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.
As soon as I was done with lunch, I headed to the nearby BTS station (this stop was called Nana) and stood in line to get coins. The fares range from 10 baht (Rs. 13) to 60 baht (Rs. 83) and it essentially works like so:
– get 5 and 10 baht coins from the manned counters
– each stop is number coded, so you first choose your destination by selecting the number on the machine
– put in the required number of coins
– your card is issued
You need the card to get past the gates and only then can you go up to the platform. Once there, you generally don’t have to wait long. I had to get down at the last stop heading north on the Sukhumvit line, Mo Chit, to get to Jatuchak park.
It costs 60 baht but my god! The time you save! A ride which would have taken me an hour in Bangkok traffic took me just over 10 minutes. I can’t wait for Bangalore Metro to open! This service is such a time-saver.
Chatuchak (also called Jatujak or even JJ) Weekend Market is located near Jatujak Park.
Now, I’m not much of a shopaholic but while I was doing my research for my trip, JJ Weekend Market claimed to be the largest flea market in the world with thousands of stalls! I wasn’t going to count but it still intrigued me enough to go check it out.
I didn’t even know if there even was a “main entrance” so I just entered one of the lanes.
I immediately realized why JJ was popular. You get everything! From clothes, fashion accessories, home furnishings, cutlery, food, fake brands, stationary, cool crap… wholesale as well as retail.
The guy in the pink shirt you see above was selling every bag inside his store (even the big ones) for 199 baht (Rs. 270). He kept calling every non-small eyed guy (including me) “Michael” and pointed towards his store in the hopes of luring us in. The tourists did find it funny hearing him go “M-O-I-kaal!” and I did step inside to see what the fuss was all about. There was a fairly large trendy looking Puma bag (good looking fake) I thought of picking up but I reminded myself that just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean I have to buy it. Especially if I’m really not going to use it. So I just walked away without buying it.
Which was a good thing because just down the road there was another store selling bags for 189 baht (Rs. 260) — but without any fuss [picture can be found below]. I realized what a clever marketing move it was that the 199 baht store was employing. Get people’s attention with a lot of noise and the notion that everything must go with 199 looking like the rock bottom price. Once people are in, take a hit on bags that may actually cost 250 selling for 199 baht but make up for lost profit by selling bags that may actually cost him 100 baht for 199 there by evening it out anyway. Clever.
Tip: Try and do all your shopping from Bangkok. I realized Bangkok is the hub and main distribution point for pretty much every other city in Thailand. Take for example the cool looking lanterns you see above. I saw the silver one first on the streets of Ao Nang — for around 1600 baht (Rs. 2,200). Obviously I didn’t buy it because I thought it was quite pricey. But here? Prices start from 300 baht (Rs. 410).
Just because JJ calls itself a ‘flea market’ doesn’t mean you don’t get genuine products here. There are authorized dealers for original Converse shoes (very popular in Thailand) and several other brands. But the thing is, I’d still pick up a good looking fake for hundreds less. The imitation is just that good!
Another cool aspect of JJ I really liked was the sub-cultures that existed within the place. You had various sections dedicated to different fashion. A series of stores specializing in hip-hop fashion, gear for rockers, reggae, etc. It was really cool.
I really want to profile the various sub-cultures at Chatuchak the next time I come here.
So did I shop much at all? I had already picked up a funky T-shirt (for 90 baht/Rs. 125) and I was looking for a Def Leppard t-shirt at all the stores selling rock gear. Some stores had genuine second-hands (the official merchandise but already worn) but those were selling for over 1000 baht (Rs. 1,300). Now, I love me some Def Leppard but I wasn’t going to spend that kind of money for a second hand t-shirt unless it was worn by Joe Elliot himself!
I had spent nearly 3 hours here and I could have checked out more stores but a lot of them began closing by 6pm itself.
I decided to leave JJ and so… puppiiiiiesssss!
They even had puppies for sale! I felt sad seeing them being sold like this. But when I heard 3000 baht (Rs. 4,100) for some breeds, I was more “Hey, that’s not bad” than “Awww, poor thing”.
There was a lot of stuff I could have bought from here, especially clothes and shoes. But I had already spent enough and my bag was full enough.
Also, don’t cave in and splurge at JJ thinking everything is cheap here. Some items you’ll get in air-conditioned malls such as MBK Center for more or less the same price. So do go around Bangkok a bit before you decide to spend.
It was past 8pm by the time I finally left JJ market. Yet another place I’m definitely coming back to.
I took the BTS back to my hotel room and called it an early night after dinner as I had woken up very early today.