Scarlett @ Pullman G

For those who missed the last time Master Cheese Maker Gerard Poulard came to BKK, here’s your chance to taste some of the best cheeses at some really nice prices.  The last time he came to town, he mentioned how surprised he was by everything Bangkok had to offer.  I guess he was bitten by the LOS bug.  He’s back and brought all the wonderful cheeses with him.  Chester the Cheetah would be impressed.

Jim Thompson House

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Anyone who lives in Bangkok knows about the Jim Thompson House. I’ve lived here for more than 4 years now and I’ve always known about it but I couldn’t even tell you where it was until today. Maybe it takes a few years to get to the point where you can actually appreciate the beauty of this place. Not really sure but I’m here today.
Walking distance from the ubiquitous MBK, Jim Thompson House is a museum made from Jim Thompson’s private collection. I won’t bore you with the wiki on this place but it is definitely something special. Jim was a collector in this area before the locals considered collecting anything. Yes it’s a foreigner’s house in Thailand but it may just be the best kept collection of SE Asian culture in the area.
Don’t expect the regular Thai tourist trap. It’s not cheap. It’s on par with the quality you can get from any Jim Thompson product. It’s not large. It’s not overly fancy. It’s just right.
Don’t know where to spend a few hours of your day and had enough massages? Give it a go. If the weather is amenable, it’s a pleasant way to spend some time and finish with a slightly over priced beer in the restaurant.

Blood on the walls?

So while traveling through small town Thailand, one of the most disturbing signs on a hotel room wall I’ve ever seen was “Do not put blood on the wall”.  For anyone who has lived in Thailand for any period of time, that sign will conjure up a variety of nightmares.  Ones that I will refrain from expounding upon.  Fortunately, after a few nights at another hotel without said sign, I quickly realized what the warning was meant for.  Instead of a warning of woefully soggy nightlife, it was in regard to the amount of mosquitos in SE asia.  Again, I personally carry a plug in repellent when traveling.  So from what I can gather, the sign was in response to more than a few thoughtless travelers who would kill mosquitos and like a twat would wipe said bloody mosquito on the wall.

Regardless of the intent, I think that sign still says everything you want to know about the establishment.

Visa Runner Thailand

If you have chosen to stay in Thailand for whatever reason, many of us need to make the border run from time to time.  Some more frequently than others.  When I first landed in Thailand, 6 month visa in hand, I had a plan to visit as much of the neighboring countries as I could.  Four years now and many different types of visa runs under my belt, I always find something quite nice about Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City.  Both have great value for money (both use dollars which seems to be almost worthless at this point).  Both have incredible food at every corner.  Both have so much more that I would like to see.

However, this is my first trip to Vientiane, Laos.  Not an actual visa run for me but my friends were coming so I decided to tag along for a drive through Thailand and enjoy some great wine.  For those who have never ventured into these parts, the French were nice enough to leave a legacy of almost duty free wines behind.  Also, for those who live in Thailand and truly enjoy wine, you must be getting bored by the number of overpriced, underwhelming wine bars sprouting like a fungus everywhere.  So, long story short, I’m in Laos.

On the way up, by car, we stopped in Udon Thani to wake up early and hit the Lao border.  We had an absolutely gorgeous Sunday roast at The Book House and Coffee Shop then a few beers and sleep at Top Mansion.  BTW, Top Mansion is one of those places you can’t hate for 450 baht.  Clean beds, air, cable TV, internet.  The only thing I will say about Udon, is that the farang bars I saw were seedy and full of old men.  The Thai bars were more than a little dangerous.  You are more than welcome to try a small town Thai bar but …  So up at 5:30 am and and through the border by 8 am, in time for the 9 am opening of the Thai Embassy.  For the budget conscious, if you pay in baht, it’s 1500b, if you pay in dollars it’s $36.  I’ll let you do the math on that.  Bring a photo, cash and then ask for the paperwork at the closed window with a sign.  When you get your visa on arrival, don’t line up at the next booths with the tour groups, just pass them and go to the bus as you already have your visa done.  Get a tuk tuk at 50 baht or minivan for 100 (per person) to get into Vientiane center.  I would recommend the airconditioned minivan.  No idea why we took the bloody tuk tuk.

So in Vongkhamsene Hotel, about 800 baht for single room or 1000 for a double with nice big balcony.  Again, hotel has air, fan, cable, internet and bottled water.  Bring your own soap and shampoo or buy it here.  As with any trip in SE Asia, no matter how nice the hotel, I always bring a plug in mosquito repellent.

What Vientiane does not have (or I just don’t know about) is a Tesco / Walmart.  Or let’s be honest, anything fun to look at worth braving the heat for.

What Vientiane does have is great food and wine at a good price.  Very nice entry level French wines starting at 80,000 kip (300 baht).  Real French bakeries (I know this because one of the friends here is a French baker ).  So the initial damage at The Cave wine shop, was an exceptional Pouilly Fume wine, a nice champagne, 2 large cold cut plates, some cheap cheese, a nice tin of foie gras, unlimited bread and a sampling of some of the finer liquors behind the counter was 3800 baht for 3 people.  Not cheap for lunch but considering the same would have cost triple that in Bangkok, it was a steal.  Food coma.  Trip goes on along the same vein.  Incredible coffee and pastries.  Dinners with tasty salads, terrines, washed down with a few bottles of wine.

So wish me luck as I cross back with one box of Bordeaux and an assortment of other not so fine wines.  I plan to drink it well.

If you need any advice on visa runs, go to thaivisa.

House Hunting

I think it was about 3 years ago when I started looking for my own condo in Bangkok.  Before that, I stayed with friends because … I was only going to live here for about a year.  Haha.

So when someone recommended Onnut, I laughed in his face and asked “who the hell wants to live in the middle of nowhere?”  Now, Onnut is a fairly sought after location with prices rising fairly quickly on new condos as lower Sukhumvit condo prices have reached the levels of most urban, first world cities.  If you are deciding to move to Bangkok and your friends tell you to live in Thonglo or Ekamai, expect to pay the equivalent of $800 US for rent on a newish condo, near the BTS with a incredible 400 square feet of luxury and a balcony that may have enough room for 2, to stand, and an incredible view of the building next door.

If you want to save a little money and venture a bit down the elevated BTS tracks to Onnut and parts beyond, you can get the same luxury for about $700 US.  But be aware, these prices are on the low end.  There really is nothing wrong with any of these options.  They usually include some kind of in house gym, a reasonable amount of security (this is still Thailand and no matter how luxurious your condo, the slums can be right outside you condo entrance, literally), and a swimming pool.

Really, all things considered, they are not bad options.  Many rich Thai’s and expats live there and it’s not a bad living.

However, I’ve always been a bit of an oddball.  I lived in Ekamai for a year and I enjoyed it, however, it really wasn’t my ideal space.  I like eating Thai food down the street from vendors who have been there for generations and I don’t want to pay more just because the real estate is prettier.  So my first stop was Fortune.  Literally, Fortune at the corner of Rama 9 and Ratchada.  My condo was new, cheap, had a kick ass swimming pool with jacuzzi and a sauna.  Great location with a great talad (market) within walking distance where lunch was $1US still and so were the pirated movies.  I could get to the airport in less than 30 minutes, any time of day and 2 major malls within walking distance.  Late night eats at Huay Kwang market till 4 am.  Reasonable amount of traffic.  Great view of Bangkok overlooking Silom, Siam, Baiyoke Sky.  I could see the smoke of Central Mall burning during the protests all the way across Bangkok.  Sadly, I need more space so I recently went on the hunt for a new place.  The things that I look for are 1. great value, 2. great location, 3. more space than 40 sqm (the average 1 bed condo in bangkok).

Usual Suspects:

So the hunt in Thailand usually starts the same for me-

1. Craigslist.  It’s a bit difficult to find good pricing for a condo here as almost all the ads are from agencies so their commissions are already built into the price and most people in Thailand are still not quite up to western standards when working with the internet for commerce.  However, if you want to get to know the going rates for places around Bangkok, it’s not a bad start and there are a few good agencies out there.  I’m a bit of a planner so I tend to look for places before I give my leave notice but agencies don’t like to show you places until you’re ready to move in.  Seriously, who starts to look for a place 2 weeks before they are homeless.

2. Prakard.  Yes, it’s pretty much all in Thai but if you haven’t already done so, download Google Chrome and it will happily translate all your web pages for you.  Not perfect but effective.  Prakard has a pretty comprehensive listing of Bangkok condos with rental listings from owners and issues with management.  I found one condo that just seemed incredibly cheap and later found out it was because there was a recent rape in that specific unit.  Not a little bit disturbing.

3. Walking.  After you look for a long while with agencies and internet searches, you tend to get a good idea of what you do and do not like.  For example, I really like the BTS, I don’t want to live farther than 500 meters from a station, I still hate Onnut.  Yes, it’s hotter than hell with a chance of acid rain in Bangkok but if you plan on living somewhere for an extended period of time, you might want to do a little leg work.  You would be surprised at what you can find by just walking down a few sois.

So there are of course many sub-steps like, looking around each area to see if it has the right markets for a good meal, determining how much the ad lied about how far the condo actually is from the station.  There are also some other sites like, bahtsold and thaivisa.

Just to give you a quick synopsis of my last move.  I started looking for a new place about 2 months before my move.  I lied to the agents and told them something like 3 weeks.  I began with craigslist to get current market price (farang prices) for areas that I was interested in.  I visited about 8 places alone, with friends, with agents, with owners.  I rode the skytrain and noted every condo I liked that was within the area of the station.  I rode my bike around the area in the sweltering heat.  I checked comparable units in buildings that I liked in Prakard.  I walked around the areas to see if I liked it and also to see if there were any rental signs.  I checked the message boards outside grocery stores.

How I found my last condo – Actually, it was a bit of luck.  I had been visiting different condos for a week and had 2 viewings lined up in similar areas.  One was next to a grocery store and as I stopped in to buy a drink.  As I was walking past the entrance, I saw the ad on the board outside. “One bedroom, 2 baths, 70 sqm, fully furnished with 70 sqm balcony, 15,000 baht.”  It was nearly perfect.  Near a great BTS station and only about 200 meters away.  Grocery store in the lobby.  Great security.  Still on the BTS but not near Sukhumvit.  This is great because I get to live in an area I love and can visit my friends near Sukhumvit by BTS in no time.  No gym or swimming pool but I already have a gym membership.

Why I don’t like most agents – “We don’t like to show places if you don’t plan to move in the next 2 weeks”, “There’s nothing in those areas for your price range”, “If you’re paying that little for your condo, why are you moving?”, “That one’s not available anymore but I have another one for you to see (that’s not anything like the one in the ad)”.

I know this article is no where near complete.  I also, recognize that some people don’t mind paying the extra 2000 baht a month more to not have to deal with Bangkok heat.  And there are plenty who do like to live at Sukhumvit.  This one’s for the oddballs like me.  Loving every minute of it.

Insurance Tip. No credit, no cash, no service!

Sorry about the title, but for private hospitals, it’s true.  You can always find service at a public hospital, but again, if you are not Thai, don’t expect to pay Thai prices.  Healthcare in Thailand can be tricky.  Yes, for visitors, it’s very affordable and easy.

For those of us who live in Thailand, it can be a bit of a struggle.  We have some great hospitals and doctors but for anyone who has gone to them, they know first hand that “Cash” is the name of the game.  Having a serious medical issue, try getting into one of the top hospitals without a cash deposit or credit card.  Not gonna happen.

All of this can be avoided and consider yourself lucky if you don’t have to go over the bill with a fine tooth comb when you go to pay the final bill. Next time, just present your insurance card and “poof”, no credit card or deposit required.  Bills magically get forwarded to the insurance company.

For the price of one visit to a major hospital, you can be fully insured for up to 7 years.

Don’t forget to give us a call or email Simplicity Insure Thailand:

Shanik
083-554-0170
shanik@simplicityinsure.com

Lily
086-994-1748
lily@simplicityinsure.com

Mobile Coverage in Thailand

 

Thailand has one of the highest per capita mobile use of any country in the world.  Having said that, it surprises me how much plans change here and how little people, both expats and locals, know what’s going on.

Here are some of the tips that I think are useful.  Take what you want, disregard the rest.  Please note, these are my opinions only.  Since I hate not knowing when an opinion blog is written, this is my opinion as of April 2013.

-Every mobile company in Thailand is pretty worthless.  But some are less worthless than others.  Please note that I am not big on frills that some companies offer but then again, some perks are always nice.

– True is maybe the worst of them all.  I don’t know anyone that has ever had a good experience with them.  I try to avoid them as much as possible.  I do have their Home Internet but even that is more than cumbersome.  I lose connection at least on a weekly basis for a few hours at a time.  I have a lot of internet devices, phone, tablet, multiple computers.  Every device gets interrupted by a multi page ad while trying to navigate through the internet.  This happens daily.  DAILY.  There is no way to turn this off.  I had True wifi (back in the day they were the only ones available in malls, etc).  Worthless.  If you are old enough to remember the days of dial-up, you will understand when I say that my AOL account was much faster and reliable.  I could sit at one of their cafe’s and no coverage.  Again, True=Worthless.

– AIS is the premium service.  You spend lots of money with them, you are rewarded with things like premium parking and cafe services.  Discounts at many places throughout Bangkok at least.  But I can never keep up with this stuff and don’t drive in Bangkok.  That’s what taxis are for.  Honestly, they may be the most reliable in Thailand but I don’t know anyone that doesn’t pay a nice premium for this.

-DTAC.  This is what I currently have.  Yes, they have been going through a lot of growing pains recently.  December this past year saw a dramatic drop in subscribers with multi day outages throughout the country.  But my personal experience with them has been rather great.  Yes, they just installed a new network throughout and this is still causing some drops.  Some might even say many drops.  But at least they are notable growing pains.  Meaning they are trying to improve their services.  Also, when I did encounter problems, they actually reimbursed me for losses.  Yes, a Thai company that reimburses you for errors.  It does occur.  Also, they too have installed WIFI throughout malls in Bangkok.  Hit or miss to be sure but at least I don’t have to pay stupid Starbucks prices.  Plus, they recently realized that very few smartphone users here use SMS anymore.  They have a new plan that increases your talk time and eliminates prepaid SMS.  You know those 400 SMS packages that should never have been charged in the first place since SMS’s don’t take up any bandwidth.  They aren’t saints there.  When I tried to get this package, the first place I went to said emphatically that the package was finished, even though I was looking at it on the DTAC page while she was flagrantly disregarding me.  So how did I get it?  I do the same thing you should do in any situation in Thailand.  When someone says no, you go to every other shop available until someone finally says yes.  Silly, yes.  Welcome to Thailand.  Maybe a bit of a hassle but at least you know it’s sometimes possible to get around stupidity.  I’ll take it!

-Lastly, if you are here for an extended period of time, it’s relatively easy to get a “Post-paid” plan.  You generally need ID, credit card and a residence.  Post paid plans have many benefits.  Yes, the frill are added here, like buy one, get one movie tickets and discounted food.  Also, the plans are always cheaper, especially for smartphones that require constant internet connection.  Plus who wants to walk to 7-11 every time you need a top up.  Silly.

Chiang Mai Again!

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Chiang Mai is an ever changing city. As Bangkok is growing in all directions, so too is this gem of a city in North Thailand.

CM has always been a bit of a haven for backpackers and hippie travelers. For the city lovers, the majority of travelers used to sit at the few trendy places around Nimman waiting for Warm Up to open.

First it may be worth noting that CM has a tendency to smog over with smoke from rural fires making the trip to Doi Suthep Temple a little less glamorous than it used to be. The temple which sits atop a high peak near CM has a beautiful view of the city that was a mass of grey smog when I visited this trip. Not to say the trip was unpleasant, the temple is always nice and if you don’t mind to spend a few coins to take a pic with the local hill people, the little girls waiting in country attire are quite precious.

Let’s talk a bit about hotels. If you want a luxury spa in town, head toward the night bazaar and get your fill. Places like the Chedi are a good value if you can find a discount and the star ratings are appropriate for the listing. I prefer to stay near the Nimman area as it is the new hip, stylish, up n coming area near Chiang Mai University. Forget tripadvisor and take a chance at the B2 Nimman 13. For a mere 999 Baht, you can get a true boutique hotel experience near the heart of the fun. If you look at the B2 site the pictures do a fair job of portraying wha the rooms look like. Yes, the hotel is a couple years old and it may be missing a light fixture but the rooms are pretty incredible for the price and since its not listed on the usual agoda sites, you can usually get a booking. The staff is reasonably friendly and helped us with things like taxis and motorcycle rental. Don’t expect breakfast or anything special. Clean, free water, very cozy rooms, great location. Very little lighting inside at night but what the heck. As a side note, our flight back to Bkk is a late one so we booked a single room at the Misone on Nimman soi 7. What a hole. I think we actually over payed at 500 Baht but all I really wanted was a shower to clean up before taking a taxi to the airport. Located right next to Nimman street, it’s a great location to leave my bags while I look around town. I wouldn’t consider sleeping on the bed. If you’re on a budget, there are far better places to stay in town for a under 500 b.

Now lets get to food talk. Thailand is nothing if not a great foodie dream. For starters, get the iBerry trip out of the way (just a few minutes walking from B2). Yes the giant man/dog sculpture is fun and the tummies are passable, but take your photos and start trekking outward. Just next door there is small quaint cafe serving local Thai fare at great prices. Clean and comfortable, the small cafe is well decorated and even has outdoor air conditioning. Sorry I can’t think of the name but its literally next door. Filled with local students, it’s a great place to lunch or just meet up with friends.

Roastniyom Cafe is a small cafe situated in Siri Mangkalajarn Rd. Even with its modern stylings, the cafe is relatively Eco friendly with a large tree piercing the center of the cafe creating a nice cafe ecosystem. Just a quick note, I am definitely anti-Starbucks. I don’t have a moral objection against it, just feel like there are much better places at a fraction of the cost.

Dash! restaurant was very highly rated in tripadvisor so I was honestly going to pass. In the past tripadvisor was a truly tourist only site recommending only places at locals rarely ventured to. Having said that, one of my favorite Bkk restaurants is highly listed in the site so I decided to give dash a chance. Seated with only foreigners, I again was not looking forward to the dining experience. However, I was very pleasantly surprised by the food. Well worth the trip down a small road near the eastern wall, this place served some good food and not too expensive. Dash seemed to be a relatively charming guy speaking fluent English and Thai and what seemed to be Chinese. I didn’t take him up on his recommendation of karaoke for entertainment but the teak restaurant was a good experience all around.

The zoo. Ok, as a rule, I tend to pass on zoos. I think the animals look like they are in prison. I don’t remember the last time I saw an animal look at home in a zoo. The CM Zoo was pretty much the same. If you have to go to the zoo, it’s not the worst.

If you happen to find yourself in and around Chiang Mai, I would recommend you get a nice hotel to suit your needs be it a luxury spa or hostel, rent a motor scooter or bicycle and venture both around the city center and near the university. The old city, surrounded by the old city wall, is filled with incredible small temples (not the lavish scene of Bkk that is in direct opposition to all things Buddhism), and great quaint bars and restaurants. For a great local food experience, try Huen Phen, a restaurant noted for its authentic northern fare. Avoid anything in a new shopping center and you should be fine.

After you’ve finished your city center trek, head over to Nimman where you can find great trendy art cafes and Talad shopping on the cheap. On either side of the main university campus you can find great deals on local foods and local university pe shopping. If you have ever visited Thailand, that last sentence might make sense.