Mid April we were in a limbo as the holidays planned in Nov last year came undone ( thanks to some friends backing off in the last min) . A one week vacation in Apr 1st week is a ritual – the day the schools end we head off for a family vacation. The brief given to me by my family was like this – we want a vacation that is “not Ordinary run of the mill , direct flight , not a long flight , economical but luxurious , lots of activities for kids, food should not be a problem , preferably 2 places if we are going for a week” - add to this I did not have the time for Visa Processing so had to find a country that had Visa on Arrival.
The shortlist was Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bali & Thailand – finally with all the above considerations Krabi & Bangkok came out as the winner. Our last visit to Bangkok/ Pattaya was in 2006 and it was an eye opener when we visited this time. 10 Years of UPA paralysis and the Baht was 2X the Rupee ( In 2006 it was almost at par) . Thailand has moved from Crowded – Chaotic to Less Crowded – Organised and the infrastructure / facilities is comparable to Singapore / Malaysia. Its also got a lot to see at economical rates and the XXX tag associated with Bangkok is slowly going away. lets dig into some details of the trip.
Stage – 1 : Bangalore to Krabi
Thai airways leaves Bangalore for Bangkok at 1 AM. Bad timing. Good clean plane , great services , good Indian food, thru check in - but the leg space is disastrous. It is so cramped that even a 5 footer will struggle. Add to this they have some steel boxes below each seat so you can’t even stretch your legs. But this is the only direct flight option. The plane lands at Bangkok Swarnabhumi airport at 6 AM. ( which is 4.30 AM India given that there is a 90 Min time lag) We had our connection to Krabi at 8 AM. Right from arrival where you see a massive “Samudra Manthan” depiction you will see Hindu religion effects all over Thailand – but more of that later.
We rushed to the section from where the Krabi flight takes off ( a good 1 Km walk) and after filling the forms when we reached the Q we were asked to go and collect our Visa on arrival. I thought that Krabi being port of arrival – we would get our Visa there but no it has to be Bangkok. We rushed back 1 Km . Stood in a Q for currency change , Passport photos and finally made it to the Visa Q … a long one. It was 645 AM – and I was panicking. Fortunately there was second shorter line where there was a Tatkal equivalent 1200 Baht for Visa Vs the 1000 Baht in the longer line. We rushed there managed to get the Visa in 10 min and headed back the 1 Km walk again towards the Krabi flight – the immigration folks were helpful and seeing us as a hassled family pushed us ahead in the Q – we finally reached the flight boarding zone at 7.45 AM.
Moral of the story – 1 ) Get your Thai Visa in India 2) If you want Visa on Arrival – first get that and then proceed to your connection to Krabi / Phuket / Koh Samui etc 3) Keep more than 2 hrs for your connection if u need Visa on Arrival 4) Keep USD with you so you can exchange for Thai Baht
The Bangkok Krabi section on Thai is wonderful. Big plane , very spacious , good snacks , friendly service and the leg space a lot more comfortable than the Indian sector. Its a 1 hr 20 min flight and we landed on the dot at 9.20 AM. No Immigration here and you can collect your luggage and head to the waiting Limo in 10 minutes. We were in the car at 9.30 and at the Sheraton Krabi at 10.20 AM.
Stage – 2: Sheraton & Krabi
Krabi is a small tourist town. Was supposedly a offbeat exotic location 10 years back but is now a hot spot. Its just 100 Km from Phuket. We stayed at the Sheraton Krabi – the best property in town. And with the elder one 13 we had to take two rooms – we were lucky to get rooms that were interconnected. I had booked online using a combination of SPG points and paid and being a Gold member managed to get a room at 10.30 AM. Normal check in time is 2 PM in the afternoon. A few other families who had come from India were not so lucky as their booking were done thru tour operators and the tired families were stuck in the lobby for 3 + hrs.
Imp Point – Remember to check the chef in time and plan your arrival time accordingly. After a late night flight and sleepy tired children you don’t want to start your holiday waiting in the lobby.
The Sheraton Krabi reminded us a little of the Park Hyatt at Goa. Its huge – over 300 rooms , spread over a vast expanse, lovely landscaping , beautiful private beach, great big pools , and some amazing restaurants. (Continental , India, Thai , Italian ) . Lots of activities for Kids – you can actually spend a few days relaxing in the Resort without going anywhere. Service is decent but not comparable to what you get in Business hotels. Room service takes 45 minutes and the waiters in the restaurants struggle to understand english. Check in check out takes about 20 minutes each. The Wi Fi in the room is weak and keeps going on and off intermittently. The food is great and the Thai green curry truly lip smacking. Food rates are decent – a family of 4 can dine well for 2500 Baht ( ~ Rs 5000). If you want to check out food outside – there is a Indian Nepali restaurant right outside. ( we did not go – not wanting to take a risk with the kids stomach early in the holiday). Right outside is also 3 Massage Spas – again a lot cheaper than the exotic Spa in the Hotel.
Tip – 3 : When in Thailand ensure to have a massage every day . My wife accompanied me every day and the little one also enjoyed her 1st foot massage. A delicious Foot Massage costs 250 Baht / Hr and a Thai Massage about 500 Baht. Thats a fraction of what you pay in India and the Q in Thailand is far far better.
The travel desk in the hotel helps plan all your trips and there is a lot you can do in Krabi. Great beaches, rain forests , hot springs , snorkelling, rock climbing, trekking, kayaking – we saw over 15 different half day and full day packages. Prices ranging from 800 Baht/ person to 3000 Baht / person. Tours start at 8 AM and finish by lunch or around 4 PM. We took two day trips – one to the beaches , snorkelling , seeing the old Viking caves and the second one to a rainforest and hot spring.
We spent 3 nights at Krabi and loved the place. We could have stayed one night more. Our flight to Bangkok was at 1.30 in the afternoon and we left by 10.45 and reached well in time at 11.30 for the flight.
Stage – 3: Bangkok
We reached Bangkok at 3.10 PM and the Hyatt had sent a Merc to pick us up. Small luxuries which the kids enjoy (My rule is that family holidays should be at par with business trips). The check in was a breeze, being a platinum member we were taken straight to the upgraded rooms ( again two rooms interconnected ) and were informed that breakfast was in the lounge and on the house ! The Hyatt really has the best frequent Stay program.
We were famished and had a lovely lunch – combination of Green Curry , Veg Fried Rice , Noodles and Curd. ( Try it out Thai Green curry , Veg Fried Rice and Plain Yogurt is a nice combination).
The Grand Hyatt at Erawan is located right in the heart of Bangkok. Opposite some of the largest Malls, Ocean World, Science Centre, Madam Tussauds and the main shopping district. (Paragon Mall , Siam Centre, One Alpha Centre etc). These are the luxury premium Malls – but Platinum Mall and MBK the low cost ones are also a stones throw away.
I am visiting Bangkok after 2006 and the city has really developed. The main road now has a sky walk that is directly below the Metro- thats smart , uses the same infrastructure and has protection from the sun. It connects all the malls , hotels that are on this road. Service and punctuality in Bangkok was always good. It has the best of Indian & Chinese Traditions. Across Thailand wherever you go you can’t miss the Hindu / Indian connection. You will find temples of Ganesha , Vishnu , Shiva in all major road junctions. At Krabi we even saw a statue of Shiridi Sai Baba in a Buddha temple with Lakshmi & Ganesha. They even celebrate their new year Songkran like we do Holi. And its date coincides with the Tamil New Year date / Vishu. Clearly these guys originated from India.
The food used has a lot of fresh coconut, Tropical fruits like Guava, Durian (Jackfruit), Litchi is available in plenty. They always greet you with a warm Namaskar.
The few hrs we had on Day 1 we spent walking around and visiting some nearby Malls and checking out what to do the next day.
After breakfast we started the next day with a trip to Siam Ocean World (Located at Paragon Mall – 10 min walk from Hyatt Erawan). I have seen underwater theme parks at Vancouver , Singapore , Sydney and Houston and this one compares with the best. Takes about 90 min to do a relaxed trip around the whole zone. They have feeding + other activities and you can time your trip to cover most of them.
You can also buy a Combo ticket that includes Madam Tussauds. This is located a few malls ways ( 10 min walk) and is again a good place to spend a few hrs. We did Siam Ocean World , Lunch , Madam Tussauds and then some shopping and were back in the room at 4 PM.
In the evening we visited a friend who moved to Bangkok some months back and got to see the well organised manner in which they have settled down so fast. Quality of life is far better in Bangkok than in Bangalore. And once again I came back with the feeling that India is overpriced, shoddy quality, too much of a hassle to get anything done. After 5 days we devoured the simple tasty meal of Dal, rice , roti , subji and curd and spent a wonderful evening with them.
Day 3 at Bangkok was safari world. A Zoo / Safari that is located about 1 hr drive from Central Bangkok. We took a car with a guide. The Zoo has a good variety of animals – 100′s of Giraffes, many Tigers , Lions , Bisons – but the highlight were the shows – Orangutan , Elephant , Sea Lion and Dolphin shows were big hits with the kids .
However the highlight of this trip was the wonderful lunch at the Safari. The lunch hall is a large hall that can accommodate over 1000 people and they have a section dedicated for Indian food. What joy after a long day to sit down to a meal of Kadi, Chawal Bhindi, Aloo Gobi, Rice & Curd. ( They also had a good variety of Indian Non Veg)
On the way back from the Safari we stopped by an emporium that sells jewellery , jades , rubies , emeralds ( good stuff but overpriced) and traditional Thai stuff. Picked up a few knick knacks and then headed back to the hotel room.
On the last day our flight was at 9 PM , the hotel had given us a late checkout at 4 PM – so we had the full day to ourselves. The Travel Desk at the Hyatt has a variety of packages to choose from – we settled on the Day trip to the 3 famous Temples ( Golden Buddha , Sleeping Buddha , Emerald Buddha) and the Grand Palace. A drive thru Little India & China Town and a walk through the flower market. This market again brings back memories of India as you see fresh flowers and garlands piled up in heaps.
The temple & palace visits are well organised. Not crowded. But its a hot 38 Degrees in April, so you need your caps , hats and lots of water. The temples are grand and i sometimes wonder how Buddha would have felt had he seen his Golden & Emerald temples. You can cover the temples in 30 min but the Grand Palace will take about 2 hrs. It also houses a few museums.
We were back in the Hotel for lunch and managed a 1 hr snooze. Checked out at 4 PM and took a last walk down to the mall for some ice cream. And once again could not restrain myself from appreciating the finish , class and eye for customer service that these small countries have. They have evolved design and service to a totally new level.
Could we have done more – yes we could have. They have night markets , floating markets , Cabarets , Old City , Visit to the famous Bridge on river Kwai and many more things. But we picked things that this kids would like best.
Fri evening Traffic at Bangkok was bad . We left at 6 PM & reached the Swarnabhumi airport by 7.30 PM and were all set for our flight that left at 9 PM and reached Bangalore at 11.30 PM.
A good trip of 6 nights. Departure Fri night arrival Fri night. Good entertainment for all in the family. How expensive was it ? Not very – given that we stayed in the best of hotels and dined at the fanciest restaurants. Air fares are decent – cosy us 92 K , Hotels cogs us about 75 K in each place inclusive of our dining ( but then we had many rooms on points and paid for less than 50% of room nights) , add shopping and local sight seeing the daily massages – we probably would have spent $ 5000. If I compare this with the last two holidays we took in India – Kashmir & palace on wheels it is comparable in cost.
That completes this years family holiday project – need to start thinking of the next one as were running out of ideas if we need to meet the family criteria of “not Ordinary run of the mill , direct flight , not a long flight , economical but luxurious , lots of activities for kids, food should not be a problem , preferably 2 places if we are going for a week”
We love Thailand and people say that Koh Samui is an equally wonderful place – so for all you know we may be back there after a few years