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Posts Tagged ‘sightseeing in Bangkok’

This will be the last entry in the Bangkok chronicles. After all, there’s only so much one can write about shopping. But it’s the writer in me insists on chronicling every little thing, often at my own expense, like a cringe-inducing mishap with the newly acquired bikini swimsuit.

The swimsuit was a regulation two-triangle-held-together-with-a-string variety. Unfortunately, the two triangles aren’t sewn together, the idea being unhindered movement to cover all sizes of endowments. As can happen often in fluid environments with many variables (the economy is a good example), you don’t exactly know which way the subjects will move. Without going into specifics, let me just say that the subjects moved in an undesirable direction. So that’s why all those people were smiling, not because I cut an alluring figure in my new swimsuit, I thought my face burning with humiliation.

Anyway, the swimming pool misadventure out of the way, I wondered what to do with my evening. What I really wanted to do was watch a sex show. And more-beautiful-than-women transvestites up close. I mean, I had seen them during day manning (womanning?) stalls, but that doesn’t count. Apart from to-die-for-eyebrows and maybe a lipstick application, there’s nothing really to tell them apart from men.

The question was where to find all this? And how? I could hardly walk up to the concierge and ask them to direct me to a sex show. I could but I also carried the additional baggage of being Indian. What would they think? Another tharki Indian. So I called a friend who told me to jump into a tuk tuk and ask him to take me to Patpong. Here again, my innate shame about my fellow countrymen prevented me from acting upon this advice. Alas, women shooting darts out of their vaginas was going to remain a legend – only heard about, never seen.

My advice for you, if you go there and want to watch one, is to get over your inhibitions and just ask. Everyone else matter-of-fact about it, even openly soliciting on the roads, so why shouldn’t you be?

The next day was a Saturday. That means time for the Chatuchak weekend market. So I hopped on the MRT subway and a fifteen minute train ride later alighted at the fabled market. It was more of the same, except, for a street market it was air-conditioned. Plus there are more handicrafts there, not only clothes, shoes and other fashion accessories. For that alone it is worth a visit.

That was it. I had time only to hit one of the luxury malls briefly – I splurged on a pair of Nike running shoes, the kinds I had been coveting but they weren’t available in my size back home – and then it was time to hit the Suvarnbhoomi airport for the flight back home.

Once again the haggling with the cabbie started. When I told him to down the meter, he thought for a while and said, “I go by meter but you tip me, okay?” “How much?” I asked suspiciously. “50 Baht.” So I said okay and off we went.

I still had three hours at the airport, tens of duty free shops and a strong determination to finish the remaining 6000 Baht with me. There was no point in paying a two-way commission to Thomas Cook by converting it back into rupees, I told myself. It really did not make economic sense. Best to finish off the currency. Three short hours and an additional debit of about ten thousand rupees on my credit card later I boarded the plane back home.

Another word of advice. While Thailand promises a VAT refund of 7% for purchases over 5000 Baht on a single bill, there really is no point in queuing up for it at the airport if your refund works out to less that 300-400 Baht as they deduct 100 Baht as admin fee.

 

Samudra Mantha scene as depicted at Suvarnabhoomi Airport

Samudra Manthan scene as depicted at Suvarnabhoomi Airport

A Buddha Shrine

A Buddha Shrine

Another shrine in Bangkok

Another shrine in Bangkok

 

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Pratunam Market! I woke up with the refrain of Pratunam Market running through my head like a mantra. The bangle seller of yesterday had mentioned it as well, but he also added that quality was suspect and that I best try MBK first. Well, I had tried MBK. Now it was time to hit the Pratunam Market. Again, Pratunam Market was within walking distance from my hotel (if you can call about 4-5 kms walking distance) and I was there in 30 mins.

The Pratunam Market area comprises a street market and a main shopping building. The main shopping building is nothing much to write home about, although I did pick up a pair of kick ass flats there for 230 Baht, the kind you get in Woodland for upwards of 800 rupees, 2 tees for a total of 150 Baht and a nice shirtdress for 220 Baht.

It’s the street market that’s buzzing. Very much like the flea markets of Goa and the street markets of Colaba, Fashion street and Linking Road, you can get fakes of practically every brand – Calvin Klein/Hugo Boss/Diesel chaddis for men, Diesel/Rolex watches, Ferrari jackets, Fendi sunglasses, you get the picture. And in all price ranges too, depending on the craftsmanship. Plus tailored dresses (Bangkok is huge tailoring market). All in all a shopping paradise for goras. And to some extent for Indians too since there is a larger selection of western outfits. I picked up a bikini top, boy shorts swimsuit there for 300 Baht.

It was time to do some sightseeing. Not that I was intrigued by the prospect of seeing Buddhist temples – I mean I like them but I’ve seen enough and then some in Sikkim, Himachal and Ladakh India – but because by now I had started feeling guilty. I mean come on, I’d been in Bangkok for two days and all I’d done was shop!

Thailand has a variety of public transport – the sky train, the underground, tuk-tuks, AC and non AC cabs. The tuk tuks and cabs are reasonable if you can get the buggers to go by meter (luckily, unlike India, meters are not tampered!). I hailed an AC cab and asked him to take me to the Grand Palace. “By meter,” I said firmly. “Ah!” he said, all enthusiasm dissipating, “you want to go by meter?” “Yes.” He thought for a while and said, “Okay, I take you but we make a stop on the way? Thai Expo?”

I had read about this. Most of these people are paid by shop owners to bring in tourists. “No,” I said firmly, also a little indignantly. What was he thinking trying to scam Indians? We invented scams! “I don’t want to shop.” “No, no, no shop. Only look,” he insisted. “No,” I said. “Then I don’t go.” Whatever the shopowners pay the tuk tuk walas and cabbies must be huge indeed because he was willing to let go of a lucrative fare in the hope of catching some other unsuspecting tourist.

Anyway, I managed to find my way to the Grand Palace only to find it shut for mourning! The King’s sister had passed away and the State Funeral was in progress. Which was just as well ’cos I wasn’t about to pay 300 Baht entry fee. I’ve learnt my lesson well in Europe where for the piddliest of monuments/places of tourist interest the entry fee is upwards of 8 Euros. You pay the fee and end up feeling cheated. Perhaps that’s an Indian thing ’cos we’ve been spoiled by truly awe inspiring monuments back home.

But now what? I’d come all the way to a distant corner of city and it would be silly to go back without seeing anything. I asked around and was told of the presence of another Buddhist temple in the vicinity – Wat Pho. So I took a stroll there, paid a modest entry fee of 50 Baht and entered. One of the big attractions there is Buddha in repose. Even if you’ve seen lavish Buddhist temples, it is certainly an awesome sight. I mean the statue is 50 feet long! And golden! Which is another thing you’ll notice in Bangkok. Lots of gold everywhere.

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Wat Pho is also the temple where one of the kings consecrated many statues of Buddha, picked up from deserted temples from all over Tahiland. It is quite a sight – numerous big, golden Buddha statues in glass cases lining the walls of the Wat.

After Wat Pho, a tourist guide, with a practiced eye for spotting lost tourists, nabbed me and advised me to visit the Black Buddha, the Golden Mount and the White Buddha, I think, in that order. It doesn’t matter because I didn’t go. He told me entry was free in all those places and helpfully charted out a circuit on the map as well. He then gently propelled me towards a tuk tuk saying, “He’ll take you all three places and drop you Rama VIII bridge. Only 20 Baht. You catch boat to Taksin Bridge from where you take sky train back to Sukhumvit.”

Like any good Indian, always on the lookout for scams, I smelt a fish. 20 Baht for a distance of over ten kms, plus waiting, was too good to be true. It was. That infernal Thai Expo reared its ugly head again. I found that if I didn’t go to the Thai Expo on the way, “no buy, only look,” I didn’t go at all. Anywhere. Period.

Plus there was additional confusion of which of these monuments were free and which were paid. One policeman, or so he claimed (actually I’m being uncharitable. He probably was a policeman) flashing an ID card at me asked me where I wanted to go. I told him. He then got very angry and said all those monuments had paid entry. “Who tell you to go there?” he demanded angrily. Like I knew all the touts’ names.

He told me go to some fourth place saying, “You believe me or not is up to you. But I tell you, go there, in this tuk tuk. Government tuk tuk,” he said pointing to a row of tuk tuks in front of us. “They take you there. No pay more than 40 baht.” I started to get elated. And then he added, “Only stop at Thai Expo on the way.” Sigh.

I decided to have a coffee at a nearby café run by Royal Thai Navy wives Association and generally asked them about buses to Rama VIII bridge. They told me that if wanted to catch a boat all I had to do was stroll down the adjoining lane for two minutes. Sure enough, two minutes later I arrived at the jetty (I forget the name) where another scam played itself out. Or at least tried to. Apparently they, taking advantage of tourists’ confusion, hustle them into tourist boats which cost many times more than the regular public transport express boat. Plus there an additional landing fee of 20 baht pax for tourist boats. Plus there is no information bureau. So you have to be very careful not to get hustled. I didn’t and a twenty minute boat ride later (14 Baht) landed at Taksin Bridge from where I took a sky train back to my Hotel.

Lest you’ll think Bangkok is a dangerous place, let me add, yes they do have scams but they are nothing on the scale of scams back home. Plus the public transport is really good. So you should be okay.

 

 

View from the Jetty

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I’ve been away, travelling again. This time to Bangkok. I had read so much about people going beserk shopping in Bangkok – buying everything from luxury brands to discounted export surpluses and cheap knockoffs of the same – that I was very clear that I was going there to shop. And time permitting, do a bit of sightseeing (A sex show was definitely on the cards).

So I packed three tees and a spare bag in a huge suitcase and took off. I flew Thai and the service was nice. What’s more, the flight was at the decent time and took off on time. I arrived in Bangkok at 5 a.m., local time and was whisked off to my hotel (Windsor Suites, Sukhumvit, a very nice hotel, reasonably priced as long as you don’t use their facilities), where, upon checking in, I crashed out for a full four hours.

At around 11 a.m. I decided to begin my day by taking a stroll down the Sukumvit area.

Bramha Temple near Sukhumvit

Bramha Temple near Sukhumvit

 

 

A little distance from the hotel in the general direction of the MBK centre I came upon two McDonalds and three Starbucks and many malls selling designer wear (Prada, Gucci, Armani, you name it and they’re all there). And yippee, a Haagen Daaz! Without further ado, I made my way to the ice cream parlour and ordered a double scoop, a good decision as it turned out.

After the ice cream I resume my stroll and came upon Soi 16, which I was told is the shopping area. I don’t know what I expected but a Thai variety of Janpath and Linking Road it wasn’t. But that’s exactly what I got – roadside stalls selling tees, underwear, belts, shorts, dresses.  The women were all slight and smartly dressed. Looking at them, I, in my jeans and a half-sleeved tee felt over dressed and dowdy. But not as much as I did in Europe.

I was also gripped with a fierce determination to never eat again. Which worked out well, because being a vegetarian, I wasn’t about to risk eating anything remotely Thai. Good thing too I had already had the Haagen Daaz.

I came upon a stall where a women was selling a nice, designer type evening dress for 1090 Baht. As soon as I put it against me to see whether it would fit, she snatched it from my hands saying, “This small. No good for you.”

“But I wear small,” I argued.

She nodded sagely. “Yes, it fit at waist but not here,” she said, patting herself on the ass. “Too fat. I give you medium.”

Too fat! Affronted as I was, I wanted the dress more. So I swallowed my pride and asked her, “How much?”

“1090 Baht. I give you for 1000.” At 1500 rupees the dress was a steal.

“1000 too much. I pay you 800,” I said pushing my luck.

“No, no, nice dress. Maybe 3000 Baht in a store. I give you for 1000.”

Anyway, the deal wasn’t struck and I moved on, figuring that if I didn’t get anything cheaper and better I could always come back.

Lunch. I walked into a food court kinda thing and ordered a plate of stir fried veggies, “But no fish sauce or oyster sauce.” At which the waitress looked uncertain so I changed my order to a Singha (local beer, very good) and packet of Lays.

Roadside Eatery

Roadside Eatery

 

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I was savouring my lunch when who should accost me? A fellow countrymen from the North selling bangles! He desperately tried to hawk them to me and I kept fobbing him off. But he was insistent and only let up when I told him that I lived in Hyderabad, the bangle city. “Why don’t you sell to goras?” I suggested. “How come I never thought of that?” he said sarcastically. “But the goras are in such bad shape, they aren’t buying anything these days.”

But we struck up a conversation and I asked him where I could find good quality branded stuff at cheap rates and he directed me to MBK, suggesting that I could either walk it or take the sky train. I decided to walk it.

MBK centre is the buzzing area. Not the main MBK building, which is also happening, but the area around it. That’s where the teens hang out. There were bright lights, loud music, lots of people and places to eat and shop. And lots of hair and beauty salons. A haircut in one of these costs between 250 and 350 Baht, colouring between 1000 and 1500 Baht and Botox also for a very reasonable price (I forget the exact rates). This was definitely on the cards – the hair cut and colour, not Botox.

The main MBK Centre building had it all. Branded stuff, as well as cheap non branded variety. And while everything branded was on sale, it was still too expensive. But I struck gold at one of the lower floors where a lot of shoes were on sale. 199 Baht. 100 Baht. I quickly bought three pairs, even though today’s trip was just a reconnaissance trip.

Later, when I came back to the hotel, I decided to hit the swimming pool on the 14th floor. My feet were killing me but it was hot (not as much as Bombay, but hot nevertheless) and the free form pool looked so inviting.

I hit the pool where, once again, I felt over dressed. For God’s sake, I was in a two piece swim suit. Agreed, it was modest swimsuit comprising a sports bra and boy shorts, but a two piece still! In my petulance, I hit out by swimming twenty lengths non-stop and wearing myself out beyond belief. After which I went back to my room and crashed out, wet swimsuit and all.

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