Le Meridien, Chiang Rai

The ride to the hotel (Le Meridien, Chiang Rai) from the airport took about 15 minutes. The lobby was very welcoming and smelt nice. I was able to get checked in without TOO much trouble with the fact that no one spoke decent english. I chalked it up to the fact that I was in Thailand and I had prepared myself for a lack of communication. However, I was not prepared for how bad it was at the hotel. This is supposed to be a five star resort here in Thailand and it is a Starwoods property… I was very disappointed. I’m going to go on a bit of a rant so I apologize in advance.

I had several issues the first 24hours in the hotel and they were all made considerable worse by the fact that I couldn’t voice my issues to anyone in the staff and get any kind of feedback or support. After spending more than an hour on the phone with Starwoods my second night at the hotel, they told me the day manager would be in at 8am and he has a note to call me. I had a very nice conversation with Stephen, who is australian, and speaks perfect english. I really needed that and we were able to get a few things resolved. 

So, RANT:

The wifi is shit throughout 90% of the hotel. The only place it seems to work is the lobby and your room. I was told several times by staff that they had a technician looking into it (I found out later that wasn’t the case. They just aren’t equipped for wifi at the pool or the restaurants. I can accept that but if it is supposed to work, and it doesn’t, that is not acceptable. And they SHOULD have wifi throughout. But I guess I understand.

The buffet at the hotel is just not good. I think the buffet is like 15-20 bucks so I guess you can’t ask much. But shouldn’t you be able to expect a quality buffet at a “5 star” resort. I WAS expecting that and I didn’t get it. A lot of the food options were either empty or very close to it. A lot of foods were soggy or cold. There really wasn’t as much of a selection as I have come to expect either. I chalked it up to a bad experience and figured I’d try the breakfast buffet the next day and order off the menu in the future.

The breakfast buffet wasn’t any better. I asked for eggs benedict as I saw a sign for it but they seemed to be all out. After about 10 minutes the chef brought them out. I realized they were cold when I got back to my table. According to the conversation I had with Stephen, this is how they eat them in Thailand. I don’t understand that, but whatever. I decided I wouldn’t be choosing the buffet option any more.

The hotel is about a 15 minute car ride (costs 200 Bhat) [taxis/tuk tuks from the city center cost only 80 Bhat] so you are inclined to eat a bit at the hotel. If I ever stayed here again I would certainly eat “off campus” more and forgo the much more expensive (albeit not really expensive) food options at the hotel.

I decided to sit outside at the restaurant for dinner one night. I was the only one out there which was nice but I had to get up from my table several times to find a waitress to take my order, get me another drink, get me the check etc. The place wasn’t busy so I would have expected some more attention or even a vague recognition that I was actually there.

One of my biggest problems was not being able to talk to someone to get my issues resolved

After voicing all my concerns to Steven I was expecting some sort of compensation or ‘restitution” (I always feel weird using that word lol). I ended up getting my $10 dinner buffet comped and a cheese plate in my room. I was expecting considerably more and I think in the states I would have certainly fought for more. I will probably call starwoods when I get home and deal with them directly. It’s very easy for a manager to comp a couple of meals, or some drinks, or just take $100 off your bill. He didn’t do that and he should have. It has the potential to completely change someone’s feelings about a place from bad to good if they are taken care of and feel like someone on the other end actually cares.

The good:

The hotel and hotel grounds are super nice. It’s located right on the river and with an infinity pool and a “River View” room, I was set up nicely. My balcony overlooked the pool area and I could see the river very clearly.

My room (in the “Grand Deluxe Wing”) was well appointed and spacious. The bathroom was very large with both a tub and a shower (with rainfall shower head :) ). There is a large changing room/closest with safe and drawers and hangers etc.

The bed was FANTASTIC. I had a king (that’s how I roll baby) and it was certainly one of the highlights of my stay.

The spa was really nice. I’ve never really been much of a “message guy” but I had some extra time so I figured why not. The price was considerably more (about $25 for 30 minutes) than a message in town (like $3) but I was there so I did it. The message was good, the lady was nice, and it was an enjoyable experience overall.

Food: Once I started ordering off the menu instead of the buffet, the food did improve. I had breakfast in the room twice, a Thai Breakfast (a shrimp dish) and just scrambled eggs with smoked salmon the last morning. They were both acceptable. For dinner at the restaurant I had a Prawn and Snow fish soup for an app which was really good. Also, the Pork belly and scallop over ramon. Taste was good but after complaining about having only ONE small scallop in the dish I was informed that is their portion and if I wanted more I’d have to pay for it. Little things like this separate the really good restaurants and hotels from the 2nd and 3rd, etc. tier ones. It really wouldn’t’ have cost the hotel anything to make a customer happy and drop a few more scallops on a plate. (anyway… this is not the ranting section :) ). Additionally, I had the beef cheek with rice and the spicy thai seafood salad for dinner from the room service menu the second night. They were both good.

Golden Triangle Tour:

My second day at the hotel I decided to do a tour. It came recommended by a friend who had stayed at the hotel last year so I figured it would be all right. I also had the whole day to kill before meeting my friends around 6. I probably should have booked the excursion from a place in town but figured this would be my one big “splurge” item while in Chiang Rai so I bucked over the $150 and went for it.

I was NOT in a good mood after having dealt with starwoods the night before and I didn’t have the best attitude going into it. I was also by myself with the driver and the guide so I wasn’t’ really sure what to expect.

The first stop was the opium museum…. I HATE museums. I hate sitting in a room watching a video that is 10 years out of date, I hate reading off of placards and I hate how fake everything is about museum’s in general. This place wasn’t any different. Sorry Rob, but I guess I didn’t like it as much as you. I got through there in about 20 minutes and wanted to get to the next part of the trip.

We next went to a place to get a scenic view of the golden triangle. For those that don’t know (as I had no idea before the trip) the golden triangle is the northern part of Thailand, the southeastern part of Myanmar, and the northwestern part of Laos. It is called the golden triangle because it is where opium has been heavily produced for hundreds (?) of years. Opium is called “black gold”, hence golden triangle. The Mae Kong river runs through the whole thing and it is where all the planting fields for opium were (are?). My guide (pak or pun or something completely different… I honestly have no idea) did a bit of explaining about where the different countries where and where the borders were etc.

Next stop was the small boat tour up and down the river. That was good enough. I was starting to pull myself out of my funk and just enjoying the trip for what it was. I’ll likely never do this again, so enjoy it! We toured around a bit on the boat and then ended up stopping on this little island which is part of Laos.

This was a straight tourist trap. If given the option to skip this I totally would have. It’s essentially a town created solely for the purpose of selling crap to tourists. It’s one of my least favorite things to do. Some people like it for souvenir shopping and other nonsense, but it’s just not my scene. I like the authentic and original experiences. That’s just the way I feel about it. I did get to try scorpion whiskey while I was there. Essentially its just a bottle of whiskey with a snake or scorpion in it. It tastes like regular whiskey.

Lastly we visited a town which had tons of temples in it. Most had been destroyed over hundreds (?) of years. [sorry for all the question marks in this post. I’m in the car writing this so I can’t fact check]. The temples were cool and they felt a bit more authentic, however, right outside there were 25 crap souvenir stands. And there was lots of signs and clocks and other stuff all through the interior. It just really takes away from the beauty of things when you turn around and there is a giant donation box behind you.

On the way back to the hotel the guide had a little treat for me. He stopped for sticky rice (which I had yet to try) and offered me some of his. It was good and was packed inside a bamboo stalk.

The trip was interesting enough. It was 5 hours in total, so I certainly think it would have been more fun with a companion.  I WOULD recommend this to someone else., but I would tell them to book it somewhere other then the hotel though as you probably could have done it for considerably less bhat.

 

All in all, the hotel was less then a 5 star experience. That’s what it’s about for me.. the experience. I did not enjoy myself nearly as much as I should have and I spent a lot of time dealing with issues that should have been spent enjoying myself. I don’t think that I would stay here again but instead try to find something with better customer service. I know other people who have stayed here and they have a very good rating on trip advisor (although a bunch of people had the same problems as me) so if you are finding yourself in Chiang Rai anytime soon, you could consider a stay here. If you do stay here, be sure to introduce yourself to the day manager,  Stephen Morahan. He’s a nice guy and will be your salvation when you are struggling with the other hotel staff trying to speak english.

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