BANGKOK: HISTORY, POLLUTION, TRANSPORT AND FAMOUS HOTELS

BANGKOK

BANGKOK is one of those cities that your either love or hate, or at least are overwhelmed with at first but learn to appreciate after you have spent some time there and explored its back alleys. Those who hate it tick off of its long list of problems: it's big, its crowded, it's dirty, it's polluted, it can be incredibly hot and humid, people are stressed out, mass transportation is woefully lacking, and there are construction projects everywhere. Those that love it say that it hard to find another city with as much to see and do and enjoy. According to a Travel and Leisure magazine survey it was the best city in the world in 2012, 2011 and 2010. This is up from the third best in the world in the mid 2000s when Sydney and Florence ranked higher.

Bangkok boasts over 400 Buddhist temples, colorful food markets, interesting shops with silk and gems and the world's largest restaurant. There are monasteries that offer massages and fortunetelling, girlie bars with sex shows and shrines and alms for monks, markets with exotic animals, fake goods, and looted artifacts, and facilities for kick boxing and classical dance. The vast parks near the Grand Palace feature traditional Thai sports like kite fighting. In the suburbs there are crocodile farms with snake milking shows. The shopping not only have the usual array of designer goods, they have good prices too. Even if you don't have a lot of money you can stay at first class hotels. Thais in Bangkok like to party and there are plenty of festivals, holidays and personal celebration to keep them going.

Located along the Chao Phraya River and established as the Thai capital after the sacking of Ayutthaya by the Burmese in 1767, Bangkok is far away the largest city in Thailand and the third largest city in Southeast Asia. Officially, 8,280,925 people lived in the 560 square kilometers of Bangkok proper in 2010, but the population jumps to least twice that number if you include all of its suburbs and satellite towns. In 2025 the population is expected to reach 22.5 million. According to some estimates 85 percent of Thailand's 60 million people live in the plains that surround it.

Bangkok means "village of the wild plum." Thais refer to it as Krungthep ("City of Angels"). The city’s official name—Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit—has 167 letters and 40 syllables (a Guinness book record for a city name) and means “the Great City, the Residence of the Emerald Buddha, the Grand Capital of the World Endowed with Nine Precious Gems, the Happy City.” The residents of Bangkok are sometimes called Bangkokians.

Bangkok is far and away Thailand’s business, communication, transportation, and industry hub. Regarded as Asia’s best example of a primate city—one that politically, culturally and economically dominates the rest of the country, it generates 40 percent of the kingdom’s wealth and is home to more doctors, university graduates and cars than the rest of the country combined. Greater Bangkok is located at the heart of the urbanized triangle of central and eastern Thailand. Most of Thailand’s factories lie north and south of the city. With wages in Bangkok being 12 times higher than those in the Northeast it is no surprise that one out of every six Thais works there is from the Northeast. In recent years Bangkok has become a gateway for all of Asia. If you are going to be traveling extensively in Asia the chances are you will probably spend some time in Bangkok getting visas or making travel arrangements for other destinations.

History of Bangkok: The history of Bangkok as a royal capital dates back to the year 1782, when King Phraphutthayotfa Chulalok the Great (Rama I) , the Founder of the Royal House of Chakri, commanded the construction of the City of Rattanakosin across the river from Thon Buri, the previous royal capital, reasoning that the new location on the east bank of the Chao Phraya was more defendable in case of an invasion. The architecture of the new capital was modeled after that of great Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]

The shortened official name of the city is Krung Thep Maha Nakhon, meaning the Great City of Angels. “Bangkok,” its original name, comes from “Bang Makok,” or the riverside town of makok, the hog plum. In the early days of its establishment, the river and over 1,000 canals served as the main communication routes, resembling the former capital of Ayutthaya, and hence the appellation of “Venice of the East” was inherited. The city was first concentrated along the east side of the Chao Phraya River. In the Fifth Reign, King Chulalongkorn opened the vista of the city beyond the original city walls, when he had Dusit Palace built, linking it to the Royal Palace by Ratchadamnoen Road, which transformed Bangkok in every aspect, leading to the modernization of the city and even the country in the face of colonial threats on all sides. Bangkok and Thon Buri merged into the Greater Metropolitan Area in 1971.

Presently, Bangkok is one of the special administrative areas of Thailand, with an elected governor, city council, and an administration of its own. Its population is many times larger than the next largest cities in Thailand. In the late 1980s, Bangkok had a population of 5.5 million. In spite of massive construction and changes in the economy, many of the districts retained their unique identities. For example, Dusit District, where the royal family had its principal residence, was also home to many of the city's military officers and civil servants.

In 2008, Bangkok’s airports were closed for about a week by protests that brought down the government. In 2010, the city was rocked by bloody demonstrations that left dozens dead and hundreds injured. In 2011 it endured major flooding.

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES IN BANGKOK

Development in Bangkok: The early 1990s was a period of rapid economic growth and urban development. That came to an end with the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis and the bursting of the real estate bubble that accompanied it. Thing began picking up again in the early 2000s. By the mid 2000s, Bangkok was again alive with cranes and choked wit construction dust. Between 2001 and 2006, 118 buildings 30 stories or more were completed, under construction or proposed, sixth in the world behind Hong Kong, Dubai, Tokyo, Shanghai and Shenzhen.

Janesara Fugal of Agence France-Presse wrote: “A 77-story skyscraper is set to become the latest, and tallest, addition to Bangkok’s ever-changing skyline, already transformed by a construction boom that has raised fears of a property bubble. Variously described on Internet forums as looking “like it has been eaten by giant termites” and reflecting “the chaos of Bangkok,” the MahaNakorn – Great Metropolis – will tower over the Thai capital when it is finished in 2014. At 314 meters (1,036 feet) it will be the city’s tallest building, but size was not what mattered, said Sorapoj Techakraisri, head of PACE Development, which began building the skyscraper in June 2011. “I just wanted something unique, something interesting,” he told AFP. [Source: Janesara Fugal, Agence France-Presse, July 31, 2011]

“MahaNakorn’s unusual pixelated spiral design was created by German architect Ole Scheeren, who was behind Beijing’s futuristic China Central Television headquarters. The 19 billion baht ($640 million) tower will house apartments, a shopping center and a Ritz-Carlton hotel. “When the economy gets better, the buildings go higher,” Sorapoj said.

Klongs: are the local name of Bangkok’s canals. Bangkok used to be laced with them. They followed streets, ducked under superstructures and were crossed by bridges. By one estimate a third of the city’s residents in the mid 19th century lived in stilted or floating houses along the canals or the river. Until a few decades ago they were so were so crowded and full of boats that policeman were used to direct traffic. Over the years many of Bangkok’s klongs have been paved over to widen streets and make room for houses and other buildings.Many of remaining klongs are foul and dirty. Some are filled with black oily water. Others are stagnant pools covered by smelly green scum and filled with garbage.

But not all the klongs are a mess. Ones visited by tourists have floating hyacinths and lotus flowers, small houses with garden and fluttering laundry. In some places you can still find monks floating in the water in inner tubes, women in broad woven hats and sarongs using sampans to buy groceries and, floating shopkeepers and deliverymen. In recent years there has been a campaign to free the paved over klongs to attract tourists to places they otherwise wouldn’t go and provide better drainage.

Sinking Bangkok: Bangkok is sinking, in some places up to 10 centimeters a year. This is caused by groundwater being drained by wells, the oceans ever so slightly rising and the earth underneath buildings being compacted by the sheer weight of all the development. During the five month rainy season when as much as a meter of rain falls on Bangkok streets sometimes become rivers and shop keepers have to build dams to protect their merchandise. If global warming does in fact cause the oceans to rise significantly, Bangkok will be one of the first places to go under.

Bangkok was built at the center of Thailand’s central flood plains between its mountain ranges and the sea. The area in and around the city receives up to four fifths of the region’s rain overspill during the monsoon season. In the old days the canals provided storage for flood waters. But since many of these have been paved over the water has nowhere to go but into the streets and into houses when the Chao Phraya river floods.

Bangkok Traffic : The number of vehicles in Bangkok — cars, trucks, buses, vans and tuks tuks—has skyrocketed over the years, from just 600,000 in 1980 to 6.8 million now, and this does not include the millions of motorcycles and motorscooters. Adam Janofsky of the The Pulitzer Center wrote: “In 2007, Bangkok had both 5.6 million registered vehicles and 5.6 million residents, according to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. As a percentage of the population, the number of vehicles in Bangkok completely eclipses traffic levels in many other Asian metropolises: There are almost twice as many vehicles per person in Bangkok than in Tokyo or Seoul, and about eight times as many as Shanghai. And on top of that, the number of cars in the city continues to soar over 6 percent each year, said Soithip Trisuddhi, director of the Office of Transportation and Traffic Policy and Planning. [Source: Adam Janofsky, The Pulitzer Center, August 14, 2012]

The roads in Bangkok, which are not all that different than they were in the 1960s, have been unable to keep up with the influx of vehicles. Street capacity has increased at a rate of 1.5 percent a year while vehicles have increased ar 12 percent a year. Not surprisingly Bangkok suffers some of the world's traffic gridlock. Only Cairo, São Paulo or Jakarta are as bad. Sometimes people sit in the same places for hours and seven mile back-up are not unheard of. Busy streets are sometimes tied up by wayward elephants. There are even major ties up in the back alleys.

Motorist often leave their homes at 4:00am to beat the morning rush hour. The evening rush hour often lasts from until around 11:00pm at night. A crosstown journey can take as long as overland trip to Cambodia. The average Bangkok driver spends an equivalent of 44 days a year in traffic. The delays are worth hundreds of millions of dollars in lost productivity.

In an effort to improve the traffic situation, new bridges and expressways have been built, a mass transit train system was opened and the Chao Phraya River and canals have been better utilized for transportation purposes. Pedestrian only zones have been set up on the weekends on Silom Road and near the river. Other shopping areas have expressed an interest in hopping on the pedestrian-only bandwagon. There has also been suggestions of implementing car or parking taxes to keep cars out of the city center.

Bangkok Pollution: The large number of vehicles and other forms of pollution have left Bangkok in a perpetual cloud of rust-colored smog. Black smoke billows out of the back of old buses and tuk tuks. Construction dusts fills the air. On some clear days you can hardly see the blue sky. In the sky there is a gray film where blue should be. Thick hazy smogs are produced when pollutants combine with fog.

Vehicle emissions are the “greatest source of air pollutants in Bangkok,” according to the United Nations. Adam Janofsky of The Pulitzer Center wrote: “A clear marker” of how bad the air pollution is “is the prevalence of asthma in Bangkok, which has reached 15 to 20 percent in the past two decades—up from 5 percent in the 1980s. Critically high levels of chemicals like benzene from car exhaust also pose a risk for heart disease and cancer. Although it’s impossible to calculate the number of deaths caused by auto pollution, recent studies suggest that twice as many people die worldwide as a result of air pollution than traffic accidents. [Source: Adam Janofsky, The Pulitzer Center, August 14, 2012]

Pedestrians and motorcyclists on every street can be seen wearing breathing masks to reduce the risks of auto pollution, but a solution that tackles the actual problem would keep cars from idling in traffic—or reduce the total number of cars in the city. And although road congestion has been a constant talking point for both commuters and politicians over the past two decades, traffic and air pollution remain unsolved problems in Bangkok.

Bangkok policeman wear strips of cloth protecting their nose from pollution and carry oxygen bottles. In 1995, a policeman reportedly collapsed and died from breathing in noxious fumes. According to a World Bank study, pollution costs Bangkok $2 billion a year. Another study has shown that more than one million people in Bangkok suffer from allergies and upper respiratory illnesses, many caused by high level of dust in the air, much of it generated by construction projects.

If that isn't enough, Bangkok is sinking into sewage-filled canals that often overflow and flood the city in the rainy season. The city needs more sewage treatment facilities and more people cleaning out the garbage from the canals. In the early 2000s Bangkok’s sanitation budget was only $5.5 million. The city has started a campaign to get people to recycle more. It has received international aid to build two modern incinerators for waste disposal. Mass transit and other efforts to reduce traffic have also reduced air pollution somewhat. See Environment. Migration to the City: See Urban Life, Urban Poor

TOURISM INFORMATION FOR BANGKOK

Tourist Information: Tourism Authority of Thailand , Bangkok Office, First Floor, 1600 New Phetchaburi Road, Makkasan, Ratchathevi , Bangkok 10400, Tel. +66 (2) 250 5500, Fax. +66 (2) 250 5511, E-mail Address: tatbangkok@tat.or.th, Website: http://www.tourismthailand.org . The Tourism Authority of Thailand Tourist Assistance Center is at Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue (☎ 281-5051, 282-81290). There are also good tourism booths at the Bangkok airports. The office is open Monday through Friday from 8;30am to 4:30pm. The TAT Call Centre (tel: 1672) is open daily 8:00am to 8:00pm.

Tourism Police: Dial 1155 anywhere in Thailand, then press 1 for police or 2 for tourist information. The bi-lingual Tourist Police office is adjacent to the Thailand Tourism Authority office in Bangkok.

Guides: Bangkok Guide (Australian-New Zealand Women's Group) is put together by longtime residents of Bangkok and offers good insider tips on restaurants and shops. It is available at newsstands in Bangkok.

Orientation: The S-curves of the Chao Phraya River separates Bangkok to the east from Thonburi (formally a separate city but now part of Bangkok) to the west. The Grand Palace and many of Bangkok's most well-known tourist sights are grouped together on the Bangkok side of the river across from Thonburi. They are located in the old town area of Rattanakosin, which also embraces Chinatown and the Indian district. There are couple of temples in Thonburi, which has traditionally been connected to Bangkok by ferries rather bridges. A new bridge connecting the two places opened in 2002. More bridges are further upriver. One lies downriver.

Bangkok is not a good city for walking. The weather is usually hot and sticky; the city spreads out over a large area; and, with the exception of sights along the river, many points of interest are scattered around, and reaching them often requires a taxi or tuk tuk ride. Make sure to get a good map and take along the addresses of your destinations and your hotel written in Thai.

Bangkok covers 1,537 square kilometers and is made up of 24 districts (khet). The city used to be laced with canals (called klongs ) and some places still can be reached by water taxi, but don't count on it. Many of the klongs have been paved over as Bangkok has developed. The Bangkok railway line divides the older parts of Bangkok from the newer part. The city's most interesting temples, Chinatown and cheap guesthouse areas are situated inside the railway line. Most of the large modern hotels are east of the railroad line.

The two main roads in central Bangkok are Sukhumvit Road and Silom Road, which all provide the framework for Bangkok’s mass transit system: the BTS Skytrain and MRT subway. The BTS skytrain runs the length of Sukhumvit Road, a major thoroughfare where numerous hotels, shops, and restaurants are located, and travels north to Mo Chit, where there is an interchange between the BTS skytrain and the MRT subway near the northern bus terminal and the JJ Weekend Market. The other BTS/MRT interchange on this Sukhumvit Line is at Asoke station (BTS) and Sukhumvit station (MRT).

The BTS skytrain Sukhumvit Line intersects with the BTS Silom Line at Siam square, the central shopping district of the city. The BTS Silom Line passes through the major business district of the city at Sala Daeng, where it links with the MRT (Silom station), and terminates at the Chao Phraya River, where there is connective service to the city’s public boat service (Saphan Thaksin BTS station - Sathorn Pier boat station).

The major shopping, restaurant, and entertainment areas are around: 1) the sois (lanes) off Sukhumvit Road (which becomes Rama I); 2) Silom Road and Patphong Road; and 3) the upscale shopping area in the Phloen Chit-Ratchadamri District. The main backpackers area is around Khao San Road north of the Grand Palace. Nearby is Banglamphu, another budget traveler area. There aren’t many parks or green spaces in Bangkok.Klong Toey near the river is known as being the home of Bangkok’s super slum but it is a large area that is also home to Bangkok’s largest port, its planetarium, the Stock Exchange of Thailand Building and Lumpinee Boxing Stadium.

Making getting around Bangkok particularly difficult to get around in independently is the fact there are so many long, seemingly impossible-to-say names. The problem is compounded further by the inconsistency of romanised Thai spellings. The addresses are also hard to sort out and often have dashes and slashes. This is a holdover from the sale of property in lots, with the number before slashes referring the lot number and the post slash number to the buildings constructed on the lot. The lot number refer to order in which they were added to city plans, meaning that the numbers on a particular street often do not run consecutively.

The Thai word thanon means road, street or avenue. A soi is a small street or lane that runs off a larger street. A trok refers to an alley. When buying train or bus tickets or giving instruction to taxi drivers it is a good idea to have everything written down. You can either copy the Thai characters from a guide book or phrase book or get a Thai person to write them for you if you are going to be dealing with taxi and tuk tuk drivers that maybe can’t read English.Recommended maps include Nancy Chandler’s Map of Bangkok , which is chock full of interesting information about the city and is updated annually, and the Bangkok Bus Guide , which is a large, very detailed map with all the major bus routes on it (a version of this is on Wikipedia under “List of bus routes in Bangkok.”

For Other Kinds of Information such as lists of specific hotels and restaurants, tourist agencies, currency exchanges houses, post offices, telephone offices, shops, bookstores, night clubs, sports places, theaters, swimming pools, embassies, churches, and airline agents, maps, hospitals, pharmacies, car rentals and bike and moped rentals contact the Tourism Authority of Thailand, check their website or consult a guidebook.

TRANSPORTATION IN BANGKOK

Taxis, buses, tuk tuks, and motorcycle taxis are plentiful in Bangkok and in many cases cheaper than they are elsewhere in Thailand. Drivers who have at least some command of English are also more common than other places in Thailand but still it helps to have a paper with your destinations written down in Thai and English. Although they can be dangerous motorcycle taxis are often the best way to get around because they can maneuver through the gridlock traffic better than other forms of transport. For more information on urban transport them see the "Getting Around Within Cities" section.

In the early 2000s Bangkok finally opened a mass transportation system. Thailand now has two primary metropolitan rail lines, the BTS skytrain, consisting of two Green Lines (Sukhumvit and Silom) and the first of several planned MRT underground lines, the Blue Line. The Skytain covers are relatively limited area of Bangkok. Locals complain that it doesn’t go to most of the places they want to go but fortunately for visitors it does cover many of the downtown tourist destinations frequented by foreign tourists.

The new subway opened three years after the Skytrain. There are only two transfer points between the two systems which are viewed as rivals rather than partners. The subway is more ordinary than the Skytrain, lacks its views, but it clean and efficient.

Unlimited single day and various multi-day passes can be purchased for both the BTS skytrain and MRT underground, many of which are ideal for tourists wishing to explore the city, though such cards are not transferable between the two independently owned rail lines and must be purchased separately.

Several stations have walkways that lead directly to popular places such as department stores, commercial areas, and various attractions. The direction signs and announcements on both electric trains and at their stations are in Thai and English. In addition to the new mass transit system travelers can also use commuter trains and regular trains—and boats too–to get around.

Bangkok didn’t have a subway system for a long time partly the city was built on a swamp and the water table is very high, making construction and maintenance of an underground subway difficult. The State Railway of Thailand operates train services between Hua Lam Phong train station in central Bangkok and various points around the city, including stations near Don Mung Airport. Trams operate around Rattanakosin Isle near the Grand Palace area but otherwise Bangkok once extensive tram system was shut down in 1968.

The Bangkok bus system features buses of various size, type, and cost. This is due to the fact that there are both public and private city buses. Although waiting for a Bangkok bus can be a sweaty and air-polluted prospect, so can walking from A to B. If you are on a budget and don’t mind a little adventure, hopping on a bus that appears to be going your way will only cost you as little as 7 baht, (slightly more for the nicer, air conditioned ones), though the buses with perpetually open doors are easier to hop off if the bus turns off your intended course.

Bus Stations: Depending on your destination, buses leave from different terminals in Bangkok. There are three Inter-city bus terminals in Bangkok: 1) Mo Chit Bus Terminal Destinations in the central, northern, and northeastern regions; 2) Ekamai Bus Terminal Destinations in the eastern region; 3) New Southern Bus Terminal Destinations in the southern region.

In Bangkok: 1) Eastern Bus Terminal: Ekkamai Station, Tel: +66 2 391 2504. To get to Ekkamai Eastern Bus Terminal take the BTS skytrain to Ekkamai Station on Sukhumvit Road. 2) Central, Northeast, and Northern Bus Terminal: Mo Chit Station, Kamphaengphet 2 Road. Northern Buses: +66 2 936 3660, Northeastern Buses: +66 2 936 0667, Central Buses: +66 2 936 1897. To get to Mo Chit Northern/Northeastern Bus Terminal take the BTS skytrain to Mo Chit Station (terminal station). Then you can take a motorbike taxi for about 50 baht to reach the bus station. 3) Southern Bus Terminal: Sai Tai Mai Station, Boromratchchonnani Rd, Bangkok, Tel: +66 2 435 1200. To get to Sai Tai Mai Southern Bus Terminal you can take bus number 511 from Sukhumvit Road. It may be better to take a taxi as Sai Tai Mai Station is in a difficult location to find on Phutthamonthon Soi 1 in the Taling Chan district.

Train Stations: There are two train stations in Bangkok. The main Hualamphong Station, on Rama IV Road, serves destinations to the north, northeast and some destinations in the south. The Thonburi or Bangkok Nio station serves some destinations in the south. Southbound travelers make sure you go the right station. Hualamphong is almost a tourist site in its own right. It was completed in 1816 and handles more than 200 trains a day.

Mass Transit in Bangkok consist of three services: 1) the “Skytrain,” 2) the MRT subway, and 3) the Airport Link. The Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTS), or skytrain, and the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), which is the subway, are electric train systems in central Bangkok and the perimeter, whereas the electric train linking Suvarnabhumi Airport (Airport Link) is a special project to facilitate those traveling to and from Suvarnabhumi Airport, using highspeed electric trains.

BTS Skytrain is Bangkok’s $1.6 billion elevated mass transit railway. It opened in Bangkok in 2002, seven years behind schedule. It was supposed to be finished before Thailand hosted the Asian Games in 1998. But that didn't happen. The Asian economic crisis in 1997-98 slowed down its construction. When it finally did open some commuters were quite happy to have their travel time reduced from more than an hour to 10 minutes.

The BTS SkyTrain is Asia’s only mass transit system owned by a private company and one of the few mass transit system in the world to make at it as a profit-making venture. It embraces two lines and 23.5 kilometers of track. The sleek three-car electric trains are air conditioned and operated by computers. Drivers only open and close the door. The only time they drive is when there is an emeregncy. The system is operated by Bangkok Mass Transit Systems (BTSC). Initially locals complained the 10 baht tickets (about 25 cents) were too steep for short rides but ridership increased to more than 400,000 a day after the price of gasoline jumped in 2005.

SkyTrain operates 12 meters above the ground and offers fine views of the city. Built by the German company Siemens, it is modern and quiet and takes passengers across the central part of the city in less than 30 minutes at an average speed of 35 kilometers per hour and a top speed of 80 kilometers per hour.

SkyTrain runs from 6:00am to 12 midnight and stops at 26 stations. The trains arrive at the stations every five minutes and give visitors accesss to 51 major hotels, 17 department stores, 25 embassies, Dusit Zoo and Chatcuhak weekend market. The fares range between 20 cents and 90 cents, which is nothing for foreign travelers but a lot for some ordinary Thais. The BTS Skytrain One Day Tourist Pass (100 baht) and Three Day Tourist Pass (280 baht) offers unlimited rides on the Skytrain system. Buyers of the three day pass get a free Skytrain guide and map.

The BTS skytrain runs the length of Sukhumvit Road, a major thoroughfare where numerous hotels, shops, and restaurants are located, and travels north to Mo Chit, where there is an interchange between the BTS skytrain and the MRT subway near the northern bus terminal and the JJ Weekend Market. The other BTS/MRT interchange on this Sukhumvit Line is at Asoke station (BTS) and Sukhumvit station (MRT).

The BTS skytrain Sukhumvit Line intersects with the BTS Silom Line at Siam square, the central shopping district of the city. The BTS Silom Line passes through the major business district of the city at Sala Daeng, where it links with the MRT (Silom station), and terminates at the Chao Phraya River, where there is connective service to the city’s public boat service (Saphan Thaksin BTS station - Sathorn Pier boat station). BTS skytrain extensions across the river and further down Sukhumvit are planned for the near future.

Skytrain stations (with interchange or connection when applicable): 1) Sukhumvit Mo Chit MRT, Chatuchak Station, Chaloem Ratchamongkhon Route, 2) Saphan Khwai, 3) Ari, 4) Sanam Pao, 5) Victory Monument, 6) Phaya Thai Airport Link, Phaya Thai Station, 7) Ratchathewi, 8) Siam BTS, Silom Route, 9) Chit Lom, 10) Phloen Chit, 11) Nana, 12) Asok MRT, Sukhumvit Station, Chaloem Ratchamongkhon Route, 13) Phrom Phong, 14) Thong Lo, 15) Ekamai, 16) Phra Khanong, 17) On Nut, 18) Silom National Stadium, 19 ) Siam BTS, Sukhumvit Route, 20) Ratchadamri, 21) Sala Daeng MRT, Silom Station, Chaloem Ratchamongkhon Route, 22) Chong Nonsi, 23) Surasak, 24) Taksin Bridge Sathon Pier, 25) Krung Thon Buri, 26) Wongwian Yai.

Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) , or Bangkok Metro, is the first subway in Thailand. At the present time it operates one route, the Chaloem Ratchamongkhon Route, with 18 stations. Built at a cost of $2.5 billion and inaugurated by Thailand’s King Bhumibol with great fanfare in July 2004, it consists of a single line: the 21-kilometer Blue Line between terminal stations at Bang Sue and Hua Lumphong, the primary train station for journeys to destinations outside Bangkok. One reason it took so long for Bangkok to get an underground subway was because the city’s water table is so high (near ground level and far above the subway trains) and the city is prone to flooding. Before the project could be undertaken a system for pumping out the groundwater had to be developed. The Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand operates the metro service. The inaugural line will be extended in phases totaling 27 kilometers, and two future lines, totaling 67 kilometers, are planned.

Accessing different neighborhoods than the BTS Skytrain, the MRT follows Rama IV and Ratchadaphisek Roads, both of which feature a number of tourist attractions, such as the Thailand Cultural Center. However, in comparison to the more tourist-oriented districts of the BTS, the MRT destinations are still more practical for Thai commuters. The MRT has interchange stations with the BTS skytrain at Mo Chit, near the northern bus terminal and the JJ Weekend Market, on Sukhumvit Road at Asoke station (BTS) and Sukhumvit station (MRT), and on Silom Road at Sala Daeng Station (BTS) and Silom Station (MRT).

MRT stations (with interchange or connection when applicable): 1) Hua Lamphong, 2) Sam Yan, 3) Silom BTS, Sala Daeng Station, Silom Route, 4) Lumphini, 5) Khlong Toei, 6) Queen Sirikit National Convention Center, 7) Sukhumvit BTS, Asok Station, Sukhumvit Route, 8) Phetchaburi Airport Link, Makkasan Station, 9) Rama IX, 10) Thailand Cultural Center, 11) Huai Khwang, 12) Sutthisan, 13) Ratchadaphisek, 14) Lat Phrao, 15) Phahon Yothin, 16) Chatuchak Park BTS, Mo Chit Station, Sukhumvit Route, 17) Kamphaeng Phet, 18 ) Bang Sue.

Suvarnabhumi Airport Rail Link opened in August 2010. It provides train service between Suvarnabhumi Airport and downtown Bangkok at the maximum speed of 160 kilometer per hour on an elevated track parallel to the eastern railway. Two types of service are offered on the Airport Link: trains on the Airport City Line (trains with blue markings) stop at eight stations, taking 28 minutes, and the Airport Express (red markings), operates high-speed trains that run non-stop from Makkasan Station to Suvarnabhumi Airport, taking only 15 minutes. The train covers the distance of approximately 28 kilometers, passing through 8 stations. The trains operate daily from 6.00am to 12:00 midnight. For more information, check airportraillink.railway.co

Passengers who wish to travel to Suvarnabhumi Airport have three options of service: 1) SA Express, a train service that transports passenger from City Air Terminal or Makkasan Station to Suvarnabhumi Airport within 15 minutes without stopping at any station along the way. 2) SA Express, a new express route that transports passenger from Phyathai Station to Suvarnabhumi Airport within 20 minutes without stopping at any station along the way. 3) City Line, a train service that transports passengers between Phyathai Station and Suvarnabhumi Airport within 30 minutes and stops at every station long the way. It can be connected to MRT (subway) at Makkasan Station and BTS (skytrain) at Phyathai Station.

The Suvarnabhumi Airport electric train (Airport Link) has eight stations: 1) Suvarnabhumi Airport, 2) Lat Krabang, 3) Ban Thap Chang, 4) Hua Mak, 5) Ramkhamhaeng, 6) Makkasan (City Air Terminal) MRT, Phetchaburi Station, Chaloem Ratchamongkhon Route, 7) Ratchaprarop, 8) Phaya Thai BTS, Phaya Thai Station, Sukhumvit Route

Trams Trams operate around Rattanakosin Isle near the Grand Palace area but otherwise Bangkok once extensive tram system was shut down in 1968. The trams around Rattanakosin cost 20 baht for adults, 10 baht for children.

Bicycling: ABC Amazing Bangkok Cyclist Tours offers interesting tours through Bangkok’s back streets, along its canals and into the few green areas of Bangkok. Prices start at 1,500 baht for an 18 kilometer weekend tour using a sturdy hybird or Dutch-style bike. For more information vist realasia.net or call 66- (0)-2665 6364 or 66 (0) 8181-29641,

Water Travel: See the Chao Phraya River and Canals.

FAMOUS HOTELS AND ACCOMMODATION IN BANGKOK

Bangkok is home to some of the world's most famous and highly-rated hotels—including the Mandarin Oriental, the Shangri-La, the Peninsula Bangkok, the Erawan, the Hilton International, the Grand Hyatt and the Sukhothai. Other major hotels include the Royal Orchid Sheraton, the Royal Garden River Resort, the Inter-Continental. The Mandarin Oriental, Peninsula, Shangri-La and Hilton are all near the Chao Phraya River, which used to at the heart of Bangkok but now is more on the tourist fringe. There are also nice standard and tourist hotels, including a Best Western and a Holiday Inn, which are generally much better than their American counterparts.

The main backpacker area, Khao San Road, is filled with partying college-age travelers and aging hippies. Guesthouses have rooms with paper thin walls that go for as little as $5 a night. Banglamphu, another budget traveler area, is quieter, and slightly more expensive. Ten minutes away from Khao San Road by foot, it attracts an older crowd. Here on Phra Athit Road you can find pleasant guest houses that go for $20 a night and have marble floors, terraces with flowers, cable television and strong air conditioners Other popular budget hotel areas include Soi Ngam Duphil (off Rama IV Road), Sukhumvit Road, Chinatown-Hualamphong Station and Siam Square (See Below).

The tourist office in Bangkok and the hotel information desk at the airport can help you book a room in a top-end or tourist hotel. The tourist information desk at the airport can provide you with some leads of cheap hotels. The Lonely Planet and Rough Guide books have lists and descriptions of cheap guesthouses.

Famous Hotels in Bangkok: The Peninsula hotel as been voted the No. 1 Hotel in Asia and second best in the world in Travel and Leisure’s reader survey. Editors at Travel and Leisure like the Sukhothai, with its 13th-century style bas reliefs and restaurant comprised of two pavilion set in a lotus pond. The Mandarin Oriental was a favorite of celebrities like Liz Taylor and Michael jackson. The Royal Orchid Sheraton and Shangri-La Hotel have also ranked high in Travel and Leisure surveys.

Travel and Leisure’s top hotels in Thailand in 2013: 1) The Peninsula Bangkok in Bangkok (95.72,No. 11 in the world ); 2) Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok in Bangkok (95.04, No. 18 in the world); 5) Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel & Towers in Bangkok (90.78); 6) Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok (90.46); 7) Shangri-La Hotel, Bangkok (90.42); 8) Sukhothai in Bangkok (90.35); 9) Lebua at State Tower in Bangkok (89.41); 11) JW Marriott, Bangkok (88.00);

Bangkok’s famous hotels have also ranked high in the Condé Nast Traveler reader poll on the world's best hotels. And what’s really great about them is relative to other famous hotels they are not all that expensive. Susan Spano wrote in the Los Angeles Times, on the Condé Nast Asia list, “eight of the highest-rated hotels were in Bangkok, second only to Hong Kong, which had nine places that rated five stars. On a lark, I priced rooms in both places. At the time, the least expensive double at the fabled Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong cost $552 a night; in Bangkok, the Peninsula was $275. The Four Seasons in Hong Kong, $514. But in Bangkok $281. In every case, the rates for five-star hotels in Bangkok were substantially lower than in Hong Kong and sometimes on par with those at three- and four-star hotels in New York and London. [Source: Susan Spano, Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2008]

The Peninsula Hotel (on the banks of the Chao Phraya river opposite the Mandarin Oriental) has been voted the No. 1 Hotel in Asia and second best in the world in Travel and Leisure’s reader survey (in the 2012 poll it ranked 11th in the world.Susan Span wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Part of an elite hotel chain with headquarters in Hong Kong, it is housed in a skyscraper that looks unimpressive when you approach by car. That's because the automobile entrance is at the back door; the hotel actually fronts on the Chao Phraya River, with two low wings on either side of the main building. An alfresco cafe and orchid-festooned Thai restaurant face the waterfront, along with a pier. From there, guests who want to sightsee are carried to the busier east side of the river by a fleet of elegant hotel barges. [Source: Susan Spano, Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2008]

When I arrived, the Peninsula's liveried doormen pressed their palms together, bowed, then took my luggage. A front-desk clerk gave me a little loop of jasmine and walked me to my room on the eighth floor, where my bags soon magically reappeared. The room had a sitting area, desk and plush bed with a console of switches like something at Cape Canaveral for operating the lights, TV, air conditioning and draperies. At the far end of the room were a sliding glass door opening onto a balcony above the river and the entrance to the changing room and bathroom. The décor was tasteful but muted, with a few Thai accents including celadon vases, but nothing flashy. It reminded me of a family friend's Upper East Side apartment, the same building where Jackie Kennedy Onassis lived.

I had an aromatherapy massage at the ESPA Spa, the Peninsula's only false note. It shares congested locker rooms with the health club. And although the massage was good, I must have slipped between the cracks because the masseuse was 30 minutes late. Afterward, I dined at the riverfront Thiptara restaurant, beginning with a delectable shrimp and grapefruit salad, followed by barbecued chicken in coconut sweet-and-sour sauce. When I woke up the next day, I had only to reach for the console by the bed to open the drapes, revealing the morning show on the Chao Phraya, plied by long, low cargo barges, high-speed motorboats, lumbering water taxis and hotel ferries. The room-service waiter who brought me breakfast didn't just roll in the trolley, he also volunteered to bring me hot water and lemon when I told him I had a cold.

At the three-tiered swimming pool -- my favorite in Bangkok, with peak-roofed, wooden lounging cabanas that have ceiling fans and Thai murals -- an attendant asked whether I wanted the sun or shade and how long I planned to stay. Then he chose a chaise positioned according to my preferences, factoring in the changing angle of the sun. In the end, the Peninsula reminded me of why I dream about staying at luxury hotels. It's the craving for a place where everything is in perfect working order -- sort of the way I envision heaven.

The Sukhothai has the advantage of being located right in the heart of downtown Bangkok rather than on its fringes. Span wrote: Tourists passing through Bangkok may be happiest in a hotel by the delightful Chao Phraya. But for high rollers who want to be closer to the city's business districts, there is the Sukhothai. The standard room I had reserved wasn't available, the front-desk clerk told me, so I was upgraded to an executive suite that had two bathrooms, a living room and a desk with an Internet port, fax machine, speed dials on the phone for Sprint and MCI and a drawer full of office supplies. [Source: Susan Spano, Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2008]

Sitting there like the chairman of the board, I looked past the sitting area to a 32-inch flat-screen TV that swiveled 360 degrees, meaning I could watch "CSI: Miami" reruns from my workstation or from the regally appointed, achingly comfortable king-size bed beyond. The décor was all cinnamon-colored wood and silk in bronze and olive green, mirrored panels I kept walking into and beautiful Thai terra-cotta reliefs. Everything was cool, masculine and powerful, right down to the bathroom's extra-long tub, tapered at head and foot, with a headrest, golden taps out of which water gushed and a little rubber ducky to unlock the child in the chief executive.

Rooms at the Sukhothai are set around a water garden off the lobby and shopping arcade. When I went exploring along a maze of corridors, I found pacific reflecting pools decorated with Southeast Asian statuary and a lobby bar lined by old Thai temple doors. There's a Sotheby's on the second floor, a swimming pool, a smallish health club and a new spa where a pedicurist used a bamboo fan to dry my freshly polished toenails.

But the Sukhothai's best amenity is its Celadon restaurant, ensconced in a handsome, low building surrounded by lotus pools. I sat by the window studying a menu that was filled with impossible-sounding combinations I wanted to try (deep-fried cotton fish with green mango). I chose blue crab in curry sauce with saffron rice. Businessmen at the next table were enjoying their meals while discussing mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures.

Four Seasons Bangkok is not a resort hotel likes its cousin in Chiang Mai but is still quite nice all the same. Span wrote in the Los Angeles Times: I had high expectations because I had visited the Four Seasons Chiang Mai and found it blissful. But the Four Seasons Bangkok is a city hotel without the magic of the northern Thai hill country. Its magisterial entrance, bordered by statues of kneeling elephants, is across from the Royal Bangkok Sports Club on wide Rajadamri Road, canopied by the elevated light railroad, or Skytrain. It's convenient to shopping centers and other international hotels, including the InterContinental and Grand Hyatt. [Source: Susan Spano, Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2008]

The clerks at registration spoke perfect business English, without the shyness and hesitance that characterized the service at the Peninsula. Together with the information desk for people on Princess Cruises, I felt as though I was in a big, impersonal Western chain hotel, albeit a ritzy one. The high-ceilinged white lobby with marble balustrades around the mezzanine and a combo playing old Western standards seemed an irresistible place to lay down my shopping bags and order a Maker's Mark Manhattan on the rocks with a twist of lemon. The waitress said they didn't have Maker's Mark, so I had to make do with a Belvedere martini.

Again I was upgraded -- though I did not identify myself as a travel writer -- from a standard to a deluxe room off a corridor running around one of the hotel's courtyards. It had a rich wood-lined entryway and an inviting king-size bed with a Thai mural for a headboard and a blood-red silk runner -- nice but not distinctive. I caught some late-afternoon sun at the large, rectangular pool in a manicured enclave at the back of the hotel, then had a 60-minute Thai massage in the health club for about $40. The 90-minute version offered at the spa cost about $100. The regimen started with a stint in the club's lemon grass-scented steam room, followed by the kind of massage you can't get anywhere but in Thailand. A petite body worker, poised on the table, did things to my lower back that I could feel in my fingers.

Dinner in the hotel's Spice Market restaurant followed. It was a Thai classic starting with beef, chicken and shrimp satay. Then I dived into the dish of pad Thai I had been craving since I arrived in Bangkok. It was excellent. Afterward, I slept like a baby, although the next morning I was disappointed to have to choose between juice and fresh fruit when ordering the continental room-service breakfast.

Shangri-la Hotel has a reputation for being the best value of Bangkok’s regal hotel but skimps a little on the amenities. Span wrote: At places like these you get spoiled, critical and demanding, even when you know you're getting a good deal, as I was at the Shangri-La, where my double cost $195, a little more than half the price at the Oriental. Nevertheless, I glared at the front-desk clerk when she told me the only available nonsmoking room on a high floor had two queen beds instead of a king. The décor was generic, and the bath was just a bath, with no luxurious features. A sign said if I wanted a makeup mirror, I would have to call housekeeping. [Source: Susan Spano, Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2008]

The Shangri-La is in a pair of high-rise buildings on the east side of the river, near the Oriental. A portrait of Thailand's king encased in bright gold greets guests in the lobby, which is huge and busy, with the air of a convention hotel. If you went straight to your room and didn't look around, you wouldn't know that the far building, reached by a long, curving shopping arcade, is much more luxurious than the main one. The Krungthep Wing, as it's called, has its own bucolic swimming pool and Chi Spa, where I had a dreamy facial.

By dinner time, I was feeling less fussy and a meal in the riverside Salathip restaurant further improved my mood. The restaurant is set in a traditional wooden building surrounded by romantic verandas where guests watch breathtakingly costumed Thai dancers perform between courses -- in my case, prawn with chili dip to start, followed by peppery sautéed duck. The next morning by the pool, reality sank in, partly because my last five-star day in Bangkok had dawned, and because I started talking to an English couple living in Shanghai. They loved the Shangri-La and always spent Christmas holidays here. You just can't beat it for the price, they said. The price. Now I remember. It has to do with that thing you must pay when you check out. When I looked at it that way, the Shangri-La rose to the top.

MANDARIN ORIENTAL HOTEL

MANDARIN ORIENTAL HOTEL (on the banks of the Chao Phraya river opposite the Peninsula) has been rated as the "Finest Hotel in the World" and is known in Bangkok as the "Grand Lady of the Chao Phraya." Founded in 1876 and rebuilt 1947, it has been written about by Joseph Conrad, Noel Coward and Rudyard Kipling. In Gentleman in the Parlor , Somerset Maugham recalls what a lovely time he had recovering from malaria there the hotel.

Michael Jackson liked to stay there when he was in Bangkok. Other famous guests over the years have included Graham Greene, John Le Carre, Elizabeth Taylor, Sylvester Stallone, French President Jaques Chirac, U.S. President George Bush, Prince Charles, Princess Dianna, Barbara Cartland and Harrod's owner Mohammed Al Fayed.

The Mandarin Oriental Hotel is owned by the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. The first hotel in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group was the Mandarin, Hong Kong, currently the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, established by the British corporation Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd. in 1963. In 1974, it bought Thailand's prestigious Oriental Bangkok Hotel, currently the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok.These two hotels are the group's flagships, even though the group boasts 28 hotels. The Mandarin Oriental hotels are also known for their high-quality restaurants. According to the 2012 Michelin Guide, 11 of the hotels' restaurants garnered a total of 14 stars. At the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, the French restaurant Signature and the Cantonese restaurant Sense each received one star. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 22, 2012]

The Oriental has ranked forth in Condé Nast Traveler reader's poll for best hotels in the world and ranked no. 1 in Travel and Leisure's list of the ten best hotels in Asia. Among the other awards it has won are "World's Favorite Individual Hotel" (Business Traveler, U.S.), "Best Business Hotel in the World" (Business Traveler, Germany), and "World's Best Room Service" (Gourmet Magazine).

Susan Span wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The Peninsula and the Oriental gaze jealously across the river at each other. They are similar, but the Oriental has something the Peninsula doesn't: history. The Oriental was established in 1876, about the time Anna was waltzing with the king of Siam, and in the ensuing years, the hotel earned a reputation as one of the world's best. Nothing remains of the original colonnaded Italian Renaissance Revival building. But if you walk through the glitzy contemporary lobby, you end up in the Authors' Lounge on the first floor of the restored oldest wing of the hotel, a yellow and green-trimmed colonial-style building that dates to 1887. [Source: Susan Spano, Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2008]

With its potted bamboo, white wicker and vintage photos of Thai royalty, the Authors' Lounge is a divine place for high tea. The traditional afternoon set begins with a little scoop of green lime and gin sorbet, followed by a three-tiered silver serving tray full of delights: miniature scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, salmon and cucumber finger sandwiches, shortbread cookies, English fruitcake, berry tartlets After tea, I went to my room on the 15th floor. At 430 square feet, it wasn't as spacious as the one at the Peninsula and its view wasn't as nice. But it was more elaborately decorated with silk pillows, Thai paintings and other traditional crafts. Shortly after I walked in, a butler appeared and asked whether he could unpack my things. I declined, embarrassed by my ratty clothes.

When I went out to explore, I found Bangkok's old Assumption Cathedral, the French Embassy and handsomely restored O.P. Place shopping center on the same alleyway as the hotel. There was more street life than on the Peninsula side of the river: fruit stands, silk shops, tailors, Thai tourists wearing yellow polo shirts to honor the king and a queue of tuk-tuk tricycle taxis whose motors sputtered. Even in the cooler month of December, Bangkok is like a perpetual hot flash, so I retreated to the Oriental's infinity lounging pool. Together with a 25-meter lap pool, it is cupped in the garden on the river side of the hotel.

Nearby, guests catch hotel ferries that cross the Chao Phraya to the Oriental's lovely garden annex, where there is a full range of resort facilities: a health club with tennis courts, a jogging track and yoga classes, a Thai restaurant and dance theater, beautifully appointed cooking school and sumptuous spa. My flawlessly executed body wrap started with a tamarind-honey scrub and sesame-milk mask.

The unguents made me hungry, so I recrossed the river and took a table at the Riverside Terrace, which serves a lavish dinner barbecue buffet for about $70 a person. There were salads, Arabic meze, a made-to-order sushi station and tandoori oven. Chefs grilled prawns and crab and carved a big joint of roast lamb. I ate as much as I could, eyed a chocolate profiterole but gave it up. When I returned to my room, my bed had been turned down. A boo kilometers ark, placed on my pillow, bore a quote from Somerset Maugham: "Excess on occasion is exhilarating. It prevents moderation from acquiring the deadening effect of habit."

Stories of Famous People at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel: Denis D. Gray of AP wrote: Charming a fuming Elizabeth Taylor, personally snipping a British duke's hair or catering to the refined palates of Cambodia's murderous Khmer Rouge leaders. It was all in a day's work for Kurt Wachtveitl, as he looks back on 41 years running one of the world's fabled hotels, not with nostalgic tears but plenty of juicy tales and trenchant thoughts about how Bangkok's Oriental Hotel got to be so good. A legend himself among the international hotel fraternity, the 72-year-old Wachtveitl, who retired in 2009, having amassed awards for the five-star hotel as well as an endless roster of famous and rich, albeit not always agreeable, guests.

"She treated me like a dog. You remember guests who are really terrible," says the suave German-born hotelier, recalling how Hollywood superstar Taylor blew up because the hotel's best room, the Oriental Suite, happened to be booked when she checked in. The two had met before, when he worked at a hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland, where actor Richard Burton would meet Taylor for trysts. "Usually they drank vodka by the bottle. Burton at 3 o'clock in the morning would fall down the staircase dreadfully drunk, crawling through the lobby," says Wachtveitl. Taylor would moan "Richard, Richard" as he drove off to his wife and Wachtveitl was left with helping the star to her room.[Source: Denis D. Gray, AP, June 14, 2009]

Back at the Oriental, the silver-haired Wachtveitl (pronounced Wacht-why-tell) managed to calm the actress down â and she even became an ally in 1993 when one of her best pals, rock star Michael Jackson, was holed up in the hotel and refused to give a concert to which thousands had already bought tickets. Taylor flew from California and persuaded Jacko, who had just been hit with child sex abuse allegations, to perform. "Celebrities are all easy to deal with if you do everything they want," mused Wachtveitl recently. "If something goes against them, hell will break loose."

Established in 1876 by two Danish sea captains, the Oriental's A-list crowd in the early days included Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling. They lived in what is now the colonial-style Author's Wing, the original part of the hotel above which towers the 10-story River Wing, completed in 1976. The likes of Princess Diana, Mick Jagger, Sean Connery, George W. Bush, David Beckham and Elton John were pampered and placated during the Wachtveitl years, which began in 1967 when he took over the Oriental after hotel school in Switzerland, where he fell in love with his Thai wife-to-be â and stints at several European hotels.

Given a free hand by the local owners, the eager 30-year-old transformed the hotel, which then had atmosphere and decay in equal parts, into what the New York-based Institutional Investor voted as the world's best hotel for 10 years running. His formula for success: a rigorous focus on his guests and staff. The Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok, as it is now formally known, maintains a database of some 40,000 guests â listing their minutest preferences, pet peeves and sometimes how their stays didn't go quite right. One senior executive was recently amazed, Wachtveitl relates, when on arrival he was greeted with an apology for a water problem in his room a decade ago, and upgraded to a suite. "You win a person like this forever. I guarantee you," he says, noting that repeat guests make up 50 percent of the hotel's clientele, with a new generation following parents who remembered the Oriental so fondly.

There are some guest requests the hotel can't manage ("A few are better forgotten," Kurt notes), but when the Duke of Bedford's wife wanted a less conservative look for her husband and heard that Wachtveitl cut his own hair, he brought out the scissors. He also obliged when Naomi Campbell demanded he personally wake the supermodel up with a morning call. The staff didn't skip a beat when Khieu Samphan and other ultra-communist Khmer Rouge leaders, now facing trial for genocide, demanded the very best in food and wine at the hotel's "Lord Jim" restaurant. "The staff is the pillar of the Oriental. Without them we are nothing. We became a big family," says Wachtveitl of his 1,150 employees who, as guests frequently attest, have acquired Germanic efficiency without losing their natural Thai warmth. "The staff considers the Oriental as a lifetime job, as it was in Europe some 100 years ago or in Japan some 40 to 50 years ago," he says. In a Thai industry where staff flit from one hotel to another, the average Oriental employee stays more than 16 years.

Wachtveitl subscribes to the old-fashioned way of doing things, as his successor, who previously ran a hotel in Washington D.C., discovered. "He can't believe that I don't have a computer in my office, or a Blackberry, or whatever it's called," he says. "The old way is if I want to see an engineer, the pastry chef or a housekeeper I go there, sit down and have a chat. If there is something with a guest you pick up the phone and call them, you don't send an e-mail."

Wachtveitl says his view of the industry is exactly the reverse of many of today's executives, especially the Americans who obsess about the bottom line, stress fancy marketing and cut staff at the drop of a GDP point. "I always looked at business at the Oriental from a service point of view. If we give every client pleasure and we make him happy, he will come back here again, then automatically the bottom line will be OK," he says.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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