Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Travel to Thailand With an Infant: Hotels

Back to your regularly scheduled travel reviews.

We stayed at 4 hotels during our trip. In Bangkok, we splurged on the Peninsula, rated one of the top hotels in the world. We booked on AsiaRooms.com, saving *some* money, but it was still pretty pricey. In Chiang Mai, we went towards the other end, opting for the Galare Guesthouse, which was about $22 a night or so. In Koh Samui, we stayed at the resort where the wedding was held- Rocky Resort, which was probably in between the two price-wise. Lastly, the night before our early a.m. flight, we stayed at the Amari Airport hotel, which is connected to the airport.

The Peninsula, Bangkok

Though technically not in Bangkok but instead another area across the river, this place deserves its praises as one of Bangkok's finest hotels. From the moment the manager met our car at the door and whisked us up to our room to check-in there upon arrival the service was excellent. The rooms were posh, clean, and all have views of the Chao Praya river in Bangkok. The rooms were all automated, including fun techie additions such as bedside controls for alarm, lights, curtains, etc. The bathroom was huge, with double sinks, separate shower, separate toilet (a phone in every area except the shower, even the tub had a speaker phone), and had a tv above the tub. Although I never asked for infant services, because we had told them we wanted a car with an infant seat in it from the airport, upon our arrival there was a Graco Pack n Play set up for Gus, along with a whole basket of baby products and diapers. That was a nice touch. To get to Bangkok proper, the hotel had its own teak shuttle boats that crossed the river and dropped off right below the skytrain stop. The pool is gorgeous, with a wonderful view of the river and Bangkok skyline. There were several "salas," cabana-type things with two cushy lounge chairs, a table, and a ceiling fan. They often came around with free snacks, like mini-ice cream cones or pineapple. Our last day, we were able to store our luggage and sit by the pool after we checked out and then use the fitness center bathroom to shower and change. The fitness center bathroom reminded me more of a spa (one is slated to open there later this year), which blonde wood lockers, slippers, etc.

The downsides to the hotel were cost of amenities and concierge service. By amenities I mean food, souveniers, laundry, etc. The restaurant food was good, but in a city where a decent lunch can cost less than a dollar, paying typical new-york-hotel prices makes the food not the best value. Laundry was literally 10 times what it cost at the hotel in Chiang Mai (which in turn was about 25% more expensive than non-hotel options in town). The car from the airport was pricey too, especially since the driver did show up with that infant seat we wanted, but it was not installed!!! (and after a 26 hour flight neither of us could figure out the thai instructions to do so). The concierge service was hit or miss. One concierge arranged to change our train tickets and have someone actually go to the railway station to turn in the old ones and pick up the new ones. That was great. Some of the concierges, however, were less helpful, slightly rude, and would not give info about any options other than organized tours for which the hotel got a kickback.

The Galare Guest House- Chiang Mai

This place was wonderful as well, although in a far less opulent way. Although we arrived before check-in time, they made an effort to get us into rooms right away. The rooms were clean and comfortable, if a little dark and lacking any view. All the rooms opened to the outside, and those on our floor (the second floor) had little nooks with tables and chairs outside where folks could sit and read, relax, have a beer etc. The grounds were pretty, and the guesthouse restaurant was right on the river which was nice. The staff was very helpful with everything, even taking Gus while we ate and entertaining him (aka treating him like a prince), and we used a driver that was on-site (dont know if her travel agency just works out of the Galare or if it is owned by the Galare), and the driver was wonderful. More like a guide, and very friendly. All food was available by room service or from the restaurant during mealtimes. Although the kitchen closed, drinks were available for purchase 24 hours. The location was great also, kind of tucked away, but within walking distance of the night market etc. We did have a few tiny ants in the bathroom, but other than that no complaints.

Rocky's Resort, Koh Samui

I have very mixed feelings about this hotel. The rooms (including bathroom) were absolutely breathtaking, the beach pool was great (the garden pool was so-so), and the food was good. The beach was small but enjoyable, although not the white sand we had pictured. And there's nothing like having an hour-long massage every day in an outside sala by the for $12.50 an hour. They also put on a great wedding for my cousin. However, there were several service problems that led me to believe that their usual smiling attitude was merely superficial. First, we had specifically booked the room category we did because we were told we could have a late checkout, keeping the room until 6pm. This was key because the wedding was at 5 and we were leaving mid-reception to catch our flight. So we needed somewhere to get ready, for Gus to nap, etc. Before we booked we confirmed we could have the room until 6, and were told yes, without any reservation or caveats- they didn't say, for example, subject to availability or anything like that. After we paid, however, we received an email saying that someone else was checking in and we couldn't stay past noon. they wouldn't do anything else for us, so our cousin got involved, and based on her complaints they agreed to give us an unrenovated room to change in etc. Although not ideal we took it- it was better than nothing, but quite small and run down. They could have at least removed the giant dead cockroach and lizard from the windowsill! We were told that we had to be out of the room at noon (the owner or manager had said 2 when we checked in, but the receptionist changed it to noon), so we packed up and headed to reception at noon as instructed- the receptionist was at lunch, so we had to wait almost an hour for her to return. Wouldnt have been a problem if they had just told us to come later. They also messed up my mom and her friend's massage time by double booking with another couple. They then just looked at the appointment book and said "sorry, no other appointments available before you leave" and didnt make any efforts to work it out. Considering that this was not a cheap resort, these things, though not big, were annoying.

Amari Airport Hotel Bangkok Airport

This one is easy. Great place to stay before or after an early flight (or for a day room), not much else. Downtown Bangkok can be up to an hour away from the airport, depending on traffic, so staying downtown means getting up way early. Nothing special here, and a little run down, but that is understandable as they are opening a new int'l airport in Bangkok this year so why should they renovate? We didn't eat here or take advantage of any other amenities, so i cant comment on that. We booked on AsiaRooms again, and rack rate may not be worth it unless you really value that extra sleep.

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