The Thailand that mesmerizes

After pondering over various possible travel destinations, we chose Thailand for our second international trip for the diverse experiences we expected it to offer at a budget price, getting raised eyebrows and surprised faces in return from many who indicated we were going to a place which is meant to be enjoyed by singles.What transpired in our 10-day trip proved that isn’t the case.

We chose Bangkok as the hub within Thailand for the cheap and convenient return flights it offered. Fresh from the smooth visa-on-approval at the Bali airport, the taxing process at Bangkok and the rude staff came as a surprise. Having spent 3 hours in a queue, standing, in an ordinary-looking airport, with angry Thai faces manning us, we were completely exhausted by the time we got our visas. The second step was to get a mobile connection, cheap and easy to get at the airport, with counters from all major telecom operators lined up. There we got the second shock as the lady who did the connection for us lost Priyanka’s (my wife) Indian sim card and while they searched long and hard, nobody was visibly apologetic about spoiling our beginning. That Priyanka got furious, and rightly so, spoilt matters further.The head lady got annoyed and had a few bad things to say about us. If not the sim, we at least recovered 100 Baht (INR 200) from them.

While we scratched our heads on why the Thai, who are known to be great hosts, didn’t feel apologetic about the sim loss, we later realized why. We observed throughout the trip, that the Thai are extremely patient. We never came across an argument anywhere. In fact, in one of the museums, when a tourist lost a rented item receipt, the receptionist smilingly took out the receipt book and patiently searched for the right one. An average Thai is patient, tolerant, polite, doesn’t often raise his voice and is not comfortable with heated arguments.

Things were only going to get better and they did!

Day 1 – Bangkok

Bangkok is well-connected by its skyline metro with most destinations reachable by just the metro. However, most of its temples lie on the other side of Chao Phraya, the major river that runs through Bangkok, and are not accessible by the metro. Chao Phraya has settlements, very close on its banks on both sides. We chose to stay in one such settlement for our first day.  The room was small and INR 6.5 K was a steep price to pay for it, however The Ibrik is unique in that unlike other hotels which are next to the river, this boutique hotel, with just 3 rooms, is literally in the river. A delicious breakfast on the terrace overlooking the noisy long-tailed boats is an experience to cherish.

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Breakfast at Ibrik, Bangkok

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Room opening into the terrace

We took a ferry (5 min 3 baht ride) to go the other side of Ibrik and walked for 5 mins to get to the Grand Palace.The Grand Palace is a truly marvelous complex, the official residence of the kings of Thailand in the past. The complex has two sections, one full of Buddhist-style temples with intricate design and war mural paintings while the other looks more English with lawns and vintage building, said to be built in a later century. The place is a treat for architecture lovers.

A km away from the Grand Palace is the Wat Pho which hosts the imposing statue of the Reclining Buddha, guarded by equi-distant pillars such that one doesn’t get a full view of the Buddha. At 5 PM, we were one of the last visitors, and we loved the calm and serene ambiance of the complex. And what would one need after an overnight plane journey and the excruciating wait for the Visa? A Thai massage! The Wat Pho complex boasts of one of the best Thai massages, one that doesn’t use any oil but really strong hands. Batteries recharged!!

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The Reclining Buddha

A 10 min-walk from Wat Pho took us to the flower market. On both sides of the  road of The Pak Khlong talat market is all the variety of flowers that you would ever see. That you see very few tourists here means you get a glimpse of a local routine. We also travelled like a local with the 10-min bus journey from the market to the pier.

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Myriad variety of flowers on sale

After half an hour of searching for veg food and encountering shocked Thai faces, we found a restaurant serving vegetarian food. Riverside dinner with small but delicious portions rounded off the day.

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Veg dinner by the river

Day 2- Bangkok

Thailand is knows for its floating markets, basically, locals selling food and articles from small boats. The Taling Chan floating market, though, has not more than 4-5 boats selling stuff, with most of the other vendors located in an indoor market.The 60-baht boat ride through a part of the Thonburi river is 90 minutes well spent with a visit to a temple and an orchid farm.But what stands out is huge spread of fresh food in the indoor market. Fresh fruit smoothies, tender coconut ice creams, noodles with coconut milk and plenty of other seemingly organic options from nicely decorated stalls, in clean and hygienic conditions, served by smiling Thais will make anyone’s day!

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Some of the best food in Bangkok – Taling Chan floating market

 

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Every item had a packing and serving style of its own – Taling Chan Floating market

Our short and sweet stay at Ibrik was over as we had planned to stay for a couple of nights on the city-side of Bangkok. The level-23 room in the business hotel Anantara Bangkok had a great view of Bangkok city, just like we had wished for.On Level 40 was the Zoom sky bar and restaurant.

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Zoom Sky bar – Level 40 – Anantara Bangkok Sathorn

After some rest, we headed to a local mall. We spent just about an hour over there but that is one area wherein India doesn’t seem too far behind. Hence, the malls in Bangkok can be avoided.

Our last destination for Day 2 was Art in paradise, a 3D trick museum. Though it sees mixed reactions on trip advisor, I think it was well worth the 400 baht ticket. Whole lot of fun, but the experience is tiring! One needs to strike the perfect pose for the perfect picture  and that takes some trying!

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Art in Paradise – Fun with pictures

Day 3 – Bangkok

Thailand albums on Facebook invariably have snaps taken with the Lord of the Jungle- striking a pose with a huge drowsy unchained tiger,  feeding milk to a tiger cub are some of the common ones. Another popular wildlife interaction is the crocodile show with an enthusiastic Thai doing some dangerous acrobatics with a tamed crocodile. Some research on the internet on what makes these animals so friendly/ fearful produced uncomfortable stories of the animals being drugged and egregious videos of their maltreatment.
I also stumbled upon
Which looks like a wonderful initiative to review animal spaces accessible to humans.
So, it finally came down to whether we should go and watch an animal in captivity or not. While we chose to stay away from the lowly rated tiger and crocodile parks, we conveniently chose the Safari World.

The ideal way to begin the visit is to take the 1-hour tiger safari in an open area with rhinos, zebras, bears all seemingly living in harmony. The attraction of this safari,though, is getting to watch some huge tigers prowling around (and over) a jeep from which a happy lady feeds them meat.

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There are animal shows lined up throughout the day with elephants playing football, sea lions doing synchronized swimming and dolphins performing acrobatic feats. Moral issues aside, every show is a high-standard visual delight..

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Schedule your park activities around these shows. Sky wars features no animals; still makes for good viewing.

But the highlight of the park is the giraffe feeding terrace – an elevated area where you buy a bunch of bananas, hang each from a stick and feed them to the hungry but friendly giants. Your chance to get up-close with the tallest animal in the world. Every now and then, the giants break away from the feeding area, form a herd and run with a lot of intent from one end to another. I didn’t understand what it meant but the sight of the herds’ graceful movement will captivate you. You keep longing for more as you wait for the giraffes to break into one more run.

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Giraffe feeding terrace

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Signboards at regular intervals help you optimally navigate the park

 

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The birds are braver than you..

Along with the signboards, the clean & green surroundings and naturally decorated pathways make it easy to navigate through the park. But the heat got to us and skipping the cowboy stunt show, we made an early exit to our air-conditioned rooms. After three busy days, we deserved a good night’s sleep. Up next was Phuket!

Tips for an enjoyable Safari world:

  1. Book tickets online. We got ours from hotels2thailand.com at 600 baht pp, including lunch. Tickets at the counter are doubly expensive.
  2. Don’t bother about roundtrip transfers. Metered taxis are easily available.
  3. Opt for the lunch package. Though not very delicious, this is one of the few occasions you will get Indian food and believe me, you will gorge on it.
  4. Reach early ; only the 10 AM safari has tiger feeding
  5. Keep the show timetable handy and schedule your activities around the shows.
  6. Don’t waste too much time figuring what is where on the maps. The signboards will help you better.
  7. You are likely to find a lot of Indian counterparts here. Most other places in Thailand are peaceful:)
  8. Keep yourself well hydrated. The zoo is spread over a large area and your day is expected to be challenging physically.

Day 4 – Phuket 

Started from Bangkok for Phuket in the morning. Got a metered taxi again. Bangkok only seems to have highways, no small lanes, no potholes, no honking, just some smooth driving at 60kmph speeds. The fare to the airport was 283 baht, driver took 280!

Phuket has many facets.The airport area won’t give you any indication of what lies ahead near the shores, the more famous face of Phuket. Each beach area too has something different to offer in terms of crowds, connectivity and activities. Beaches of Phuket gives a good account of the variety. We chose Patong which is a cleaner and bigger version of Goa,India.

The road to Patong beach is lined up with stores and restaurants on both sides, many of them “massage” parlours. It has a bustling nightlife with music playing till the wee hours of morning but you step out early and you will still find both locals and tourists moving about; the streets are almost always buzzing with people. The Bangla street, synonymous with wild nightlife but a little over-hyped and hence thankfully less offensive than expected, is an amusing way to spend an hour at night.

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A road leading to Patong beach

The Frog House Inn, the place we stayed at, was at a 10-min walking distance from the beach, Jungceylon mall and Bangla street and still provided the quiet when required. The room was spacious with minimalist but attractive interiors and Kob, the owner and manager, lends a warm touch to the hotel’s operations with personalized service and honest help. She is a local but speaks excellent English (the combination is rare in Thailand) and makes excellent breakfast.

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At Frog House, it’s like you are staying at a distant doting aunt’s house

Day 5 – Phi Phi Islands

Phi Phi Islands boasts of probably the most picturesque beaches and seas of Thailand and its clear water makes for the perfect setting to swim and spot the underwater paradise. One could either travel to Krabi and arrange tours from there or take a one-day Phi Phi island tour from one of the bays in Phuket. We chose the latter and booked with Easy Day Thailand; the trip at INR 7,000 per person was a costly excursion but a worthy one.
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Speedboats stationed at the Marina Bay, Phuket

The speedboats are clean and comfortable, equipped with shower and toilet facility. As they manoeuver through the sea at ferocious speeds, you sit back and enjoy the strong winds slapping your face and stare into the unlimited horizons of the resplendent green sea and tall limestone rocks.
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Pristine green waters till infinity

Tips for an enjoyable Phuket
Phuket is also much richer than Bangkok in culinary variety with cuisines ranging from continental to sea food to Indian food  available around the beaches and beyond.

 

 

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