My last day in Hong Kong was supposed to be spent at Ocean Park, but I woke up to this…
You can’t make out much from this photo taken from my phone, but it was raining heavily!
Realizing such weather would ruin a far off visit to a theme park and delay my departure to the airport, I decided not to go and sought to get a refund for my ticket. I bought it from Fiona at the hostel itself, but she hadn’t come in yet. I asked the housekeeper who was Filipino and her reaction went something along the lines of this: “You want a refund? Ha! No way… Fiona won’t give your money back… Chinese don’t do refunds!”, with a laugh. Continue reading →
It has been a dream of mine to attend an SM Town concert. For those who don’t know, SM Town concerts are a collective of all artists under SM Entertainment, performing in one night and for over 3 hours! Now considering you are seeing SNSD, TVXQ, Super Junior, SHINee, f(x), BoA, Kang Ta and now EXO all in one night, you can see why it’s an epic concert!
Being an ardent K-pop fan, I got to know of an SM Town happening in Thailand back in August itself. I just needed a confirmation and when it was formally announced, I couldn’t let go of this opportunity. The date worked perfectly for me as the 24th of November was the Yee Peng Lanna event in Chiang Mai. An event I’ll blog about later, but long story short, I now had two big reasons to visit Thailand a fourth time!
But unfortunately, my ordeal wasn’t as satisfying as the concert ended up being. First I had to get tickets. I was hoping Thai Ticket Major would be the usual website from where I could get tickets, but no. Instead, SM had partnered with mobile and cable operator True Corporation and the booking website to go to was webooking.com. They announced the date and time when tickets would go on sale and I waited for the day to come.
11am Thailand time, 9:30am in India, was when the tickets would go on sale online. I woke up at 9am on a Sunday and kept hitting refresh until I could see the ‘Buy Tickets’ button come up. At 9:29am it did. I knew I wanted one 5000 baht ticket in the A2 section. But when I clicked on the section and chose my ‘seat,’ (A2 & A3 were standing sections) I couldn’t buy it until the entire seat layout loaded. Yup, seat layout for a freakin’ standing section! And by now the servers were showing signs that it was getting hammered by traffic from K-pop fans just like me desperately trying to buy tickets. When I finally got the ‘Buy ticket’ button to pop-up, it then told me the seat had been taken! This same thing happened to me thrice! And when I tried a fourth time, all the ‘seats’ showed red. As in fully booked. Grrrh!
Frustrated and upset, I decided to try for a seat in the A6 section. And I got one there. I breathed a sigh of relief knowing I at least got something. But when I came back home after 4 hours and went to webooking.com just to check if the entire concert was sold-out, I was surprised to see it hadn’t. And guess what… when I clicked on the A2 section, 5-6% of the seats now appeared in white – as in, available and open for purchase! I was like: “Awww man, now what?”.
I then decided to go ahead an book a seat in the 5000 baht section. I figured, I could easily find a buyer for the A6 ticket I had – right? I wasn’t happy that I spent 9500 baht (Rs. 17,195/US$309) when I am still technically without a full-time job. But what to do. A Sone’s got to do what Sone has to do to see his favourite idols.
Sadly, my ordeal didn’t end there.
Upon landing in Bangkok, I wanted to collect the physical tickets so that I could easily sell the 4500 baht ticket I didn’t want. But when I went to the big True branch in Sukhumvit, they told me to check with another branch. I took the MRT to the Central Rama 9 branch. There I waited but was finally told by the staff to go to the Central Rama 3 branch. I took the MRT and a taxi to the branch with the webooking.com counter where after being charged a 20 baht service fee, I was told “no have ticket, come tomorrow”.
I told them I couldn’t do that because I needed to leave for Phuket that night and that I would collect it at the venue. I was very frustrated sitting in the taxi back. As if the 9500 baht wasn’t enough over-spending, I spent in excess of 200 baht going around for nothing! Waste of time and made my experience in Bangkok even worse.
Anyway, on the day of the concert, I chose to stay near Victory Monument because I read I could get buses to SCG Stadium (the concert venue) easily. After much directional pointing by locals, I found a long queue of young fans holding K-pop merchandise, so I knew they were all going for SM town.
I joined the queue
Fortunately a girl in front of me spoke decent enough English and told me that this line was for a van taxis to Muang Thong Thani. She told me not to worry and just follow her. I sighed relief knowing I had a local who could help me
The venue was over 15kms from the Victory Monument area and took nearly 30 minutes to reach. Traffic was piling up so I was a bit glad I chose to leave early. Of course, that and the fact I had to collect my tickets and then sell the 4500 baht ticket before I could go in!
There were thousands of K-pop fans, stalls selling all sorts of K-pop merchandise and a big festive atmosphere all around. I held a piece of paper stating I had one extra ticket for sale. Once I got my tickets, I was approached by a few fans and touts. I just wanted to get my 4500 baht back but most were offering less. I didn’t want to sell to the touts because they were obviously going to sell it for profit. But seeing the thousands thronging inside the venue, I was getting restless. I finally gave up and sold it to a tout for 4000 baht. I was just desperate to get in and find a good spot.
I was getting a bit claustrophobic as I hadn’t eaten a proper lunch in the hurry to get here early. Plus the heat and being surrounded by sooo many people… it was getting to me.
As if two security checks outside weren’t enough, there was one more inside the arena too
My final day in Thailand… and I still made most of the time I had before flying out.
Even though I still had an entry ticket to DreamWorld theme park which I got for free via Cleartrip, I decided to chuck that and opted instead to do something I couldn’t do last year.
I booked myself for a floating market tour via the lady who owns Thai House Inn and she got it for me for ฿600 (Rs. 890/$20/€14).
Left Bangkok at around 6am; headed to the neighbouring district of Ratchaburi, a 100km drive
Passed by a lot of shrimp farms. Turns out Thailand is largest exporter of such shrimps. (That explains the abundance of prawn crackers)
After an hour long drive, the van reached a canal where there were other tour groups gathered near some boats.
We would then be split up into groups for each boat
I grabbed the spot in front
No roads from here on out, just canals all the way to the ‘floating’ market
It was a lovely morning ride
It was a charming sight to see houses and entire villages live by these canals
Kind of appears as though the ‘roads’ are flooded
That’s where we were heading
Once we reached the market, we got out of our boats and were informed by our guide that we had nearly an hour here. But, if we wanted to boat ride around the market, we would have to pay ฿50 (Rs. 75/$1.6/€1.16) and it was not included in the tour package. Obviously, none of us wanted to simply walk around the ‘floating’ market, so I paid up.
I sat right in front again
Mind you, there are many boats carrying tourists around the market all morning. The market closes by afternoon.
Plenty of hawkers (on boats of course) pull your boat over to try and sell you their wares
A lot of the stuff for sale are souvenirs and other Thailand memorabilia
No shortage of eateries as usual
And as usual, you can haggle for a much lower price than what they initially quote
Even under a bridge there was no shortage of hawkers
From preserved animals…
.. to even getting photographs with a massive snake. All available under the bridge.
Nicely shaven coconut
After much pandering, I ended up buying two of these hats for my nieces. The hats can be folded into fans as well. Paid around ฿100 each.
Best advised to keep your hands inside at all time. The boats do ram into each other.
It was time to turn around and go back
This is what a floating market traffic jam looks like
And this is what it sounds like
Yes, lots of hats
After riding for around half an hour, we were dropped back on to the platform.
Continued taking photos on foot
The floating market is one of those ‘must see’ places in Thailand
Yes, you can get a massage just about anywhere in Thailand
How paddle boats are ‘parked’
I would have liked to have gone through there
How heavy must the boats be to hold the weight of two gas cylinders?
I walked back to the designated meeting point for our tour group. It was time to leave, so we all got back to our respective vans.
I was under the impression the floating market tour was over and that we would be on our long drive back. But no, instead, the van took us to a nearby Elephant Village.
After waiting for nearly half an hour for the few from my tour group who wanted to go for the elephant ride, we finally got moving again. Next up, the Cobra Show.
Again, they only drop you here, you still had the option to pay and enter
Even though I had seen videos from the ‘most exciting show in the world,’ I did not want to wait outside in the heat again. So I paid the ฿30 or ฿50 it was for the ticket and went in.
The arena inside (Panorama comprised of 6 shots)
They start off with the announcer welcoming everyone and explaining in fairly understandable English that the purpose of the facility is to ‘educate’ visitors that snakes are not all that dangerous as people make them out to be.
A badass-looking Thai staff member showing us how they extract snake’s venom
The also bring around snakes to you in case you want to take photos with one around your neck. And since I hate snakes…
I thought I’d give it a try
They have all kinds of snakes, like huge pythons as well
The ‘exciting’ parts kick in when they demonstrate how the trained staff catch snakes. Which has to be seen in action:
The guy also caught three cobras, one by one, which was quite impressive.
The excitement continues when they bring out a snake’s worst enemy in the animal kingdom, the mongoose — and then make the two fight.
“Snake, meet mongoose”
“Snake… meet mongoose!”
Introductions over I guess
Here’s a video of the mongoose fight some more:
Thirty minutes of, erm, animal cruelty, the show was over. The staff went around seeking donations from the visitors, and I tipped ฿100 to the guy who caught the snakes with his bare hands, because that’s quite some skill.
Outside, there have a mini-zoo with a few reptilian creatures.
If you want photos with much bigger snakes, you can take them here
But I wanted to sit in the air-conditioned van as it was quite hot!
I asked our guide if the ‘tour’ was over, but he said there was one final stop. Ugh.
This was some handicrafts showroom where they specialize in wooden sculptures.
But I must say, quite impressive wood work (That sign seems a bit ironic btw)
Scratch that, some *very* impressive wood work!
Wonder how many weeks it takes for such stunning works of art
They’re all for sale but it’s not like they’re easy to fit into a suitcase and take back with you
Needless to say, none of these wooden sculptures carved out of teak wood come cheap. Most of them were in the thousands of dollars (yes, dollars, not Thai baht)!
They have a showroom with some smaller pieces of wood work inside
After another half-an-hour spent here, we headed back into our vans. I was finally done with the ‘floating market’ tour. As touristy as the above sights may seem, I still feel a visit to the floating market is a ‘must-do’ in Thailand. Damnoen Suduak is the most popular floating market, thus the hordes of tourists. There are a few other floating markets across Thailand.
The journey back into the city took a lot longer for me as I was going to be the last one dropped. I eventually got down at MBK to have lunch… at KFC.
Last year, KFC Thailand introduced a sweet ‘n’ spicy variant of their chicken, and it was my last meal before leaving. This year, KFC introduced a seaweed infused varient. It was alright, better than last year’s sweet ‘n’ spicy.
With my final meal in Thailand complete…
Oh for god’s sake Thai people, there’s NOTHING special about Krispy Kreme!
Anyway… I headed back to Thai House Inn to pack up and check out. I sat down for a bit before stepping out again, but this time, without my camera bag for a change. I wanted to give my shoulders a rest after the nearly two weeks I strained them. I walked further down from Nana BTS to see whether there were better sub-฿1000 accommodation available so that next time if I do choose to stay in the Sukhumvit area, I don’t have to stay to at Thai House Inn.
Hopefully, next time I’m in Bangkok, if I don’t have much shopping to do, I’ll stay in Khao San road.
At around 5:30pm, I took the BTS to Phaya Thai station. They had only recently opened the new skytrain link directly to Suvarnabhumi airport, saving passengers both time and money.
The Phaya Thai airport link station
And as an introductory offer, the ticket to Suvarnabhumi was a cheap ฿15! I paid nearly ฿500 last year for taxi!
The journey took just 30 minutes. Clearly a better option for those with less luggage. I was early enough for my 9:20pm Thai Airways flight to Bangalore.
The entry into the airport from the BTS station is at the basement
Walking up to the departures section, I was quite stunned to see just about every Indian passenger heading back to Mumbai with a massive LCD/plasma TV in tow. It’s as though everybody knew how much to pay off the Mumbai customs officials upon arrival.
Quite ridiculous really, especially seeing many of them pleading with the check-in personnel not to impose excess baggage charges… because some of them were (unsurprisingly) way over the allowed limit!
After checking-in, I headed to the VAT (value added tax) refund office to declare my purchases and get my VAT refund forms stamped by the officials. Then came the rather long queue at immigration.
Passport stamped, I was through
I checked out the Duty Free, bought two bottles of liquor that my friends requested (prices and selection are fairly good here) and then went to the VAT refund counter to get my cash refund. Submitted my form and got 7% of the total value of my purchases back in cash. I mentioned this last year and I’ll mention it again: for the VAT refund, one needs to shop at stores that participate in the VAT refund scheme for tourists. Upon purchase, you will get a VAT refund form from the store and it’s only upon showing that same form at the airport will you be eligible for a refund. You can’t simply show a bunch of store receipts and expect a cash refund (‘cos I’ve seen people do that).
Sitting at my gate, I had plenty of time for a flashback. Another trip to Thailand that didn’t feel ‘complete’. Had I successfully covered the big lantern release in Mae Jo, Chiang Mai, I would have scratched North Thailand off my list and only focused on South Thailand for my next visit.
I wasn’t even in the best of health the first week, which sucked. Still… all I can say is that I did the best I could and I hope my readers enjoyed this series.
So until Thailand 201_, it’s back to India for now!