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Hamley’s Toy Store, 1 Utama

Published by on December 7, 2013

I remember watching the cute ad for Toys R Us on Singapore TV. You know that catchy one that goes “I don’t wanna grow up…” Showing adorable mat Salleh kids hugging the giraffe and caterpillar plush toys and assorted colourful and expensive looking toys. I remember going to Toys R Us in Marine Parade (i think?) in Singapore although I don’t think i have much memories of it.

Some years later Toys R Us came to Malaysia, in The then new Subang Parade. They ran the same series of ads on local TV, except with local (equally adorable) kids. I remember it giving me kind of a hallowed view of the place, where you can find cool and exquisite toys that you won’t find anywhere else. Back then the only place we bought toys was from the local supermarket, or the Chinese sundry shop, both places mostly selling cheap China or Taiwan made knock offs that impressed mostly the youngest (or most naivest) of kids. But then again as kids buying toys wasn’t a big thing. We made our playstuff from bottlecaps or old ice cream sticks, or those small toys that come with junk food packs. Remember the Mamee toys?

Anyway, years later as an adult i moved to PJ to work and i visited the Toys R Us. To say it was disappointing was an understatement. It was basically the same as any other locally owned small time toy shop. Except it was bigger and probably with better layout design. But they sold the same Mattel, Hasbro, Barbie toys and board games. I used to joke that Toys R Us was no different from ToyCity.

I understand the necessity. They need sales volume to survive. Malaysians can’t afford the expensive stuff. So they sell all the fast movers. If you have too many samples or play areas, ugly Malaysians will damage them or worse, steal them.

Cool toy stores only exist in American movies like Big or Home Alone.

But what we do have are some cool indie specialist toy shops around in KL. There are a few in midValley and one particular one i like in BSC.

So when i heard that Hamley’s of London was opening in 1Utama, i was mildly excited but understandably wary. How awesome can it be, right? But i did make it a point going today (it opened on 30/11/13). Well, it was quite impressive. Despite it being expensive (that would be a given) they had a lot of their own house brand which had lots of cool toys. I won’t give too much away, but you should go and let the kid in you have a blast.

I hope they keep their standards up. In their defence, Toys R Us probably kept their image up at first, before market realities made them change (in their new location in Subang Parade, they seem to not even bother with ID). The same happened with other foreign retailers like Debenhams, Borders (another rant for another day) or Harrod’s. Dedenhams local capitulation is almost a comical tragedy.

My Second Adidas King of the Road

Published by on November 10, 2013

Last month I took part in my second 10K run, the Adidas king of the Road. Last year was my first race ever, you can read about it here.

A lot of stuff happened in between these two races. Since that last race, i had quit going to the gym since i changed jobs, and i only ran on weekends if i had the time. I had only re-joined a gym shortly before this second race, probably for just over a month. At that same time i ran an 8.5K night race, another first for me.

So all in all, this time round I was more prepared mentally (no more anxiety about waking up early or not being able to complete the race), but was slightly worse of physically. This year the weather was much cooler and shadier, and I would say the organisers were slightly better prepared than last year. So kudos to Adidas and their partners. I was a little disappointed to run almost the same time as last year, but i guess i shouldn’t be expecting too much if i only run 1 or 2 races a year, right?

On a somewhat related note, last weekend a home town friend i knew while growing up died unexpectedly last weekend in a tragic waterfall incident. I knew him since i was 7 years old, but i haven’t seen him in 20 years. Although i can’t say we were good friends, his passing only goes to strengthen my resolve to make the most of my time i have wisely – challenge myself to do things i’d never thought i could do, go new places, read more books, spend more time with my family, keep my good friends closer, and above all, never be satisfied with what you know now. Yes, and stop watching so much TV and snacking.

So what’s next for me? I’d really like to run a couple more runs a year, start studying a few more topics that interest me (this usually means expensive books). We’ll see.

Jeram Toi Waterfall

Published by on October 20, 2013

It was a public holiday, and instead of the usual shopping mall trek or sitting at home in front of the telly, some friends and i decided to go to Jeram Toi waterfalls near Jelebu.

I’ve been here before last year on my many trips to Kuala Klawang in Jelebu. Its easy to go, very near the main road, and suitable for kids.

So in the morning, we loaded the cars and convoyed down the LEKAS highway. The waterfall is about an hour away, turn off at the Jelebu exit and follow the signs.

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The lower parts of the falls has a man-made pool with water slides. Right above it there’s a pool for swimmers.

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For those craving for more authentic nature experience, you can climb up the steps beside the falls to enjoy the beginnings of the falls and river.

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Pure Jatomi Fitness Vs. Fitness First

Published by on October 5, 2013

I was a member of Fitness First (FF) for about 4 years, at the Curve Branch. When I joined the gym coz it was near my workplace at the time in KD. I had the choice of Celebrity Fitness in 1 Utama, but FF was nearer, plus you know how the parking situation in the mall can be at times. True Fitness opened a branch in Sunway Giza but that was much much later.

When I quit my job, I terminated my membership at FF. A year later I joined Pure Jatomi Fitness (PJF) in Tropicana City Mall. The story is that the founder of FF named Michael sold his business and formed another gym chain with two other guys James and Tony (hence the name Jatomi). In KL at the moment, there very few branches compared to the other big 3 (FF, Celebrity and True Fitness).

So I’ve been a using the club regularly for more than a month. Since I’ve only used this branch and FF The Curve before this, I can only make comparisons between these two branches.

Good for Jatomi:
Its cheaper. I’m paying about RM120+ for corporate package, which means I get towel facilities and accesss all other branches (this is albeit a moot point, I’m not patronizing any of the other branches). FF charges me for RM160+ for local membership, their passport membership is a lot more. They were a little cheaper before this, but about 2 years ago they started charging GST. Towels used to be free, but now cost RM5 (not sure of the price) per usage. So don’t forget to bring you own towel.

With PJF being new, there are far fewer members so it isn’t crowded. However, having said that, their weights section is really cramped and small.

In terms of tech, PJF wins hands down. They use a wristband locking system, so no problems of losing your key or locker getting broken into. they have phone charging stations, 6 internet stations, latest workout stations with internet and TV. FF has the same workout stations, but the internet never works.

Good for Fitness First:
Their club is bigger and better equipped. Jatomi definitely does not have enough weight machines and dumbbells. Every time I want to work my splits, I either have to wait for it or improvise with some other workout.

FF has more classes and more frequently. if I am not mistaken PJF only has 2 classes after work. I am not sure why, but they are not popular at all, compared to FF’s which are almost always packed.

FF has many trainers walking around and helping customers if they have problems, correcting mistakes (although most of the time the guy trainers spend their time flirting with the ladies). PJF doesn’t have this.
***

At the end of the day, for me, personally any gym membership is useless if you don’t make the most of it to increase your strength and health, so if you don’t maximize your time and money, all the above is meaningless. Having said that, I feel other than the cramped areas and limited machines, PJF gives better value for your money.

Running My First Night Race

Published by on September 7, 2013

On the night most serious runners were in Putrajaya running the Shape Night Race, i was halfway across the Valley running another smaller race.

About a month ago, a few days after the closing date, my wife and I signed up for the Tropicana Nite Race IV. This race was 8.5 km on buggy tracks across one of the best golf courses in the city. I signed up mainly as a warm up for the Adidas King of the Road in October, and probably to put my end to my lack of serious exercise lately.

90 minutes before the start of the race, we were on the way and it started raining heavily. Pouring. I wasn’t really worried. These downpours don’t last long. Besides, running after the rain is always better than a hot sticky evening. Sure enough by the time we got to the golf club, it had reduced down to a slight drizzle.

It was a small race, about 200 participants over 3 age categories (men and women) and a family category. We had to wait around a long time coz the race was delayed about 35 minutes ‘to wait for latecomers stuck in the traffic jam’. I thought this was unnecesary, if people are late, they start late. This late start would affect many of the runners later in the race, as we would discover later on.

Anyway after a lot of announcements, the different categories were set off. My group, men’s 35 years old and above, were the biggest group, with about 30 runners. And we were off!

But as with my other runs, the first 2km were the toughest. As usual, i was thinking “Why did I sign up for this? I’m not going to make it. Can i turn back?” This was actually a tough course. A lot of steep slopes, especially the tunnels going under roads. I had recently riden on the track on buggy, i don’t remember it being so tough. After all, if an electric buggy can climb the slopes, it can’t be that steep, can it?

The other thing that bothered me were my legs were stiff from my my 3km run in the gym the day before. I didn’t really go all out in the gym, but still i felt the effects in my run. It was only after 5km at about the halfway mark I could get some stride going. Then another problem hit – it started to drizzle. A light drizzle, but had we started on time, we would have avoided this.

But anyway, with my stiff calves and heels and the rain, i completed the run in about an hour.

After the run, I was happy and relieved. The rain made it cooling to run, but made the slopes slippery. Night runs are cooler than morning runs, but you’re tired even if you don’t exert yourself all day. But still, it was a good run.

Bangkok 2013 Wrap-Up

Published by on September 1, 2013

Our final day in BKK was mainly a late breakfast, lazing around, packing, and getting to the airport.

Getting a cab was a bit of a problem, we finally found one to take us for THB400 plus toll. Toll costs less than THB100. Thankfully, AiraAsia didn’t delay on us (have we come to expect that of them?) and I spent a good part of the flight finishing Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself on the iPad.

overhead bridge
(Overhead bridge in Khlong Bang Luang)

By the time we got back to home sweet home, it was almost 8pm.

Looking back, it was a great and fulfilling holiday, considering it we weren’t supposed to be going anyway. Besides that, due to work commitments I didn’t spend all that much time doing research and planning. It was a pretty packed holiday, but as usual we still had plenty of time to relax in between our full itinerary. We almost did everything we wanted to do, except Maeklong train station and Koh Kred. Maeklong station – we didn’t get to go en route to Floating Market coz we were part of a tour group. Koh Kred – well, maybe the next trip. And in that next trip, maybe Ayutthaya, too.

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(Kacang tumbuk sold by an old lady near Baan Silapan)

Other than the floating market, we spend most of the trip in the city itself, so instead of a lot travelling like in our other trips, we were mostly doing the BTS / MRT thing.

flasks
(shop selling old timey stuff had these flasks on display…)

canal tour
(mat sallehs doing the touristy canal tour at the floating market)

One regret was probably not bring more Baht. We were running short over the last few days, so had to swipe card a few times and ration ourselves.

art
(art at Chatuchak)

cute boat
(cute homey boat at Saphan Taksin)

bumblebee
(Bumblebee and a famous actress)

For all the talk usually about BKK being hot, perennially choked with traffic, commercialized, etc, I guess you can say that about KL or any other Southeast Asian capital too. At least things are cheaper in BKK than KL. And the food, well, it is incomparable.

fruits otk
(all kinds of fresh fruits at Or Tor Kor Market)

durians
(and yes, durians by the roadside)

As in all our travel destinations, we said that that we’d return. We’ve never had a chance to return to any of our destinations, with the exception of Chiang Mai. Maybe more so for BKK… Well, we’ll see how it goes. There aren’t that many AirAsia cheap destinations left for us to explore.

prawns otk
(so prawny)

yaowarat night
(Chinatown lights at night)

Bangkok 2013 Day 5: Siam Ocean World, Baan Silapan & Patpong Night Market

Published by on August 28, 2013

Monday is Day 5, its also a public holiday, the Queen’s birthday. It’s also Mother’s Day in Thailand. I thought it would mean the malls would be packed, but it was no different from any other day during our trip here. Which was good for us.

I had booked discount tickets to Siam Ocean World via Hotels2Thailand, they offered really cheap tickets compared to the counter price. If you buy the tickets from the counter, there are two prices, one for Thais (or at least those who can read Thai) and one for foreigners. This is actually quite common here in Malaysia too, they usually call it Mykad price. Anyway, of all the attractions in BKK, why did we choose Siam Ocean World? Well, my family really likes sea creatures, so we try visit them as much as we can.

Siam Ocean World in located on the basement of Siam Paragon, long been one of BKK’s best malls. We reached Paragon just before opening time via the BTS station, and there was quite a crowd waiting for the security guards to open the roller shutters, unzip the velvet barriers, remove the crowd barricade… a gwailo even offered to help to slightly paunchy guards, but they politely waved him back… meanwhile everyone was waiting… waiting…

waiting

And it was open! Everyone filed in orderly, we immediately took the escalator downstairs. The view outside was fabulous, why can’t local malls be this cool?

siam paragon

Siam Ocean World (SOW) pretty empty when we got there, but their counter staff was horrendous. There was only one person ahead of me in the online ticket redemption line, but the counter girl took more than 20 minutes to settle his tickets. Next to me, there was a large European family group buying retail tickets, they were also having problems. Very poor first impression.

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(Someone’s chippy today)

SOW is pleasant place to visit, but rather small. They have a few extra attractions like glass bottom boat ride, back of house tour, 5D cinema (whatever that means), but they all cost extra. We took the basic-basic package, so 2 hours is more than enough to spend here, even if you take picture of every exhibit.

strange fish
(not sure what this is called, but I’m pretty sure it’s not edible)

nautilius
(First time seeing a nautilius)

One of the more popular tanks is the penguins. Very playful and friendly.

penguin

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(clothes matches the sofa)

At the end of the path, you’ll go through the Perspex tunnel as with any aquarium in the world. Lots of sharks and turtles.

tunnel
(shark with delicious fins)

There’s gift shop outside. Some of the stuff they sold were cheaper than at Chatuchak. Anyway, we didn’t buy anything.

shark hat
(A shark bit my head)

If you are going to SOW, go early. Coz when we got out just after 12pm, the line to the counter stretched to the escalator. Not helped by the inefficient staff, I reckon.

long line to sow

We went back upstairs to Siam Paragon for lunch. The foodcourt, as expected, was great.

The highlight was the good pad thai and or chien.

more pad thai

or chien

After lunch we had to across town before 2pm. Where to? The Artist’s House, Baan Silapan. It was BTS to Wong Wian Yai again, then a short cab ride. If you want to go to Baan Silapan, make sure you have the name and address printed on a paper for directions. Most Thais won’t know about this place, even fewer can point to it. Anyway, at the end of a very long, nondescript road, that’s where the taxi can take you and its on foot from here. There is a wooden jetty that leads to a bridge across a khlong.

khlong
(Very beautiful photo spot)

Walking this short distance, you can see the traditional Thai riverside way of life, wooden houses on stilts and small shops serving the local community.

Across the river, its a short walk.

walking the khlongs

Lady making pad thai. Apparently, a few of these shops sprouted up due to Baan Silapan’s popularity.

khlong pad thai

rolly dog
(local version of daschund)

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(fancy a cheap haircut?)

Right near Baan Silapan, we stopped for Coke and coffee.

coffee stop

Next to Baan Silapan, there’s a house / toy museum that has lots of interesting stuff from our childhood.

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Baan Silapan is where artist congregate to paint, carve and sculpt. Entrance is free, but donations are encouraged. Or you can buy any of their affordable art pieces. But the highlight of the place is the daily puppet show at 2pm. This traditional puppet show is the direct descendent of the Joe Louis theatre, which is supposed to be re-established in Asiatique soon. But right now, this is probably the only place in BKK to see this dying art.

When we got there, two of the performers were conducting lively banter with the small crowd. Unfortunately, everything was in Thai. Some parts involved this adorable little boy, something to do with training him to perform the arts.

lil kid performing

At 2pm, they brought out the two puppets plus a picture of the king for prayers.

prayers

And then the show started.

hanuman

There are only two scenes portrayed, interspersed by more lively banter and using the puppet to interact with the crowd. Basically it portrays 2 scenes from the Thai Ramayana. The first one is basically just Hanuman performing, then the second involves Suvannamaccha (I had to google her name up).

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hanuman greeting
(Legendary Hanuman reduced to soliciting donations)

Although the interval chit chat and donation-soliciting were a little cheesy, the performance was immaculate. After the performance i had to see up close the puppet to see how they managed to make it soo flexible.

Hannah and suvannamaccha
(photo op for everyone! Donations welcome! I’m surprised how the mermaid princess could keep her deadpan face for so long.)

If you take a canal tour in BKK, you’d most likely see this red guy sitting outside the Artist’s House.

red guy
(He is extremely embarassed)

After browsing around the shops nearby, we went back to the main road. Some ladies told us to get onto a songthaew (first time on one of those) for the ride to the main road, cost us a very cheap THB5 per pax. From there it was a cab to BTS, and home to Sukhumvit.

In the evening, we decided to visit Silom night market, also known as Patpong. We decided to take a river boat, the one transport we haven’t tried in BKK. The ‘bus-stop’ is just next to our hotel, below a bridge.

waiting for river taxi

Unfortunately, the conductor on the boat going the opposite direction told us that the last boat going into the city had already passed, so no more boats that evening. We took the MRT instead.

On the way to the night market, saw a group of people standing outside a mall holding candles. Presumably it was to celebrate Mother’s Day, but they could be protesting something.

moms day

Silom market runs along the go-go bars, but there’s nothing really to shop there.

souvenirs

patpong night market

Behind the market we found some stalls, so we had our last pad thai meal in BKK.

frying guy

pad thai

So in the end, we went to Silom Complex shopping mall since it was still early. This is a large but quite mall just next to the BTS Station.

BTS

So it was an end to Day 6.

Bangkok 2013 Day 4: Platinum Mall and Terminal 21

Published by on August 21, 2013

(This is part of an ongoing series. To start at the beginning, click here.)

Day 4 is a Suuuunday… And Sunday we were supposed to go to Koh Kred to see the Sunday market and see local pottery industry. Koh Kred is a (really) small island in the middle of the Chao Phraya river 45 minutes north of BKK. But since we had spent too much than what I expected for the tour to the floating market, plus not really wanting to go with the hassle of public transport all the way (it had to be bus-ferry-boat to get there), I decided to spend the day as what most Bangkok folks would do on a Sunday – go shopping in an air-conditioned mall.

But since this was one day we didn’t have to wake up early to be somewhere, Hannah had another chance to go for a swim before breakfast.

swimswim

Since my wife and girls wanted to shop for clothes, there is a perfect mall to go to – Platinum Mall.

platinum

It’s 6 floors consisting of mainly wholesale women’s clothing. When I say wholesale, its not like you have to buy bundles, but every item in every shop has tiered pricing, mean if you buy 2 or 3 pieces, you get a slightly cheaper price. So imagine 6 floors of women’s clothes, but there are some shops selling men’s fashion (very few though), one floor for children and half a floor for women’s accessories.

inside platinum mall

buying clothes
(I think this is the shop where the Datins shop at)

Bought some CNY-styled qipao blouses here.

qipao

At the topmost 6th floor there’s a popular foodcourt. We had our lunch here, the food was cheap and good, except there was pad thai here.

chicken rice
(chicken rice)

pork rice
(te kar, pulled pork with rice)

pork kebab
(marinated pork kebabs)

To be honest, I still hadn’t recovered from yesterday’s Chatuchak, (maaan, that was like running a marathon) so after about 3 hours of shopping we went back to the hotel. On the way back we saw the river taxi.

river taxi

After some afternoon siesta, more shopping. We took the BTS to another mall – Terminal 21. Everyone who’d been to BKK before me recommended I must come here. Terminal 21 is a medium sized mall, with shops selling branded stuff, akin to our 1 Utama. But there are two things that make this a must visit.

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(Everything’s dark coz we took this picture when we were leaving the place at night)

Mother's Day
(They were celebrating Mother’s Day)

Firstly, the entire mall is based on the concept of an airport (hence ‘Terminal 21′) and each floor has a concept a particular famous city – San Francisco, Tokyo, Paris, etc.

bicycle

French road sign

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But the SECOND reason to visit this place, (and probably the only reason for most tourists) is their toilets. Yes, toilets. Every floor, their toilets are BEAUTIFULLY decorated to match the theme of the floor.

So this is Tokyo…

Tokyo toilet

London…

London toilet

Well, you get the picture. It’s common for people to be taking selfies and group photos inside and in front of the toilets. As for the rest of the mall, I guess its quite normal. As my daughter says, the concept of the mall is more interesting than the shops in the mall.

Dinner time again, there weren’t any street stalls outside the mall, so had dinner at the mall. Most of the restaurants were expensive American and Japanese eateries, but we found this local chain of restaurant called Yuum Sap. I tried their pad thai but it was too oily, probably the worst pad thai I had on this trip.

yuum sap1

worst pad thai

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After dinner, it was time to go home, so we decided to walk back to our hotel since it was only one station away. Since it was an early night we borrowed Pirates of the Caribbean 3 from the hotel lobby.

Next – Siam Paragon and Ocean World.

Bangkok 2013 Day 3: Chatuchak, Or Tor Kor Market, Thip Samai and Yaowarat

Published by on August 20, 2013

(This is part of an ongoing travelogue. To start at the beginning, click here.)

If you ever in Bangkok for the first time on a weekend, there is one place you are bound to visit – Chatuchak market. Chatuchak is synonymous with Bangkok, its probably the largest of its kind in Thailand. Its open on weekends only so if you are planning to go, go early to avoid the crushing heat. Getting there is the easy part – both MRT and BTS bring you right to the market.

We reach just after 9, there was already a steady stream of tourist making a beeline for the market. Even as you get down from the overhead bridge, the stalls start.

walking to Chatuchak

Navigating the market is a little tough. there are a few broad streets, but most of it are narrow enclosed ‘soi’s or lanes like this one.

narrow soi

The adage is if you can think of it, they sell it here. That’s not exaggerating too much. But a lot of stalls sell clothes, shoes, foodstuff, souvenirs, and the like. We looked for some slippers for Hannah here.

buying shoes

Every few blocks you see a stall like this selling Thai version of ice-cream potong, minus the cream. So its just iced sugar water.

ice cream

Whether you like animals or not, one section you must visit is the pets section. Here you find stalls selling the most adorable puppies. The shopkeeper was unfriendly, though.

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One small stall was selling this strange creature, I think its a lemur.

small animal

Along one of the main roads, we bought some siu yoke and fried spring rolls from this guy. THB100 for a pack, tastes good – less salty or crispy compared to the stuff you get here, but juicier.

siu yoke

There’s a drink you can find all over the market, I didn’t take any pics of it, its their orange juice. Really refreshing, a must try.

After more than 3 hours in Chatuchak, we went across the road to Or Tor Kor Market. OTK is one of the best indoor markets in the world (or so says Wikitravel) but I would recommend anyone to go there. its covered and clean, so it provides a respite from the heat of Chatuchak. Inside, they fresh fruits, seafood, dried food, and there’s an excellent foodcourt.

or tor kor

Thai durian.

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Or Tor Kor isn’t targeted to tourist, so the foodcourt doesn’t have English signs. But you can just point and order. There was one lighted sign I recognized, though – COFFEE.

snack at OTK

With this plus the food at Chatuchak, we were quite full.

After Or Tor Kor we went back to Chatuchak again, and concentrated on their local designer section. At past 2pm, we were hot and tired but very satisfied, so trudged back to MRT back to Sukhumvit.

Hannah still had the energy to frolic in the pool all by herself. Me, I had to take a short nap.

swimming

After swimming and a nap, in the evening, it was time to go out again. this is a photo in front of our wonderful hotel.

in front hotel

I planned to have dinner in Thip Samai, a famous shop serving the best pad Thai in Bangkok. Although it was still early evening, we reckon since we were quite tired from Chatuchak, we should to take a cab all the way there. The trouble was, Thip Samai was a long, long way from Sukhumvit. After trying 4 or 5 cabs, they all refused to take us. A gwailo who was very familiar with BKK also tried to help us with some other alternatives, but I guess we were set on trying Thip Samai.

So we went back to the hotel and guy at the reception gave us some tips to get their via MRT/BTS.

Man, what an adventure it turned out to be. We had to take MRT from Petchaburi to Silom, walk to Sala Daeng, board to the BTS and exit at the furthest station, Wong Wian Yai. From WWY, it was still a distance so we have to take a cab (about THB60). No wonder none of the cabs from Sukhumvit wanted to take us here!

The cabdriver didn’t know where exactly on the street Thip Samai was, but it was easy to spot. we reached at 7.30pm but there was a line outside the shop.

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Why make the long journey here? Well, my family loves pad Thai, and since we are in BKK, might as well try the best, right?

The line moves really fast, coz they basically they sell 4 or 5 variants of the same staple dish. 3 or 4 sifus churn out woks of pad thai, while staff plate them according to order.

pad thai

The type we order is wrapped in two eggs, kind of like nasi Pattaya here.

The pad thai here is different from most places in BKK – its orange in colour coz it is cooked with shrimp paste.

pad thai goong

Well, the verdict. Yep, its good. we had 5 plates between the 4 of us. Is it the best in BKK? Probably, since we didn’t taste that many here, but its the best we had. Would we come back? Definitely.

After dinner, we took a tuktuk ride to Yaowarat, just a few streets away. Yaowarat is the heart of Chinatown in BKK. Its quite quieter compared to Chiang Mai, maybe cos its spread out. But the traffic here is quite slow.

yaowarat

minions

fruits

shark fin
There was a particularly popular stall crowded with people. After jostling to the front of the stall, it turned out to be serving … toasted bread!

Didn’t really spend much time here, it has been a tiring day for us. So walking to the end of the street, we took a long cab ride (THB400) back to hotel. So ends Day 3.

Next – Shopping malls!

Bangkok 2013 Day 2: Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Jim Thompson House & Red Sky Bar

Published by on August 15, 2013

This is part of an ongoing travelogue. to start at the beginning, click here.

Day 2 started very early. The tour guide was scheduled to pick us up at hotel at 6.45am, so we woke up at 6.00am and went down for breakfast at 6.30am.

Breakfast was in a small venue looking out to the pool. the food was limited to 3 different dishes every morning, in addition to bread and fruits. But everyone gets a breakfast Western platter with eggs done to your choice.

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(it was scrambled or sunny side up for me)

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(the shaded pool)

The tour guide came a little early, she was an unsmiling lady who kept rushing us to go off early to ‘avoid the jam’. We would go on to have a few grouses with this tour lady, but all in all for THB1200 per pax for a half day tour you get what you pay for, I guess. The hotel had offered us a more expensive tour at THB1900 per pax for a private tour, this one we shared with another group.

So early in the morning, Bangkok was already bright but the streets were still deserted. The van picked up another group from another hotel near ours, consisting of a guy and four ladies, Chinese from Sarawak who spoke in a mix of Mandarin, Hakka and Malay. Quite nice people.

Damnoen Saduak is the original floating market, still the biggest and most popular. Unlike the other newer and nearer ones in Bangkok, this one opens every day of the week. I considered going to one of the nearer markets like Taling Chan or Amphawa, but at the end of the day, I still wanted to go to the famous Damnoen Saduak featured in so many travel shows. Going there takes about 60 to 90 mins, depending on how fast your driver is. Ours took 90 mins in a van, plus it was drizzling slightly on the way there. Leaving Bangkok in the morning you can see the scale of the traffic jam entering the city going the opposite direction, reports you hear about it aren’t exaggerated. The line of cars entering the city stretches for miles and miles, across the rivers, into the next town and until you reach the rural areas. Once out of the metropolitan area Bangkok is much like any other part of Thailand – large swaths of village greenery interspersed by small towns with their morning markets.

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(our van, quite old but can seat up to 11 people)

As we neared Damnoen Saduak, one feature you will notice is that most houses have a pile of coconut husks by the roadside. They look like a mount of skulls.

You can drive right up to the floating market, it is right across a junction with ample parking on both sides. But our tour package came with a longtail boat ride into the market. It was a great experience to experience and see the life of the folks living next to the khlongs (canals). The longtail boat will take you to the start of the market, where you can either rent a larger tourist boat who will take you through the market, or walk along the pathways on either side of the canal. We opted to walk.

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(boarding the longtail)

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(approaching the market)

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(the one and only time during this trip we sat in a longtail boat)

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(life along the khlong)

Damnoen Saduak is a rather small market, so if you go on weekends, be prepared for it to be crowded with foreigners. We shopped for some clothes, souvenirs and ate some sticky mango rice.

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(the shops beside the canal sold lots of food and souvenirs)

You can drive up to the canal and park your car there, instead of taking a longtail. But it’s all part of the experience if you do so. I notice most of the people who took the boat cruise were Mat Sallehs, i guess its all very exotic for them. For me, i just don’t want to pay THB150 per pax to get wet with dirty canal water.

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(fine Thai woodcarving craftsmanship reduced to making silly giraffes nobody wants to buy)

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(so original i can smell the royalty payments)

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(Bought mango sticky rice from this lady. Best and cheapest we had throughout our trip)

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(yellow gac fruit. i tried not to pronounce the Thai name…)

After finishing round the market, we sat down for some coffee and drinks beside the canal. I can say every cup of coffee i had in Bangkok tasted good.

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After the floating market, the tour guide brought us to a wood carving centre. This was supposed to be a tourist trap, but I thought it was a great experience given that woodcarving is one of my (many) hobbies. This centre has some rather impressive works in progress and completed ones, not just the tourist trinkets.

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(master craftsman. Wearing running shoes)

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(huge motif carved from one single trunk)

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(impressive carvings)

The place also had two airconditioned showrooms showcasing furniture and souvenirs for sale.

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(Yes, i can just see this living room set in my new house…)

They also had demonstrations on how to make paper from recycled wood chips.
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(child labour)

After that we were brought back to Bangkok and made to visit a gem factory. You know, the same type they make you go to to subsidize their tours. the thing with this one is the layout and look of the building is EXACTLY the same as the one we went to in ChiangMai! Right down to the 5 ‘L’ fish tanks in the show room.

After the tour was completed we were very hungry so we asked the tour guide to drop us off somewhere to eat, near Jim Thompson House, our next destination. She suggested MBK Shopping Mall across the road from Jim Thompson.

MBK is a huge, popular mall, something like our Sg. Wang Plaza but amped up about 5 times, and with much cleaner toilets. There are basically 2 types of malls in BKK, the ones selling affordable stuff and knockoffs like MBK and Platinum Mall, and the ones selling designer stuff like Siam Paragon or Terminal 21.

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In MBK there are two foodcourts, one on the 5th floor, and one on the 6th floor. 5th floor is an international foodcourt, 6th is where the good and cheap local food can be found.

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(fried chicken rice, kuey chap, ham fried rice and the ever present pad thai)

After lunch we didn’t walk around MBK, we just went straight our across the road to Jim Thompson. Right opposite MBK via the pedestrian bridge is the Bangkok Art & Cultural Centre.

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(18SX photo. Somehow this wouldn’t fly in KL, I suspect)

A little further down the road, off into a nondescript soi, is Jim Thompson House & Museum. There is an electric golf buggy to ferry you to and fro the main road.

Jim Thompson House was the former resident of the former American architect and soldier who fell in love with Thailand. He revived the local silk industry back in the 50′s. He also built his home by relocating and reassembling six old houses from all over Thailand (particularly Ayutthaya). He was also a collector of Buddhist art. He went missing in Cameron Highlands (does not augur well for Malaysian tourists) 50 years ago so his house is now turned into a beautiful museum and gallery.

For about THB80, you get an excellent guided tour in English (or French). I thoroughly enjoyed this 40 minute tour, it was probably one of the highlights of my holiday.

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(the one in the center is not a staff of the museum)

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(Our extremely fair-skinned tour guide. She has a queer way of pronouncing ‘Jim Thompson’)
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(little stunned girl in Jim Thompson’s guest house)

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(Jim Thompson’s collection of Burmese art)

On the first floor of the main building, there is a large steel gallery showcasing art works by modern day artists. It hasn’t anything to do with Jim or his silk, but its something to experience – a large steel vault enclosure sitting atop a timber house.

After the museum we took a tuktuk through peak hour traffic to Centara Hotel in Central World. Right atop the hotel and shopping mall, at the 56th floor, is an open sky bar called Red Sky Bar. These sky bars are quite popular in BKK now, we chose this one coz its convenient to go in our itinerary. Be sure to get here before sunset for the best view of the city.

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(Kids under 18 are not allowed out on the open deck)

From above BKK doesn’t look so dense, quite spread out and sprawling. Too bad that day we were there it was overcast, so no sunset to photograph.

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(one of the many, many, many temples in the city)

It was happy hour at the bar, so we got an extra bottle of Chang / Singha / fruit juice for the price of one.

And yet the day isn’t over for us. For a late dinner, we took another tuktuk to Siam to try this somtam place I read about, called SomTam Nua. At all times of the day, there is a long line of people for the restaurant, mostly the young and trendy set.

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The line moves fast, we hardly waited 15 minutes. in the meantime, you can take your order first. So what is the fuss about this place? They have a few popular dishes, but since we ate too much peanuts at the Sky Bar, we only tried two – their mango salad with crab (som tam) and fried chicken. the latter alone is worth the trip here and queueing up.

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After being out walking and eating for more than 16 hours, it was back to hotel. the kids still had energy to surf the free internet at the lobby.

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Later it was some TV and then end of Day 2. A very long day, which started at 6am.

Next – the family take on Chatuchak.

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