Thursday, July 1, 2010

CNY 2010: Bangkok Blues

Note: Yup, yet another delayed post. By the way, I'll be out of reach from the 4th till the 31st of July- just holler at me if you happen to be in China or Hong Kong, cos' that's where I'll be. Cheerios.

(Edit - March 2014) Facebook must have redone their linking system, because almost all the image links aren't working. I'm too lazy to do a contextual Sherlock and guess which photo goes where, so... if you're reading this now, be prepared for some oddness.

Hmm... the water was rather choppy, but this photo still turned out nicely, like the other photos I took from the boat... maybe I should consider a career in marine photography, haha. Back to the point (never mind the fact that I'm just getting started): In line with our newly (relatively) established family tradition, this year's Chinese New Year was spent in Bangkok, Thailand.
We went there in separate batches: the first to arrive (a day earlier, in fact) was the Hong Kong group. Groups two and three should really have been one group (since we come from the same country), but we couldn't get the required number of tickets for the same flight. Next was my group- two uncles, one aunt, their maid, and me. The usual role of tour guide given to me, of course, at least until the third group arrived.

Here's the obligatory 'I took this from an aeroplane, look at those clouds' photo. Photos, actually. I don't really know why, but the photo above somehow reminded me of Imhotep from Brendan Fraser's Mummy movies, conjuring up a dust-cloud... I probably don't need to tell you that airplanes don't crack up when they fly into clouds. Then again, someone does. Imhotep, you dolt.

What about this one, then? Elementary chemistry foiled Imhotep's plans to eat us up, I suppose. I don't remember why I kept this photo. Maybe it's because it looks like we were flying over the North Pole. Or is the South? I forget. Oh well... hoi pilot, watch out for that glacier!

Maybe I just have a fetish for taking photos from airplanes. Then again, I do like taking photos of the night sky... There's not much point in taking those photos from an airplane, though, as it's pitch black outside and you really can't see a thing... I'm evading the issue again. This photo? Kept it because of that cloud that looked rather like a flying fish.

Interestingly, there was a couple whom my auncle's (made up that word since it's a pain to say uncle and aunt) knew on our flight- a salesman they deal with frequently, and his wife, on their honeymoon trip. Even their return flight was the same as ours.

The HK group was waiting for us when we landed at Suvarnabhumi Airport. Immigration was slow, as usual- kept them waiting for quite some time... but not quite as long as we had to wait for the third group. Then again, we were supposed to head for the hotel without them, but decided to stay and wait. No pictures of the airport, as I'd been there before back in 2008 (see this post). I thought that it looked rather gray and dull back then, like a prison facility (and still do), but hadn't seen the rest of the place. There were quite a few colorful restaurants- we picked one to burn time and money.

We actually got tired of waiting. Lolled around the 'Meeting Area' for a few hours, until approx. 17:30 Bangkok time, which was when they were supposed to arrive- no wait, an hour after they were to arrive. We finally decided that there was no point in waiting and headed to the ticketing counter to buy bus tickets to Khao San, which was the area in which the hotel was located. While they bought the tickets, I headed to the washroom, and when I came out- group 3 was there. =.=;

Bus ride was uneventful. Got stuck in a jam on the expressway for some time- by the time we got off, somewhere near the Democracy Monument (wasn't interested, didn't take any photos of it), it was already dark. Finding the hotel took some time too, not to mention a lot of sweat. It was a boutique hostel (Niras Bankoc)- based in a converted shop-house, I think. A funny little old building, it's lobby doubled as a cafe, and apparently it was a family business (and the girl I was chatting up was the owner's daughter)... But enough of that. We were all starving, so we checked in, dumped our bags and headed out for dinner.

Had dinner at an open-air food court near the hotel. Then again, you can't really call it a food court... more of a food street, I suppose. There was a large crowd, and since there were some 13, 14 of us, sitting together was nigh impossible, and so we split up into three groups once more.

Thais can't seem to live without Pad Thai. This one was rather different from others that I've had before... I guess it was just the egg wrapping. The cooks never stopped cooking, so many orders were coming in. We had a bunch of other stuff too, gluttons that we are... some sort of fried flour thingy, fruit dessert, tasteless ice tea... it was a wonder we even managed to order the right food, as none of them knew any English. It was hard enough in Italy and Spain, but Thailand was hell. It's a wonder that so many multi-national companies are basing themselves there.

Back to the hostel after that- no more wandering around. As before, we split up into three rooms- this time with 5 in a room with 6 beds (to be shared with one stranger), 5 in a 5-bed room, and two in a premium room, which even had a TV. Not that they were going to watch anything on it- everything was in Thai. Unless it had satellite TV reception, which the TV in the lounge had. Showers and washrooms were shared, as with most hostels.

Instead of photos of the interior of the hostel, I decided to take photos of the lamps dangling from the ceiling on the second floor. Go figure.

Pop and one unc headed downstairs to make plans for the next day, but the rest of us retired to our beds, either out of sheer exhaustion, habitual bedtimes, or just to spread stuff around and mark possession. I lingered downstairs for a while before heading up to charge my batteries. Not mine, but my camera and mobile's. My internal 'battery' doesn't require much 'charging' while on holiday, especially when overseas.

A group shot is a must on any occasion, of course. A wide angle lens would have been just perfect for this... not that I have one. Maybe next time I'll just make an aluminium foil funnel or something and stick it over my digicam's lens (never mind whether or not this mad idea can actually work).

One more time. Kid cousin in the middle is looking in the other direction this time. Wonder what was so interesting=.=

That red thing there is the so-called Giant Swing, another monument close to our hostel- passed by it on our way to Chinatown. It was still early, and most of the shops were closed. Some were getting ready to open, though- and all of them dealt in religious... stuff. Incense, effigies, and the like. Most had large Buddha statues placed outside, sitting outside their stores, wrapped in transparent plastic sheets. Steal one of them and get cursed by multiple watching Buddhas. And perhaps get squashed by it when you load it onto your getaway vehicle.

Breakfast was at the first restaurant we spotted- there weren't many on the route we took, so we really couldn't be too picky- and quite a few stomachs were rumbling. It was either white rice with various dishes (known back home as 'Economy Rice') or some sort of noodle- I went for the rice.

Looks like I got my facts wrong. We weren't heading for Chinatown, but the jetty. The large compound we passed by on the way there after breakfast was probably the Palace. Or just another over-sized temple. With soldiers guarding it? Um. Palace it is. Just before the jetty was a market, selling fruits, veggies, as well as some stalls selling Thai snacks- no idea what they were called, since, as mentioned earlier, nobody spoke English, and even if we pointed at the food and asked what it was, we wouldn't even know if whatever gibberish they spouted was the item's name. Oh well. Somehow I have this stinking feeling that they're just playing dumb, like how the French supposedly hate the Brits and thus refuse to reply if you speak to them in English.

...Not that it matters, since I don't remember what that stall was selling. Fruits, I suppose. Quite a few of them sold salted strawberries- it sounds weird, but they tasted rather nice. I was given a pack to hold on to- a fatal mistake, as I realized only too late that some of the juice had seeped out and stained my white shirt (insert random expletive). Later managed to remove most of the pink patch back at the hostel with the help of a bar of detergent-soap, dangerously left in one of the bathrooms (or maybe it was just a really strong soap, I don't know), but look closely and you can still see a faint blotch. Insert more expletives.

Why so shocked? I don't know. Just as I have no idea what those things are called. As far as I recall, they were some sort of fried flour balls, with coconut fillings. Cocoballs? And yes, Mr. Pink Shirt, I know there's a unsightly blotch on my shirt. Go stare at something else. Like the Komodo dragon stalking you... no, I'm just kidding- Thailand doesn't have any of those things. They do have large lizards, though, with small ones about the size of a full-grown cat (we have them here too)- saw one on the jetty. No one seemed too concerned.

Here's where we got scammed. We were told that 3000 baht was the going price for one boat, and somehow managed to haggle it down to a 1000 baht. The brochures, all in Thai, didn't help much either. Later on, we found out that the fixed rate was a 1000 baht per boat- which was why we saw so many boats going by with just a few passengers on board- most of them old farang (Thai slang for 'white man/Westerner') couples.

Thirteen adult-sized people and one kid-sized kid on a narrow boat, without life jackets, sailing on choppy waters. Daredevils, the lot of us, or perhaps just fatalistic. Ah well. Whose hand is that in the back, forming a V-sign?

Nobody seasick yet? At least there aren't any icebergs to worry about. But with a bunch of 'scammers' as crewmen... what's not to worry about? Nothing really, since at this point, no one knew that we'd been scammed. We just enjoyed the ride, and took in the sights...

...Like this fancy building, which is either a temple, a government building, or a mansion belonging to some corrupt chap...

...and passing boats, which, now that I think of it, look a lot like rotten bananas...

...And that strange green stuff draped across the 'nose' (what's it called again?) of the boat. Some sort of good luck charm? To keep the (non-existent) tourist police away? To feed the birds?

...And of course, the usual fare on any self-respecting river cruise itinerary, peeking into complete strangers' houses...

...Casing the Royal Thai Navy Headquarters... so where are all the big grey ships?

...Before finally arriving at our second last stop, after refusing to stop at various pit stops (Thai kickboxing school, various 'arts centers', a fish-feeding section of the river (with bread on sale there), and boat peddlers to harass us at  every stop with overpriced goods. Anyway, on to the pagoda...

...of which I took many, many...

...many, many pictures...

...from many angles...

Of course, what picture would be complete without me in it? The stairs were quite steep, by the way.

Like, really, really steep. The steel handrails came in pretty handy.

View from the bottom- nice lawn. Cousin of mine there is the biggest and tallest in the whole extended family... for now.

See the ladies in traditional Thai dress there? Four to the left of the little hut, two obscured by it, and two more to the left. They're having their photos taken for a fee. I spotted two lovely lasses and asked them if I could take their photos. They turned out to be Japanese (good aim, eh). They were rather hesitant, even when I said it was for personal use (next time I think I'll just fake a 'Press' tag), saying that it probably wasn't allowed as they were paying to have their photos taken in those costumes (I hadn't noticed the roaring business going on a few feet away from me at that point in time). Oh well, I thought, this isn't Harajuku anyway. Nor are they cos-players... although, in a sense, they are...

One more thing. If you plan on visiting this phallic religious structure, don't even bother paying the entrance fee. I was probably one of the very few gullible tourists who did. The ticket booth is that little hut in the above picture, and as you can see, it's quite a distance away from the entrance to the pagoda (the white gate). Anyway, once you pass through, there's no one to check whether you're a paid visitor or a cheapskate.

Oh, and the moral of the story above: whether you want to be a serious photographer or one of those sleazy guys who hang around beaches snapping shots of bikini bottoms, the method is the same: just snap and don't bother asking for permission, and pretend that you're taking pictures of the scenery.

Chinatown, where we lunched after the pagoda. Had a hard time searching for a restaurant- they wanted Chinese food- Dim Sum, to be precise. Finally managed to find one, but it was overflowing with people. We had to wait our turn outside, under the hot sun. Food was alright, though i wouldn't say that it was worth dying of dehydration for.

We separated after that, into two groups- one consisting of me and my dad, and the other of everybody else, as I wanted to head to a second-hand Japanese bookstore (I'd gotten the address off the net), while the rest headed for the shopping district of Silom.

I could have gone myself, really. Going with pop has its ups and downs- he nags quite a bit when it comes to shopping, but he's adamant about getting a discount. In my case, I managed to get volumes 1 to 17 of NANA, along with the special fan-book (volume 7.8) at a discounted price of 1000 baht, down from the original price of 1200. I was happy enough with 1000, as in Malaysian Ringgit that would amount to about RM100- if I'd gotten the same books from Kinokuniya, it would have added up to around RM400 plus. He still wasn't happy though, and said that I closed the deal too fast- he was hoping for at least 800 baht. I also got one volume of Mushishi for some 60 baht.

We met up at a hotel in Silom (which sometime in May this year turned into a war zone), an area filled with glitzy shopping malls and 5-star hotels.

One nice thing about Silom is the overhead pedestrian bridge... or road, more like. It's nice to be able to walk over the traffic and not beside it. And yes, in case you were wondering, Bangkok's traffic jams are horrible.

Meeting up with the others after the manga-shopping excursion.

Light dinner (snacks really) at a food bazaar outside one of the major malls. I had a kebab. Not very Thai, I admit.

Thais sure like their pork- the non-Muslims, at least. With all the pork sausages everywhere, I think many Germans would feel right at home...

See the big TV? I think it was advertising pirated games. That or the local game distributor just has a very suspicious name.

A warehouse-shaped mall across the road. We didn't go there though. I would have liked to check out this supermarket called Fuji-mart or something- a Japanese themed supermarket catering to the large Japanese population in Bangkok- but it was in a different area.

Headed back to the hotel after dinner. Most of them went to bed, but I, along with a few of the adults (Actually, I'm already considered to be one, dammit) to Khao San road, which is a little like KL's own Petaling Street: a haven of piracy. It's flashier, though, with more pubs and shops.

Posing in front of some brightly lit temple on the way to Khao San road. Two of my uncles.

With me this time.

Word of advice: Most of these 'tuk-tuk' operators are only too happy to con you off your cash. A typical scheme involves naming a price of say, 6 baht, and once you arrive at your destination, upping it to 60 baht.

The next day, we headed out of Bangkok by train, to a little place called Nakhot Tawan or something like that, to see an 'elephant show'. I wasn't interested, but they thought that the kids would love it.

A Chinese New Year parade, I suppose. Check out the lovely lasses in Cheongsams. I prefer the Qi Pao though...

Had lunch at a food court near a temple in some small town. Some chap singing karaoke on a makeshift stage.

Some sort of smiley shaped omelet with shrimp, shellfish and bean sprouts in it. Thais love their bean sprouts as much as they love pork, it seems. It's in pretty much every dish they have.

It took some time (and a bus ride), but we finally managed to make it there, just in time for the show. Place was packed, and full of tourists.

Where do you go from after the English Premier League? The Elephant World Cup, apparently.

Be thankful they don't do any celebratory dances after scoring like human players would.

Still sore from losing the world cup, the losers invaded the winners. They actually blew up a land mine.

What's with the curled trunk? Camera shy?

Crouching Elephant, Hidden Hippopotamus...

Torres is actually quite a little chap. Dunno about the human Torres though.

Um. Nice flower there.

There was an alligator show as well. Or was it a crocodile show? Whatever.

Well, if he can do it... can I.

"Go on, bite me! I dare you!"

And finally, a really skinny tiger. Just feed it some idiots- they won't be missed. Think of it as charity.

We flagged down three taxis and headed towards a larger town, and from there, another three taxis to get to Bangkok city. There was a horrible jam- we wasted hours there. To make things worse, all three taxi drivers were at a different level of expertise- which was how we ended up arriving at our meeting point at least 30 minutes apart from each other. Without much time left to the day, we decided to just walk around and explore- canceling the original plan of watching a Thai kick-boxing match. At long last, dinner:

We split up into two groups for dinner, as the Hong Kong group couldn't take spicy food. The rest of us descended on a Lebanese restaurant- quite pricey, but the food was fantastic: the best Middle Eastern cuisine I've ever had. Being Thailand, though, another thing you can't run from is leek (top right of the picture above). Any Hatsune Miku addicts reading this?

A better view of the kebabs. They look small but they're quite filling. Cousin lathered his with green curry (bottom middle of photo above) without knowing what it was, and couldn't take the spiciness.

'Samosa', I think they're called. This version resembled baked naan bread stuffed with meat and potatoes. After dinner, we headed to Khao San again- all of us this time. Some interesting sights along the way, and from Khao San itself:

Security was pretty high- metal detectors at every subway station. I don't think they were of much use in the following months.

A distinctly Thai Ronald McDonald.

All cards are welcome, but farting is not allowed. That's what you get for not having a Fifth Amendment here.

A crazy place- easy to get separated here. I made it my task to count heads. Wasn't too difficult, since most of us were quite tall, with the exception of the women.

Strange thing about this place is, they don't seem to allow for haggling. I blame the US dollars and Euros for this.

One thing I forgot to mention from our previous night at Khao San-as I was threading my way through the crowd, someone called out "I love Tiger too"- one of the bar girls. Instantly realized that she was referring to my shirt, which I got as a free gift for participating in the Tiger Run (see here). Carried on by momentum, though, I failed to reply but just barely managed a fleeting grin.

Finally, time to leave for home, except for the Hong Kong group, who stayed one or two days longer. We had breakfast at a small restaurant near the hotel. Mee hoon (vermicelli noodle?) with some sort of meat balls. Taxis to the airport.

Suvarnabhumi airport. Big stickers of King Bhumibol. He's playing at Silent Sam at the moment.

And that's that. I've seen enough of Bangkok to last a lifetime, I think. If I ever go back to Thailand it'll be to check out some ancient ruins or to one of the more exotic islands. Thailand's more or less like Malaysia, but I'd rather live here than there. There's one thing I envy them, though: the large population of Japanese expatriates, which obeys a simple mathematical formula: (Japanese man/woman gets posted in Thailand x Brings Family over + Culture)/Require Japanese goods to stay sane = a most pleasant thing for Japanophiles who get to enjoy the fringe benefits.

There was a little mess before departure when one cousin lost his boarding pass, but that was easily remedied as we'd already passed through immigration at that point. Back home, things took a hilarious turn: that same cousin accidentally took his brother's passport, and he his. Nevertheless, both brothers managed to get through Customs at the LCCT (Low Cost Carrier Terminal), with one officer remarking 'Nampak macam budak yang baru lalu tadi...' (You look like the boy who just went through...). Osama could walk past without them blinking an eyelid.

One final photo to end this- my boarding pass:

Remind you of anything? Too bad it wasn't A20, eh?


  1. @A20-man: Quite an over-proportionate plethora of pink and pinkish items there. Should've been titled "Bangkok Pinks"? In any event, enjoy your trip. I might add an extra comment when I get a chance to read your "entire" post... We'll see, dude.

    P.S. Ah, Tiger Run, I thought it referred to Tiger Woods, haha. Maybe he should've worn one of your "extra" life-jackets...

  2. ACK. Skimmed through a lot of that; playing some catch up today. Seems like I have time to do that anyway, as you're away for the month. Will come back and finish later. Love the photos. Some really beautiful places there.

    But uh, what is a "hostel"? Is it like...a bed and breakfast kind of thing or something? It's obviously not a hotel.

  3. I would assume that you enjoy the trip to there. It' a pretty interesting country.

  4. @Jay: Pink? Oh. Those guys don't count, haha. They were in some sort of CNY parade, visiting stores with their toy dragon. Or lion. I dunno:3

    It could always refer to Tiger the golfer anyway, heh. "Run, Tiger, run, the girls aren't here to play~"... dated reference to a very old song about Samson and Delilah there, if you know about it.

    @Kris: Thanks... it's a nice place, really, if you ignore the crazy politics. Glad I went there before it turned upside down.

    You've never stayed in a hostel? It's sorta like the YMCA. Rooms are shared between 2-12 persons, there's usually a common room with a pool table, computers, and sometimes, a bar or a restaurant. Most of the people staying there are backpackers. They're cheap too:)

    @Ryo: That I did. Didn't see much of it, but it was nice.