Thought I’d get that out of the way first. After a tiring first day (with barely any sleep), we made up for it by only getting up around 10:30am. And by the time we were out, it was already noon.
But today, the skies were clear and sunny.
But despite the plethora of eateries and cafes, ‘the vegetarian’ (my friend Ramesh) found nothing to his taste. So we decided to go to Little India.
While the guys headed to Little India, I instead went to Sim Lim Square – Singapore’s famous IT mall.
Being a Sunday, few stores were closed but you still had plenty open.
I was looking for a good tripod and the Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS USM I lens. Most stores didn’t have the latter in stock anymore but I did get a chance to try out the non-IS variant.
Several shops I entered asked me why I needed the IS version and suggested that I simply go in for the non-IS version and buy a good tripod instead. Something I did give deep consideration later.
A few smaller shops did say they had the lens and it “could be arranged,” but I decided not to deal with them. After all, Sim Lim is equivalent to Bangkok’s Pantip Plaza — you have tread carefully when shopping here. You can get ripped off, at the same while scoring some really good deals.
I had only made it to the second floor before my friends called and told me they were done with lunch. Since I had to catch up with them, I had to leave Sim Lim. Just like yesterday, I left disappointed knowing I couldn’t explore the mall in its entirety.
I grabbed a quick bite and made my way out.
As I stepped out and crossed the road in front of Sim Lim Square, I noticed crowds and street shops ahead of me.
Bugis Street Shopping is the largest street shopping market in Singapore.
For me, it wasn’t really impressive. Not after you have visited Bangkok’s Chatuchak Weekend Market (or JJ Market). In fact, a lot of the merchandise sold here was from Thailand — which obviously meant it was slightly more pricier here.
I had to get to Suntec City to meet up with my friends, but instead of taking of the MRT, I just walked.
I passed through another mall, this time — Bugis Junction.
After catching up with my friends, Ramesh made his way to the F1 tracks to begin his evening. While myself & Loi pondered what to do next. I had plans of going to Marina Bay Sand Casino to go up to the sky deck. When I had called them up earlier in the day, I was informed it was only open to visitors until 4pm, after which it would be off limits to non-guests.
We were inside CityLink Mall (yes, another mall in the area) when we decided to check out the HMV store.
By the time we stepped out of the HMV store, we already spent SGD150 (around Rs. 5,100) on official band t-shirts — and it was past 4pm. So I pushed Marina Bay Sands for tomorrow and headed to Suntec City mall instead.
After shopping some more at Suntec, we made our way back to Victoria Street where I had plans to show Loi the Bugis Street shopping centre.
But lay before us was Iluma — the alluding building which I assumed was a boutique hotel.
But a funky one at that. Iluma is a pretty cool mall mostly targeting a younger crowd. Despite its appearance, we didn’t find the usual selection of high-end designer brands. Instead, we came across stores like this:
The merchandise on display was good enough to draw me & Loi in. Nearly half-an-hour later, we step out after having spent some dime on anime merchandise.
Inside the Otaku House was more anime merchandise; more necklaces and keychains (like the ones we bought from Comics Connection), to cosplay outfits and other props for rent or purchase.
But we sighed… and quietly walked out, reminding ourselves that we had already spent enough and would soon run of Singapore currency at this rate.
It didn’t stop us from exploring the mall still.
The top-most floor houses what they claim to be Singapore’s largest arcade. And then there is the open roof top.
As we made our way down, I realized iluma was one of the more unique malls in Singapore. Not only does it look cool, it really manages to cater to a young crowd with more affordable options compared to the rest of Singapore’s malls.
After we stepped out of iluma, I took Loi to the Bugis Street Chopping centre.
And by the time we were done with that, we were hungry. So we popped into the near by Burger King for a good ol’ beef burger
(Note: Beef burgers are a rarity in India due to religious sentiments so even McDs are too ‘chicken’ to serve beef burgers here).
After this, we took the MRT to Orchard Road, our next destination.
I actually wanted to go back to Sim Lim Square, but Loi needed to meet his cousin — and since he didn’t have a local SIM, I had to tag along with him.
When we got to Orchard Road, we stepped right out to Ion Orchard mall.
Orchard Road is Singapore’s famous shopping stretch (as if the rest of the city didn’t offer enough already), home to many star hotels and a very popular stop for tourists.
And boy, does this one-way road live up to its reputation!
Once Loi met up with his cousin, I was on my own to explore the rest of Orchard Road for some time.
I got back to the other side to continue from where I left off.
After this point, the malls slowly disappeared.
After catching up with my friend Loi, we decided to see off his cousin at the bus stop and take one ourselves as we hadn’t done so yet.
Since we didn’t really know where to get down, we just got off at the end of Orchard Road.
As I looked at the map, we realized that Victoria Street wasn’t very far from where we were currently, so I asked Loi if we could just keep walking.
It was nearing 11pm, so we stepped into a food court to have dinner and to quench our thirst with some beer.
After ‘dinner,’ we resumed our walk towards our hostel.
I couldn’t help but remind ourselves how good a location we chose to be stay in, given how close we were to a lot of what Singapore has to offer (especially if you a re shopaholic!).
We were finally back in our room…. oh wait, we ran out of drinking water.
(Steps out again)
Once back from the nearby 7-Eleven I was finally done with day 2! As we checked out out our merchandise, we also counted how much we had already spent and soon realized we were running out of Singapore dollars.
We just had one more day left in Singapore, so it was either going to be Sentosa or the Singapore Zoo. I also wanted to hit the sky deck at Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino.
But I was just too damn excited about today. And so, as Azhad headed off to work early in the morning, I too got ready to set out early for the Downtown Dubai site.
I took the metro (from Union Station) to Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall (of course they were going to get their own stop). As soon as I stepped out…
It really is a beauty, unlike the last building that earned the title “tallest building in the world”.
There’s a bit of a walk to be had to get to Dubai Mall (there’s a bus service too but I chose to walk just to see the surroundings)
I got into Dubai Mall through the parking lot — because I couldn’t find any other entrance that side.
I had gotten to Dubai Mall quite early. Most stores hadn’t opened or were just waiting for the first customer to walk in. I was going to check out the mall of course, but first things first. I wanted to buy tickets for the observation deck on Burj Khalifa. The observation deck was closed just a few weeks after it had opened due to some technical snags. It had re-opened only a week before, so I knew there was going to be a mad rush for the tickets.
But finding the ticket counter for At The Top proved a bit difficult (at first). Since there wasn’t anyone at the information desks, I simply followed the signs out to the Burj Khalifa thinking, well, that the counter would be at the ground floor of the Burj Khalifa itself.
Problem is, when I tried to get to the entrance of the Burj Khalifa, that didn’t seem possible either. Everything was cordoned off due to construction work still going on or was restricted access. I asked around but ended up back inside Dubai Mall.
Once inside, I finally found a security guard and asked him how I could get to the At the Top counter.
I was instructed to go to the food court at the ground floor.
The ticket counter only opens at 10am but at 9:45am, a few had already started a queue. I asked if tickets were available for the morning but they said only ‘Immediate Entry’ tickets were available.
You see, they have two types of tickets. The regular admission ticket costs Dhs 100 (Rs. 1200/US$27/€21) but needs to be booked a few hours/days in advance. But if you need to see it “immediately” or (truth be told) just show up at the ticket counter, you have to pay Dhs 400 (Rs. 5,100/US$108/€86) if you wish to go in then itself.
I ended up buying tickets for the 4:00pm slot (they let people in every 30 minutes) and also three tickets for a later date.
And now that I had plenty of time to kill until then, I began checking out the empty mall.
But as I got up to the first floor, I got distracted by the Dubai Aquarium. So I bought the Dhs 50 (Rs. 630/US$13/€10) ticket to see the largest (& probably the only) indoor aquarium in the Middle East. (The Dhs 50 ticket is the aquarium plus the Underwater Zoo. The standalone ticket for the Aquarium is Dhs 25)
And then you enter the tunnel.
You can check out the HD video I took here:
Once you step out the tunnel, the path takes you past souvenirs and a themed restaurant.
… before leading out to the escalator that takes you up to the first floor.
There, you find the entrance to the Underwater Zoo.
The aquarium was obviously very popular for school kids.
Here’s a video I took:
After that, I checked out the rest of the mall.
After nearly an hour of window shopping, I decided to have lunch at the food court at the basement, near the At The Top counter.
The burger was okay, nothing exceptional. Of course, I only had the regular beef burger. (Not really ‘Fat’, just regular)
After lunch, it was back to roaming around a bit more. This time I explored the Gold Souk.
As the name suggests, this is the section of the mall dedicated to just gold stores and other pricey items.
It was also the quietest part of the mall.
Given the high price of gold now and the fact that there wasn’t a whole lot of folks shopping anyway, it wasn’t surprising to see very few customers walk through these corridors.
And with that, I was out.
I also walked past the only Olympic-sized Ice Rink in the Middle East.
It was 3:30pm by this time, so I decided to make my way back to the lower basement.
I waited near the At The Top counter for my turn to get in
(This is just part 1 of what I saw today, part 2 is when I went up to the Burj Khalifa observation desk)
Woke up at a reasonable time after sleeping properly for the first time since I arrived in Thailand a week ago. I wondered what to do today. I still had sights to go see but looking at the battery power left in my camera made me realize I need to get my charger fixed or at least find a new one (my Canon 7D batter charger had gotten wet in Ao Nang) before I could click again.
So I decided to head back to MBK Center and visit the Canon showroom I picked up my camera from.
I took the BTS, got off at the Siam stop and reached MBK by around 10am. Stores were just opening for business and the Canon store unfortunately wasn’t going to open until 11am. So I decided to explore all the levels of MBK Center to kill time.
MBK was once the biggest mall in Asia. Even though it has long lost that title, it still remains one of the most popular shopping centers in Thailand. Mostly because you get a good mix of branded stores and independent small ones selling stuff you probably find in less-posh street stores or at flea markets.
Like I mentioned in the last post, just because you find something in a small store or a flea market, doesn’t mean you got a good deal. Case in point, the 80 litre bag I picked up from Ao Nang. When I bought it for 1500 baht/Rs. 2000 (bargained down from 2000 baht), I thought I got a good deal. Until I saw it for 890 baht (Rs. 1,200) in one store on the ground floor at MBK 🙁
MBK’s fourth floor was dominated by mobile phone stores. Be it handsets or accessories, there were plenty of them. Selling everything from the genuine to even the fake Nokias and Apples. You name the brand, they had it. You want customization options, there’s plenty to choose from. Worth checking out if you want to deck out your mobile.
As I entered the 4th floor though, I smelled something sweet in air and I followed the trail which led to this:
I tried the pancake with coc0nut filling and had coffee. Funny thing is, the coffee cost more than the pastry!
Done with “breakfast,” I had some time to kill before the Canon store opened. So I went to the 5th floor which had the food court on one side and (mostly) clothes stores on the other. Like Chatuchak, you had stores selling all sorts of gear for more or less the same prices. I picked up some more t-shirts and then went around looking for good deals on PlayStation 3 games.
Trouble is, finding original games in Thailand is very, very difficult. Pirated discs pretty much rule the home entertainment market and very few stores stocked a good collection of original video games.
By 11am, the Canon store opened and I went to meet Kosin, the sales guy I mostly dealt with. He saw me and even remembered my name. I told him what happened to my battery charger and asked him if I could get it repaired.
I had Thai warranty on the camera and even though water damage isn’t covered, he still took me to the service center which was behind the showroom and gave it for service. They said they couldn’t promise anything because the Canon 7D was so new that they didn’t have the parts for everything just yet. But I still filled up the papers and was asked to come back in the evening.
Since there was a good chance I wouldn’t get the charger repaired, I wondered if I could get a new one. Kosin told me they hadn’t received stock of the new charger so I decided to head to Pantip Plaza and try there.
I took a taxi and made my way to Pantip, which is around 2 kms from MBK.
I had written about Pantip in my Day 1 post but for the sake of a quick reminder, Pantip Plaza is pretty much the most popular IT destination in Bangkok (and also famous for being the largest grey market mall as well).
I went around asking every camera equipment store if they had the particular battery charger in stock but none did. So I ended up having to buy a third party battery charger for 600 baht (Rs. 830) — which is a lot cheaper than what the genuine Canon charger costs.
I went back to the room, put my battery for charging and prayed that the third party device wouldn’t blow up.
Since I had to wait a while before the battery had enough charge for use and that it was already noon, I realized I wouldn’t be able to do any of the sight-seeing I had planned for in Bangkok while the sun was still up. So I headed back to MBK.
I had lunch at the food court and decided to watch ‘Avatar‘ in 3D. My take on the film? Technically brilliant, visually stunning… but so damn cliched and predictable that it got boring and some what annoying after a while. Sorry James Cameron, I still like you but ‘Avatar‘ wasn’t really worth all the hype and years of anticipation. (And it totally doesn’t deserve all the critical praise andrecord-breaking financial return its getting!)
By the time the film was over, it was already past 5pm. I went back to the Canon service center to collect my charger and find out if they repaired it. Unfortunately, they couldn’t as they said they didn’t have the parts needed.
So I collected it and left MBK. I figured if there was no tourist attraction to see today, I rather just cross over to the other side and check out the place that now holds the crown for being the largest mall in Thailand.
Siam Center is now the biggest shopping complex in Bangkok, consisting of Siam Discovery, the Siam office tower and Siam Paragon, the newest and the most posh of the bunch. MBK and Siam Center are conveniently accessed by a large over bridge and a BTS station above that!
Siam Center is your typical international standard mall. The usual big brands and using every major festival, like Christmas, to deck the place up all nice — even though Thailand is a Buddhist majority. Siam Center houses several well-known (and slightly more affordable) brands while Siam Paragon mostly caters to luxury goods.
So as expected, they was hardly anybody inside the shops.
I went down to the food court to catch some grub and was happy to see a Mos Burger outlet. Being a Japanophile, I’ve always wanted to try one.
I got my takeaway and checked out the rest of the mall. Fairly standard international mall affair.
Except for this.
This was the first time I saw a car showroom, and that too, luxury cars being sold on the second floor of a mall! There were a series of them. But the coolest of them was the Lamborghini showroom. Just two cars – an orange Gallardo and a white Murcielago SV (or it could have been the other way around, don’t exactly remember) – in an all black showroom. Sexy.
Sadly, photography was prohibited.
I headed home and on the way, stepped into a tour agency to inquire about how to get to the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and the Floating Market, which were the sights I wanted to see. In the map, the Grand Palace seemed far off and the tour agency told me the Floating Market is a two hour drive away from the city (or at least from Sukhumvit). I went back to the room and had to decide which I wanted to see because I could only do one the next day. The woman who runs Thai House Inn told me I can just take a taxi to the Grand Palace for around 100 baht and assured me that it wasn’t as far as I thought it was.
I had only the day to spare, so Grand Palace and Wat Pho it was. I really wanted to capture the Floating Market on video but I just couldn’t take the risk of being late for my flight back to Bangalore later that evening. Disappointed, I decided to walk one final night instead of hitting the bed just yet.
And I was glad I did. Turns out the area I was in was popular with Middle Easterners and North Africans. There were so many restaurants run by Egyptians, Lebanese and other Arabs serving Middle Eastern cuisine (a favourite of mine!) as well as some Indian.
There were joints popular with Africans and enough shawarma joints to go around. It was kinda cool. Reminded me of walking through the bylanes of Manama growing up. I picked up a mutton shawarma (which was tad spicy) from a Nigerian-run joint and went back after picking up some chocolates to take back to Bangalore.