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Philippines 2011: Day 1 — Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Fort Bonifacio

Date: 17th April 2011

Technically yesterday was day one in Philippines, but today was when I would officially begin my sightseeing.  After a good hearty sleep, I woke up in time for breakfast at Kabayan (they start serving really early).

Kabayan hotel Pasay reception Manila Philippines
The reception
Kabayan hotel Pasay Pinoy Star cafe Manila
Where they serve breakfast and lunch

The breakfast and lunch isn’t your usual buffet offering. You queue up and get served your choice of dishes. No seconds.

Kabayan hotel Pasay breakfast Manila Philippines
Still, they give you a mouthful

It was enough to kick-start my day.

Filipino animal expert TV show Kabayan hotel
Although, I went back to my room and ended up watching TV for some time. This Filipino Steve Irwin was showcasing the natural wonders of Palawan, a place I was going to. So I considered it 'research' (even though he spoke mostly Tagalog).

As per my trip itinerary, I was going to be leaving Manila tonight for Banaue, but thanks to Aimee who already bought the bus ticket for me, it freed me up today to go see the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial — which wasn’t far from where I was staying.

I had to check out by noon — and I duly did so by noon. I kept my luggage at the reception and told them I would collect it in the evening. Since it was already 12pm, I had lunch from Kabayan before leaving.

Kabayan hotel pasay lunch Manila Philippines
My first taste of Filipino cuisine. First impression: dry. Not a whole lot of varied flavour. Unlike Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, I guess curry isn't common here. I only had chicken stock to flavour the hard sticky rice.

Done with lunch, I made my way to a very busy Pasay MRT station. Bought myself a one way ticket to Ayala station (as that’s where Aimee told me I needed to go first).

Pasay MRT terminal Manila Philippines
Ticket cost ₱10
Ayala MRT station Manila
It was a short 5 minute ride to Ayala
SM Glorietta mall Ascott Taguig city Manila
This stop is is a popular shopping hub because of SM and the Glorietta malls here

I also saw a Convergys office here, not that I was surprised to know big Indian BPOs have offices here in the Philippines.

Manila Taguig city road
I took a taxi because the cemetery was to be a short drive from here

But the taxi driver in his broken English started hinting as though he had no idea about the cemetery, its existence or how to get there — which I knew was just an act. The cemetery is quite famous and located in the posh Fort Bonifacio area in Taguig. Plus, its freaking huge!

Manila Taguig city office buildings
I was getting a little irritated by the taxi driver as we were slowly driving around business parks with the cemetery nowhere in sight

Fortunately, there was a traffic policeman up ahead and I forced him to stop so that I could ask the officer as to how to get to the cemetery. The officer gave the taxi driver instructions and I could see a smile on the driver’s face as if he was thinking “yeah, yeah, I know where it is. Fine, I’ll take him there!”

A few minutes later, I arrived at the cemetery. The fare: ₱135 ($3/€2.2). Way too much!

Manila American war cemetery entrance gates
Anyway... phone camera in, time for the DSLR to begin its usage

There isn’t an entry fee for the memorial. The security guard only asked me to sign my name in and advised me not to step on the grass or walk through the first two lanes (don’t know why).

Manila American War Cemetery and memorial view from entrance
Didn't look like there were many people inside

Manila American War Cemetery Memorial lawn

Manila American War Cemetery Memorial left trees
Stuck to the left side
Manila American War Cemetery War Memorial big tree
With over 17,000 graves, this is the largest war cemetery outside the United States

Manila American War Cemetery Memorial left roadManila American War Cemetery tree no leavesManila American War Cemetery Memorial graves panoramaManila American War Cemetery Memorial graves tree panorama

Manila American War Cemetery Memorial tombstones Taguig panorama
I shot a lot of panoramas because there was no other way I could capture the scale of the cemetery

Manila American War Cemetery War Memorial global city Manila American War Cemetary War Memorial tree shadowManila American War Cemetery and Memorial BGC

Manila American War Cemetery War Memorial plaza
The Memorial Plaza

Manila American War Cemetary War & Memorial thousands of graves

Manila American War Cemetery Memorial fountain caretaker
I didn't seem many workers here
Manila American War Cemetery & Memorial airplane flying over
I could see the cemetery from the sky just as I was about land yesterday
Manila American War Cemetery Memorial Jewish tombstone
You find the occasional Jew among the crosses
Manila American War Cemetery Memorial tombstone hill
This cemetery is a symmetrical haven
Manila American War Cemetery war Memorial tombstones wide panorama
(Panorama comprised of 12 shots)
Manila American War Cemetery war memorial uncut trees
I like how they decided not to cut some trees

Manila American War Cemetery War memorial tree among graves

Manila American War Cemetery War Memorial white tombstones wide panorama
Panorama comprised of 11 shots

Manila American War Cemetery & memorial graves trees

Manila American War Cemetery war memorial white tombstones wide angle panorama
Panorama comprised of 13 shots

Manila American War cemetery memorial graves apartments

Manila American War Cemetery memorial chapel panorama
Back of the Memorial Plaza chapel

Manila American War Cemetery war memorial sparrow

Manila American War cemetery & memorial afternoon
I took a break from the circle and decided to check out the Memorial plaza

Manila American War Cemetery war Memorial chapel plaza panorama

Manila American War cemetery & memorial chapel front
The chapel

Manila American War Cemetery Memorial chapel sculpture Manila American war cemetery memorial chapel tile artManila American War cemetery memorial chapel mural
Manila American War cemetery memorial chapel inside

I wrote a note in the visitor’s book they have inside the chapel and left.

Manila American War cemetery memorial plaza flag mast panoramaManila American War cemetery memorial plaza hallsManila American War cemetery memorial messageManila American War cemetary memorial plaza entrance panorama

Manila American war cemetery memorial plaza battles
The battles these soldiers fought are all showcased here
Manila American war cemetery memorial pacific battles
Mostly World War II and the other Pacific battles America fought in
Manila American war cemetery memorial plaza soldiers names on walls
The names of the 17,000 plus soldiers buried here are engraved on these walls
Manila American war cemetery memorial plaza Filipino soldiers names
I couldn't help but notice there were a lot of Filipino names on the walls too
Manila American war cemetery memorial plaza filipino soldiers
Ah, that explains it. I was under the impression only American soldiers were buried here.

Manila American war cemetery memorial plaza soldiers medal of honorManila American war cemetary memorial plaza soldiers flagManila American war cemetery memorial plaza Colorado seal

Manila American war cemetery memorial plaza Idaho seal
The have the respective state seal corresponding to the walls with the soldiers from the same state

Manila American war cemetery memorial plaza Illinois sealManila American war cemetery memorial plaza soldiers names wallsManila American war cemetery memorial world war 2 battlesManila American war cemetery memorial pacific strategyManila American war cemetery memorial hall sunlight

Manila American war cemetery memorial gardener
Lone worker

Manila American war cemetery war memorial plaza halls leftManila American war cemetery memorial plaza war historyManila American war cemetery memorial plaza Washington sealManila American war cemetery memorial plaza Virginia sealManila American war cemetery memorial plaza names on wallsManila American war cemetery memorial plaza benchManila American war cemetery war memorial garden trees panoramaManila American war cemetery memorial plaza Guinea battleManila American war cemetery memorial plaza lawnManila American war cemetery memorial plaza veterans

Manila American war cemetery memorial road
I left the Memorial Plaza

Manila American war cemetery memorial plane flying over

Manila American war cemetery memorial sparrows
Took the 70-200mm lens out for this shot

Manila American war cemetery memorial sparrow tombstone Manila American war cemetery memorial tombstones in line

Manila American war cemetery war memorial crosses
Even though it was scorching hot, I chose to come at this time for the lighting: I wanted shadows
Manila American war cemetery memorial road panorama
Panorama comprised of 10 shots
Manila American War cemetery memorial jeep
You can bring your vehicle inside if all you want is drive through

Manila American war cemetery memorial cross starManila American war cemetery war memorial water

Manila American war cemetery memorial water evaporating
You can't really see it but the water was evaporating as soon as it hot the hot tarmac

Manila American war cemetery memorial lawn sprinkler Manila American war cemetery memorial plaza lawnManila American war cemetery memorial plaza steps flagsManila American war cemetery memorial sprinklersManila American war cemetery memorial soldier name engravedManila American war cemetery memorial crosses side

Manila American war cemetery war memorial section panorama
Larger the panoramas, the smaller the crops when making it fit on my website
Manila American war cemetery war memorial section panorama
This and the above photo was one composition that had to be cut into two. It was fun to pan through the original full size panorama though.

Manila American war cemetery memorial road gravesManila American war cemetery memorial sparrow lawnManila American war cemetery memorial sparrow on tombstoneManila American cemetery memorial sparrow on crossManila American war cemetery memorial sparrow graves

Manila American war cemetery war memorial tombstones black & white
Had to try black & white
Manila American war cemetery memorial graves black & white
Added a bit of grain to this one

Manila American war cemetery memorial jewish soldier

Manila American war cemetery memorial lawn graves
It was time to leave
Manila American war cemetery memorial medal of honor tombstone
A recipient of the Medal of Honor
Manila American war cemetery memorial road panorama
All the new construction around Fort Bonifacio (Panorama comprised of 10 shots)

Manila American war cemetery memorial yellow leaves

Manila American war cemetery war memorial tombstones hill road
Took this on the Canon 450D, which I was also carrying
Manila American war cemetery memorial BGC buildings panorama
Panorama comprised of 14 shots
Manila American war cemetery memorial rainbow sprinklers
Cool huh?
Manila American war cemetery memorial plaza view panorama
I walked back to the Memorial Plaza for one final look

Manila American war cemetery memorial message

View from memorial plaza panorama
From a little higher up

Manila American war cemetery memorial big tree shadow

Manila American war cemetery memorial crosses shadows
After 3 hours of sweating it out in the hot sun, I finally walked towards the gates
Manila American war cemetery memorial white lines
I felt satisfied with the photographs I took today. A good start to this trip.

Manila American war cemetery memorial visitors building

American Battle Monuments Commission Manila cemetery memorial info
The memorial is maintained by a US government agency

I went inside the visitor’s lounge and stayed for a few minutes. Not that they had anything to see inside, but the room had air-conditioning and a water cooler. The retired American army colonel who manages the place smiled at me as he walked into his office and said: “Enjoy it”.

Enjoy it I did 🙂

Feeling a bit cooler, I left the memorial. The Manila American Cemetery and Memorial is one among the few attractions in Manila worth seeing. You may not want to spend 3 hours here, that too in this heat, but I found it peaceful and a calm place for a bit of photography. Of course, do keep in mind this is still a cemetery honouring soldiers and not your usual family picnic park. So do show some respect for the dead once inside.

Bonifacio Global City Taguig Manila
I took a taxi back to Ayala station

The taxi ride was through McKinley Road, and I quickly realized how posh this area was. The taxi driver told me very rich people live on McKinley Hill.

McKinley hill road to Ayala Manila Philippines
Passed a few highly fortified houses, which usually implies bureaucrats, individuals with questionable incomes sources and other high profile people live here
Ayala Malls McKinley road Manila
Unlike my rip-off taxi ride to the cemetery, the journey back was through the right path and it only cost ₱56
Glorietta malls Ayala Manila Philippines
Figuring I still had some time (and craving for some more air-conditioning), I checked out Glorietta Mall
Glorietta Ayala mall Marks & Spencer store Manila
This was the only photo I took from inside before the security man came over and told me photography is prohibited. Oh well.
SM Ayala taxi line Manila Philippines
I checked out a few floors and left soon after

I took the MRT back to Pasay, went back to Kabayan, freshened up, collected my bags and called Aimee. She asked me to come to Central station, where she would meet me there.

Once at Central, we took a taxi and went to Sampaloc, cost ₱70.

Cayco Street Espana blvd Sampaloc Philippines
We got down here

From there, it was a short walk to the Autobus office. I collected my ticket, paid Aimee back (₱450 for a one-way ticket to Banaue) and we sat a convenient store to chat for some time.

Aimee in front of Autobus station Manila
This is Aimee, and the Autobus office is in the background

I saw Aimee off and boarded my bus, a small one. I’ll talk about how the ride was in my next post but all in all, today was a good start. I had high hopes for the next few days.

Previous post:

Philippines 2011: Flying over South China Sea for the first time

Other posts in this series:

Philippines 2011: Day 2 – Banaue rice terraces; trekking to Batad village

Philippines 2011: Day 3 – Banaue town; heading to Sagada via Bontoc

Philippines 2011: Day 3 – Sagada’s Lumiang burial cave, Sumaguing cave, Hanging Coffins of Echo valley

Philippines 2011: Leaving Sagada for Baguio, and arriving in Angeles city (Days 4 & 5)

Philippines 2011: Day 6 – Good Friday in San Fernando, San Pedro Cutud Lenten Rites

Philippines 2011: Day 7 – Leaving Angeles City for Manila, Mall of Asia

Philippines 2011: Day 8 – Manila tour: Rizal Park, Intramuros, Manila Cathedral, China Town

Philippines 2011: Day 9 – Cebu: Fort San Pedro, Basilica of Santo Niño, Taoist Temple

Philippines 2011: Day 10 – Bohol tour: Chocolate Hills, Loboc river cruise, Tarsiers, churches

Philippines 2011: Day 11 – Arriving in Puerto Princesa, Palawan

Philippines 2011: Day 12 – Puerto Princesa Underground River tour, Palawan

Philippines 2011: Day 13 – Puerto Princesa to El Nido by bus

Philippines 2011: Day 14 – El Nido island hopping tour A and sunset at Las Cabanas beach, Palawan

Philippines 2011: Back to Manila, shopping, and my final thoughts about the country  (Final post)

Chinatown at night Bangkok Thailand

Thailand 2010: Back to Bangkok — Chinatown, Patpong, Platinum Mall and Chatuchak Market

Date:  26th November 2010

After a good night’s sleep, I went downstairs to have the buffet breakfast at the hotel. Then spent an hour browsing the internet on the guest computer at the lobby. After feeling quite relaxed, I checked out as the clock struck noon.

I took a moped taxi to the bus station (฿50) and bought a ticket for a bus heading to Ekamai bus terminal in Bangkok (ticket cost ฿113).

Pattaya to Bangkok highway house Thailand
Since it was dark when I left Bangkok to come to Pattaya, I sat by the window to see what I missed

In the bus, I also wondered where to stay in Bangkok. I wanted to stay on Khao San Road, Bangkok’s popular backpacker hub. I really wanted to check it out as it’s a preferred joint for backpackers, but unfortunately located on the other side of Bangkok (some even call it Old Bangkok) — which isn’t connected via the skytrain service (BTS). Trouble is, tomorrow I am to meet up with a friend arriving from Bangalore and the day after, I had a ticket for the Jay Park Fan meet in Siam Paragon Mall. Commuting back and forth by taxi, that too with Bangkok’s mid-day traffic was the last thing I wanted to do in the last 3 days left in Thailand.

Pattaya to Bangkok concrete highwaysContainer cargo Pattaya to BangkokPattaya to Bangkok hills ThailandPlus Mall Tesco Lotus Bangkok highway ThailandPattaya elevated expressway BangkokBangkok to Pattaya highway apartment buildingElevated expressway to Bangkok templePattaya to Bangkok highway buildingBangkok highway Thai village river

Yamaha factory outskirts Bangkok Thailand
Yamaha factory
Nissan factory Bangkok highway outskirts Thailand
Nissan’s factory
Metro Caterpillar factory Bangkok Thailand
Caterpillar’s factory
CPF factory Bangkok highway Thailand
Err…someone else’s factory

Bangkok Thailand highway expressway

Central City mall Bangkok Thailand
One and half hours later, we were in Bangkok city

Traffic slowed down (a lot) from here on. It took half-an-hour more for the bus to reach Ekamai bus terminal. The terminal is on Sukhumvit road and is easy to get to because the BTS station (also named Ekamai) is right in front of the bus terminal. So if you are staying in the Sukhumvit or Silom area, and want to head to Pattaya, don’t go to Mo Chit bus terminal, head to Ekamai instead.

In the end, I decided to stay on the Sukhumvit side itself, which meant Thai House Inn again. I paid for two nights in  advance and checked into the same room I stayed before. I probably should try and find another place to stay in since Thai House Inn isn’t the classiest of places, but at ฿700 a night, the proximity to Nana BTS station (a minute walk), for a single guy there’s no better deal like it anywhere else.

Absolut Iceberg lounge Siam mall Bangkok
Absolut had set up a ice bar at Siam Center

Siam Paragon mall interior Christmas tree decorations Bangkok

Siam Paragon mall levels lights
Decided to go for a movie to pass some time
Krungsri IMAX Siam Paragon Bangkok Thailand
Watched ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1’ in IMAX

Post-movie (which I thought was a bit of a drag), I decided to go to MBK.

Siam Paragon food court aquarium Bangkok
The Siam Ocean World aquarium is beneath the food court
Siam Paragon Christmas mall decorations
The mall was all decked up in preparation for Christmas
Siam Center Christmas decorations Thais Bangkok
Even though less than 1% of Thailand’s population are Christians

Siam Center mall fountains Bangkok

Ribbee Botique ukelele paradise shop Bangkok Thailand
There’s an exclusive ukelele store in Bangkok
Siam pedestrian skywalk Thais Bangkok
But as I tried to get to MBK via the pedestrian overbridge, none of us were allowed to… by the police
Sukhumvit road Siam MBK junction Bangkok Thailand
I looked down and I saw the roads all clear, which usually implies some VIP was passing through

I got back down to the street to see if I could cross the road but there were policemen there as well. I asked them who was passing by, and they said: “The King”.

Tidbit of valuable information when in Thailand. King Rama IX is the most ‘beloved’ man in Thailand. I put beloved in quotes because there is a law which makes it a criminal offense to say anything bad about him in public. So you have no choice but to praise him. His photos are everywhere in Thailand and his birthday is a national holiday. He is credited for developing Thailand, his influence has stopped many political coups and reportedly, he’s the richest royal in the world. (But my point is, if people truly love him, why have a rule criminalizing lèse majesté?)

Sadly for the Thai people, the King hasn’t been in the best of health lately and isn’t seen much in public because of that.

Thai king cavalcade Siam junction Bangkok Thailand
The King’s cavalcade zipped past us and in a matter of minutes, we were allowed to move again

I obviously didn’t get a glimpse of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, but then again, nobody would have. Nobody could identify in which car the King was. Maybe it was a security measure.

Bangkok buildings air condition vents

Anyway, I was hungry by this point and decided to go back to Siam Paragon because their food court has better options for fast food.

Mosburger rice burger Bangkok Thailand
Tried MOSBurger’s rice burger (yes, that’s rice pressed together to make the ‘buns’) 🙂

In the evening, I decided to check out Bangkok’s Chinatown.

Getting to Chinatown Bangkok by taxi
Took a taxi, cost ฿60 from Siam Center
Chinatown at night Bangkok Thailand
Took around half and hour to get here

Bangkok Chinatown at nightBangkok Chinatown alley street foodChinatown Bangkok street lightsChinatown Bangkok fruit vendors night

Roasted Chicken Chinatown Bangkok Thailand
As with any Chinatown, plenty of food to go around

Chinese shops Chinatown Bangkok ThailandChinese store food items Bangkok ThailandChinatown fruit vendors eateries Bangkok Thailand

Chinatown spring rolls Bangkok Thailand
Yum
Chinatown signs Bangkok Thailand
From all I could tell, there wasn’t much else to see besides the well-lit shop signs
Chinatown shop signs neon Bangkok Thailand
I kept walking down

China Town sign Bangkok Thailand Chinatown lights Bangkok ThailandChinatown main road BangkokWhen I was doing my research, I read there is even a small community where Indians reside. You could call it Bangkok’s ‘Little India’ as Singapore’s popular community is called, but don’t try asking for it here. I tried it with some Thai locals, and they looked at me with a smile… which implied they had no clue what I was talking about. I wanted to find the area mostly because there is a large gurdwara here in Bangkok (since the Indian community here are predominantly Punjabis). I knew asking for a ‘gurudwara’ would get me more puzzled stares but I did ask if anybody knew where the ‘Indian temple’ was. No luck with that either.

Chinatown alley night Bangkok
I kept walking in search of ‘Little India’ but no signs of anything remotely Indian

But just as I was about to give up and walk back, I saw a woman who looked kinda Indian (I’m guessing she was a second generation Indian resident of Thailand) and asked her where the gurudwara was. She told me I needed to get to Pahurat Road, which wasn’t very far from here. I thanked her and noted down the name of the road.

Chinatown building Bangkok Thailand Figuring the gurudwara would be closed to the general public at this time, I decided to come back the day after. I hailed a taxi and headed to Patpong.

Patpong is famous for two things: one, it has a night market; two, it also houses Bangkok’s red light district.

Patpong night market entrance Bangkok Thailand
The Night Market

There wasn’t anything seedy about the place (at first)

Patpong night market sign Bangkok Thailand

Patpong night market stores Bangkok
The usual offerings sold here, nothing special

But as I went to the side street to get a glimpse of what the other stalls were selling…

Patpong night market Kiss bar Bangkok
…you could see the other side of Patpong
Patpong night market tourists
Which made me wonder if the ‘night market’ was just a cover up 🙂
Patpong night market live bar Bangkok
There are a few good bars with live music though

Patpong night market tattoo studio BangkokLike on Pattaya’s Walking Street, here too you will find a few touts soliciting tourists (quite aggressively) to come watch a peep show. Most them say it’s free but having read people’s experiences on Tripadvisor, I knew these are just tactics to pull you in and then slap you with a huge bill as you leave.

One of the touts, even held my hand and dragged me into one such place. Figuring I wouldn’t be coming back to an area like this again, I followed him. He was rather in a hurry saying the ‘ping pong show‘ would start soon. He led me upstairs into a bar where the girls and the mamasan welcomed me in. There weren’t many others in and the setting wasn’t what I was expecting. While I was expecting a more quiet, dark and sensual setting, this joint was just another typical low end bar with dim red lights, and where every song plays at 2x speeds blurts out from the sound system.

As soon as I was seated, I was surrounded by 3 or 4 smiling girls all of whom tried to chat me up, and when it came to ordering drinks, there was no menu. I ordered a vodka drink and insisted on knowing much it cost. The waitress said ฿100. Fair enough. I also made it very clear I was told this show was free and that I wouldn’t have to pay anything to see it. The mamasan assured me with a “yeah yeah”.

When the performance did begin, it was the amusing act of seeing the two girls shoot objects like bananas, darts (at a balloon), and ping pong balls (of course) — all using her nether region. And that’s exactly what it was, amusing… it was the least bit erotic, surely not in the setting I was in 🙂 The most amusing act was when one of the performers pulled a series of blades on a string out — and she cut a paper using the very same razor blades to prove they weren’t blunt. Now, only women know the true potential of their inner workings, but I’m sure even women in far more respectable professions would squeal if they saw this. As a guy, my face looked more like this:  😕 None the less, I had to praise these performers for their, erm, talents.

After 15 minutes and my drink nearly done, I had seen enough and wanted to leave. I could see the other patrons arguing with the mamasan over their bills and I knew what was coming my was as well. Besides the ฿100 for my drink, I wanted to tip a ฿100 each for the two performing women, so that was a total of ฿300. The bill they handed over?

฿3000.

I told the mamasan I wasn’t going to pay it and ฿300 is all she will get. She raised her voice (she had to, they wouldn’t turn down the crappy music) and threatened to call some men to rough me up if I wouldn’t pay. I replied: “Call them”. When she did, I knew things were only getting easy for me. She spoke in English to her Thai “baddie” saying there is an Indian who refuses to pay and that he better come. Now if there is one thing I’ve learned about Thais is that, you’ll never see one Thai speaking to another Thai in English. Very few in Thailand know how to speak English, that too fluently. So I knew this was just an act.

After she hung up, she said they’re coming. I replied: “Okay, I’ll wait”. I could see some of the working girls try and hide their smiles, so I knew I was going to win this one. After waiting around 2 minutes, the mamasan finally said: “Okay, give 1000!”. I said: “No, 300”. More standing still ensued. Finally she gave up and said: “Ok give!”. I handed her the ฿300 and told her ฿100 each were for the two performers. She didn’t say anything and I walked out.

And that was it 🙂

In hindsight, it made me wonder if I should have gone for all this in Pattaya’s Walking Street as the Tourist Police was right there and by now, I’m sure they heard countless such experiences from other visitors. But even if this happens to you, follow the same advice: just keep your foot down and refuse to pay. What’s the worst they’re going to do? Stab a tourist?

Walking out, I noticed there wasn’t even a name for this bar, so it surely was one of those clearly intended to scam people and only remain operational by paying off the right authorities.

Thaniya plaza Japanese clubs bars Patpong Bangkok
This alley looked like it mostly catered to Japanese

What I just experienced didn’t change my opinion of this wonderful country. If your sole purpose of visiting Thailand is just to hang out at such venues, you will most likely leave with many such stories. Even if you don’t, as with any other country in the world, shit happens — you just have to be on your guard.

The so-called ping pong show is one of those “When-in-RomeThailand” things-to-do. Many tourists, men and women alike, are eager to see it. In fact it was a girl friend of mine who told me “not to miss it,” with a laugh. Now I know why — it’s more a laugh than sensual 🙂 Trouble is, many use that eagerness tourists have to run scams like this.

Sala Daeng BTS station Patpong Bangkok
Sala Daeng is the name of the BTS station if you want to get to Patpong

Patpong doesn’t seem as big a seedy place, not based on some people’s descriptions calling it Bangkok’s largest red light district. Maybe there’s more to it, who knows, I wasn’t bothered to explore anymore of it now.

Thaniya Plaza clubs bars Patpong Bangkok If you plan to come to Patpong just for the night market, don’t. There’s nothing here you can’t find anywhere else in Bangkok for the same price (or maybe even cheaper).

I took the BTS back to Siam.

Siam Absolut ice bar concert Bangkok Thailand
Absolut’s open-air concert event at Siam Center

Once back in my area, I decided to grab dinner first and then go back to my room.

Nana arab restaurants Bangkok Thailand
Nana has a lot of Middle Eastern restaurants, which was great for me (given how much I miss this cuisine)
Foreign exchange shops Gulliver's Nana Bangkok
You get really good foreign exchange rates here, far better than the rates the banks in the malls give. I exchanged a few dollars.
Sky Inn Nana Sukhumvit Bangkok Thailand
Picked up a few shawarmas and a drink from 7-11 and called it a night

Date:  27th November 2010

Today, I met up with my friend Sawmteii and her friend, who had just arrived in Thailand. We met up at the Siam BTS and since it was their first time in Bangkok (and came with very clear intentions of shopping – a lot!), I showed them around the malls.

Krispy Kreme Siam Paragon Bangkok Thailand
I couldn’t fathom the locals’ desperation to bag Krispy Kreme donuts. There were huge lines everyday at the Siam Paragon outlet.
Krispy Kreme doughnuts sold Bangkok streets
So much was the demand, there were street hawkers who sell them in ‘black’ outside after doing the tough job of waiting in line just to bag these boxes of doughnuts.

After Siam Discovery and Siam Paragon, we walked towards Petchburi Road.

Sukhumvit road Bangkok city traffic skywalk

Pedestrian overbridge Bangkok city ThailandBangkok city river boat ThailandOn Petchburi road, the girls wanted to check out Platinum Mall, which claims to be Thailand’s largest fashion mall.

Platinum Mall shoppers Bangkok Thailand
Boy, was it crowded inside

Eight floors of fashion goodness… well, mostly for women anyway. Hardly anything for men in here.

Platinum mall shops Bangkok ThailandDespite advising the girls to keep all their shopping towards the end of their journey when they return to Bangkok, they couldn’t help but feel like kids let loose in a candy store 🙂

Who can blame them? Even as a guy, I could appreciate the stuff being sold here. Really good looking dresses and accessories at prices anybody can afford. Dresses which would easily cost upwards of Rs. 1000 in India could be had for Rs. 500 or less. You could buy one, two, three, ten or more — and prices vary accordingly.

Platinum mall women fashion clothes Bangkok Thailand
A lot of bulk buyers too

We spent quite some time in here. And when I saw ‘we,’ I mean Sawmteii and her friend Mimi. I loitered around wondering if there was anything for guys. It wasn’t until we got up to the 4th floor that I found a store selling some pretty nifty t-shirts.

After walking past pretty much every floor, the girls decided to dedicate their last few days in Thailand in here and we went up to the 6th floor to have lunch at the food court.

Post-lunch, I took the girls to Chatuchak (disembark at Mo Chit BTS).

Chatuchak park way to market Bangkok Thailand
We sat at the park for a bit before embarking on more walking through hundreds of shops

Sorry, make that thousands of shops!

Jatujak weekend market is the largest flea market in Thailand and sees most shops open on Saturday and Sunday (It is open on weekdays too, just not every shop).

Chatuchak market entrance 6 Bangkok Thailand
Took a deep breath and went in

Chatuchak market crowd Bangkok I have already written a lot about JJ market in my first visit.

DHL courier shop Chatuchak market Bangkok
In case you buy more than you can carry… there’s always DHL
Palm fap chatuchak market Bangkok Thailand
Palm… fap?
Doner kabab Turkish ice cream Chatuchak weekend market Bangkok
Plenty of food to energize you for all the walking you’ll be doing at Jatujak
Bags shop owner Chatuchak weekend market Bangkok
The famous bags salesman calling every foreigner “Michael” was still at it in 2010 🙂
Chatuchak weekend market home furnishings Bangkok
The reason I like JJ market a lot is because they sell *everything* that can be placed inside a house
Chatuchak weekend market lights store Bangkok Thailand
Bought three kinds of lamp shades

After much walking around and being clueless as to where exactly we were (it will happen), eventually it was time for the puppies to come out. (Real puppies). You’ll only see them being sold once the sun sets — which means they’re probably doing it illegally.

Sawmteii puppy Chatuchak weekend market Bangkok
Sawmteii couldn’t help but pick one up

And at the prices the puppies were being sold for (around ฿3000-฿5000 depending on the breed), she didn’t feel like putting them down either. We were seriously talking about how to bring dogs via airplanes.

Eventually we decided to call it a day.

Choconana vendor Chatuchak market Bangkok
Had one of this: cold banana on a stick dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with nuts
Mo Chit BTS station at night Bangkok Thailand
Mo Chit BTS station

We got down at Nana so that the girls could check out my area (they were staying a few BTS stations further down). Got some currency exchanged and had dinner at an Arabian restaurant before wishing each other goodnight and parting ways.

Tomorrow was going to be my last full day in Bangkok.


Next posts in this series:

Thailand 2010: Gurdwara Siri Guru Singh Sabha, Sampeng Market, JJ market (again)

Thailand 2010: Damnoen Saduak Floating Market tour, Cobra show… and leaving Bangkok

Previous posts in this series:

Thailand 2010: Pattaya — Beach road, Viewpoint, Jomtien Beach, Walking Street

Thailand 2010: Golden Triangle in Mae Sai; Chiang Rai’s White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)

Thailand 2010: Heading to Chiang Rai by bus, Wat Jedyod and Golden Clock Tower

Thailand 2010: Last day of Loi Krathong; Sunday Grand Parade (Day 4, Part 2)

Thailand 2010: Chiang Mai Zoo (Day 4, Part 1)

Thailand 2010: Chiang Mai Loi Krathong celebrations; first Grand Parade

Thailand 2010: Chiang Mai cooking class; Loi Krathong celebrations in Mae Jo, Sansai

Thailand 2010: First day in Chiang Mai for Loi Krathong; driving up Doi Suthep

Thailand 2010: Arriving in Bangkok and preparing for Loi Krathong in Chiang Mai

Sukhumvit road Bangkok traffic BTS Skytrain tracks

Thailand 2010: Arriving in Bangkok and preparing for Loi Krathong in Chiang Mai

Last November, I decided just a few weeks earlier to go back to Thailand. The main purpose of this trip was to witness the Loi Krathong (or Loy Krathong) festival, one of Thailand’s most beautiful festivals and one that I always wanted to cover. Although it’s a national festival, Thailand still doesn’t get a public holiday for it.

Usually falling in November, I first booked my flights in October via Cleartrip.com which had a really good offer:  a return ticket from Thai Airways (direct flight) + Indian Rupee ₹2,000 hotel voucher + Indian Rupee ₹1,000 worth of credit for a Uniconnect Thailand SIM card + an entry to DreamWorld theme park… all for Indian Rupee ₹16,742 ($375/€262). Awesome deal if you ask me!

But, one week prior departure, I won the chance to go see Linkin Park in Abu Dhabi! So I delayed my departure by a few days, and then again after I read Jay Park was going to be performing in Bangkok. I left for Dubai on a Friday early morning and returned to Bangalore late Sunday night. I then went to office on the following Monday and then left for the airport in the evening for my early morning flight on Tuesday!

Inside Thai Airways flight TG325
The flight wasn’t full, so I had an entire row to myself
Thai Airways flight TG325 inflight chicken meal
The Thai chicken curry meal was yum

Unlike my first visit to Thailand, in which I tried to cover the entire country in 9 days (I did it, but I didn’t quite enjoy the experience), this time around I was only going to focus on North Thailand. Most of my time would be spent in Chiang Mai covering the Yi Ping Festival (as Loi Krathong is called in Chiang Mai), after which I planned to go to Chiang Rai & then a day in Pattaya before heading back to Bangkok.

Arriving Bangkok at dawn
Arrived in Bangkok at dawn
Inside Suvarnabhumi airport Thailand
Hello Suvarnabhumi!
Suvarnabhumi airport Thailand travelator
Sigh, the many travelators you have to cross…
Suvarnabhumi airport Thailand moving walkway
… to finally get to the visa-on-arrival section

Once I did get to the Visa-on-arrival counter, I submitted my form, showed them how much currency I was carrying and got my visa-on-arrival without having to pay the usual ฿1000. After that was customs and then collecting my bags. Last year, I took a taxi from the airport into Bangkok city which cost ฿320 but this time, I decided to take a shuttle bus.

Suvarnabhumi shuttle bus to Bangkok
The private bus going to Sukhumvit cost ฿150 (Rs. 222/$5/€3.5)

Thai Airways office near Suvarnabhumi airport

Suvarnabhumi airport from afar
That’s Suvarnabhumi airport
Sukhumvit from afar Bangkok Thailand
Getting near Sukhumvit took only 20 minutes

But then, Bangkok’s infamous traffic soon began. And my god did it last long! It took the bus nearly an hour just to get into Sukhumvit road.

I finally got dropped at Nana BTS station. I chose to stay at Thai House Inn, a place where I spent two nights at last year — because it’s 30 seconds walk from the metro station (literally) and its not far from all the malls. I needed to stay here because first on the list of things-to-do was to buy some camera equipment, so I had to have quick access to the shopping centers, especially MBK. Those whole followed my Singapore & Malaysia series must have read that I couldn’t pick up a good camera tripod while I was there. So this time, I just couldn’t go to Chiang Mai without it!

But first, I had to get some sleep! After a whirlwind trip to Dubai and then hopping on to another flight to get to Thailand,  my body needed some proper rest.

I got up at lunch time, took the BTS SkyTrain and headed straight to MBK Center, one of my favourite malls in Bangkok.

MBK Center Mahboonkrong mall Bangkok
From Nana, the Siam station is only 3 stops away; costs ฿25

(Here is the map of the BTS service in Bangkok)

MBK houses Fotofile, the store from where I bought my Canon 7D and other accessories last year. Fotofile also manages the official Canon store and two other stores in MBK! List of things to buy included a 70-200 f2.8 lens, another 16GB card, an interval remote, and a good tripod. I went to all of Fotofile’s stores, a BIG Camera branch and jotted down the prices for all that I wanted.

MBK Bangkok food court
I had lunch from the food court which offers a lot of variety (though mostly Asian cuisine & fast food)

I left MBK and thought I’d check out some other stores.

Sukhumvit road Bangkok traffic BTS Skytrain tracks
I never walked on that pedestrian bridge below the Skytrain tracks
Sukhumvit road Bangkok traffic
The traffic is like this from 8am to 8pm
Ratchaprasong skywalk Sukhumvit BTS bridge
The skywalk bridge connects to a lot of the malls along the Ratchaprasong area
Centralworld mall Bangkok Thailand
I didn’t even step into Centralworld last time

Ratchaprasong BTS skytrain Sukhumvit Bangkok

Ratchaprasong BTS skywalk Sukhumvit pedestrian bridgeRatchaprasong walkway Sukhumvit pedestrian bridgeSukhumvit Bangkok Renaissance Hotel Thailand

Ratchaprasong pavement Bangkok
I got down from the skywalk

I decided to head to the parallel Petchburi Road where Pantip Plaza is located.

Centralworld Bangkok mall
The side section of Centralworld Mall

Ratchadamri road bridge Bangkok ThailandBangkok river boatride SukhumvitPetchburi road steps to overbridgeRatchadamri road Bangkok ThailandBangkok Petchburi road shopsBangkok city bridge wayBangkok Petchburi road traffic Thailand

Amari Watergate Hotel Bangkok Petchburi road Thailand
Amari Watergate Hotel is located on Petchburi Road
Platinum Fashion Mall shopping Petchburi road Bangkok
Right across Amari Watergate is Platinum Fashion Mall
Platinum Fashion mall Petchburi road Bangkok
Petchburi road is also famous for the Pratunam market area

Pantip Plaza is essentially Bangkok’s equivalent to Singapore’s Sim Lim Square and Kuala Lumpur’s Low Yat Plaza.

Pantip Plaza ground floor shop
Bangkok’s most famous IT mall

Pantip Plaza inside floor storesI came to Pantip Plaza because none of the camera stores in MBK (and the Siam malls) sold tripods from the brand Vanguard. I had a particular model in mind but even after stepping into pretty much every Pantip Plaza shop that sold camera equipment, none stocked products from Vanguard.

Pantip Plaza ground floor stores
I left Pantip Plaza disappointed

I wanted to try and buy everything I wanted from one store, so that I didn’t have to swipe my card three or four times and incur additional charges for each transactions.

Ratchathewi station empty land Bangkok
I decided to head back to Sukhumvit road
Ratchathewi station graffiti walls Petchburi Bangkok
It was nearing sunset and my body was telling me 4 hours of sleep wasn’t enough
Ratchathewi station platform BTS Bangkok
Ratchathewi station is at the far end of Petchburi road
Sukhumvit traditional Thai dance night
By the time I stepped out of the train, it was already dark. The sun sets rather quickly out here.
Sukhumvit Ratchaprasong skywalk lights Bangkok
I decided to check one last mall before heading back

Centralworld Mall entrance Bangkok Thailand

Centralworld mall interior decor Bangkok Thailand
Centralworld is actually one of the biggest malls in Thailand

Centralworld mall Aunt Annie's Bangkok ThailandUnfortunately, Centralworld was quite badly damaged during last year’s ‘Red t-shirts’ protests and an entire section of the building was off limits because they were renovating it.

I looked up the store directory and saw that BIG Camera had a bigger branch here but unfortunately, it was in the part of the building which was under renovation.

Centralworld mall Christmas tree BangkokAfter checking which ever stores were open, I left CentralWorld.

Siam Paragon IMAX Novotel BTS Bangkok

Bangkok Sukhumvit skywalk christmas lights decorationSukhumvit road at night BangkokPresident Tower Holiday Inn hotel BangkokThe one good thing I liked about the area I was in is that it’s actually full of Arab visitors, and therefore plenty of businesses exist catering to tourists from the Middle East and Africa.

Bangkok Nana Sukhumvit Arab area

Bangkok Nana Sukhumvit Arab restaurants
Which meant, plenty of Middle Eastern cuisine for me to eat!
Nana Sukhumvit Dubai center Bangkok Thailand
Yeah, it’s *that* Gulf-y!

I picked up a beef shawarma (฿50) and a drink from a 7-11 and made my way back to my room. I had kept the air conditioner on for a while to ventilate the room and rid it of the Bangkok ‘stench,’ which takes a little getting used to. (The ‘smell’ of Bangkok city is essentially the smell of fish sauce emanating in the air.)

I needed more sleep and I had to wake up early the next day. I assessed all the camera products and all the prices I made a note of. I had to pick up everything tomorrow itself and then leave early enough to get to Mo Chit bus terminal.

Next day

After waking up and breakfast at Au Bon Pain in MBK, I waited for the Fotofile stores to open.

MBK mall bags clothes small stores section Bangkok
Walked around the ‘street market’ stores on the 6th floor to pass time
Fotofile camera equipment store MBK Bangkok Thailand
I picked up an additional 16GB card, the interval remote and an extra battery for the Canon 7D from the Foto Thailand store on the 3rd floor
Fotofile MBK used lenses store Bangkok
Lots of second hand lenses for sale

The telephoto lens I was keen on picking up was the Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS Mark 1. Unfortunately, that model was recently replaced by the newer Mark 2, which was obscenely expensive and thus made finding the Mark 1 a challenge.

MBK mall escalators advertising BangkokSo I ended up picking up a brand new Canon 70-200 f2.8 non-IS lens and using the substantial savings to purchase a good tripod instead. I needed one anyway.

Official Canon store MBK collection display Bangkok
I picked up the lens from the official Canon store managed by Fotofile
Canon camera store MBK collection display Bangkok
None of these are for sale, just on display

The Canon store had a few Manfrotto tripods on sale and I considered the Manfrotto 055x Pro B but it was too pricey. I went down to the BIG Camera store and picked up a Sirui tripod for around 7k baht. The model was very good value for money and complimented my newly acquired 70-200 lens well.

With all my shopping done, I went to one of the two main food courts in MBK.

Fifth Food Avenue food court MBK mall Bangkok
Fifth Food Avenue is the name of this food court
Nasi Goreng MBK mall food court Bangkok
I was still on my Malaysia high, so I had Nasi Goreng (although they went overboard with the soy sauce) ฿160

After lunch, I still had some time to kill, so I went to Siam Paragon to find out where the Jay Park concert was going to be held.

Siam Discovery mall interior decor Bangkok
Siam Discovery, which is the older and slightly more wallet friendly mall
Strip Ministry of Waxing Siam Discovery mall Bangkok
Clever ad 🙂
Siam Paragon mall open area Bangkok
Siam Paragon mall is the more posh offering
Krungsri IMAX theatre Siam Paragon Bangkok Thailand
The Royal Paragon Hall was on the top most floor, near the cinemas
Cool gel attack Thai film cinema poster
Hmm, interesting

After finding out where Royal Paragon Hall was, I made my way out.

Siam Paragon conference hall BangkokSiam Paragon mall open lobby Bangkok

Audi showroom Siam Paragon Bangkok Thailand
Walked past the luxury car showrooms on the second floor
Lamborghini showroom Siam Paragon Bangkok Thailand
Last year, they had a ‘No Photographs’ sign on the glass

So this time, I went in and got up close to the Lamborghinis. You don’t realize just how big these sexy machines are until you stand next to them. I spoke to the sales girl and I asked her how much the import duties for these cars are and she told me it’s over 100-150%, including the many taxes on these luxuries… making them super-expensive in Thailand. She wouldn’t disclose how many they sell a year but at such prices, I’m guessing not many. I hardly ever saw one on the road in the two trips I’ve made to Thailand.

Porsche showroom Siam Paragon Bangkok ThailandOnce back in my room, I re-packed my bags and checked out. The lady who runs Thai House Inn asked me why I was leaving so early and assured me there would be plenty of buses, but I didn’t want to risk not getting a seat. Going to Chiang Mai early is what I essentially came for.

I took the BTS all the way to till last stop, Mo Chit station, and from there I took a moped taxi (to Mo Chit bus terminal, which caters to North Thailand).

But when I got to the terminal, a lot of the buses to Chiang Mai leaving that night were already full! Especially the luxury buses, and I had to go from one transport company to another to find available seats. Fortunately, I got a ticket in a regular push-back seat bus — it was their last for the night!

Last year I got a seat in a luxury bus which cost me ฿700, for which I just showed up at the station and got my ticket. Of course, the sold-out seats today were due to the Loi Krathong weekend rush. So word of advice, if you want the luxury buses during Loy Krathong weekend, buy the tickets in advance.

Not that the bus I got was  bad or anything, it was just one of those regular buses used on overnight long distance journeys, in my case an 8-hour journey.

Bangkok to Chiang Mai bus night journey
A seat costs ฿403 (Rs. 597/$13/€9)

The bus made a rest stop for toilet break and for picking up dinner/snacks. In a few hours, I would arrive at Thailand’s second biggest city, and my second trip to Thailand officially begins!


Next few posts in this series:

Thailand 2010: First day in Chiang Mai for Loi Krathong; driving up Doi Suthep

Thailand 2010: Chiang Mai cooking class; Loi Krathong celebrations in Mae Jo, Sansai

Thailand 2010: Chiang Mai Loi Krathong celebrations; first Grand Parade

Thailand 2010: Chiang Mai Zoo (Day 4, Part 1)

Thailand 2010: Last day of Loi Krathong; Sunday Grand Parade (Day 4, Part 2)

Thailand 2010: Heading to Chiang Rai by bus, Wat Jedyod and Golden Clock Tower

Thailand 2010: Golden Triangle in Mae Sai; Chiang Rai’s White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)

Thailand 2010: Pattaya — Beach road, Viewpoint, Jomtien Beach, Walking Street

Thailand 2010: Back to Bangkok — Chinatown, Patpong, Platinum Mall and Chatuchak Market

Thailand 2010: Gurdwara Siri Guru Singh Sabha, Sampeng Market, JJ market (again)

Thailand 2010: Damnoen Saduak Floating Market tour, Cobra show… and leaving Bangkok

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