January 25, 2011

I went to Thailand with some friends last year, a week before a political unrest got out of hand and the militant group successfully took over the Bangkok International Airport.  We would always be thankful for our sound timing in avoiding what could have been a traveller’s nightmare.

We arrived at the Bangkok Airport at around 1 am (that’s the downside of promo fares, as almost always, they are scheduled during the most uncomfortable time of the day). But it’s ok, as long as we get better deal, nobody’s complaining!  I had an impression that Thailand may be more progressive than the Philippines. For one, they can boast of a bigger, if not nicer, airport.  There's a certain exuberance in the atmosphere which makes everyone feels that Thailand’s a happening destination nowadays. Judging from the packs of travellers donned in their “cultural embellishments,” which hinted their geographic origins, it almost looked like there's always an international forum or cultural summit somewhere in Bangkok. 

We took an airport cab to get to Ratchathewi, where we checked-in at Bangkok City Suites. It’s a standard bed-and-breakfast inn located along the Petchburi Road. It is slightly off-the-hook of the main thoroughfares.  But still nobody’s complaining, because,  for a measly 2,600 baht (or P3,800), we already have a very comfortable accommodation for 4 days-3 nights adventure, plus a hefty buffet Thai breakfast and free WIFI access! Any budget inns in all of Metro Manila can’t beat that!

Bangkok City Suites - Hotel Facade
Standard Room
Thai Buffet Breakfast
Hotel's Exotic Lobby
Day 1
Bangkok City Tour

We arranged for a city tour at the airport upon our arrival. For 100 baht (or P150/ person), we get our own mini-tour bus and a tour guide named Goi, who can actually speak English (thank God!). For half a day, we were brought to all of the major temples in the city.  Thailand is predominantly a Buddhist country, so it boasts some of the most exotic and humongous temples in all of Southeast Asia. 
Inside Wat Pho, Temple of the Reclining Buddha
We were also brought to the city’s jewelry and native apparel shops.  We got a glimpse of Thailand’s fashion sense and sensibilities.  It’s slightly suspicious though that store attendants seemed to be extra pushy to make a sale.  Talk about hardcore selling. Later we realized we almost fell trapped into a sly marketing scheme (or more like a “modus operandi”) masked as an innocent city tour package. There were horror stories about this modus - few unsuspecting travelers being lured to buy exquisitely crafted but knockoff jewelry (for big discounts). So be more discerning. If buying precious items is not part of your travel itinerary, stick with it; don't make any impulse buying that you may regret later.
The Floating Market
Day 2
Bargain Shopping

Any Bangkok travel wouldn’t be complete without bargain shopping! So, we went to Platinum Mall situated at the epicenter of Pratu Nam's shopping district. It’s probably the most popular and accessible mall in the entire Bangkok.  Think of an upscale 168 Mall only situated along EDSA.  

We also visited the Chatuchak Market in Kamphaeng Phet 2 Road.  It's about 30-min drive from Pratu Nam.  They say it's one of the world's largest flea market - definitely a shopper's haven.  It sells just about anything - from clothes, shoes, city souvenirs, exquisite furniture, pets, jewelry, accessories, native figurines, exotic food, etc.  It offers even better deals than the Platinum Mall.  So needless to say, we spent the entire day rummaging through the goodies and honing our bargaining skills.  We were so overwhelmed by it, we even sacrificed a tour at the Samphran Elephant Ground and Zoo. (Talk about impulse buying haha!)
Bird's Eye-view of the Ratchathewi
(Tip: Before leaving your hotel, ask an English-speaking concierge to write your destination (in Thai) in a piece of paper, so a cab driver can just read where you intend to go.  Talking to a local can be frustrating since most of them do not speak English. It will save time and trouble. Trust me.)
Platinum Mall Entrance
Exotic Thai Cuisine

One major reason we went to Thailand is to experience authentic Thai cuisines.  A friend suggested that to experience real Thai cooking, we should “do” the street foods.  So we were bold enough to try anything on the street.  Streets by day look like a normal street, but, by nighttime, all the “make-shift” restaurants start to pop out in every street corner of Rachathewi (picture “Jolly-Jeep” in Makati only with more tables and real waiters to assist you).   
 The Night Life

"Bangkok by night", as we've seen in some Thai movies, mostly happened in Patpong. It collectively resembles the night market in Greenhills and Divisoria, food expo ala Banchetto in Ortigas and the red light district in Burgos St. Makati all rolled into one jam-packed nightlife scenery. There are two parallel strips of bar joints which cater for man and women/women-at-heart customers respectively. Trust me when I say that all possible "gimmickries" to attract   patrons are there. In fact, I didn’t realize prostitution is legal in this country until I got here.  But don’t get me wrong, my visit is strictly wholesome! 
Ok, I may have gone a little naughty (just out of curiosity and that my slight hesitation was overruled by majority of clamors from my friends to check out some bars). So we checked out one of the infamous bars situated at the far end of the strip. Upon entrance, we immediately sensed a decadent vibe  to it. There's a gigantic aquarium staged at the center of a mini-amphitheater, which is definitely not intended for a marine life display! We were escorted to our designated seats by a barely-claded usher, who resembled a resurrected waiter from Studio 54. The waiting didn't last long as the "maritime" show started with a sudden plunge of mermen swaddled in a "delicate" piece of "loincloth." The performances went wild. To say that I've seen both my wet dreams and nightmares come alive is an understatement! It transcended the theatrics.  Amidst the acrobatic exhibition of a human coitus (to borrow Sheldon Cooper's term), I had to deal with the fact that I'm seated between my Christian friend, who was severely "abominated" by the unfolding vile spectacle, and a geriatric Caucasian (probably European) straight couple who seemed to be enjoying every moment of it. It was crazy and so "wrong" in so many levels! It was a little bit tacky for my taste, but still a very, very interesting exposition, which I'm not looking forward to experience ever again! Bazinga!

Patpong's Men's Club
Patpong Girl/Gay Club
"Bloody-nose" signage!
Missing "S"
Missing "S" found!
Thailand is both very similar and quite different with Philippines. It doesn't offer any more spectacular views and tapestries than what Philippines already have. Its main selling point though is the cultural experience.  And it's quite an experience! 

At the end of the journey, another bedazzled traveller can definitely say, Amazing Thailand!

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*This is a re-posted article with inclusion of additional photos and details about my travel.
Original posting date: June 26, 2011.

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