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February 23, 2011

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    Marriott Executive Apartments

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Last week I wrote about my trip to Bangkok, but I saved the best part(s) for this week. What if I told you about a hotel option that many travelers don't know about where you could spend a night, a week, a month, or a year in a solid 4.5-star hotel for less than $120 a night or $1,800 a month. Your apartment would include a living room, satellite TV, full kitchen, washer-dryer, access to a state-of-the-art gym, plush pool, and free tuk-tuk service--you would listen, right? It's time to listen.


When I arrived in Thailand the Marriott had arranged a car service for me. I found the driver where I was told he would be, and I was off for the 35-minute drive (without traffic) to this unique Bangkok hotel. BTW: In case you missed it, in last week's edition I outlined all the options for getting from the airport to the city center; check it out here.

When Marriott first invited me on this trip so I could check out their Marriott Executive Apartments (MEA), I had to quickly Google them because I had no idea what MEA was. Neither did my travel-writing friends. My hopes weren't set too high, since I figured if none of us had heard about it, then how great could it be? Right? Wrong! First of all, MEA hotels are all located outside of North America. Second, they are designed for executive expats staying 30-plus nights, usually on temporary assignment or relocation. But what surprised and really interested me was that they are also open to overnight guests for a fraction of the cost of the cost of what a regular hotel room.

Marriott currently has 20 Executive Apartments, but they just announced they are adding nine new properties in the next four years. One of the most recent to open was the 300-unit Sukhumvit Park, Bangkok, which would be my home for the next five nights. It opened in 2009 and is the largest MEA. FYI: The average MEA has 180 rooms.

Since I had never heard of the hotel and their website was quite frankly not up to par, I really had no idea what to expect. The first thing I learned when my car pulled up to the hotel is that it has security. Just to get into the driveway, a guard checks the driver's ID, looks underneath the car with a mirror, and opens the trunk before lifting up the gate. Then guests have to walk through a metal detector each time they enter the lobby.

The front door was always staffed by a doorman so I didn't ever have to push open the door myself. There was also a friendly bellman to help with bags and three separate front desks with an agent sitting behind each.

MEA Sukhumvit Park offers (see below for Bangkok's other Marriott Executive Apartments) studios and one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments. I was in a one-bedroom apartment on the 25th floor (out of 34 floors). Inside was a full-size fully stocked kitchen (plates, dishes, cups, glass, cutlery, cutting knives…) including a microwave, dishwasher, toaster and coffee machine. Basically, it has everything you have in your house--and then some.

Next up is the living room, which had a coffee table and a dining room table, a work desk, and a large flat-screen TV with satellite: thirty-plus channels including Fox News, BBC, ESPN . . . What's interesting is that there wasn't CNN (because they supposedly charge triple what the other networks do).

In the bedroom is a queen-size bed with comfortable sheets and pillows, another large flat-screen TV, a desk, and plenty of closet space. There you find hangers, a safe, robes, an iron and ironing board, and a vacuum. The latter surprised me since each apartment gets daily maid service and the maids use their own vacuum. The maids will only change your bed sheets a maximum three times a week, which I think is great since it's better for the environment. Besides I only change my sheets at home once a week and I bet most travelers do too.

To give you an idea how nice the room is, I posted this picture of my bedroom on Facebook and Twitter to see if my friends/followers could guess where I was staying. I knew that they wouldn't be able to, since who has heard of the Marriott Executive Apartments, but what I didn't expect is how many of them would guess high-end properties like Four Seasons, Peninsula, Mandarin Oriental, Ritz-Carlton, Banyan Tree, Shangri-La . . . And these weren't just small-town non-traveling folks, either. These were travel-industry people from some of the brands above. Now that's impressive.

The marble bathroom had a separate bathtub and a shower with a rain shower head and a handheld. There was a hair dryer, long soft fluffy towels, toiletries, a scale, and a hamper for dirty clothes. When I saw the hamper, I immediately went looking in all the closets, and I did indeed discover a traveler's gold mine: a washer and dryer!

It was near the kitchen and came with a packet of detergent good for two loads (they will give you more at the front desk). This basically made me very happy since I would be in Asia for three weeks and only brought a week's worth of clothes. No hunting down a launderette, washing clothes in the tub, or paying exorbitant hotel cleaning bills.

All the rooms have high ceilings, air-conditioning, and multi-plug outlets (so no need to fumble with my electrical converter). The only thing the room lacked was a painting over the desk areas and picture frames on the bare shelf, but I guess that's up to the residents to take care of. Duh.

The best part about the Marriott Executive Apartments Sukhumvit Park is the value. Guess how much my room goes for? When the GM told me it's just 3,900 baht (US$126) a night, I almost fainted. The JW, which I wrote about last week, was triple the price for a quarter of the space. It's a no-brainer where I will be staying next time. Sukhumvit Park, Bangkok - Marriott Executive Apartments, 90 Sukhumvit Soi, 24, Klongton, Klongtoey, Bangkok, 10110 Thailand, Tel.: 66 2 3025555.

The building has three places to eat and one full-service restaurant open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I read that it opened at 5:30 a.m. Thanks to jet lag I just happened to be awake then, so I thought I would go in early to get some pictures before everyone else. I rolled in at 5:42 a.m. and the place already had six customers. Three of them were Americans having a good old time laughing their bums off.

The buffet had all the usual offerings--eggs made to order, bacon, sausage, pancakes, waffles, pastries, jams, cereal, fresh fruit, fruit juices (orange, apple, guava...). Each day they offered a different juice, mixed up the hot food selection (except they always kept the main staples), and had a smoothie of the day. The first day was cantaloupe honey, which was darn good. I always look forward to breakfast, but especially in this place. One day I would dine on some dim sum, BBQ pork buns, and/or sweet buns, while the next I'd have some chicken stir fry or Chinese croissants. The food was good and the price incredible. For day guests and people off the street it costs 380 baht (US$12.43). Now that's a bargain for a breakfast like that. For long-term guests it's an even better deal--free. By the way, for lunch and dinner Bistro M has an international menu, including Thai cuisine. Most of its patrons are locals, except for breakfast, when customers are primarily in-house guests.

M 2 GO
Across from Bistro M is M 2 Go, a deli offering Illy coffee, fresh sandwiches, and desserts, also open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. After breakfast I inquired about the price of a bottle of water since I wanted to stock up. A small bottle costs 50 baht (US$1.63), which is not bad for a hotel, but if you walk a few hundred yards to 7-Eleven like I did you can get a Nestlé bottle three times as large for 14 baht (US$0.45). Now that's what I'm talking about. I'm so happy I only bought one, since I later discovered that each day the maid replenishes the four small bottles that were in the room--even if you don't drink them. By the end of my stay I had enough for a small party.

DID YOU KNOW: There are 5,660 7-Elevens in Thailand, half of which are in Bangkok? It's kind of a bummer, but it's convenient.

The last food option on-site is Bar On 3 (3rd floor). It's poolside for a very relaxed casual dining and drinks atmosphere for lunch and dinner.

Next to Bar On 3 is a 25-meter infinity lap pool with a children's pool and whirlpool off each end. The pool is area is immaculate and there was a pool boy/girl there to hand out towels and clean up. I went down twice. One day it was completely empty and the next there was an Asian woman swimming with her kid and a Western guy checking emails on his BlackBerry while sunbathing in his little banana hammock. He was in his own little world and his smirk said it all: I'm living the good life while my sucker friends/family are back home shoveling snow.

Next to the pool is a 200-square-meter state-of-the-art fitness center. I checked in, got on one of the life fitness machines, and started pedaling while watching an individual TV screen with 30-plus channels of satellite TV. The big flat-screen overhead was playing ESPN Asia with a basketball game on, so it kept my attention while I tried to burn off some calories. This MEA also has tennis and squash courts, badminton, billiards, and miniature golf, but I didn't even have time to check them out, which is another reason why I'm going to have to go back.

For Marriott's long-term and VIP guests the MEAs have an indoor/outdoor resident's lounge. There they host a social function once every month so residents can get a chance to make friends. They held one while we were there and it was cool to meet people who have traveled and lived all over the world. I met a few Aussies, an American, and a Canadian who were just boasting about the property and told us all their favorite hangouts and places to get cheap massages (more later). I also asked if they eat street food. Three out of the four do and say you can easily eat three balanced meals a day for $10.

Here are some random tidbits that I learned from talking to the guests and management:

  • 40 percent of those who stay at MEA Sukhumvit are long-term guests.
  • Single ladies feel secure here.
  • To access your floor you need to use your key card; it won't allow you to visit another room floor.
  • MEA guests tend to come from the U.S., U.K., Europe, Japan, and India. Only 5 to 10 percent in this building are American.
  • There are five meeting rooms. The largest can hold up to 140 people.
  • Internet access is wired and wireless in rooms and meeting rooms.
  • The room walls and windows are built solid so you don't hear any noises.
  • The reviews on Tripadvisor are really positive.

    One of my favorite parts about the MEA Sukhumvit is its location. First of all it's in a nice section of the city. According to my driver it's where all the wealthy foreigners live, but there were plenty of locals too. Just outside the hotel were two ATM machines, local street vendors, a guy who sews like a magician on the side of the street for practically nothing, and all kinds of restaurant, shops, and spas nearby.

    If you take a right out of the hotel and walk a few blocks you will come across a Starbucks Coffee, a pet shop, massage parlors, and some darn good restaurants. If you take a left out of the hotel you will find the same and a 7-Eleven; a really good ice cream shop; the Emporium Mall, which has many of the stores you would find in America; a first-class movie theater (cheap seats start at $6 and you can work your way up to the recliners that come with on-demand food delivery); a high-end grocery store that has everything you can imagine; and the BTS station. I wrote about the BTS last week--it's Bangkok's SkyTrain that will whisk you across the city above Bangkok's traffic in a clean, air-conditioned car for less than a dollar.

    Some of the nearby places I went are listed below. Oh and the best part, in case you don't feel like walking, is that the hotel offers a free one-way tuk-tuk service for local jaunts. But this is Bangkok so there's always a waiting taxi that's so cheap it's unreal. I took one taxi for 20 minutes and it cost 57 baht (US$1.86). For those who are really adventurous or in a hurry there are also motorcycle taxis and regular tuk-tuks.

    The first day I wanted to eat off property, so I asked the front-desk clerk where I should go. She said, What kind of food? I said, Why Thai, of course. She said I should take a right out of the hotel and walk up the road about 10 minutes (it took seven) to a place called “Lemonglass” on the right-hand side. (Yes, it was Lemongrass (here's their business card), but the Thais have a difficult time pronouncing ls and vs.) It turned out to be a gem. My lunch companion, Daniel, originally from London, a hotel executive for Ritz-Carlton who's lived in Asia for the last three years and declares this the best continent by far, says he can always tell if a Thai restaurant is good by their green curry. I guess it's like me with chicken parmigiana in Italian restaurants. Well, the green curry was darn good, as was the pomelo salad and Larb Moo (here's how to make it). For dessert they ran out of sticky rice so we just had mango. I didn't pay, but Daniel said it was cheap. I did see the price of the green curry, which was 190 baht (US$6.21). Gotta love Thailand!

    At the MEA mixer I met an Australian woman named Carly who took one of the other travel writers and me to her regular massage place called Nuch. It's right near Lemongrass so it's walking distance (though we took the tuk-tuk) and it's real local and cheap. An hour foot massage cost just 250 baht (US$8.17) and a one-hour head and neck massage was just 200 baht (US$6.54). It's crazy, right? These places don't close until around midnight, so we would go pretty much every night after dinner and sometimes before lunch. Here's a video of our first night. It was 10:30 p.m. and I splurged: I got a one-hour foot/leg massage and a pedicure and manicure for 450 baht = US$14.55.

    For research purposes I felt I needed to go to the Refresh spa, directly across the street from the Marriott, because that's where most of the guests go. It's an upmarket spa so it cost just a tad bit more. A 60-minute foot massage cost 280 baht (US$9.15) and a 120-minute Thai massage was just 350 baht (US$11.44).

    Check this out: I got a 90-minute four-hand massage for under US$30. The process begins when they serve you some tea in the reception area (Nuch serves it after the massage). Then you fill out the paperwork for what areas you want worked on (shoulders, lower back, neck, head, foot) and the type of pressure (soft, medium, or strong). Nuch didn't offer any paperwork. I chose strong pressure, thinking the dainty little Thai women wouldn't be able to bring it, but boy was I wrong. After they washed my feet and brought me into a large dimly lit room filled with recliners I immediately had to tell her to take it easy on the pressure because I thought she was trying to kill me. This was of course after I changed into some capri pants they provided and reclined me all the way back, put a pillow on my stomach, and then covered me with a soft blanket.

    One masseuse was working on my feet and legs while the other worked on my head, neck, and shoulders. They don't ever flip you over, but sometimes they roll you to the side and stretch you out. It felt amazing and the whole time I was thinking, This is pretty close to what I imagine heaven to be like. Just need the girls to be a bit hotter, with fewer clothes, lose all the other customers, and put us on a tropical island. Just kidding, Natalie.

    Since we were on a tight schedule we didn't have time to take advantage of our own kitchen. But instead of going out to dinner one night, the Marriott arranged for one of their chefs to cook for us in one of our rooms. First he took us down to the real local market, about seven minutes from the hotel. I loved it as well as the upscale grocery store where most guests/residents shop in the Emporium Mall. FYI: He didn't buy anything from the local market because it's against Marriott's policy to serve food from places that haven't been certified, just to make sure no one gets sick (which they haven't since it's opened). I think it's kind of lame, but I guess they need to cover their behinds, so what can you do. But I'm not complaining because we sure did have a good "home-cooked" meal.

    Although I didn't get to stay at the other two Bangkok Marriott Executive Apartments I did get to tour around them and meet their employees and some guests. They all basically offered the same thing. The main deciding factors from the guests I spoke to was the location. Since Bangkok's traffic is so bad, they all chose the MEA closest to their work. Here is some info on the other two:

    Mayfair – Bangkok - Marriott Executive Apartments
  • Location: 60, Soi Lang Suan, Lumpini, Pathumwan, Bangkok. Located in the heart of Bangkok, the Mayfair Marriott Executive Apartments is near shopping, global businesses, embassies, SkyTrain stations, numerous restaurants, markets, and Lumpini Park.

  • Vital Statistics: 162 one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments; 25 floors
  • Meeting Space: One board room, capacity for 15 people
  • Restaurants & Lounges: Mayfair Café, serving international cuisine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; Calderazzo Bistro, serving Italian cuisine for lunch and dinner; and Bar M, rooftop pool bar in Caribbean style, offering sensational views of the city
  • Spa: Kandara Spa, variety of massage and treatments either at spa or in room.
  • Recreation: The following are all on the 25th floor, rooftop level: health club, offering complimentary fitness instructor; rooftop pool; juice bar; sauna and whirlpool; kid's play area.
  • Internet Access: Wired and wireless in rooms and meeting rooms
  • 30 percent of guests are American since it's close to the U.S. embassy.
  • Opened in 2004 and was the first MEA in Bangkok.
  • 100 staff members.
  • It's 50/50 for long and short stays.
  • Rates: 1 bedroom 3,500 baht (US$114) a night. A month costs 75,000 baht (US$2,453). Two bedroom is 95,000 baht (US$3,107) a month.

  • Marriott Executive Apartments Sathorn Vista – Bangkok
  • Location: 1 Sathorn Soi 3 South Sathorn Road, Bangkok. Located in the heart of Bangkok's vibrant central business district, the Marriott Executive Apartments Sathorn Vista - Bangkok is conveniently accessible and near businesses, embassies, hospitals, recreation, shopping, and entertainment facilities. Lumpini MRT Subway and the Sala Daeng BTS SkyTrain station are both within a 10-minute walk.
  • Vital Statistics: 186 one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments from 65 sq. meters to 165 sq. meters; 32 floors
  • Opened in 2009.
  • Resident's Lounge: complimentary breakfast for long-stay guests and during the day open as a lounge to the public
  • Meeting Space: One boardroom for up to 12 meeting attendees
  • Restaurants & Lounges: MoMo Café , serving Asian and international cuisine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; Sea's pool bar serving snacks and beverages
  • Recreation on the 5th floor: sun terrace, outdoor salt water pool with children's and whirl pool, fitness center and game room with Playstations and table soccer; panoramic city view
  • Internet Access: Wired and wireless in rooms and meeting rooms; wireless in apartments and public areas
  • 18 percent of guests are American.
  • It's 50/50 for long and short stays.
  • Room rates: 1 bedroom goes for 3,600 baht (US$117) a night. Monthly rate is 95,000 baht (US$3,107) but is negotiable.

  • Benchasiri Place, Bangkok Marriott Executive Apartments
  • Opening early 2012
  • 92 apartments
  • This apartment complex is adjacent to a new 277-room Renaissance hotel, and guests will be able to enjoy all of the services of both establishments.

  • For more information and reservations on any of the Marriott Executive Apartments, see this link

    To give you a better feel of the MEA Sukhumvit Park, I made a 90-second video.

    I really want to move to Bangkok and stay at the MEA Sukhumvit Park for a few months each year. I'm seriously thinking about it. I can't imagine a better place to spend November thru February, as I could live the good and inexpensive life.

    *PLEASE tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!

    Note: This trip was sponsored in part by Marriott Hotels

    Copyright 2011 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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      What! Johnny did not stay at the Oriental. Or even have a cocktail there or dine in the riverfront restaurant where he could watch wonderful dancers perform dances that were related to the Friezes on the palace walls. or he could not gone to the top of the Dusit Thani for cocktails and watched the traffic thru the windows and thought he was back in LA watching the freeway. I have only been to one Marriot-the Marquis in New York the grill on top was pleasant. Jon-Henri B- Florida

      Good time in Hong Kong. shame you did not to visit my tailor in Kowloon Fat Ati ( Eddie Siu) on Haipong behind Amex offices. And no trip to HK is complete without tea at Peninsula. Agree with you about restaurant at MO-best food in HK. Jon-Henri B- Florida

      Super interesting, and tasty. Sophie Murray, Delaware

      I wanted to tell you that I enjoy your newsletter. These past two weeks you gave a superb description of your trip to Hong Kong. I felt like I was there. I had planned a trip to Hong Kong October, 2009. I had to cancel due to getting sick right before my flight. I have been hoping to get back and your newsletter has me thinking and planning again. Thank you, Barbara Ryan, CT

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