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).
The breakfast and lunch isn’t your usual buffet offering. You queue up and get served your choice of dishes. No seconds.
It was enough to kick-start my day.
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.
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).
I also saw a Convergys office here, not that I was surprised to know big Indian BPOs have offices here in the Philippines.
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!
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!
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).
I wrote a note in the visitor’s book they have inside the chapel and left.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Post-movie (which I thought was a bit of a drag), I decided to go to MBK.
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.
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.
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.
In the evening, I decided to check out Bangkok’s Chinatown.
When 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.
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.
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.
There wasn’t anything seedy about the place (at first)
But as I went to the side street to get a glimpse of what the other stalls were selling…
Like 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Once back in my area, I decided to grab dinner first and then go back to my room.
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.
After Siam Discovery and Siam Paragon, we walked towards Petchburi Road.
On Petchburi road, the girls wanted to check out Platinum Mall, which claims to be Thailand’s largest fashion mall.
Eight floors of fashion goodness… well, mostly for women anyway. Hardly anything for men in here.
Despite 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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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) + 2,000 hotel voucher + 1,000 worth of credit for a Uniconnect Thailand SIM card + an entry to DreamWorld theme park… all for 16,742 ($375/€262). Awesome deal if you ask me!
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.
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.
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 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.
I left MBK and thought I’d check out some other stores.
I decided to head to the parallel Petchburi Road where Pantip Plaza is located.
I 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.
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.
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.
After checking which ever stores were open, I left CentralWorld.
The 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.
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.
After waking up and breakfast at Au Bon Pain in MBK, I waited for the Fotofile stores to open.
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.
So 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.
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.
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.
After finding out where Royal Paragon Hall was, I made my way out.
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.
Once 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.
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!