Tuesday, November 01, 2005

What a city! What a trip!

This is the only photo I have of my trip to Bangkok! The photo was taken with my phone camera on board a tuk tuk and the person on the photo is Christian, one of the friends I was with. I didn't bring my digital camera with me 'coz I knew there will be someone with a camera in the group.

My mission for going to Bangkok was to have a few days break and to indulge myself. Mission accomplished? Errr..... yes and no.

I learned a few things on this trip - about Bangkok, about myself, about being away from my family, about travel companions. Bangkok is such an awesome city! So full of contradictions and contrasts. So chaotic, yet there is some system in the madness.

Service in Bangkok is so good! On arrival in Bangkok, I suddenly realise that I didn't find out how to get to the hotel from the airport. I went to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) counter to find out what was the cheapest and fastest way to get to the Royal Orchid Sheraton. At the counter, they could give me several options. I could have taken a bus for 100 baht. Unfortunately, Sheraton was not in the bus route. Take a metered taxi plus pay 50 baht surchage or take one of the luxury taxis available. I knew my friends were waiting for me so I opted for a luxury taxi for 660 baht. On hindsight, I could have taken the metered taxi and paid approximately 300 baht including toll. The luxury taxi was very comfortable. Sitting in the back of the Toyota Camry, I felt like a tai tai with a personal chauffeur. I got a map of Bangkok from the TAT counter too.

We stayed on the 28th floor (highest floor) at the Royal Orchid Sheraton which was one of three executive floors. My stay was sponsored by my friends, Graeme and Cynthia. Thank you so much! *Muah* The hotel had a beautiful view of the Chao Phraya River. The view from the Executive Lounge and our room was awesome! Cynthia was supposed to take a photo of the view with her camera before leaving for Bhutan this morning. Every evening from 4pm - 8pm was cocktail hour at the Executive Lounge. I didn't spend that much time at the lounge for happy hours lah. Got shopping to do!

The first day I had breakfast in the lounge. Quite a nice spread of fruits, cereal, assortment of breads and a honeycomb hung tilted, so there was fresh honey collected in a bowl. Yumm! The coffee at the lounge was really good too! Since Cynthia was still sleeping, I thought I would walk around the hotel area. What a pleasant surprise to discover that we were at Chinatown! I walked around and found lots of interesting food stalls and coffee shops in the area. I wish then I hadn't had breakfast in the hotel! Found a stall selling mango and pulut, so I packed some to share with Cynthia. YUMM!

Near the Sheraton were also lots of shops selling old metal parts. Walking along the roads there reminded me of Jalan Bendahara in Ipoh, where my father's family home is. The greasy shops filled with metal parts of every description. Men with greasy hands pulling apart screws and nuts for recycling. The smell of the place really brought back so much memory of the Ipoh that I know. There was also a small market in the area. I passed more stalls selling all sorts of interesting fare. Some were familiar like braised duck and meats (Teo Chew specialty) but some were quite foreign. I made a mental note to go back to that area for breakfast the next day.

Cynthia remember a place called Siam Village in the Silom area which she said served good Thai food. We went there only to find out it's now very touristy. Food prices was reasonable (by tourist standard) and was very tasty. There were shops selling crafts and stuff and a cultural performance was on during dinner. I would describe the place as a nicer version of Saloma Cafe in KL. It was Christian's first visit to Bangkok, so Graeme and Cynthia thought he should visit the Patpong area, just to check out what it's like. He was in culture shock. My shopping mode was in high gear. Later, I stayed back to do some shopping while they went to meet some friends for drinks. I saw a stall which sold jeans for children, so I asked the price. It was soooooo expensive! Just then I realised the prices of stuff in Patpong won't go very low as the traders probably pay a premium in rent to secure a place there. I was the first customer for that stall, yet I paid what I felt was too much for copies of Levi's jeans. That was when I decided to go back to the hotel to rest. Charge up for real shopping the next day!

My poor friend was jetlagged, so she slept in till past noon. She hadn't stirred since I left the room, I was ready to call an ambulance! She was just so tired, having arrived from London the same day I got into Bangkok. I was itching to start my shopping expedition. Getting into the shopping belts of Siam and Sukhumvit was a bit of effort from the riverside area. The hotel concierge told me there was a hotel shuttle to take me to the BTS (skytrain) station Sathorn Thaksin, which will connect me to Siam. I waited for 40 minutes and no sign of the hotel boat shuttle. In the end, I hopped onto one of the river taxis (more like a river bus), paid 9 baht and I was on my way! The skytrain was very comfortable. I was imagining my children laughing if they were there to hear the announcement. Some of the places had names which would have induced the giggles in them. One of the names was Sala Daeng (pronounced in a sing song tone "sa-la deng"). I had been to Bangkok and to the Siam area (where MBK is situated) with a Lintas company trip 11 years ago. Nothing prepared me for what was waiting for me there. Siam - the chaos of Sg Wang/Bukit Bintang area, the mess of Georgetown, the size of Picadilly Circus and the walkways and pedestrian bridges of Orchard Road all rolled into one! I wanted to cover as much of Siam as I could but ended up spending 5 hours in MBK alone. I was exhausted!

We went out to Sukhumvit Soi 33/1 for dinner. PT's daughter, Melisa lived in Bangkok for several years. She recommended a place on Soi 33/1 which served excellent Thai food. That is an area frequented by Japanese, and had lots of Japanese restaurants on that stretch. We walked up and down the street several times before we found the place. "Jungle" was a no-nonsense looking place, with lots of trees (sappling) between benches and tables. We stopped to ask someone if we were in the right place. The locals do not know the place as "Jungle" apparently. I was looking forward to some authentic Thai food. We found our table and sat down. Sharon and I flipped open the menu and I saw "Fried Cobra in Chili" as one of the items listed. Cynthia is petrified of snakes, so knowing there are snakes in the area made her very uncomfortable. We ended up at a Japanese restaurant in the area. Food was yumm!

We past a massage place name Wat Po massage. Hoping that the masseuse were trained at the Wat Po temple, we went in for foot scrub and massage. We paid up at the reception and was promptly led out the back way. Huh? Then we were led to another shop lot. Two rows of leather (?) armchairs were laid out. Several people were having their foot massaged. I was assured we were in the right place 'coz the other customers were all so relaxed, they were asleep! The next 2 hours were the most relaxing couple of hours I've ever been through.

The next day, I woke up earlier than my travel buddies again. I went down to the market area for my breakfast. I had an interesting dish. The sign was in Thai, so I don't even know what it was I ordered. I just asked the lady for one, indicated I want all the ingredients which were to go into the dish and waited to see what I got. I was prepared to pay tourist price too, coz the day before, I was charged 50 baht for mango and pulut when the board with price tag didn't have 50 baht on it. What I got from this stall was something which looked like jue cheong fun with a dark gravy with small pieces of tofu on it. It was delicious! On the way back to the hotel for coffee, I stopped at a stall which I had passed several times the day before. A 60+ year old man was slow frying something in a small wok. He had a stack of bowls made with dried lotus leaves or something like that. I asked him what he was selling in broken English, he replied in Mandarin! The eldery man told me he took Mandarin lessons but hadn't had much opportunity to speak it. We had a nice chat while I ate the "jui kueh" sprinked with fried chai poh. It wasn't fantastic but the chat with the eldery man was nice.

Later, Cynthia, Sharon and I went to the Chatuchak market. I've heard lots about the Chatuchak market but nothing prepared me for it. Fortunately, I've had some training in the Pudu wet market where I do my main grocery shopping. Of course Chatuchak wasn't wet and smelly lah, nor as chaotic. Just so much to see! Again, my attention was diverted to food stalls there. Ice lollies being made before your eyes. A round cauldron of ice with metal (aluminium) tubes with a stick in each tube in the ice. The vendor twists a cauldron within a cauldron back and forth to make the ice lollies. Noodle stalls with their signboard all in Thai, where the locals were taking a break and having a snack before continuing with shopping. On the other side, there were stalls with fancy table cloth and a board listing out what was offered in English. The Thai stalls offered a bowl of noodle for 25 baht. The stalls catering to the foreigners charged 75 baht onwards for burgers, hot dogs, pancakes, etc. There were several stalls selling ice cream made with young coconut. Non-dairy. Three scoops of this ice cream and topping of your choice. Topping choices were palm nut (atap chee), sea coconut, beans, peanuts, etc. It was very good. I stopped for a roasted young coconut. The juice from a roasted young coconut is like drinking santan-flavoured water. Slurp! I managed to get my Christmas shopping done too! So many interesting stuff in the Chatuchak market but I couldn't get a purple boa for Ribena Berry.

From Chatuchak, I took the train to World Central. I remember the place from the Lintas company trip too. We stayed in the Anorma Hotel which is right smack in the middle of shopping complexes. By this time, my feet were already tired, then I saw a banner advertising Wacoal underwear sale! I dragged my feet towards Isetan. Yup, the Wacoal bras were very cheap (from 110 baht onwards) but cannot try on lah. Also, the Thai made bra cup sizes were different from the ones I've tried on in KL. I went back to the hotel empty handed again. Only with the stuff I bought from Chatuchak earlier.

The last night I was in Bangkok, we went for drinks at Vertigo which is on top of the Banyan Tree Hotel. The view from the top was awesome! As Christian described Vertigo, "... panoramic view of the Bangkok skyline. Looks like a place where James Bond would hang out, or something from the Thomas Crown Affair..."

I had a great time in Bangkok. The "me-time" break was great. Four days was just nice 'coz by that time, I was ready to go home to my family. I missed my children so much! I think I missed them more than they missed me. Hehehe... For sure, the next time I make a trip to Bangkok, I would do some things differently. Accommodation closer to public transport being one of them. Also, find out what shops are where. Eg, Siam area is more for shopping for cheap, fashionable stuff as one would go to Sg Wang for stuff like that. I didn't have a chance to shop in Sukhumvit. That is probably the place I would have been able to find something for myself.

Last night, when Adam woke up in the middle of night. I asked him if he missed me. He replied, "No". I was crushed! He didn't miss me? I asked him again "Did you miss mama?"

Adam: "No"

Me: "Why?"

Adam: "I happy"

Me: "You didn't miss mama?"

Adam: "No. I happy."

Then he cupped my face and said, "I happy you come back"

Awww..... Makes my heart melt!


Anonymous Kat said...

Great that you had such a good time! But the best was when Adam said what he did, eh?! Better than what PT can come out with..wink, wink..

Next time, you must go with Malaysians..hint, hint.. and have an eating orgy!!

9:58 pm  
Blogger Min said...

Kat, just say when! When you and your family are ready, we can go jalan-jalan together.

10:42 pm  
Anonymous Kat said...

I hope you mean without kids... :lol:

10:05 pm  
Blogger Mel T said...

The restaurant on Sukhumvit soi 33/1 is known to the locals as "Raan Pa" which literally translates to Jungle restaurant in English. The food is delicious! No need to see snakes unless that is what you choose to focus on alongside the variety of fried insects sold on most streets of Bangkok.

10:05 am  
Blogger Adriene said...

wow, what a fab holiday! i love bkk too and all the things u mentioned. and what a sweet lil boy u have!

4:17 pm  
Blogger Min said...

I would have had dinner at Raan Pa. The customers who were there looked like they enjoyed their food. The setting was also very nice, sort of a beer garden kind of setting. Nice place for dinner and chit chat. Cynthia has a snake phobia. Just knowing there may be snakes in the premises (dead or alive) made her really uneasy.

1:58 pm  
Blogger Baby Smooches said...

now, THAT is simply priceless! :-)

3:43 pm  

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