Friday, October 26, 2007

Bangkok Day 1: Rattanakosin

Blah. Didn't sleep well, and having an early 7.10am flight. The problem with budget flights is not so much the less-comfortable seats, the lack of in-flight entertainment or not having any food on board.

It's the crazy hours they fly and how the gates budget airlines are assigned tend to be the one furthest away from the customs area, leading to a very long walk while you're already all tired dragging along your luggage.

Take a gander at the departures and you see that the Jetstar flight to Hong Kong flies off at an unearthly 6.40am. Tiger and Air Asia flights are even earlier, and they take off from a deserted Budget Terminal far from the rest of the airport to boot.

But hey, beggars can't be choosers.

Met QY, and off we checked in, to fly to Bangkok for a 4 day holiday that we'd planned all by ourselves. It's raining alot in Singapore, and hopefully we'll jet off to sunny weather!

It's an early 7.10am flight from Singapore to Bangkok, on Jetstar. Out of the 3 main budget airlines - Jetstar, Air Asia and Tiger Airways, Jetstar has the best price for the days I'm flying. It's supposedly the best of the 3, having flights from Terminal 1 instead of Budget Terminal, and it's known for decent seats. What more, you can pre-select your seats online the way you'd do when booking movie tickets.

A Google Earth comparison of the Airbus A380 and the A320. Budget airlines almost invariably use the diminutively sized A320 or similar Boeing 737, which are about half as wide and half as long as the A380. The A320 sits in a 3-3 configuration, as opposed to the wide 3-4-3 of the 747.

Hard leather seats. Not the comfiest, but they work fine for a 2h flight. Legroom is surpisingly decent. Yay, I'd fly Jetstar again.

The OCD'd pilot literally flew around the big clouds rather than through them, which was excellent in terms of avoiding even the slightest bit of turbulence, but I wonder how many turns the wings can withstand safely within its lifespan!

Oh noes! The wing is starting to break apart!

The trailing edge had started breaking apart too! But gladly, we're pretty close to land already.

And just as we landed, the whole wing broke apart!

Nah. Joking. The trailing edge ones are just one of the high-lift devices, flaps, so that the plane can maintain height while slowing down for a smoother landing. And the ones on the top of the wing are spoilers to rapidly slow down the plane.

Bangkok's brand spanking new Suvarnabhumi (don't ask me how to pronounce that!) Airport looks pretty utilitarian and minimalist, with the typical glass-on-metal frame design that's all overused these days. Reminds me of Hong Kong's almost-equally new Chek Lap Kok Airport.

Airport Express bus (150 baht per person, taxi would work out to be slightly more for 2 people) to the hotel area, which dropped us a little distance off the hotel. As it was early, traffic was exceptionally smooth.

Traffic in Bangkok is busy. Like some say, the biggest parking lot in the world is, well, the roads of Bangkok.

In Bangkok, there are many modes of transport.

There's the canal boats, which speed on from place to place faster than you can ever do in rush-hour road traffic. And that's for 8-10 baht, or a third of a Singapore dollar.

Or buses. They're pretty run-down and the small old non air-conditioned ones are only 7 baht.

BTS, or Skytrain as some call it. It's pretty pricey (25 baht and above, 100 baht for a 1-day unlimited pass) as public transport goes, but it's fast and comfortable.

Taxis in various bright colours. They use Corollas rather than the Crowns we have in Singapore, so it's pretty crammed.

Motorbikes and scooters, all loaded.

And there's tuk-tuks, all famous for scamming tourists, and probably more expensive than a taxi. AVOID THEM AT ALL COSTS, no matter how the VISA advertisements glamourised them.

Checked in early at 10am (By right, it should be 12pm) at Bangkok City Inn, which is well-recommended by many travellers, Singaporeans especially. It's a 2-star hotel that runs to about 40+ Singapore dollars a night if you book early.

But really, it's closer to a 3-star hotel. They provide toiletries, but no hairdryer or kettle. There's a fridge though so you can cool your drinking water overnight. Rooms are clean, but the beds sure are HARD. The reception staff are friendly too.

The area looks safe and quiet. The closest you get to sleaziness is a hotel named Aphrodite Inn and a carving of a naked lady at a shop that's never open.

But the clincher is - the location is exactly in the middle of the shopping district and right next to a huge supermarket called Big C (for your drinking water, snacks, FBT clothing, alcohol, everything). We went there every day of our 4 days, so yes, that did matter alot to us.

Not to mention, Pratunam Market (cheap tees galore), Pratunam Centre, Platinium Fashion Mall, Pantip Plaza (the Sim Lim Square of Bangkok), Central World Plaza (high-end shopping and food) and the BTS rail station are ALL within walking distance.

And thus, what better way to explore the area than to walk?

The people in Thailand love the king alot. It's King Chulalongkorn's memorial day the next day, and posters are up everywhere. The people of Thailand wear yellow armbands that say Long Live The King, in the same style as those Livestrong bands which were the rage a couple of years ago.

Not only that, every Monday is the King's day, and loyal supporters wear yellow shirts with the King's crest on it.

MBK is a biggish shopping centre catered to fashion and everything hip and happening, but it has sadly become a tourist's place, where prices are inflated and locals hardly buy from the shops there any more. Stopped by to have lunch at a ramen place, and I got a tom yum ramen.

Mildly tasty, but what surprised us is the price of 60 baht, which is around $2.50 in Singapore dollars for a ramen!

Mango sticky rice, but sadly, the one in Thai Express in Singapore is way better.

Walked towards Rattanakosin, which is the Old Bangkok where all the traditional sights are, passing by various sights along the way.

Passed by the National Stadium and the sports shops surrounding it, selling fake football jerseys of various quality.

Metal smiths, carpenters, we passed by them all.

Naked mannequin shop!

And finally, Golden Mount.

Tiring! Continued making our way west.

Giant Swing.

Democracy Monument.

Ministry of Defence and its cast-iron cannons.

City Pillar Shrine.

And into Sanam Luang park, the royal park where children fly kites and feed pigeons - there are really aggressive touts that sell corn kernels for feeding the pigeons. These touts literally shove the packs of corn at you and you gotta try to avoid them like the plague.

Really tired, feet achey. Totally exhausted after all that walking! And a bus ride on a old rickety bus for only 7 baht back to the hotel area.

Stinky, smokey and the bus doesn't have doors.

Back to Central World Plaza near the hotel for food.

Sizzler's is excellent! For 200+ baht, you get a good chicken steak cooked in BBQ sauce - easily the best I've tasted in a long while, and a baked potato, and unlimited dips at the salad bar which was excellent to say the least.

The salad bar's got clam chowder, a good selection of veges for your fibre, edamane peas for your protein and lotsa fresh fruits for your vitamins.

Full and satisfied! Figured, with the amount of walking I do, I won't get fat on gorging like this. Sizzler's there is way better than what it was in Singapore.

Night stalls outside Pratunam Centre nearby. There's some good stuff there, especially the T-shirts, that can go for 100-150 ($5-$8) baht if you bargain aggressively and wisely. Mostly obvious fakes, but some do look good.

QY was looking for copies of Louis Vuitton purses that seem to be the rage there, but they don't look that good when you inspect them closely.

Big C supermarket for snacks, drinking water and alcohol.

Alcohol isn't heavily taxed here and is half the price of Singapore's! 2 bottles of Spy cost 37 baht, which is, like $1.50 in Singapore.

Exhausting first day and looking forward to more!

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