Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Day 4 - Bangkok (Laem Chabang) Thailand

As promised, it looks like we will arrive on time in Laem Chabang. I was up early and went to the gym to run on the treadmill. It was crowded and there was a 10 minute wait. You have to stand in back of the treadmills as there is really no rhyme or reason to the waiting process. The machines are both in English and metric. I switched it to English and set it up for my my 25 minute workout. I used my earphones to watch the TV on the machine but the satellite must have been down so my only choice was the rather mundane morning show with the Cruise Director.

Laem Chabang Cruise Port
I finished exercising and went back to room to change and join my mother for breakfast in the Oceanview. It was very busy with many people getting off the ship today. We only spent about 20 minutes at breakfast and then went back to our room to wait as the ship completed the docking procedure.

There are tons of containers and lots of smaller boats. I don't think I have ever been in such a large port before. The weather forecast for Bangkok today is 93 F and sunny.



We will attempt to disembark immediately after the ship is cleared at 10:00 am. I booked Oriental Escape for a car and driver to Bangkok for our overnight visit. The ride is estimated to take between 90 minutes to 2 hours. One of the downsides of cruising on a larger ship is that we need to dock much further from the city.

We got in line in the Conference Center hallway around 10:15 am. Unfortunately we were told there were only 3 Thai gentlemen stamping the passports for over 2000 people. They handed the passports to them in bunches to keep them in separate groups and perhaps sorted by deck number. However, the Port Authorities just put them in a big pile! It was soon clear getting our passports back was not going to be fast or easy. The line went all the way down the hall back to the Guest Relations desk. There were also people on ship tours waiting for their passports in the theater. It was turning into complete chaos.

At 10:45 am as we were still standing in line I used my cell phone to call the hotline for our car pickup to alert them or our delay. They were already informed about the problem as no one was getting off the ship. They said the driver would be on standby and wait for us. I next decided to call our hotel and ask if we could use the photocopies of our passports instead. They said that would be fine with them. I was also fine with me but my mother was nervous about not having the passports in case we had a problem in Bangkok or somehow missed the ship.

So we stood in line with everyone else waiting and waiting...and waiting. The ship did not start releasing the passports until 12:15 pm. Because the line was so long and there were so many people, a crew member in the conference center would announce the stateroom number and then it was repeated as someone else yelled it down the hall. Some people were excited to get their rooms numbers called but then were quickly disappointed when they were told they only had one passport and they have to wait for the other one. Some people also got the wrong passports returned to them. Luckily most people checked them before leaving the area and gave them back if they were wrong. The crew were just handing the passports out and not looking at people, checking the Seapass or ID to make sure they were giving it to the correct person. Most people were well behaved in all the chaos but a few people were starting to lose their cool. Some people had private group tours and the redistribution process was playing havoc with schedules. I heard one man say, "so this is modern luxury?".

We finally made it inside the Conference Center. The crew were running back and forth with small bunches of passports in a little wooden box. Some of these came from the room where they were being stamped. Every time the door would open we tried to peak inside to see what was happening in there. A few crew members were surreptitiously bringing the passports to the room from another area of the ship. I think some passports were sent to the theater by mistake.

The crew were blaming the Thai authorities for arriving late and also said they did not start stamping until an hour after boarding the ship. Celebrity accepted no responsibility whatsoever for this debacle. It is possible the Thai authorities were unorganized but that does not excuse Celebrity from 1) handling the problem in a professional manner, and 2) taking better control of the situation.

We did not get our passports returned until 12:40 pm. Some people did not get them back at all and the tour buses apparently finally left without them. In hindsight it would have been better if once the ship realized the fiasco with the passports that they moved everyone from the Conference Center to one of the lounges. It made no sense to stand in a hallway for 2 hours. In addition older folks like my mother would have appreciated sitting down. A complimentary Zanax after our ordeal would have been a bonus! We definitely needed it!

We disembarked and met our driver from Oriental Escape and departed Laem Chabang at 12:45 pm (over 2 hours later than expected). There was a lot of traffic congestion at the port and we hardly moved for about 20 minutes. We then sped along the highway until we reached the outskirts of Bangkok and encountered more traffic. It was stop and go for the next 20 minutes. We reached our Bangkok hotel 2 hours and 15 minutes after leaving the cruise port.

Siam Kempinski

Siam Kempinski Lobby
We are staying at the Siam Kempinski which is adjacent to the Siam Paragon shopping center and just a few blocks from the Siam BTS station. The hotel is gorgeous with lots of marble and soaring ceilings. It certainly lifted our spirits! With a large pool in the center it is like an oasis in busy and noisy Bangkok. The hotel only opened about a year ago. I had changed hotels (Sukhothai and Oriental) a few times before deciding on this one. I am very happy with our choice. Bangkok has some very nice hotels at quite reasonable rates.

Siam Kempinski Reception Area
For check in we were seated at a desk and then handed cold towels and a drink. The rest of the check in was completed in the room. The lobby was quite festive with very interesting Christmas decorations. We even got to see Santa!

Xmas Celebration in the lobby

Waffles

There goes Santa!
Our room was number 664 and had a nice view of the pool below and buildings in the distance. The bathroom was one of the highlights! It is beautiful and surrounded by a glass wall but with the touch of a button a screen comes down for privacy. All the marble and the plush furnishings provided a luxury feel.

Privacy screen comes down with the push of a button

Luxury bathroom
Shower and  Tub
There was a very large piece of Dragon Fruit for us to enjoy.

Dragon Fruit
My original plan was to check into the hotel and then go directly to the Jim Thompson House. However, we pretty much lost the entire day due to the delay in getting the passports. The drive was also a bit longer. The Jim Thompson House is closing in 45 minutes so we will have to wait until tomorrow. We were hungry and went to Siam Paragon to find something to eat. From the side door of the hotel it is just a 2 second walk to enter the Siam Paragon mall.

Siam Paragon

Lower floor of Siam Paragon
The mall is so beautiful and offers many luxury shops but also some regular brands. The food court area had fast food type restaurants but also enclosed places for a more relaxing meal. We were in a bit of hurry (when are we not!) so we chose the Nippon Kai restaurant. It was not a separate enclosed restaurant but it was not a food stall either. You were waited on and it looked faster than the fancier ones.




I had the Katsu Curry and my mother ordered Gyoza.

Katsu Curry
The curry rice was larger than a snack but it was very tasty and insurance for later in case dinner was unsatisfactory. It hit the spot and I was happy I ordered it. The total bill came to only 400 baht including drinks. We had a little time to walk around the mall for some shopping. There were so many interesting looking stores but so little time! We had to be back a the hotel in just 35 minutes for a taxi to the Sheraton hotel where the Pri Phraya pier is located for an evening dinner cruise.

We went upstairs to see some of the nice stores.

Siam Paragon

Beautiful dresses
We looked at some of the jewelry and the clothing and then went back down to exit the mall. We easily managed to find our way back. The taxi was called and in a few minutes we were making our way through the chaotic streets of Bangkok. We arrived at the pier about 15 later minutes. It is located down a little alley on the left side of the Sheraton. We were early for the 6:00 pm departure but we didn't know how bad the traffic would be getting here. Better safe than sorry. The boat showed up a little early as well.

Loy Nava


Loy Nava
The Loy Nava is a restored rice barge with seating for a 2 hour dinner cruise down the Chao Phraya river. While we waited for the boat to pull up to the pier we watched the commuters getting on and off the regular express ferries.


Ferry
Another Ferry
The Loy Nava waited while the express boats made regular visits.


The ferry boats move very fast! They also sort of slam into the floating bobbing dock with considerable force. It was worse than Venice. It was still light out and you could see some floating debris in the water including a few dead fish. The water was brown and it looked sort of dirty. I am glad we will cruise when it is dark.

Loy Nava at the pier
The other dinner guests started to congregate on the pier. At exactly 6:00 pm the Loy Nava came over to board the passengers. We had assigned seating and they checked the names off as we boarded and showed us to our table. The tables were a beautiful teak and the chairs were very comfortable and covered in white cloth with a red sash.


Interior of Loy Nava


It was starting to get dark as we pulled away from the pier. 




They served the appetizers and handed out a drink menu. We also received a printed pamphlet with descriptions of what we will see along the river. I ordered a Mai Tai and my mother selected a glass of white wine. I pre-paid for the dinner in advance online and received a 20% discount for doing so. The cost of the dinner is 2100 baht or $65 USD for two people.


Nice place settings
By reading the provided pamphlet rather studiously  I was able to identify the majority of the buildings we were seeing. There were some though that I could not figure out what they were.  



Some of the dinner cruise boats are very fancy and play loud music. 



This building is the Holy Rosary Church. It was built in 1786 by the Portuguese with a land grant from King Rama I. Just four years after Bangkok was established as the capital. The church is quite near Chinatown. 

Holy Rosary Church
We passed by River City which is a four story shopping mall specializing in antiques and collectibles. There are also shops selling clothing and jewelry. 

River City Shopping Complex




There were some wind chimes dangling outside the window which twinkled and added a serene feeling to the cruise. 



A dancer entertained us in the front of the boat. There was another dancer at the rear. She moved slowly and smiled the entire time. 

One of the Thai Dancers in front

The shrimp Kha soup was very tasty. I also liked the chicken in the pandaman leave.







The majority of the food seemed okay but the scenery of the lit buildings and the reflection of the lights on the water were our reason for booking the boat tour. There were 34 sites marked on the list we would pass on our journey. I was especially looking forward to seeing Wat Arun and the Grand Palace at nighttime. There were many other boats on the river as well and the ride was mostly very smooth.

The Santa Cruz Church was built by the Portuguese of Italian design. It is the oldest Catholic church in Thailand. 

Santa Cruz Church
Next we passed Wat Kanlayanamitr. It is beautiful in its simplicity and lack of adornment. The wat was established in the reign of Rama III.

Wat Kalayanamitr

Another photo of Wat Kalayanamitr below.



Approaching Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn)




We finally came to one of the highlights along the river, Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn). It  is named after the Indian god of dawn, Aruna and represents the center of the universe. The four smaller towers around the base symbolize the world's oceans. The four pavilions represent the four winds. The decoration as with many of the older wats in Bangkok, comes from broken glass and ceramics used as ballast on Chinese merchant ships visiting Thailand.

Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn)
Bangkok hotels along the river


Everyone was captivated by the sights along the river. 



There are several bridges spanning the river. During our journey we passed by five of them. The one below is the Memorial Bridge. It was the first bridge built over the Chao Phraya river and opened in 1932 in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Chakri Dynasty. 

Memorial Bridge (Saphan Phut)

Another view of the bridge



The Princess boat again



The Rama XIII Bridge is a masterpiece of Bangkok architecture.  It is fairly new having only been completed in 2002. It is named after King Ananda, the King's older brother who died in 1946 at the age of 21. There are 84 cables which support the tower. The bridge also makes an appearance on the 20 baht bill. 



The bridge is painted gold and is 475 meters long. 


It is quite beautiful with the reflections at night. 


Bridge as viewed from inside the Loy Nava.



I was paying so close attention to the sites that I lost track of the dinner. They served dessert which was exotic tropical fruit. The fruit and the jelly piece were all very good. 

Dessert

Wat Rakhang Kositharam was built during the Ayutthaya period and renovated by King Taksim. The wooden library on the site was the home of King Rama I prior to becoming king. 


Wat Rakhang Kositharam
I started to wonder if and when we would pass the Grand Palace. I was worried I might have missed it on the other side of the boat. It was certainly worth the wait. It was lit up magnificently along the water and was breathtaking. The Grand Palace is the most visited site in Thailand. There are over 100 buildings which span one square mile. 

Grand Palace




We are looking forward to our visit to the Grand Palace tomorrow morning.



Not sure what these buildings are. 



This building is also a mystery. 



Our journey is now almost over. We stopped to let several guests disembark at the Hilton hotel. It opened in 2006.

Hilton Hotel

Leaving the Hilton
We at the Sheraton where we disembarked to return to central Bangkok. 

Sheraton Hotel

As we departed the two Thai dancers were there to say goodbye.  Their dance movements were very gracious and the music was also lovely. 

Thai dancers on the Loy Nava

We very much enjoyed the cruise. Although the food was not memorable the sites all lit up were captivating. We walked along the Sheraton exterior to the front entrance to get a taxi. 


There were taxis waiting along the road but strangely not in front of the hotel. This looked a little suspicious. We walked up the valet and requested a taxi. In 5 minutes a taxi arrived and it only cost 200 baht to return to the Kempinski. The drive was only 10 minutes and he dropped us at Siam Paragon as it was more difficult to drive to the front of the hotel. We walked through the mall and entered the hotel.

The hotel is so relaxing and I wish were staying longer. We are not looking forward to returning to the Millennium tomorrow night. 

Hallway to our room with marble on the walls

We were very tired from such an arduous day. I climbed into the very comfy bed after taking some photos of the courtyard and the pool area. We watched a little TV and then it was time for dreamland.  

Turned down room

The view of the hotel at night is also quite wonderful. The pool provides a very relaxing feeling to the property. It is just what we needed to recover from this morning on the ship.



Hotel surrounding the pool area



View from our room
Tomorrow morning we will visit the Grand Palace and Wat Pho with the Reclining Buddha. We will then go to the Jim Thompson House for a tour and shopping. I am hoping we have some extra time for more shopping in one or two of the wonderful malls as well.


8 comments:

  1. So exciting to see the Temple of Dawn & the Grand Palace lit up at night. I don't think most cruise passengers get to see it that way. Absolutely beautiful!

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    1. It was great seeing the temples lit up at night.

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  2. This is really wonderful - thank you for being so detailed. I booked with Oriental Escape today. We are on the Feb 17 sailing.

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    1. Catherine - hope you have a great cruise and that Celebrity is much more organized by mid February. Bangkok was great! Make sure you leave extra time for Oriental Escape to get you back to the ship. It took us almost three hours on the return.

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    2. Steph did you book the Dinner Cruise in advance and did you book directly with Loy Nava ? Thank you

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    3. I booked in advance directly with Loy Nava. www.loynava.com
      They replied immediately and were excellent in organizing how to get to the boat and return. I also received a 20% discount by booking online. Viewing the sights along the river at night was fantastic.

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  3. Thanks Steph, I have booked online too. Is there a better side to be seated at for photographs, it lists all the sights from the right on the website soi would the right hand side be better ? Many thanks.

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    1. I didn't really think about it at the time but you could be correct that the right side is much better. We sat on the left. The boat kind of circles around so that everyone gets to see the same buildings on both sides of the river. If you sit on the right side you may be able to see it in the order that is printed in the pamphlet.

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