PMK started a new blog called Fugu Diaries. It’s an English language restaurant review for Tokyo. I’m in charge of sweet shops (i.e. cakes and ice cream) and bakeries. Take a look.
The last place we stayed at in Thailand was Amanpuri in Phuket. We stayed there because we had such a great time in Amankila, the hotel group’s resort in Bali… and because it was 50 percent off in the aftermath of the tsunami.
The grounds were beautiful, but PMK and I agreed that we would probably have been disappointed if we were paying full price (especially since you can get so much more for the same price at Amankila).
The rooms were nice, but a little small and dark. Our room was connected to another villa and we could see into each other’s rooms unless we kept the thick wooden doors covering the window closed. The entrance of our villa could be seen from one of the tables at the restaurant across the pool. There wasn’t enough hot water for two hot showers.
And then there were the little things that were off about the service. They don’t allow umbrellas by the pools so there’s no shade. The staff person by the pool wasn’t attentive so you had to ask for towels most of the time. The staff at the bar had a real attitude. The two level bar is beautiful, but no one came to check on you if you were in the lower level, so you had to shout to get service. When I asked for directions to the nearest bathroom, they sent me to the one in the lobby. I found out two days later that there was one much closer by. Restaurant tables were fairly close together.
PMK described it best. He said it felt less exclusive. One thing we noticed was that, at Amankila, we saw the general manager all the time and she even checked in with us a couple times. We never saw the GM in Amanpuri except for a couple times when he was dining at the restaurant with visiting colleagues.
That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy it. And in fact the service at the spa was excellent. But we probably won’t go back. And we’ll probably be more cautious about staying at other Aman resorts in the future since we now know that every Aman resort is not Amankila quality.
Queen Victoria and I have something in common.
We are both obsessed with mangosteens, a fruit that can be found in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and India. The fruit is dark dark red on the outside with white meat on the inside. The white part has a delicate sweet taste. I don’t think I’ve ever had anything that tastes like it. They’re quite cheap in their native countries, but in Japan, they come in packs of two for about $7.
Of course, that’s better than in the U.S. , which apparently doesn’t import them because the rind carries pests that could threaten the crops.
I haven’t been to my flower arrangement classes in awhile because I’ve been out of town. This is my latest work. I guess it’s supposed to be a manly arrangement, but it sort of looks like a jungle to me.
The next stop after Chiang Mai was Siem Reap in Cambodia where we went to see Angkor Wat (more on that later). Partly to offset some of our more expensive hotel stays, we stayed at a B&B called Journeys Within, which is also a tour company.
We were pleasantly surprised to find some of the best service we’ve ever experienced there. The staff was friendly and helpful, the cook was great and the rooms comfortable. Then there were the little things – complimentary Cambodian scarves, laundry service that was free except for a small tip, and turn down service at night with chocolates on our pillows.
The owners, Andrea and Brendan, arranged the entire trip for us including plane tickets from Thailand, guide and driver (The guide I think was $25 a day and the driver $15 or $20 presumably including a surcharge). The room was $90 a night including breakfast, where you had a choice of several dishes.
Of course, it’s still a B&B in Cambodia, so there were some issues like the lack of water pressure and inadequate air-conditioning, but Brendan’s stories of his experiences living in Cambodia alone make it worthwhile. Plus they’re building bungalows right now, which they promise will be an improvement.
I might wait until those rooms are ready because there will soon be a new born baby on the premise and I somehow doubt it will be sleeping through the night.
My friend came through for me once again. He sent me this link for a government site that enourages foreign companies to invest in Japan.
I highly encourage you to check out the video, which has nuggets of information such as the fact that Japan has the world’s second-largest GDP and 11 trillion euros in household assets. Notice how they avoid being American-centric.
We stayed at the Oriental in Chiang Mai. It probably had one of the most beautiful grounds I’ve ever seen — rice paddies, a water buffalo, beautiful recreations of actual temples. The rooms were equally gorgeous (albeit impractical since you had go outside and down some stairs to get into the living room)… But you couldn’t help but feel a little cheated.
The relatively new hotel had a reputation of being better than the Four Seasons nearby, but the service was nowhere close to Four Seasons level.
They used golf carts to take you from the entrance of the hotel to your villa, but you almost always had to wait five minutes before a cart was available, the seats were wet in rain, and drivers didn’t carry umbrellas so you had to run all the way up slippery stairs to get to your room as you got drenched. Simple hot breakfast dishes took an hour to be served. Your choice for breakfast was the buffet for about $25 or the buffet and hot dish for about $28, ensuring that they get as much money from you as possible. Other items were priced pretty much along this scale.
Part of the problem was a language issue. Service would probably be better if you spoke Thai (and in fact Thai friends of ours loved the hotel), but at this price range, you’d expect the staff to speak better English than they did.
We loved Chiang Mai, but if we were to go back again, we’d stay somewhere else.
I think I can honestly make the following statement — I can sleep anywhere.
This may not come as a big surprise to any of my family members, who’ve seen me fall asleep five minutes into any car ride. What they don’t know is that I can also sleep on top of an elephant on a pretty bumpy ride. I can also sleep on a wooden raft (think Huckleberry Finn) down a river with the sun blazing down on me. The same can be said on a boat in the middle of the deep ocean with waves so big, two dramamine are not enough to keep you from getting sick.
Oh, the things you learn about yourself when you go on a trip.
For some people, it’s a status thing to carry a Gucci or a Louis Vitton purse. But many people don’t want to spend $1,000 on a purse that looks like everybody else’s. That doesn’t mean they don’t want the look.
When I was in Bangkok, the mom of a friend of mine took me to a store, which had high quality fake bags. Yes, there is such a thing. Not every bag of this kind is sold in shady stalls in dark alleys.
When I entered the store, located openly in a hip part of Bangkok, I was surprised that it looked like any other cool, boutique store. A lot of the handbags were originals with a look similar to certain designers’. But some were dead ringers. Basically, if the original used sheep skin, it came in sheep skin. If it was supposed to come with elaborate buttons, clasps or other metal parts, it also came with that. Most of the bags even had very high-quality linings with logos.
A “Gucci” bag, for example, looked as expensive as the original, had a serial number on a leather tag inside, and even had a card to guarantee authenticity inside. They also had purses, wallets and shoes from “Coach”, “Prada”, “Miu Miu” and even “Louis Vitton” (although for those, you had to go back to the backroom if you wanted to see them. Apparently LV pays the cops a commission for every fake bag they find, so the cops actually crack down on them).
Of course, these bags are pricier. Each bag costs about $120-$200 each depending on size and design. But in return, you got a nice handbag of high quality even it weren’t a designer fake.
I, of course, looked but didn’t buy. I wouldn’t break the law like that.
We’re back in Tokyo. I’ve got a few more blog entries I want to write about our Thailand-Cambodia trip, but before I do, I need to just say that I’m so glad to be back in a country where cab drivers aren’t out to cheat you out of every nickel and dime (or rather every bhat) and are so conscientious that they turn on the “loading/unloading passenger” sign at the cab stand.
We checked out of our hotel in Bangkok at 5am this morning to catch a 7am flight. We were cutting it a little close, but hey, we needed every minute of sleep we could get. The minute we climbed into our cab, which for the record said “METER TAXI” in big bold letters, the guy asks for 500 bhat ($12.50) to get to the airport which is 20-30 minutes away, claiming that the meter was broken. That might sound cheap if it weren’t for the fact that it cost us half as much including a generous tip to get from the airport to the hotel the day before. We insisted (rather Patrick demanded) that he turn the meter on or take us back to the hotel, after which the meter miraculously fixed itself.
Five minutes later, his engine breaks down. By this time it’s 5:25am. We get another cab. This time the cabbie starts the meter, but then tries to get 300 bhat saying that he’ll thrown in the tollway fees which would otherwise cost us an extra 60 bhat. It’s actually not a bad price when you think about it, but you’ve got to stand on principle at times like this. After what I thought was a slightly circuitous route, we got to the airport around 5:45. It cost 150 bhat (actually 250 bhat, when you include the tip we gave him and the 50 bhat he cheated us out of because the tollway turned out to be only 20 bhat). All that before 6am before we even had a cup of coffee. They eventually wear you down. We learned why everybody who can afford one has a driver in Thailand.
We had a pretty interesting cab experience the day before as well at the airport, where we flew into from Phuket. We got in a fairly long line for a meter taxi, and we found out why pretty soon. The line wasn’t budging even after 15 minutes. But there were cabs. Lots of them. They just hung a little bit behind the cab stand to try to pick up passengers for a higher flat rate even though they were meter taxis. The interesting thing was that very few of the Thais were taking them up on their offer while the foreigners were grabbing every single one of them, leaving with thumbs up signs and satisfied smiles.
But 10 minutes later, the tide changed. By this time it was a war between the masses, who refused to be taken in, versus the corrupt cabbies. All of a sudden about 10 more cabs showed up and came right up to the cab stands — I’m thinking that the airport cab attendants called them. At any rate, the line was suddenly moving quickly. What was interesting to me was that the airport cab attendants didn’t say a word when 6 cabs were hanging behind trying to get a flat rate deal, but when some of them gave up and moved into line, they were ignored. I guess that’s Thai justice.
And we thought New York cabbies were bad (which from my experience they really aren’t).
The definition of ultimate luxury probably depends on the person. A brandname handbag, a pair of Manolos, a multi-million dollar home, a Gulfstream jet… etc, etc.
But if you ask me, I think Thailand’s great king, Rama V, beats it all.
He had a Waterford chamber pot.
I wish I could show you, but we were forbidden from taking pictures inside his house (see picture).
We’re in Cambodia right now, but I’m still catching up on the Bangkok portion of our trip. One of things that’s pretty clear about Thailand is that they have a certain reverence for their royalty that I’ve not seen anywhere else, not even in Japan. In Chiang Mai, our guide on our elephant trip (more on that in a future entry) put his hands together and bowed a bit when we were passing underneath a portrait of the King in the car.
The fact that a member of the royal family sponsored a museum or an exhibit is reason enough to go there. The orchid farm in Chiang Mai, which was sponsored by the Queen, for example, is heavily pushed by the hotel as a destination. The orchid farm was nice, but it’s not THAT nice.
Of course, I was impressed that the royal family also seems to be doing good things besides just showing up at events as honorary guests and waving a lot (which seems to be the primary occupation of the Japanese royal family). According to our guide, they were partially responsible for helping to educate hill tribes, which then helped stop the opium trade in the Golden Triangle. It is also nice that they build museums and such.
But even the Thai royal family is not immune from gossip. A couple of Thai women that took us around told us that the current prince wasn’t very popular because he has four wives, especially considering that his father only has one.
That’s a little bit better than the royal family in Cambodia, however. Our guide here told us that the fiftysomething king was unpopular because he’s still not married. Quoting our tour guide, he’s supposedly “a ballet dancer.”
I leave you to reach your own conclusion.