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Exploring Bangkok’s Sathorn District

May 15th, 2016 · No Comments · Thailand Information, Thailand Stuff

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As one of the main business districts of Bangkok, Sathorn (also written as Sathon) is dotted with high-rise offices housing international banks and financial institutions. Although Sathorn isn’t known for its tourist attractions, it still makes for an excellent base to explore Bangkok with a wide range of hotels and good transport links courtesy of the Skytrain and the Chao Phraya river boat service. Whilst many first-time visitors to Bangkok head to the myriad of hotels crammed along Sukhumvit Road, Sathorn provides a quieter alternative away from the hustle of lower Sukhumvit. Sathorn is also a delight for foodies and those looking for sophisticated nighttime drinks and entertainment.

exploring Bangkok;s Sathorn district

Khet Sathorn
Bangkok is divided up into various administrative districts known as ‘khet‘. Sathorn district extends from Klong Sathorn (the canal which bisects Sathorn Road) in the north to Chan Road in the south and Rama IV Road in the east. The Chao Phraya River forms the western boundary of Sathorn.

What to see and do in Sathorn

Sathorn isn’t brimming with obvious tourist attractions, but it does have a number of interesting locations to check out and decent transport links make it relatively easy to get around and explore the rest of Bangkok. And once the sun goes down, Sathorn has some of the best food and drink options in all of Bangkok.

MR Kukrit's Heritage Home, Sathorn

One of the highlights of Sathorn is the delightful MR Kukrit’s Heritage Home. If you’ve already been to Jim Thompson’s House and enjoyed your time there, you’ll probably appreciate this charming heritage home. Unlike the better-known Jim Thompson’s House, MR Kukrit’s Heritage Home sees few overseas tourists and consequently has a more intimate feel. By way of complete contrast, a short walk away from the former prime minister’s home is the futuristic Robot Building.

Bangkok's robot building

Bangkok’s best-known green space, Lumphini Park is just slightly outside of Sathorn’s eastern boundaries, but close enough to give it an honourable mention here. Further to the west, there are a couple of interesting temples in Sathorn with Wat Yanawa and Wat Prok offering something different to the typical Thai temple. Wat Yanawa features a chedi in the shape of a boat whilst Wat Prok is designed in a Burmese style.

Food and drink in Sathorn

In Sathorn, you’ll find all that is wonderful about Bangkok’s eclectic food scene with dining options ranging from classic Thai hawker stalls to high-class restaurants such as David Thompson’s award-wining nahm at Metropolitan which is considered as one of the top restaurants in the world.

food and drink in Sathorn

Street food

For street food try any of the vendors along Suan Plu Road or at the market, Talad Suan Plu. A short walk across the bridge over Sathorn Road is Convent Road, another good location for classic Thai street food.

Soi Suan Plu

For upmarket Thai food in a lovely setting, check out Baan Khanitha on the corner of Suan Plu Road and South Sathorn Road. Moving further down Soi Suan Plu and past Somerset Park Suanplu (recommended) brings you to a cluster of bars and eateries. If you like mellow live music with your beer or cocktails, Smalls and Junker and Bar are both worth a look.

Suan Plu Soi 8 is a personal favourite of mine with a wonderful array of dining options ranging from Thai street food to French cuisine to pizza. Highly recommended are the two branches of Uncle John founded by a former hotel chef who wanted to bring quality dining at reasonable prices to the Suan Plu neighbourhood. Further down the lane, Le Isaan is another noteworthy dining choice serving northern and north-eastern Thai food. If you fancy a change from Thai food, Nando serves up good value and tasty Italian dishes. A couple of food trucks, Cactus and Bud’s Barbecue, can often be found parked up in the area serving Mexican food and burgers.

Dine in colonial elegance

If you’re looking to impress somebody special or just want to splurge and enjoy dining in elegant surroundings, Sathorn has a trio of outstanding options:

  • Sathorn Mansion: the House on Sathorn
    Sathorn Mansion, now known as the House on Sathorn and part of the W Hotel, is a sumptuous setting for a restaurant and cocktail bar. Built in the early 1900s, Sathorn Mansion was formerly the residence of a wealthy nobleman known as Khun Luang. In the 1920s the mansion became the exclusive Royal Hotel. Between 1948 and 1999, the building served as the embassy of the Soviet Union and then Russia. Now open to the public, the mansion has been sympathetically renovated with many of the original fixtures and fittings still in place.
  • Sathorn Mansion, the House on Sathorn in front of the W Hotel

  • Blue Elephant restaurant and cooking school
    One of the most delightful buildings in Sathorn, the Blue Elephant restaurant and cooking school provides a striking contrast to the modern buildings all around as you look down from the Skytrain station at Surasak. The building opened in 1903 as the Bombay Department Store and two decades later was purchased by the Thai Chinese Chamber of Commerce who moved into their new premises in 1930. The building was fully renovated in 2002 and is now open to the public daily for lunch and dinner as the Blue Elephant Restaurant. The venue also hosts a cooking school for those wishing to learn some of the finer details of Thai cooking.
    website
  • Blue Elephant restaurant and cooking school

  • Issaya Siamese Club
    The mansion which is home to Issaya Siamese Club dates back to the 1920s. The beautiful building and gorgeous gardens make for a delightful location for a restaurant and lounge bar. Celebrity Thai chef Ian Kittichai is the man at the helm at Issaya making this is one of the trendiest venues in Bangkok.
    website

Rooftop bars

Sathorn hosts a number of Bangkok’s best known rooftop bars with Vertigo and Moon Bar at the Banyan Tree Hotel arguably the pick of the bunch in Sathorn. Also worth a peek are The Roof @ 38th Bar (Mode Sathorn Hotel) and Zoom Skybar (Anantara Sathorn Hotel). Dress regulations are in place here, but if you are looking for somewhere more casual for your rooftop drinks with a view, Cloud 47 is a good alternative and close to Sathorn.

Transport

Staying in Sathorn means you’re away from the main tourist areas, but still have the advantage of being able to get to them all quite easily. BTS Skytrain stations in the area include Chong Nonsi, Sala Daeng, Surasak and Saphan Taksin. From Saphan Taksin BTS station it’s a short walk to the central pier for boat services on the Chao Phraya River to take you to Wat Arun, Wat Pho and the Grand Palace to the north and Asiatique to the south. The nearest MRT metro stations are at Lumpini and Silom.

skybridge at BTS Skytrain station Chong Nonsi

Where to stay in Sathorn

Budget
I Residence
My Bed Sathorn
The Aim Sathorn

Mid-range
AETAS Lumpini
House of Phraya Jasaen
Ibis Bangkok Sathorn
Somerset Park Suanplu
U Sathorn

Luxury
Anantara Sathorn
Ascott Sathorn
Banyan Tree
Eastin Grand Hotel
Metropolitan
The Sukhothai

The post Exploring Bangkok’s Sathorn District appeared first on Thaizer written by Roy Cavanagh

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The Leicester City Fairy Tale: King Power, King Richard III and the Siamese Foxes

May 15th, 2016 · No Comments · Thailand Articles, Thailand Information

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Sport has a habit of throwing up surprises. A rank outsider winning a horse race, a top-seeded tennis player losing to an unknown, an amateur golfer outdoing the professionals. Whether you like sport or not, there is something compelling about an underdog succeeding against all the odds. And with the improbable achievements of Leicester City in this season’s English Premier League, the football club and their Thai owners are on the brink of becoming part of the greatest sporting upset ever. The team are top of the league and poised to win English football’s biggest prize despite being 5,000-1 outsiders at the start of the campaign. Leicester City players and coaching staff have been rightly lauded for their success this season, but there is another team based in Thailand who have played a role behind the scenes. A team who wear saffron robes, shave their heads and chant Buddhist incantations.

King Power and the Thailand connection

Thai businessman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, bought Leicester City Football Club in 2010. Since then, he has periodically flown in Buddhist monks from Thailand to England to take part in religious ceremonies at the Leicester City stadium. Phra Prommangkalachan from Bangkok’s Wat Traimit temple is one of the monks who has performed religious ceremonies on the pitch, blessed players with holy water and daubed protective Buddhist symbols known as yants at Leicester City’s stadium. If you’ve been to Thailand, you will probably have noticed similar protective symbols above doorways in hotels and stores and even on the interior of taxis. It’s common for business and home owners to carry out a number of rituals to appease spirits and bring good luck. Whether it’s in the form of spirit houses or Mae Nang Kwak, what might be disregarded as superstitious nonsense in some countries is a serious affair in Thailand.

One of the richest men in Thailand, billionaire Vichai is owner of King Power, a company which has a near monopoly on duty-free sales in Thailand. In February 2013, Vichai’s family was given the honour of a royally appointed surname from His Majesty the King Of Thailand. Vichai said, “It is our family’s greatest honour to receive this royally granted surname . . . The name ‘Srivaddhanaprabha’ conveys positive attributes to the industry and brings prosperity to our family.”

Leicester City FC chairman Vichai pictured with anger Claudio Ranieri
King Power owner Vichai pictured with Leicester City manager, Claudio Ranieri (photo credit: Leicester City Facebook page)

The power of the king

With the name ‘King Power’ featuring on the team’s shirts and the owner bestowed a surname from the King of Thailand, the royal omens have been good. But there is another king who, if you are to believe such things, has played his part in Leicester City’s astonishing story.

King Richard III of England was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in Leicestershire in 1485. He was thought to have been hastily buried to keep his body away from his enemies, but the location of the royal remains were unknown for centuries. It was only in 2012 when archaeologists excavated a site in Leicester that the grave of King Richard III was discovered. His remains were reinterred at Leicester Cathedral in a formal ceremony on March 25th, 2015. The reinternment of King Richard III coincided with an upturn in Leicester City FC’s fortunes and there are some people who believe that this is more than coincidence.

Against all the odds

At the beginning of April 2015, Leicester City were rock-bottom of the English Premier League and had been written off as certain candidates for relegation. A remarkable sequence of seven wins in the remaining nine games saw them survive the drop into the league below and meant they would remain in English football’s top flight for another season at least.

As amazing as Leicester City’s form was at the end of the 2014-15 season, they were amongst the favourites for relegation ahead of the 2015-16 season. The thought of them actually winning the Premier League title was preposterous. Bookmakers William Hill quoted odds of 5,000-1. That’s the same odds as Elvis being found alive. The same odds as Kim Kardashian becoming the U.S. president in 2020 or Barack Obama playing cricket for England after he’s finished with his job in Washington. In short, you would have been ting-tong (crazy) to use a Thai phrase if you bet on Leicester City to win the Premier League. However, there have been at least two Leicester City fans who were ting-tong enough to make the wager. One man who bet £50 stood to win £250,000 if Leicester City did achieve the impossible dream. Not many people would have blamed him when he took the opportunity to cash the bet in early in March 2016 to pocket £72,000.

King Power Stadium Leicester City FC
Leicester City’s King Power Stadium (photo credit: Leicester City on Twitter)

Thailand tour fiasco

It hasn’t all been plain sailing for Leicester City who have a strategic partnership with the Tourism Authority of Thailand. An ill-fated ‘goodwill’ tour to Thailand in May 2015 resulted in a racism and sex scandal involving the son of the man who was then manager. The fallout from the public relations disaster saw the sacking of the three players involved and the departure of the manager. Ironically, this episode may have been the catalyst for Leicester City’s success this season. In what has proved to be an inspired move, the Thai owners of the club appointed the experienced and well-respected Claudio Ranieri as the new manager. The amiable Italian has been a calm influence and has masterfully steered his team towards the verge of the unlikeliest of achievements.

Thailand’s love affair with football

Muay Thai is officially Thailand’s national sport, but this is also a country in love with football. The Thai League is going from strength to strength and the national team are enjoying a run of success at the moment which gives them a chance of qualifying for the World Cup in Russia in 2018. Many Thais take an interest in the Spanish and German leagues, but it is the English Premier League which is most keenly followed with Manchester United and Liverpool particularly popular in Thailand.

The involvement of Thai businesses in English football has become an increasingly common trend in recent years. In 2007, former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra bought Manchester City after he had been removed from office by a military coup. Thaksin sold the club a year later, but since then King Power have bought Leicester City and Thai business people have been involved in takeovers at Sheffield Wednesday and Reading Football Club whilst Chang beer have a well-established sponsorship deal with Everton.

The rise of the Siamese Foxes

Leicester City’s nickname is ‘The Foxes’. Dubbed the ‘Siamese Foxes’ in Thailand, the success of the club means they are being cheered by a rapidly increasing fan base in Thailand. Some fickle football fans in Thailand have switched allegiances from the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United to support Leicester City and the demand for replica Leicester City shirts has sky-rocketed.

Countdown to the final whistle

If Leicester do win the biggest prize in English football, it won’t be a fluke. It’s been a sustained effort by Leicester over the course of the season. By the time the final whistle blows on the final day of the season, Leicester City will have played 38 league matches. Luck can play its part in individual games, but over the course of a long season the team that wins the league deserves to win the league.

It’s not all over yet. Leicester could still stumble at the final hurdle. Whatever happens in their remaining fixtures, it’s been an incredible season for Leicester City and their fans and there has been much pride in Thailand too because of the Thai association. Winning the league title would be the fairy tale ending. But fairy tales don’t come true. Do they?

The post The Leicester City Fairy Tale: King Power, King Richard III and the Siamese Foxes appeared first on Thaizer written by Roy Cavanagh

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Bangkok Railway Station (Hua Lamphong)

May 15th, 2016 · No Comments · Thailand Information, Thailand News, Thailand Stuff

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Located on the fringe of Bangkok’s Chinatown district, Bangkok railway station is the main rail terminus for the Thai capital. Many Thai people refer to the station by its official name of ‘Krungthep’ although there are some locals who call it Hua Lamphong which was the name of a local road and canal that were here before the station was built. Hua Lamphong train station is also the name often used in English language websites and city travel guides.

Bangkok Railway Station Hualamphong viewed from the frontfront view of Bangkok Railway Station (Hua Lamphong)

History of Bangkok railway station
Construction of the Bangkok railway station began in 1910 during the reign of King Rama VI with the building officially opened on June 25, 1916. Although Dutch architects collaborated on the project it is the Italian architect, Mario Tamagno, who is given most credit for the neo-classical design of the railway building. Tamagno also worked on several other projects in Bangkok in the early 1900s including the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall. Initially, Bangkok railway station was used as both a passenger and freight terminal. In 1960, the station was redeveloped to be used solely as a passenger terminal.

Destinations

The vast majority of train services departing from or arriving in the Thai capital use the main Bangkok railway station at Hua Lamphong. There are exceptions though with some local services, including those to and from Kanchanaburi and the River Kwai, using the smaller Thonburi station (Bangkok Noi) across the other side of the Chao Phraya River.

Train times

Trains usually depart on time from Bangkok train station, but arrivals are often late (by an hour or more) on long distance routes so use the arrival times shown on train timetables as an estimate rather than a guarantee. Computerised real-time arrivals and departure boards are displayed at the station.

main concourse at Bangkok Hua Lamphong train station

ticket counters and displays at Bangkok Hua Lamphong train station

Buying tickets at Bangkok railway station

Buying a train ticket at Bangkok Hua Lamphong station is relatively straight-forward with lots of information available in English as well as Thai. Although the process of buying a ticket is easy enough, the fare system is more complicated with supplements added depending on the type of seat and class of train. Please note you may also be asked to show your passport when purchasing tickets.

Ticket office for tourists
Bangkok railway station has recently opened a dedicated ticket office for foreign tourists. If you enter the station concourse from the front, the ticket office is in the far left-hand corner. The office is run by the State Railways of Thailand (SRT) and uses English-speaking staff to help overseas visitors. The office sells 1st and 2nd class tickets for same-day and advance travel on most trains. The cheapest tickets for 3rd class trains are not available from here and must be bought from the counters outside. Combined train/ferry tickets to popular destinations including Ko Tao and Ko Samui can be purchased here as well as combination train/bus tickets to Krabi and Phuket. The office also sells tickets for some of the special weekend excursion trains run by SRT. Because the office is run by SRT there are no outside agency fees and you pay the standard ticket price.

ticket office for foreigners at Bangkok Hua Lamphong railway station

Tickets for same-day travel
Tickets for same-day travel can be purchased from the main ticket counters. Display screens above each counter describe in Thai and English what trains you can buy tickets for although the screens will often show ‘all trains’ rather than specific destinations. If you’re intending to travel on the cheapest 3rd class train services, the earliest you can normally buy tickets is an hour before departure.

Tickets for advance travel
To buy a ticket for advance travel, you may find it more convenient to use the dedicated ticket office for foreigners. As mentioned above, entering the station from the front this office is in the far left-hand corner. However, you can also go to the advance booking office which is open daily from 8am-4pm and located in the far right-hand corner of the station. You’ll need to get a queue ticket from the machine and then wait for your number to be called. There are also some ticket windows on the main concourse that sell advance tickets, but from previous experience these tend to be closed more often they are open.

In many cases you can book train tickets on the same day you travel. But during peak season and on popular routes (e.g the overnight sleeper service from Bangkok to Chiang Mai) this may not always be the case. Many trains are also booked out well in advance over the long New Year holidays at the end of December and again in mid-April for Songkran. If you have confirmed accommodation or have to be at a certain destination on a specific date, it’s advisable to pre-book your train tickets regardless of the time of year. This can be done in person at any main station in Thailand with booking clerks using SRT’s computerised system. The State Railway of Thailand used to operate an online e-ticketing service, but that is currently unavailable. Selected ticket agents can also pre-book tickets for you. This is the list of ticket agents approved by SRT.

Touts, agents and scams

Bangkok train station does attract some scam artists and touts. Be on your guard, but don’t be paranoid. There are people wandering around with official looking badges who don’t work for SRT. Instead, they are getting paid commission from hotels, taxi companies and tour agents to attract customers and will often make a beeline for tourists carrying luggage. It’s best to go the official information and ticket counters and speak to SRT staff if you need assistance. There are a few tour offices located on the second floor of the station who can book hotels and onward travel for you. They may also offer to sell combination train/ferry tickets although they will usually charge a premium compared to buying direct from SRT counters.

taxi driving in front of Bangkok train station

Taxis, tuk-tuks and buses

Looking at the station from the front, the taxi rank is outside the station on the left. Tuk-tuks also congregate in this general area with buses a short walk further back. Taxis should use their meter, but for tuk-tuks you will have to negotiate a price and it will normally work out more expensive than taxis. The other option is to take the modern and efficient metro which connects to Hua Lamphong.

Metro station

The MRT metro system is open daily from 6am to midnight. The routes currently in operation are limited, but the metro does connect with the BTS Skytrain system and can be very convenient depending on where you are travelling to or from in Bangkok. Be prepared to open your bags for a quick security check when entering MRT metro or BTS Skytrain stations.

If you are heading in to Bangkok by train from the north or north-east, you can get off at Bang Sue train station and connect with the MRT metro there. However, at the time of writing this doesn’t work so well the other way round and you may find it more convenient to board trains heading north at Bangkok Hua Lamphong rather than Bang Sue. There are future plans to start more long distance trains from Bang Sue so this situation is likely to change as facilities and services at Bang Sue are upgraded.

Don Muang airport train station

Many train services to and from the north call at Don Muang station. In theory this makes it an easy way to travel between Bangkok Hua Lamphong and Don Muang, but the reality is trains are often late and services are infrequent. Whilst trains between Bangkok Hua Lamphong and Don Muang are an option, generally it’s more convenient to use the airport bus or take a taxi. If you do use the train, an overhead walkway from the station connects to the airport at Don Muang. It used to be a short walk from the train station to the airport check-in desks, but with the new terminal buildings opened at the end of 2015 this can now involve a bit of a trek.

Food & drink

It’s fair to say that Bangkok train station isn’t food heaven, but there is a reasonable Thai restaurant, coffee shops, a few fast-food options and mini-markets to keep you going. Refreshments are also available from mobile vendors on the platforms and the enterprising vendors that board the trains at various stations along the route selling drinks and Thai snacks.

Alcohol ban

Since mid-2014, the sale and consumption of alcohol has officially been banned at SRT stations and on trains. How rigorously this ban is enforced may vary depending on the route and the discretion of the train staff. I’ve heard recent accounts from friends who say they had no problems drinking beer they’d brought with them for the journey on the overnight sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. However, all passengers should be aware that it is an offence under Thai law to sell or buy alcohol on trains and at stations and can be punished with a 10,000 Baht fine or even imprisonment.

alcohol ban on Thailand trains

Toilets & showers

Toilets and showers are located on the far right hand side of the station with signs in English as well as Thai. Take some small coins with you to pay for use of the toilet (3 Baht) or shower (10 Baht). Passengers can also get a Thai massage at shops located inside the main station building.

Left luggage office

As you enter the front entrance of the station, the left luggage office is just to the left near the ATM machines. Open daily from 4am-11pm, prices depend on the size and weight of your bag. Smaller bags weighing less than 10kg cost 20 Baht per day. For larger bags and backpacks weighing more than 10kg expect to pay between 40-80 Baht per day.

left luggage office at Bangkok Railway Station Hua Lamphong

Bangkok Railway Station

Show your respect

The Thai national anthem is played over loud speakers at the station at 8am and 6pm. Please show your respect by standing as the Thais do. You may also notice a separate seating area at the front of the station concourse which is only for the use of Buddhist monks. Signs in Thai and English explain that the seating is not to be used by the general public.

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