I had a fantastic ten days in Thailand with my brother, Neil. With enviable fortitude, he flew into Bangkok all the way from Portland, OR – about a 30-hour trip. In coach. I told him all he had to do was get himself to BKK, and I’d figure out the rest. We spent the first three days in Bangkok, a couple up north in Chiang Mai, flew down and spent time in Phuket, and then returned to Bangkok for a bit before parting ways.
My trip to Bangkok from Dammam was quite a bit shorter – a quick hop to Dubai, and then about a six and a half hour flight into Bangkok. I had a delightful flight in business class on Emirates on one of their A380 flying whales. The upper deck is reserved for first and business class. At the rear of the plane, there is a social area for when you get bored being pampered in your comfortable lay-flat seat. And by social area, I mean that there’s a bar. Okay, they call it a lounge. Whatever. Experience now suggests that there is always a bunch of fun and interesting travelers hanging out in the lounge. There are bar snacks and the attendants will make signature cocktails for you. Not gonna lie, it’s pretty phenomenal. They’ll even let you stage a shot to make it look like you’re earning your keep by tending bar.
Pretending to mix a drink aboard the Emirates A380 business class lounge. My Old Fashioned is at the lower left.
My arrival at BKK preceded Neil’s by about 12 hours, so once I got settled at the hotel (the Intercontinental on Sukhumvit at Chit Lom), I ventured out for my first breath of Bangkok. Sukhumvit 11, along the metro line, is a bustling, vibrant, modern, loud, traffic-laden stretch that comes at all your senses. I was ready to begin to sample Thai street food and started with a spicy bowl of noodles and pork that fully covered the savory, hot, sweet, tart spectrum. Especially the hot.
First food! Spicy, delicious, and ridiculously inexpensive. Calm late-morning traffic in Sukhumvit 11.
Neil arrived that evening, late enough that we didn’t make it out past the hotel lounge. The next day was a Saturday so we hopped on the MRT (metro) and headed to the popular Chatuchak Weekend Market, the largest market in Thailand, with over 15,000 stalls – some open air, but mostly in densely packed and crowded covered areas. Food and souvenirs were our targets, and we weren’t disappointed. The market is huge and vaguely reminded me of the dizzying souk in the medina of Fes, Morocco.
Tastes of the Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok.
The next day was our first official tour day. Taking advice from other travelers on line, I reserved several tours during our stay. The first half of our full-day tour was to the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, about an hour and a half drive from central Bangkok. This is the busiest (touristy) floating market, but we got there early enough in the morning that it was quite manageable. This is the famous James Bond “Man with the Golden Gun” setting, with waterways packed with Thai longboats.
Neil and I visit the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market.
After snacking on fried bananas prepared for us on the water, we headed back into Bangkok to continue our tour – with the first of many temple tours. I’m not going to name all the Buddhist temples we visited; between Bangkok and Chiang Mai temple tours, we got templed out. I’ll simply say that each of the temples (and their grounds) held something special.
Bangkok temples. Remember, you can click on the thumbnails for a full-sized view.
After touring temples it was back to the hotel to regroup by the tropical rooftop pool and plan a night out. Restaurant and bar hopping in Bangkok is easy, quick, and oftentimes frightening aboard small, cheap taxis called tuk tuks. They are open to the elements and we definitely took on water with the brief downpours that evening. Locals and tourists alike were full of revelry this Saturday night.
Intercontinental rooftop pool, and its view toward the east. Ripping through the city on a tuk tuk, and one of many stops for some food and Singha beer.
The next day we rode the MRT to the airport to begin the second leg of the trip. It’s a little over two hours flight time up north to the mountains and the 13th Century city of Chiang Mai. While Bangkok is full-on high energy, Chiang Mai enjoys a lower-paced chill attitude. We stayed at the Le Meridien in between the old walled city and the river, affording us a great base for exploration on foot.
Le Meridien infinity pool looking toward Doi Suthep, the mountain housing the spectacular Wat Phrathap temple. Temples discovered while exploring the old city on foot. Ubiquitous street food stalls and beer. The sign doesn’t lie.
To maximize our short time in Chiang Mai, we arranged a tour of both the mountaintop Wat Phrathap Doi Suthep temple and assorted city temples. Our tour guide was gracious and informative and spent much of our driving time explaining aspects of Buddhism to our group (the young Texan Christian couple we perplexed by much of what he shared with us). After a winding ride up Doi Suthep, tourists and worshippers ascend the long dragon staircase to the temple. The temple grounds are nothing short of spectacular, and the few pictures I’m posting here simply don’t display its full grandeur. Construction of the temple began in the late 1300s CE. From the periphery of the temple, one gets awarded a panoramic view of the city below.
Wat Phrathap Doi Suthep temple.
Heading back down the mountain and into the old city, we toured several more temples. I believe by the end of the day we had reached temple saturation. We thanked our guide and bade farewell to our tour mates and got dropped off at the main street and plaza area for food stalls and stands. While the weather had been threatening all day, and we had some intermittent rain on the mountain, nothing could stop the black cloud deluge that hit just as we were buying some delicious street fare. Once the heavy rain slowed to a light shower, the hyperactive food commerce recommenced. Before leaving Chiang Mai, we indulged in authentic Thai massages at Lila massage house. This well-known parlor trains and employs ex-inmates on their road back from incarceration. Don’t pass up treating yourself to a Thai massage when you visit.
Chiang Mai old city temples, street food after the deluge, and the facade of Lila Thai Massage.
From mellow Chiang Mai, we took a flight to the southern resort island of Phuket on the Andaman Sea. Accommodations were the Phuket Le Meridien Beach Resort, set in a quiet cove with a beautiful beach only a few km from the craziness that is Patong. We thoroughly enjoyed both settings, relaxing at the resort and eating and drinking our way through Patong. We also took a day trip cruising the Phi Phi islands, taking in the karst scenery and swimming and snorkeling from our tour boat.
Le Meridien Beach Resort, Bangla Road party and food zone, and karst towers of the Phi Phi islands to the east of Phuket.
Our ten-day trip culminated back in Bangkok, where we stayed the last night in the Sukhumvit Sheraton Grande, just two metro stops east of the Intercontinental. Absolutely loved that hotel! One of the must-do Bangkok nightlife activities is to enjoy food and drink from one of the many popular rooftop bars. We chose the nearby Belga Rooftop Bar and Brasserie in the Sofitel Hotel. This was a great trip finale, with some light bites, tasty beverages, and outstanding views.
What can be said about Thailand that hasn’t already been said? I’ll only say that if you have that cliche “bucket list”, put Thailand on it, and make sure you check it off. I’m looking forward to returning. Hopefully, sooner rather than later.
Jazz-themed lounge in the Sheraton Grande, and nighttime views from the Sofitel rooftop.
Satisfied, the Humphrey brothers parted ways the next day, with our flights heading in different directions from BKK. I used miles to upgrade my business-class booking to first. Well. Emirates First Class is outrageous. On the A380, you can take a shower in flight. So, I did. Because I could. You get your own private “suite” (there is an automated sliding door), pajamas and slippers, ultimate amenities, and top-level food, beverages, and service. I would be fulfilled if this was a one-off experience. While it was my first time in Emirates First, it wasn’t my last. I flew three other first class legs during 2018. Don’t hate me.
Private first-class suite on the Emirates A380 with a 2009 Dom Perignon. Cheers!