Wednesday, February 16, 2011

De Chai Hotel, Chiang Mai

One of the newest hotels in Chiang Mai is De Chai the Colonial Hotel. I stayed there for one night two weeks ago when my regular hotel and second choice hotels were unavailable. I got a reasonable deal through the Agoda website for a little over 2,200 bht for a deluxe room, breakfast included.  This is normally more than I would pay in Chiang Mai where much better deals can be had, but this was a very last minute booking and the hotel looked interesting and the location ideal. Room rates on the hotel website range from 2100 to 5200 baht.

First of all: Location. The hotel is on a very quiet soi located off the busy Thapae Road. Turn left out of the hotel and you will be on Thapae Road within 1 minute. Turn right, wander down the meandering soi and you should find yourself on the popular Loi Khroi road in about 3 or 4 minutes.  Once on either of those two roads you can be within the walls of the old city within 5 minutes, or walking in the other direction, be at the famous night bazaar within 6/7 minutes.

Rooms: My room was very well appointed. It had two beds, both four posters, with white muslin sheets (not mosquito nets) draped over the top. Lanna style touches accentuated the otherwise minimalist style. Although the hotel is very quiet the air conditioning is most definitely not. It is noisy, probably the noisiest I have encountered. Reviews of the major review sites will reveal similar complaints. One might think that noisy air conditioning would equal strong, effective air conditioning. Not so for me, I woke up in the night feeling oppressively hot and never felt the room achieved an entirely comfortable temperature, despite this being the second day of February and Chiang Mai experiencing refreshing outside temperatures.

Breakfast: Nothing to get excited about. The buffet had those awful, bland, boiled sausages sitting in hot water. Quite why much of the world considers this to be acceptable food is beyond me. However I was offered freshly cooked eggs and French toast and this satisfied me.

General ambiance: The reception features a large water feature which makes it appear very cool and refreshing (unlike my room). The staff are very accommodating, if slightly reserved and formal. The hotel had a slightly deserted feel as I saw almost no other guests. Not always a bad thing!

Their brochure is a little over the top, and like many tourist oriented brochures in Thailand, would have benefited enormously from the ministrations of a native English speaking proof reader:

“At the sight that catches your eye are colorful flower garden and a long wonderful lotus pond, like you walk in artistic paradise. Not same the other, de chai offers a sense of its own identity with 40 stylish Lanna Colonial type room: type A-G, every unit customize compositions by matching pieces of furniture and sanitary fixtures that are coordinated and made of precious materials and finishes, unequivocally characterizes de chai’s style. The attention paid to the esthetical aspect of materials, together with the use of smooth shapes, conveys a sensation of balance and helps in transforming the bathroom into a room with a great atmosphere.”

While I did very much like the lotus pond feature I would not go so far as to say I was walking in artistic paradise! Mind you, I stayed off the booze that particular night. In hindsight that may have been a mistake and a few beers may have helped me to experience the artistic paradise sensation. However, in turn, that may have effected the sensation of balance I got from the use of smooth shapes and I may well have got dizzy and collapsed on the bathroom floor, although at least I would be collapsed into a room with great atmosphere. Their brochure goes on to enthuse:

“de chai is produced on the creative space to allow for more natural light to come through, and also generates noise from uncontrollable factors on chaotic Thapae Roads with 25 mm. special window glass. Spacing for air circulation has been created between the walls to help reduce heat build up.”

I guess the guys doing my room forgot the spacing bit!

“If this isn’t a dream such a hotel would merge into the background of similar structures, all of them clean and neat and architecturally as perfect as this one. Where it’s however, de chai, stand out!”


It is certainly a nice hotel, meticulously clean and well furnished with a good location. Would I stay there again? Probably not because I know I can get better deals. It would probably appeal to romantic couples who want to be close to town and not stuck in one of the many ‘romantic resorts’ out of town, providing they don’t mind getting a bit hot and sticky in their romantic trysts and providing the noisy air con problem is sorted out, because that could be a bit of a romance killer. It may also appeal to the business traveller who wants to be in town, but wishes to avoid the impersonality and mass coach crowds of the popular high rise hotels in town.  

Conclusion: sort out the air con and this will be a nice hotel for the non-backpacker visitors to Chiang Mai.

Address: 6/3 Thapae Road, Soi 4, Changklan, Night Bazaar, Chiang Mai, Thailand 50300

Monday, February 14, 2011

Turning the Tables......

In the Thailand blogosphere many discussions focus on disproportionate pricing for farangs, whether it be higher prices at tourist destinations or inflated prices at markets/shops based on the colour of one’s skin or perceived ability to pay prices far above the Thai norm.

Let me start off by saying that, in principle, I have no objection to business owners seeking to maximize revenue returns. Savvy business operators across the globe do this on a regular basis, this is certainly not a trait confined to Thais. However, where does the line cross between good business practice versus blatant contempt for customers?

In Chinatown last week I popped into an open store which sold a variety of relatively inexpensive goods. My eye was caught by Thai style purses, in various colours, with elephant motifs on the front and back of each, packaged in sets of 12. These are the sort of purses you can find at any market throughout Thailand and border town markets in neighbouring countries. You know they are cheap and will not last long but they make good, inexpensive, give-away presents. A bonus point was that the price was clearly indicated on the packaging, 180 bht for 12, making each purse a very reasonable 15 baht.  As I was examining the set, the Thai owner of the shop approached me and said ‘Very good price, for set of 12 only 1000 baht!’ I looked again at the price sticker, which clearly said 180 baht, then I looked at the shop owner, looked back again at the price sticker, returned my gaze to shop owner and asked her to repeat the price: ‘One thousand baht’ she said. ‘One thousand baht’ I repeated. She nodded her head enthusiastically, the head nodding somehow indicating this was the deal of a lifetime. My gaze returned once more to the sticker price of 180 baht. Had I somehow misread this? Was there a missing ‘1’? In that case would the price not be 1,180 baht? I picked up a similar 12 pack, comprised of smaller purses, which had a price sticker of 150 baht. How much for these I asked? ‘1,150’. Oh, very crafty..... she had now added 1000 to the sticker price instead of just rounding up the sticker price to 1000. This made the smaller purses more expensive than the larger purses. Do I look stupid? Had I got drunk the night before and had a ‘I am a stupid, dumb farang’ tattoo etched onto my forehead? I smiled and politely thanked the lady....

Fortunately I was not alone in Chinatown that day. My dear friend, the irrepressibly happy Miss Pla, (who I am pleased to say neither looks nor smells like a fish) was eagerly inspecting counterfeit bags in a shop a few doors down. I explained the situation to her and pointed out the  offending shop. She, being a savvy shopper herself, laughed in outrage at the 1000 bht price tag I was quoted and happily trotted off to conduct counter espionage tactics on my behalf. She came back out of the shop a minute later and told me she had been quoted the Thai price of 180 baht. Ok, close the deal, I said (in my best Gordon Gekko accent), buy for 180 baht. Back into the  shop she went while I hovered outside, just out of sight of the shop owner. As soon as she handed over the money and had the purchase in her hand I walked up to the counter, took the bag from Pla’s hand, inspected the merchandise and said ‘Wow, you got a good deal for 180 baht’. The shop owner looked at me, then looked at Pla and said, in English, ‘You buy for him?’ ‘Yes’ said Pla, unable to avoid a cheeky grin creeping across her face. All credit to the shopkeeper, she maintained a stoically dignified expression and graciously thanked me and Pla. Presumably she was not out of pocket otherwise she would not be able to sell at that price, she just lost out on the extremely lucrative (500+%) “farang tax”. Pla thought the whole thing to be incredibly funny and could not believe I was quoted 1000 baht. She doubled up in laughter once outside the shop and for the next few hours constantly chuckled to herself repeating the phrase ‘1000 baht’ while shaking her head in disbelief.

This is all part of what makes travelling in Thailand so much fun.  Keep your wits about you, keep smiling, stay polite, never get offended, it’s just business, not personal. Mai pen rai.

The controversially priced purses!