Sunday, 26 June 2016

Thailand Dairy : Day 1 Bangkok By the Night

After a nice nap we were ready to venture out. Slowly the evening was setting in. We got ready and were out of the hotel in minutes. The Citin Pratunam or similar hotels in the area might seem that they are situated in very crammed up lanes but this was very advantageous also. Within 2 minutes of walk from the hotel you have access to everything that would satiate your shopping spree. And that’s why we come to Bangkok right, to shop till we drop.

Room @ Citin Pratunam
The first thing on our agenda was to get money exchanged and to get a local sim card. I had read super rich near big C mall was the best place for money exchange in Pratunam as they offered the best rates. But what I didn’t know was the closing time of Super rich. We asked a few shop owners for direction to super rich but they all said that by 5 PM it would have closed and it was already 6 PM by then. We were in dire need to get our dollars exchanged for local money. So the next best option we asked. One shop owner pointed to a small shop 2 minutes away and said they offered good exchange rates.

We walked down to the place. It looked like a gift shop. Inside there was a counter and behind that the exchange rates were displayed. They were offering 33 THB against a dollar which was fairly good. We got 100 dollar exchanged. It was pretty smooth process. They don’t ask for any identity of even validate the currency notes. With expressionless faces they take the dollar and give you the equivalent bhats in less than 30 seconds, no questions asked. Wow! And to think of I was carrying a cartload of Xeroxes as id proofs.

We also noticed that the shop was selling SIM cards as well.  I had enabled international roaming on my phone while travelling from India just to be extra sure that we remain connected to our home even if there is a delay in getting the local SIM. But that was a mistake. SIM cards are so cheap in Thailand that you really need not enable international roaming. The call charges are also pretty much affordable plus the 3G is super fast. We ended up not consuming all the call time the card offered as we had rationed the calls back to home initially.

There are a lot of local shops where you can get sim cards, even at the airports and seven eleven shops. We went to the counter and asked for an AIS sim. I had read a couple of networks offer the best signals AIS was the top one among them. All tourist SIM cards come at 299 THB with validity for 7 days and unlimited 3G  internet. It’s a pretty good option for anyone visiting there. The person at the SIM counter was Indian and talked to us in Hindi. He asked only to show the Xerox of the ID card but returned it after seeing. It took 5 minutes to setup hubby’s phone on the AIS network and we were done. The 3G internet was butter smooth and a joy to use. We called our homes for a few minutes each to confirm the calling services. There was different dialing patterns and the guy explained to us which was the most cost effective way.

After we got the SIM and exchange we were at peace to roam around the night market. Pratunam is mainly a shopping district and a very popular destination with the Indian tourists. If not for the banner and hoardings in Thai one would actually think they are in any Indian market. Many places like the Indra Square was brimming with Indian sellers and Indian tourists, mainly Guajaratis.  There were endless maze of small alleyways packed with thousands of fashion stores, and they are so cheap because most of them actually sell at wholesale rates. These shops offer t-shirts, jackets, dresses, jeans, shorts, shoes and accessories, including many fakes. So you need to bargain a lot to get the right price. We saw many tourists carrying a type of wheeled bag, similar to luggage bags in the shopping area. Initially we thought they were luggage bags only but later understood that they were being used to stuff the shopped goods. Can you imagine how shopping crazy people often this place that they need luggage bag sized bags to stuff their loot :) !

We were not looking for clothes and accessories shopping but something which would be unique to this place that we could carry back home.  Most of the I love Thailand printed T-shirts are also sold in India in any wholesale market. My suggestion would be not to spend on the clothes as, the quality is also compromised since the price is low.

The main road was brimming with like thousand people at the same place. At places it seemed like elbowing thought he crowd was the only option we could move forward. Added to this was the intensive heat and humidity. It was like only 10 minutes from hotel, my makeup came off due to the sweat. We were sweating profusely, almost like we were just out of the shower. Take along a couple of hankies with yourself just to be fully armed against the sweat. Initially it was pretty discomforting. But everyone was in the same state and still we didn’t see anyone care about it. Soon we also got used to it.

The heat was making us thirsty. We saw a number of stalls selling some colorful bottled juices. We approached one of them selling a green coloured juice and asked what was it. The young guy at the stall said it was lemon juice. This was the first time I saw lemon juice having a colour. And no in Thai juices they didn’t add extra colouring. I tool a medium sized bottle costing 30 THB. Looked a tad expensive but the drink was very  very refreshing. Lemon juice and salt mixture but tasted nice.

We crossed the Baiyoke Tower II on our way, 300 meters and 88 stories, it is the tallest and one of the most distinctive monument in Bangkok. We kept walking towards the main road by asking people for direction. We wanted to go to the Big C supermarket, as I had heard it was good for shopping. Well so was the many other malls like Palladium, Indra and others but we were already late and didn’t have much time to check out all the popular malls in the area.

There are different markets in Pratunam based on the time of the day. Morning markets, day markets, night markets etc. But throughout the day you can see some sort of markets open to entertain the tourists. When we walked towards Big C, we saw some shops closing their shutters at 6 PM itself while at other places shops were just opening. It was kind of amusing.

One thing that I didn’t mention earlier was street food stalls. They were everywhere wherever you went. Authentic local foods sold by the locals along the roadside. If you get hungry with all the shopping, no need to fret. At every 2 minutes there is a lot of street food lined up in small makeshift shops. And a disclaimer, walking by the food stalls might offer visuals which is not for the faint hearted and certainly not for pure vegetarians. Huge chicken roasts, baked fishes, fried squids, pork on the stick and a multitude of shocking non vegetarian items stocked up on display. Though for us it was a pleasant sight to behold, there was food everywhere and being foodies nothing could please us more. We had promised ourselves at the onset of the tour that once we are in Thailand absolutely no Indian food for us. I was not ready to pay for simple daal rice in thai bhats costing double of what it is in India. So the numerous Indian restaurants on either side of the road were of very little interest to us. But Thai food definitely was piquing our interest.

 Though it was hot, but we loved the walk. Once we reached the main road the crowd diminished. One thing we noticed in Bangkok was the color of the Taxis – pink, orange, purple, yellow, green- name the colour and you would have a taxi in that colour. That was a pleasant change from the yellow-black ones we were so used to in our country. Later I read about it and learnt that there is a colour coding applicable for these taxis - “The single-color are company taxis, personal taxis in cooperation or alliance and rental company taxis. These color include bright green, bright sky blue, red, orange, yellow, blue, pink, purple, violet and tan. The bi-colored taxis are in 3 kinds including yellow-green, red-blue and yellow-orange. The yellow-green are the personal private taxi. The red-blue are the rental taxi. The yellow-orange are the company taxi”. We also saw the famous tuk tuks, which was something similar to our autos or totos of Kolkata.

On way we came across a street seller selling hats. Since from next day our beach vacation was starting hence we both needed hats. We tried out many hats and finally settled for two of our choice at 150 BHT each. Happy with our first purchase we kept walking. In distance we could see the neon lights of Big C mall. After a while we crossed a long line of open air street restaurant under the flyover. The sitting arrangements were very basic but the place was buzzing with people. The food aroma around this place made us hungry but it was not yet time for dinner so we walked on. We decided we will have dinner at this place only.

We reached Isetan supermarket in front of it we saw two temple like monument in front of it with Vishu like idol. We had also seen ganapati idols at places. People were praying in front of the idols and lighting incense sticks.  We took a few snaps and moved on. We came across another cluster of street shops. Hubby tried on a couple of shades just for fun while I checked some of the trinkets on sale.

There was also a stretch of shops which were selling different fruits, fishes, jewelries. Thailand has so many types of fruits to offer. Some of them very new to us like the Mangosteen, Rose apple, Durian or Rambutan. They resembled some of our fruits but tasted different. I tasted only Dragon fruit and Thai Oranges while in Thailand. Both were good.

My mother had told me that people usually buy gold or silver from Bangkok as they are very cheap. There was a couple of shops in this market selling silver. But we were in doubt about the authencity of the metal hence decided to skip.

We were really hungry by this time so we picked a stall with considerable crowd to buy something to eat. It had different fried non veg items on stick. The man handed over a plastic packet and asked to put in the packet whatever we liked. We picked two stick with chicken fry and two stick with fried chicken liver. He took the packet checked the content and told the price. The price was by the piece. It came to some 40 THB for all of it. Damn cheap. Just as we were paying I noticed on one side of the cart some fried things which looked like larvae fry.

“Err what is that supposed to be?” I nudged hubby pointing in that direction.

He looked and didn’t say anything.

“Is it really worm fry or something?” I almost said in a horrified note. He was laughing seeing my expression and said “Possibly”

I didn’t look at that part of the cart and walked away. After stabilizing a bit we started eating. Both the sticks were very scrumptious.

Big C is nearly 1 Km from Citin Pratunam. But the multiple pit stops we made made it look like we had come a long way. We bought a couple of cute jute boxes from a street shop. Hubby wanted to gift it to his boss.

Finally we entered the Big C mall. Till now we had forgotten that there was any kind of weather apart from hot. The moment we entered the mall it appeared as if we had entered the heaven. The gush of cold air from the central air-conditioning felt unreally soothing. All the tiredness vanished and we walked with renewed vigour into the shops. We came across several gift shops. One of the particular gift shops had a nice collection. I selected some fridge magnets which is almost a ritual with me whenever I visit any new place. There are many fridge magnets on my fridge from different places which talks about all the good times we had in those places. Hubby brought a set of key chains and nail cutters as gifts for our relatives. There were beautiful wooden dolls also in the shop, I particularly liked the cat dolls but the price was very exorbitant. Hence we didn’t buy them. The old lady at the shop gave us nice discounts after hubby kept bargaining. He wouldn’t budge without buying in the bargained price and she would not relent. But at the end she gave us the things at our desired price and we promised to come back again.

It was already pretty late by then and shops were closing down in the mall. We saw an escalator going up. We went towards it to go to next floor. A lady stopped us before the escalator. She was offering strips of paper with some herbal moisturizing cream trials. We took two of them and went up the escalator.  We applied the cream while going up and were mesmerized by the amazing scent of the cream. We thought of checking it out again while coming down.

The supermarket was situated in the upper floor. The look and feel of the supermarket reminded me of the American Walmart or Costco supermarket. It was huge. The collection of items was exhaustive, especially food items, preserves, sauces, cosmetics, ranges of alcohol etc. I had made up mind to buy as many Thai spices and preserves as I could hence it appeared like a treasure trove to me. My situation was almost like a kid in a candy shop, whatever I was picking to take a look seemed interesting and I was almost squealing with joy at the wide options I was seeing in front of my eyes. Even hubby agreed that the collection was amazing. One is really spoilt for choices in every section. But we didn’t buy anything that day as we thought about the weight constraint in Air Asia, which was our flight for the next day to Krabi. We simply browsed through the sections and made a mental note of what all we were going to buy during the return journey to Bangkok after three days. This supermart might not appeal to people looking for budgeted clothes and accessories but it fitted our requirement to the T.

We came out of the floor and headed for the area where we had met the lady who gave us the cream trials. But seemed like her shop was closed. So we thought of coming back when we were in Bangkok. By 9:30 the mall was almost having a deserted look apart from the supermart area. We came out and headed for the open air restaurant we had come across before.

The restaurant area was still brimming with people. And after some wait only we could get a table. It was hot and humid again and the restaurant had installed fans near the tables which made it a bit bearable. The menu was very exhaustive and we were confused like hell what to take and what not. We decided to go with something whose name was familiar to us. Seafood Tom yum soup looked familiar. We wanted some rice to go with it so we asked the girl attending our table about rice.

She looked at us quizzing and repeated “Rice?”

The food
Her expression told us that it was something she was hearing for the first time. Now it was our turn to be surprised. Thailand was a country in which rice was as popular as in India and here our waitress stood with a blank expression. We tried animated ways to make her understand what we wanted. She looked pretty helpless and summoned another young boy who was equally clueless.

We were so exasperated at their expression that we didn’t know how to explain it to them. Then by chance I asked “Fried Rice?” A wide smile spread across her face as she heard something familiar “Fried Rice , yes yes we have” she said.
The Street restaurant
Both the parties were finally relieved and we ordered seafood fried rice with seafood tom yum soup.  Why did we order a soup with rice you might wonder. Well we had seen the soup was thick enough to go with rice as a gravy hence the combination. It was a short wait and the steaming hot food arrived. The quantity was huge for two and the prices were very very affordable, hence we were super happy.  The food tasted as good as it looked, no wonder the place was brimming with people even at 10 Pm in the night. Squid if extremely cheap in Thailand. Hence whenever we had ordered sea food in this country we got a combination of prawns and squids in it. Squids might not appeal to people who are having it for first time. But both of us had it earlier so we were kind of okay with it though we preferred the prawns more. The rice was mildly spiced and the soup was very tangy. Combination was a bit weird but worked with us nonetheless. We also ordered coke to drink. They gave a bucket filled with ice cubes along with the coke. Due to the heat we had to drop the cubes frequently into our drink to keep it cool.

After the scrumptious dinner we were filled to the throat almost. The walk back to the hotel was really required to digest some of it. The shops along main roads were already closed so it was kind of deserted but e didn’t feel scared walking alone. We saw the trash collecting trucks were collecting the trash during night itself.

Tender Coconut Drink
The market near our hotel was still buzzing with activity. God knows when this area closes down. We were very tired by that time and decided not to linger outside anymore as we had an early fight the next day. We had already informed the hotel about the early check out and for arranging a cab to the Don Mueang Airport next day. Like Suvarnabhumi Airport, the connectivity to Don Mueang was not that good via skytrain. Only taxi or bus was the option. For Bus we had to change a lot of stops also at that early hour it could be confusing, so cab was the only option even though it was an expensive option.

We retired to the room soon after. Coming back to AC was a relief. We changed quickly and went to bed watching some Thai comedy show.  The main tour was about to begin from the next day.

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