Thursday 29 April 2010

Low Cost Airlines review -- Thai Air Asia

It is probably fair to say that ‘Asian low cost airlines’ and ‘safety’ are not synonymous in travellers’ minds. In recent years, there have been a proliferation of such airlines, and unfortunately there have been a few incidents along the way that reinforced that notion.

But one success story has been Air Asia. Just look at this action photo of the ground crew checking that the number of wings and engines is correct, for example.

In the sky with its no frills concept – ‘Now everyone can fly’ is its slogan -- since end 2001 it now boasts a fleet of 28 aircraft serving 60 destinations in Southeast Asia hubbed in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta, making many destinations, especially in Thailand and the Indochina region, more accessible. (Thailand is the perfect springboard for Indochina destinations.)

In Thailand they fly to BKK, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Hat Yai, Krabi, Nakkon Si Thammarat, Narathiwat, Phuket, Surat Thai, Ubon Ratchathai, and Udon Thani (which always sounds like some sort of Japanese noodle soup to me!)

So how do they live up to their philosophy of making flying affordable, easy, convenient and fun for all?

Overall, the aircraft look and feel for all the world like Virgin Blue. Clean and modern, certainly; upbeat definitely. Oh, and coincidentally red and white too. But I think the Air Asia stewardesses are prettier! The regional fleet is Boeing 737-300s.

Passengers should be reassured and impressed by the fact that Air Asia won the Skytrax World’s Best Low Cost Airline in 2009 and the TTG Best Asian Low Cost Carrier Award in 2008.

Their on-time performance is sometimes the subject of rants and blogs by detractors but it usually performs better than 85% on time (I've flown Air Asia dozens of times and encountered only two minor delays.) Meals, drinks, and seating preferences all come at an extra cost, as does any check-in baggage, especially anything over 15kg. This is the biggest drawback for most international travellers who arrive with the usual 20-plus kilos of luggage. Book online and you can now select a 20kg luggage option for a marginal extra fee.

They've recentlly started a Phuket-Chiang Mai direct service, which takes about two hours. As you fly over the amazing limestone upthrusts of Krabi and Phangna this alone is worth the airfare. Jing jing!

Caveat emptor: even though Air Asia are a 'low cost' carrier, don't be decieved by that assumption. Check the fares of other carriers first. For example, I can often get cheaper fares on Bangkok Airways on some routes, and they include a meal, normal baggage allowance, and use of the airport lounge where they have one.

Tuesday 27 April 2010

Situation update -- Bangkok

Tourism Authority of Thailand has just issued the following information:

'For tourists visiting the Kingdom, it should be stressed that foreigners have not been targeted in the on-going political conflict. However, visitors and tourists are advised to be vigilant, follow news developments, exercise extra caution and avoid areas near the UDD rally site and areas where demonstrators gather.'

I've got a better idea, knuckle-heads: if you know that downtown Bangkok is a problem area, stay away. Pretty simple isn't it? After all, there are so many other areas of Bangkok, and indeed the whole Kingdom, which are totally unaffected so why not go elsewhere and enjoy the fun there instead.

The TAT Hotline and Call Centre1672 — provides 24-hours service. TAT recommends that foreign tourists and visitors to Thailand call 1672 for tourist assistance. 

TAT also recommends that foreign tourists and visitors to Thailand call the 24-hour Tourist Police Hotline1155 — for the latest updates on traffic conditions and roads to avoid in Bangkok.

That's all.

Monday 26 April 2010

Phuket -- what's in a name?

The owners must have been up all night thinking of a name for this place. Hmmm, let's see, we're a resort and we're in Patong. Hmmmm ... Ooh, I know, Resort Patong. Hmm, no. C'mon let's think laterally folks. Um, hmmm ... Patong Resort? Yes, perfect! Genius!!!

In a way the name says a lot about this place. It is unpretentious and it does the job if you're looking for a comfortable and mid-range stay right slap-bang in the guts of Patong Beach. Walk out the back entry and you have shopping centres, restaurants, mini-marts, and massage joints ('MasssaaaaaAAAAGGGE!' a dozen girls chorus simultaneously). Walk out the front entry and you have shopping centres, restaurants, mini-marts, and massage joints ('MasssaaaaaAAAAGGGE!' a dozen girls chorus simultaneously).

If you're not distracted or sidetracked by the joys of the Bangla Road bars (Soi Eric is particularly fun, but each to their own), it's only about a two minute walk to the myriad of umbrellas that signal famed Patong Beach. Otherwise it might take you a couple of days to reach there.

This hotel must have been built some time ago. Not that it feels old, but certainly a little dated in style. But this is more than made up for by the space it affords. The corridors are wide enough for semi-trailers to drag race down, side by side. And the rooms, well, have a look at the photo for space (er, please ignore the boxer shorts in the bottom left corner which I just noticed. I think they belong to a previous guest). And what you can't see in this pic is the balcony -- I heard that the Superbowl final was once staged there. Jing jing! Well, it could've been, it's that darn large.

So nothing flash or fancy, but a comfy place to throw your head down and recover from rigourous bouts of swimming, bar-hopping, massaging and whatever-elsing.

For your information, I was up all night thinking of that last word.

Saturday 24 April 2010

Lost in a Phuket foundry

Imagine Steptoe and Son went on a tropical holiday. That’s the feeling you get when you step into the lobby of the Indigo Pearl. It’s a like a scrap metal collector's garage, only more artfully arranged.

And there's a good reason for it. Tin mining was long the life-blood of Phuket, and the proprietor, Khun Wichit, is part of a rather illustrious tin mining family. So you get iron statues swirling here, Meccano-set taps there, spanner shaped cutlery, tissues boxes with inset bolts and screws, waitresses wearing blacksmith aprons, and just about everywhere, else brass rivets and beaten metal surfaces.

It's a post-industrial playground paradise.
And what a playground, with three swimming pools, really flash gym, all situated on Nai Yarn beach (a 13km stretch just a handy distance south of Phuket airport). The feeling is somehow of a smaller, cozier resort, probably because of the design theme and attention to detail in pulling that theme all the way through -- my goodness, what's that? Oh, just another quirky metal wall hanging -- but it is actually a very large resort.

Rooms range from Kelly Quarters, think rustically stylish mining cabins, deluxr rooms with bathtubs on the balcony, all the way through Plantation Villas and Pool villas with their own thatched salas, to the Pearl Shells which are richly furbished suites with butlers on tap. All secreted amid an absolute jungle of tropical foliage. Amazing as well as a-maze-ing ... it took me several attempts to find the lobby on my second day. (The smarter guests simply buzz reception for a buggy to collect them.)

If I don't make it out of this jungle, please tell Khun Wichit he and his team nailed it. This is a real gem.

Thursday 22 April 2010

Phuket -- Catch of the Day ... and night.

I don’t think I’ve ever been to Surin Beach, or if I have, I certainly don’t recognize it now. Surin, for the uninitiated, is about a 15 minute drive north from Patong (a mini-cab will cost about 400 baht one way).
What a cool enclave of beach bars, cafes, restaurants of varying price and quality. Being on the west coast you can enjoy brilliant sunsets every day (usually only around sunset time, though). Two of the best places are Pla, which is renowned for its seafood as its name – which means fish in Thai suggests -- and Catch Beach Club.

(Ask your driver to drop you at Marriot Courtyard Surin and walk down the torch-lit path opposite from there).

Catch wouldn’t look out of place in Sydney, Melbourne or New York with its funky sofas, cushions, and marble bars. Sleek. Minimalist. Its extensive (and somewhat expensive) cocktail list runs to a few pages, and you can get a good range beers and wines too. The Mojitos are to die for (or to die from if you over did it). After a couple of Mojitos here, it made me realize how many watered down mojitos I’d drunk elsewhere before. ‘Yeah, they’re pretty heavy-handed with their pouring here,’ says Brent, a Canadian expat photographer who lives down the road, nursing a double Bacardi.

Catch attracts a lively mix of locals and expats including property developers, overseas university marketeers, and anyone else that can make a living remote from the town and capital city. Plus a few itinerant French model and make-up types.

They also dish up a mouthwatering menu of seafood, chicken cordon bleu, etc, in hearty portions. ‘Some people say it’s a bit expensive,’ says Karen, an American who’s lived in Thailand 10 years, ‘but I’ve tried all the places along here and this place for what you get, the quality, the atmosphere, the furniture, and everything, is the best. I think it’s good value.’

This place is a real find. Certainly Brent finds his way here every evening … just to photograph the sunset, he insists, ordering yet another double Bacardi. I glance at my watch. Hell, it’s been a l-o-n-g sunset – it’s already midnight.

Wednesday 21 April 2010

Time for lateral thinking about Thailand

Ok, Ok, Ok, you've seen the news and the mobs of Red Shirts all over Thailand. Wrong! The reality is that the Red Shirts are disrupting only small parts of downtown Bangkok (admittedly the business centre) but even there my friends and colleagues are able to go to work as normal every day and move through the Red Shirt lines to get to their favourite shopping centre or whatever. Bangkok's Suvannabhumi airport is operating fine and absolutely trouble free. Phuket -- where I am today -- beautiful and fun as usual. Chiang Mai, charming as usual, nothing out of the ordinary. Koh Samui, couldn't care less about the rest of the world anyway.

In short, outside of Bangkok, the only red shirts you see are Manchester United supporters.

But, I understand that all of this is maybe a bit disturbing for the less hardy holiday maker (er, the Red Shirts I mean, not the Man U supporters, although they can be a bit scary too). So, time to put on your thinking hat. Better still, dear readers, I've done it for you.

Here's how to enjoy a holiday in Thailand without going anywhere near Bangkok ...

V Australia can fly you from Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth into Phuket and then on to Samui. Hope you understand their website better than I can. See

Tiger Airways, a Singapore-based budget carrier, can fly you from Singapore into Hat Yai, Krabi (Phi Phi) and Phuket. Their fares are ridiculously low. I got a basic fare Singapore to Phuket the other day of SGD$10 one way; plus luggage, taxes, sickbag, etc it came to about 100 bucks.

Bangkok Airways can fly you from Singapore direct to Samui (which only takes about one hour on their new Airbus). You can also fly from many exotic points within Indochina like Luang Prabang into Chiang Mai.

Silkair, a Singapore Airlines offshoot, flies from Singapore direct to Chiang Mai, and Phuket. See

Air Asia, another budget carrier, can get you from Kuala Lumpur to Phuket, Chiang Mai and Krabi. See

So come on in, the water's fine. Speaking of which, I'm off for a swim at Patong Beach now (and see if I can shake that hangover from the lively bars of Soi Eric last night).

Sunday 18 April 2010

Khao Lak -- Le Meridien, Le Activities, and Le Yaa Dong

Khao Lak (pronounced 'Cow Luck') sounds like some kind of dairy milk supplement or something, but in fact it is one of the better-kept secrets of Thailand. The sneaky Scandinavians of course have known about it for years, not bothering to tell the rest of the world that there were more glorious stretches of white, white beaches and crystal blue waters just minutes to the north of Phuket.

But that's just the kind of behaviour you might find from the countries that gave us the Volvo, crispbread, ABBA, and pickled herring.

It's far more international now, witnessed by the fact the La Meridien here has a German general manager (Torsten Richter) and an Indonesian marketing manager (Linawaty Ko), working with an utterly delightful local crew to make this something out of the ordinary: the wall-to-wall activities program for instance features a run with the GM, some days tens of kilometres long. More Club Mad than Club Med. Jing jing!

The resort is neatly divided in two, with rooms for couples centred around the Spa complex (rated by some publication somewhere to be 'Top 20 in Asia'), and the Family complex on the opposite side comprises rooms for families, with their own pool and Penguin Kids club. Oh, and then there's the pool villa section, where for a cheeky 90,000 baht (plus plus) you can lounge around in their oh-so-impressive Ocean Front Residential Pool Villa. (There was an Australian family checking in for three weeks the day I was there, otherwise, mais oui, I would've naturally been assigned to that room.)

I was happy enough to swim at the beach, with its glorious warm waters and swimming platforms about 100m out to sea. And then walking back to the room I almost tripped over a baby elephant going for his morning constitutional. The Eagles song 'Peaceful Easy Feeling' is for some reason running through my head.

Oh, and the other thing running through my head was Yaa Dong. Haven't heard of it? Yaa Dong is a Thai herbal whiskey made from bark, roots, and herbal extracts, infused in whiskey. Despite its reputed medicinal and therapeutic values, mostly this is an under-the-counter sort of concoction in Thailand, but at Le Meridien Khao Lak, it's loud an proud on the counter of the lobby bar. Tasting like cough medicine when you were a kid. And BRIGHT red.

After a few Yaa Dongs and a sumptuous seafood meal, we went down to the beach to release khoom loy paper lanterns. With the accompanying soundtrack of ukelele wizard Israel Khamaca Kharmakameleon  Kamakawiwo'ole's What a Wonderful World as the flickering lanterns rose on the soft evening breeze and drifted over the ocean, you could not but think ...

That's right -- you couldn't help but think the Scandinavians have probably been drinking Yaa Dong for years without telling us about it. It would certainly explain a lot.

Tuesday 13 April 2010

Bangkok -- The Amita-ville Horror

While just about every Thai you meet is warm and wonderful, every now and then, one pops up above the crowd as a truly special person. One one such example is Tam, who opened the Amita Thai Cooking Class school about a year ago.

With her open, smiling face, healthy glow, and gleaming eyes, she looks like everyone's favourite aunty.

Which she is, just about. You see, all the staff are her cousins or somehow part of her clan. This is a family affair. Even the school is on her great, great grandfather's property, where their home has stood on the banks of the fabled canals of the Chao Phraya River for 60 years. (You can choose to arrive at Amita by longtailed boat or by car.) In all, six houses have been joined together to form what is now the school, with its welcoming frangipani trees and canvas umbrellas, and even more welcome drink of iced lemongrass/pandanus/lime. Damn that's good.

A couple of chickens, Lotus and White Sesame, scratch around the yard, unaware of me sharpening my hatchet in anticipation of fresh chicken curry for lunch. Much of what was an orchid garden has now been given over to all manner of exotic herbs and leaves which go to spice up the dishes.

Before long, plates of crispy tempura flowers are trotted out: 'Thais don't know how to sit still,' jokes Tam, 'we always have to munch something.' The lightly battered cowslips and butterfly peas are not only moorish, but also have value such as high vitamin C content or act as great decongestants.

Soon Tam and the girls are in full show-biz mode, demonstrating how Thai cooking is supposed to be done. Chop, chop, chop -- with deft flicks of the wrist, a colourful array of ingredients for the som tam salad is reduced to perfectly sliced pieces. Her helpers whisk away the peels and any waste barefuly before they've even touched the counter-top of the open-sided cooking area. It's meticulously clean and militarily efficient.

'Pound the hot stuff first,' the former lawyer advises as she grinds away with a pestle and mortar, drawing childish giggles from my class-mates, who say that's always been their mantra in life. In no time flat, there's a beautifully presented salad. A Michelin-restaurant quality green prawn curry. And tidily tied chicken in pandanus leaf. And radio-active blue rice (coloured with natural dye from, I think, the butterfly peas.) Well, this Thai cooking lark is easy, nothing to it.

But ...

Now comes our turn. I soon discover I'm a real natural in the kitchen -- I can swear just as much as Gordon Ramsay, no #@&% worries there! While others are timidly presenting their finished dishes, I'm still peeling and dicing. My flame's too hot, my flame's too low. My chicken keeps falling out of the pandan leaf. %*#$!!! The helpers peg the dishes with our names and whisk the offending evidence away, as if for exhibit in a grisly murder trial.

At the end, we sit at long tables near the river, and the ladies bring the dishes in. I'm hoping there's a mix-up with the tagging so at least I get one edible dish of someone else's.

We sample each other's dishes. 'Not so much Michelin star, as Dunlop tyre!' quips one helpful gent. 'You would've been better off cooking the glove,' volunteers another kindly, referring to the rubber gloves we had donned to handle and mix some of the ingredients.

A fun morning, a great experience at the hands of the wonderfully patient Tam and her team. But one which -- thanks to my butchery -- will live on henceforth in culinary history as The Amita-ville Horror.

On the way out, I casually ask Tam what she likes to cook in her spare time, expecting to hear of some exotic rarely seen Thai dish that perhaps only those who've mastered the elementary stuff could possibly tackle. 'Italian,' she says. 'Carpaccio or pasta ... it's simple.' Jing jing!

Monday 12 April 2010

Travel Advisor Top 10 Secrets -- Krabi.

Krabi, Thailand has just appeared at the very top of the Top 10 list compiled by TripAdvisor's contributors of best kept secret places in the world. In other words it's in the top 1!

Get there and enjoy its unspoilt beaches now before the rest of the world does ...

Friday 9 April 2010

community based tourism - Get Real

Of tourists to Thailand, a staggering (some of them literally) 96% visit  Bangkok, and 66% go to Kanchanaburi to see the River Kwai. Then of course massive numbers filter out to the beaches and bars of Pattaya, Phuket and Samui. Then there's a steep drop away to places like Chiang Mai. Leaving only a handful of people interested enough to experience the real Thailand further afield.

And this is where the Community Based Tourism Institute (CBTI) of Thailand comes in ...

Want to get further off the beaten track? Want to contribute to community work? Want to learn how the locals really live away from the tourism precincts? Community-based tourism might be for you. 'It's for people looking for authentic, real-life, local, interactive and creative experiences,' says Peter Richards of CBIT, striving for the perfect soundbite.

They work with 50+ local communities to build such tourism experiences. 'The communities develop activities that they are proud to share wih their guests,' he stresses. 'It might be fruit orchards, puppets, homestay or cooking.' In fact, many things ending with -ing (no, not what you're think-ing), as they are experience-oriented tours.

Most that come along for the ride are in their 20's: students, backpackers, volunteers, and families that want their kids to experience real Thai life. Then there's the segment up to 50 years old who might be teachers, grassroots conservationists, etc. Word of mouth plays a huge part in drawing them in, when friends return with tales of time spent among hill tribes, or planting mangroves, or fun times on Koh Chang.

'You see people and environment interacting together,' says Richards, 'and get to the real warmth of this country. You get to understand what community means in Thailand, an incredibly rich experience.'

Yeah, that's all very well, Mr Richards, but do I still get a mint on my pillow at night?

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Medical Tourism -- Open Wide and Say Aah!

'Many hospitals in Thailand have upgraded services and qualifications to equal any first world service,' says Dr Zadok Lempert, CEO of Medico Management and Travel Services. Well, I completely disagree, Dr Lempert -- the few hospitals I've seen in Thailand absolutely wipe the floor of the Australian ones I've visited.

And there's your first clue. Hospitals in Thailand actually smell like hospitals. Remember in the old days, you'd walk into a hospital and the whole place would smell like disinfectant? Then somewhere along the line, they couldn't afford to pay people to wipe down the floors any more, so Australian hospitals became giant experimental laboratories where world-class Superbugs were bred. I believe if you go to the Royal Easter Show there's even a category for Best Superbug on Show, the winner proudly parading around with a shiny sash over his white lab coat. Jing jing!

So that dischenchantment -- which is also been experienced in other 'leading world-class countries' like the USA -- has given rise to Medical Tourism. Wherein people say, Sod this, I can go to Thailand, stay in a hospital that looks and feels like a hotel, get treated by doctors that invariably trained in Australia, the US or the UK, pay a fraction of the fee that I would at home, then recover fully at a 'destination spa' in Phuket or Samui for a week or so. Much cheaper than I can go to the hospital down the road and contract Golden Staph.

Dr Lempert puts Thailand's costs at around 60 to 70% less than most international countries. 'So even getting a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th opinion is very affordable.'

Deloitte Research showed that 10 million Americans were 'medical tourists' last year. 'Medical tourism is becoming a business,' says Dr Lempert. 'From 500,000 patients 10 years ago, we have now 1.5 million people seeking treatments. That's almost 10% of arrivals in Thailand, and it is growing.' Many of these suffer allergies, respiratory problems, dental and ocular problems. Many no doubt get their boobs and bits done.

He points to world-class JCI certification of around 8 hospitals currently, top-of-the-line technology, and immediate admissions as part of the attraction. That's right, you can just waltz (presuming you're not there for a hip replacement) into any hospital here and present yourself to a specialist, without going through all that costly and timely referral nonsense. Within a few hours, he's seen you, diagnosed you, and you know where you stand. Or lie.

And if you're not convinced yet, let me just say that no one has really touched on the best reason to be in a Thai hospital: Thai nurses. If you want a 2nd (or 3rd or 4th) opinion, just ask Dr Lampert ... I'm sure we agree on that.

Footnote: an excellent book on this is Patients Beyond Borders: Everybody's Guide to Affordable World Class Medical Tourism. Think of it as the Lonely Planet guide for hospitals in Thailand.

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Chiang Mai -- A hit and a giggle (or is that gargle?)

Big Bad Bob (no, it's not his real name) is sitting in a chair on the outer of the lush Gymkhana Club grounds, taking in the beautiful northern Thai summer sun, as a game of cricket unfolds out in the centre. Only problem is: he's actually playing. More than that, he's captain of the fielding team. Jing jing!

'As long as both me feet are inside the boundary when the ball is bowled, it's legal,' the Sumo-proportioned Englishman says. 'The umpires hate me cause I know the rules.'

Welcome to the Chiang Mai Sixes then. Think Hong Kong Rugby Sevens, and you get the spirit of this contest, which dates back 20-odd years (some of them very odd!) now. Bob is part of a team from Bahrain, and there are teams from Australia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, UK, etc. Most return year after year for the limited five overs on-field format, and the unlimited off-field format in the clubs and bars of Chiang Mai (where Bob is seen clutching the team's camel mascot in the wee hours). More than the odd maiden is bowled over, shall we say.

It's typical village green stuff, with quaint nipa-hut style stands erected for the week, colourful G&T-infused PA commentary, and good-natured heckling from the sidelines. Players' ages range from about 20 to around 200. That the club's temporary field-side bar is called 'The Legless Arms' gives you an idea, where expat wives are often seen replenishing a little bit more fluid than they're actually expending.

But it's not just an expat derby. Local development teams, sponsored by San Miguel, play with gusto ... to see teenaged Thai girls playing cricket with all the aspiration of being the next Ricky Ponting is somewhat surreal.

The only other team taking it seriously are the Cricketeers from Bangladesh. They cleaned up in 2009, and returned last weekend with a few ex-test players in their side. Unsurprisingly, they won again.

'Oh, that's just not cricket!' says Big Bad Bob as they hoist the trophy. He's got a point. But what does the rule book have to say about that?

Sunday 4 April 2010

Tourism Authority of Thailand -- 50 years of Amazing Growth

To celebrate TAT's 50th anniversary last week, around 300 travel media from the world were hosted on amazing famils around all and sundry parts of the Kingdom, and then -- perhaps by way of atonement -- shoehorned into a conference room to listen to messages under the banner of 'THAILAND: TODAY'S TRENDS, TOMORROW'S TOURISM'.

Governor of TAT Mr Suraphon Svetasreni outlined the humble origins of tourism in Thailand. Can you believe there were only 14 employees and 81,000 tourists when they started in 1960? Jing jing!  'Now there are over 1000 professionals and 14 million tourists,' he said.

If there was one discernible direction in his talk it was this: 'In the past, the focus was on maximising financial return, the next focus is on minimising ecological impact.'

He then handed over the podium to the Minister for Sport and Tourism, Mr Chumphol Silpa-archa who proudly noted that the Thai tourism and travel industry had been 'one of the success stories of the region, even globally.'

He boldly predicted a forecast of 15 to 15.5 million tourist arrivals for this year, which will pump 12.7 billion Euros (that's a lot in any currency!) into Thailand.

Three million Thais earn their livelihoods directly or indicrectly through tourism, he said. 'Spectacular growth has contributed to sustainable growth of many communities.'

There were also addresses on experiential tourism, luxury tourism, medical tourism and community-based tourism -- the latter two which I'll deal with in separate blogs soon, once I've digested the huge buffet lunch they put on for the media ... not to mention the grand dinner in the grounds of a beautiful downtown palace. Waiter another glass of Chateau Lafitte, please. Here's to the next amazing 50 years!

Friday 2 April 2010

Bangkok -- Radisson Sathorn launches guests into space

I feel sorry for hotel operators. The cost of entry to the market is so high these days ... just to compete you've got to have all the latest tricks and toys, and every nook and cranny needs to be designed to the n-th degree. And that just gets you on the field, it doesn't make you a stand out player.

But the all-new all-suites Radisson is certainly grabbing some attention. My one-bedroom deluxe apartment (pictured before I pulled out my dirty laundry, and scattered books, shoes and junk everywhere!) was a r-o-o-m-y 64 m2, and is the smallest suite they offer. Smallest? I had room to swing several cats in there, which was all great fun until an animal rights lover complained and security had to shut me down. Ok, I made that bit up. But the point remains is that you will be floating in space, especially as they have family suites that go all the way up to 10,000,000 m2. Jing jing!

And every suite has its own balcony, allowing me to luxuriate in grand Manhattan-esque vistas of the downtown Silom and Sathorn area. Given that their market is largely corporate, this proximity makes perfect sense.

What I couldn't make sense of -- and this is entirely a fault of my own making given that I'm such a Luddite -- was the integrated TV/sound system. A colleague excitedly reported there are 5000 songs pre-loaded into the system. I managed to get as far as playlists ('international pop' first song ABBA, oh hell why not you're only young once!) but couldn't get any further.

So I went and took out my frustrations at the fitness centre instead. It's accessible 24 hours a day, about as much fitness as I could personally handle in a day. And cool machines. The latest, greatest of everything, all lined up and rearing to go. Treadmills with individual built-in big screen monitors. I could feel those lavish American breakfasts fairly falling off my flailing thighs.

(But fear not, I replenished my fluids amply at the Lounge Bar, and topped up on carbohydrates at Crust, their pizza bar.)

Yes, there are many good reasons why this Sathorn space program will soar into the stratosphere. But leave your cat at home.

Thursday 1 April 2010

Bangkok -- Rembrandt Hotel: a Maharajan Masterpiece?

When talk comes up of The Rembrandt, people quickly enthuse about its restaurants: 'The Rang Mahal is the best Indian in Bangkok', 'You want good Mexican, oh, Senor Pico's', or 'The Red Pepper for great contemporary Thai.'

All this talk of food. Excuse me while I just wipe this little bit of saliva from the side of my mouth ... aah, that's better.

So as much as I knew its restaurants, I'd never actually ventured into the rooms here. And I must say I was pleasantly surprised. My suite was spacious, done out in rich reds and greens and browns. Plenty of room to set up shop with my laptop and blog away. And a large bathroom too (for me it's always about the bath tub.)

Even from this mid-level floor the views of Sukhumvit area are informative ... you can see the BTS snaking its way through the skysearching if not skyscraping buildings in the neighbourhood, and make sense of the confusing conurbation that is Bangkok.

Rembrandt is set back off Sukhumvit Road, a little way in to Soi 18 past the throngs of Indian tailors and massage places, a coin toss between Asok or Phrom Pong stations. In any case, their cute little tuk-tuk will run you to the end of the road if your legs are not up to it.

But the one thing that stood out to me at The Rembrandt is something that most might not even notice because it's subconcious ... the subtle sounds of nature emanating from the corridor and lift speakers. Babbling brooks, chirupping crickets, whistling birds. Aaaaaah, I was wondering why this hotel had such a soothing effect on me. That's it. Simple yet effective, especially in the middle of go-go-go Bangkok.

A masterpiece of thinking whoever came up with that. Jing jing!