You’ve probably heard it… it’s so like Manila (yes and no) and that the traffic is terrible (do not delude yourself for ours is just as bad if not worse).
It has was never one of my favorite places until a friend’s constant prodding (”It’s all different now! You’ve got to see it!” - Cari) forced me to run out of excuses.
What a decade makes, right?
As we deplaned at Suvarnabhurmi (Say it this way: “su-wan-na-poom”) International Airport (named so by King Bhumibol Adulayej), I was instantly amazed. The airport is the first and last place you see of any country and can leave lasting impressions on you. Suvarnabhumi – which means “the Golden Peninsula” referring to the Thailand-Cambodia-Laos-Burma region -- is fully modern and spacious. It has two parallel runways to accommodate 76 simultaneous arrivals and departures per hour! Since we’re all eager to get out of the airport, we won’t be checking it out just yet.
The arrival area seems kind of long and its one hell of a walk. We must have been at the far end of the airport. But by the time we got to Immigration, there’s hardly anyone in line. The immigration counter had one oddity though… on the sample arrival card, the name neatly penciled in read: Potter, Harry.
When I asked the official why JK Rowling’s famous character’s name was used as an example, she smiled and replied in halting English: “Good book. Good movie.”
Who said that airports were lifeless and sterile? This one had some character (although our friend says that Suvarnabhumi is not functional).
It turned out that all the passengers we were with went to another immigration area that had long lines. For us, we breezed right through and were comfortably waiting for our luggage when the rest of the flight started arriving.
We took the airport taxi to our friends’ place that was some 10-15 minutes drive from the airport (we paid 850 baht for the ride...urgh!). The ride was pretty quick since it was late in the evening. From the airport, you could instantly see how Bangkok has changed since like a decade ago. For all the criticism levied at former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, he brought the country to the 21st Century.
Nongbon Prawet is an exclusive subdivision in the outskirts of the city proper. Its got a lot of greens and a clean nice neighborhood that’s home to many Chinese-Thai and Caucasian expats. Almost every street has a guard. Talk about security.
When you hear the world “Thailand” or “Bangkok” a couple of things come to mind: traffic, the temples, the King, Thaksin, food, that Bangkok is sinking at the rate of two to four inches every year.
But you gotta give them credit for their hospitality. You can see how people here are really polite, law-abiding (“The crime rate here is so low because people here are lazy,” explains our Thai host), and really warm. Their wai is such a nice and respectful gesture. You simply have to return it.
Baht aren’t we going shopping?
Going sight-seeing in Bangkok, we took a cab from our friend’s house to the BTS Skytrain station at On Nut. The great thing about this city is they have a very efficient elevated and subway system running. And they’re clean too. We paid 130 baht for the Smart Pass that is good for a couple of rides before you have to reload.
From the east end of On Nut, it’s 10-stop ride to Siam that’s in the north junction. Siam stop deposited us in the heart of trendy Ratchaprasong. It’s like rush hour yet the train isn’t packed like sardines the way our MRT is. Of all the subways and els I’ve taken from the US to Japan to the rest of Asia, the trains here are the only ones with strap-ons (or strap hangers as they say in NYC) close to the door way. Isn’t that cool that they have the safety of its passengers in mind?
We check out the inter-connected malls and hotels along Sukhumvit – the Siam Paragon, Siam Center, and the Siam Discovery Center. Yeah, malls. I know. There’s so much to see but this stretch of malls along Sukhumvit is just some place you have to check out. Siam Square is over here and if you’ve been to Japan you’ll be reminded of Shinjuku Square and London’s Oxford Square. This is like a common ground for a lot of activity and entertainment.
One reason why we had to go here was I really was looking for a good book and music store (sorry, but as much as I like Fully Booked it’s still no Barnes and Noble).
There are two bookstores in Paragon – Asia Books and Kinokuniya. If you’re looking for a quick browse then Asia Books in the 2nd floor is it for you. But if you’re looking to spend some time looking around and reading then Kinokuniya in the 3rd floor should be your destination. It’s way bigger and has much more selections. But… it’s cheaper at Asia Books by around 10 baht per book or magazine. So if you’re budget conscious you know where to go when in Bangkok.
Paragon is also home to the two-storey Ocean World (10,000 sq. m of 30,000 marine creatures from 400 different species). But its kinda expensive 700 baht per pax.
Centre World another mall that is like a 10-minute walk from Paragon has an even bigger book store B2S. And they’ve got CDs and DVDs as well. Unfortunately, they were all out of the books I was looking for: Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch (please not the US version about the Boston Red Sox… booo!) and graffiti artist Banksy’s Wall and Piece coffee table book. So I settled for a pair of magazines at Asia Books: Four Four Two (with Kaka on the cover) and World Soccer (with Francesco Totti on the splash).
It was here where I picked up Deftones’ latest album Saturday Night Wrist. Other than that there are few selections here that you won’t find anywhere else. If you’re looking for CDs, the best place to purchase in Asia is Hong Kong and Japan. Thailand… well, there are lots of other stuff to buy.
MBK Center (It’s full name is Mahboonkrong) is like Market! Market! to the max. It’s eight floors high and 330 meters long and has 2,500 shopping and eating stalls/booths. It’s a short walk to the west of Paragon (but if you’re coming from On Nut, you can get off at Ratchathewi then it’s like a three-minute walk) where you can take the pedestrian overpass then go right through the Tokyu Department Store but not before you get a shot against the façade of one of Asia’s largest malls like we did.
I bought Tamarind sweets for my mum, some cool looking shirts for my family, and a Liverpool FC knock-off of Fernando Torres’ jersey.
Look… this isn’t a department store so you can haggle. I helped a Spanish couple get a good bargain (yes, I still speak passable Spanish) that didn’t endear me to the seller. Hahaha. But I got away with 30 baht for the Tamarind sweets and 90 baht for the shirts (they were retailing for 100 baht). Football knock-offs vary from 350-700 baht depending on what it is, the name behind the jersey, and its make – they have different classes of it s make from superior to cheap production). The LFC kit was docked at 650 baht but I would have none of it. I got it for 475 baht.
Dude, if you’re a football fan, they’ve got an Arsenal Store at Centre World. You can go crazy inside. I would have bought a Francesc Fabregas kit were there one. Centre World has an okay adidas and Nike store. They sell only the popular clubs here like Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan, and Bayern Munich. But right before the start of the football season, they also display club kits like AS Roma, Newcastle, Valencia, and Schalke 04.
I’ve got around 30 or so original kits but the ones I’m still looking for are: Del Pierro Juventus, Franck Ribery’s France kit, Van Nistelrooy’s Real Madrid, Thierry Henry’s Barcelona, and Toni Luca’s Bayern Munich.
My fave kits: Zidane’s France 2006, Zidane’s Real Madrid, my Liverpool home and away kits, and my Argentina national kit.
Chatuchak Weekend Market (35 acres of about 15,000 stalls of goods) is another bonanza for your baht. I was only able to stay here for like 15 minutes before I left ahead of everyone else. I had been nursing a fever for about a week now and it hit me at the worst possible time.