There’s never been a better time to visit Thailand’s premier tourist attraction – The Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It’s comparatively all nice and quiet compared to the pre-virus days when this magnificent complex was often jam-packed with tourists.
Because of the block on overseas travelers, the only visitors nowadays are Thai nationals and permanent foreign residents who can wander at leisure around the spectacular temples, palace and salas. And they’re not even allowed to gather for group ‘selfies’ – a favorite ploy of visitors in the past.
The only possible drawback is the 500 baht fee non-Thais have to pay, even if they are long-term, tax-paying residents. There’s no charge for Thai nationals. Most foreigners nevertheless think it’s money well spent for such a wondrous experience.
What’s more, the complex is only a short walk from the newly opened Sanam Chai MRT station.
Enjoy five-star luxury on your doorstep
By Little Wandering Wren
You live and work in Bangkok, and you’re paying for a condo down the road… so why spend good money to stay in town? But think about it. Holidays are all about escapism. Haven’t you always said ‘I just wish I could be somewhere else right now?’
Why Staycation in Bangkok?
• The holiday starts now! No travel time. Why spend hours of your precious weekend or holiday in the car? You can’t help feeling rather chuffed with yourself when you are relaxing by the pool less than 30 minutes after leaving home.
• Choose a fabulous city resort. Many of Bangkok’s top hotels are as Lux as you can get. You’ll hardly feel like you are in the city. I can recommend our wonderful staycations at the Siam Kempinski, and The Sukhothai Bangkok.
• Get a new perspective of your city. I live off Sukhumvit and loved our stays down by the Chao Phraya River. I can recommend the Shangri-La Hotel, Praya Palazzo and Riva Arun. If you live by the river, come uptown!
• Grab a bargain. Never in the history of Bangkok’s hotels have rates been this affordable. We loved The Athenee dine-cation package.
• Go somewhere different! My husband and I like to mix things up a little. Haven’t you always wanted to know what it is like to stay at Chakrabongse Villas? I know I did! Or how about choosing Prince Heritage Theatre, an old porn theatre and dined on Michelin star street food.
• Support domestic tourism. Your country needs your help. Thailand tourism is suffering big time. Show it some love!
Top tips for getting the best from your Bangkok staycation
• Get on everyone’s mailing lists. The best deals seem to come up via the hotel's Facebook or Line accounts.
• Deal directly with the hotels to establish a rapport beforehand. Make it personal and find a name to contact. Trip Advisor is great for finding out who replies to guest experiences! Write a personal letter of introduction saying why you have chosen to support their hotel.
• If you are member of the hotel’s loyalty program, use this when booking. If not join for additional benefits.
• Don’t forget to let the hotel know if you are celebrating anything, even if it is belated! Hotels love a celebration!
• Check out Trip Advisor for top room tips and ask for these rooms. Just note that not all hotels are open at this time and even when they are, not all rooms or restaurants are open. I can’t wait for The Peninsula and The Siam to reopen.
• Many of the hotels are offering early/late checkout times. We never leave a hotel before 4pm on a Sunday. Some clever hotels offer even later until 8pm in the hope that they catch your dinner reservation.
• The hotels are desperate to re-engage the corporate sector for meetings and conferences. Ask within your workplace if they know of any incentive prices. We got a great massage deal at the Centara Central World and have just found a good deal at the Grand Hyatt Erawan in this way
• Purchase any reopening specials buy now, stay later vouchers (some until the end of 2020, others into next year).
Expat couples who stayed in town and loved the experience
I asked around a few of our friends for their recommendations regarding their recent Bangkok staycations since emerging post pandemic:
Go-go era over as Silom gets ready for upgrade
It’s not only the future of Patpong and its famous nightlife that hangs in the balance post Covid19, but nearby Thaniya Road also seems to be facing major hurdles.
A quick stroll down this legendary street confirms that the majority of Patpong’s go-go bars remain closed despite the lifting of the city-wide curfew. Many have said they may never reopen. Right now, only Super Star, King’s Corner, Madrid and the Thai Bar of the area’s best known bars are operating.
Meanwhile, the main building on Soi Thaniya, also known as Bangkok’s Ginza because of its Japanese-style bars and cocktail lounges, is currently undergoing an extensive facelift. The huge temporary wall outside the entrance and blocks half the road, preventing many of Thaniya’s ‘hostesses’ and ‘pretties’ from assembling outside their establishments to lure customers inside.
Expat pensioners are a valuable source of funding to Thailand
In these difficult times, the contribution of expatriates to the Thai economy and social stability is sometimes overlooked, even underestimated. Some would add under appreciated. Reliable sources put the number of foreigners with work permits in Thailand at over 220,000, excluding those from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. Of these work permit holders, about half live in Bangkok. Many have invested in their own companies and provide employment for countless Thai people. Others employed by a Thai company often play a role that includes training and lifting local expertise for the long-term benefit of the country. All of these expats pay a range of taxes which go, of course, to the government’s coffers. They are also a major investor in property, a key business sector.
On top of work permit holders, there are an estimated 100,000 people on retirement visas, plus about the same again on O type marriages visas, bringing the total number of foreigners living in Thailand on a permanent basis to probably around half a million. Yet to be included in this figure are the many foreigners who, until the Covid19 epidemic, live here on a semi-permanent basis, usually about half the year.
BANGKOK: I needed to attend a meeting in Phuket and had time to visit and explore. We decided to drive, a chance to really explore that flying for 75 minutes doesn’t allow.
It's a journey we’ve done in the past twice before in my 29 years of living in Thailand. Our journey will take us south travelling 864 km from our home in Bangkok to Phuket – Thailand's famous island playground. The Pearl of the Andaman Sea.
For centuries, the main source of income for the island was tin mining. Now, tourism and rubber have made Phuket the country’s wealthiest province.
On this trip we plan to stay at a number of resorts a few that are very closely linked to the island’s tin mining past.
Leaving Bangkok very early we follow the coast road south-west along the Gulf of Thailand towards Hua Hin and then all the way south to Surat Thani. From there we cross the isthmus east to west before turning south again towards Phuket and the Andaman Sea.
With stops the journey time will take approximately 11.5 hours driving. We plan to do the journey in one day, God willing. The car has been fully prepped and recently serviced.
With our early start we arrive in Hua Hin at 6.30am having avoided all the pre-rush hour traffic out of Bangkok. A journey of just under two hours. Normally with traffic it would be three hours. Our early start paid dividends. We see dawn break as we arrive turning a black sky into rainbow colours that never stops being special.
We continue on Route 4, the Phet Kasem road, Thailand's longest (1,274km). Our journey will take us through 12 of Thailand's 76 provinces – Bangkok, Samut Sakhon, Nakhon Pathom, Ratchaburi, Phetchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chumphon, Ranong, Surat Thani,Phang-Nga, Krabi and Phuket.
From Hua Hin we head further south along the Asian Highway, hugging the western edge of the Gulf. The kilometers slip by. We travel on good roads, mostly dual carriageways. The traffic is reasonable and we make good progress. Passing through Pranburi and Prachuap Khiri Khan, we continue leisurely south.
We reach Chumphon - our halfway point. Located on the Isthmus of Kra, the narrow stip of land connecting the Malay Peninsula with mainland Thailand. With a 222 km coastline and 44 islands, the Chumphon Archipelago is known for its coral reefs and a long coastline dotted with peaceful beaches.
At Chumphon we join the A41. It is the main road for the lower southern provinces. We head south-west.
Route 41 is a four-lane highway, two lanes in each direction. It is also part of the Asian Highway AH2.
The long-awaited Pattaya-Maptaphut motorway has opened, linking the existing Bangkok-Pattaya Motorway M7 to the international airport of U Tapao and nearby industrial estate while giving fresh impetus to the massive Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) project.
Entrance to the new route is at the Mabprachan Interchange between the Pattaya and Pong toll gates on the M7, some 20 kms south of Laem Chabang port.
Currently the motorway has only one exit point at Maptaphut in Rayong. Two others are expected to open in September. One is at Huay Yai, which will connect the motorway to to Sukhumvit Road opposite Ocean Marina; another is at Khao Chee Chan, which will exit on to the 331 highway.
The toll fees from Bangkok to U Tapao is 130 Baht for cars, 210 Baht for six-wheeled trucks and 305 Baht for larger trucks.
Constructed at a cost of 17 billion Baht, the M7 extension passes through some of the most beautiful countryside in the Eastern region.
Meanwhile, work on the 331 from Chachoengsao to Rayong continues at Bowin with road widening and construction of several flyovers.
Locked between the ocean and the world’s oldest desert, and buffeted by ever-moving sand dunes, Swakopmund is Namibia's premier holiday resort, a place rich in reminders of its past and ample reasons to warrant a visit today.
To get to Swakopmund as an overseas visitor, you first have to fly into the country’s capital Windhoek, located at an elevation of 1800m on the southwest corner of the African continent in one of the most isolated and little known parts of the world, and then travel by road some 380km, including a 150km desert crossing.
This beautiful seaside town was founded in August 1892, two years later than Windhoek, by Captain Curt von Francois, as the main harbour of German South West Africa, a former colony ruled by Germany. Its name was changed to Namibia in 1968.
Increased traffic between Germany and its colonial outpost necessitated establishing a port since Walvis Bay, located 33km south, was a British possession. The choice fell on Swakopmund, where water could be found and because other sites checked were unsuitable. Records show that in 1894 there were only 19 inhabitants.
The name in essence means “the mouth of the Swakop River” and is believed to originate from the Nama word ‘Tsoakhaub,’ which can be translated as ''excrement opening'', an accurate description of the waters of the Swakop River in times of flood when it carries tonnes of clay and sand, along with piles of vegetation and the odd animal corpse.
Fortunately, this happens less frequently nowadays as dams upstream store water to supply the capital and other towns.
Despite its name, this beautiful little town on the west coast of Namibia has a rich past, reflected in the many old but well-preserved colonial buildings. The facades, arches, towers, and ornamentation reflect architectural themes which dominated Europe at that time.
Swakopmund retains something of 19th century Germany with traditions like Küsten-Karneval, Oktoberfest and the Christmas Market still celebrated. Many of the restaurants offer typical German dishes. For example, the Black Forest cake and the daily fresh baked Apfelstrudel served at Café Anton are famous beyond the borders of the country. In addition, the 24-hour German Language Radio station the ‘Allgemeine Zeitung’ reports daily on important and not-so-important issues. On Mondays, it announces the result of the German Bundesliga results. A sizeable part of Swakopmund’s population is still today German-speaking.
The city’s colonial landmarks include the:
• Swakopmund Lighthouse, the first 11m were erected in 1902 and a further 10m added in 1910.
• State House (Kaiserliche Bezirksgericht), built in 1906
• Mole, an old sea wall and now the main beach next to the Swakopmund Museum which documents Namibian history.
• Woermann Haus, built in 1906 with a prominent tower, now a public library.
• Hohenzollern Haus, built in 1906 as a hotel.
• Prinzessin Ruprecht Heim, the original Military Hospital, built in 1902, now a senior residency
• Kaserne, completed in 1906 served as the military barrack
• Antonius Residenz, opened in March 1908 and which, until a few years ago, was a hospital
• The Lutheran Church, with bells imported from Germany, which was consecrated in January 1912
• The elegant Swakopmund Railway Station, now a hotel
• Altes Gefängnis, the prison, built in 1909
• German School, completed October 1913, which hosted both the government and municipal secondary schools
One of Swakopmund's lesser known historical facts is that the conditions were actually unfavourable to build a harbour as the coastal waters were far too shallow. In addition, there was no sheltered lagoon, and the surf was much too strong.
As the disembarkation of settlers and troops on surf boats was a life-threatening undertaking, an artificial harbour was built at very high cost. Unfortunately, the Mole sea wall was a brave but ultimately unsuccessful attempt. Although some 375m of pier was completed in 1900, by winter 1906 it had silted up and a sandbank blocked it completely, leading to the construction of a 325m long wooden jetty in 1902, which was replaced by an iron one in 1912.
The remains of this jetty still serve as a pedestrian walkway and, since 2010, host an oyster bar at the far end. Today the Mole serves as the main beach and attracts locals and tourists alike. Swimmers can have close encounters with dolphins who visit regularly and a small colony of seals that enjoy drying their fur on the nearby rocks.
In 1894, regular freight traffic began, led by the Woermann-Linie, a shipping company based in Hamburg, Germany. Thus Swakopmund quickly became the main port for imports and exports for the whole territory, and was one of six towns which received municipal status in 1909. Many government offices for German South-West Africa had offices in Swakopmund. When the jetty opened, the newspaper ‘Deutsche Südwestafrikanische Zeitung’ stated that there were 1,433 inhabitants of the town.
After German South-West Africa was taken over by the Union of South Africa in 1915, all harbour activities were transferred from Swakopmund to Walvis Bay. Many of the Central Government services ceased. Businesses closed down, the number of inhabitants diminished, and the town became less prosperous.
During my school days in the 60s, the town boasted some 5,000 inhabitants yet people only knew about such urban niceties like traffic lights from movies shown in the cinema on Wednesday and Saturday. The main local industry was the salt pans, 7km north of the town, where today seawater is still pumped into huge ponds to allow harvesting of the ‘white gold.’ Others were the tannery and the Hansa Brewery (opened 1929) where the brew master (my father) took great pride in strictly following the over 400-year-old German Purity Law (only four ingredients: water, malt, hops, yeast).
Although the discovery of uranium at Rössing, 70 km outside the town dates back to 1928, exploration and extraction only started in 1976. This led to the development of the world's largest open cast uranium mine. In 2005, it produced 3,711 ton of uranium oxide, becoming the fifth-largest uranium mine, with eight per cent of global output. This had an enormous impact on all facets of life in Swakopmund and necessitated expansion of the infrastructure of the town, making it into one of the most modern in Namibia.
Outside of the city, the Rossmund Desert Golf Course is one of only five all-grass desert golf courses in the world. The well maintained fairways not only attract golf enthusiasts but also animals like springboks and ostriches from the adjacent Namib Desert plains. Over the last 50 years, the potential of Swakopmund as a holiday resort has been recognized and developed. Today, tourism-related services form an important part of the town's economy.
The number of hotels and restaurants has increased as more and more international tourists visit Swakopmund while touring the huge country with the second lowest population density in the world, after Mongolia.
Surrounded by the Namib Desert on three sides and the cold Atlantic waters to the west, Swakopmund enjoys a mild desert climate. The atmospheric conditions caused by dense banks of coastal fog that hang over the ocean on many mornings dissipate as the sun rises high in the sky. With only around 20mm falling per year, rain is a rather rare event.
While the African sun is very intense, a fresh breeze from the southwest coming up later in the afternoon does have a cooling effect. Due to the cold and marine-life-rich Benguela current, seawater temperatures rarely reach over 20 °C.
Many South African and Namibian pensioners take up residence in Swakopmund and the German language can be heard everywhere. Although many of prominent streets were renamed after independence, some still bear names from the colonial days. Today, Swakopmund is the capital of the Erongo Region and has about 34,000 inhabitants.
There are 193 countries in the world and Rick Gazarian has visited 142 of them. And he’s determined to see them all
There are 193 countries in the world and Rick Gazarian has visited 142 of them. And he’s determined to see them all
Temporarily grounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, Bangkok-based American Rick Gazarian aka ‘Global Gaz’ is ready to complete his bucket list of places to see. What makes him tick, how did he get started on his quest and why he keeps going. Scott Murray finds out.
Tell us something of yourself
I was born in Boston, went to university at Boston College, and worked for many years in financial services both in Boston and Chicago. This came to an end in 2008 during the Great Recession when I was laid off. To celebrate I embarked on an eleven-month trip around the globe. During this trip, I knew I did not want to go back to corporate life. When I got back to the US, I made travel a much bigger part of my life and also started my own business. Today, as a travel blogger I am sharing content about must-see places, unique experiences, and off the beaten path locations as I try to travel to every country in the world.
Why did you first come to Thailand and why have you stayed?
First time I traveled to Thailand was in 2005 when I spent four weeks exploring Bangkok and some of the islands. But in 2012, I came for several months to volunteer and avoid the Chicago winter. I had read a book about Father Joe Maier, an American priest, who moved to Klong Toey in the 1970s. I was inspired after reading that book and decided I wanted to volunteer at the Mercy Centre, which I did for two years and taught English a couple of days a week at two kindergartens.