Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Erawan Shrine, More Malls, & Chinatown (Day 5)

This is our last day in Thailand and we were hoping to make it count.  Unfortunately, the "Incident" happened, which I won't discuss further, and instantly, I was on my own for the rest of the day.

I started my trip around 1 pm, after checking out and leaving my stuff at the hotel.  I hoped on the BTS to Chit Lom Station and made my way down to the Erawan Shrine.  Located below the Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel, the Erawan Shrine houses a sacred Hindu statue named Than Tao Mahaprom with hordes of followers paying their respects from morning til night.  It is adorned with flowers, incense and candles and is revered by Thais.

As seen from the skybridge

Chatuchak Market & Sunday Mall Hopping (Day 4)

After a disastrous 3rd day, we were hoping that a Sunday retail shopping therapy would give us redemption.  Around 10 am, we made our way to Chatuchak Market, Asia's biggest flea market.  With more than 8,000 stalls, it is not possible for you to cover everything in a day.  It can get very crowded, confusing, noisy, smelly and sweaty.  Also, the heat is brutal especially around noon.  To add to that, your chance of getting lost is high. Chatuchak offers the most variety of goods for sale that I have ever seen, however, most of the shops are open on the weekends only.  I really enjoyed my time in Chatuchak Market.  It offers something for everyone, it's rough around the edges, it abounds with eateries and food stalls, it's a sensory overload and  it's very accessible.  There are really good bargains to be had with a little bargaining skills.  If you happen to see an item you want, haggle and if you agree with the price, buy it because you probably will not be able to relocate the store once you head elsewhere.  Also, some of the stores have items that they sell exclusively.

To get here, take the Metro to Kampheng Phet Station.  You can also take the BTS to Mo Chit Station, but the Metro exit gets you to the most interesting section of the market already.

BTS Wong Wian Yai

The Floating Market, Bridge over the River Kwai and Tiger Temple (Day 3)

We got up really early today because we availed of an organized tour at a travel agency in Khao San Road  yesterday.  The tour covers Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, the Bridge over the River Kwai, and Tiger Temple costing 2,000 baht with free lunch, exclusive of admission fees.  Now before you crucify me for taking a tour, hear me out.  DIY to the floating market is easy, but getting to Tiger Temple is really complicated because transportation options are almost non-existent.  It's very far from Bangkok, in a remote location and we would have had to take a combination of bus and long walk or hitchhiking.  As bad traveler karma to me, I didn't enjoy this day and here's what happened.

We were picked up at the hotel lobby by a Toyota Hi-Ace, and assembled with other tourists at Khao San Road.  It took us an hour and a half to get to the floating market thanks to our driver from hell.  Despite repeatedly being told by other passengers to slow down, the racer was undeterred and got us to the finish line crazy fast!  

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is the largest of Thailand's many floating markets, but also the biggest tourist trap.  The market is filled  with boat vendors clogging the artificial canals selling stuff from fresh fruits and vegetables to full meals.  Boat tour costs 400 baht per hour per person plus compulsory tip at the end of the tour.  The boat can fit four to five people.  The market is exclusively catered for tourists and the price of goods are exorbitantly high, so haggle hard (400% or more mark-up).  Aside from the boats, there are rows and rows of shops selling souvenirs, toys & fashion items; there's even a snake show booth!  A quick heads up, boat vendors have "partner" shops they take you to where they get commissions from your purchases.

Getting back to land, I decided to check out the adjacent dry market, and the canal side activity.  To be honest, aside from the beautiful pictures which you can brag to your friends, there isn't much to see.  To me the place feels fake, overly commercialized, and overrated.

If you will be commuting to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market from Bangkok, take a taxi to the Southern Bus Terminal (Sai Tai) and ride Bus # 78 which will lead you directly to Damnoen Saduak Terminal for 50 baht taking 2 hours.  Alternatively, a taxi from Bangkok to the floating market costs 1,500 baht.  

Floating Market

The Chao Phraya River, Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Arun and Khao San Road (Day 2)

I had just watched a scene in the Thai movie Bangkok Traffic Love Story where the female lead is going home from work, exhausted, but is made to suffer endless traffic.  She goes on switching from different types of transportation from taxis, tuk-tuks  to riding a ferry.  The ferry passes through along a lot of vivid images that stuck into my mind going into this trip.  Now, I got the chance to see them for real.

Literally, this is our first day.  We explore the district of Rattanakosin, the historic center of Bangkok.  This is home to most of the must see sights and should be part of every traveler's itinerary.

We had delicious breakfast at the hotel.  The main meal is set but we could help ourselves with as many breads, fruits, juice and milk as we like.

Breakfast Area

Bangkok..Suvarnabhumi Airport and Baiyoke Sky (Day 1)

Bangkok:  The Land of Legendary Street food / Venice of Southeast Asia

In the 90's my parents went to Bangkok on an organized tour.  They came back unimpressed, forever comparing the city to Manila.  My folks would say: "Bangkok is chaotic, dirty, has fewer malls, fewer sights and dangerous. Mas maganda pa ang Maynila diyan".  Fast forward to 2011, Bangkok has just been named the World's Best City by Travel & Leisure Magazine and Manila is not even on the list, so naturally, I became intrigued.  Could it be that Bangkok has rapidly progressed past Manila over the last decade, or were my parents unable to see the real beauty of Bangkok in an organized tour, or maybe the magazine got it wrong?  Whatever it was, I was going to find out and I was going to do it my way DIY!

Wat Arun