Saturday, May 31, 2008

Sirocco & Sky Bar : Bangkok Dining Experience

If you ever come to Bangkok, there is one place that I recommend you to go for a fancy dinner with your partner or just few drinks with your friends. It's a gorgeous place to see gorgeous people. The place is Sirocco, a roof top outdoor restaurant and bar on the 63rd floor of the State Tower building at the end of Silom Rd near the Chao Phraya river.

The experience starts when you enter the lobby of the second tallest building in Bangkok, if you mention 'Sirroco' the staff will guide you to the express elevator that brings you from the ground level to the 63rd floor just within seconds. The dress code is 'smart casual", so don't wear slippers, shorts (for men) and ripped jeans, they also don't allow you to bring backpack and shopping bags (you have to leave them at the lobby).

When you reach the 63rd floor, you will be guided to the balcony outside where Sirroco is located. The view from there is fantastic, especially with the Chao Phraya river just accross the road. The best time to come here is just before sunset, you can see how the sky beautifully changes its colors. Go to the bar (Sky bar) order few drinks (non alcoholic cocktails are available for B300++) before you start you dinner (reservation is required for dinner) and bring your camera too. Take photos of Bangkok skyline, many people do.

To my surprise, even though being at the top of the hi rise building, the wind was not as strong as I imagine, instead it was a cool breeze and a nice evening. Live jazz music performs every day.

The foods are delicious but expensive (among the most expensive in Bangkok), they serve Mediterranean menu with various selections of seafood and steaks. Dinner set menus are also available and starts at B2900++ pp. excl. drink. I tried the pan seared scallops served with caramelized onion ravioli and Riesling chervil reduction for starters and the Australian beef tenderloin served with baby leeks, mushrooms, dauphine potatoes and truffle sauce for the main course. The scallops were fantastic, the steak was smooth and tender but the taste was not up to my expectation.
The restaurant was full at that night, but after 11pm the tables started to get empty, several people came before midnight just to get a couple cups of coffee.

Specialities :
Alaskan crab cake and fried calamari
Mediterranean shellfish salad
Pan-roasted black sea bass and tiger prawn on kalamata
Grilled Maine lobsterChar-grilled marinated rack of lamb

Opening Hours : 6pm -1am (if weather permitted). Major CC accepted. No children under 7. Corkage fee B2000.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Phuket Beaches

Phuket is the biggest island in Thailand. It’s 50km long and 20km wide, located approx 800km South West of Bangkok. Even though it’s a big island, but Phuket is just 1/10th the size of Bali island of Indonesia. Phuket can be reached by air or by road, the 700m long Sarasin Bridge connects Phuket with the main land.

The name Phuket was derived from Malay word “Bukit” which means hill. This corresponds with Phuket landscape which has many hills.

Phuket Airport
Phuket Airport is also an international airport, some airlines fly directly from abroad to this island. It takes around 1hr to fly from Bangkok. The airport is located in the northern part of the island. To go to your hotel, you can either take the airport shuttle bus or airport taxis. The bus and taxi fares varied depending on your destination, the shuttle bus costs around 100-200B (US 3-6) pp and the chartered taxi (it was Toyota Altis) cost 650B (US 18.5) per trip to Kata Beach (approx 1 hr drive from the airport). I did not see any metered taxis in Phuket.

There are many beaches along the coast of Phuket, but the best beaches are in located in the West side of the island, even though Phuket down town it self is located closer to the East coast.

I did not have a chance to visit all the beaches, I only went to Patong beach, Karon beach, Kata beach, and Phrom Thep cape. One of the reasons was that some of the other beaches are quite far from where I stay (Kata) and the public transport (mostly tuk-tuk style and converted pick up truck) is either expensive or not easy to use.

Patong is the most popular beach in Phuket. Like most (perhaps all) beaches in Phuket, Patong is a white sand beach. It stretches 4.5km long and rather crowded with people. You can also rent Jet Ski and try para-sailing here. However, the beach it self is not that clean, perhaps because it was the busiest beach and has many food hawkers along the side.

Separated by Thawiwong rd, there were plenty of cafes & restaurant along the beach serving foods from all over the word, from pizza to halal food (north end).

Parallel to Thawiwong rd is Rat Uthit rd, the center of Patong famous night life activities, disco and pubs. Most shops open from 11AM to 2AM. If you are looking for a quiet family gateway, Patong is not the place.

Unfortunately, I did not actually have the chance to go into the beach because we were planning to catch the sunset at Phrom Thep cape, instead I just drove along the road parallel to the beach.

The road approaching Karon from Patong was a very scenic drive. Fantastic view from the hill side overlooking the Karon beach. You should try this.

Even though I did not actually go to the beach, but I can say that the beach is also beautiful, white sand, clean and less crowded than Patong. The shops were concentrated in one area and leave the rest of the beach free. This is perfect for quiet family vacation. Along the Karon road also lies some of Phuket finest hotels, such as Hilton, Le Meridien, Movenpick etc. Even though most of the hotels in Phuket don’t have direct access to the beach, Karon is among the beaches where many hotels conveniently located 100m from the beach across the street.

I stayed on Andaman Cannacia resort in Kata, 500m away from the beach on the hill side. Compare to Patong and Karon, Kata is the furthest from the Airport. The beach is divided into two area separated by a small cape, ie Kata and Kata Noi (small) beach. I only visited Kata beach.

Similar to Karon, Kata is also a white sand, quiet and clean beach. I did not see any water sport activities here, so mostly people just swim or sun tanning on the beach.

The water was clean and the beach is very shallow and flat, perfect for swimming. The waves was small and only broke near the land. However, unlike Karon, there are practically no hotel along the beach. The closest hotel is Club Med, the back of the hotel is just across the road (Pak Bang), but the hotel doesn’t seem to provide direct access to the beach.

The rest of the hotel mostly located in the Karon rd, parallel to Pak Bang rd and I don’t think they have sea view.

Even though Kata is perfect for family, I would rather stay at Karon mainly due to its hotel sea view, proximity and easy access to the beach.

One of the things to do in Phuket is to watch sunset. The famous location to watch sunset is at Phrom Thep cape. This cape is located in the southernmost part of Phuket, therefore has the perfect unobstructed view of the Andaman Sea. Since it’s located in the South, hence it’s also an ideal place to view the sunrise (if you’re not lazy enough to get up very early in the morning).

In Phuket in April, the sun sets at around 18.30 but you should arrive there at least 30min before to enjoy the scenery. I don’t think Phrom Thep cape is accessible by public transport, you either need to drive your own or charter a taxi. The road to the cape is up and down the hill, rather isolated and far from anywhere, approx 8km from Kata, 20km from Phuket town. Nonetheless, once you reach the main viewing point, it’s crowded (I’m not sure whether it always like that, or because it was during Songkran holiday) and the parking lot was full.

We turned back and headed down hill to a small beach approx 500m from the main view point. The beach was rather empty, easy to park the car and the kids can play too (I don’t think there was a beach in the main viewing point since it was on a cliff). The sunset can be seen from this beach, but unfortunately there were many clouds in the horizon hence we couldn’t see the sunset perfectly.

Phuket Town
Unless you have extra time to kill, in my opinion, there was not much to see in the town. Souvenir shops and markets can be easily found elsewhere near the beaches. Go to the old part of the town, around Thalang rd, and you can see some old buildings with old European architecture.

Khao Rang (Rang Hill)
Just North West of the town, there is a road that leads to Khao Rang view point, next to the Fitness Park. From this point you can see Phuket town and Phuket bay. There are small shops that sell snacks and you can also find restaurant with a good view on the way up.

Foods & Shopping
There are plenty place to eat and shop in Phuket. Usually near most beaches there will be a small market, selling foods, souvenirs and clothes. You can find many café and restaurants around this area. However, I found that price of foods in these places are rather expensive, almost doubled the price in the similar places in Bangkok.

In addition to the local markets, there are four big shopping malls in Phuket, the oldest two are located in Phuket town, Robinson and Ocean Plaza. We didn’t go there since it looks old from the outside. We went to Central Festival instead, it’s located in Wichit Songkram rd (Route 4020) near Makro and Big C. It’s approx 1km to the West of the Phuket town. Central Festival is relatively new and modern mall just like the one you’ll find in other big cities, it’s also quite big and has many parking spaces. We had lunch there at the food court near the movie cinema.

The newest shopping mall in Phuket is JungCeylon (the old name of Phuket given by the western people) in Patong. It’s located in the middle of Rat Uthit road, 2km from the beach via Bang La rd.

Getting Around
Foods are not the only thing expensive in Phuket, getting around Phuket may also become expensive unless you take the public bus (actually a converted truck with long bench known as song thaew in Thai) which has limited coverage. There was no taxi meter, there is only several mini pick up converted to a tuk-tuk (not the real tuk-tuk as in Bangkok). If you are farang (foreigners) it cost you 200B (US 6) for just a less than 1km ride, more expensive than the tuk-tuk in Bangkok.

The most convenient way to get around Phuket is to rent a car (motorcycle is also available). You can ask your hotel to arrange it for you so the car will be delivered and collected back at your hotel. You may need to show your passport and an international driving license, but the guy who delivered my car never asks.

You can rent a small Suzuki jeep for 850B/day (US 25), a bigger CJ7 jeep for 1200B/day or a Honda Jazz with automatic transmission for 1600B/day incl tax and insurance but you will be responsible for the first 5000B (US 143) in case of accident.

I rented the small Suzuki jeep because of the price gap. I didn’t want to rent the CJ7 because mostly it’s open cab. I knew from the beginning that both the Suzuki and CJ7 are old, my first car was in fact a small Suzuki jeep SJ410 similar to the one I rented but with a smaller engine of 1000cc instead of 1300cc. I thought I was going for a nostalgic drive.

Nonetheless, I did not expect that it was very heavy to turn the steering wheel of the rented Suzuki (I swear my old Suzuki Jimny was not like this) and the AC was useless in a hot Phuket day. But beside these two inconveniences, there was nothing wrong with the car and we enjoyed our sight seeing.

Songkran in Phuket

This year I spent Songkran holidays in Phuket with the family.

Songkran is Thailand 3 days long new year's celebration which happens between 13-15 April and this year it corresponds to year 2551 according to their calendar. For Thais, Songkran is the biggest and longest holiday break where most people will come back to their hometown and celebrate the new year with the whole families. Its bigger than the December's new year celebration, it's similar to Xmas, Easter in the western world and Lebaran in Indonesia. Most shops, banks and offices will be closed during this period allowing people to go back home. However, despite being celebrated in April, Thais simply change their year number (from 2550 to 2551) together with the international calender, ie in last Jan 1st, not in April 13rd.

Nowadays, Songkran is mostly known by people and tourists for its water splash festival where people are pouring, splashing, throwing, shooting other people with water in almost any open public places, and off course you cannot be mad. If well prepared (mentally and physically) people of all ages enjoys this water splashing war. Many shops sell big water guns, forget about small squirt gun, aim for the big bazooka blast with pump tanks, you will enjoy it. These water guns will cost you around 80 - 400B ( 2-11 US) depending on the size.

Usually this water war starts after lunch until dawn and you better properly protect your belonging (eg wallet, camera, mobile phone) if you dont want them to be wet, and yes, you will be completely soaked wet from head to toe. Sometimes I feel sorry for tourists who just arrive in Thailand during Songkran holidays, many were shocked, angry and clueless why strangers in the street, Thais and non Thais, were throwing water to them, I hope their passport were not damaged.

Therefore, if you plan to have a short holiday in Thailand, less than one week, unless you specifically come for the festival, dont come during Songkran for 3 good reasons : first, you cannot walk freely in the street without being thrown a bucket of sometimes-cold-water, second, many of the shops, banks, travel offices are closed hence you have less things to do, third, many of the tourist destination areas, eg zoo, national parks, beaches, down towns are jammed packed with people, both tourists and locals.
Most of the wars happens in the street, especially in a crowded intersection, where many people travel in open pick up trucks throw water at people in the street and at other pick ups vice versa.

I cannot take pictures of this water war in Phuket because I dont have a proper protection for my Nikon D40 and I cant afford to let it broke. So I just grabbed a Songkran photo in the Internet (

Air Asia Go Holiday

Last Songkran holiday, I travel to Phuket with my family using the AirAsia Thailand Go Holiday and below is the review :

If you plan to go on holiday, based on my experience it's always cheaper to book the flights and hotel in advance from the internet rather than contact the airlines or hotel directly. This time I book through Air Asia (AA) holiday package, flights and hotel ( for the first time. I have booked the package early in mid Feb for traveling in mid Apr. By doing this I managed to get the cheapest seat available around 1500-1800B (US 43-52) one way pp Bangkok (BKK) - Phuket (HKT) excl. tax. The price is rather expensive because it was in the Songkran period. There were 4-6 daily flights, so there are plenty of seats, of course the odd hours will be cheaper. I checked few weeks later, the price of my flight has gone up by 300-500B one way pp.

Note 1: while it's always cheaper to book early, AA also often does promo activities with huge discount even zero fare which cheaper than the early booking, but you will never know. Visit their web often to catch their promo.

Note 2: as per 1 April 2008, AA will charge 50B (1.5US) for every checked in baggage. You can pre-pay online at 30B. Baggage allowance pp is 15kg + 7kg hand carry (but I never see them weigh the hand carry bag)

Since it's a package, AA provide around 20-25 list of hotels in several locations in Phuket ranging from 2 to 4 stars rating. I choose Andaman Cannacia resort ( in Kata Beach, because it matched the budget. I browsed the internet and the hotel seems OK.We stayed for 5D/4N, total package cost 31,000B (885 US) incl tax for 2 Adult, 2 Children.

AA said that they will charge our CC the full amount immediately, however mine is billed one month later and I finally paid just few weeks before departure. Nonetheless, it does not mean we can cancel the booking few days later. Please read their terms and condition for cancellation.

The advantage of AA is that they operate via Suvarnabhumi, Bangkok new airport, while the other LCC such as Nok Air & One Two Go operate via Don Mueang, the old airport which now only serves domestic LCC.

AA has many domestic all flight check in counters in Suvarnabhumi, hence the queue is manageable. Also in Phuket, there were only short queue compares to the one of One Two Go which extended back until the x-ray counter near the entrance gate.

Somehow my flight back to BKK was rescheduled from 15.20 to 17.10, and I received the SMS notification long before I went to Phuket. AA Customer Service also speaks good English, so you dont have any problem communicating. Both flights were considered on time.

In Flight Meal
Like many LCC, AA in flight meal is not included in the ticket price, not even a glass of water.
The flight from BKK to HKT took around 1 hour, by the time the meal service reach the end row, the plane was already preparing for landing. So you better eat first before you fly short distance. Nonetheless, the food & drink price were very very reasonable, so I dont think they made profit out of this.

Verdict : while booking in package (flight & hotel) is fast and convenient, however it has a major drawback. The choice of hotels are very limited. Phuket has tens of hotels and the hotels provided by AA may not be the best hotel to suit your needs. I checked later on, if you booked the same hotel separately, the total cost will be more or less the same. The point is that, you will be able to find a better place to stay rather than sticking to the package deal which is not going to give you financial gain anyway. Therefore, unless your fave hotel is on the package list, book separately, but never go show.

Note: please note that AirAsia is operated in several countries by different sister companies. Quality of service may be different.