk Tuk (it means putt-putt), let alone ridden in one, they are three-wheeled, open-air, bright-colored vehicles that are loud and noisy and a whole lot of fun. Tuk-tuks don't have meters so you have to bargain for your fare before you get in. The lowest possible price is 40 baht ($1.28USD) but unless you're a local, that's not going to happen. Usually, before I approach a driver (they are everywhere), I ask a nearby store clerk or concierge how much they would pay to go from point A to point B. If I'm told the ride should be about 70 baht and the driver quotes me 200 baht, I know I have lots of negotiating room. NOTE: Always negotiate with a smile. This brings up another point: always smile when haggling – don't get mad! It's against custom and the same goes for bargaining with street vendors. Tuk-tuk drivers are notorious for trying to bring tourists to their friend's businesses so that they can earn a commission. So if the price drops drastically to, say, 50 baht, be sure you say, "No stops, no massage parlors and no shopping!"

Bangkok's BTS SkyTrain, an elevated railway, was built in 1999 and has two lines: Silom and Sukhumvit. Besides cruising along the river, this is the best and fastest way to get around the city. It's easy to navigate, clean, safe, has great views and it's air-conditioned. Just get some Thai coins from the teller at the station and use one of the self-service machines to get a ticket to ride. The average fare I paid was 25 baht ($.80 cents) and they also offer unlimited day passes if you're planning on doing a lot of sightseeing. No matter what the fare is, be sure to hang onto your card so you can exit the station. From the Pullman Hotel to the Chao Phraya River took a total travel time of 20 minutes and that includes a train change at Siam, the only stop where the lines meet. NOTE: Bangkok also has a new subway system but I didn't need to take it.

The Chao Phraya is a major river in Thailand; it's where the best hotels are located and many of the top attractions reside. The best way to see it is by hiring a private long tail boat (a long, skinny boat powered by a car engine). I'm sure I got ripped when I paid 1,000 baht ($32USD) both times I rented one, but I was in a hurry and didn't have time to beat the owner down for a 60-minute tour, which included a ride down a few canals. Bangkok was once known as the Venice of the East with all of its now filled-in canals. The water is really dirty … I'm talking toxic sewage but I only got a drop on me once because the low boats are fitted with tarps that block the splashes. And one piece of advice: Don't go to the snake farm unless you want to go to a tourist trap.

Another great way to see the river is at night on a dinner cruise. Natalie and I took The Shangri-La's Horizon II Riverboat. It was luxurious and we sat outside on the top deck, in the corner at the best table in the house. TIP: Let the pushy Chinese elbow themselves when the food is first served. Wait a short while, then make your way up. There is plenty of food and the ride lasts two hours, from 7:30pm to 9:30pm. Cost: 2,200 baht per person ($70USD).

The cheapest mode of transportation is a public bus ferry. Rides start at just 8 baht ($0.25 cents). Mike and I took it from the dock next to the Shangri-La to the Grand Palace, which took about 20 minutes even with about five stops. Cost: 15 baht ($0.48 cents).

I spent one night at the 850-room Shangri-La Hotel. The location is perfect -- a block and a half from the Saphan Taksin BTS station and right on the river. The views are insane, especially the ones from my room and from the Horizon Club, where I had breakfast. The hotel has two towers; the Krungthep Wing is much more luxurious than the main one. Combined, there are all kinds of amenities like shops, pools, tennis courts, gym, restaurants and more. The Shangri-La is regarded as the fourth or fifth best place to stay in the city and like all of the high-end hotels, they offer excellent service. All the employees don friendly smiles, including the Thai dancers at the riverside Salathip restaurant. The room was sophisticated with its teak furniture, Thai paintings and Internet. The bathroom had wall-to-wall white marble with a tub, an oval shaped shower with a rain showerhead and a curved sliding glass door. Shangri-La Hotel, 89 Soi Wat Suan Plu, New Road, Tel: (66 2) 236-7777.

Five hundred yards up the river is the 124-year-old Oriental Hotel. It's the city's most historic, famous and opulent place to stay. Perhaps the world's, as well. Two Danish sea captains established the original hotel but it's no longer standing. The service there is unreal and just to give you an idea, I needed to get back to the Shangri-La and they had one of their many shuttle boats make a detour to take me. The captain didn't call anyone higher up to ask; he just did it. Now that's service. Although I didn't stay here, I did get to experience some of their fine offerings.

Mike and I arrived at 4pm for the hotel's famous traditional afternoon tea. After a spot of tea and a scoop of sorbet to clean the palate, out came a three-tiered silver tray filled with mini-scones, finger sandwiches and accompanied by homemade jam and clotted cream. After filling our Buddha bellies, we proceeded to the Oriental's garden annex. It's located across the river next to the hotel's health club, tennis courts, restaurant and cooking school.

The renowned Oriental Spa is always rated top five in the world by all the big travel magazines. We headed upstairs to the Ayurvedic Penthouse, where we each had a consultation with Dr Prasanna who then recommended a treatment. I ended up getting the 90-minute Keraleeya Abhyangam ($130USD). It began with a beautiful therapist washing my feet, then rubbing warm, soothing oil all over my bare body except for the area covered by the tight stocking undies they gave me. Wow … these things really made me look out of shape. The massage felt so darned good that I kept falling asleep. Afterwards, I had a 10-minute steam bath where my therapist came in and rubbed coarse herbs all over my body, then plopped me in the hot shower. I felt like jelly afterwards but the post-treatment tea and spiced watermelon wedge revitalized me. To complete the visit, we had a lavish buffet/BBQ dinner at the hotel's Riverside Terrace Restaurant. The views, food, dessert and service were outstanding ($70pp). The Oriental Bangkok, 48 Oriental Avenue; Tel: 66 (2) 659 9000.

Thailand is famous for massages and not just the hanky panky kind! On practically every street corner, you'll find a legitimate massage parlor where you can get a Thai body massage or foot massage for just 200 baht ($6.39USD) an hour. A two-hour session costs 300 baht ($9.50USD). I got quite a few foot massages and when I was pressed for time, I would get just a 30-minute session and pay half the price, 100 baht ($3.19USD). Seriously, if I lived in Thailand, I would get one of these every day! At these prices, I would bring my laptop and make their studio my office. How's that for multi-tasking?

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Copyright 2008 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


Pullman Hotel


Pullman Lobby


Pullman Room


Hotel Restaurant


Din Din


Breakfast Buffet


King Power Duty Free


Hotel Tuk Tuk


Tuk Tuk Driver


Inside A Tuk Tuk


SkyTrain Map


Clean Trains


Traffic Below


Chao Phraya River


Long Tail Boat


Dinner Cruise


Public Bus Ferry


Shangri-La Hotel


Shangri-La Room


Oriental Hotel Lobby


Oriental Tea


Dr Prasanna


Oriental Spa Therapist


Foot Massage


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