The Great Escape: Month 58 Roundup

Oh, my monthly roundups. They are so ridiculously out of sync with real time now (this post is basically one year late, ha ha) that I recently considered axing the series, but I decided to play catch up instead — so brace yourself for a couple of these coming up! However, now that I’m writing on multiple timelines they do serve as a nice roadmap of my archives for those who want to follow my travels chronologically.

Apologies for the delay, but I suppose better is late than never… right? 😛

3-devide-lines

Looking back (way way back, at this point!) this was just one of my favorite months ever. Frankly, none of these travels felt wildly exotic — I was exploring my own backyard, in a way, of my adopted part-time home in Thailand. But I got to travel with some of my favorite people, discover new corners of one of my favorite places, and mostly enjoy the fruits of seeds I planted here in Thailand years ago — a close-knit circle of friends, exciting professional opportunities, and an island I love to come home to.

Where I’ve Been

• Two nights on my Thailand Wine Tour

• Three nights in Bangkok

• Three nights in Hua Hin

• Two nights in Khao Sok

• Seventeen nights on Koh Tao

Khao Yai Travel Blog

Highlights

• Hostel highs! We kicked off our wine trip with a night on Khao San Road, where I discovered an awesome new hostel. I’m so excited to have a great place to recommend in Bangkok’s backpacker epicenter! It’s called Nitan Hostel (we booked through Airbnb so we could use my $35 discount code) and we managed to fill a ten person dorm, essentially making it a private room.

• All the wine! My Thailand Wine Tour was an absolute victory. Huzzah. It was my favorite trip I’ve taken in a long time — a challenge and adventure to plan, and unbelievably rewarding to execute. I’m blessed with the most amazing group of friends and getting to explore a totally new destination together in a country we call home (at least part-time, in my case!) is a memory I’ll treasure. Especially a destination as beautiful and peaceful as this one. All three wineries were totally unique and lovable in their own ways. Granmonte was so special for the beautiful grounds, amazing restaurant, and the fact that it’s a family business helmed by a woman. PB Valley was a legend for letting us pick our own grapes! And Alcidini was a crazy cute family run vineyard with an emphasis on organic. And again, Airbnb killed it — we loved kicking back in our enormous rental house in the countryside.

• Our skyline suite! A few hectic days in Bangkok were made heavenly by the fact that we had a plush suite at the Amari Watergate to call home — considering we had fourteen friends (!) in Bangkok at the time, it provided the perfect ground zero for our group, especially when we learned that we’d accidentally planned a birthday bar crawl on the holiest Buddhist day of the year, when alcohol sales are banned — oops. Hotel suite party it is!

• Spa time! It’s no secret that I love me some spa sessions, and Bangkok was no exception. I treated Janine and I to a spa package at the Breeze Spa in Bangkok and I am now their most loyal fan ever. Mango sticky rice fans, treat yourself to the mango sticky rice scrub — I’m now hooked on the stuff from the spa’s gift shop and feel like I’m eating dessert every time I take a shower.

• Bangkok eats! As always, a combo of new discoveries and old classics. This time it was a big group dinner at Peppina, a chic pizza restaurant I’d long been dying to try, and a much-anticipated ice cream at Coldstone, a serious guilty please from the US with outposts in Bangkok.

• Beach bumming! Ian and I were the worst tourists ever in Hua Hin and I didn’t care — we had the most adorbs hotel ever to hang in. The beach there was unlike any other I’ve seen in Thailand, with wild waves and a strong salty smell that reminds me of the beaches of my childhood. This charming mainland beach city felt like a different country from the sultry tropical island we live on — and we loved it!

• ….and more win! Hua Hin Hills was the most scenic vineyard yet. Now that I’ve got four Thai wineries under my belt, I think I’ll have to just keep going until I hit them all.

• Khao Freakin’ Sok! This Thai National Park has been top-of-my list for a while now, and so I couldn’t jump out of my seat fast enough to accept when Elephant Hills, Thailand’s first luxury tented camp, reached out to invite me there. Janine and I played with elephants, wore matching ranger shirts, slept in a tent floating on a lake, learned the fascinating history of the park, and relished the rare joy of being out of cell service. It was an awesome little friend-cation too.

• Enjoying life back on Koh Tao! It’s easy to fall into a routine of working obsessively when I get back to Koh Tao after a trip, but if there’s one thing that can peel me away from my laptop it’s a yoga class. Over one fabulous weekend, I did back to back weekend workshops — an acro afternoon at Grounded followed by a day of inversions at Ocean Sound. Double score!

• Tackling a new hike! After one previous failed attempt, this was the month I finally conquered the Dusit Buncha route. Considering we had no directions and were basically feeling our way through the jungle, it was an enormous accomplishment! And this reminds me, I need to hit that trail again soon…

• Trapeze in the breeze! Another fun physical challenge this month? Getting back on the trapeze rig. I had so much fun swinging among the palm trees…

• Boozin’ on the beach! Always one of my favorite activities. Sadly, the amazing establishment that served actual craft cocktails (as opposed to crappy piña coladas) on the beach during the day was short-lived on Koh Tao — but we really enjoyed it while it lasted.

• St Paddy’s Day! It’s always a super-fun holiday on Koh Tao, and last year was no exception.

• House of Cards! Yes, the release of a new season of House of Cards was one of the highlights of my month. What is the purpose of renting a long-term apartment with a couch if not to binge-watch an entire Netflix series upon it?

Bangkok Travel Blog

Lowlights and Lessons

• Our wine trip driver. Seriously, he was hilariously bad. He missed every turn, ignored all our Google Maps traffic warnings, and put us hours behind schedule. But he was a pretty good sport about having a dozen rowdy farang in the van, so we gave him a big tip despite our dozens of internal eyerolls.

• Rooftop bar rules. Nothing annoys me more than Bangkok’s obsession with footwear. Our group was turned away from a rooftop bar because a few of the crew were wearing stylish dress Havaianas, while frumpy looking tourists wearing Crocs were ushered right in because their toes were covered. Hello, is this the fashion police? I’d like to report a crime against HUMANITY!

• Janine’s birthday disaster (turned not-at-all-disaster). Yes, we were bummed when we discovered we’d planned a massive birthday bar crawl for Thailand’s one single day of no alcohol sales. Ha ha. But it turned out beautifully — we stocked up on booze the day before and had a tipsy night of cake and champagne in our hotel suite instead. More quality time together, less overpriced cocktails in bars, and more hours in our sweet suite? It ended up a massive win in my book. Oops — I guess that’s not really a lowlight.

• Getting my Brazilian visa. O. M. G. You guys. That was a mission! I’ve always had empathy for those who have to fight through red tape to nab a visa for every country they want to travel to before, but now I have SERIOUS RESPECT for those people. I couldn’t believe the amount of paperwork (and, um, money) that I had to compile and confusion I had to work through in order to prepare my application. And I was shocked by the interrogation I received at the embassy in Bangkok when I went to submit it! When I realized I had forgotten to copy my passport and politely asked for a copy, I seriously thought my application might be denied based on the vitriolic response I received. Obrigada, Brazil, for letting me in!

• Getting to Hua Hin. Ha ha, yeah we messed up — we just rocked up to the train station expecting to waltz into a second class train seat and found that the only remaining tickets were for third class wooden benches. The next five hours were a hazy hell of profuse sweat, sore bums and jostling our belongings around to make room for an ever-increasing crush of humans. I’ve enjoyed the third class train ticket in Thailand before, but it’s a strict no-go for me from here forward for rides of more than two hours.

• Missing the wine bus in Hua Hin. Then leaving my wine in Hua Hin. Ha ha, we had some vino-related snafus in Hua Hin. First, we missed the shuttle to Hua Hin Hills vineyard, forcing us to pay for a more expensive private taxi (not the biggest deal ever). Then I left my three new bottles of wine at our hotel before heading to the train station, forcing me to pay to have them shipped to Koh Tao (that hurt a little.) Frankly, I think I was starting to get stressed about my work backlog at this point in the trip and so I was letting little things get to me. Ah well, all’s well that ends… soaked in wine.

• Leaving Khao Sok. Oh, how I wish we’d had one more night at Rainforest Camp! Then, that trip truly would have been perfect.

Hua Hin Travel Blog

LOLs

“Because France.” Oh, how we still laugh about this! At Granmonte Winery, our adorable young guide was making an impressive effort to give the vineyard tour in two languages.

However, as one point, she became exasperated trying to explain why their sparkling wine product could not be called champagne, and after stammering a bit finally gave up and spat out, “…because France.” Everyone onboard, including the guide herself, doubled over with laugher and “because France” has become our crew’s catchphrase for “ugh, well, you know and I know you know, so why bother explaining it” ever since.

Best and Worst Beds of the Month

Best: I’m pretty torn — our chic beachside design hotel in Hua Hin or our barefoot luxury floating tent in Khao Sok? Both basically blew my mind.

Worst: Didn’t have a bad one — what a blessing!

Best and Worst Meals of the Month

Best: Vincotto. Can’t beat a three-course meal at a winery topped off with grape cheesecake. You just can’t. (Although the next day’s lunch at a castle in Khao Yai definitely made an effort to.) Come to think of it, homemade dinner prepared by friends in our Airbnb didn’t suck either. Basically, we ate well that weekend.

Worst: Again, I can’t remember anything that stands out as unpleasant. Dang, it was a great month!

What Was Next

A low-key final month on Koh Tao and Koh Samui… and then off to Brazil!

Khao Sok Travel Blog

Thanks for looking (way!) back over my shoulder with me.

Since I left home for my Great Escape, I’ve been doing monthly roundups of my adventures filled with anecdotes, private little moments, and thoughts that are found nowhere else on this blog. As this site is not just a resource for other travelers but also my own personal travel diary, I like to take some time to reflect on not just what I did, but how I felt. You can read my previous roundups here.

A Bangkok Birthday Bash at the Amari Watergate

It will come as no surprise to long term readers that I never miss a chance to spend a weekend in The Big Mango. As much as I love my island life in Thailand, I can’t seem to stay away from this city.

Amari Watergate Bangkok HotelPhoto by Leah Davis

Bangkok Birthday Bash

After wine weekend in Khao Yai wrapped up, I’d planned to squirrel my Koh Tao BFF Janine off to Bangkok for a girly weekend of yoga, massage and brunches. Of course, in true Thailand fashion, pretty soon not only was the entire wine weekend crew sticking around, but a few others were coming to join too. The more the merrier — we ended up with a group of fourteen!

Our base camp (for ten of us, anyway) was the Amari Watergate, a hotel I’d actually been to before for a midnight fun run a few years prior — but never actually stayed in. I’d met some of the Amari crew at TBEX Bangkok at the end of 2015 and I was looking forward to taking them up on their offer to check out some of their hotels — starting with the Amari Watergate.

Amari Watergate Bangkok Hotel

Amari Watergate Bangkok Hotel

Amari Watergate Bangkok HotelPhoto by Leah Davis

Amari Watergate Bangkok HotelPhoto by Leah Davis

Janine and I were spoiled rotten with an Executive Suite on the club level, with our friends checking into various other room categories. We loved having so much space for our crew to drop in and out as they pleased!

Note: Tragically, I lost all my photos from the day we checked in due to a serious of technological mishaps. Luckily, my friends Leah from The Sweetest Way and Kate from Adventurous Kate have both stayed at the Amari as well and generously offered to let me swipe some of their room photos — check out their posts for even more angles of this beautiful hotel!

Amari Watergate Bangkok HotelPhoto by Kate McCulley

Amari Watergate Bangkok HotelPhoto by Kate McCulley

Amari Watergate Bangkok HotelPhoto by Leah Davis

I was almost a little sad we had such a busy three nights planned — I wouldn’t have minded just kicking it in this room for seventy-two hours. I mean, can you blame me? Just check out that tub!

Amari Watergate Bangkok HotelPhoto by Kate McCulley

Amari Watergate Bangkok HotelPhoto by Kate McCulley

One of the perks of being on the club level was a daily happy (two!) hours during which we could sip on complimentary wine, cocktails, and beer, and nibble on free snacks. It was a really nice perk, and a lovely way to kick off the evening. And we never went thirsty — at any time of day we could pop by the lounge and grab complimentary sodas, juices, tea and coffee.

Amari Watergate Bangkok Hotel

Amari Watergate Bangkok Hotel

There was also a standard happy hour down by the pool which we checked out as well. The Amari Watergate pool is unlike any other I’ve been to in Bangkok, which tend to be sleek, rooftop infinity affairs. The lagoon-style here was a refreshing change.

Amari Watergate Bangkok Hotel

And yet I think the best thing about the Amari at any room level (aside from the gym and spa, which I’ll get to soon!) is the location. The Amari Watergate is across the street from some of the best shopping in Bangkok, from the high-end malls of Siam to the market-like Platinum Center where clothes and accessories can be snapped up at wholesale prices, and the overwhelming Pantip Center where electronics can be had for a song.

On our first night back in Bangkok we took advantage of our location to stroll across the street and meet our friends staying elsewhere at Red Sky bar, the dramatic rooftop of the Central World Mall. I’d been here once before and loved the wild, color-changing arch and was excited to show it to the soon-to-be birthday girl. Unfortunately, we hit a snag.

Red Sky Bar Bangkok

Bangkok bars are obsessed with footwear, and it’s not unusual for a hostess to shamelessly lean right over the podium to see what’s on your feet before so much as saying hello to you. Flip flops are often not allowed, regardless of the fact that they are pretty much the standard issue uniform of Southeast Asia. So despite the fact that we were dressed to the nines, the Red Sky team wouldn’t allow our group onto the roof since a few of the girls had on nice pairs of Havianas — even when we offered to get bottle service. Oh well.

They generously allowed us to spend our money in the downstairs bar, however. Since we was wearing sandals, Janine and I went to the roof to have on drink and grab our friends who were already there to bring them downstairs. And that’s when I got really riled up, guys… because I saw people in CROCS AND ZIP OFF PANTS. You want to class the place up a bit and draw the hard line on high-end, designer metallic flip flops? Fine, fair enough. But you simply cannot then allow Croc-clad tourists in adventure vests to waltz around the place like it’s fashion week!

At least you all know what to pack now to get past the doorman at Red Sky.

Red Sky Bar Bangkok

Back at Amari the next morning, the birthday girl and I enjoyed breakfast in the exclusive Executive Lounge and laughed over our misadventures from the night before. The city views were almost as delicious as the crazy breakfast spread before us. We also discussed our plans for the day, since we’d learned a little too late that our big dreams for the day were definitely not going to happen.

You see, the Buddhist calendar in Thailand is chock full of days when alcohol sales are somewhat restricted, and they are tough to keep track of since the dates are based on the lunar calendar and thus change every year. With most of them, however, you can find a drink if you’re desperate at hotel bars and fine restaurants and certain above-the-law establishments. There are one or two however, that are so important that not a single bar dares keep its doors open. And as we’d discovered with just two days warning, Janine’s birthday was one of them this year. Whoops.

Amari Watergate Bangkok Hotel

Amari Watergate Bangkok Hotel

Amari Watergate Bangkok Hotel

So that day, with our dreams of mimosas at a favorite brunch café crushed, we decided to head to the mall and to the movies. After some shopping and food court hopping, Ian and I were quick to recommend our new obsession the Blue Ribbon Theater. For many of our friends it was their first time at the best screen scene in Bangkok, and we loved showing them the ropes! While I wasn’t a fan of the movie the group decided on — Deadpool, ugh — I still had a blast. Once you go Blue, you never go back.

Blue Ribbon Theater Bangkok

Blue Ribbon Theater Bangkok

Blue Ribbon Theater Bangkok

Back at the suite, we toasted to our good fortune. Sure, it wasn’t the birthday we’d planned (which had involved a river-side beer garden and a ride around the ferris wheel at Asiatique!) but we couldn’t have been luckier with our Plan B. We were in beautiful suite surrounded by good friends, cake, a gorgeous city skyline and the cases of wine and champagne we’d stocked up on the night before. In retrospect, we couldn’t have asked for a better night.

Bangkok Birthday

Bangkok Birthday

Bangkok Birthday

The next morning, Janine and I were up early to hit the gym and relax at the spa… basically, to start her next spin around the sun in style.

Now, I’m not being hyperbolic when I saw that the Amari Watergate has perhaps the most extensive gym at any hotel I’ve ever stayed at… possibly anywhere. An enormous weights room, a bocce ball court, and ten classes per week were all on the menu, though sadly the class we rose for happened to be cancelled that morning. But as a group exercise addict I was serially impressed to see a schedule with classes in step, aero boxing, yoga, aerobics, and more.

Amari Watergate Bangkok Gym

Amari Watergate Bangkok Gym

After our workout, we made our way to the Breeze Spa. Janine and I have a regular weekly spa date, and so it was only fitting that for her birthday trip we took our usual routine and cranked it up a notch.

After much deliberation we chose the Lift Off Package, which included an hour long massage, a fifteen minute foot ritual, and a forty-five minute wrap or scrub. The treatments started with an energizing juice shot and a cool towel as we tested various massage oils and scrubs — I went with the mango sticky rice scrub and I was so infatuated with it I bought not one but two bottles of the stuff on the way out. As much as I love spa outing I literally never buy the products, so this was a huge deal.

Breeze Spa at Amari Watergate

Breeze Spa at Amari Watergate

Breeze Spa at Amari Watergate

Our treatments were fantastic! And on the way out, we had more treats waiting for us — hot teas and green tea macarons. Yum! Hands down, I think this was my highlight of the weekend. I loved having some solo girl time in a busy few days full of friends and frenzy, and I absolutely adored the entire Breeze experience, from the chic branding to the good-enough-to-eat products to the quality of the treatments.

Even if I was staying elsewhere, I’d come back to the Amari just for treatments at Breeze. It’s my new go-to in Bangkok when I’m looking for something a little more special that a cheap streetside foot rub.

Breeze Spa at Amari Watergate

Breeze Spa at Amari Watergate

Breeze Spa at Amari Watergate

That night, we caught back up with the full crew again for dinner at a restaurant I’d long awaited a visit to — Peppina. There are a couple outposts of the chic eatery now, but we headed to the flagship location on Sukhumvit Soi 33. The speciality of the house is Neapolitan pizza, though salads and other Italian treats round out the menu.

Peppina Restaurant Bangkok

Peppina Restaurant Bangkok

Peppina Restaurant Bangkok

Peppina Restaurant Bangkok

While I can’t say the service was all that stellar, in their defense we were a huge group and we didn’t give them tons of notice we were coming. Still, the food was fantastic, we had a blast, and I can’t wait to check out their new pop-up location — in The Commons in Thonglor, for all my fellow Bangkok addicts out there.

Peppina Restaurant Bangkok

Peppina Restaurant Bangkokthe whole crew… almost!

After dinner, it was one final night out in the big city! Ian and I led a bar crawl along our favorite Thonglor bars, starting at the steampunk Iron Fairies before winding our way to Thai hipster favorite Bad Motel, and eventually capping off the night at one of my favorite rooftops in Bangkok, the vertigo-inspiring Octave (if you have a sweet tooth like me, don’t miss the mango sticky rice martini — you’ll thank me later!)

Bad Motel BangkokJanine sampling “The Barf Bag,” Bad Motel’s version of a Long Island Iced Tea

Octave Bangkok

Octave Bangkok

The next day I’d have a full schedule of errands to run, including procuring my Brazilian visa, getting my quarterly fix of Coldstone Creamery, and doing some festival shopping in anticipation of Tomorrowland Brasil. But on this night, I said a wistful goodbye to Bangkok. It would be my last time in the city for a long while, and it’s not an easy one to leave in the rearview. But it couldn’t have been a better sign off.

Octave Bangkok

Red Sky Bangkok

Next stop, Hua Hin!

3-devide-lines

 
Many thanks to Amari Watergate for their hospitality. As always, you receive my honest opinion regardless of who is footing the bill.

Photo of the Week 243: Bangkok and Koh Tao

Greetings from Koh Tao! After a whirlwind three days in Bangkok following our adventures in Khao Yai, we ventured back down to our little island once again. Bangkok was busy as both Ian and I juggled out-of-country guests (his parents, my college BFF and co.), big city errands, an immigration appointment, and some good old fashioned fun. The highlights for me were a night bar hopping in the trendy Thonglor district, a shopping trip to Chatuchak Market, and an elegant dinner cruise along the Chao Phraya. More on that trip to come, of course.

While I’ve spent most of my time since we docked scrambling to catch up on the emails that built up while I was away, we’ve also done some fun entertaining with Ian’s parents. I love when having visitors nudges you to finally check things off your bucket list, like a class at Koh Tao’s own cooking school. I’m pumped to finally have a rainy day activity to write about on Koh Tao!

This week on Koh Tao I’ll be relishing in getting back to my routine. Here on the blog, you can look forward to a few final posts about Las Vegas as well as my next chronological roundup post. Happy Monday!

Photo A

Bangkok PhotographyBangkok golds

Photo B

Hiking on Koh TaoAn exploratory weekend trek along a new route

Photo C

Koh Tao Cooking SchoolChop happy at Koh Tao Cooking School

Photo D

Koh Tao Cooking SchoolArtfully arranged ingredients

Photo E

Mango Viewpoint Koh TaoA clouded-over sunset from Mango Bay

Which photo is your favorite?

How to Arrive in Bangkok

Wat Arun

The first time I landed in Bangkok back in 2010, I did everything wrong.

I was so excited, I didn’t get myself close to the schedule before I arrived.

Even though I was arriving close to midnight, I slept on the final flight there.

I gave my guesthouse address written in Thai to my driver, but he couldn’t find it and had to keep stopping and asking people where it was.

I chose a guesthouse with a windowless room that was essentially a twin bed with an extra two feet of space around it. No outlets. No wifi. No A/C. Not even a top sheet.

I didn’t sleep a wink the entire first night and basically twiddled my thumbs until 6:00 AM, when I figured it was a socially acceptable time to visit some temples.

I slept a few hours in the afternoon the first day — and didn’t sleep a wink the second night, either. I then got a nasty cold due to sleep deprivation and missed out on some social gatherings.

Kate in Bangkok

Here I am on my first day in Bangkok in 2010. I was a mess, but I was so happy just to be there.

Kate in Bangkok

Here I am on my first day in Bangkok in 2015. By this time, my tenth visit to Bangkok, I had my arrival down to a science.

Here’s how to do the same when you touch down in Bangkok:

Adjust yourself to the time zone ahead of time.

Granted, this is most difficult from the East Coast of the U.S., where we’re usually on a 12-hour time difference. But anything you can do to get yourself slightly closer to Thailand’s time zone will have you in much better shape, even if it means you’ll be sleeping fewer hours.

Hit up the ATM.

You don’t need to get cash before your trip — just hit up the ATM in the airport as soon as you land.

You also might want to visit a 7-11 and buy a bottle of water so you can break a large bills.

Get a taxi from the airport.

When you arrive in Bangkok, chances are you’re going to be exhausted and ready to just fall into bed. This is an occasion that warrants paying for a taxi, even if you’re backpacking and trying to save money.

Airport taxis have rates set, so you will be charged a meter rate. Keep in mind that depending on where you’re going, some drivers will offer to take you via highway, which will cost you extra toll fees that you will need to pay when you go through the toll booth.

Have your accommodation’s name and address ready, and pinpoint it on Google Maps.

When I first got to Bangkok, I was shocked at how often taxi drivers would have no idea where my destination was. It’s a far cry from London, where taxi drivers are required to memorize every street in the city!

It’s a good idea to have the address written in Thai as well as English — but it’s even better to have it saved on Google Maps.

Amari Watergate Bangkok

Check into an extremely comfortable hotel or guesthouse.

Why a comfortable place? Because you’ll be exhausted and sleeping at odd hours for the next few days. Having a nice place to stay can make such a huge difference. I stayed at the Amari Watergate — more on that below.

Take melatonin right before you go to bed.

I first started bought melatonin when I flew from Boston to Sri Lanka last year, knowing that I’d have a busy schedule and wouldn’t have the luxury of going at my own pace.

Melatonin is a natural supplement that helps your body realize that it’s bedtime. It’s best to take it about an hour before you go to bed, but I find that it affects me within around 30 minutes.

For the first several days, take melatonin at night — it will help you beat jet lag faster. You can get it on Amazon.

Get on a normal schedule as soon as you can.

Avoid napping! Believe me, it’s better to go to bed at 9:00 PM and sleep until 4:30 AM than to take a midday nap. Because as soon as you start midday napping, you’ll be falling asleep in the middle of the afternoon every day.

Bangkok Skyline

Pick up a SIM card. 

I always go to Siam Paragon, a luxury shopping mall near Siam Square, and visit the AIS store. AIS provides some of the best coverage in Thailand, has great data plans, and they’re used to assisting foreigners in this store.

Don’t forget to bring your passport! It’s required to get a SIM card.

Go easy on the food if you have a sensitive stomach.

When I first arrived in Asia, I went vegetarian for the first few days and gradually eased into eating meat. You might want to do the same if you’re nervous about the food. Always stick to bottled water, too!

Indulge in massages.

One of my favorite things about Thailand is that Thais consider massage a normal, frequent part of staying healthy. As a result, massage is available for cheap in Bangkok — think around 250 baht ($7) for one hour.

Traditional Thai massage is done with your clothes on (they may give you loose pajama-like garments to wear). It’s a lot like assisted yoga. Personally, I’m a big fan of foot massages and get them almost every day.

Silk Weaver, Bangkok

Give yourself at least a few days in Bangkok.

Bangkok is one of my top five favorite cities in the world. You could spend weeks here discovering all that the city has to offer. If you’re a returning Thailand visitor, you probably know what you want to do, but if you’re new to Thailand, please don’t listen to people telling you to skip Bangkok. This city is beautifully chaotic and I love it for that reason.

A few of my favorite activities:

Visit Chatuchak Market. Held on Saturday and Sunday, this is the largest market in the world and they sell everything from unique clothing to fancy furniture to tiny puppies.

Hang out in Siam Square. This is where young Thais hang out and where you’ll find lots of cool shops, along with several high-end malls. Keep in mind that Asian sizes tend to be tiny, but accessories are universal!

Go to a luxury movie theater. I love SF World Cinema on top of the Central World mall, where around 700 baht ($20) buys you a pre-movie buffet with a mocktail and tons of food, a plush leather recliner, a blanket (!!), a waitress, and your choice of flavored popcorn and soda. (If you don’t want to spend the cash, you can see new releases for around 100 baht ($3)!)

Visit Jim Thompson’s house. If you love architecture, luxury, and mystery, make this a priority. Jim Thompson was an American CIA agent turned silk merchant who ended up disappearing in Malaysia. His house is near Siam Square and is like a time capsule.

Explore and chow down in Chinatown. Chinatown is one of the most distinctive neighborhoods in the city, and you can easily get lost in the mazes here. The food is excellent, too.

Visit Buddhist temples. Some good ones for first-timers are Wat Pho, the Grand Palace, and Wat Arun, which are close together and close to the Khao San Road area.

See Muay Thai at Lumpinee Stadium. Not just a sports experience, but a cultural experience unlike any other.

Enjoy Khao San Road. The backpacker center of Southeast Asia, if not the world. Fun for a wild night out, but keep in mind merchandise here costs a lot more than on surrounding streets.

Chill out on Soi Rambuttri. Close to Khao San Road but much quieter and calmer, this is actually my favorite street in Bangkok. I love getting a foot massage while having a cocktail from the mobile VW van bar.

This is just scratching the surface — there is far more to do in Bangkok than I could include in a single post!

Amari Watergate Bangkok

Staying at the Amari Watergate Bangkok

I always tell people that Bangkok and Las Vegas are the two best cities in the world for luxury hotels — there are tons to choose from and the prices are excellent.

Well, to be honest, I’ve never stayed in a luxury hotel in Bangkok until my most recent visit! A few months back, the Amari Watergate Bangkok offered me a complimentary three-night stay in exchange for some social media coverage, and I accepted it.

I really loved this hotel. And to be honest, having SUCH a nice place to stay made adjusting to Bangkok a far more pleasant experience than in recent years.

Amari Watergate Bangkok

I stayed in an Executive Suite — one of the top suites in the hotel. Executive Suites are enormous with a king-sized bed, plenty of seating, a separate sitting room with an office section, and a giant bathroom with a tub you could practically do laps in.

Amari Watergate Bangkok

Hello, New Best Friend.

Amari Watergate Bangkok

The room, as you can see, is nothing short of glorious. Some of the other room amenities include multiple TVs, fruit upon arrival (so needed!), coffee and tea, lots of bottled water, and a view over downtown Bangkok.

But what I actually enjoyed most was being on an executive floor and having access to the executive lounge, which was airy, quiet, and luxurious. Just being there made me feel like I was part of an exclusive club. They also have happy hours in the executive suite each night!

Amari Watergate Bangkok

November in Bangkok can be a bit of a mixed bag weather-wise, and there were mostly stormy skies — but that didn’t keep some people from jumping into the pool.

Amari Watergate Bangkok

Getting a nice massage is the perfect way to settle into a new time zone, and the Breeze Spa at the Amari Watergate is excellent. You can choose a massage to reflect your mood — I went with invigorated (dreamy, serene, rejuvenated, and energized are other options). Because when you can get a massage on the street anywhere in Thailand, getting a high-end massage makes you feel pampered. I found it blissful, especially with the tea and macaron served at the end.

As for other benefits of the hotel, the location was ideal — walking distance from Siam Square and my favorite malls, making it a perfect hub for my first-day-in-Bangkok errands. You’re near the BTS, which will get you all over most of the city, and if you want to head to Khao San Road, you can take a nearby canal boat!

There’s a nice-looking gym, if you’re into that sort of thing. I wasn’t quite motivated enough to go inside!

And on my first night, I was able to experience a brand new event at the hotel — a Thai street market-inspired dining experience around the pool! I spent my time hanging out with new Thai friends and pretending not to cry from the spicier dishes. (I think they caught on when they saw how many Thai iced teas I was drinking.)

So basically, my first luxury hotel stay in Bangkok was a really wonderful experience. If you want to dip your toes into luxury travel in Asia, the Amari Watergate is a high value choice. I couldn’t have found a better way to land in my favorite Asian city.

Essential Info: Rates at the Amari Watergate Bangkok start at 2,635 baht ($73). Executive suites start at 8,325 baht ($229). While these are luxury rates, this is very good value for money, both in Bangkok and throughout the world.

I recommend taking a taxi to and from the airport, but you can also take the BTS (Skytrain) from nearby Ratchathewi Station.

Many thanks to the Amari Watergate Bangkok for providing me with a complimentary three-night stay, including breakfast and a massage. All opinions, as always, are my own.

What’s your favorite way to arrive in a new city?