Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Distill at Lebua State Tower & Duty free

I have two final points on the short holiday in Bangkok. Both are unconnected to each other.

Most people who recommend Bangkok will tell you that you must visit the bar called Distill at the top floor of the Lebua State Tower. Let me explain what they are talking about. The State Tower is a 68 storey building [not the tallest, but the third tallest in Thailand] and is located in the Silom area. The building is rather unattractive and made with lots and lots of concrete. It has no glass cladding. The architectural feature of this concrete tower is a golden dome on the very top. The building has mixed use; there are apartments, serviced apartments, offices and a so called five star hotel all located in the building. The building is located close to the Chaopyra River that flows thru Bangkok. Because the building is tall, from the higher floors the view is spectacular. From one side you can see the river and the city beyond the river. The other view is of the City of Bangkok. You get the picture?

Now what does any sensible person do if he has control of the top of such a tall building so stunningly located? He sets up an open air bar on the open terraces and a series of restaurants in the covered areas. He then calls the area the Dome. The bar has two parts called Distill and the Sky Bar each offering one of the two views I have written about. There are also restaurants serving Indian, Italian, Lebanese and Thai food. To add to the glamour, part of the highly successful sequel to Hangover, imaginatively called Hangover 2, was shot here and they make a big song and dance about it. There is also the hype about the fact that the view is great, and being there at sunset is super-great and eating there means you get the best food in Thailand.

Naturally HRH the Queen of Kutch and I set of to this heaven on earth, this gourmet paradise, this wondrous drinking place. This involved a taxi ride thru Bangkok’s legendary traffic. Getting there was somewhat of a pain. The informative taxi meter showed us that we had spent 32 minutes stationary in our 50 minute ride from Siam Kempinski to Lebua.

We arrived at the building to enter a most peculiar hotel lobby. The lobby was oddly shaped and full of the strangest bounders I had seen in Bangkok. Lots of hostesses in the lobby directing us to the elevators to take us up to the Dome. Tacky lobby and even tackier wobbly elevators. We were whisked and shaken up to the 68th floor where we exited into the waiting rapacious hard selling waiters at the bar. I was rather taken aback at this. I thought this was a fine dining place but this seemed like a bit of a seedy bar. We were among the first, soon more punters arrived and I was growing increasingly horrified. The fellow punters looked like what we would call `Hippies’ in Bombay except because there was a semblance of a dress code, the `Hippies’ wore trousers. Absolute Lonely Planet type people. Anyway, I thought, the view was good.

Waiter comes up and suggests Champagne without giving us a menu. By now my antennae was up and on full alert, so I asked for the menu. A glass of Champagne cost an eye popping Rs 2000/- per glass [USD 38]. Yes, unfortunately I was not born yesterday. I flipped a few pages and zeroed in on a beer, a single Singha equivalent to a Kingfisher at a heart wrenching Rs 800/- [USD 15]. HRH the Queen of Kutch had a small single malt which was about as expensive. Yes I know that we were paying for the view but this was, I thought beyond the limit charging. It is obvious that the hype and word of mouth is paying rich dividends here. It is the ‘must visit’ place in Bangkok and the Hotel have decided to fleece the punters for the pleasure.

We finished our drinks, paid our bill and took the jerky elevator ride down.

Tourist Trap. Do not even think of going here. Have a look at the photos. Decent view. If you want to drink with `Hippies’ and the Lonely Planet crowd then this is the place for you.

On to the second point. A useful travel tip, in case you already don’t know about it.

One of the more sensible things you can do is buy alcohol at a duty free shop in an airport. Please do remember that duty free does not mean profit free! Anyway, alcohol in duty free shops is much cheaper than in the city. The duty free prices for most alcohol at Mumbai Airport or if you want to be correct, Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, are low. Yes folks booze is cheap in Mumbai. Stay away from the Champagne and wines. Most spirits are extremely cheap by our retail shop standards. Mumbai Airport does not have a great selection, but all the normal stuff is available and is cheap.

To be extra sensible, my suggestion, is the following. When leaving India go to the Duty Free shop, select and pre order the booze you want. You can pay for it with your credit card. You get 5% off. It’s not much guys, 5% on a USD 50 booze bill is just USD 2.5 which is less than Rs 150/-  but Rs 150/- saved is a couple of burgers for the kids at MacDonald’s!! What the duty free guys do is give you a receipt. Then, when you arrive back in Mumbai, you pass Immigration, shuffle through another queue to show a havaldar the multitude of rubber stamps in your Passport and finally arrive in the Customs hall/Baggage claim area. Here is located a Duty Free shop. You march up to the shop show them your pre paid receipt and collect the booze. No sweat, no `kat kat’ no `jhanjhat’. No need to buy booze outside the country and carry it thru your flight in mortal fear of the bottles breaking. This was a revelation for me.

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