by Hank Leukart
March 14, 2006
The best food you’ve ever had for 89 cents
Thailand’s very high taste-to-price ratio.
Breakfast at the famous Oriental Hotel on Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River
AE SOT, Thailand — You should visit Thailand just for the food. Seriously. I just ate a Thai chicken/rice dish made by a woman in a “restaurant” that was better than any Thai dish I’ve ever eaten in the states. Of course, I had no idea what I was ordering because I couldn’t understand her and she couldn’t understand me, but in general, whatever arrives from Thai cooks is always tasty, so I don’t worry. I use the term restaurant loosely — the place was more like a concrete hole in a wall with serving dishes on a table spilling out into the street — but that’s not the point; the meal cost only 35 Baht (about 89 US cents).
Not only that, but my hotel (“guesthouse”) room for tonight cost 150 Baht ($3.80 US), the Thai airlines flight I took to Mae Sot from Bangkok was 1900 Baht ($47 US), and the following five-hour bus ride cost only 157 Baht ($3.92 US). Another one of my favorite discrepancies is the metered taxi ride from the Bangkok airport to downtown. The taxi ride from Newark to Manhattan costs about $65 US. The (longer) trip from the Bangkok airport to Bangkok’s Old City is 97 Baht ($2.43 US). I even got a traditional Thai massage yesterday for — you guessed it — $4 US. No, not that kind of massage.
Obviously, there are some exceptions to these prices — I started my trip by staying at the famous Oriental Hotel on the river in Bangkok (see inline photo), which charges only somewhat-discounted Western-style prices. Touted by every guidebook (even the budget-oriented Lonely Planet) as a required-stop on any world tour and one of the best hotels in the world, I couldn’t resist a bit of luxury after a 20-hour plane flight. (I usually tend to switch-off on trips between backpacker-hostels and more expensive hotels to experience both worlds.) The Oriental was frequented in the early 20th century by writers like Joseph Conrad and Ernest Hemingway, and it’s said that the hotel can single-handedly cure writer’s block. I can’t testify to this because I didn’t have writer’s block when I arrived, but I can say that more than almost any other hotel I’ve been, The Oriental recreates the feeling of opulence that the upper-class experienced in the early 1900s. Being in the hotel feels eerily similar to what it must have felt like to ride first-class on the Titanic. Except for the drowning part, of course.
As long as I don’t stay any more nights at the Oriental, at this rate, I’ll never run out of money. Ever. I understand better why people come to vacation in Thailand and end up never leaving — more on that in another installment. I used to think of Whole Foods as an overpriced grocery store. Now, I think of it as the most ludicrously priced place to buy food on the planet.
For years in the United States, we’ve been getting raped at the grocery store, pillaged at hotels, and simply stolen from by the airlines. It’s time to fight back. Next time you visit Whole Foods, try to convince them you’re only willing to pay 35 Baht for a grilled Italian Panini and a Jamba Juice. It might work.