Friday, December 4, 2009

Bangkok: Eating, Shopping and Evening-Outs!

Let me warn you at the onset. I am not much of a party person so I probably saw the tamest side of Bangkok. But we had fun and here’s the score!

Eating: Bangkok as you probably know eats everything and you will find all sorts of food and eating joints- from fantastic roof-top restaurants  to road side kiosks. If you are adventurous go for the local stalls. My husband tried a kiosk selling fish dumplings with lots of veggies and hot sauce (something like a bhel-puri). He asked the lady to make it hot, she did and he was soon gulping down a bottle of coke. Spicy in Bangkok can be really spicy. If you are on a budget try Cabbages and Condoms. The food is OK but is the atmosphere which is very pretty with fairy lights and outdoor seating. We also checked out the Sua-Lum Night market and did not like it much. You aren’t missing much if you don't go. Most malls in Bangkok have a food court serving good and varied food. The one in MBK has an Indian outlet too if you are craving for dal-naan-paneer. The fruit milkshakes are a good option too.

Another must to is heading to Sirroco- the roof top restaurant at Lebua for a drink. You can stand on the roof-top with a drink in hand and enjoy the view and the fashionable crowd. A meal here can be very expensive and one might have to book days in advance.

Evening-Outs: Like I said, my review will probably be very tame. If you have a great group of friends , any place can be fun and that applies to Bangkok as well. We checked out a couple of clubs and most were filled with tourist and Thai ladies. No surprise here. The places almost look and feel the same. Dance or enjoy a drink if you want to. We headed out shortly. What I would recommend for an evening out is a dinner cruise. There are a large number of these with a variety of budgets. Most leave between 7.00-8.00 PM, so be sure to make early reservations. It is not the food but the whole experience of Bangkok floating by with lights as you sip your drink and feel the cool air from the boat deck which makes the experience memorable.

After the cruise, we went to Bamboo- a restaurant at the Oriental Hotel where they play jazz after 10.00 PM. Dress code is formal and men must be in trousers and closed shoes. I thoroughly enjoyed the music and the voice of Frankie- the lady on the mike. She even autographed a paper coaster and told me how she wanted to be a singer ever since childhood.

$ Shopping $: There are three types of shopping experiences in Bangkok. First, the high end global brands: There are a number of malls in Bangkok which house global brands like Valentino, Todds, Gucci, Judith Lieber and the second rungs like Calvin Klien, Mango, Guess. If you are looking for bargains or the latest styles you would be better off buying these in US/or asking a relative to do so during sale season. The Bangkok prices are high with barely any promotions running.

The second shopping experience are the local Thai brands. These are housed in Central World, Robinsons, Zen etc. Trendy styles and good quality. An evening blouse might cost anywhere in the range of Bht 1000-2500. They have lots of home products, stationary and accessories. Take a look and you might find something you really like.

The third shopping is the local street bargain shopping which most of us are excited about when we go to Bangkok (including myself). Heading to MBK is almost mandatory. It is a mall with stores as well as kiosks. You will find all sorts of stuff here at good bargains. I found some lovely stoles for Bht 300, comfy cotton Giodarno t-shirts for Bht 350 (on sale) and some very nice bags for Bht 300-500. There are small picks like coin purses (Bht 35), cushions (Bht 200), movie CDs (Bht 50) and many more. If you have the weekend you might want to check out the Chatuchak market. The market comes up on weekends just outside Bangkok and is huge (about 20,000 stalls) and crowded like crazy. You will get anything and everything. Clothes, pets, food, furniture….But be armed with a hat, water and common sense. Having a friend helps immensely.

But if crowds are not for you and you still want to do some street shopping there is hope. Look around your hotel and malls post 6.00 PM. Stalls come up with clothes, CDs, bags etc. Take a look and bargain hard.

Most importantly have loads and loads of fun! We did :)

Sights and sounds of Bangkok

We headed to Bangkok from Hua Hin by road yet again. We left early morning and reached our hotel (Shangri-La, see review) by 11.00 AM. A quick shower and we were out of the hotel in a jiffy to cruise down the Chao-Pharya and see the wonders of Bangkok.

Chao Pharya Cruise: The Chao-Pharya river cuts Bangkok into two and is dotted by large hotels on both sides. We started from the Boat Pier 1 (right next to the hotel) where we purchased a tourist cruise day pass for 150 bht (about Rs 200). This pass allows you to take any of the tourist boats for the day. You can hop on and off as you please and comes with a river map which makes a nice souvenir. Our plan was to stop at 2 piers (Wat Arun and Grand Palace) and then simply sit in the boat and view the city as we cruised forth.

Wat Arun: Even though our visit was in December, the weather was hot and sultry and we kept drinking lots of water. Our first stop was Wat Arun, Temple of Dawn (Wat=temple, Arun=sun). It is about 80 m high and the climb is pretty steep if you decide to go to the second level. The temple is decorated with mosaics and sculpture. The area also has a number of kiosks selling cane bags, wood carvings, masks and other knick-knacks.
Grand Palace: Our next stop was the Grand Palace. Since we were in shorts and half sleeves we were unable to go in but could only see the structure from outside. Though there are clothes for hire, the line is long and the procedure cumbersome. Remember to wear clothes till your ankles and palms, however, hot it might be! The Palace has was construction post 1750 and has been the home of the Thai King since. It is an enormous complex but then thats what royalty is all about !

If alive, its possibly edible: After these 2 stops and 3 hours, believe it or not, the Bangkok heat and smell had tired us for the day. The steets are lined with dried fish, frogs and intestines of god knows what. It appeared to me that if something lived it could be eaten. Overpowered by all this we decided to keep sitting on the cruise boat after Grand Palace and simply watched the world go by till about Boat Pier No. 15. What I had fun doing was throwing out bits of bread to fishes in the river. A fistful of bread crumbs quickly attracts fishes almost 12 inches in length. They will hurry towards the food and you will see a whole bunch of fishes splashing about for a treat!

Other tourist must stops in Bangkok are the Emrald Buddha, Jim Thomson’s House and the Crocodile Farm. Recommended one day de-tours if you are in the mood are the Ancient City (if you like history) or Pattaya (for Beach).

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Hua Hin- around the town

Hua-Hin is actually the Thai King’s summer resident. And, so, the well off families also began spending their summer here. It is now filled with luxury resorts and hotels; at a fraction of what you would pay at Maldives or Kho Samui. Still, we decided to look around and it was easy to cover the entire town in a day or two.

We first headed to the beach. It is packed with locals and tourists; with the locals usually eating and the tourists reading or drinking. You can sit on the chairs if you order something. We asked for a couple of cokes but after about an hour decided to move on. There were no water sports but we did collect shells, ate corn-on-cob and picked hats and fake Armani sunglasses!

Time for lunch and we headed to a Pizzeria at a mall. A sight I kept noticing was Thai girls and women with tourists in Hua-Hin. It is common in Thailand, but specially so in Hua Hin. It is very common to find such couples specially at eating joints and shopping centers.

Some landmarks in Hua Hun are the railway station (supposed to be the country’s prettiest), the clock tower, the King’s Palace and the elephant park. The rail station was small but brightly painted. The area around it was decorated with paper streamers and buntings. The clock tower also serves as a bus stop! The King’s palace we had to miss as he was in residence.

I tried to shop (I try to shop everywhere ) but could not find much. The market is about a street or two. What you must do is check out the Thai boxing though! They put on music and its fun to see jabs. The one which we saw was a friendly match sponsored by a company so thankfully no broken teeth or nose!

To Thailand: Hua Hin and Bangkok

“ I am going to shop and shop, till I drop”, said me as we checked in at the airport for our flight to Bangkok. My excited look was matched by a thoughtful one by Sanjay. “But we are in Bangkok for 2 days only” said my husband regaining his composure. And so started our trip to Thailand- 7 days in Hua Hin ( a sleepy beach town filled with resorts) and 2 days in Bangkok.

We landed at the Bangkok airport early morning 6.00 AM and were met by the attendant of AKA Resorts, Hua Hin. She led us to a 5 series BMW, our chariot for the 3 hour drive to the resort. These 3 hours flew as we looked out into the scenery, busy Bangkok surburbs slowly replaced by small dhaba style eateries interspersed by large factories and temples every now and then.

AKA resort, Hua Hin: We checked into the resort; our first impression being fabulous. We were looking to just chill, laze and do absolute nothing in the next week and the place seemed perfect. In the middle of rice fields, the resort had large well maintained lawns with open eating areas and a pool. We drove to our villa in a golf-cart. It had a lounge with TV and small bar area, a bedroom, a massage room, two bath areas, a terrace with sunbed and a decent sized pool all to our selves.  :)

We spent the next 3-4 days reading from the library, swimming and taking walks around the area. There are times when you just want to be pampered. AKA fit the bill perfectly. We had picked some groceries on the way to the hotel and had enough to munch during the daytime. I am a vegetarian so my choice was certainly limited.

On the fourth day we decided to head to town.