Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Bangkok June 2008

Our latest Thailand holiday in June 2008 was quite an impulsive booking. The previous months had been quite hectic so we decided to treat ourselves to a Thailand holiday when my girlfriend stumbled across some reasonably priced Singapore Airlines tickets from Manchester to Bangkok, with only a short stop-over in Singapore. £530 to fly with Singapore Airlines really was a good deal and June being low season in Thailand, we would be able to book good value for money accommodation.
However, we did experience some major trouble trying to book the tickets online with Singapore Airlines. The online booking module just didn't work and when calling customer services we were told "you can only book this tickets via the web site" ... which didn't work!
Fortunately, I remembered that a colleague at work had spoken highly of Trailfinders and someone at the sports club I am going to had also mentioned Trailfinders for booking his flights, so we decided to give them a try. If the online module from Singapore Airlines didn't work, maybe that Trailfinders would have access to the actual booking system? I spoke to a lady at Trailfinders and I explained which tickets I was after. She was very helpful and came up with some options, but not the particular flights we were after. I was slightly disappointed and I ended the call with "thanks for your help, we will have a look at the other options". A couple of minutes after having hung up, the phone rang and it was Trailfinders. The lady we had spoken to previously had actually found the tickets in a special promo section under duo-tickets (or partner-tickets) and had asked the technical supervisor what the last phone number was that had called her so she could ring us back. A few minutes later our flights were booked and we ended up paying only a fraction more (between £10 and £15) than the prices mentioned on the Singapore Airlines web site. We were really impressed with Trailfinders and decided we might use their services again in the future, because you can easily spend an entire day browsing the web to find good value flights.

So, 10th of June we departed from Manchester and having checked in online, we enjoyed the fastest long haul check-in ever. Singapore Airlines provided excellent service, video on-demand and a constant flow of drinks. This would have been an excellent flight if it wasn't for the screaming kids. No sleep and a serious jetlag later we landed in Bangkok on a Sunday morning. It only took took a short taxi ride to get to our hotel on Soi 29, off Sukhumvit Road. We had booked Legacy Suites for the rooms, the location and the swimming pool. Value for money seemed good so we decided to give this hotel a try. First impressions on arrival were really good. Nice looking lobby, friendly and efficient staff, we were allowed an early check-in and received a free upgrade to a Legacy Suite (maybe because we had another booking with them 2 weeks later?). So far, all good! When we got to the room, we were nicely surprised. It was huge! A kitchen, living room, bed room, 2 Samsung lcd TVs and really nice bathroom (with Grohe fittings). Unfortunately the trouble started when we jumped in bed for a rest... the lights just didn't switch off. The domotics system was going completely mental and there was no relation between switches and light bulbs anymore. 3 hours and a horde of technicians later the problem was finally solved and we could have a nap. It was 3pm by this point and the early check-in had been completely waisted by this point ... and so were we.

Legacy Suites Review:
We had only booked 2 initial nights in Bangkok, before setting off to Koh Phangan. On our way back we stayed at Legacy Suites for 4 nights time, so we spent 6 nights in total at Legacy Suites.

Let's start with the positives:
Very modern, fully equipped spacious rooms. Excellent value for money.
Modern, spacious lobby.
Free Wi-Fi in public spaces.
Knowledgeable, polite and friendly efficient staff.
When you need a taxi, the hotel's staff always manages to find you one in the shortest time possible and when booked via the hotel you never need to negotiate for the taxi driver to put on the meter.
Location is quite good on Soi 29, in between 2 Skytrain (BTS) stations. Just off Sukkhumvit but really peaceful to Bangkok standards (once in the room, I said "listen ... you can't hear anything").
The pool looks good and is big enough for a swim, but it could do with a clean early morning, every morning. The sun loungers are new, comfortable and the hotel provides towels.

The negatives:
The "electrics" seemed to be a problem during both our stays. On our first stay the domotics system in our room didn't work, causing the lights to stay on at all times. On our next stay there were problems with the elevators, so we had to take the service elevator to get from our room to the ground floor.
Musty smell in the bathroom (in a Legacy Suite).
Attention to detail when dusting and cleaning the rooms. DVD player shelf was heavily laden with dust during first stay (in a Legacy Suite) and the rug was badly stained during our second stay. We are not neurotic about stuff like this but it is just a shame really because the rooms look really good.
In order to go to the swimming pool you need to go through the lobby, which sometimes feels a bit weird when you are dressed in shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops amongst other guests in suits (this is probably more of an issue for women).
The little things: very modern toilets in the lobby but nothing to actually dry your hands, 2 Samsung LCD TVs and a DVD player but no DVDs you can borrow, always items missing in the mini bar (which you have to notify reception about in order to avoid being charged), fully equipped kitchen but no towel or cloth (if guests can keep the kitchen more tidy there is less work for cleaning staff), the condom pack on the list of items in the room makes it sound like a seedy hotel while it isn't at all, confusion about the Free Wi-Fi by one member of staff, who pretended we needed to pay for it (happened only once I must admit)
During our stay there was extra refurbishing work in other rooms going on, causing quite some noise ... but they scheduled it well and this was unavoidable really.
No room service nor available snacks or drinks when at the pool, which makes sense for serviced apartments. You might be able to get some Japanese food from the restaurant but no easy snack or quick sandwich.
Breakfast ... don't bother! It took 4 attempts to get fried eggs that were actually well done (without being fussy) and we suspect that it actually was a lady serving the food that went in the kitchen to actually get the job done. By the time the eggs were ok (9:45am) there was no bacon left and we had to ask for knives, coffee cups, butter and bread because after 9:30am things seem to "slow down". We stayed 6 nights and had breakfast twice. But we never considered this a problem really. In Bangkok you only have to walk a few yards to find food anyhow.
The Japanese restaurant that is part of Legacy Suites and where breakfast is served, is quite pricey really (just check the price of a Singha beer). However, this restaurant must be doing something right because they were doing very well every evening. Mainly Japanese people ate there and I guess you would be ready to pay a premium if the food is really good and you actually know what you are ordering ;-)
Overall I would say that this place seems to suffer from an identity crisis "Am I a hotel or serviced apartments?"

Would we stay at Legacy Suites again? Not sure really ... they are competing in a price bracket where by paying a little more you can get the full 4/5 star treatment (when shopping around). We would for example consider the Marriott Resort & Spa on the river for our next stay, being fully aware that the rooms would probably not compare.
It depends what you are looking for really?
If you are looking for spacious modern rooms and will be self-catering, then Legacy Suites is perfect.
If you want the luxury of a nice breakfast, room service, snacks and drinks at the pool, an international bar and restaurant, then Legacy Suites isn't for you.
Legacy Suites' management could turn these serviced apartments into something VERY good by paying more attention to detail and deciding whether they want to run a hotel or serviced apartments. If they would just forget about the breakfast (but put some essentials in the fridge for the guests on arrival), completely go for the serviced apartments approach and slightly reduce the price this would result in a really good differentiated offering.

Bangkok, Tips for Starters:
I described many Tips in my previous Thailand post, but would just like to add a few...
Unfortunately I wasn't able to find the magazine Farang, Untamed Travel anymore but luckily the magazine Bangkok 101 tells you everything you need to know when in Bangkok. You can find this magazine in most of the better book shops.
Dress well and pay less! It struck me that when you replace your traveler T-shirt with a shirt, and shorts with a pair of decent jeans, you all of a sudden find yourself paying only 10B at the fruit stalls, instead of 20B, and when buying a Frappucino you get a loyalty card "buy 5, get 1 free". So basically, look like an expat instead of a traveler and you might find you end up paying less. Another advantage is that you won't get hassled by the con-men trying to get you into a gem-shop ... a classic! When your tuk-tuk ride in Bangkok is ridiculously cheap, there is a catch!
When taking the Public Taxis at the new airport, do not accept anything else than "meter"! The public taxis at the airport are quite well regulated, but on this occasion one of them tried to rip us off ... when we asked him to put the meter on he said "oh no, 450B because big bags". He probably didn't realise this wasn't our first time in Bangkok and we actually know what the ride should cost, so we decided to get out of his car and take our bags back to the public taxi desk. The supervisor handled the situation really well and we got back into another taxi a few moments later. The same supervisor had a chat with that taxi driver ... don't know what they exactly said but the supervisor described him as "bad man" afterwards. This is quite exceptional actually and it was the first time that a taxi driver refused to put on his meter at the airport. In the city centre however this might be a bit more of a struggle and some taxi drivers will refuse to take you somewhere if the destination is a bit of a nightmare to get to or doesn't make up for their time. You can get really stuck in Bangkok traffic, so I do understand that some taxi drivers must be struggling with the increasing petrol prices. We made sure to always leave a decent tip to the taxi driver!

Going Out in Bangkok:
Please also have a look at my previous Thailand post.
If you want a night out in Bangkok, especially when you are staying near Sukkhumvit Road, you can start of with a few drinks at Cheap Charlies...

From there continue to Bed Supperclub on Soi 11 (700B to get in, but you get 2 drinks for free). Just make sure you have your passport with you, because you won't get in without it. In Bed Supperclub's main white room the music was excellent and Bed seems to draw in a nice crowd. We went on a Saturday and the DJ was playing some really groovy tunes. The sound quality in there is really good actually and they don't push the volume up too loud, which makes it more enjoyable in my eyes ... or ears in this case.

Places to Eat and Drink:
We didn't try many new places, but we ended up eating at Fuji quite often. The Fuji chain of Japanese restaurants can be found in the shopping malls, which sounds a bit naf but the food was really good actually. We were lucky enough to be close to Emporium, which is my favourite shopping mall, and Fuji became our "sushi pitstop" on many occasions.

If you want something different there are many impressive rooftop restaurants and bars in Bangkok, such as the Vertigo Grill & Moon Bar, Sky Bar at The Dome, 360 Lounge at the Hilton Millennium, ...
Dining river cruises can offer an alternative experience, but make sure to compare the different options available. The converted rice barges such as Manhora offer the coolest experience I would think. I believe this type of boat was shown on Five Travel's Rough Guide to Bangkok.

Places to Stay:
Well, obviously Legacy Suites is an add-on in comparison to previous posts.
A colleague recommended the Marriott Resort & Spa in Bangkok (on the river) and I must say this sounds like a tempting option. It has the added advantage of the Manhora Dining Cruises leaving from the pier at this hotel.
Bill2p on TripAdvisor recommended several "character" hotels in Bangkok and they all looked pretty amazing (click here for the TripAdvisor post).

I will soon post "From Bangkok to Koh Phangan" and "Koh Phangan June 2008".

In the meantime, please have a look at my Picasaweb albums for Thailand (new and old)

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