Port of Bangkok (Laem Chabang)
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As one of the most developed and progressive nations in Southeast Asia, Thailand -- once known as Siam -- is bordered by Myanmar (Burma) to the northwest, Laos to the northeast, Cambodia to the southeast and Malaysia to the south of Thailand's isthmus. The government is a constitutional monarchy, and Westerners are eagerly welcomed -- even though con games and price-gouging, aimed at tourists, can be rampant.
Thailand's roots reach back to the 10th century, but Bangkok itself wasn't founded until 1782, when Rama I became the first king of the Chakri Dynasty. Since that time, this "city of angels" has been an economic and cultural powerhouse in the region. The current ruling faction is the People Power Party. However, the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) staged demonstrations throughout 2008, showing their opposition to the PPP. While generally peaceful in their protests, PAD did temporarily shut down Suvarnabhumi Airport from November 25 to December 3, 2008.
Most cruise ships call on the port of Laem Chabang on the Gulf of Thailand, which is two hours south of Bangkok, the nation's capital, though smaller ships often dock at Klong Toey on the Chao Phraya River, right on the outskirts of the big city.
Known as the Venice of the East, due to the many canals slicing through the city, Bangkok lies at the mouth of the Chao Phraya River and has been wowing tourists with its exotic temples, lavish palaces and teeming markets for decades.
If your cruise is embarking from Laem Chabang, you'll want to fly into Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport and explore the city for several days before joining your ship. If you're merely calling upon Laem Chabang, your best bet is to consider shore excursions to Bangkok, although there are a few spots near Laem Chabang -- like the beach resort of Pattaya or the Jack Nicklaus-designed Laem Chabang International Country Club golf course -- that could be explored by those who have visited Bangkok extensively in the past and don't wish to make the two-hour trip north.
No matter where your travels take you, the people of Thailand will greet you with genuine smiles and a respectful wai (hands pressed together, as if in prayer, accompanied by a gentle bow of the head).
Top Bangkok (Laem Chabang) Itineraries
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Where You're Docked
When visiting Bangkok, most cruise ships either embark from or call upon Laem Chabang, a container port about two hours south of the capital. Smaller ships often dock at Klong Toey, right on the Chao Phraya River on the outskirts of the big city.
Good to Know
Always negotiate fares before you get in tuk-tuks. If the driver offers to give you a tour, he'll also try to stop at shops where he's made a commission deal with the owners. You won't get a bargain, and you won't enjoy your tour. Steer clear of these offers!
With taxis, make sure your driver turns the meter on. We noticed ours didn't bother until we insisted.
Also, credit card cloning is a big problem in Southeast Asia. Before leaving home, call your credit card companies, and let them know you'll be traveling to Thailand and approximately how much you plan to charge. That way, if your card is cloned, your credit card company may spot it -- and shut down the bogus charges -- faster. (If your credit cards are smart chip" enabled, you don't have to worry about this.)
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Thailand's currency is the baht (pronounced "bot"). Each baht (THB) equals 100 satang. Note denominations include 1,000, 500, 100, 50, 20 and 10. You'll find coins for 50, 25, 10, 5, 2 and 1 satang. We recommend visiting www.xe.com for up-to-the-minute exchange rates.
While MasterCard, Visa, American Express and Diners Club are widely accepted, it's a good idea to carry baht for small market purchases. ATM's are everywhere in Bangkok: at all banks, in most hotels and restaurants, throughout the various shopping districts and at the airport. We also found that dollars and euros were welcome at small stalls in places like the Patpong Night Market, although you're paying a higher conversion rate. All major banks exchange foreign currency, and most ATM's will accept U.S.-issued debit and credit cards.
Standard Thai is the official language of the land and is spoken by nearly 65 million people. There are actually several versions of the language -- street, elegant, rhetorical, religious and royal -- used in different situations. You'll hear/use street (informal between friends) and elegant (more formal) Thai most often.
English is somewhat understood and spoken at the airport, in the major tourist sections of the city and in hotels that cater to Westerners. Many Thai people do not speak English, but they do know a few key words, so you can generally get your point across. Otherwise, we found it useful to carry a Thai version of our hotel address and the address for the port, Klong Toey. They came in handy more than once.
Thai silk has been a sought-after commodity ever since the first Western travelers made their way to Southeast Asia. Look for ties, scarves, robes and dresses. Many talented tailors are also available to custom-design clothing for you.
Liquor made in the area includes several varieties of beer, whiskey and rum. Be on the lookout for rice-based Mekong whiskey, Sang Som Thai rum and Beer Chang (a pale lager). For those who eschew alcoholic beverages, go for cha yen (a Thai version of iced tea). It's made by combining red tea leaves, star anise, sugar and evaporated milk. The creamy sweetness is the ideal complement to the spicy food you'll be eating. You're also sure to sample a variety of refreshing smoothies, made with combinations of fruit, such as tamarind, pineapple, bananas, mangoes and rambutan.
Looking for a hip and trendy version of Bangkok's best cocktail? Venture to Siricco's outdoor sky bar, located on the 64th floor of a residential/office tower. The martini menu is just about as good as the views overlooking the city. Give the rose apple martini a try, but beware that our cost for four drinks there was a whopping $95.