Sunday 27 March 2011

Free luxury boat rides in Bangkok Thailand

The Mandarin Oriental comes in to ram the Hilton's boat.
I stumbled on a little secret recently, which I'll share with you ... come closer as I'm going to have to whisper.

Recently I had to attend a wedding at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok. Hard to get to in peak hour traffic on a Sunday evening. So my partner devised a route which got us to Saphan Thaksin Skytrain station which delivered us right to the waterfront.

The area is the millionaire's Golden Mile of hotels on the fabled Chao Phraya River: the Shangri-La, the Sheraton, the Mandarin Oriental, the Hilton Millenium, etc. And -- here's the best part -- all of them offer a free shuttle boat service for their guests. And, um, you. Jing jing.

Prefer something in leather? Try the Sheraton's boat.
All you do is turn up, wait at the jetty and roughly every half hour each hotel's boat turns up. Just hop on, quick smile and wave to the skipper, and you're on your way, always remembering to look as though you own the place, of course.

Enjoy a 10-15 minute cruise, take some photos, hop off at the hotel. Wander around looking at how the other half live on your way to wherever you have to get to. Of course, you could always be nice and stop for a drink at their bar, or a meal at one of the fabulous riverside restaurants. Then, repeat the process on the way home. Down to the jetty, on the boat, back to the BTS station.

On the other hand, you can also take public speed boat ferries from Saphan Thaksin up and down the river for an extortionate 15 baht ... that's 50 cents. A fast and fin way to get your bearings in the incredible city of Bangkok in Amazing Thailand.

Hope this is useful advice for those still waiting for their ship to come in.

Know any other good 'free' options in and around Bangkok you want to share? Leave a comment here.

Shedding some light on Bangkok hotels ...

It's funny how sometimes the little things stand out (as my companion was just saying recently!).

I like reading. A lot. To be point of being compulsive and anti-social. Which explains the strained eyes and furrowed expression on my face as a result.

So, when you check into a place like the Sofitel Bangkok Silom, it's easy to be blind-sided by the more obvious lavish trappings like parquet wooden floors, the money-shot views of Silom Road and the Chao Phraya River and so on. But the thing I loved more than anything else?

The reading light. A simple torch-like device on each side of the bed. His and hers. So if I want to stay up all night reading, my companion can rest undisturbed by the strong pinpoint of light angled beautifully on to my book (something serious like Gone Bamboo, if I remember correctly).

In some hotels, you either have a 5 watt Save-the-Earth bulb glowing dimly about one metre away, or you have to flick on the full Broadway stage production above the bed, and feel like you're at opening night at the theatre for a curtain call, jing jing. (Then you're talking of a standing ovation of a completely different type.)

So the Sofitel's little reading lights are a great touch. They also have a larger one (about 60cm wide) on a stand across the top of the plush chair, perfect for kicking back and reading, too.

Somebody's thinking about it from the user's point of view. I like that. And so does my partner; big time.

See more about the Sofitel at

The only Thai restaurant with a Michelin Hat ... and her new sister.

You'd think they'd mow the lawn more regularly here.
A lot of folks are talking about Sra Bua restaurant in the new Siam Kempinski Hotel, Bangkok.

It's not like Bangkok really needed another Thai restaurant when this one came along, really. I mean there are already around 65,000,000 Thai restaurants in the country ... approximately one for every man, woman and child.

But Sra Bua comes in with a huge pedigree. You see, it's the sister restaurant of Kiin Kiin in Copenhagen which is the only Thai restaurant in the world to ever win a Michelin star, jing jing.

So the expectations are high. Is it any different? Well yes. Don't go in there expecting your standard pad thai goong for 25 baht though.

Instead, in the surreal rice-paddy-in-the-city setting, you will find your green curry comes out in a mousse form. (No, not the deer with antler, I meant the foamy whipped format). Or your red curry is served like an ice cream. Or your veggies look like they just been pullled from the earth and are still covered in soil. 

"Waiter, there's sand in my meal."
"No, sir, that's just decoration."
"I knew that."

So for something different, something special in the modern Thai department, I certainly take my hat off to Sra Bua.

Have you tried Sra Bua? Share your comments on the meal and experience here.

Address: Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok, 991/9 Rama 1 Rd. Tel: 02-162-9000

Lady in Red and Superwoman spotted in a Bangkok hotel.

Lady in Red in elaborate feathered head-dress
I watch her sashay across the grand lobby. Click, click, click, click, click go her stilettos on the marble floor. I notice other heads (mainly well-heeled be-suited males) tracking her course.

She is the Lady in Red. Not the one made popular in that song -- although maybe she was the inspiration, who knows? -- but Siam Kempinksi Hotel Bangkok's Lady in Red.

They are the 'brand ambassadors' for the hotel chain worldwide, I'm told. In fetching outfits designed and tailored in Milan, no less. They are somewhere between a concierge and guest relations officer. "Anything you need, you can ask her." Reality is, she is more useful on internal things around the hotel. The hotel does in fact have a very knowledgeable and charming full-time concierge.

"Sometimes when she has a day off, guests complain to me 'Where is the Lady in Red?', the hotel's PR guy tells me. Jing jing.

Which brings us to the other front-line staff. As Sofet took off from reception to show us to the room, her smart silk outfit seemed to sprout wings, and I was afraid she might literally take off and hit the soaring 30m ceiling of the grandly pillared lobby. Turns out there's a cape attached to her uniform.

"It's actually old Thai design, but many call us Supergirls," she laughs.

It's little touches like this that signal Kempinski is cut from a slightly different cloth.

PS: Does anyone know who was the inspiration for Chris De Burgh's song Lady in Red?

Whoever heard of a FREE mini-bar at a luxury hotel???

I remember that hotel for two reasons. One was because the name was hard to remember -- let alone pronounce -- at the business end of the evening. I remember pouring myself into a taxi one night and asking the driver to take me to the "Penkinski pleasshh"!

However, the main reason I remember the original Kempinksi was because it was the first hotel I'd stayed in which provided an in-room DVD player as part of the standard kit. Wow! (This is probably around 1995???)

Glad to report the new improved hotel, the Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok, is every bit on the cutting-edge of gadgetry today with an integrated media system which links TV, CD and can be used as an internet monitor too. They also give you 2 free movies per day.

The sound system is GREAT (and sincere apologies to guests in the rest of the Royal Wing). I cranked it up big time, listening to some new CDs I'd bought. The integrated set also does many other whizzy things which I didn't have the time to figure out and use, although I did wonder why it didn't include an iPod dock in addition to its own library of tunes.

Good news: the contents of the mini-bar is free. Yes, read my lips: F.R.E.E. Eat and drink whatever you find in it without having to call your bank manager first.

So much for the toys. The vibe of the Kempinksi is grand indeed with artful Siamese touches. Four thousand of them to be precise, jing jing. 

"Every piece is specially done ... you cannot buy at JJ Market," laughs the hotel's sales guy. 30 Thai artists and 200 original pieces are displayed in the hotel. "It's like walking into an art gallery 24 hours a day."

 In the lobby, 10m long gold Thai fingernails adorn columns. A vase of peacock feathers so pompous it would put the Raj in India to shame. Back-lit alabaster marble in quantities so vast you wonder if there's any hillsides left in Italy whence it comes. A giant lotus sculpture also dominates the lobby, testament to the origins of this block of prime city land which was a lotus pond before.

Where is it? Good question: directly adjacent the stylish Siam Paragon shopping centre downtown. Perfect! That's a lot easier to tell taxi drivers than "Penkinski".

Read more about the 'Penkinski' here:

Saturday 26 March 2011

A story that's sure to put you to sleep ...

The hours of sleep really pile up on the Heavenly Bed.
You are feeling sleepy, very sleepy ...

We've all seen hypnotists at work in the movies, on TV shows, maybe even in real life. Turning normal people into soporific sloths with pocket watches swinging on chains in front of their eyes.

Well, I think the Westin Grande Sukhumvit, Bangkok, has a secret team of hypnotists at work somewhere in the hotel, working their magic on their guests. I say this because the moment I saw their huge bed in our suite I felt a strong magnetic field force urging me to lie down on the bed. Resistance was futile. I could feel myself being pulled ... closer ... closer ...closer ... touchdown ... aaaaahhhhh.

Westin has invested millions and millions of real dollars (as opposed to say Zimbabwe dollars) in developing their Heavenly Bed [insert trademark and all the other small print stuff which means 'this is our name and our idea and don't you dare copy it or we'll get our lawyers onto you an infest your armpits with 1000 fleas'].

The Heavenly Bed is essentially a mattress with approximately 9,000,000 springs, jing jing.

This is topped with a special soft mattress layer. Then they cover you in 250-count sheets. To the layman, that means it's really smooth and soft and downy. Then there are about 15 pillows on the bed for you to choose and use. So there's one that's j-u-s-t right for yzzzzzZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

See more about Westin Grande Sukhumvit at

More than Four good Points about this Bangkok hotel ...

Spot the difference: one is a hotel, the other a famous painting
I am a big fan of Mondrian. You know, the Dutch neo-plastic painter who used to paint geometric patterns of squares with patches of colour here and there?

Somehow, this new hotel, nestled handily right off Sukhumvit Soi 15, brings the feeling of his art to mind. Bright and bold shapes (you can't miss the giant red street-to-roof lightbox which dominates the soi for a start). Then there are flashes of warm colour here and there, enough to excite, not too much that it's overkill. A nice balance found.

Mondrian slept here. Not really.
The same for the rooms. Although fairly earthy in tone, there's enough colour (red accent panel on the wall, swirling mural pattern) to loosen it up and give it that 'just right' feel.

They've got a good technology story too, with a handy jack-pack which allows the modern person-about-town to link all their toys to the TV and sound system, recharge their mobiles, plug in their laptops, plus all the must-have tools du jour such as iPad, iPod and iRon.

Four Points by Sheraton is all about the Simple Pleasures. And no pleasure is more simple than watching the world go by from their very own Beer Vault, sipping on a European beer, and seeing all the colour of the passing street parade while in air-conditioned comfort. (As part of my exhaustive research, I also sipped European beers in many of their other outlets such as the trendy AmBar round the pool on the rooftop.)

The Eatery seems solar powered
A real outstanding feature to me is The Eatery. I've had breakfast at a thousand different hotels over the years, and The Eatery stands out -- no, not for the originality of its name -- but just for the feeling it imparts. A feeling of well-being. Of waking up ALIVE. It's fun and sunny and gets you off to a great start to the day. (Of course you can drop in here for a bite anytime around the clock.)

But I do have one dispute with the hotel and it really does make me see red: their website says, and I quote, "only 5 minutes walking distance from Asok Station, the interchange station for the skytrain and subway." 

Rubbish! Don't believe them -- I reckon it's only about 3 minutes, jing jing.

Visit their website:

Fighting breaks out in Pattaya

Just shortly before he punched my lights out. 
I recently blogged about the Fairtex Hotel and Sports Club, where the whiff of liniment and thwack of gloves on body herald the fact that it would not be mistaken for The Ritz any time soon.

As a bunch of wannabes lunged and thrust and kicked and jabbed in the Muay Thai rings around me, one quiet figure stood off to the side, observing. He looked like quite a nice boy, so we got chatting.

Well, chatting's not the right word ...

I started with what I thought was an easy question: "What's your name?" Fair enough, easy right? Well, the delay that ensued before his response allowed me to go off to the men's room. He was still thinking. So I dashed off to grab a cup of coffee. Still thinking. Went for a bite to eat at the cafe. Still thinking.

Eventually, having considered his answer carefully, the answer came: "Lor." Clearly this man had been hit in the head far too many times.

It turns out I was talking with Mana 'Lor' Chaiknansuk, a good looking guy from Chaiyapum who's reached number 2 on the Muay Thai rankings. After 9 years in the sport he reached a peak and dropped off, and is now making an earnest comeback. At the age of 22. There's not an ounce of fat on him; there again he's not as muscular as I think a prizefighter out to be.

Now he's here from 7am each day, running. This is followed by a 2-hour training session from 8-10am and another each afternoon from 3-5. Gee, this guy puts in more hours than the average travel writer, I think to myself, jing jing.

Lor's knee-into-gut move.
"I want to be Thailand champion," he tells me, in a voice which is almost a soft whisper. I've got all day so I decide to ask him a couple more questions to help me get inside the head-space of a kick-ass Muay Thai boxer. I use the term 'head-space' deliberately.

So what does he, um, think, before a fight? Pause. Think. Cogs whirring. Eventually he delivers his wisdom: "Strategies to win it."

He rates his elbow strike and knee into the gut as his lethal weapons. He demonstrates a little too eagerly on me.

So why has he been successful? Clunk, clunk, whirr. Lunch order. Siesta. Set the alarm. Back to ringside to receive his answer. "Determination. Regular practice."

By now I've run out of tape on my recorder and the battery's nearly flat. I sadly have to call this incisive interview to an untimely halt, dashing my chances of a Walkley Award for investigative journalism which Lor's full story would have surely delivered me.

I just hope he doesn't read this -- he'll beat the living daylights out of me.

Go Asia says Go Thailand

At the ITB travel show in Berlin recently, the travel industry cast their votes for their top picks around Asia in the Go Asia 2011 Awards.

The results [drum roll please] were as follows:

Most popular destination in Asia

1. Thailand 

Best Airline in Asia

Best Tourism Office in Germany from Asia

1. Thailand 

Best Hotel in Asia

1. Siam @ Siam Design Hotel & Spa, Bangkok (Thailand)
3. Anantara Phuket Villas, Phuket (Thailand)
I guess this means even more oversized Germans in undersized swimming costumes promenading on the Thai beaches, jing jing
But danke schoen anyway ...

More about Go Asia:

Thursday 24 March 2011

Good news on travel to Thailand ...

The Prime Minister chose to wear his floral tie ...
Good news seems to be flowing thick and fast out of Thailand again ...

I spent today sitting in the e-ASEAN eTravel Forum and have come away with some inspiring news about tourism in the Kingdom to share:

Prime Minister Abhisit told the assembled mass of regional tourism luminaries, hoteliers, and freelance travel hacks looking to freeload another buffet lunch (hey, hold on, I resemble that remark), that Thailand tourism is kicking in 7% of the country's GDP, and -- whereas around 15 million visitors came to Thailand last year -- this year they are expecting more like 17 million. Jing Jing. Pop the champagne and tap the keg!

"With tourism we're able to bring people together in friendship," he told me over a quiet cup of tea in the corner, adding that Thailand is moving in a much 'greener' direction overall. With that, I had to excuse myself, apologising that I had many other things to cover this morning even if his schedule was rather free ...

Khun Apichai of the Tourism Technology Association built on the same positive theme: "At ITB 2011, the World Tourism Council released a research paper which ranked Thailand #5 in the world in tourism growth prospects or the next 10 years." Another body (sorry, I wasn't paying 100% attention, dear readers!) ranked Thailand #4 in global growth potential.

And Thailand hopes to make a LOT of new friends when it bids for World Expo 2020.

Etc etc. And, well, what do you know, it's lunchtime already. Sorry got to rush off and beat the buffet queue

Are you surprised by the bullish growth projections above? 
More on travelling to Thailand:

Saturday 19 March 2011

Aaaah ... a bit of romance in Pattaya

Roses are so cliched. Nothing says Valentine's Day quite like a hosepipe up the bum!
Rasayana Spa, Pattaya (photo: Stu Lloyd)

Latest health news from Thailand ...

100% orijinal. Wanna buy a vowel?   (Bangkok street market)

Forget the gym -- Smoke your way to a healthier life! It's amazing what technology can do. (Pattaya street market)

Thursday 17 March 2011

Blood, sweat and beers at Fairtex Pattaya Sport Club and Hotel.

Many hotels wish they could treat their guests like this.
You hear it long before you see it. In fact, you smell it too before you see it. The pounding of leather gloves on body or protective pads. And the astringent whiff of liniment rubbed into aching muscles.

Following your ears and your nose leads you to the Fairtex Muay Thai Boxing ring, where the morning training session is on and a motley assortment of tattooed locals and foreigners is beating the tripe out of each other. Knees rise into guts. Sweat beads fly as a head flicks back. Groans of effort. Moans of pain. Then rrrrrrrrriiinnngggg -- the digital buzzer signals four minutes is up, and the 20 or so belligerents ease up for a quick swig of a drink and draw their breath.

I must admit there are more genteel welcomes to hotels, involving iced towels, and damsels on bended knees proferring frozen lemongrass drinks, but Fairtex Hotel and Sports Camp is not your average hotel.

It was built on the back of blood, sweat and tears by Khun Jong, founder of the Fairtex sportswear label, himself a former boxing promoter-turned-squillionaire who used to get around in a massive Chicago-pimp-style gas-guzzler, which is still parked under this hotel.

It's actually a quiet place.
Pompous touches are evident everywhere, from overstuffed animal skin couches that would make Louis X1V feel inadequate, to glass banisters, and carved-glass fittings in the reception, although it's overall a mid-class family resort hotel in a faux ancient Thai-brick setting. Rooms range from barracks (10 to a dorm) to 65m deluxe suites.

If you're keen to knock yourself into shape (or be knocked into shape more likely!) Fairtex is the place. Sign up for just one day, or a month like many, and enjoy an hour of boxing each morning and afternoon, plus badminton, pool, tennis, basketball, bicycle spinning, gym and table tennis. All this from just 2400 baht per day (about $80).

This camp has produced a number of champions, including Yod Sanklai and Naruepol. Plus Mana 'Lor' Chaiknansuk, who reached number 2 (see next blog for his fighting story).

Then the buzzer rings again and it's action stations. All around, the explosive percussion of thudding leather. Rhythmically at first, then building to a rousing climax as the bell nears. Not a ripple of flab anywhere, jing jing.

And this was the moment I discovered I am a wimp. Having done several years of high-grade karate, I declined with thanks when one of the grinning instructors beckoned me to join him in the ring (the last time I was asked to join anyone in the ring was at Mardi Gras, but that's another story. For the record I declined then, too.)

An instructor getting kicked in the ring
I just couldn't see me soaking up that amount of punishment. Elbows, and kicks, and jabs, and knees. Forgeddaboutit!!! He feels my bicep and laughs. Ouch, that really hurt. The laugh I mean. Jing jing!

On balance, I think I'll settle for a game of badminton. Mind you, those feathers can hurt a bit too.

Glutton for punishment? Click on

Wednesday 16 March 2011

DusitD2 Baraquda Pattaya: a new wave hotel

Check out the check-in bar area. 
Every hotel boasts of their warm welcome. Here's one that prides itself on a cold welcome ...

I like a place that calls its reception area the 'check-in bar' and immediately proceeds to hand you a drinks list and invites you to choose your welcome drink. None of this namby-pamby lemongrass punch stuff -- ANYTHING you like off the bar list, sir.

Right-o, make mine a Cuba Libre. And my friend will have a Vodka Screwdriver, jing jing.

My cheeky request for a double is derisively dismissed, as it should be. Such is the easy and friendly tone of this D2 resort, part of the funky Dusit spin-off franchise.

You immediately feel as though you've got the sand between your toes here, and you're about to built a giant sand castle that no wave could ever knock over. The team is dressed in casual creams and blues, the walls are all wavy, and out there is what they call 'Thailand's sexiest swimming pool'. (OK, so the PR team's been at the Vodka Screwdrivers, too!)

The Gods must be crazy ...
Their restaurant is like an Asian tribute to Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein with huge explosions of Oriental pop-art bursting all the way up to the ceiling. As fun and fresh as their breakfast selection.

Pressing the flesh ...
The rooms are like my favourite swimsuits: one-piece. Open the door and it's all there before you -- bathroom  in a curved glass panel to the left, smart work desk ahead, big comfy bed behind that, with one wall just about all mirrors for that extra feeling of spaciousness and whatever your imagination might conjure up. Which brings us the the tempting Desires button on the telephone ...

But while many couples may well lose themselves in the room, D2's location puts you right in the throbbing heart of Pattaya. Cross the road and you'll be enjoying happy hour with the lads at Bodega Bar (never mind the facial tattoos, he's quite a nice boy, really!). Or 50 metres down, there's Dicey Reilly's Irish pub (one of at least 1000 Irish pubs and bars in Pattaya, conservatively speaking). And the beach is at the bottom of that block, oh a couple of hundred metres down. And Walking Street.

Bottom line: I would give this D2 an A1 grade (as have several renowned magazines and travel awards). And that's not just the rum talking.

Ever experienced a more fun check in somewhere?

Want more? See

The only international resort style hotel in Pataya? Wow.

One of three pools: like Goldilocks, one of them's just right
Well, blow me down! When you think of Pattaya you think of ... well, I  mean, you ALSO think of resorts, resorts and more resorts catering to the sun-worshippers flocking to the beaches of its bays.

So you could've knocked me over with a feather when Khun Pat, a senior sales manager at Sheraton Pattaya Resort, fixed me in the eye and said: "We are the only international resort-style property in Pattaya." No, that can't be right ... there's ... there's ... well I guess she is right. "The others are city type."

The Sheraton occupies the headland near that old stalwart the Royal Cliff Resort (now a multi-hotel-cum-exhibition extravaganza called PEACH), so it's a little ways out of town, but shuttle buses run frequently into the guts of town if that's where you'd rather be.

But out here, the views towards Koh Laan are forever on a clear day, watching the flotilla of pleasure boats plying their way towards that island.

Can you hear the tinkle?
A massive chandelier-like wind chime tinkles in the breeze, knocking several valuable points off my blood pressure immediately. And if it needs more reduction, I can hop a golf buggy down to the Amburaya Spa where five different techniques will be applied over an hour and a half, along with English, French and Thai natural products in a super signature called Amburaya Embrace.

There are plenty of wistful touches in this 3-pool resort (like a golfer, I judge a hotel by how many 'holes' it offers, in this case swimming holes or water hazards). The bougainvillea in the receptionists' hair for instance. And the pant-skirts they wear, which look like they have three legs, but they have the grace to carry it off.

Exhibit A: solid door
Solid wooden doors are a feature throughout the resort, and shoulder injuries must be the leading cause of days off work here, as the petite lasses try to open and close guests' doors, and doors to the various outlets such as Elements, Latitude Lounge, Papaya meeting room. Thankfully Infiniti -- their Italian restaurant -- is al fresco with no wooden barricades to barge down.

As for the rooms, cool mint tones soothe like a choc-mint ice-cream on a summer's day, jing jing.

A feeling of airy spaciousness, and a balcony from which to survey the pools, the ocean, and the rest of the resort's villas, which present something half way between traditional Thai and Spanish-Mexican hacienda.

A sophisticated playground atmosphere. But if you've still got work on your plate, Link@Sheraton business centre can sort you out with free internet (or you can pay to play in your room).

So Khun Pat is absolutely right. It is international. It is a resort. And it's the only one like it in Pattaya.

Like the sound of this? Check out for more

Monday 14 March 2011

Unbelievable fun in Pattaya

Unbelievable: a family attraction in Pattaya!
So let's say it's raining in Pattaya and you need to kill a couple of hours. Or your sun burn has been diagnosed as blisteringly radio-active and you don't want to go near the beach again -- ever!

Well, you can always slide off to the Tahitian Queen bar as usual. However this is not recommended if it's only 11am and you have the family in tow. So ...

The pilot was later breath-tested
Head for Ripley's Believe It or Not! at Royal Garden Plaza, slap-bang in the middle of Pattaya's increasingly interesting Beach Road. You can't miss it -- it's the building with the big red DC-3 carelessly crash landed on the 3rd floor.

Ripley's is really a 5-in-1 attraction offering the Museum (where you could spend a whole day gawking at the weird and wonderful exhibits), the 4D Moving Theater (billed as 'the wildest simulator ride in the world'), the Infinity Maze (a mesmerizing series of optical mazes and illusions), Haunted Adventure (a ghoulish walk through various nightmarish scenarios with real live actors), and finally, there's Louis Tussaud's waxworks.

The dummy made more sense than the real Becks.

Ripley seemed to have a fascination with two-headed cows (no, not Posh and Becks), three-legged horses and the like. Freakish. He also introduced the western world to the Padaung women with 15" necks, which you now can see any day of the week in hill-tribe villages in Mae Hong Song, jing jing.

But Ripley's childlike fascination with the crazy, the creepy, and the colourful, makes for a very memorable and thoroughly entertaining half day for everyone in the family. And the same can't necessarily be said for Walking Street!

[cue voice-over effect] Believe It or Not ...

For more: see