Monday and it was time to say “farewell” to Chiang Mai as I headed back to Bangkok. Flight back left a bit late and, after last week’s delightful 777 flight from BKK, it was a bit of a let-down to be on boring old A320. But other than that, a fast and uneventful flight and cab ride to my digs for the next week, the Sofitel So.
Well! This place was pretty deluxe. I was whisked up to the lobby on the 9th floor, overlooking Lumphini Park and smelling delightfully of lemongrass. Ordinarily, I’m not a fan of fragrances pumped into public spaces, but literally every time I passed through the lobby during my stay, I’d say to myself, “God, this place smells fantastic!”
Since standing at a front desk waiting to check in is SO gauche, guests are seated in the lobby and served a refreshing (though sadly booze-free) drink while one of the hotel’s workers (outfitted in fanciful-but-still-charming uniforms designed by – I shit you not – Christian Lacroix. Lacroix, sweetie, Lacroix!) verifies the reservation and presents the paperwork for one’s stay. Once this is all squared away, one is led up to one’s room – each one themed to represent the hotel’s “elements” of Wood, Metal, Water and Earth. I had chosen Wood (obviously!) and was quite happy with the spacious quarters and the view overlooking Bangkok – though sadly, I did not get the park view. In fact, I asked about this while checking in and was told that it wasn’t included in the rate I was paying – which is fair enough! – but I was surprised I wasn’t either offered an opportunity to pay for an upgrade or somewhat subtler message about my cheap-ass, no-park-view room (e.g. “Unfortunately, those rooms are already booked.”). This was certainly not a big deal – but over the course of my stay there (and which I’ll discuss in future posts), it was clear that the hotel still has some work to do to become the five-star hotel they claim to be. I’d give it a sold four-stars – which is an excellent place to stay! – but there were a variety of minor misses throughout my stay that show there’s room for improvement.
ANYWAY, after getting settled (i.e. unpacking, then folding and hanging all of my clothes – so satisfying!), my new Thai friend Ak came by so we could get some dinner. Of course, before we could do that, I’d elicited his help in locating a laundry nearby, so I could get my unmentionables cleaned (the hotels rate was THB150 per pair – that’s over $4.00! For each pair of underpants! And don’t even ask about t-shirts!) So, off I traipsed through my fancy lobby in shorts and flip-flops with a bag of dirty laundry slung over my shoulder, just like the the fancy and elegant person that I am – with Ak kindly pointing out that I looked like a low-rent Santa Claus. It was a short-ish schlep in 90° weather with high humidity, so we were both drenched by the time we reached the laundry – and read the sign out front that they are only open from noon to 5:00 (this was at about 5:45). What kind of a business model is that?!
So, Ak located another laundry close by on Google Maps – which led us to a parking lot. The next place we found seemed OK – save for the fact they were closing for three days, meaning my clothes wouldn’t be ready ‘til Saturday (this was on Monday!). The next place said Thursday! Though happily, she also pointed us to another place around the corner and down an alleyway that would probably be faster. And, lo and behold, we found it. It took us awhile, but my clothes were ready the next afternoon – and my drawers were folded so expertly, I may have to adopt this method when folding them myself…
Needless to say, by this time I was not only famished but in truly desperate need of a beer. As requested, Ak took me to one of his own favorite places – basically a handful of plastic tables and chairs set up in an alley off Silom Road. The specialty is seafood, so we had tom yum, clams with chili sauce and squid with garlic. I’ll admit – I was a bit leery, but Ak had already assured me that he has a bit of a sensitive stomach, so he’s pretty picky about where he eats (though I did also find out that he had recently eaten at Sizzler – for shame!). So, I dug right in – and it was delicious! The clams, which I was the least enthusiastic about when ordering, were my favorite and I think I ate way more than my allotted half. What a great welcome to Bangkok.
Next, we ambled across the street to Silom Soi 4, Bangkok’s “gayborhood.” It’s an alley lined from front to back with various gay bars, all with (generally sexy) touts out front claiming to have the best happy hour prices. Ak took me to Bas Bar – a great choice, given that it’s small, quiet, chill and served up some great cocktails – caipirinha for me, mojito for Ak.
Made a relatively early evening of it, so that I could be up (relatively) early to get started on my visit to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho.