Azamara Club Cruises - Chapter 7: Thailand: Bangkok
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We arrived in Bangkok in unseasonally hot and humid weather. Even the locals were wilting like pansies. Not usually a lover of a/c I was drawn to it like a moth to a lamp.
I was forced, yes forced, to spend a lot of time exploring the air conditioned shopping malls, much to his concern: his card hasn’t seen so much action for some time.
Almost three days in Bangkok, a very generous amount of time for a cruise ship. In this heat, though, with so much to see and so much to buy, it would never have been long enough.
I was last here 24 years ago. I remember it as a busy, vibrant, city with a serious traffic problem. Now, it’s lost none of its vibrancy, has an even greater serious traffic problem, sky-walks with their own congestion issues and an overhead rail system, the Sky train. The buildings are, inevitably, higher, the shopping malls plentiful and magnificent, yet life at street level is just as I remember.
There’s an abundance of food on the street, market stalls by the roadside still proliferate and the city surely must reign as one of the great ‘knock-off’ capitals of the world. You can literally get a fake copy of anything here.
We arrived in Bangkok on Valentine’s Day. After an initial recce on the shuttle bus to the central drop-off point, the Siam Paragon shopping mall, the largest in Asia and certainly bigger than anything we have in the UK, we realized we would need to plan our time carefully because of the unpredictable traffic jams.
Before arrival here, slightly concerned that Thailand might also have closed up for the New Year celebrations, we didn’t book any excursions. However, Thailand and, in particular, Bangkok, was very much open for business as usual with everything in full swing. And then some!
We returned to the ship to find the crew had transformed the pool deck and running track for a White and Red party to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Tables and chairs replaced sun-beds, white taffeta festooned the railings with red and white balloons.
An excellent Asian buffet was served and the wine flowed freely. A nice touch, red roses for all the ladies. A local troupe of Thai dancers in traditional dress performed a series of dances. Then the party really got going. The resident Azamara band, singers and guest solo artists all combined to play great music for two hours. Individually, all professional and accomplished artists in their own right, combined they were truly electric. We danced under the stars on a hot, balmy, still night.
The next day we hopped on the shuttle bus, connected with the Skytrain, which was fast and gave great city views, to the river. We intended to catch the public ferry, but in all the chaos at the docking station got in the wrong queue and found ourselves on an expensive private ferry. A much smaller boat, we zipped along the river at speed, as we clung onto the sides. Windswept, we arrived at the dock for the Royal Palace. As we walked through the many stalls surrounding the river dock, Thai street food was in full swing. Everyone was eating, from sweet snacks such as banana fritters, to full-blown meals.
The Palace is definitely the number one ‘must see’ in the city. Photos or descriptions cannot do it justice: you have to see it yourself. He was very impressed and we happily spent a couple of hours here, in spite of the crowds and heat. Although there are other important temples and sites close by, we decided a cold beer in a cool spot would be more to our liking.
As a result of getting off the return public ferry – crowded, but an experience in itself - at the wrong docking station, we found ourselves outside the Shangri-La hotel. Here we spent a couple of hours in air-conditioned bliss overlooking the bustling river, sipping local Singha beer and eating tasty Thai snacks. Very civilized.
Suitably revived, I was definitely up for a shopping spree. Instead of heading to the large upmarket malls we got a Tuk-tuk to Silom village, a small complex of Thai restaurants and shops selling antiques, silks and most, importantly, excellent knock-off goods - a tip off from the local rep on the Azamara shuttle bus.
The recommended shop was very small with only a few handbags on show. Momentarily disappointed, suddenly part of the wall display – in reality a secret door – opened and we were led into a much larger room. The door shut firmly behind us. This was more like it.
Here they had a fabulous choice of high quality knock-off leather bags – not street stall price – but good value. Like a child let loose in a sweet shop, I was in handbag heaven. Choosing was difficult. However, I am now the proud owner of an original Alfred Channel, obviously an estranged relative of Coco – families eh? Just as we thought the deal was done, a large box of fake watches was brought out, again exceptional quality. So he got something too.
By now exhausted, definitely no energy to sample Bangkok’s legendary night life, we couldn’t wait to get back to the ship. A quick call to Room service and we were set. When you’ve been away from home for some time, eating fantastically varied and rich food, sometimes you just want something simple. Tea and white toast was what we wanted. Within 10 minutes Room service delivered, the toast still piping hot! Not on the menu, but no matter. The flexibility and service on the ship has been first class.
Our last day in Bangkok was planned around our sailing time of 4pm and we decided to take the Sky train to the weekend market. Described in one guidebook as ‘the mother of all markets’, it encapsulates the melting pot that is Bangkok: live music; food, food, and more food; stalls selling everything you can imagine; a warren of alleyways; noisy; vibrant; buzzing.
Not surprisingly, a couple of guests were late back to the ship and clapped on board by the passengers. Surprisingly, and thankfully, it wasn’t us! All aboard, we set sail back down the river, a great way to leave the city.
That night we ate in the excellent Discoveries Restaurant, the largest restaurant on the ship, with around 350 covers, table service, a daily a la carte four-course menu and smarter – but not formal – dress code. A table wasn’t available immediately, so we enjoyed pre-dinner drinks in the Discoveries lounge bar listening to Mary Amanda play jazz harp as we sipped our drinks. After ten minutes we were sitting at our table deliberating what to eat. As usual, the food was excellent and the service impeccable. With visits to Branco having slipped slightly, I skipped pudding.
The Tamla Motown disco night in the Looking Glass Lounge was in full swing. We were soon dancing to old favourites, giving it some serious wellie on the dance floor, possibly burning off more calories than in the gym. Slightly piqued, perhaps I could have managed that pudding after all!
Read Chapter 1: Introduction: Is a cruise going to be the right choice for me?
Read Chapter 2: We’re on our way! Hong Kong
Read Chapter 3: Down time onboard the ship
Read Chapter 4: Vietnam: Hanoi and Halong Bay
Read Chapter 5: Vietnam: Denang and Anhoi
Read Chapter 6: Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Read Chapter 8: Thailand: Ko Samui
Read Chapter 9: Singapore
Read Chapter 10: Azamara Club Cruises: the verdict
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Azamara.
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