Make Plans or Just Go With It in Thailand
The Land of Smiles
Thailand. Everything you heard about it is true. Beautiful. Mystical. Exotic. Fun. Crazy. And, above all, wonderful. I have been fortunate enough to visit this country three times for a couple weeks each trip. I know the whole country is terrific but I've only been to three hot spot destinations: Bangkok, Pattaya, and Phuket. Each trip, I found my lodging in a different way. This anecdote reveals how I got my hotel room and rate my experiences with the hotel and location.
Hot Spots of Thailand
Go with a Friend; Take Recommendations
In 2006, I went to Thailand with a buddy of mine. We took advice from a few colleagues to go on holiday in Thailand. Since we were young single guys, we were told to check out the nightlife and party scene of the country. Affordable wild nights with a little bit of adventure? What else could two young single males ask for? We booked a ticket to Bangkok in June and made mental notes on what to do, where to go, and where to stay based on what people told us.
Our plan was to take a ten day trip to Thailand. The first eight days would be in Pattaya and the last two days in Bangkok. For two guys, Pattaya is the definition of a party town. We weren't made out of money so we had to travel with our mind on our money and our money on our mind. We could have taken a 30 minute flight to Pattaya from Bangkok or hire a driver to take us there in two hours. We decided to take the scenic route and hired a driver. It saved us a couple hundred bucks and got to know Thailand a little better through our driver.
Our driver, Tony, was a happy-go-lucky guy. Usually, if you're a foreigner, locals see you as a walking open money bag. This isn't a knock on Thailand; scams can happen anywhere in the world. Tony was friendly, informative, and quick. He took us to our hotel, the Royal Palace Hotel, which was recommended by a few friends. After the drop off, Tony gave us his business card for us to give him a call when we need to head back to Bangkok.
The hotel was surprisingly good. The service was great. The rooms were clean and had plenty of space. The location was convenient. The rates at 2006 was about $36 dollars a night for a two queen bedroom with free meals. Though we were money conscious, my buddy and I had separate rooms.
Pattaya was a blast. There were tigers to be chilled with, crocodiles to be fished for, elephants to be rode on, cobras to be wrestled with, and kickboxers to be knocked out. It was a party every night. Walking Street was crazy. The beach was good. Drinks were cheap. People were friendly.
Pattaya worked out great for us. I wasn't trying to be like Leonardo from The Beach to get away from the tourist scene and get off the grid. I liked the fact that where we were at was catering to foreigners. I wasn't trying to get lost and see the unknown of Pattaya. I just wanted to sightsee and party. Pattaya was where it's at (with two turntables and a microphone).
After seven nights of partying, we called up Tony to drive us back to Bangkok. He came through for us and took us to a budget hotel since we were making like Murray Head and staying one night in Bangkok. We just needed a place to drop off our luggage and sleep for the night. For $20 bucks, we thought it was a sweet deal.
I can't even tell you what the name of the budget hotel was but he brought us there because it was walking distance to Soi Cowboy, another party district. It was our last night in Thailand so we were trying to go out big. We both had plenty of cash because of how we managed our money in Pattaya and quickly learned the art of haggling. Just like in Pattaya, by day, it was see as much as possible, and by night, party as hard as we could.
! Travel Tip
Anything can be haggled down with street vendors. Bargaining is like a dance Make an unreasonable offer. They counteroffer. You counteroffer. They counter that. You put the item down and walk away. They offer one more price. You counteroffer a reasonable price. Both parties agree and dance again with a new vendor.
The takeaway from this trip was to accept some recommendations from friends who've been there before. They knew what worked for them and thought it would work for us. Sometimes recommendations are hit and miss like movies and restaurants because you know what you like. In this case though, my friend and I were pretty clueless since we were first time travelers so we listened to the advice that we were given and were grateful that it ended up being a pretty good vacation.
The Royal Palace Hotel in Pattaya recommended by some friends was a great hotel considering what we were up for, what we could afford and the location of the place. According to TripAdvisor, it's still a pretty decent hotel for the same reasons I liked it. I'm sure there are far better hotels but what I understood from this experience is recommendations helped a lot for first time travelers like us. The budget hotel that was recommended by Tony ended up being the same deal and experience. Going with a friend and taking recommendations from more experience travelers is a good way to travel the world.
Go Solo with the Flow
In 2007, I had a very good friend that was visiting me for what was supposed to be a few months because he was in-between jobs. During his visit, he mentioned he wanted to go somewhere wild and do something crazy. I told him about my previous time in Thailand and he said that was right up his alley. If this was a film sequel, it would be Hangover 2. Same as the first time but more grand. This time, there would be no toying around Bangkok, it would be just ten days in Pattaya.
There was no plans. No reservations for a hotel. Since I been there before, I knew what to do and not to do. My friend trusted me in guiding him through the wild trip. We were just going to wing it. We bought our tickets a month ahead to leave for Bangkok in November. Two weeks before our trip, my friend got an email for a high paying job offer he applied for before he visited me. He told me that he applied for the job but it wasn't suppose to start until January. Apparently they wanted him to start a week before our trip and he could not decline the high paying foot-in-the-door opportunity. My friend had to bail out on me and could not refund the ticket. I, on the other hand, did not want to waste the money on the ticket and decided to still go on my own.
I am naturally a laid back guy who goes with the flow on almost everything but I am also practical. I would normally plan things out but this time I just went with it. Since I've been there before, I told myself to do other things that Pattaya had to offer and stay somewhere else as well.
When I arrived in Bangkok, I found a driver that seemed friendly and told him I wanted to go to Pattaya. This driver was friendly enough but didn't seem as engaged as Tony. Obviously, he wasn't very memorable because I can't remember his name. Also, once I got to Pattaya, I decided that I would try a different hotel. The hotel he took me to was good enough but the location was way further from Walking Street and the beach than the Royal Palace. I just went with the flow and booked a room. I'm sure the driver got a tip from the owner of the hotel since he recruited a patron to them but I didn't mind. I got here without any problems and I did it on my own.
Like my driver, the hotel wasn't anything special. I can't remember the name of it. All I remember was that it was English owned and lots of Englishman stayed there. There was a free English and Thai style breakfast and lunch buffets and I remember eating there everyday not only to save money but because I actually liked the food they offered. Other than that, I wasn't particularly fond of the hospitality and service of the hotel. It was, from my recollection, under $30. I actually shortened my stay there and went back to the Royal Palace for the last three days I was in Pattaya.
I managed to see and do new things compared to my first trip, mostly because of the location of the English hotel. It was further away from the tourist area so it was quieter and less crowded. Going with the flow brought me to the more humble part of Pattaya and it wasn't as spectacular as the first time. Though I normally like peace and relaxation, this is Thailand and whatever happens in Thailand stays in Thailand. That's why I relocated back to the Royal Palace for the last days of my trip.
This time around, just winging it brought on a good vacation but not a memorable one. I'm the kind of person that can find stuff to do and entertain myself but going to Thailand on my own without a plan did not result in a memorable stay. My expectation of the trip was set high but the reality of it was lackluster. What I learned from this trip was to either do some research and come up with a plan or travel with a friend who can help navigate and bounce off ideas from each other.
I was so overwhelmed with freedom and choices that I froze and didn't know what I actually wanted to do. This is the consequences of having no plans and just going with it. You just might wind up not doing anything at all, at least anything you would be excited about.
Preferred Traveling Companion
When going for a holiday, who do you prefer to travel with?
The Man with the Plan
Earlier in 2014, I made a multi-city trip. I had to escort a family member back to the states from the Philippines. I'm from the Philippines and I didn't want to spend too much time there. I have a lot of love for my country but whenever I'm there I feel obliged to have to spend all my time with family. I don't know about you but vacationing with family is a whole lot different than vacationing solo or with a friend. I decided I would spend eight days in Phuket, Thailand, an overnight layover in Singapore, and five days in the Philippines. After I reserved my itinerary, I started making plans on where I was going to stay and what I was going to do.
Again, I was flying solo and I felt like I know how to travel since my first holiday eight years prior. I've grown as a traveler and gained a lot of experience since my last outing to Thailand. I know these trip planning sites and online hotel reviews existed eight years ago but they weren't nearly as handy and easily accessible as they are now.
I started planning my trip almost six months before my planned departure. I kept an eye on the most beneficial and affordable multi-city trip using Kayak.com. I researched things that I would be into in the cities I would be traveling and used Google Maps to arrange my traveling routes and locations of what area to stay at that would be most convenient for me to get around. I used TripAdvisor.com to narrow down which hotel would fit the location and be most accommodating. I did all this planning up until I left for my flight to Phuket.
During my research, I found that Soi Bangla on Patong Beach is the party area on Phuket. Though I wanted to be near the action, I didn't want to be in the action. Using Google Maps and TripAdvisor, I narrowed down a list of hotels that were near Bangla Road. I settled with the Yorkshire Hotel. It had great amenities, the price was reasonable, and it was close enough but not too close to the loud crowdpleasers. While in Phuket, I wanted to be able to beach hop, bar hop, eat good food, shop, have access to easy travel, and still go to the gym. The Yorkshire checked off all my demands. I manage to reserve a room from their website via emailing the front desk and it even included an airport pickup.
Once I arrived in Phuket, I was greeted by the hotel driver. I called him Mr. P because his name was hard to pronounce to me. Mr. P reminded me of Tony in many ways because he was friendly, informative and quick. He wasn't as charming but he kept up a conversation as long as I was willing to talk. At the Yorkshire, my room was nothing to brag about but the hotel was great. It had helpful staff (they all spoke English because it was English owned), a nice outdoor pool and a decent size gym. I was pretty impressed of the gym because most hotel gyms are just a small room with one big multi-exercise machine and a treadmill.
Though a little disappointed in the room, as the days went by I was thankful for the Yorkshire because of its location. It was just a five minute walk to Bangla Road and Patong Beach in one direction and close to some Arabic restos for shawarmas and hookahs (best combination of snacking and relaxing). It was close to Jungceylon, the big mall in Patong. It also had easy access to tuk tuks and scooter taxis to explore more of the island. All in all, the Yorkshire worked out for me just like I planned.
When my week long stay was over, I was thinking to myself that Phuket was where it's at (with two turntables and a microphone), while Mr. P was driving me back to the airport and discussing about his favorite vacation spots which surprisingly, to me, was South Korea.
I had an overnight layover in Singapore before I headed out to the Philippines. It was my first time in Phuket but I've been to Singapore numerous times years ago but never really explored it. The process of planning I did for Phuket was also used in my overnight stay in Singapore. I had 24 hours to stay in Singapore and I wanted to make every minute count. I used the same websites to find the perfect location for what I was up for that match my wants in a hotel.
I found a budget hotel (which wasn't really cheap but I guess cheap for Singapore standards) near Clarke Quay, which is the place for a fun night in Singapore. Also in Clarke, there was a subway station that allowed me to travel to different parts of the island that I wanted to see which were the Marina Bay and Sentosa Island. Thanks to Google Maps and Tripadvisor, I manage to meet my wish list for a fantastic sightseeing tour and a fun crazy night.
I dreaded the flight to the Philippines when morning came though, because I knew once I arrive in the Philippines my relatives would put me on lockdown and I wouldn't be able to travel and sightsee alone. Filipinos are overprotective, especially with a foreign family member. That was fine with me. In the last nine days, I had one of the greatest holidays of my life and it was all due to good planning and networking. Though I traveled solo last time I traveled to Pattaya, Thailand and had a ho-hum vacation, I realized then that I do like to go on solo trips and prefer to do so if I can. This recent trip was also solo but very memorable and it was because I put effort into making it an exceptional one.
! Travel Tip
When on holiday to Southeast Asia, travel light. You can buy clothes, extra luggage, toiletries, etc. for cheap in this part of the world. I've bought namebrand T-shirts and shorts for less than $3 dollars a pair and still haggle down the price in Thailand, Philippines, and so on.
This latest trip was my best one yet because of all the experiences I've accumulated from all my travels throughout my adulthood. All my travel mistakes, fails, and successes were polished into one smooth, joyful, and entertaining holiday. I still like to go with the flow in almost everything but being aware of logistics, meaning planning and readiness, made the trip worth it. I have been planning trips like this for the pass five years so I would know how to enjoy my vacation and not hit with too many surprises, whether they are big international getaways or short domestic road trips. You can't plan everything but the lessons here are the internet is your friend and recommendations are a blessing and a little networking doesn't hurt.
Quick thoughts on flight and hotel in Thailand:
- Pay close attention to your travel arrangements i.e. airport, airline, seating, check-in luggage, flight schedule,
- Start checking for flights at least three months ahead
- Flights are usually cheapest on a Wednesday
Location of hotel:
- Is it near all the places you want to go and things you want to see?
- Is it near access to easy transportation?
- Is the service and amenities worth price?
- Do you just need a place to sleep or do you want to stay in luxury?
Use Kayak and other travel search engines to keep an eye on a flight. They will notify you on any changes of prices for you flight. Check out the service of the airline and plane via the airline's website to check their rules, available on-flight entertainment, and seating map. Do the same for the airport itself in case you have a long layover. You can find out what stores and restaurants are available, things to look at and do, and map of the airport.
Use online map search engines like Google Maps or Yahoo Maps and travel review sites like TripAdvisor or Agoda to plan out your stay in Thailand (or any place for that matter). Make a list of all the sights and entertainment you want to check out. Map it out and find a central hotel that meets your wish list. Check out reviews of the hotel and narrow it down to which one fits your taste.
© 2014 Ken