Bangkok has no shortage of fancy hotels, and as part of coming to the Blogger Matchup event in Bangkok, I got to stay in one. IMG_2966

Disclaimer: each product or service was complimentarily provided during my recent trip to Bangkok for the Blogger Matchup event. A positive review is never promised or guaranteed, and all opinions are my own. As a general rule, I decline products or services that aren’t a good fit for this blog or you, my wonderful readers. Thank you for understanding.

Let’s start by saying it’s ranked #3 out of all 745 Bangkok hotels in its database with a solid five-circle review on TripAdvisor. The five-star hotel is within walking distance of Ploenchit BTS, and a short ride to the heart of Bangkok. The view from the 19th floor, you ask?

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As mentioned in previous posts, for this trip I experimented with using only my iPhone and GoPro instead of the DSLR. Looking out another window was wonderful as well – but enough about the view outside. Five-star hotels are supposed to have the best in amenities and offerings, and this one exceeded all expectations. To be sure, we don’t stay in these hotels when we travel – in most cases there isn’t one around where we travel, while other times they’re more than want to pay…

Five-star hotels, naturally, have a lot of the little touches to make your trip that much nicer. You’ll find plenty of amenities and replacement for whatever you might have forgotten. Power outlets are plentiful, and are of the ubiquitous Thai design (fitting both circular and slot inputs). The office desk offers all the tools you’d need for correspondence, and a stylish box under the living room TV holds the various electrical bits you might need to hook up your devices. Bathrobes came in multiple sizes, as if someone remembered not all Westerners are Thai-sized, while surprises abounded in almost every drawer opened. A minibar offered up a few local snacks and drinks to go with a couple bottles of wine in the room – naturally, I walked to the 7-11 to keep the prices reasonable.

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Yep, the bedroom lives right up to expectations. A pillowtop king-sized bed I sank right into, along with more pillows than even my wife and I could use. Not pictured here (just off to the left of the bed) is the second of two TV’s, complete with a slip showing the cable lineup. It’s a little touch, and one I’m surprised doesn’t make it into more hotel rooms… The bathroom is bigger than the bedroom we have at home! The bathtub was wonderful; the shower, however, had a wonderful rainfall head – the sort I’d love to install in a place of my own if we ever live in one place for long enough…

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Now that’s a pillow menu – not a couple or a handful of offerings, but nine in total, ranging from ultra-soft to pillows with scientifically proven benefits and fancy names.

But let’s say you have some time beyond the convention or event or whatever brings you to Bangkok. The pool on the fourth floor (not pictured) has it all – a long, rectangular shape for you lap swimmers, a shallow depth for teenagers and shorter folks (about 4 feet or 1.2 meters), and a very shallow puddle-type of pool for the youngest kids. Plenty of sunning beds and gargantuan towels await you, but there are also a couple of cocoons made of woven bamboo strips. About the size of a queen-size bed, these are great to relax after swimming or enjoy your drink at the nearby poolside bar.

Also around is the Café Claire, the third floor meeting room, workout facilities, and of course the immaculate condition and services available at a five-star hotel. There’s nothing more I could have asked for, and the next time I have the chance to come to Bangkok, I know where I’m staying if I’m ready to splurge.

Book online at your favorite hotel website or directly through http://www.oriental-residence.com.

Expique’s Bangkok Whispers Sun Tour

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Time for a guided tour! As most of my readers should know, my wife and I travel independently 99% of the time. For newer readers – in 6 years of traveling throughout Asia, this is my third guided tour. In any case, the offer of a guided tour around the older / lesser traveled side of Bangkok was enticing. We met our tour guides (two sharply dressed locals) at the Saphan Taksin BTS station, and later on met the owner of the company. The name Expique made sense as soon the owner mentioned it’s the combination of ‘experience’ and ‘unique’ – two things they aim to bring to tours around Bangkok. I should note that while it was called the “Bangkok Whispers Sun Tour” in our correspondence, it’s called the Diversity and Harmony Walking Tour on Expique’s website.

The tour is themed around the local cultures along the river Chao Phraya, and passes through several distinctive cultures of what you might call Old Bangkok. Not a lot of tourists make it west of the Phraya (I had only been out that way a couple of times myself), so this was a real treat.

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Oh, Thailand. A reminder that walking tours show the authentic side of Thailand, whether it’s the most PC or not. Buddhist amulets and some adult-themed magazines, both offered on the same table. Love it.

One of our first stops quickly emphasized diversity, complete with the Chinese culture, shops, and a temple. Since we were already taking longer than a typical tour group (us bloggers do like to document our trips from many different angles!),  there wasn’t a whole lot of time to spend at each given place.

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As you’d expect there’s a lot of stories to tell in a short span of time. The guides ended up telling them wonderfully, and alternated with the owner in some cases. As a blogger, I found myself wishing for a paper version of the story, but I ended up settling by taping a video of the description to enjoy it for myself. Since you really should go on these tours if you’re coming to Bangkok, I’ll simply say that these are old-school warehouses for the Indian and Chinese trading communities.

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An old salt factory – the last one still standing in this area. Supposedly, Good Morning Vietnam was shot in this area / building, as were some “amazing Thai soap operas”. You’d only know this by meandering through with the tour – no signage around confirms this that I saw. If you’re the sort that can walk through an old house and just feel the stories contained in the walls, this tour is for you. To keep the tour interesting to you, my wonderful readers, I’m only sharing a fraction of the stories you’ll hear when you go for yourself.

This is one case where the GoPro still camera fails somewhat, thanks primarily to its tiny sensor. For the fellow camera geeks, this is a 1/2 second exposure, and it’s only reasonably sharp  because it’s on a monopod and leaned up against a pole…

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After picking up some drinks and snacks (which included some small discs of tamarind fruit), we took in some of the old-school nature. Nothing fake about the rust here.

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After staying on the move with only brief stops, we broke here at the Somdet Phra Sri Nagarindra Princess Mother Memorial Park.

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Beyond being a shady place with nice plantlife, the Expique team broke out the snacks and drinks again. In a couple of cases they us guess what it was – a fun little game. They were all good, and someone with allergies shouldn’t have any problems (though if you do have a specific allergy, let them know).

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A modest Muslim mosque, formerly a warehouse. Called the Goowatin Islam mosque or the Tuek Daeng mosque, the area now called the Nana area (the area around Nana BTS in more central Bangkok) is where the family eventually moved to expand. Inside are the typical accoutrements of a mosque, though no one was around. To be clear, these places aren’t abandoned or completely devoid of life – there’s usually residents or a custodian nearby – but we definitely weren’t interfering with any ceremonies.

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A Chinese shrine, complete with 350 years of history. Centuries ago, the Chinese traders and soldiers would come to Ayutthaya and make their prayers here before moving on. The tour guide mentioned there was a small painting depicting Westerners as demons somewhere in the shrine. Since it’s part of the tour, I’ll let you look around for it yourself (hint: look up!)

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The door to the Chinese shrine – as colorful as the rest of the place.

After a brief stop at the Portuguese Santa Cruz church, the land here was awarded by King Taksin after the Portuguese helped them in the fight against Burma in 1767. The first church completed construction in 1776, burned down in 1833 along with the rest of the settlement, and the current building dates back to 1916. We didn’t go inside, however – it didn’t actually look open to the public. Instead, we headed off to Soi Kudeejeen.

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Call it your classic ‘neighborhood bringing itself together’ story, though it’s one that may not be around for longer. In a few places you’ll see reminders that the urbanization of Bangkok is far from complete. While they’re here, the back alleys barely wide enough to drive a scooter have some real treats.

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Thanu Singha – some of the best hand-made cakes and lemon ice tea around. Hailed by old articles from the local newspapers, things are still done the old-fashioned way, and the cakes are wonderful.

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Plenty of colorful murals just down the alley.

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The last major stop of the tour: Wat Kalayanamit – call it by the full name if you want (Wat Kalayanamitrworamahavihan), but it ends up going underrated by tourists. Plenty of locals are here, of course, and the place manages to retain a calming aura. The land here was donated, and more land was purchased by the donor from the Chinese neighborhood nearby. The Buddha image is quite large, at 15 meters tall and 12 meters wide. It’s right next to the pier, which the tour ends up taking back to Saphan Taksin and the BTS.

At a little over 4 hours and 3.5 kilometers of walking, this tour is a great way to see a slice of Bangkok’s history. Guided tours sometimes lack an ‘anchor’ destination, but this one didn’t really need one to tie everything together. In any case, bring an umbrella to keep the heat off of you – they’ll provide the rest.

Book your tour with Expique at expique.com.

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