After a span of 9 months, and after writing about all my past travels, I had the itch to see the world again. I had to. I had nothing else to write about for this website besides the usual K-pop reviews! The past few months I contemplated where to go next. I really wanted to be in Europe for the Euro Cup and the Olympics, but with the Indian Rupee getting clobbered in value against the British Pound and the Euro, I soon let go of that dream.
I then thought about Vietnam. I would fly to Singapore as my visa is yet to expire, then take Tiger Airways to Ho Chi Minh, ride all the way up to Hanoi and fly back to Singapore. But upon researching, I realized whatever I would see in Vietnam would not have been that much more ‘new’ having already been to Thailand and Philippines. Also, the truth about Halong Bay is that it looks amazing when you get an aerial view — which is not how most tourists see it when they get there.
So then I thought about China, a country I have wanted to explore for years. Just like India, China has an ancient and much revered history. It’s also a large country, with lots to see and amazing geography. But China also has a government hell bent on restricting your freedom within its boundaries. So when I read foreigners wouldn’t be allowed to visit Tibet unless they went with a guide, I changed my mind. Taking the Lhasa express ranked highly in my list of “to-do” things in China. And the way I travel, I don’t want someone telling me I can’t go there or don’t take photographs the government doesn’t want you taking.
I initially thought of using Hong Kong as an entry point to China, but in the end I decided to just visit Hong Kong and Macau for now. After all, I got a pretty sweet deal on the flight ticket from Cleartrip. For around Rs. 27k ($505/€407), I would be flying Thai Airways via Bangkok to Hong Kong. My return journey had a 22-hour layover in Bangkok too, meaning I had a day to spend in Bangkok as well.
I left Bangalore on June 27th and arrived at Suvarnabhumi around 6am.
My final day in Thailand… and I still made most of the time I had before flying out.
Even though I still had an entry ticket to DreamWorld theme park which I got for free via Cleartrip, I decided to chuck that and opted instead to do something I couldn’t do last year.
I booked myself for a floating market tour via the lady who owns Thai House Inn and she got it for me for ฿600 (Rs. 890/$20/€14).
After an hour long drive, the van reached a canal where there were other tour groups gathered near some boats.
Once we reached the market, we got out of our boats and were informed by our guide that we had nearly an hour here. But, if we wanted to boat ride around the market, we would have to pay ฿50 (Rs. 75/$1.6/€1.16) and it was not included in the tour package. Obviously, none of us wanted to simply walk around the ‘floating’ market, so I paid up.
And this is what it sounds like 🙂
After riding for around half an hour, we were dropped back on to the platform.
I walked back to the designated meeting point for our tour group. It was time to leave, so we all got back to our respective vans.
I was under the impression the floating market tour was over and that we would be on our long drive back. But no, instead, the van took us to a nearby Elephant Village.
After waiting for nearly half an hour for the few from my tour group who wanted to go for the elephant ride, we finally got moving again. Next up, the Cobra Show.
Even though I had seen videos from the ‘most exciting show in the world,’ I did not want to wait outside in the heat again. So I paid the ฿30 or ฿50 it was for the ticket and went in.
They start off with the announcer welcoming everyone and explaining in fairly understandable English that the purpose of the facility is to ‘educate’ visitors that snakes are not all that dangerous as people make them out to be.
The also bring around snakes to you in case you want to take photos with one around your neck. And since I hate snakes…
The ‘exciting’ parts kick in when they demonstrate how the trained staff catch snakes. Which has to be seen in action:
The guy also caught three cobras, one by one, which was quite impressive.
The excitement continues when they bring out a snake’s worst enemy in the animal kingdom, the mongoose — and then make the two fight.
Here’s a video of the mongoose fight some more:
Thirty minutes of, erm, animal cruelty, the show was over. The staff went around seeking donations from the visitors, and I tipped ฿100 to the guy who caught the snakes with his bare hands, because that’s quite some skill.
Outside, there have a mini-zoo with a few reptilian creatures.
I asked our guide if the ‘tour’ was over, but he said there was one final stop. Ugh.
This was some handicrafts showroom where they specialize in wooden sculptures.
Needless to say, none of these wooden sculptures carved out of teak wood come cheap. Most of them were in the thousands of dollars (yes, dollars, not Thai baht)!
After another half-an-hour spent here, we headed back into our vans. I was finally done with the ‘floating market’ tour. As touristy as the above sights may seem, I still feel a visit to the floating market is a ‘must-do’ in Thailand. Damnoen Suduak is the most popular floating market, thus the hordes of tourists. There are a few other floating markets across Thailand.
The journey back into the city took a lot longer for me as I was going to be the last one dropped. I eventually got down at MBK to have lunch… at KFC.
With my final meal in Thailand complete…
Anyway… I headed back to Thai House Inn to pack up and check out. I sat down for a bit before stepping out again, but this time, without my camera bag for a change. I wanted to give my shoulders a rest after the nearly two weeks I strained them. I walked further down from Nana BTS to see whether there were better sub-฿1000 accommodation available so that next time if I do choose to stay in the Sukhumvit area, I don’t have to stay to at Thai House Inn.
Hopefully, next time I’m in Bangkok, if I don’t have much shopping to do, I’ll stay in Khao San road.
At around 5:30pm, I took the BTS to Phaya Thai station. They had only recently opened the new skytrain link directly to Suvarnabhumi airport, saving passengers both time and money.
The journey took just 30 minutes. Clearly a better option for those with less luggage. I was early enough for my 9:20pm Thai Airways flight to Bangalore.
Walking up to the departures section, I was quite stunned to see just about every Indian passenger heading back to Mumbai with a massive LCD/plasma TV in tow. It’s as though everybody knew how much to pay off the Mumbai customs officials upon arrival.
Quite ridiculous really, especially seeing many of them pleading with the check-in personnel not to impose excess baggage charges… because some of them were (unsurprisingly) way over the allowed limit!
After checking-in, I headed to the VAT (value added tax) refund office to declare my purchases and get my VAT refund forms stamped by the officials. Then came the rather long queue at immigration.
I checked out the Duty Free, bought two bottles of liquor that my friends requested (prices and selection are fairly good here) and then went to the VAT refund counter to get my cash refund. Submitted my form and got 7% of the total value of my purchases back in cash. I mentioned this last year and I’ll mention it again: for the VAT refund, one needs to shop at stores that participate in the VAT refund scheme for tourists. Upon purchase, you will get a VAT refund form from the store and it’s only upon showing that same form at the airport will you be eligible for a refund. You can’t simply show a bunch of store receipts and expect a cash refund (‘cos I’ve seen people do that).
Sitting at my gate, I had plenty of time for a flashback. Another trip to Thailand that didn’t feel ‘complete’. Had I successfully covered the big lantern release in Mae Jo, Chiang Mai, I would have scratched North Thailand off my list and only focused on South Thailand for my next visit.
I wasn’t even in the best of health the first week, which sucked. Still… all I can say is that I did the best I could and I hope my readers enjoyed this series.
So until Thailand 201_, it’s back to India for now! 🙂
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!