Thailand | Bangkok: November 20-December 9, 2008

November 20th, 2008

We arrived in Bangkok early afternoon today. The airport was quite impressive, both in size and modernity; however the lines to go through the Passport Control were quite long. It seems lots of people want to come to the “Land of Smiles.” After picking up the luggage, and getting the city maps, we stood in another long line-up to catch a taxi to our hotel/serviced apartment. We were quite excited and surprised to see how developed Bangkok really was. It reminded us of the sort of urban efficiency we came to encounter in Kuala Lumpur. We drove on a clean highway, past tall and interestingly shaped buildings, major roads packed with cars and lined with restaurants, hotels, shops, and offices. It took a while to get into Bangkok proper, and after fighting mid-day traffic for some time, we were happy to arrive at the Citadines (the serviced apartments) which were newly built. We went into the studio apartment we had booked, and had to call the reception soon after the bell-boy left, as we discovered the bathroom was flooded, leading to some funky smells. They moved us to the apartment next door. We unpacked, happy with the free internet facility; sleek flat screen TV attached to the wall and that could be slid from the living room area to the bedroom; a kickin’ DVD player that played AVIs and had an USB input which took our jump drive. It was a quaint little studio, which had all we needed.

We rested a while, and then headed out to check out what was happening on our street. The Sukhumvit area is a major tourist hub, and our street was right by their Sky Train station. We were on “Soi” 11, which was to say it was a side street leading off of the main Sukhumvit Road. The street was full of hotels, tourist agencies, restaurants, pubs, cafes, massage parlors and street vendors. Karthik had noticed a sign for “Dosa King” on our way to the apartment. So we headed there to indulge. We had some dosas and curd-rice, and felt quite satiated. Just around the corner was a coffee vendor (right on the street), and Karthik picked up a coffee (of course). We then walked to the grocery store (also right on our street), and bought the essentials for the coming week. The groceries were over-priced, but we couldn’t be bothered to search for a local grocery shop just today.

We headed back to the apartment, relaxed, did the necessary research for Bangkok, watched our shows using the jump drive and the DVD player, and went to bed.

November 23rd, 2008

Yesterday, we woke to notice that the bathroom in the apartment was starting to smell a little funky. After a closer look, we noticed that the toilet was leaking. We called reception and asked the manager to come up to talk to us. She noticed what was happening, apologized profusely, and moved us to another room up one floor. Apparently as the building was quite new, they were experiencing problems with drains on this particular floor. We were quite pissed as we had cooked the day before and the left-over was in the fridge, as were the groceries. Our clothes were in the closets, other groceries in the pantry, and we had already re-washed all the dishes, utensils, pot/pans to make sure they were clean enough for us. Basically we had settled in here, and now we would have to re-pack everything, and move again. But we had no choice. It was comforting to know that she was waving the room charge for that night. Actually, she had initially offered a free limousine ride to the airport as a compensation, which we didn’t need and so asked her to think of something else she find fitting to serve as compensation. That is when she decided to wave the room charge. Fair.

The new room was bigger, and we quickly settled in here also. We weren’t in the mood to go out. So we stayed in, chilled, and ordered some Thai food (Chicken Spring Rolls and Pad Thai) from JJ Delivery (food delivery service here). The spring rolls were so good!! The Pad Thai was a little disappointing coz we could taste the strong fish sauce. It seems that everything here has to have some fish in it. Bleh!

Today, we decided to head out to check out the big malls we had read about. We took the Sky Train, and 3 stops later, we arrived at Siam station for the Siam Paragon mall. It was a highly developed area of Bangkok, full of massive, upscale malls and tall buildings. Siam Paragon was one of their newest and largest malls, and so our decision to explore it. It was lunch time and we were looking for their food court. We took the escalator down one level where the food court was. We were amazed with the sights. This sprawling food court was unlike any we had seen. This wasn’t just a food court, but the entire floor was dedicated to restaurants, fast food chains, and an open concept food-stall bar. We walked around, staggered by the food options we had. We decided to check out this neat food-stall bar type concept, and keep it “local” in terms of the type of food. The set up here was that we first had to put money on a swipe-able card, and take it to the stall we want to get the food from. They make the food, swipe the card, and then we can take the card to another stall with balance to purchase another item. Any leftover balance is returned at a counter outside the eating area. Neat!

Karthik opted for Spicy Mango Rice, and Penny stuck with Pad Thai. We also picked up a crispy, layered, chicken stuffed roti to try. Ready to eat, we dug in. Karthik’s mango rice was served cold (not what he expected), and was cooked in fish sauce (also not what he expected). Actually the fish flavor was so strong; neither of us could eat it. So that was a waste. The Pad Thai was turning out to look fine, until Penny tasted some crunchy bits. After closer inspection, she noticed little, tiny fried shrimp in their shells all mixed in the Pad Thai. She had asked the chef at the stall to make the Pad without any fish sauce, but didn’t know that they would dump all these tiny shrimps with their shells in the dish. The most disturbing was their little black eyes and well…the shells! Yukk! Penny went back to the stall and asked them to make another one without the shrimp. The chef whipped up another, and this time, it was delicious. The stuffed roti was also really, really good. Still hungry we decided to walk around a little more to check out what else was there. Passing by one of the stalls, Penny noticed a guy working there who could stop checking out Karthik! Funny!! He then called us over to try their free samples of vegetarian Japanese Pizza. We gave it a try, and left. Homosexuality is quite prevalent here. Good thing we’re not homophobic!

We were talking to the Mall Information people who told us that the mall had a “Waterworld” in the basement. Tickets to go check it out were $40/$80 each. We decided to skip it. We had noticed on the mall’s map, that there was a section of the mall that had some incredible car dealerships - Maserati, Ferrari, Porsche, and Lotus. Oh yeah… we had to check it out. But first, we had to find their Starbucks. With our Grande Non-Fat No-Foam Lattes in our hands, we walked through this incredibly fancy mall, looking for the incredibly fancy car dealerships. There was also a large open area where there were all these spanking-new and shiny pianos, and a classical singer was giving the crowd some sweet melodies to shop by. Quite a mall this was! We were also surprised to see the number of Christmas decorations that adorned the mall, considering Thailand is a Buddhist country. Globalization!!

We walked past a Pioneer display, showing off their new TVs, home centers, and car audio equipment. Some cars were displayed as well with massive speakers, subwoofers, and DJ equipment sticking out in the passenger and trunk area. All glowing and crazy – what funky stuff! And then… there they were: the car dealer showrooms. We checked out the cars, wondering why they are necessary and how and why people, especially in this country, buy them in these economic times. There were some cars we wouldn’t even see back home in Canada – like Lotus and Maserati, cars that cost as much as a home does. Now as our window shopping was tiring us out, we decided to head out.

We walked outside and heard some loud dance music coming from one side of the mall. We followed the music, and noticed that there was a fashion show taking place in a tent set up right beside the main building of the mall. We found a place to sit and people-watched to some funky music. They played a wicked remix – mixing the beats from Break for Love (a classic House track) with Carmina Burana (a classical well… classic!). It sounded so badass! It was actually the final song for the show, as crowds started to spill out of that tent. We also saw so many transgendered people walking out. It was so fascinating to see such openness. Only if people could be this free all over the world. Only if!

We decided to catch the Sky Train back to our hotel… but soon realized that our coffees were still half full – which meant that we couldn’t go into the station. Rules. So we decided to walk to the next station as we finished our coffees. As we walked along the mall, we talked about the elaborate Christmas decorations on display and how even back home, our malls don’t go through this much trouble to celebrate the holiday!

The walk was nice, even though we were quite hot and tired. The main road to our right was packed. The side walk was a bit dirty, but mostly okay. There were street vendors selling BBQ’d meats, fruits, drinks, and local snacks. People were lined up at the bus stops. To our left were other big plazas. We were so hot and tired, that we decided to walk into one of the stores to cool off inside. The store was called ‘Zen’ and it was in another huge mall, CentreWorld. It was a swanky store, and had some really cool Christmas displays and decorations for sale. As we walked out another entrance, we were amazed by what we saw. The sun had set and all we saw was a huge bright and sparkling Christmas tree. Surrounding the tree were more sparkling displays, this time of major landmarks of the world! Just to our right we noticed a cardboard cutout of the CN Tower, covered in silver sparkling paper! There was also the Statue of Liberty, The Sydney Opera House, Big Ben, Eiffel Tower, Chinese Pagoda, Dutch Wind Mill, etc. Quite impressive… really!

As we were checking all these out, we were hearing some Thai hip-hop tunes coming from right behind the displays. We walked over, and saw a live concert taking place. Pretty neat actually! It was a cool, young, and hip band performing live - we didn’t know Thai hip-hop sounded so good. We sat and listened around for a while and then decided to explore this spiffy area more. Right behind where the band was performing were a row of outdoor bars, all with different themes and really neat set-ups, mostly differing in what brand of beer they were sponsored by. Then there was a monument like no other! A green monument. Bright green. Heineken green. A bunch of men, climbing up each other, all pointing to one direction. And as we following the direction they were all pointing at… we noticed a Heineken bar on top of the CentreWorld mall. WHY DON’T THEY HAVE THIS KIND OF COOL STUFF IN TORONTO??!!!!

There were other outdoor bars by Singha, Tiger, and such major “Asian” beers. We didn’t really care to sit down for some cold ones now, since it wasn’t that late and the place wasn’t packed with people yet. Behind all the bars were shrines… one for Lord Ganesha, and the other for… the Lord Buddha. It was quite a paradox. First there were places to get drunk, then a place to pray and be holy. Or the opposite if you choose to travel in the other direction! We walked out of the mall area and through a row of street vendors, bought a couple of t-shirts, some cheap watches, and some pop-corn chicken, and caught a cab to go back to the apartment. It has been a long, surprising, and a good day.

November 24th, 2008

Today we had to go drop off the paperwork and passports to get our VISA for India. And perhaps check out other stuff, depending on the safety. See, there have been demonstrations between anti-government protesters and the ruling government. They’ve been camped out at the Prime Minister’s Offices for some time now, forcing the PM to do his business elsewhere. It was pretty serious stuff, but apparently all the tourists have been left alone and unaffected. So we just have to be careful and avoid the areas where they’ve been camped out.

We stopped by at the entrance to our street to get some passport photos for Penny, which were ready in no time. We then took a taxi this time to our destination, the GlasHaus building near Soi 25, off the same Sukhumvit Road. Traffic was bad in this direction, but it didn’t delay us too much. We went to the office to drop off our passport, give them some photos, and fill out our application. Of course, also the money! Almost $100 each! Why does India need that much? Ah well… at least that’s done and they assured us it’ll be ready by end of the week. And that would fill up the last free page in Karthik’s passport. So now we were hungry. Right across from the building was a food court-like place. It was part of the Hostelling International establishment, and had a cool, ‘authentic’ Italian restaurant. We decided to eat there, but skip the Italian food cuz it was too expensive. We just had Pad Thai and Spring Rolls, which were surprisingly good for an Italian joint. Then the owner, a man of Italian origin, came to clear up the plates, and insisted that this place made the BEST Italian food in all of Bangkok. So we said we’d consider it since we’d be coming back to pick up our passports.

 

Bellies full now, we thought we’d go explore the Khao San backpackers road. It was a long way and we were feeling too sluggish to take the transit all the way, which only went half-way. Bangkok is divided up in a way that the old part has no public transit – no overhead trains, no underground ones either, and all the temples as well as Khao San Road happened to be in the old part. So we just decided to cab it. On the way, we passed by the bulk of Bangkok and checked out some temples from outside. We were excited to see the main temples here – the architecture was just so unique, ornate, and beautiful! We also passed by some other Thai monuments and the city looked by and large clean, orderly, and well-managed. We were impressed! We expected Bangkok to be a lot more chaotic than this.

At the entrance (well, one of them) to Khao San Road, we were greeted by what we’d expect from this backpackers’ haven. Signs for bars, guesthouses, travel agencies, and massage parlors littered the street as far as the eye could see. Backpackers’ haven indeed! The street was closed off to road traffic, so it was packed with tourists of all flavours. There were Hippies, Rastafarians, college kids, older folk, and the locals, and types that were mixed up and possibly confused. And then there was us. Were we older folk? Heh. Still, this place really intrigued us. We wandered off to the street-side stalls selling T-shirts with all kinds of bizarre and interesting messages. We had to pick some up! So we did, and then wandered around taking in the sights, smells, and sounds. There were tons of vendors selling Pad Thai, Spring Rolls, and other goodies on their carts – we thought perhaps later. Penny looked around for some colorful tops and bought one she liked. This was quite a large area and we’re sure more than half the population here is ex-pats and tourists.

We then stopped by a travel agency to book a day-trip to Ayutthaya, the old capital of Thailand, which is supposed to have some cool, ancient ruins and temples. So finally, a bit thirsty from our walk, we thought why not stop by for some beers. We ordered a tall Singha bottle and then, without really planning for it, we just started having some deep conversations on life, the universe, and everything. They must’ve put something in the beer! We were having a really good time, so we stayed put and ordered a couple more beers. We felt like back when we were best friends, talking about anything and everything under the sun. The conversation today led to achievement, work, ambition, life, and how, upon reflecting on our travels, we just felt deeply contended. It’s not like it was either of our life long dreams or part of the ‘grand plan,’ but something that we just decided to go and then go with it. Just no second-guessing ourselves or worrying about what others might think. The rest was well, stuff that went into this blog! Now all of it was just part of our history, and most importantly, our history together. It was just a great experience travelling with one’s ‘partner in everything.’

Then, partner or not, we started feeling the effects of the ‘more-than-one’ Singha bottles and decided to leave. We explored the street some more and stopped by for some fried banana pancakes from a street vendor. They were yummy! We just hope they sit well inside. We then wanted a bit more, so next up was some spring rolls from another vendor. Yummy again! Now Karthik started to feel really tired, possibly from the beers, so we walked our way back to the main road to catch a cab. We got back home and just plan on chilling the next couple of days. We really like our time in Bangkok, and imagine good things in Chiang Mai too.

November 27th, 2008

Today/last night was crazy what with all the attacks in Mumbai. And oh yes – update – Bangkok airports are closed because of those anti-government protesters making their bold move against the Prime Minister. Okay, recap. After our good days out at the Malls and Khao San Road, we were feeling positive. We just chilled on Tuesday, but then we heard that the protesters had stormed the Suvarnabhumi airport and stopped all flights. It was crazy – thousands of protesters now called the airport their home and wanted to remove the PM from power. We knew we didn’t have to travel to Chiang Mai for a few more days, so we weren’t too worried. But the seeds of fear had been planted. Our ‘guy’ in Chiang Mai, who we were going to rent our apartment from, kept assuring us that everything’s safe and that he’d even let his mother take the bus from Bangkok if flights were not a possibility. Well, we always thought he was kinda eccentric, so we didn’t give his words too much weight. We were just in a funk about the whole situation and wondered whether we should continue towards Chiang Mai. Apparently, the Prime Minister – who was returning from a summit in Lima, Peru and being unable to land in Bangkok – now had gone to Chiang Mai and made his temporary offices there. Well, great!

Now the news of last night. We usually have CNN running in the background while we do our work. Close to midnight, they started reporting of attacks in Mumbai. People being shot and grenades being exploded. 5-star hotels. Railway stations. No place was safe. It was just sheer chaos as people were even trying to figure out who was behind it, what was going on, and how it can be counteracted. We kept watching this as another newsflash came about Chiang Mai, where a man was dragged out of his truck by a mob and shot in cold blood. It was just too much. We were not taking this well at all. The place we were at, Bangkok, seemed like it was falling apart. The next place we were going to, Chiang Mai, seemed like it was soon to be the next target. The place we were headed after, India, seemed like more crazy stuff was hitting the fan. We didn’t get any sleep that night. And of course, we weren’t in any mood to go on our day-trip to Ayutthaya.

We finally got some zzz’s early in the morning, and only out of sheer exhaustion. We woke up and wanted to get some fresh air to clear our head and maybe ask some locals about the situation in Thailand. We’d also called the American Embassy (which has a 24-hr hotline, while the Canadian one wouldn’t even pick up and only greeted us with an answering machine!). They assured us that Bangkok was safe, except to avoid the airports. And that Chiang Mai would be safe as well. This was some small consolation over everything else we’d be hearing.

So we walked along Sukhumvit Road and grabbed some Subway subs and then treated ourselves to some Starbucks. We wandered around and also asked some locals about the commotion going on in the airport and the safety of Chiang Mai. All of them assured us that the chaos was restricted to the Bangkok airport and everywhere else in the country was safe to tourists. Meanwhile, upon our return, the news on Mumbai continued and continued. Well into its full 24 hrs and counting now. We don’t quite know what to do about our stay in Thailand. All we know is we have to be here so we can pick up our passports tomorrow and then we have to seriously decide what to do.

November 28th, 2008

Woke up to continued news coverage about Mumbai, the situation still not fully resolved. We feel bad for all those foreign tourists, just wanting to explore another culture and experience something different – much like we’ve been doing on this trip. What the hell did they do? Then some insane fundamentalists gun them down. And the poor people of Mumbai going about their already stressful lives and then again, gunned down… or made to fear for their lives. Useless, all of it! We don’t know about our India trip anymore. All we’ve decided to do is just extend our stay in Bangkok for now and leave Chiang Mai for another trip, another time. It just wasn’t meant to be. We don’t really want to take the chance and even though people always vouch for the best, we’re just not seeing it. We’re lucky not to be one among those hundreds of thousands of tourists stranded here in Bangkok. We definitely don’t want to be stranded in Chiang Mai nor do we want to get caught up in any retaliation against the Prime Minister who’s there now.

We had to pick up our VISAs in the afternoon after 4PM, so we thought we’d make the most of the day and our stay, and check out the famous temples of Bangkok. We cabbed it to the entrance of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha/Grand Palace compound. We had a good 4 hours to spend here before going to collect our VISAs, so it’d be just right. Then, as we were walking to the entrance, some guy approached us telling us of how the temples are closed down for prayers, it being a religious day and all. But they’d re-open at 1:30PM, so we had a couple of hours to do nothing. We thanked him for the info. and walked on with our map out, wondering what to do. But, of course, he came back after us and then pointed to his tuk-tuk driver who’d parked by the curb near us by now. He said he’d take us to some of the other temples nearby, promising that’d be a good distraction for only 20 Baht (less than a dollar) in the meantime. We thought it was nice of them and agreed.

Our tuk-tuk driver first took us to a Buddhist temple that wasn’t even on the map, but he said it was a special one that isn’t visited by tourists. So having no other choice, we went to check it out. It was a small temple and not all that impressive. There were some statues of the Buddha in various poses: standing, seated, and reclining, all around the main temple structure. But even these seemed just OK and perhaps meant to be replicas of the real thing. We went inside the temple, which was empty except for one guy, presumably the caretaker. He himself was surprised we were there, suggesting not many tourists come by there. He insisted we say some prayers, so we did. And then we left, a bit disappointed about our very first temple here in Bangkok.

So then our tuk-tuk driver drove us for a distance and then stopped by near one of the landmarks in Bangkok, the Giant Swing, for a talk. He told us he needed some ‘gas coupons’ and that he could only get them by taking us to some shop. We’d only have to spend a few minutes in there, and there was no pressure to buy anything. We thought it’d be alright to help him out, so we agreed. He took us to a silks/textile shop for men. We went in, even though we didn’t really need anything of the sort. Just so he could get the coupons. It was just a store of ties, shirts, and suits, and after a good five minutes, we thanked the clerks and walked back. Then our tuk-tuk driver started to annoy us. He said we weren’t in there long enough, and now he didn’t get his gas coupons. So we have to go to another store. We really insisted that this was supposed to be a trip to check out other temples and it’s turning out to be a real disappointment. We pressed the issue and demanded we go to another temple we considered visiting ourselves – the Marble Temple – and only then would we go to another store. He relented.

At the Marble Temple, we realized it was quite hot this time of day. So we went inside the main temple compound, preferring the indoors. It was quite nice, there being a large statue of the Buddha and several devotees praying in silence. Outside the prayer room was a large alcove and courtyard that was being cleaned and tended to by other monks. The courtyard was surrounded by other statues of the Buddha. This seemed like a chill place and a working monastery at that.

The main temple looked beautiful from outside, being constructed entirely out of marble and topped with the typically ornate Thai roofs and tiles. It sucked that part of it was covered by scaffolding for repairs. Still… the adjoining grounds were interesting and contained some other neat structures. There was a long canal over which were built a few arching bridges. This seemed quite Chinese actually, especially the statues of the “Old Wise Men” and stone pillars that lined the banks of this canal. We checked out some of the other structures, which were all part of the compound. There was another one, not open to the public, but was really ornate in its roof decorations. It even had a golden statue of the Buddha in a glass case outside for display, yet it was seamlessly integrated into the architecture. Quite cool, really! We were finally happy exploring a Thai Buddhist temple.

After a while of walking about, we got tired and thirsty from the heat. So we went back to the tuk-tuk driver, who was now eager to take us to his other store. It would be a huge Jewelers’ store. We assured him this time that we’d spend more time here. At the store, we were greeted by a manager who took us on a tour of the factory within the store, where they were making the jewelry. It was neat to see how they were polishing the various precious and semi-precious stones, while others were setting them in gold and other precious metals. We then went into the store proper, which was huge! Penny was just interested in seeing some cool designs for ideas that she could use when making jewelry with semi-precious stones in India. We checked out some Aquamarine, Topaz, and other stuff. A lot of it was quite artfully done; others were just gaudy or tacky. Karthik amused himself with the huge aquarium tanks containing exotic fish and sharks. Not really buying anything, we left the store and entered the adjacent souvenir shop. The Thai porcelain is something to see. When done well, the authentic Thai designs, called Benjarong, are some of the most beautiful ever created on porcelain. It wasn’t all that impressive in this store, but we made it a point to check it out elsewhere for sure.

We got back to our tuk-tuk and told him we weren’t really going to see the main temples we’d come to see. Even though it was only 1:30PM, we knew if we went now, it’d just be rushed. So we asked him to take us to a nearby SkyTrain station. He then said he’d have to take us to another store so he can get more gas coupons. We’d had enough by now! We’re checking out more stores for this fool than real tourist landmarks or temples. We told him we’d been very understanding and done everything he asked for, but now it was just too much. He started getting angrier and then finally he just yelled, “Get out!” We were startled, but now he’d already started the tuk-tuk and driving it extremely fast. Also quite unsafe. We were a bit alarmed by all this, not expecting his reaction. Karthik now just told him to stop, so we could get off. He angrily just continued, but eventually stopped. We got off quickly, and just as Karthik was going to pay him what we’d owed him, he just sped off. What a crazy nut!! This must totally have been one of those scams tourists are cautioned to watch out for in Bangkok.

We finally grabbed a cab and then went our way back to Sukhumvit Road, deciding to kill the remaining time and grab some lunch at the mall we’d been to before. The driver took us to CentreWorld mall, which was as huge a mall as the Siam Paragon, if not ever larger. We went to the Food Court, which was divided up into two large floors. There were lots of restaurants, cafés, bars, and eateries. It was crazy – too much choice! We finally decided on Pizza and then deterred by how complicated the menu was and how none of the waiting staff spoke English, we just ordered Pasta and garlic bread. We headed out to explore the mall, which had some cool interior design. There were some really funky sofas and chairs for the public. It was official – Thai malls were the best we’d seen thus far! We grabbed some Starbucks and then headed out to the streets. We weren’t really able to find any cabs, and all the tuk-tuk drivers just wanted to take us to some stupid store first. So we decided to walk over to the nearest SkyTrain station, taking the skybridge a fair distance. We passed by even more fancy malls and department stores, some of them really swanky. We then just had to gulp down our lattes so we could board the train.

We got off at Asok station and took another skybridge over to the GlasHaus building, where we’d be picking up our VISA. Along the way, we saw an interesting billboard – a UFO sticking out of the ad itself! Cool! At the bottom of the skybridge, we saw some shops that held promise for something Mom had been looking for. She’d been searching for a type of material called French Chiffon used to make saris, but never found it since her wedding! This store seemed to carry some, so Penny went in to ask. The lady there confirmed she had it, but only in prints and not plain. Penny checked out the selection, the prices, and made a note to relay the info. to Mom later. We now went to get our VISAs. At the VISA preparing center, we had to take numbers and wait our turn. There was a large crown, and now Karthik had begun to feel tired. He took a quick nap while Penny counted up to our turn. We got the VISAs, which were for multiple entry and for six months. Good. Satisfied, we made our way back. It’d been a long day and we were eager to get back.

Once back, we finally saw that the Mumbai situation had been resolved after two full days! What a fiasco! And all those deaths… what a shame. We were now still iffy about India, instead having made plans to head to Kuala Lumpur or Singapore to stay for a while, before deciding whether India was to happen or not. Penny made some yummy pasta in our kitchen, while Karthik went to buy some cool desserts – ice-cream balls covered in chocolate!

December 5th, 2008

Yes. A full week has passed. We decided to just be and gather up our energy and strength, what with the ruckus in Thailand and mayhem in India. We watched TV, watched our movies and shows, did some work, and just existed as we would back home. For some time, we just wanted to forget that we were travelling. Of course, there was some drama in the interim. A few days ago, our shower area was flooding and spilling water into the toilet area. Yuck! So we complained once more to the manager. And yes, we had to pack up everything and move once more. This time, she was nice enough to move us to a larger unit, one that had its own separate bedroom. Small consolation for all our hassles. We were close to moving to another hotel on the same street, but this has worked out well, since the shower area is actually enclosed in a bathtub. No chance of flooding, unless it’s voluntary!

And we made some decisions. We finalized our plan on not going to Chiang Mai, instead booking a direct flight to Singapore from where we’d catch another to Chennai. But this wasn’t before us booking a flight from Phuket to Singapore, since we figured we’d have to bus it to Phuket as the airports were still closed till the 2nd of December. It was just a few hours after booking this particular flight that the airport re-opened! What luck! So we had to call, complain, plead, and explain our situation and the manager at AirAsia relented and changed our flight out from Bangkok instead. Phew! So we’re outta here on the 10th.

Today we went to check out the Prahurat Textiles Road and Patpong Entertainment area – one for practical reasons; the other purely for curiosity. We took a cab to Prahurat Road, passing by the Chinatown area which was bustling and chaotic. It was in spite of being a holiday, since it was the Thai King’s birthday today. The cabbie dropped us off at the entrance to Sampeng Market, another stall-lined street that led to Prahurat Road, which was THE area for all sorts of textiles. We wanted to find some good French Chiffon and materials for Mom. Unfortunately, as it was the King’s holiday, the shops were closing earlier today. Argh! Foiled again! So we had to hurry it up, with Penny buying some Churidhar materials at a small shop in Sampeng Market. We hurried it to Prahurat Road, finding most of the shops were either closed, closing down, or not having any of the French Chiffon material. We’d heard most of the shops here were owned/operated by people of Indian origin. There was also a MASSIVE statue of the Lord Ganesh on the street, inviting offering and prayers from passers-by, most of them surprisingly Thai! And the statue was Green, and looked partly angry. It was like a Ganesh-Hulk crossover! Cool!

We then went into another textile shop, a huge one called Gandhi, hoping for the best. And after roaming around the shop on various floors, Penny finally found French Chiffon! And they had it in plain, except for being two-toned. Karthik was just wandering around, trying to appear well… not lost. Finally, having picked out a pretty purple sari, we made our way out just as they were closing shop. We were a bit curious about the Patpong area of Bangkok, supposedly a street of shopping, and other ‘exotic’ curios only found in Bangkok. So we took a cab there and the cabbie dropped us off at a lively location. We saw a bar and a nearby Starbucks (with an authentic Thai roof at that!), and decided on the bar. Having some spring rolls and sharing a beer felt refreshing. It was a chill bar, mostly occupied by Westerners. We had seats facing out to the seat, so we could people-watch at the same time. Right across from our bar was a seedy-looking strip club. It dawned upon us that this was the sort of ‘exotic’ stuff that Patpong had, but we were hopeful that there’d be some cool stuff like shops, bars, and restaurants, for us. So we started walking towards the main row of shops in Patpong. We also saw a corner shop selling metallic sculptures, noticing ones of Darth Vader, most of the robots from Star Wars, the Alien from Aliens, and of course, YODA! We really wanted one, but after finding out the prices, we said Hoohaa! and left.

The main row of shops was just selling wallets, watches, and the usual knock-off stuff. Not that impressed. But what shocked us, in all the wrong ways, was the row of ‘joints’ that lined the sides of the street. The row of shops selling the knock-off items was right in the middle of the street, while along the sides were all strip bars. With very few exceptions, such as other knock-off shops, they were all establishments catering to vices. It was all too seedy. What really upset us (an understatement) was this guy who came up to us (imagine that, us, a couple walking while holding hands) offering us a menu. This was no ordinary menu. It was quite sick. Feeling sick, even recollecting the episode. It was a menu of various stunts that women inside these bars would perform with, well… their privates. Insane! To think that this kind of crap goes unnoticed… and in a primarily Buddhist country!

After this, we just doubled our pace outta there, brushing aside more shameless jerks approaching us with similar menus. It was such a horrible thing, not to mention the plight of the workers. We’d heard about the whole ‘Red Light’ district of Bangkok and the huge sex trade here in Bangkok, having already witnessed countless escorts providing company for the lonely Western men that come here. But this was a disgrace of another level entirely. After this, we didn’t care for doing or seeing much around here. That useless street opened up to a large road, which seemed more decent and normal. We had planned on grabbing some more beers at another bar in the area to soak in the atmosphere, but those plans were definitely scratched. We stopped by a KFC and a Subway to pick us some take-out and then high-tailed it back home in a cab. Interesting and disturbing experience tonight. Just a few more days in Bangkok and there’s still the temples to check out! We’ve been putting it off for sooo long!

December 7th, 2008

Today we went to go see the Weekend market, called the Chatuchak Market. It’s the largest open-air market in all of Asia, and open only on Saturdays and Sundays. Even though there was a direct SkyTrain connection between our location and the market, we decided to grab a cab instead. The cab made a deal with us, stating he’d take us to a store first. Apparently, the tourist crowd was quite low these days and these cab drivers need to pick up any extra money or gas coupons any way they can. So we thought it’d be alright, still a bit wary after our tuk-tuk driver experience. The streets were quite empty, it being a Sunday. We arrived at the store, which was another big jewelry outlet, apparently even bigger than the previous one we’d visited. We saw the usual tour of the factory, with workers making jewelry. Then, we explored the store for a while. This one had some impressive pieces, some really creative bracelets and colorful rings, necklaces, and items combining various gemstones. Penny picked up some good ideas, which is all we were here to do anyway. After some time, we walked out, again passing by their souvenir section. Nothing impressive here either. Alas! Maybe some good stuff awaits us at the Weekend Market.

We were on our way to the market, cab driver satisfied with the time spent at the jewelry store and not insisting on taking us anywhere else. It was a massive market, so we were dropped off at one of the many gate entrances. We went in and saw how it worked. There were rows and rows of shops separated by walk-ways and it seemed like it extended forever. We wandered about, mostly looking for good souvenir items. Nothing really stood out, however we noticed there were some really cool wooden structures resembling the typical Thai temples, with the ornate roof protrusions and such. They were uniformly made of wood, with no additional gems or colors or anything. It was tempting, but they were either too expensive or too fragile to get. So we wandered around some more, overwhelmed by just how many shops there were. We came upon a small souvenir shop where we found an interesting item that we thought worth picking up – it being for Chitthappa/Chitthi in Chennai.

Here and there, we saw some cool cafés and juice-bars – creative in their logos, décor, and ambience. But we wanted to make the most of the time we had left before the market closed and sun set. After these many rows of shops, we came upon a large street crowded with shoppers. This was the more open area of the market, with multiple stalls and vendors selling everything from underwear and knick-knacks to toys and hats. We went further, asking around for shops to get Thai porcelain, or Benjarong as it’s called. We were pointed to another section and we eventually saw some porcelain stuff. We walked around and came upon a large store specializing in Benjarong. They had such pretty stuff, from jars and vases to tea and dinner sets. They had tons of other decorative items, all of which was painted in the unique Benjarong design. To describe it briefly, it’s very ornate, splashing all sorts of colors, patterns, and geometric shapes together to create an overall design that just takes your breath away. One could liken it to the very complicated and ornate Mughal patterns of India, but Benjarong just had its own signature about it.

We spent a good hour or more here, deciding and re-deciding on what to get. We finally settled on a set of decorative urn/vase/jar-type things, five of them resembling in shape yet differing in the color and design. This was probably our most $$$ expense yet on our entire trip, but felt it was worth it – these were just too pretty. The dinner sets would’ve been nice too, but were just way, way too expensive. So, after insisting on packing them very tenderly and parting with our cash, we left. We walked out and wandered off to a restaurant, as we were hungry now. It seemed kosher enough and after checking out the menu, we elected on a couple of dishes we’d hoped to be edible. Penny ordered a “glass noodle” dish, and when it arrived, it was like trying to pick up jelly, yet not entirely disappointing. The taste was just OK, and we finished it most out of hunger and not necessarily yumminess.

The sun had set, and now we were on our way out of the market. We noticed more shops and then something quite intriguing. All sorts of dogs and cats were being sold out of makeshift cages and hampers, right on the street. Grown-up ones, puppies and kittens all alike, being adored, played with, and koochie-kooed. It was quite cute, actually. We just hope they’re being sold to good owners, and most importantly, not to any restaurants. Eeh!

So, just as we were leaving, we saw something that caught our eye – it was one of those wooden structures resembling the Thai temples, but it was all colorful and covered in jewels and mirrors. It was the right size too! We had to get it, so we did. Now, finally happy with all our shopping, we headed back home. It was some trouble catching a cab, since it was so busy outside the market. There was a fair bit of walking to do, and we also saw the SkyTrain station nearby. But, with all these bags and such, we waited some more time and finally hailed a cab. This guy was good, taking all the right roads and shortcuts and we made it back home in great time. Before making it back home, Karthik noticed some eerily hypnotic about what was playing on the radio in the cab. He asked the cabbie to increase the volume. It was the voice of an older man, reading out what could’ve been some Buddhist scriptures. But the way he was reading it, with no pause and in a sort of calculated rhythm, was just magical. Plus his voice – somber, deep, and evocative and the Thai language itself – full of complex consonants. We imagined what it’d sound like with some wicked drum ‘n’ bass or other electronic beats in the background. It was a cool surprise.

So finally back home, we now plan on checking out the temples tomorrow. Really, we do!

December 8th, 2008

So today was a packed day! Went and saw ALL the major temple attractions. It was wicked! We started out the day - a beautiful, cloudless day - by making our way to the Ferry station. It was right next to the terminal stop of the SkyTrain line. The Ferry was one of the main modes of transport for Bangkok, connecting several stops along the Chao Phraya River – a long river cutting right through Bangkok and going off towards points North and South far afield. At the station, we had several options, including long-tailed boats, slow commuter boats, and Express commuter boats. The long-tailed boats were cool to see, and named as such because of the long ‘tail’ (the propeller shaft) protruding from the rear engine that was connected to the propeller. But it wasn’t for us. We took the Express boat. It was a fast one, docking at the several stops so quickly. It was impressive to see just how precisely the large boat docked by a ferry pier with such speed. We passed by several large, 5-star hotels; a lot of them that had their own private piers. You pay a premium price for that sort of service! We also passed by several small houses, pagodas, temples, a church, and finally, as we neared our destination, we passed by the ultra-impressive, alien-looking Temple of Dawn.

The Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) was a massive, porcelain-decorated pagoda that also formed the symbol of Thailand. It was across the river from where our boat would drop us off, and we’d go there later today. But, first we were off to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the Grand Palace (the residence of the King), and the Wat Po (home of the largest reclining Buddha in the world). At the pier station, we quickly grabbed some coffee, noticing a monk operating an ATM station! What a sight (and definitely a Kodak moment)! We were walking towards the Temple compound, when near one of the exits, a guy stopped us and informed us that all the temples were closed today for prayers, and would only re-open later that afternoon. Hmm! Sounded all too familiar! This time, we didn’t even stop to consider what he was saying. We just walked off to the main entrance, since we noticed people walking in. The previous time, we were dropped off at a different point around the large compound where we couldn’t see the main entrance. Even though a tiny doubt as to where it’d be open was now lurking inside, we didn’t want to get sidetracked.

At the entrance, we saw people freely entering inside. Relieved by this, we were just boiled up about how such bastards could deceive tourists so blatantly, right at the entrance!! And sad how unwitting tourists (such as us) could buy right into it and then go off into a useless, futile tuk-tuk expedition and being harassed into visiting pointless stores. Why don’t the authorities do something about it?? Anyhow, we were in the compound and from where we were, we could the tall spires of the large pagodas in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha protruding from behind the wall. We were excited. It was like entering a magical kingdom, not to sound obvious and clichéd. We got our tickets, which were joint tickets to see the Temple and the adjoining Grand Palace. At the entrance to the temple itself, our jaws just dropped. Words cannot adequately describe the scene. Heck, even pictures or videos wouldn’t do it justice.

One fails to find the right point to begin the journey inside, since everywhere the eyes roam, all you see are magnificent, intricate, ornate, bejeweled, resplendent, golden, and positively out-of-this-world beauty! Need any more adjectives!? The main temple containing the statue of the Emerald Buddha was by far the most impressive, since it just shone like a thousand suns. It was actually perfect and flawless, almost like a three-dimensional painting. This should DEFINITELY be a Wonder of the World. The entire compound just contained so many marvelous structures. We’d leave the Temple of the Emerald Buddha for later, meanwhile wandering and exploring the other structures. We checked out the Art Gallery gracing the walls near the entrance. It was all intricate, Thai-style paintings depicting the rich history of the Kingdom; parts of which were painted in true Gold paint! It was awesome to see. Then there were the richly decorated Sentries standing guard near the entrance; covered entirely in intricate, floral and geometric designs. But this was the truly wondrous bit – it was all three-dimensional, not just painted on. All made of porcelain, the statues and several of the pagodas we could see inside the compound were covered in this form. Colorful patterns made out of porcelain. The pagodas especially looked like tall, towering wedding cakes! It just made your heart skip a beat!

Since we couldn’t just stand around frozen in disbelief and wonder, we had to move around the complex and see things up close. We checked out the tallest pagoda, covered entirely in golden tiles. Not just gilded, like covered up in golf leaf, but actual tiles. It was magnificent. Then as we rounded the corner, we saw some really pretty pagodas – probably the prettiest of them all, since they were completely covered in colorful porcelain flowers and leaves. Each pagoda was unique and varied in design and color pattern. Penny especially fell in love with these! Karthik was just taken aback by the other structures covered in mirrors, richly decorated tiles, and what looked like a massive, bejeweled façade. Superb, we tell you! Then, what can be said about the massive replica of the Angkor Wat complex! It was right there, a huge, truly faithful model of the entire Angkor Wat complex found in Siem Reap – where we just were not too long ago. Except this one resembled what it must’ve looked like in all its glory; no defects, no construction scaffolding, no flaws. It was such an incongruous, yet cool sight!

One of the other temple structures near here was simply astounding. Don’t know its name – Thai names are just too complicated. But yes, this definitely takes the cake, even beating the actual temple structure housing the Emerald Buddha. How to even begin describing it! It was a large building, entirely covered in decorative tiles, mirrors, and ornate statues. It just gleamed! The roof spires and pagodas were a feast for the eyes. It definitely seemed like no expense was spared, and the maintenance of all this was just immaculate. Couldn’t find a single fault, a single cobweb, or chipped piece of anything. We then came around to the rear part of the compound where there were even more spectacular pagodas, a couple again all covered in gold tiles, and another long row of seven or eight tall, porcelain-style ones. Around the golden ones were some typically Thai demon figures, extending their arms out and legs wide apart. It was quite the sight! Karthik even posed in similar style near one of the statues.

We then headed over to the main Emerald Buddha temple, but first taking a break since it was a hot day. Penny took some close-up macro shots of the garden encircling the structures we’d just visited, while Karthik took his turn grabbing some snaps of some monkey statues!

We then headed over to pay a visit to the Emerald Buddha. Taking off our shoes (since this was the most important and holy Buddhist shrines in all of Thailand), we walked around the building simply amazed by the scale and beauty of it all. The ceilings, the columns, the sides, were all splendidly decorated. A closer examination reveals the detail and intricacy of it all – floral and geometric shapes made out of mirrors, colored tiles and beads, all just impeccably arranged together to create a massive, three-dimensional art-scape. We’d seen nothing like it – this belongs in the Record books for sure. We turned the corner and were at the rear entrance of the temple. Cameras were not allowed inside the temple; however we could see the Emerald Buddha statue from the entrance. It was an impressive sight. We went in and found a place to sit down on the floor. Some people were chanting some Buddhist hymns, while most others just sat in quiet contemplation or wondrous amazement or both.

The Statue was perched atop a large, gilded, and bejewelled pedestal, which was surrounded by all sorts of auxiliary golden statues, statuettes, and mini-pagodas. The Emerald Buddha itself is said to have been carved out of a single Jade rock (so not technically made out of Emerald) and is supposed to be at least 600 years old! It was otherwise a peaceful experience, and looking around the hall, we saw various paintings and reliefs depicting the life of the Buddha. Buddhist places have always brought us much peace and calmness, and this was no different. After some time, we left the hall and made our way to where we left our shoes. Quite special, all of this had been. We finally went out of the compound at the rear exit, thinking it’d lead to the Grand Palace; only to find out it was a rest area with water fountains and toilets. We ate our bananas, had some water, and made it back into the compound, passing by all the marvelous structures one last time. We finally left by another exit near the main entrance to the Grand Palace.

We stopped by for some juice, before checking out how the King of Thailand lives. Right near the juice stand, we saw a gate that was guarded by the King’s Royal Guard. Past the gate was a large colonial building, where we presume the King actually lives. We could see that this was another massive compound filled with more ornate, impressive buildings and structures. Inside one of the buildings was a large throne, presumably the main ceremonial throne the King uses for special occasions. Again, it was completely covered in gold and quite intricately carved. Neat! We went past this building and into an open area, where a huge building loomed by. It was a strange combination of Thai and European architecture. The bottom half was entirely colonial in design, while the top was all Thai. It was cool, and intriguing since Thailand is one of the few countries in the world that hasn’t been colonized by any of the European powers. In this building was just the Arms Museum, so we refrained from much exploration here. We continued our way out of the Grand Palace, passing by more insanely decorated structures, pagodas, and roofs. It had been a wonderful experience, all in all. And gladly, it was open today! Man, those selfish cheats outside deceiving tourists – wish we could given them a piece of our mind.

Just as we left the compound and were heading our way to the Wat Po Monastery, Penny noticed a few tourists talking to a couple of locals, with their maps out. We continued on our way, but then we went back and asked if the locals were informing them that the temples are closed today for prayers. They confirmed and we told them to ignore these lies and just continue with their plans. This way, we ‘saved’ two couples from these cheats. The crooks eventually left, putting up no resistance because they knew they were blatantly lying to these people. We felt good, knowing that at least these people didn’t have to waste their day on some tuk-tuk!

When we went into the compound of the Wat Po Monastery, it immediately felt chill and relaxed. It was a fully-functional monastery that housed the largest statue of the Reclining Buddha. As well, it contained a Thai massage school that is said to have originated the form of healing therapy. We just wanted to check out the Reclining Buddha. So, taking off our shoes, we entered and came upon a massive, truly massive, statue. We were just at the head of the Buddha at the entrance. This was such a large statue that it’d take a good 30 seconds to walk from one end to the other. The face of the Buddha looked very peaceful, with the eyes partly open (of course, He’s reclining, taking a break from his busy day being the Buddha!). We walked over to the other end of the statue and noted how the feet were intricately decorated in designs, intermixed with the rare Mother-of-Pearl. It was a neat statue for sure! On the other side of the statue, we saw all these bowls with some people dropping coins individually into each bowl. These were the sounds we were hearing our entire time inside the hall, till we came around the feet of the statue to discover the source. We too made a small donation and got some coins – 108 of them to be exact – and started dropping them, one by one, into each bowl. We chanted the words “Peace, Love, and Happiness” each time a coin clinked into a bowl. We felt content from doing this, hoping it generates some positive energy for us and all our loved ones.

We left the hall, intent on exploring the rest of the compound. We noticed this monastery also contained some mind-blowingly, ornate, porcelain-covered pagodas. There was one set that was particularly impressive, each resembling its own special birthday cake rising into the sky! We walked around for a while, whereupon we finally concluded that this was a truly large compound and we couldn’t possibly see it all nor that we needed to. We made it to the tall cake pagodas and went trigger-happy. These were truly beautiful, each pagoda entirely unique and differing in the floral patterns adorning it. We came near to the exit, where we saw that all the roofs of the temple structures were covered in similar porcelain designs, making this possibly the prettiest temple. Every inch of these pagodas as well as the roofs of some temples structures in the monastery were covered in amazingly colorful, richly floral, and artistic porcelain. It was a stunning sight. We left the monastery deeply satisfied. Just one more temple to go to – the Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn).

But first, something to drink and perhaps some grub. We walked towards the pier where we’d catch the cross-river ferry to the Temple of Dawn. As the turned the corner, a wall of foul smell hit us with a punch. It was massively strong, but we had to quicken our pace to just get through it. We then saw to our left a row of shops that had their dried and fresh fish and other seafood stuffs out on display. We didn’t really pause to take a look, even though we were partly curious. Our noses just wouldn’t allow it! So we continued and then saw some juice and food vendors up ahead. Got some pop and H2O and we sat down at a bench near a Pad Thai vendor. As we relaxed, Karthik felt the urge to try some of the Pad Thai, so he ordered a plate. The lady whipped it up in a jiffy, adding the ingredients ready by her side to the large wok and mixing it up. Karthik took a bite and he loved it! Penny took a sample as well and yeps, we were getting another plate for sure. The lady was only too glad to oblige. We enjoyed our Pad Thai immensely, which was probably the best we’d had so far in all of Thailand. Imagine that – the best Pad Thai found near the ferry pier at a small, humble vendor stall.

Nice and full, we went to catch our ferry. It was a small boat, however it filled up quickly. We arrived on the opposite side of the river in no time, admiring the towering pagoda of Wat Arun as we drew close. This was a crazy-looking temple. It looked like some sort of alien spaceport with its huge central pagoda surrounded by four smaller ones. It was also cool as several monks joined us on the ferry ride over. After we disembarked, we walked about the area which was actually a large, peaceful park. There was little to no crowd here, almost entirely bereft of tourist-folk. We walked over to the entrance of the Temple and noticed on the way, this too was a large monastery. There were several other outer lying temples and buildings. We peeked into one of them, glimpsing another tall, golden statue of the Buddha and a few worshippers. This temple too had some porcelain on it, however a lot of it were pieces of old, used plates and bowls! At the entrance, we just felt overwhelmed. Although not as ‘perfect’ and immaculate as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, this was definitely an impressive structure. The central pagoda just rose up into the sky and was just completely covered in porcelain, while here and there were figures of elephants and demons encircling it. It seemed like there were three distinct levels, two of which could be climbed by stairs! Cool! A temple we could climb up!

Wasting no time, we climbed up the first set of stairs noticing just how steep they were! We had to do so carefully and not look back while making our climb up. At this level, we could already see the entire compound of the surrounding monastery, the river, and the temples across from us. And further to the right were glimpses of the tall skyscrapers and buildings that made up the newer Bangkok – quite the contrast. We walked around the perimeter of this level, admiring the porcelain designs and figures of the pagoda as well as the view from here. The porcelain was a bit worn and we could notice some pieces missing. As well, there were actual plates, bowls, and other knick-knacks one would find in a kitchen stuck up on it! It was quite cool. We then thought why not climb up to the next level. It was much, much steeper and seemed quite daunting. We climbed up on all fours, basically, fearing the effects of vertigo or slipping from a misstep. Finally, we got there and quickly got to the side. The view from here was even more spectacular. To our sides, we could see the four minor pagodas all around us and at this point, we felt like we were on some large spaceship that could take off at any moment. Cool stuff!

The levels we could walk around were ringed by brown, earthen sculptures, which added a touch of the somber in comparison to all the colour surrounding us. We liked this temple a lot. Compared to the previous ones, it felt more personal and humble. Not as flawless or hands-off. Plus there was the view! Finally, we slowly and gingerly clambered our way down both the sets of steps to stable ground. We walked around the base taking more snaps and just taking it the ambience. The sun was just beginning to set as we arrived at the pier again to cross the river. At the pier across the river, we were going to take another Express boat to get back to the Central Ferry station, where our day’s journey began. It was a long, long wait, but finally we got one. This boat was extremely packed. Standing room only and seemed like an overcrowded bus more than a boat. We were a bit scared for the safety as we wondered just how many people the boat could handle. Eventually, we got to our station and we were glad to be back on solid ground.

It’d been a long day and in taking the SkyTrain back, we reflected on how we just absolutely love the Thai temples here. They’re truly a unique piece of World Heritage and should be considered a World Wonder. Back in our apartment, it’s time to wrap up our time here in Thailand. Just one more day and a few errands to run tomorrow.

December 9th, 2008

Today we went to go out and run some errands. First, we hauled all our spoils from Southeast Asia, or at least everything we’d been carrying since Vietnam – to the Post Office. We just hoped that we could find a box that could fit it all. We were given a fairly large-ish box and told to keep it under 20 kgs. OK. So, we crammed everything in there, especially being careful of the Benjarong porcelain we got at the market. There, it all fit! And lo and behold, EXACTLY 20 kgs! Imagine that. Now let’s just hope it arrives safely and in one piece.

We then went to submit our request to get a refund from China Airlines for the ticket we were forced to buy at LAX for entry into Indonesia. A good $700 right there. So we took a cab to one of the office buildings near the CentreWorld mall. At the Airlines office, they were courteous enough and assured us we’d get the full refund, no worries. Then, it occurred to Penny we should check out the textiles store we’d come across near the GlasHaus building where got our Indian VISAs. We took the SkyTrain again and walked over to the store. Wrong store. A bit further up, we found it. We were there for some time, and even though they didn’t have too much selection, we got a couple of nice printed saris for Mom. Now, it was getting late and it was time to get back to pack up.

It’s been an interesting time here in Bangkok. Three weeks have passed by quite fast, and so much happened. Stuff in Mumbai. Stuff in Thailand. Our plans have changed. Heck, we’re still going to India. We don’t know what to expect, but we hope for the best. We’re a bit scared, not knowing what to expect. Certainly, one aspect is going to change – there’s family to see in India and be mindful of. We’re looking forward to that as well; however it certainly spells a change from the last six months where we’ve just been on our own and doing our own thing. In a way, a chapter is ending and a new one is beginning. Signing off for now – heading on to Singapore tomorrow morning form where we catch a flight on to Chennai, India later in the evening.

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