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Eat and shop till you drop in Bangkok

rain 31 °C

Bangkok is a shopper's dream, or a nightmare depending on which way you look at it. There are huge, shiny, modern air-coned malls and buzzing street markets if you are up for the hustling and bargaining. There is also the in-between, a mall where you can bargain! Most things are in fact up for bargaining in Bangkok. This is fun, and Naim loves to barter over prices, whereas I love to get a bargain, but if you have to haggle for every little thing, if kind of turns me off after a while. But bargaining you must do in Bangkok unless you are buying the real brand name stuff in a shop. The biggest centres are MBK, Emporium, Siam Paragon, CentralWorld. We spent a bit of time cooling off or staying dry (when it rained, it poured) at the MBK Centre, one of places where you can negotiate on price. It has eight floors and over 2,000 shops. We scored some fake watches, although we won't tell you which brands, as you must try to see if you can tell for yourself the next time we see you! Fakes are everywhere, and there is nothing wrong with selling them, everyone sells them and everyone buys them. Your taxi driver is wearing Dior glasses and the kid at the coffee shop is bopping his head along to music on his knock-off Dr. Dre Beats headphones. You can buy fake jewelry, handbags, brand name clothing, sunglasses, trainers, music, phones, etc. They have the latest and greatest knock-offs for every new Apple product, video camera, stuff I didn't even know was out on the market yet. Everyone loves buying fakes because if they break, you have an inexpensive excuse to buy the newest copy of another product. Naim was a total geek and probably earned himself a second PhD in fake watches. He would come home and research fake watches because he wanted to be sure he paid the best price and got the top-of-the-line AAA++ copy. He got tutorials from the sellers, experimented with pricing on a few others, and then gave me a dissertation on what he learned. All that work and it is not even the real thing!

Despite buying stuff, shopping centres are actually excellent places to eat and try loads of different foods. Many Thai people eat in the food courts and the quality of food is actually very good (and cheap). We would walk along the rows looking at all the options and always choose a few different things to try. The only silly part is you have to decide everything you want from all the vendors first, then go to the ticket counter and purchase tickets to pay for your food, as the vendors don't deal with money. Kind of annoying if at the last minute you change your mind or want that extra dumpling at the last minute! :)

Some dumplings, mmm.
Look like candy, but made from beans!
Dessert counter for Nam Kang Sai, a combo of jellies, fruits with chunks of ice and sweet syrup. I enjoyed mine with coconut milk, water chestnuts and sweet corn, too! And that spiky thing is durian fruit.
Sipping a thai iced coffee outside Siam shopping area
Where's Waldo? (Zavian this time)

There are many floating markets throughout Thailand, and they are a lovely way to see the old style and traditional way of selling goods over the water. It is one of those things that you can't find in many places, so really unique and interesting, but nowadays it is more of a "show" for tourists, and not many real transactions take place between the locals. There are 2 main floating markets near Bangkok (about 100 kms away). We decided to go to Amphawa Floating Market. Unlike the famous one at Damnoen Saduak, this one doesn’t start to get going until the late afternoon (good news for us late risers). From what the locals and our hotel told us, Damnoen Saduak market is more touristy, but a great photo opportunity. However, Amphawa's atmosphere is much better. It is also more authentic as you won’t find the rows and rows of stalls selling the same tacky souvenirs. The best thing about Amphawa Floating Market is that it is still relatively unknown among Western tourists as isn’t featured in many travel guides yet.

We organised a taxi to take us from our hotel and wait for us there and bring us home. It was about 2500 bhat (about 50 GBP, and kind of expensive we thought!) The concierge promised a nice, comfortable taxi and English-speaking driver. As soon as we set off, it began to rain crazy monsoon rain. We didn't worry too much, since it would take at least an hour to get there and although it is monsoon season, it never seemed to rain in Bangkok more than an hour at a time. It rained the entire journey, to the point where the driver stopped the car and we debated whether we should just return as we couldn't walk around when it was raining sideways with Zavian. The driver, who actually spoke very little English and kept calling Zavian "my baby," like he was his baby, tried to offer to return and pick us up the next morning to take us to the other market for the huge discount of 2000 bhat (on top of today's payment- yeah right!). He was very concerned about "my baby," but we decided to take our chances. We were lucky and it stopped just as we approached the market. Yippee!

We enjoyed exploring the market, eating amazing, scallops and clams cooked out of a boat next to us along the canal, sampling loads of local delights... Unfortunately, Zavian was super cranky, so the atmosphere by the canal was not so chilled out. That's travelling with baby sometimes, I suppose. So we opted to pass on the boat ride to see the firefly's as it could possibly ruin everyone else's trip. :)

On the way in our taxi (raining outside) and the driver popped in some Celine Dion for our listening pleasure!
Enjoying some rice coconut covered sweet

For our last market adventure, we went to was Chatuchak Weekend Market. It is one of the world's largest weekend markets and covers 27 acres divided into 27 Sections, and containing more than 15,000 booths selling goods from every part of Thailand. It attracts 200,000 people each day on the weekend. It was immense. Of course it poured that afternoon too (perhaps the retail gods were telling us to stop shopping), but it was our only chance to see it. You can find absolutely everything/anything you want here from antique wood carvings, handicrafts, plants, food, clothing, animals, anything! Here is a short clip to give you a taste!

It was hectic, but fun. There was no way we could get a cab back to the hotel in that crowd, so we hopped the SkyTrain back, met a couple Americans (from Salem, MA in fact!) and shared some of our Bangkok stories.

Posted by jknazef 09:21 Archived in Thailand Tagged market bangkok floating chatuchak mbk Comments (0)

Big Budhas and the Grand Palace

sunny 34 °C

We visited a few Buddhist temples during our 6 days in Bangkok, but nothing was as cool as Wat Pho, The Temple of the Reclining Budha. Wat Pho is one of the oldest and largest temples, and they say is the birthplace of traditional Thai massage (it houses a massage school). The impressive Budha staue is 46 meters in length and the temple itself has over 1000 images of Budha, more than anywhere else in the country. It was breathtaking!

Naim making donations at the temple

We also went to see the Grand Palace, which has been the home of the Thai King, the Royal court and the administrative seat of government for more than 150 years. Although the present King Bhumibol (Rama IX) lives in Chitralada Palace (not open to tourists). We took a taxi from the hotel, and I had read that you have to be sure the taxi drops you off near the entrance, as for some reason they don't like to, but of course we had no idea where we were, so believed our driver that is was just around the corner, and ended up a bit further than we thought. It was boiling outside and we only had the baby carrier since the stroller wouldn't arrive from the airport until later that evening. Zavian also chose that moment to be sleepy and prefer to be held, so my sweaty arms were tied!

One thing you learn about Bangkok, is that if you are a tourist, everyone tries to take you for a ride. Prices are inflated, lies are told (even where there is no personal incentive to do so) and many attempts to get you to take their friend's tour or taxi. Towards the end of our 6 days in Bangkok, we started to get a little sick of it, as we didn't feel we could really trust anyone. On our walk to the Grand Palace, a man who said he worked for a hotel, stopped and asked if he could help us. We asked to be directed towards the Palace and he told us, but then said it would be closed during the lunch time because of Budha's birthday. Hmm, hadn't seen or heard anything about Budha's birthday...He then reassured us if would reopen by 3:30 PM, so don't worry and then tried to get us a taxi, but we said no. When we finally arrived at huge white walls that enclose the Palace, we stopped at what we though was an entrance and asked a security guard where we could enter. He said the entrance was down to the right, but that the palace was closed during lunch, so he suggested we take a river tour and then return, and pointed us towards a tuk tuk who proceeded to harass us. We said no and then walked towards the entrance anyway, as we could surely just see if it was closed once we arrived at the correct spot. As we approached, we saw loads of tourists entering and leaving. Both guys were telling lies, and the second one was security for the Palace! Inside where you buy tickets there was a big sign that said don't listen to anyone on the street as you try to enter telling you it's closed for a 'Buddhist holiday', 'cleaning' etc, or asking if you want to see the 'Lucky Buddha' instead. I found out later it's all part of a sophisticated gem scam. Good to know, but they really should post these signs on the way to the Palace!

In any case, the palace was worth it, as it was simply stunning, well maintained and interesting. The beautiful architecture and intricate detail give a proud salute to Thai craftsmanship. They have a very strict dress code and we did have to cover up, no bare shoulders, shorts, etc., so we had to wear more clothes once we got inside (sooo hot) and Naim hired some great trousers that I thought made him look like he works in the ER.

Grand Palace pics

You can get blessed before you enter to see the Emerald Budha, and Zavian giggled when the water touched his hair and made this woman laugh.
An illegal photo Naim took, not supposed to take photos inside! At the top the very small, very famous and greatly revered Emerald Buddha that dates back to the 14th century

Naim thinking he look like George Clooney from ER

Posted by jknazef 08:24 Archived in Thailand Tagged palace grand bangkok reclining budha Comments (0)

Thailand - The Bustling Land of Smiles

Welcome to Bangkok

sunny 33 °C

We arrived in Bangkok on the 3rd of August. The flight was long, with a stopover in London, but BA's air cot for Zavian really made a difference. This was the first time we had the chance to use one. It was kind of like a car seat and he slept for a good portion of the flight and Naim and I were able to eat, sleep and even watch a film, which felt like an incredible luxury.


The Bangkok airport was quite impressive, really new and modern. They zipped us through passport control in the baby line and we went to collect our bags. Of course, something had to be missing! This time it was Zavian's stroller, but they assured us it was on the same flight tomorrow, so we would just make do with the baby carrier until then. Bangkok was hot. I think each place we go to is progressively hotter. But not only is it hot here, but incredibly humid. I was hoping Zavian would be able to cope with this for a couple weeks. The poor fella has already been dealing with his first tooth the past week. Check it out, although you have to look very closely!


We hopped into one of many hot pink taxis lined up and headed towards the hotel. Zavian had a little sleep as we sat in standstill traffic for what should have been a 35 minute ride (probably at least double that). We highly recommend the SkyTrain (their elevated rapid transit system for general travel around Bangkok as traffic is a huge problem. Taxis are cheap but it take up to 3 times as long during working hours to get anywhere.)

We arrived at the Sukhumvit Radission Suites, which was a new hotel in the popular area of Sukhumvit Road. It was shiny, sleek and really comfy (and super airconed). Exactly the type of place you want to be in when you have been on a long flight, are super sweaty and have a baby literally glued to your torso in the baby carrier. We rested, cleaned up and then ventured out for dinner.

The Radisson

Street food is everywhere, and although some can seem dodgy, a lot of it is fine and really yummy. Our first taste of Thailand of course had to be street food, so we each had a satay skewer on our way to the dinner. It was great and no repurcussions the next day. Yippee! We ate around the corner at a place called Suk 11. It was Biggy' s recommendation to us (the conceirge). He was on the larger side for a Thai person, so maybe that's why he is called that? :) Suk 11 is actually a hostel, but with a cool outdoor restaurant and backpacker vibe to it. It was pretty happening that evening.

Bangkok streets are busy. Like any major city, it never sleeps. There is the constant buzz of cars, motorcyles and tuk tuks, music from some restaurant, bar or club, street vendors for food, clothes, anything you could want. However, there is not a lot of car horn honking and the streets are generally pretty clean, which I was pleasantly surprised about. There are massage parlors every few feet and lots of people constantly asking you if you want a taxi, tuk tuk, massage and goodness knows what else! You never have to go far to find food, the street vendors making all sorts of interesting delights for pennies, lots of restaurants, little no name spots with plastic chairs and tables. There are mini camper vans that are actually bars and they pull over, throw out a few folding chairs, have music and lights and voila! Instant bar.


The Sky Train

Oh, and about Thailand being called the Land of Smiles. Well, it is absolutely true! Thai people always give you a big smile, whether it is for happiness, embarassment, disappointing news or anything else! The smile is considered the most appropriate reaction to any possible situation. What the smile means depends on the 'type' being used - out of a possible 13 they have in their language! You really do notice it as a visitor.

Zavian however got the most smiles. Thai people adore babies. The Greeks and Italians really like babies, but the Thais take it to a whole new level. Women, men, taxis drivers, vendors, even groups of men, no one hesitates to stop to talk to Zavian, to touch him, ask to hold him and a few even kissed him! One woman actually stopped traffic in the middle of the street market to play with him, tickle his feet and pinch his cheeks. She then ran into us on our way out of the market and did it again. Zavian could be Thai himself, as he smiles constantly, and that only invites more attention. He can't help but smile, even when he's crying. He will stop crying if a stranger comes up to smile at him, and then when they go, he just goes back to whining like nothing happened. It's hilarious. The only down side to their love of children, is that even if Zavian was sleeping, they would go up and touch or talk to him. They don't seem to mind waking a sleeping baby, but as a new mum, I kind of minded that sometimes. Every moment of peace counts! Oh well, it was always with good intentions and Zavian generally went back to sleep. Here is is asleep on a tuk tuk with me.


Posted by jknazef 22:31 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand bangkok Comments (1)

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