Sunday, January 4, 2015

Analysis Paralysis

When I arrived in BKK two days ahead of schedule, I wasn't sure what to do. Should I try to add more nights to my hostel reservation? I doubted they'd have availability last-minute during high season. Should I ask for a flight to Chiang Mai and squeeze in a quick visit? Should I hop on a shuttle bus to Hua Hin (a popular weekend beach for locals)? I couldn't connect for my 20 minutes of free wifi in the airport, so I couldn't investigate options online. I asked at the official tourism department's hotel reservations desk, but prices seemed high. 

What to do? What to do? 

I headed for the Novotel desk. Novotel is part of the Accor Hotel chain. Because I have traditionally been a hostel-type rather than a hotel-type, brand names and loyalty programs never mattered. However, in recent years, I have always booked myself into the same hotel when I visit Porto Alegre--the Mercure on Rua Jardim Cristófel--which is how I got into the Accor Hotel loyalty program. Now, when I must stay in a hotel, I try to at least make it an Accor brand so that I collect points for the money spent. This makes the higher accommodation cost easier to swallow. Since I seem to be in transitional years, more frequently opting to stay in hotels guesthouses than hostels, those points might lead to some rewards. 

I rambled around through BKK, trying to find the Novotel desk. I had been there during my layover stay at the Novotel airport location one week prior, but it took me a while to find it again! I asked if they had a free shuttle to their city center locations: I fugured I could get a free ride into the city, ask about reservation prices, and if they were too high, go elsewhere. Alas, no shuttle. 

I could hardly get in a taxi without a destination. 

On the lower floor of the airport, while scanning the recesses of my brain for clever options, I see a massage hut. "Free wifi," the sign says. I wander over. A gentleman shows me a menu of services. One-hour neck, shoulders, and back massage: 400 Baht (about US$12). 


It was a nice treat, although the old woman was a bit of a honey badger. She really dug in and I'd be feeling tender days. Mission accomplished, though. In spite of her forceful kneading, I managed to book two nights at the Novotel Siam Square for a reasonable rate through the Accor site. I had another three nights reserved at the Lub d Silom hostel. Shortly after checking in, I realized that I wouldn't want to downgrade to a dorm bunk after two nights in the hotel, no matter how nice Lub d appeared. The Novotel was pricier for the sunsequent evenings. Instead, I booked three nights at another Accor brand, the Mercure Bangkok Siam, just 3 malls up the road, and canceled the hostel. 

Sometimes you rough it, and sometimes you don't. The key is in knowing how to choose. 

I was really impressed by the Novotel. It is a 4-star, so not the Four Seasons or Sofitel, but not remotely shabby. Still, for the price I paid, I figured that rating might be sorta "on its best day." The lobby was grand, with lots of lounge space and a nice bar. There is a café/bakery on the ground floor, a few fine dining options on the second floor, a nightclub on the lower level, and a pool (with a bar) on a 4th floor rooftop section. My room was on the seventh floor. It was nice. Spacious, bright, comfortable. A nice view of the Siam Paragon if you looked to the right. I wished I could stay all five nights.

Something strange happened those first hours in Bangkok: I was so overwhelmed by the stimulation of Siam Square (flashing lights, video, audio... colors, sound, people, activity), that I couldn't move. The place was so unlike anything I've seen that I didn't know where to look. I didn't know what I wanted to see, to do, to eat. I was even feeling intimidated about navigating the Sky Train--conquering public transit isn't something I've struggled with in a strange city before. 

"I'll go to the pool," I thought. I can handle the pool. 

What do you know? It was "Sunset Hour!" From 4-6pm daily they have 2-for-1 Absolute cocktails (250 Baht, or US$8). I'll have a Naughty Lychee and a Coconut Sunrise, please.  

After two fruity drinks and a little sun, I felt I should get my act togeother and go do something. I ventured across the street, to Siam Paragon. 

You should know, if you don't already, that I am not a mall person. I don't like to shop. I don't concern myself with fashion, designers, or the like. It is sometimes interesting, though, to browse a mall while traveling to see what it's like, and the Siam Paragon is not your average mall. 

Siam Paragon is a very large, high-end mall: Cartier, Prada, Chanel. There are luxury car dealerships in the corridors. 

There is an aquarium in the basement. 

But what thrilled me was the Ground Floor (one below the Main Floor). Every type of cuisine and price point imaginable: from fast food (KFC, McDonald's, Cinnabon, Au Bon Pain, even Chicago's own Garrett's Popcorn!), to dine-in (steak houses, Thai, Italian, Japanese, etc). There are cafeteria style options, and numerous "take away" vendors (cupcakes, baguettes and pastries, sandwiches, pre-made meals). And then there's the giant "Gourmet Market." It's like Treasure Island, Whole Foods, Mariano's and all of the import goods stores in your state combined. They have everything. It boggles the mind. 

As I worked my way through the aisles, slowly, and in the same stupor that all the bright lights initiated earlier, I ended up in the supermarket's "fine dining OR take away" section (not to be confused with the fine dining restaurants or take away counters outside the market!). It's like Eataly on steroids. They have everything. Pick a steak, some duck perhaps, a lobster, oysters or a nice salmon, maybe some linguini or a mushroom bisque--whatever your little heart desires. Have a seat and we'll prepare that for you. Or not. (It's sushi. Or it's tartar.) Or you'd like to prepare it yourself.  

There were just so many options. Everything looked so tasty, so nice. I couldn't decide. 
So I bought two little "bread things" -- one naan-type thing with chicken and one spinach and cheese roll, a couple beers, a little chocolate and went to back to the hotel. 

I really would've liked to have tried something there.... but which?! How could I possibly choose? What, look at a menu?! Are you mad? 

I couldn't handle Bangkok any more. I needed to sleep.