Shop till You Drop (Thailand Day 5: Wed 27 June 2012)

©2012 Edward C. Lunnon

Written on Monday 30 July 2012: 5 years 10 months on … Advantage ED

The Shows would continue!  

And they did …

Our usual morning routine whilst on holiday was to get up at about 09h00, complete the 3 S’s (more S’s!) and then to proceed to the breakfast terrace, which at the Regent was open until 10h00 and in Phuket was open until 10h30. (In future, wherever you read breakfast, the procedure was basically the same as detailed here.)

So on our second day in Bangkok, we had breakfast at 09h30 on the Garden Terrace on the 5th Floor. Breakfast generally consisted of juices, fruit, cereals, various fish dishes, local Thai dishes, western dishes, eastern dishes, eggs in various varieties, pastries, cold meats, cheeses, breads, coffee, and as the King says in “The King and I” (or otherwise known as “Anna and the King of Siam “) “etc, etc, etc”!

Today was a shopping day, so the ladies headed off in one direction and we headed off south along Rajprarop Road in the direction of the Central World Centre. We were to meet up at 13h00.

On the map, the CWC is just about 2 kilometres south from the Regent. If you have been to Bangkok you will understand what one sees in those 2 kilometres. If you have not been there, let me try and explain (and please forgive me because no explanation can do any justice to the reality of this experience.)

The roads are filled with vehicles and the gaps between the vehicles are filled with scooters (something like filling a container with stones and then pouring sand into the container to fill the gaps between the stones!)

Working outwards from the centre of the road (and duplicated on both sides of the road), you get the traffic and then the sidewalk. On the sidewalk, with their backs facing to the road, you get stalls facing towards the sidewalk. The pedestrian section follows and then you have stalls facing towards the road with their backs towards the shops behind them, which also face the road.

In other words, the pedestrians – crowds of them – walk down a pathway in the centre of the sidewalk between two rows of stalls that face each other. Behind the inside row of stalls you find the open-faced shops that face the road, and often behind those shops you find tall high-rise shopping centres, and in those centres, you often find floors and floors of more stalls!

If you are confused, then that’s what the novice shopper is. Rows and rows of stalls (shops) working outwards from the road and for kilometres in front of you and behind you and left and right of you as far as the eye can see. And along every road that you can see, the scene replicates itself! 

So to walk two kilometres takes quite a while. Because you have lots to see and many merchants to bargain with … for clothing, electronic goods, souvenirs, materials, food, etc, etc, etc! (It’s no wonder the etcetera phrase is used so often in the play!)

The Central World Centre is a modern air-conditioned shopping centre similar to those that we are used to at home, but here you pay for the convenience of the air-conditioning, the assurance of the genuine brand-name, the price marked on the article and the absence of having to bargain! We spent time watching the latest 3-D TV equipment, looking at sports clobber, being massaged in elaborate lounge furniture and … and …

The unit of currency in Thailand is the baht and a convenient (though now inaccurate) method of conversion to our Rand is to divide the baht price by 4 to get the rand price. It makes things so much cheaper than they are here at home!

We strolled back to our rendezvous point with the ladies at the Platinum shopping centre. This centre is a 7-story clothing wholesaler and the girls had been here all morning. The boys climbed into the clothes, too!

Then we had a quick drink and proceeded west down Petchburi  Road and south down Phayathai Road to the MBK Centre – another more upmarket conventional shopping centre. Eight floors packed with 2,000 shops that sell everything from clothing, fashion accessories, handbags, leather products and luggage to furniture, cell phones, electric appliances, cameras, stationery and DVDs. MBK  is a beehive of activity, especially on weekends, when half of Bangkok converges to shop for bargains.

On the way there we passed a zillion stalls and popped into a 5-storey high electronics shopping centre. It was 15h30 and it was from there that I did my radio programme back home (at 10h30 SA time). Lance phoned me from SA and I chatted from the quietest place I could find in the Centre. It was also there that we had to buy an additional suitcase in order to bring back all the new clothing that was being bought. (All our SA clothing was far too hot and, anyway, everything is so much cheaper!)  

At MBK, the boys were starving and we did the unthinkable – we stopped in at a Burger King and a Starbucks – all so American and western!

Then it was home-time, and we had done enough walking. So we proceeded to the taxi rank and hailed two tuk-tuks to take us back to the Regent: a ride that also left me wondering in what direction we were actually going. The local drivers know all the backstreets and in order to avoid areas of traffic congestion, they often take side streets and alleys, making it very difficult to try and follow where they are going!

Back at the hotel, we had a swim in the pool on the 4th floor. Then at 18h30 we met in the foyer to visit the Baiyoke Sky Hotel – just a block from the Regent and the tallest building in Thailand with 88 floors. We went up to the rotating skyroof on the 84th floor and had a …. Singha, as the sun set over Bangkok and the darkness of the night and the brightness of the lights took over from the previous grey dusky urban scenes that we had witnessed from this magnificent vantage point.

Then taxi-time again! This time two proper vehicle taxis and we set off – who knows where and in what direction – but we were headed for the infamous Patpong Road (an “entertainment” district and night market), where we had supper (gross), did more … shopping (grosser) and watched a “ping-pong ball show” (grossest)!

It was just past midnight when my petrol ran out, and reluctantly I had to admit that I needed my bed. The rest of the group were hopping mad that I was breaking up the party so early – after all, the night was still a pup and they wanted to party some more!

The taxi ride back to the hotel seemed so much shorter than the ride there. I’m sure Patpong Road was far closer to our hotel than I had imagined!

It was already Thursday morning when I put my head down on the pillow. We had to get up earlier, as later on Thursday we were flying to Phuket and needed to get to the airport.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

Taken for a Ride (Thailand Day 4: Tuesday 26 June 2012)

©2012 Edward C. Lunnon

Written on Thursday 26 July 2012: 5 years 10 months on … Advantage ED

At 06h00 local time on Tuesday morning 26 June we disembarked and entered the ultra-modern Suvarnabhumi International Airport – straight into passport/ customs control and what would be our sauna for the next two weeks.

We were promptly met by our Royal Orchid Holidays tour representative, taken to our two air-conditioned mini-bus taxis and then left the airport.

As would become the norm throughout the trip, I sat in the front passenger’s seat next to the driver. I didn’t want to miss a thing.

The trip to our hotel in early morning rush-hour traffic took about an hour. Along the freeway into the city (driving on the left), as would also be the norm throughout the trip, there were pictures of the King and Queen of Thailand on elaborate bulkheads over the road, Shrines, Temples, run-down buildings juxtaposed by tall modern high-risers, green lush tropical vegetation, signs in the curvy Thai alphabet (usually also in English), and just more and more roads with more and more traffic!

The 40 year old Indra Regent Hotel was somewhere in the midst of a sprawling, busy Bangkok. At 07h00 we could not check in yet, so we completed the documentation, left the luggage and “hit” the City, hot and tired and in dire need of a shower.

First, we apprehensively ventured into the market in front of the hotel. This was our first taste of Thailand, and we reluctantly took those first bites.

“U wan t-shirtttttt … u wan t-rouserrrrr … u wan T-hai massaaaaaage … u wan t-ailormade soooot …  u wan ping-pong ball shooooooowwwww … u wanna buyyyyyyy … wha tju waaaaan t?” would be the ongoing chant of the next two weeks, coming at you from all angles and from all sides wherever you went – a high-pitched cacophony choir of Thai merchants selling themselves and their every ware everywhere!

I think it became a bit much for us and, after a short while, we retreated from the shopping and regrouped at the hotel to plan our next move. (More and more and more and more … and much more shopping would come later as we became more acquainted and more adventurous!)

And so, against all advice we had read in the books, we negotiated a “good” price with the owners of two “tuk-tuks” right in front of the hotel to take us to our list of the “temple, the Buddha and the river.”

I sat with my map in the front, but decided very quickly to close it. There was no way that I could follow where we were going, what direction we were going or where we were headed! I’d rather just savour the ride and look at the City!

Every picture tells a story and all the pics we took will tell far better what we experienced and saw.

But for a long while, we did not see “the Temple, the Buddha or the River.”! We saw the clothing shop, the suit shop, the jewellery shop and any other shop that we later learnt were the obligatory stops on any such “well-priced, negotiated” rides. The bulk of the payment received for such a trip came in the form of petrol coupons from the owners of the establishments to which we, the gullible tourists, were taken!   

But we were seeing Bangkok, and loving it!

It was only after some hours that we became emphatic and insisted that we had not yet seen what we had arranged with our drivers to see.

So we were then taken to the river, and to another “mate” of the tuk-tuk drivers who was just another component in the tourist supply chain – the boat owner!

Our ride continued – down the river and along the canals. Squalor interleaved by opulent temples and shrines were the sights of the morning. And in the quietest parts of the dirty canals we were introduced to the next cog in the tourist shopping experience – the floating shops that arrived from “no-where” and tried to sell us their wares – from beer to pot-plants!

The beers were passed into our boat (and would have been welcome given the heat and our jet-lagged thirsts!) but as novices to the bartering and negotiating skills required, we could not agree on a price and all the beers went back onto the “floating shelves”! (Later, some in the group, especially Phillip, became quite adept at negotiating “good” prices for anything and everything that one would possibly want to purchase!)

When we were dropped off to disembark at at a pier on the river, we were even approached by the “pier owner” to pay for those landing rights! It almost ended up in a scuffle when we refused to pay, and suddenly when people started appearing on the decks of all the boats moored there, I had visions of a Bruce Lee kung-fu fight taking place! Luckily not, and we were spared to continue to the Reclining Buddha and seeing one of the many temples and palaces.

 

Our weariness soon got to us and after two pm sometime we hailed a taxi (two) to take us back to the hotel to check in. We bargained a price (as one does for everything) and the children left in the first taxi and the adults in the second. I must say I felt a little bit anxious as I saw our kids drive off into bustling Bangkok!

What were a mere few kilometres on the map took forever, and at one stage we didn’t move for almost forty minutes. We just took in and savoured the traffic jam, the lanes of brightly coloured Japanese cars, trucks, taxis, bakkies, buses, tuk-tuks and scooters; the buildings; the parks; the shops and the seething mass of humanity that make up this smelting pot of human existence.

At last, in our room 1419 on the 14th floor, we had a shower, had a brief power-nap, and then ventured into the hotel shopping precinct, the Indra Shopping Arcade offering heaps of ready-to-wear garments and souvenirs, had our first Thai lunch, shopped and slept a brief while more.

Later that evening, we headed safely down a darkish street to find a suitable Thai eating place (always very tasty and very inexpensive), Singhas (many), red wine (from SA) and our many “cheers” on the survival of our first day in Thailand!

On our way back to the hotel, the traffic continued into the night … and the shopping continued in the night markets which had seamlessly sprung up and replaced the day markets when darkness descended upon the City.

At that stage, my humour left me and my surly side stepped in. No more for me … I returned to the hotel (bumped into and chatted to the Gotz’s from PLett in the lobby) and then crashed into my personal queen-sized hotel-bed. No wonder! It was Tuesday night and since waking up in Pretoria on Monday morning, I had been on the go for 45 hours (ironically, the number of ordinary hours allowed by law in South Africa for a whole week’s work)!

Thailand was called Siam in the past. The letter S seems to prefix many words that I could write much about. Suffice to say:

At an average temperature of 30 degrees and a humidity of 80%, we had sat, sauntered and swum on Day 1 in the steambath which is the society of Bangkok.

We had seen, smelt, sweated and savoured just some of the sights, sounds, splendour, sky, streets, signs, scooters, sidewalks, suburbs, swamps, skyscrapers, sunshades, supermarkets,  shops,  sanctuaries, sacredness, spirituality, security, salesmanship, service, salutations, speech, sincerity, spirit, sandals, shoes, shorts, suits, skirts, sarongs, satins, silks, sapphires, scenery, scents, smells, shelters, shrubs, suppers, soups, stir-fry, shrimps, sauces, Singhas, schools, scholars and souvenirs.

The shows would continue!