Chickee Duck's Musing


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Thailand – Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Bangkok – 3rd Dec ~ 10th Dec 2015

3rd Dec

Waited for almost 9 months for this trip. We managed to get promotion air tickets to Chiang Mai (CNX) at a very good rate using AirAsia Free Seats sale.

We are a group of 10 with 2 families.

Changi Airport seems to be pushing self check-in aggressively. We have to self-check-in using the kiosk. I would say it is quite easy but he system is a little slow. We then have to bring our bags to the counter.

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When the check-in staff seeing we have young kids, the staff try to seat us together. This is very different form my previous experience where the AirAsia staff just said it is system assigned and cannot be changed. Though we did not manage to be seated together but I still appreciate the effort.

Flight from SIN to DMK is uneventful, thankfully.

We opt for AirAsia fly-thru service to Chiang Mai. With a fly-thru service, your bags will be tag all the way to the final destination. In the event of any delay that you miss your AirAsia connecting flight, you will be taken care of.

When we reach Don Muang Airport, we were told to follow the green line. The line lead us to another immigration counter which have very few passengers. This immigration counter is dedicated to AirAsia fly-thru passengers.

After the immigration, you will actually go to the transit area. Since we have nothing to do, we just sit down on the floor and do people watching. Don Muang Airport has very limited sitting place so it is common to see passengers sitting on the floor.

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Again the flight is smooth.

However the confusion start when we want to claim luggage at Chiang Mai.

We have to walk all the way to the International baggage claim (remember we are travelling domestic between DMK and CNX) which is located at the other end of the terminal.

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You must remember to use the stairs when going down from the second floor to the first floor else you will be queuing to clear immigration with other international arrival passengers. We have to climb over a barricade to reach the international baggage claim area.

When we reach there, there is no AirAsia staff there to help us until a few minutes later. While waiting, we purchase a True SIM Card for 7 days use for THB300.

Our luggage are actually mixed with another international flight baggage. This is so confusing!

We then have to walk all the way back to the domestic arrival to meet up with my friends. As I am unfamiliar with Chiang Mai airport, I asked the staff where is the domestic arrival and they all pointed me in all directions. I will not blame them. This could be their understanding of English is not so good.

I finally located my friends and we went to the meter Taxi Counter to book a taxi, A small taxi fare is THB 160 and a big taxi is THB250. This is slightly different from what is listed in the board. We took 2 big taxis and you pay the fare to the taxi driver directly.

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We have to walk all the way to the car park for the taxi. I thought they will drive over. (OK, I am lazy).

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I am surprised that our taxi driver can speak basic Chinese (maybe the power of Renminbi!). She tried to sell us some tours but she is not forceful.

The distance from the airport to the hotel is not far but the traffic in Chiang Mai is not as smooth as I thought. After all it is still a major city in Thailand.

The journey took less than 20 mins to our hotel; Awana House.

The hotel is located in one of the small alley. A vehicle can enter the road but not two.

The check-in process is quick. There is no lift in the hotel so you will have to walk all the way up. Upon check-in, you will be given the keys, the Wi-Fi password and a bottle opener. The gate and hotel door will be close at around 2100hrs but you can use your key card to open the door and gate.

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We book a room for 5 but the room is really small. The hotel put an extra bed on the floor. This reduce the walking space by a lot.

There is a small balcony and I really mean small.

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The toilet size is decent but the shower head is really located low and I wonder why. Water pressure is also decent.

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The room consists of a bunk bed and a double bed. There is also a bar fridge, a safe and a wardrobe.

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The staff is actually very friendly and they also advice us on the transport within Chiang Mai.

When we settled down, we decided to go for dinner. We asked the staff that we wanted local Thai food and they suggested Aroon Rai.

We then walk in circles trying to find the restaurant but after asking a few locals, we finally found it.

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By then we are famished and we quickly ordered our food. The first dish comes within 10 minutes.

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All the dishes are very delicious and the Tom Yum is awesome. The Pad Thai, Green Curry, Red Curry, fish is tasty! Maybe we are just too hungry so any food that goes into our mouth will taste good.

After the sumptuous dinner, we decided to go to Central Festival. We hail down a Songthaew and the driver wanted to charge us THB30 per person. We already know the price should not be more than THB25 so we negotiated with him. He agreed in no time and we almost have the whole Songthaew to ourselves.

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The usual fare for a Songthaew within the city should be THB20 per person but since Central Festival is slightly outside the city, we were advice that THB25 should suffice.

The ride to Central Festival is about 15 mins. I was told that it is a new mall in Chiang Mai so we just want to do something relaxing for the first night.

Once we alight, we saw a big Christmas tree. The center of the Christmas tree is hollow so we can enter it. The kids are fascinated by it and have a field time running everywhere.

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Since it is a Thursday night, the mall looks deserted which is good for us as we do not like crowd either.

While we took photos of the mall inside, we are reminded by the staff not to use flash as this will cause inconvenience to other customers. We are ok with this rule and I actually find it good.

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The mall is actually quite big though not as big as those I visited in Philippines. We went for a ice cream treat in Swensen and the price of Swensen here is at least 20% cheaper than what we have it at home.

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Our satisfying our sweet tooth, we decide to go back and start packing for tomorrow’s trip.

Before the Songthaew left us, he actually to bring us back for the same price. So we text him and he turn up within 10 mins.

While waiting for the driver, we saw a beer garden just outside the mall. Thais seems to have a liking for beer garden. Suan Lum used to have two; Central World beer gardens are seasonal and now even in Chiang Mai.

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The ride back is much faster and it took like 10mins only.

4th Dec

We woke up early. I gathered everyone to have an early breakfast at 7am. but seems like all the food stalls are still close. The only one we found open is the Black Canyon Cafe. So all of us headed there and quickly order our food.

We ordered a feast and I bet the staff is wondering are we having lunch instead.

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While we are walking out to the main road to the cafe, we have a better view of the hotel since it is in the morning.

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There are several hostels and also budget friendly hotels around this area.

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The hotel beside us is much more nicer.

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There are many café around the hotel and there is even a laundry shop.

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By the way, there are quite a number of feline around the hotel and they are real cute.

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Since we are going to be late, we text the tour guide from Chiang Mai Expert Driver to arrive 30mins later.

The tour guide arrived on time and waited for us. Our tour guide name is Mr Jo which happens to be a co-owner of the tour company; Chiang Mai Expert Driver.

Mr Jo speak good English and he knows quite a bit of Chinese.

We chose them because so far their response time is quite reasonable (though need some probing sometimes) and also they plan out an itinerary for us. We just tell them what are the sights we must see and what we do not want to see (like the long neck girls).

Since the alley is small, the 14 seat van have to park along the main road. Though we are a group of 10 and quite slow as we have 4 kids, Mr Jo did not rush us to the van. He waited patiently for us.

The driver is waiting for us in the van (unfortunately we didn’t get to know his name. He’s a great guy). Once we all board the can, we set off immediately.

Mr Jo brief us the itinerary for today and also get the contacts for our Chiang Rai Homestay so he can send us there for the night.

The first stop is Mae Kajarn Hot Spring.

The feel I have the water from the hot spring is really hot, even from far. One of our kids in the group unknowingly dip his foot into the water and scald himself.

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It is hot enough that you can boil eggs in it! So do not attempt to touch the water using your bare hands.

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Like any tourist spots, there are plenty of stalls around selling all kinds of tourist stuff.

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I was wondering did the spring water really spew out to such height by itself or someone install a pump in it.

To me, the star attraction is actually these few small dogs. They are really adorable.

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After staying there for 30 mins, Mr Jo offer to bring us to a temple that hardly have any tourist. The temple is called Wat Mon Phra Jao Lhai.

I tried to google for this temple and nothing comes out of it.

The temple is on the hillside and the temple is built by a monk to protect a stupa of the original temple.

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When we are there, the monk happen to be in the temple and he is very welcoming. I was initially very concerned that he may feel offended with our presence.

Mr Jo chatted with the monk and he told us that we are free to walk around and even take photos.

The original stupa is located inside the temple and the monk even offer to bless us reciting scriptures. He sprinkle us with some water. Though the monk is still raising funds to continue to build the temple, we are not compelled to donate to the temple.

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We saw many statues of the Buddha and each Buddha represent a THB9,999 donation.

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The view from the temple is amazing. Coupled with the cool weather, I really can feel the peace within myself. (You will need to click on the panorama picture for a better view).

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I always thought that temple visiting is boring but I could not be more wrong. I really enjoyed visiting this temple.

When we are leaving, the monk even left his seat to see us out!

The next stop is the White Temple in Chiang Rai. I was told that the White temple is the only temple in Thailand that do not have a monk.

The temple will close during lunch time so when we reach there, the temple is about to open.

Before the temple open, we walk around the compound. The temple actually consists of several buildings though I do not really know what is the purpose of each building but each building is pretty nice.

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There are also the usual eating outlets and tourist shops.

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Once the temple open, visitors flock into it. There is a constant announcement in Chinese reminding them not to touch or lean on the structure. I also noticed something, the announcement is only made in Chinese. Tsk Tsk!!!

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According to plan, we should proceed to lunch but we are too hungry so we just ate in one of the food stalls.

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The mango sticky rice is delicious and so does the various types of noodles. Unfortunately I only have the picture of the mango sticky rice.

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After the meal, we went back to the van and Mr Jo is glad that we already had our lunch because he intend to change the plan.

We will continue to proceed to the Golden Triangle however it is already 1300hrs then. Mr Jo assured us that we do have enough time.

We travelled about an hour to reach the Mekong Delta.

Mr Jo explained to us the meeting point of the 3 countries in the Mekong Delta; Myanmar, Thailand and Laos.

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The street is peppered by many tourist shops.

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You can choose to visit a Laos market by taking a THB400 boat ride. Children’s fee will be half price.

I strongly suggest you wear a life vest and make sure the life vest is in good condition. We have tested several life vest and found their condition to be unsatisfactory like the buckle is not working or the strap are broken.

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We took the boat ride and before boarding the boat, we surrender our passport to Mr Jo for immigration processing. A lady took our picture before we board the boat thinking that she is an immigration officer. Maybe they are afraid that in the event we went missing in Laos, there are photograph of us. In fact the photo taking is for tourist souvenir!

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The boatman brought us to the intersection of the 3 countries and then continue our journey to the Laos village.

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You will have to pay a fee to enter. I cannot remember the cost but it should not be more than THB50.

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The village is actually set up for tourist. It is actually quite a boring village with nothing much to see. The cigarettes are dirt cheap though but I wonder are they originals.

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We spend about 30 mins there and left. To me, it is not worth visiting. I was told by my Thai friend told me that there is a Myanmar village to visit and it is more worthwhile to visit that village.

When we got back our passport, we are disappointed that there is no Laos immigration stamp in our passport.

We ride the boat back to the Thailand and get back to the van. By then, the sky start to turn dark and our next stop is our homestay in Chiang Rai.

Mr Jo has not heard about the homestay before and tried to locate it but they just couldn’t find it. Maybe it is dark so this makes locating it more difficult.

In the end, Mr Jo agree to meet the homestay owner in a petrol station. By then, we are very hungry. We can all eat a cow each.

After 15mins, the homestay owner came and bring us to the homestay. We peppered her with questions like “Will there be hot water?”, “Is there food available or we have to buy back?” etc.

The owner Phaet assured us that there will be food.

The ride to the homestay is only 5 mins but it involved some dimly lit roads. Mr Jo even asked us where did we even manage to book this place. Hahahahaha!!!!

Once we reach the homestay, we are actually awed by it. Though it is night time, but the feeling we have is it is a very cosy place. It has this very homely feel and we felt welcomed.

Phaet showed us 2 rooms and I am very impressed by the first one. Unfortunately I do not have any pictures of it and it is taken up by my friends.

So we went down to the other room and it consists of two rooms; a double bed room with a small gym and veranda and a 3 bed room.

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The double bed room is huge and I really love it.

We ordered our food and we are told that it will take 30 mins to serve.

So we settle down and I really hope to stay for a few more days.

The homestay consists of 8 rooms within two buildings. It has a small pool and a small pouch.

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The homestay also organised tours and one tour catch my attention is a 2D1N tour to Luang Prabang.

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Finally our dinner is ready. It was then that I realised that they fire up the kitchen just for us. They usually accept dinner order latest at 1700hrs. We even place a second order and the staff actually hesitate but still they fulfil our order.

Phaet’s children also came to help in the kitchen. I especially find the daughter lovely. Though she is a mix to Dutch and Thai but she still has difficulty conversing in English but I can see that she is trying. This shows Phaet kids are very sensible and willing to help out in the homestay when needed. Good parenting indeed!

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The meal is great! Though it is a little pricey but we all feel that it is worth it given the circumstances. We have a good chat with Phaet and she explain the transport arrangement going to the town and also the nearby attractions where we can visit by foot.

If I will to come back to Chiang Rai and if I can afford it, I will definitely stay here again.

5th Dec

Woke up early to enjoy the cool weather of Chiang Rai.

Since it is daylight, we have a better view of the homestay. It is indeed lovely. Though the homestay is not big but it feels intimate.

We have already ordered our breakfast the night before and requested them to serve at 0800hrs. This will make things easier for them.

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The breakfast is tasty but the options are limited.

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After our breakfast, we do our final packing and bid farewell to the homestay.

The first stop is the Black House Museum.

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Honestly, I am not very attracted to this attraction. I was told that it is a show case for local Thai artist. I do admit the surrounding is very nice as there are enough places to roam around.

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We stayed about 30 mins there and make our way to our next stop; a river cruise.

I need to be upfront. Chiang Mai Expert Driver contact person is Mr Ford. He has planned out an itinerary for us and we agreed to it.

However Mr Jo will talk to us and understand our needs. So as the trip goes, he suggest some alternatives that may interest us.

For example, this river cruise is never in the picture and Mr Jo found that we prefer nature so he recommend the cruise in Kok river.

The cost of the river cruise is THB800 per adult and half price for children.

The starting point of the cruise is somewhere in Chiang Rai city. Mr Jo need to make prior arrangements with the boat man to pick us up ate the designated area because the usual start off point is actually at Taton village.

The boat can usually accommodate 6 passengers and the boat is very similar to the long tail boat.

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Our boat started  against the river flow and in less than 10 mins, the boat stop and the boatman have to change the propeller. This got us worried.

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After about 10mins, the boatman continue and maybe we travel about 30mins to reach the first destination which is a tourist market.

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Just like the tourist market in Laos, there is nothing much. The star attraction seems to be the big snake and some exotic animals. Maybe that’s why the village is called the Big Snake village?

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We stayed for about 15 mins for continue with our journey. When we are about to leave, we even saw a family riding an elephant in the river.

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The next stop is like a 15 mins ride and it is actually a national park; Lamnamkok National Park.

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The attraction here is a hot spring which is more tolerable than the Mae Kajarn Hot Spring but it is still hot though. So beware!

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We stayed there about 15 mins and left.

The last stop is a Karren Village. I actually like this village though I personally did not venture too deep into the village.

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There is this sweet little girl that is at the souvenir store. Though we did not buy anything from her but she still render assistance to us when we need to find a washroom. Surprisingly she speak good Chinese.

The kids actually played with the dogs at the outer rim of the village while I just walk around the village but not too deep in.

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I wish I could stay in this village longer to explore it and understand how the locals live here.

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After another 20 mins of travel, we reach our final destination which is Taton. Here we pay the fee direct to the counter and no money is pass to Mr Jo.

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I like the overall experience of the river ride. Though the first two attractions are not crowd puller but I really like the village tour.

The cruise itself is very enjoyable and though we changed 3 boats, all the boatmen are friendly and they really take care of us.

Try to do this tour in the early morning and be prepared for the cold breeze blowing you during the boat ride. It is really cold and I see many Caucasian passengers put on their sweaters.

By the tour end, it is like 1400hrs. We are very hungry.

Mr Jo brought us to a Thai restaurant overlooking the Kok river. The restaurant is called Thaton Riverview Resort.

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My first thought is that the resort should cater to Western tourist more so the food may be tailored to their taste.

We ordered the usual fare of Tom Yum, spring rolls, Basil leaves with mince pork, omelette etc.

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Surprisingly it is very authentic Thai. The food is delicious and while eating, we overlook the Kok river.

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After the meal, our last stop is a temple called Wat Tha Ton.

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This temple is more touristy and the temple overlook the Kok river.

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We stayed for about 45 mins and make our way back to Chiang Mai.

The trip back to Chiang Mai is long really. We have a toilet break before we enter Chiang Mai. I was surprised to see a building just beside the petrol station. It looks like a residential one.

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Once we reach our hotel at 2000hrs, we are famished. We just find the nearest restaurant to have our dinner and we decide on Morradoke Thai restaurant.

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We split into our own family so we have 5 person per group. We ordered 5 dishes but the staff wanted us to ordered two more. It seems like they have some kind of minimum order. I request for an explanation but the staff cannot give one. In the end we still ordered two more dishes just to satisfy their requirements.

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The bill for the food is not cheap either. We find that it is a rip off. Firstly I do not see why is there a minimum order. It is not that we order a plate of rice and shared by 5 person but we did order a dish for each person.

However I must stress that the staff is friendly and helpful. Maybe this is a company policy and no fault of theirs.

After dinner, we just go back our hotel and call it a day. It is a long day indeed.

6th Dec

Next morning, I woke up early to visit the terrace at the roof of the hotel. There are two rooms on the 4th floor but there is no private toilet. The two rooms need to share a common toilet.

The roof terrace is very cooling and offer a lot of space for you to relax.

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We decide to walk around the hotel looking for breakfast. Along the way, we saw some Songthaew hoping to find customer for some day trips.

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We also discover more budget rooms. There are also many motorbike rental company but you need a license to rent it.

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We ended up in a roadside burger joint as we cannot find a local Thai eating outlet as they are still not open yet.

The food doesn’t comes cheap but that’s all we can find. The staff is friendly they are overwhelmed by the sudden orders from us but they still serve with a smile.

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After the meal, we walk down the road and found a coffee house. The food here is more affordable than the burger joint.

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The ambiance is much better than the burger joint. However we do know that it is our choice and we are not bad mouthing the burger joint.

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After our stay in the coffee joint, we are wondering where should we go. We look up Tripadvisor and decide on Warorot Market (Kad Luang). The coffee joint staff told us that the market is just round the corner but we still need to take a Songthaew and I am very skeptical when Thais tell me “just round the corner”.

Thais either have bionic legs or they have some good endurance.

We again agree on THB20 per person with the driver and true enough, it is a 5 min drive. When we alight, the driver also alight to give us directions on where to go. I am impressed.

Coming to this market is a big mistake. This is where the “bloodbath” start.

The ladies wanted to comb every corner of the market and in just 20 mins, their hands are already full of merchandise. The other 8 person is just like escorts.

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It seems like Warorot Market consists of several markets. We even saw a sign saying Ton Lam Yai Market.

Warorot Market is actually quite an interesting market. They sell everything from clothes, food, daily necessities, souvenirs among others.

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The price is reasonable though you can see a far amount of tourist among the people.

By 1400hrs, the guys are getting impatient and we just sit in one corner. After buying some of the stuff they need, we have to drag them for lunch and after that drag them out of the market.

The food court in the market serve delicious Thai food at an incredible price. This is the first time we feel that it is not tourist price.

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We took a Songthaew back to our hotel and the ride actually took like less than 5 mins.

All of us took a rest in our room for another market. That is the Sunday night market just outside our hotel.

The night market starts around 1700hrs and I strongly recommend you to go early to beat the crowd. Do note that not all stalls allow you to take photos so be prepared for some yelling from the stall owner.

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The night market is a good change form the Bangkok ones. Firstly the weather is cooler and also the stuff sold here is slightly different from the ones in Bangkok.

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The crowd suddenly swell at around 1830hrs and we really need to squeeze our way through.

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We find that it might be too much with the kids and actually one of the kids fell sick midway so we decided to go back to the hotel.

We decided to eat in a North-eastern restaurant just by the side of the hotel.

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We ordered the usual fare of fish, tom yum, omelette etc. and the bill comes up to THB550 only.

After our meal, I went to buy more food from the night market and all the food look so delicious!

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7th Dec

Our last day in Chiang Mai.

As usual, looking for breakfast. The group intend to go back to Black Canyon Coffee for breakfast as they open early at 0700hrs and we have to leave the hotel at 0815hrs. However I suggest we just buy those oven ready food in 7-11. It will be cheaper and more filling.

It turn out to be a good choice. We saved heaps and it is more filling.

We pre-book a Songtaew at THB400 to bring us to the airport. Come to think of it, we might have overpaid it but since we are unfamiliar with Chiang Mai, we decided not to take the risk.

The ride to the airport is only like 10 mins.

In Chiang Mai Airport, we will need to do the self-check-in and also print our own luggage tag.

Check-in is fast and smooth though the check-in staff reprinted all our luggage tag.

This end our Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai trip.

All of us like both Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai though we prefer Chiang Rai more. Chiang Mai is more touristy and it is not a cheap destination. We feel that certain things can be more expensive than Bangkok.

With the influx of China Chinese tourist, we can see that many establishments tweaked their business models to cater towards the China Chinese. For example food menu, advertisements, tour guides etc. We are surprised by the number of Thais that can speak basic Chinese and some of them even can speak fluently.

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The Thais in both cities is really friendly. We felt safe in the city.

We hope we can stay in Chiang Rai for a few more days and Chiang Rai is not in our initial itinerary at all but we are glad that we manage to scratch the surface of this wonderful city.

We will be back for sure but will instead concentrate in one city instead.

7th – 10th Dec 

Our flight to Bangkok is again uneventful which is good!

We exit the arrival hall quickly and we just go to the taxi counter to get a taxi.

Since it is a public holiday in Thailand, the traffic is so much lighter. We reach our hotel in 30 mins which is a record to me.

We once again stay in Somerset Lake Point.

I noticed one thing. Every time when I stay in the hotel, it seems that the front desk staff has changed. The only staff that I do not see much change are the bell boys and the tuk tuk drivers.

I prefer those front desk staff that I interact with a few years ago. They were really friendly and I can see that they serve the customers from the heart.

Though the current staff still do their job well but it just lack the human touch. They are less personal and once the staff even show us “her face” when we cannot confirm our taxi booking for the return journey to the airport.

We book a 3 bedroom Deluxe for our stay. This is the first time I stayed in the 3 bedroom Deluxe (I have stayed in the 3 bedroom Premier room before) and it is good enough for us.

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There is a common bathroom with bath tub and a ensuite bathroom in the master bedroom.

Nothing much has changed actually. I have confirmed with the management that the tuk tuk service only goes to Asoke BTS now. I really missed those days of the tuk tuk can bring us to more places.

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In Bangkok, we do the usual stuff.

Chinatown

This is a must go market for me. I just enjoy soaking in the atmosphere of the market. The food, the chaos and the merchandise. Though we just make a brief visit this time but it is enough for us.

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We have dinner is the well known T&K Seafood. I actually felt that the standard has drop a little but still a good place to go for a seafood dinner.

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V.SIAM Optical

This is the place we go when we need to make our spectacles. I wouldn’t say they are cheap but I would say reasonable. The service of the staff there are also good. I have brought my friends to the shop and they also find that they are very detailed and will always try to make customer happy.

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Funarium

If you want your kids to burn some calories after all the Tom Yum, this is the place. During weekdays and non-public holiday, the unlimited play offer is back.

For THB320 per kid and THB110 per adult, you will have unlimited play time.

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However do note that multiple entries are not allowed and there must be at least one adult to take care of the kids.

EmQuartier

This is one of the newest mall in Bangkok. I wonder how many more malls that they need to build to satisfy the shopping craze here.

It is another higher end shopping mall so if you expect MBK standard, sorry, wrong number.

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We hire a taxi van from the hotel to the airport at THB600 (include highway toll) and you can get the hotel to arrange it for you but I suggest you to make the arrangement one day before.

This conclude our Thailand trip for 2015.

We will be back for sure but when? I absolutely have no idea but Thailand just have this pull power to make us keep going back.

See ya!

 

 

 

 

 


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Philippines – Manila – 19th Nov ~ 22nd Nov 2015

This trip is almost a disaster. Maybe I am a jinx when comes to travelling.

I have experienced two typhoons; one of them is the worst on earth. I went diving to Malapascua without seeing any Thresher Shark and see no turtles in Apo Island.

Now after planning for almost a year, my dream of diving in Balicasag has been messed up by APEC. Airspace closed; road closure and so on.

Since I have already bought the tickets; I still proceed with my trips since the tickets have already been bought. However I ended up staying in the hotel room for like 75% of my time.

I will not go into chronological order of my trip but just list down my observation and experience.

Flight into Philippines 

Let me tell you, this is one of the best flight from my country to Philippines.

Cebu Pacific has changed my flight schedule; cancelled my MNL-TAG flight and offer no compromise.

I tried pleading with them by changing my flight to Manila to Cebu instead. I called 5 times and they said no 5 times.

I then suggest flying in and out of Cebu and the answer is still no and I wonder why. Singapore has a direct flight to Cebu and it is not going to incur any domestic flight.

3 days before my flight to Philippines, they reroute me to Clark and this further mess up my plan. I was thinking of going to Puerto Galera when I land in Manila but now it is not possible due to the distance.

I do not dare to do any booking fearing that Cebu Pacific will continue to change my flight schedule.

Since Cebu Pacific refuse to change my flight, I just have to make do with what I have.

Why am I saying the flight to Clark is the best? The reason is I virtually slept all the way. I only woke up when the flight is circling above Clark.

The flight actually leave Singapore early but we are still 20mins late.

This is the first time that I sat on a Cebu Pacific A330. It is a twin aisle aircraft and  the seat pitch is much better than the A320.

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I am blessed 

Upon receiving news that I am not going to Panglao Island, many of my Filipino friends actually offer to host me. Even my friend in Bacolod wanted to host me if I can make it there!

I am really touched by their kindness but I have to reject them because I am a person who do not like to impose on others.

However one of them insists on picking me up from Clark. He is Arnold.

It has been more than 2 years since we last met. Arnold has put on weight and he has stop driving due to his injury. However he still meet me personally with his appointed driver; Joey.

Clark Airport 

Clark airport remains the same. However now they have money changer and Globe and SMART has setup a kiosk.

The two telco companies are seriously fighting for business there and SMART even offer free SIM card where you have to pay P40 for the SIM card alone.

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There are also several ATM machines there which will definitely provide great convenience for visitors.

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Once you are out of the arrival hall, you can see some jeepney park down the road which will bring you out of the airport. I did not manage to enquire where the jeepney will go but I believe it will bring you to Dau or near SM Clark.

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We went for a quick breakfast at Chow King and proceed to our next destination.

Angeles Flying Club 

I knew about this Flying Club a few years back but I always hesitate to go there. One reason is the distance even from Angeles City and also the transport.

The Flying Club do have a free transport to pick you up at KFC near to Dau terminal at around 7am. However after you are done with the flight and want to leave the Club early, you will have to look for your own transport.

Even with a car, looking for it is not easy. Joey actually have to refer to a map and Arnold using the GPS to guide him to the Club.

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The best time to fly is early morning like 0800hrs as there will be less turbulence.

I opt for a 20min ride which cost P3854. It is pricey but it is one of the items in my bucket list so I decided to splurge.

After paying for the ride and signing your life away, you will be guided to the vehicle.

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You will be strap to the seat and my pilot David, brief me on what to do during the flight. He asked do I want a scenic ride or to have a chance to pilot the vehicle. I chose to have a scenic ride.

The plane park itself at the end of the grassy runway and ramp up the engine. In less than a minute, we are airborne!

The view from the top is exhilarating. You can see the different shades of the padi fields, the carabao and the houses.

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The ride ended with a smooth landing and one of my wishes has been completed.

I really would like to thank Arnold for this trip. It makes travelling easier and upon hearing that I am going to be stranded in Manila, he offer even to take me to Batangas, Laiya or even Pico de Loro.

Mount Arayat 

Arnold then drive me to Mount Arayat for a hike. The drive is about 30mins and we reach the Ranger Station around 1000hrs.

We asked the ranger how much time is needed to trek Arayat. 4 hours the Ranger said. “One way?” We asked. He said yes.

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I then told Arnold forget it. It is just to risky and I understand Arnold has his stuff to do.

Mount Arayat is not an easy place to go. So it is better for you to hire a vehicle to bring you there.

San Fernando 

The next stop is San Fernando, the culinary city in Northern Luzon.

After settling some personal errands, Arnold and Joey decided to have lunch. They choose a restaurant that serve buffet; Pipanganan Capampangan.

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The buffet spread is not wide but with P185, I could not ask for more.

Once again I tried Sigsig. Though it does not taste awful; it is actually quite nice but it is salty. The rest of the dishes are quite tasty. I like Filipinos cook their vegetables because the colours is always so bright and attractive.

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During lunch, I know more about Joey.

Joey started off as a bus driver. He slowly work his way out to be a tourist driver and brought books to read about history and tourism.

If you are looking for someone to tell you more about Bataan Death March, he is the guy to look for. He clearly know the start point and the end point.

I was told that there is even a detention camp nearby but it was rebuilt. The original detention camp has been destroyed by Mount Pinatubo eruption in the 1990s.

Arnold also share his plans about his future and I am amaze by his ideas he has in mind. During the conversation, I can sense that Joey is a trusted advisor to Arnold.

While driving around San Fernando, I noticed Kalesa is still widely used in San Fernando. It reminds me of Vigan and being not a big city, San Fernando has this intimate charm in it.

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It is less bustling and life seems to be a little bit slower.

We then make our way back to Manila.

After dropping off Arnold, Joey send me to the hotel.

During the drive, we discuss about drivers in the Philippines and the issues with taxi drivers. During the conversation, I feel that Joey and I share the same ideas and thinking that how a driver should behave. In short, it is honesty, integrity and reputation.

After I reach the hotel, I bid farewell to Joey.

Red Planet Hotel Ermita (formerly Tune Ermita) 

When Red Planet took over the name of Tune, I am a little confused.

I understand that Red Planet seems to be managing Tune Hotels and I thought that Red Planet is a subsidiary of AirAsia.

It turned out that Tune Hotel is a joint venture between Red Planet and AirAsia.

However this year talks breakdown between AirAsia and Red Planet on how to move the company ahead. Red Planet that took ownership of all Tune Hotels in Japan, Thailand, Indonesia and Philippines.

Red Planet is still aggressively expanding in Asia and the latest hotel is in Indonesia which just open a few days ago.

The pricing structure of Red Planet Hotel is different from Tune Hotel.

In Tune Hotel, almost everything is chargeable. Air-conditioning, towels etc. are chargeable. There is no such thing as late checkout or even checkout at 1800hrs by paying 50% of the current room rate is not possible.

Red Planet do away with all these charges and give a flat rate. However the rate of each day is different. The cheapest room during my stay is about P1260 without taxes to P2000 without taxes. Red Planet also allow you to checkout at 1800hrs by paying 50% of the day room rate.

To me this is better value than in the past.

The hotel did not change much in terms of appearance and layout. It inherit everything from Tune Hotel. Though the hotel has been open like 3 years(?), the furnishing inside is still good.

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Water pressure is good and hot water is constant.

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The staff is more helpful than in the past.

The bed is still good and a safe is provided.

You can even book bus tickets to Banaue from Red Planet!

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If you ask me is Malate is a good place to stay, it really depends on what do you look for. There are plenty of restaurants in this area. You will not go hungry this is especially if you like Korean food. The night life is quiet active. In the morning, Malate is just like any other place. Come at night, the bars open and the whole place seems to come to life.

There are dark spots in Malate. To me Red Planet Hotel is the furthest I will stay for a few nights. If it is just to wait out for the flight, Victoria Courts and Sogo will be good but that area is a little darker and quieter.

Another reason I stay in Malate is also generally cheaper and nearer to the malls and supermarkets.

Public Transport 

I have not been taking the LRT for a while. Since I have plenty of time and on a budget, I decide to take one.

The LRT condition is still as bad as before. As a matter of fact when I try to board one in Pedro Gil station, the train broke down.

However I did see some improvement in the LRT infrastructure.

The system now has a tap and go card system for the entrance to the train station. The card also serve as a store value card. This will reduce the number of people buying cards at the station.

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Now you can also purchase a ticket using a vending machine.

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Compared to other developed countries, this should be the norm but for the residents of Manila, I believe this is a great improvement.

However the LRT system still need an overhaul. This is long overdue. Trains need to be more reliable and increase its capacity to serve the city.

I have took only two taxi rides this time round and I am lucky that I met with honest ones. I am usually down with luck with honest taxi drivers in Manila. Maybe I have those “come rip me off” face.

I even took trike rides from SM Hypermarket Adriatico to my hotel. Though the drivers can be aggressive when trying to get your business but they are actually quiet friendly and I was once driven by a kid!

Jeepney ride is another interesting one. During APEC, all jeepney ride seems to have increase their price to P10 when the usual is actually P8.

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However if you are new to Manila, I suggest you take the jeepney with your friends or take a short route. The ride from EDSA Station to Mall of Asia will be a good ride.

Manila 

Most visitors to Philippines will most probably pass by Manila.

Manila is a city that is really out of this world. You either love it or hate it. For me it is a mixture of both.

I love it is because of its unique appearance and it has its own character. It is a big metro city and one of the densest city on earth. Despite being the capital of a country where you believe the best of stuff will be shown in a capital city, you can see poverty almost everywhere.

Manila street side view has not changed much since I visited the city in 2011. You still can see beggars everywhere.

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When I was walking down Quirino station, I saw a very young lady breastfeeding her infant. She did not ask for money but for food. I then went into Jollibee and bought her a pack meal despite being hungry myself.

To many Filipinos, Metro Manila is an illusion that offer countless job but the truth is far far away.

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I happened to chat up with a girl using a messaging app (to be upfront, she added me in the app!). During our conversation, I am impressed that her resolve to work hard to provide for her family in Pangasinan. Despite being in Pangasinan, she has never step foot into Hundred Islands.

When I decide to treat her for a meal and she chose Shakey’s Pizza. I can see her eyes wide open like a child open her birthday present for the first time when the food arrive. She has never eaten in Shakey’s Pizza for the last 24 years of her life despite working very hard.

She worked two jobs; 5am to 1pm in Mcdonalds and 2.30pm to 9pm in SM City San Lazaro. She stayed in the dormitory with 9 other girls for a rental of P4000 a month. This means she has to work 12 days in SM City San Lazaro just to pay off her rent!

As some of her roommates work in a bar, she help them to wash clothes for them from 4am ro 8.30am in some days earning her about P600.

I am writing all these not to show that I have a big heart but to show how people is working very hard just to sustain a living in this city.

Many of my friends’ one day salary can pay off the monthly rent of P4000. Shakey’s Pizza type of meal can be eaten everyday and need not wait for 24 years.

Despite being poor, many Filipinos are still friendly and trying to make an honest living.

In my taxi ride to NAIA, I also understand how the taxi system work.

Each driver is allowed to drive a maximum of 24 hours and the taxi will have to be driven by another driver. This allow more drivers to have an opportunity to work.

This driver of mine drove all the way from Cavite to Manila and he really drive 24 hours a day just to make ends meet.

I board his waiting taxi just outside the hotel and I remind him to use the meter and he oblige without hesitation.

During the journey, I have a chat with him and understand that he has a wife who is half paralyzed and have 6 children but all of them have grown up.

All he ask for is a tip and not change his fare to a flat rate in the middle of the journey like I have encountered many times.

In the end I tip him P80 which he is happy enough.

Manila is a city that always remind me how fortunate am I. Despite having some of the biggest mall on earth and skyscrapers, poverty is still way of life in this city and just walk out of Makati, you can see it everywhere.

Manila is also a place that taught me simple pleasures in life and be content with what I have. Children playing with sand, amusing themselves with trash and they ask nothing more other than a roof over their head and food.

NAIA T3

NAIA has been famous for all the wrong reasons.

It was voted the worst airport 3 years in a row. It is congested in all fronts from airspace, runway, gates and even the toilets.

The scam going around the airport did not help either.

Taxi scam is very common in most countries and especially in the airports. However the famous bullet scam is really turn everyone off. The very agency that is suppose to protect the passengers in the end is putting bullets into passenger’s bag and extort them with money.

When entering the airport, there is one staff coordinating the queue and one looking at the screen of the scanner. Porters are no where in sight (at the least from the door I am entering). Less hands means less chances of those bullet planting scam.

At the point of writing, I heard that the scam is still going on. Passengers are now so paranoid that they shrink wrap their bags. Those who cannot afford will just use any type of tapes to seal up their bags.

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Though during my entrance to the airport, the locals are more concern than the foreigners as I can see that the Filipinos sealing up their bags more than the foreigners.

However I did see improvements in NAIA T3.

There are many new restaurants in T3. Max and Pizza Hut has opened shop and Mary Grace is opening their store soon. I can see that some shops are still in construction phase.

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Some of the gates are now renovated and the seating arrangement at the gate has again improved providing better access.

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Many unused area in the terminal is also being operational now. Many spaces in the food level has been boarded up so I believe there may be even more restaurants or shops waiting to be open.

In the air side area, this is the first time I see not one but two travellators working.

So at the least that something good is happening within the terminal which I am happy about and I hope T1 and T2 will have similar improvements.

With these upgrades, a P550 terminal fee may be a little bit easier to swallow compared to 3 years ago.

However I still hope Philippines will build a new airport and improve the runway and airspace congestion.

As mentioned in one of my previous post, if NAIA do it right, many airlines from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Indo-China can use NAIA as a transit point between US and their countries. If you look at it geographically, Manila is nearer to the US compared to Japan and Taiwan where trans-pacific routes usually make a stopover. Imagine the possibility of increase of tourist to the Philippines if the passenger decided to stay for a few days.

Having said that, I hope the Philippines will improve the overall infrastructure of the country to serve the increasing visitors.

Conclusion 

Despite staying in the room for most of the time which I chose too, I am still quiet happy about this trip.  At the least I get to sleep as much as I want!

I am also very touched by all my Filipino friends hospitality which you know who you are! One of them still go through extra length to find the shrink wrap (known as cling wrap in Philippines) for me.

To all visitors, please look beyond Manila when you think about Philippines. It can offer so much more than you can imagine.


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Thailand, Bangkok – 21st ~ 23rd August 2015

17th August 2005. There is a bomb explosion happened just outside Ratchaprasong intersection and the Erawan Shrine killing many people.

It is also 4 days before our departure. We are deliberating whether should we proceed with our trip to Bangkok.

In the end, we decided to go ahead after assuring our families that we will take all necessary precautions.

We also wanted to show some support to the Thai people that such acts will not deter tourist from visiting this vibrant city.

Since we have been to Bangkok so many times, I will not write this report in a chronological order. I also apologise for the picture quality due to my lousy camera and shaky hands.

The flight to Bangkok

We took Air Asia flight to Don Muang and the flight is only about 40% filled. This gives us a lot of space. I believe this is the result of some flight cancellation in the wake of the tragedy.

As usual, I pre-order Nasi Lemak for SGD$5 and was given a complimentary drink free. Not the cheapest in the flight but it is the best among the bad ones.

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Air Asia do sell SIM card for your phone. However as there is a new regulation that require all SIM cards to be registered unlike before. So after you purchase it, you still have to activate the SIM card by bringing it down to the TrueMove Center near to Gate 6 after you clear the customs.

Therefore I suggest you buy the SIM card directly with the TrueMove Center and activate it on the spot. The price of the SIM card is the same; THB299 for 7 days with a 1.5GB data plan at 3G speed.

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The flight is uneventful and we reach Bangkok on time. Immigration clearance is fast as there aren’t many passengers.

I do not see any increase in security in the arrival hall.

Since there are 5 of us, we decide to get a coupon transport. It cost THB1000 excluding toll of THB120. So the total fare will be THB1120.

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A van came to bring us to our hotel. Since there are only 5 is us, it is very spacious. Despite being a Friday afternoon, the traffic is considered light and we reach the hotel in about 40mins.

The hotel – Somerset Lake Point

We book a 3 bedroom apartment.

A few days before arrival, Somerset sent us an email to do a web check-in and advice them of any special request that we may have and they will try to fulfill it.

So we ask for a key card for everyone and also late check out. I also wonder will they really take it seriously.

I have personally stayed in Somerset Lake Point several times. So far they have not disappoint me.

When we arrived, we felt welcome and the staff quickly unload our luggage.

Check-in is still fast but could be better. The check-in staff is often interrupted by other issues therefore slowing the process down.

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True to what I have advice in the web check-in, they issue us a key card each and gave us a late checkout at 1330hrs.

Our luggage is brought up by the staff but the key card is not working. The staff then brought down to change the card but it still does not work. It is only the 2nd try that the card finally work. Small issue though. They key point is they resolved it fast.

Though I have stayed in Somerset Lake Point several times but I have never stayed in a 3 bedroom Premier Suite before and I am really impressed by it.

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The living room is huge! It can easily accommodate 10 sleeping bags. There is a separate dining hall. The kitchen is small but sufficient. The washer and dryer is hidden in a small room. This is also to reduce the noise from it.

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Each room has their own en suite toilet with shower. There is still a common toilet without shower.

The safe box is located in the master bedroom and so is the bathtub.

The water pressure is good also and the warm water is quite consistent. Just felt that they should use a better quality shower head.

We are very impressed by the size of the apartment.

They have also alter the breakfast area layout. The food is placed inside a room now instead of in the open. More seating place have also been created.

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Somerset still provide Tuk tuk service to Asok BTS. However when I ask the staff do they go to Emporium and they replied no. I remembered that the manager did reply to my review in Tripadvisor that the tuk tuk service do go to Emporium. I once saw the Somerset tuk tuk travel from Soi Setthi Thawi Sep direction to Soi 16.

I am a little disappointed. Is this some form of discrimination?

Shopping

We actually just shop at a few places only.

We walked from Chit Lom towards the Erawan Shrine using the sky bridge but we did not go to the street level. We just pray from the sky bridge though I would very much like to go down. However I understand my friend’s concern.

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We then walk to Central World and just go to Naraya to buy some stuff for our missus. Happy wife, happy life.

We then walk to Platinum Mall to look for some stuff but unfortunately they are no where to be found.

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Platinum Mall seems to be getting bigger every year. It is a woman’s heaven but a man’s nightmare.

We also visited Big C at Rama IV. This Big C is much better than Ratchaprasong due to the crowd. It is also more local.

There are also many food choices in Big C Rama IV, There are MK, Swensen, Mcdonalds, KFC, Oishi Japanese Restaurant etc. There are also many restaurants in surrounding area. If Big C is still not enough for you, there is a Lotus Tesco across the road.

We also shop at Chinatown which is my personal favourite. This is a wholesale market where you can get almost anything like T-shirts, ornaments, beads, stationery, toys etc.

To travel to Chinatown, I suggest you take public transport. One way during daylight is by ferry.

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Take the BTS to Saphan Taksin and walk down to Sathorn Pier. Then take the ferry to Pier 5; Ratchawong.

After exiting from the pier, just walk straight and you will see the market on the right along a small alley.

Food

I wonder what type of friends have I made. They are all foodie and they eat anywhere and everywhere.

We went to Chinatown twice. The first time is during daylight.

We found a hole in the wall wanton noodle stall. Thailand wanton noodle is quite bland when serve. I think you need to add in seasoning by yourself. However the taste is still nice and it is a good change after some heavy eating.

You should also see them how fast they can prepare one bowl of noodle. It is in astonishing speed!

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We also tried Somboon Seafood in Ratchada. Honestly, it is really over hype.

The taste is really not up to par.

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The chili crab is tasteless and the grilled squid is cold.

The chrysanthemum drink is actually sugar water. It is undrinkable. I will get diabetes if I will to drink this for a few days.

It is not cheap either. It cost us THB737 per person (I am comparing with other usual seafood restaurants in Bangkok).

We also tried the food court in Terminal 21. The food is nice and affordable.

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We even tried the pig blood and internal organs in Huay Khwang. Pig blood is already outlawed in our country due to hygiene issues. So we can only have it outside of our country.

I do not eat those internal organs (I call it spare parts) but my friends thoroughly enjoyed it.

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I think some of the best food we ate is in Chinatown. We went to the usual T&K Seafood. We usually refer it to the green shirt seafood because the uniform of the staff are green.

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We ordered an array of food and generally the food is good though I feel that the standard has drop a bit. Still it is delicious compared to Somboon. The bill comes up to THB450 per person.

We also discovered another Chinese dessert that is authentic. We called it Cheng Teng here in our country.

The hot version is cooked with ginger. It has lotus, water chestnut, longan, and other ingredients that is usually used in Chinese soup or desserts.

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The ginger version is very spicy and the role of the ginger is to expel wind from your body. So drink it with caution!

If you cannot take the hot version, there is a cold version that they put ice on it. It is equally nice and easy with your throat.

We also eaten Zui Gue. This food is also available in our country but different version. This reminds me of a phrase “Same same but different“.

In Bangkok, the serving size is smaller and the cai po is harder. Still delicious though.

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If you want to visit Chinatown in the evening, I suggest you take the MRT to Hua Lomphong station and walk there. Not many taxi drivers want to go there due to the traffic. Getting out can be difficult as many wanted fixed rate.

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On our last day, we also lunch at MK. My impression MK is bad as I have tried their food many years ago. After so many years, I decided to give it another try.

I would say it taste quite good especially the roast duck and char siew.

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Massage

We have tried two massage shops across the hotel.

One of them is Just Jenny and the other is Yen Sbai where the staff wear pink colour polo shirt.

Both are equally good but I prefer Just Jenny. The foot massage price is pretty standard across the three; THB300 for 1 hour foot massage. I must say the massage is good. They (both shops) even reduced my Plantar Fasciitis  pain that I have suffered for months!

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There is also a newly open massage shop within Somerset compound and the cost seems to be the same.

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Donating coffin

Sounds weird and maybe creepy isn’t it?

There is this donation programme going on in some of the temples in Bangkok. I only know of two. One is in Sam Yan and the other is in Chinatown.

The aim of this donation is to donate a coffin for those who died but too poor to buy a coffin or those bodies that are not claim by anybody. Despite the economic progress that Thailand has made throughout the decades, there are still poor people who cannot afford 3 meals a day let alone a coffin when they die.

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The donation will cost you THB650 which includes a coffin and a white sheet of cloth. You will be issued a receipt and you must burn the receipt within the temple before you leave. You can even give the donation using credit card!

While walking to the temple, we also saw some traditional trade that has vanished in our country.

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Summary

Overall we enjoyed out short stay in Bangkok. Though the security has increased in tourist spots but it did not dampen our mood.

We also did not see any increased in security in the departure hall of Don Muang Airport.

Despite the tragedy, Thailand seems to be resilient to it and life is back to normalcy.

We’ll be back for sure.

 

 


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Nepal Earthquake 2015

A few days ago, I am still planning my Nepal trip for 2016. I have even discussed with my wife and have decided on the date.

Never expect an earthquake will to rock the country on the 25th April.

As I write now, more than 2000 people has been killed.

Nepal Earthquake 2015_1Source

I am disappointed that I am not able to visit Nepal due to the air incident in March 2015.

However my disappointment cannot be compared to the lives lost and the hundreds if not thousands of trekkers and tourist stranded in Nepal now.

Some of the historical sites that attract visitors are now gone for good. It really break my heart to see all the pictures of all the destroyed heritage building.

Nepal Earthquake 2015_2Source

Roads and treks are damaged. These may take months or even years to repair due to the remoteness of some places.

This couldn’t happen at a worst time where one year ago that Nepal suffered one of the worst avalanche in Everest.

Langtang Village which is my original plan to visit this year has been destroyed as I read from the internet.

I hope Nepal will rise again and I will try to visit next year if the situation permits.

It is my little tiny bit effort to contribute to the tourism in Nepal and indirectly contribute to the daily livelihood of a Nepali.

Nepal, I wish you well and I really hope we will have a chance to meet.

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