You'll often hear the remark "Off the beaten track" and usually by young back packers full of enthusiasm, packed with adrenaline, and pumping energy. I'm too old for that and am jealous of them but I am also old enough to understand they are breaking into their own unexplored world, blazing a trail, and "boldly going where no man has gone before". Sounds great but the reality is they are going where thousands have gone before them. The trail is written in stone. It is the Gap Year trail. It is only new to them and they will love it. A voyage of discovery where every village has its own ex-pat community, every trail is managed by an ex-pat tour guide, every corner they turn will reveal another backpacker. So here are a few suggestions where you really can get "Off the beaten track."
We, as in me the girlfriend and our daugther, started day one 'off the beaten track' in Bang Pli at a hotel called Sananwan Palace. Now obviously 'Palace' was going to be stretching the imagination when the rooms are 350 Baht for a double room but actually I quite liked the place.
There's a video of the hotel on YouTube. The open air restaurant beside the pool is simple but nice and the telephone order system is good too. There's a cabinet with glasses and plates and a fridge with Coke etc and hanging beside it is a menu. Pick up the phone and order what you want, it's great, but there's no beer. If you want beer you have to go down to the shop inside the hotel complex and I couldn't help but think 'If the shop is inside the hotel, why can't the hotel serve me beer?'
Nevertheless I wasn't put off until the farang jon started to come out the woodwork. That means poor foreigners and they weren't backpackers, they will be up in Khao San Road, these were tourists with little or no money. The one who decided to befriend me was drunk to the 'nth degree and because he was from Staines was able to fit in the 'F' word several times in every sentence and very loudly along with the occassional 'C', 'T', and BG as if these were the only value Thai people had in his meagre little world.
BG being bargirl and he talked about them as if this was normal Thai culture or society with the ocassional reference to what a pretty one I had.. Thus my Thai partner found the man extremely obnoxious, and so did I. Thankfully he went to bed early and so did we. And at least the standard of our bedroom made up for it.
Not that either Waan or Kanda thought so and they insisted we move the next day. This can happen in Thailand. The standard of accomodation and food can be fantastic but the clientelle is pot luck. So despite the food being very good at Sananwan and it being placed right in the centre of Bang Pli Yai where we wanted to be, we moved to the Popular Place in Thanon King Khao.
Popular Place is sumptuous. It is intentionally high class long stay accomodation but they will happily rent you a room for one night at 700 Baht. But this is Bangkok. The traffic is relentless and we couldn't sleep in the room at the front. Food and drink is by room service only and just a coffee in the morning is 150 Baht. Or you can go to the 7/11 and get take away fresh coffee for 35 Baht.
This place is top secret so there is no website and taxi drivers have never heard of it. It is between Soi 19 and 19/1 next to the 1112 pizza on the North bound side of Thanon King Khao (pronounced more like Ging Gow) and it really is worth the money though you'll need to pay the 50 Baht taxi fare to get to Bang Pli as it is too far to walk. Then again I did do it once when I was seriously drunk.
The balcony view from Popular place. Not quite holiday resort but this is the heart of suburban Bangkok, fifteen minutes from the airport, five minutes from shopping districts, twenty minutes from the nearest beach and the excellent Bangpoo Resort in Samut Prakan.
Popular also has a very nice reception area where you can sit and relax and oddly room rent comes with one month's free Internet access. You can book a room for one night and any time you need to get on the Internet come back and put the lounge to use and enjoy a nice pizza and some spicy chicken from the 1112 next door - For a whole month. And if that doesn't convince you how about the free underground secure car park - A somewhat bizarre place but pleasantly up-market too..
You may wonder why I would want to stay in Bang Pli. Well, from Bang Pli head toward Bangkok on the Chonburi expressway and you come to Mega Bangna shopping centre. It is a tad Japanese tourist orientated but still worth a visit. Carry on further up and you come to Central Bangna, one of the best known shopping centres in Bangkok. Head back to Bang Pli and you come to Bang Pli Indoor Market which is simply Bangkok's bargain basement and my missus goes shopaholic for clothes every time we go there with shirts at £2 a pop and skirts and trousers for three or four pounds and so far you will not have seen one single tourist or ex-pat.
Cross the road to Home Pro Bang Pli and you may see the occassional westerner but the food halls are outstanding and Tesco will sell anything you might not find in Bang Pli. Use the foot bridge to get back the the main side and you pass dozens of small traders selling bargain after bargain, some old boy will be playing a khaern or saw ew and some old dear with no legs will be begging - and this IS the real Thailand, right here in Eastern Bangkok.