Monday, 31 March 2014

Day One in Vientiane

The train arrived at Nong Khai station around 8.50 am and I got about 10 minutes to purchase a connecting train ticket to Vientiane and get my passport stamped at the immigration check before boarding the train that scheduled to depart at 9 am. The ticket cost 300 baht, whereby 20 bath for the train and the balance for a bus shuttle from Thanaleng to Vientiane city center.

The immigration check at Nong Khai was fast, but its counterpart in Thanaleng was slow and directionless. I was queuing at the Visa on Arrival counter, but was told to go to the next window since I'm from an ASEAN country. When it came to my turn, I was told to fill up the arrival/departure card there and then. Would be more useful if we were given the card way in advance. All in all, the whole process took about 20 minutes, before getting the ninth ASEAN country stamp stamped on my passport. Yeahhh!!!

My happiness diminished slowly as I have to wait for my shuttle-bus-mates to finish theirs. At about 9.50 am, the bus departed and arrived in Vientiane city centre 30 minutes later. We're dropped off near the National Museum.

Since I have yet to arrange for my accommodation, I decided to tag along with another two first-timers to Vientiante. One is an American who is teaching English in Thailand and another one is a Japanese who is currently reading a law degree in Kyoto.

Andrew suggested that we take tuk-tuk to Sihome Guesthouse. The tuk-tuk driver asked for 40 baht each from the three of us, since non of us have kip.

To be continued...

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Day Two in Bangkok

Sal brought me to Old Siam Plaza for fabric shopping. The two-storey plaza was not that big and seemed to specialise in mature Thais' fashion. There is one section on the ground floor that sells Thai's delicacies.

In terms of fabrics, only one store (on the ground floor too) that owned by a Punjabi family offers some varieties of fabrics.

On the second floor, a lot of shops sell either thai silk or women dresses. Again, they seem to cater for professional or mature women. Also, shops selling jeweleries, shoes and women assessories.

Overall, the place is very clean and offers pleasant shopping ambience.

From there, we took a cab to Platinum Fashion Mall to collect some goods that we pre-ordered yesterday. Once again, I was surprised with the varieties of clothing and assessories offered here.

On the way back to Abstracts, we stopped at Tesco Lotus to buy travel-sized toileteries and fruits in preparation for my trip to Laos.

After a quick shower, Sal sent me to Hua Lamphong train station. At first, I thought of buying pad thai rice in case I feel hungry on the train or I could have it for my breakfast next morning. I am sure whether the guilt feeling of eating rice or the worry that it will be sploilt that made me to change my mind to buy buns instead. Pandan and taro/yem buns each and a 1.5l mineral water, plus some apples and bananas that I've bought earlier to accompany me in a 12/13-hour train journey. I tried to buy a reading material or two but cannot find any English magazines or novels. All are in Thai. What a good lesson for me not to forget to bring some from home.

The train did not depart at 8pm sharp and unlike my Bangkok-Butterworth journey in October 2013, I didn't wander around, hence didn't make new friends on train.

Only at the Udon Thani station, I realised that I'd left the charger at Sal's place and iPhone has already dead.

Another good lesson for me, I guess :)

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Day One in Bangkok

We started our day a short ride in motorcycle taxi to Phahon Yothin MRT station. I didn't try this mode of transport in my first two visit, so I was kind of excited at this new experience. The 2 or 3 minutes ride without any safety gear costs 15 baht.

The first stop was a clinic in Sukhumvit because Sal had an appointment at 10.30 am. Before we had our brunch, Sal brought me to a Doi Krom outlet, a Thai Royal project to raise the standard of living of rural poor. His Majesty had donated fund to build a manufacturing plant to process agricultural produce into F&B, and health and beauty products.

My first Thai dish for this year was a plate of seafood pad thai. This local restaurant boast a claim that their food was ranked by CNN Travel as Top Five's Best Food! The portion was generous with 'lauk' but contained very little rice noodles. It costed 135 bath with a glass of very sweet fresh bael juice.

With a full stomach, Sal and I went to Platinum Fashion Mall for our retail therapy. According to my host, this is THE place to shop fabrics and clothes. It is situated next to Indra arcade and near the Pratunam market. Here, you are entitled for wholesale price if you purchase in quantity of three. "One, normal price. Three, wholesale price", the common tagline used/adopted by the retailers there. After two hours of strolling the five-storey shopping mall, the time has come for a drink. We decided to join the crowd in Swensens for its all-time favourite, the creamy (and guilty) iced white tea. 

At first, we thought of taking cab to the Hua Lamphong train station to purchase advance ticket to Laos. It all changed when we failed to a taxi, and Sal suddenly saw the 'blue bus'. This is a free bus service sponsored by some rich people in Thailand for selected routes. Although the aim was to go to the train station, once again our plan changed with spontaneous idea to visit Rattanakosin Island.

According to the travel guide, the man-made island was created when King Rama I moved the Thai capital to Bangkok and ordered the construction of canals circling the royal city. Important landmarks here include the Grand Palace, Temple of the Emerald Buddha and Wat Pho. Nearby, there is a jetty (Tian Pier) for boats to ferry you to the other side of the riverbank. 

We took 8 baht boat ride to visit one of Bangkok's most spectacular sights i.e. Wat Arun. The temple is not huge, but it has a steep steps to the top of its porcelain-bedecked prang that gives nice view of Rattanakosin Island. We didn't stay that long because it was hot and we were sweating like pigs. We took the same boat (they call it ferry) back to Rattanakosin Island and strolled along the sourvenir shops near the Silapakorn University until we found the Bangkok Smiles Bike station.
Some of the architectures around the Old Siam
Sal came up with this wild idea of cycling our way to Hua Lamphong train station! I don't even cycle in Kuala Lumpur, and the last time I rode a bicycle was 2008 when my friends and I visited the Putrajaya Wetland Park. Frankly speaking, I'd never ride a bicycle in city, what more big and congested cities like Bangkok.

At the end, I managed to buy my train ticket and definitely we lost a few pounds from that 90-plus minutes ride. And not to forget, the golden opportunity to see the colourful life of typical Thais outside the touristic areas of Bangkok.

After returning the bicycles to the station which situated next to Tourist Police post, we had a leisure 5-minute walk to bring down our temperature. We found a halal foodstall near the Nagaraphirom Park and stopped for another delicious seafood pad thai. This one is cheaper (60 baht) and gave more rice noodles but less 'lauk'. 

By the time we finished our meal, the time is just perfect to view Wat Arun at sunset. So, we walked to the nearby Sala Arun, a boutique hotel which has an open deck cafe overlooking the Temple of Dawn. The sunset view of Wat Arun from Tian Pier side was kind of overrated to me. 
Enjoying the sunset overlooking the Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn)
After we finished our drink, we walked our way to the flower market. Ya Rabbi, I've never been to a market that sell flowers of this scale. And the flowers are cheap too! A two dozen-plus of red roses was only 40 baht!!! No way I can get such price in Kuala Lumpur. At least, I found one thing that is cheaper here in Bangkok than my hometown.
Colourful and cheap fresh flowers at the flower market

At 8 pm, we decided to call it a day and took a bus home. The bus fare was 8 baht in case you're wondering :) 

Sawasdee Khrap Bangkok

This is my third visit to Bangkok. Whilst the first one was in 2005, the second trip was quite recent i.e. in October 2013. My initial plan was to use Suvarnabhuhmi Airport as a transit for onward journey to Vientiane. Laos is one of two ASEAN countries that I've yet to visit. The other one is Brunei Darussalam.

It all changed when I received an invitation from an old friend, Sal who has just relocated to the Land of Smiles in October 2013, to crash at his place. His offer to show me around Bangkok had made me to bring forward my flight from Sunday to Friday.

My MH0769 flight landed safely around 11 pm and the immigration and security checks took about 30 minutes. I met Sal at Exit 3, and we took taxi to his residence in Lad Phrao/Chatuchak area. The cost of the taxi ride was 300 baht. Well, I hardly take cabs in Kuala Lumpur, so I cannot compare it with KL rate. According to Sal, living costs in Bangkok is trended upward and nowadays more and more things here come with higher price tag than in Kuala Lumpur, especially residential properties. His two-room condominium unit, for example, comes with a monthly rental of 25,000 baht. Even ready-to-wear clothes at Uniqlo and Zara will cost much less in Kuala Lumpur.

This piece of information has made me to reconsider my initial plan to a quick retail therapy in the capital city of Thailand.

Both of us retired around 2am, after a quick catch-up of what have happened since our last encounter in 2004.
The night view of Lad Phrao from the balcony of Sal's residence

Monday, 24 March 2014

Al-fatihah buat Penumpang MH370

Sedih dan pilu apabila mendengar pengumuman Perdana Menteri tentang berita muktahir penerbangan MH310 yang dikhabarkan berakhir di selatan Lautan Hindi.

Semoga Allah mengampunkan dosa-dosa mereka dan tempatkan arwah di kalangan hamba-hamba yang diredhai-Nya.

Takziah buat kaum keluarga para penumpang tersebut.

Sesungguhnya dari Allah kita datang, kepada Allah jua kita kembali.