Thursday, 28 June 2012

Bangkok Trip


I recently went for a free and easy trip to Bangkok. Here are some information / experience i gained that i hope will be useful to fellow travelers who will be exploring Bangkok on your own.

Getting to the City from the Suvarnabhumi Airport
After arrival at Bangkok Airport and passing immigration (brace yourself for the long snake queue. We took 30 minutes to clear immigration. Being one of the first to get off the plane helped, alot.), we followed the signboard to the Airport Rail Link. It is located on the basement floor. It is not difficult to spot. We took the city line. It stops at every station. From the Airport to Phaya Thai, it only took 30 minutes and cost 45 baht. There is another express line that  starts at the airport, skips all stations and brings you directly to either Makkasan or Phaya Thai. This ride takes about 15 minutes and costs 90 baht (according to Wikitravel). I did not spot any sign for it. I suspect the train will "state" it is an express line? I'm not sure. There is a ticket machine (or 2) that accepts notes for purchase of train tickets (or tokens in this case). I'm fairly sure the largest denomination it accepts is 100 baht. You can change at the passenger counter for small notes if you only have 1000 or 500 baht notes.

Getting around the City via BTS (our mrt) (
As our hotel was located right next to the BTS, we were able to travel almost everywhere via the train. Train comes frequently. Like every 2 to 3 minutes. There is a guard located at the platform. He blows the whistle! The whistle warns the passengers that the train is approaching, to signal the driver to close the door and to signal the driver to open the door (after it is closed) because there are more passengers rushing up to get onto the train! The trains are new and air-conditioned. It is a fast and convenient way to travel. The ticket machine looks like the old ones we had in Singapore! Very nostalgic.
BTS Ticket Machine

Asia Hotel
We picked Asia Hotel to stay at because it is practically linked to the BTS station (Ratchathewi). We took the Airport Rail Link to Phaya Thai (45 baht) and changed to the BTS to Ratchathewi (15 baht) which was 1 stop away. Please note that you have to buy a separate ticket at the Phaya Thai BTS station. The hotel appeared to be old on the outside and in the lobby. However the room was ok! Big spacious and not too old. There was a LCD TV in the room with cable TV (though reception is not great on every channel). There was no queue at the reception counter when we tried checking in at 3pm local time. Checking in was pretty much a breeze. The receptionist giggled when i asked if there are windows in the room. I suppose she got asked that alot, considering i heard from my sister some rooms do not have windows! The breakfast buffet was average. There is a "security guard" at the lift lobby who will press for the lift when she sees you and greet you with a bright smile whenever you appear. There were 2 minus points - 1) there was NO FREE WIFI, 2) remember i was talking about the guard whistling at the train platform? We can hear it in our room but it wasn't too loud. However, our overall experience at the hotel was good. We made our booking through the hotel website ( Even though it says for 3 nights consecutive stay, you get a 1 day BTS unlimited ride pass, the receptionist said because our's was a discounted price, we were not entitled to the pass. Sad.
Asia Hotel Room
Asia Hotel Toilet

Calypso Cabaret
Part of the reason why we booked Asia Hotel was also because the Calypso Cabaret is right at the hotel. There are mostly good reviews on the internet about Calypso. We booked our tickets through their website ( It's 900 baht per pax. If you go to the counter for tickets, its 1,200 baht. The ticket includes a drink (beer, gin, whiskey, hot tea, soft drinks). You may wish to reserve your tickets early because the cabaret is quite popular. It was full house on the night we went. We made the booking 1 week in advance and were given front row seats!

The show itself was not too bad. But it's not fantastic either. Its probably one of those culture shows you have to see (if you haven't seen an "ah-gua" show before, like me). You can take as many pictures or videos as you want during the show! There were 2 performers who made me think "Are they really men?!?!?!" They are too pretty! I didn't manage to see them after the show when the free photo taking session took place. I was sure i could tell if they were men if i were looking at them up close. 

** Please note that Calypso Cabaret will be moving away from Asia Hotel in August 2012. Check their website for updates!

MBK Centre
MBK is THE PLACE to go to for good bargains. The shopping center sells all kinds of stuff. Clothes, bags, luggages etc. There were 2 things that drew us to MBK every day. One was the foodcourt situated on the 6th floor (not 5th, take note!) and the departmental store - Tokyu!

I would like to recommend a few dishes for you to try at the foodcourt. You need to purchase coupons to be used to buy food at the foodcourt. Unused coupons can be refunded at a separate counter on the same day. Sorry i didn't take any pictures of the food. I'm seldom the type who take pictures of the food before i eat them! Try the Fried Oyster at this stall in the picture below. It is essentially like our oyster omelette here but the very crispy version! Quite like those in Kuala Lumpur but better! It costs 75 baht. Worth a try. The bed of stir fried bean spouts goes well to take away some of the oily feeling. I saw someone ordering a squid version (not on the menu). Maybe you can try that if oyster isn't your thing.
MBK Foodcourt - Fried Oyster stall

I also tried the stew pork leg with rice at few stalls away from the fried oyster. I saw someone order stew pork leg + the crispy pork + rice. That's what i ordered too! Again, it's not on the menu but the server obliged. It cost 55 baht. The stewed pork leg was incredibly tender. I wonder how long have stewed it for. The crispy pork taste like our shrimp paste chicken here but with less shrimp taste. This dish also comes with some mui choy (preserved veg).

When in Thailand, we have to have dessert! There is sticky rice with mango at the dessert stall but it costs 100 - 120 baht. I thought that was abit expensive. I might as well eat that in Singapore. I'm glad i picked the sticky rice with durian instead. It was only 50 baht. Granted there were alot less durian compared to mango (yes i spied someone's portion), it was still nice nevertheless. The durian was fragrant. Mixed with the sticky rice coated with generous and thick coconut milk, it was pure indulgence.

Last but not least, there is a crepe stall right outside the foodcourt. The crepe was surprisingly good. My sister ate the mango crepe 3 days in a row. I'm sure that counts for something! It cost 60 baht.

We did some shopping at Tokyu too. It is having it's annual sale from 16 June to 25 July 2012. Most items are having great discounts! For every 400 baht purchase you pay in cash, you get 40 baht voucher. If you pay with credit card, you get 20 baht voucher. For same day purchases of more than 2000 baht, you can do VAT refund at the store. It's like our GST refund. We found some great buys there! My sister liken Tokyu to our OG in Singapore.

Chatuchak is a weekend market that opens at 9am. Think a big pasar malam. Now, think a bigger pasar malam. Finally multiple 10 times that size, you'll get the size of Chatuchak. You'll find all sort of things there. Furnitures, clothings, kitchen plates, animals (we avoided that section) and food.You can get there by alighting at Mo Chit station on the BTS line. Follow the crowd walking to the market. It's less than 5 minutes away. There is a map available at the market that shows the various sections you are in. However it isn't of much help since most of the sections, despite the different colour code, most are named "clothing, food, miscellaneous". If you are looking for a copy of the map, there are available at the security post located at exit 2 and 3. I took a picture of the signage. Again, it doesn't give much information. We didn't buy much there as we weren't the bargaining sort. We only bought some t-shirts  (no doubt at an expensive price!) and some slippers on the outskirts of Chatuchak. The slippers were 49 - 59 baht. They were so cheap, no bargaining needed! Around 11am onwards, the crowd will start to come in and the temperature goes up. We left the place at 12pm.
Chatuchak Map

Chao Phraya Tourist Boat (
We wanted to do some sightseeing in Bangkok. Naturally the Grand Palace is the place to go to! We half wanted to book a tour but there were quite expensive. In the end, we decided to go on our own via the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat. Hop on the boat at the Central Pier. The pier is located right next to Saphan Taksin station on the BTS line. Take note of the boat timing. It comes every 30 minutes. For the tourist boat we took, it cost 150 baht for a day pass with unlimited rides. Although the boat comes with a guide who tells you which pier we are approaching and what are the sights available, his/her English isn't always very clear. When you purchase the ticket for the boat ride, a small booklet with useful information about the nearby tourist attraction at each pier is given to you. The timing of the boat ride at each pier is also printed on the booklet. Keep your ticket for the rides. With the help of the booklet, we managed to go to Sempang Market (Chinatown). We'll come to that later. One note of caution. The boat rides goes from the central pier to pier 13 (doesn't stop at every pier) then it turns around and goes back to the central pier while stopping along the way. You'll have to remember which way the boat is going to make sure you get on the right boat towards the right direction. If your boat is approaching, be sure to stand on the pier platform instead of sitting on the chairs. The boat will not call for you or wait for you!

One of the piers

Chao Phraya Tourist Boat

Inside Chao Phraya Tourist Boat

Grand Palace, Emerald Buddha Temple ( Wat Phra Kaew) and Sempang Market
To go to the Grand Palace and Emerald Buddha Temple, alight at the Maharaj Pier. Follow the crowd to of tourist to the Grand Palace.  It is as easy as that. You must be wondering why everyone else seems to know where to go except you. I have no idea why. I followed the crowd too! The general direction is to exit the main gates of the pier and turn right. Walk for less than 5 minutes and you will come to a T-junction where the Grand Palace will be in sight! I'm sure everyone heard stories about touts saying stopping tourists at the entrance saying the Grand Palace is not open etc, but we encountered no such incident. There were alot of tourists there, most with their own group tours. We felt safe there. No strangers approaching me. We quickly found the way to the ticket booth. Entrance to the Palace and Temple cost 400 baht. Take note that you should be properly attired. No slippers (although my sister was wearing her fitflops, there was no issue), no bare shoulders, no shorts, no short skirts for ladies. Although you can rent garments to wear at the entrance, there was a long queue for that. What's the point? There are free guided tours around the temple and palace at 10am, 10.30am, 1.30pm and 2pm. We signed up for the tour at a booth located near the entrance. The tour was given by one of the staff there. He was a funny man named Ken. He made jokes about his lack of girlfriend, money and Harry Potter. The tour lasted about 1.5 hours. It was very hot on the day we went. Be sure to bring water, umbrella and a cap!

Sempang Market is like a wholesale market place with narrow alleys. Buying in bulk means to buy 6 or 12 or more. Things are cheaper in bulk but you have to wonder what you are going to do with 6 umbrellas or 6 bags. To go to Sempang Market, alight at Rajchawong Pier. Once you exit the pier, you will see a main road. Walk along the main road for 5 minutes or so until you see a crowded alley on your right. You can start shopping around. Becareful not to get lost! Watch out for your belongings!

4D Cinema
We were able to catch 2 movies while in Bangkok. We caught them at Siam Paragon (Take the BTS line and alight at Siam station). One of the movies is a 4D one. It cost $16 (400 baht) on a weekday night. I'm not sure what is the price on a weekend. When you buy the ticket, the counter staff are kind of sneaky. They will select the more expensive seats for you to choose. We always tell them we want the cheap seats (yes we are cheapos). Usually the cheaper seats are on the sides or nearer to the screen. Back to the 4D experience, we caught Prometheus. It was a good experience since there are no 4D cinemas in Singapore at the moment, unless you count the one at Universal Studio. The seats move, vibrate and jerk at the right timing. There is wind blowing in your face, lights flashes and there was even some water spray. That's what 4D is all about!

We realised that the movie ticket price at MBK is around 50 Baht cheaper. But MBK doesn't have a 4D cinema and perhaps the seats are of a poorer quality? I don't know. A weekend ticket at Siam Paragon cost 210 baht while it cost 160 baht at MBK. The chairs at Siam Paragon were of good quality and you could lean backward on it.

Madam Tussaud
We also visited Madam Tussaud at Siam Discovery. I book the late savers tickets from the website ( Late saver tickets cost 400 baht. It is 50% less than the usual price but you can only visit the place after 5pm. It is ok as it closes at 9pm. 4 hours is more than enough for you to take pictures with every wax figure for more than 3 times! Right off the top of my head, these are the figures i found inside Madam Tussaud - Nicholas Cage, Brad Bitt, Angelina Jolie, Anthony Hopkins, Beyonce, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Justin Biebier, Tata Young, George Clooney, Johnney Depp, Will Smith, Jim Carey, Michelle Yeoh, Tiger Woods, David Beckam, Micheal Jackson, Jacky Chan, Muhammad Ali, Elizabeth Taylor, Queen Elizabeth, Albert Enstein, Beethoven, Pavarotti, Lee Hsien Loong, Ghandi, Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi, Obama and his wife, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts and some famous thai people i didn't recognise.

This is the end of my very long post. At the end of my visit to Bangkok, i conclude the people in Phuket are friendlier (I went to Phuket in Feb this year). Bangkok is no longer the land of smiles to me. It is Phuket! Maybe the people who sell you alcohol behaves differently from the people who are trying to sell you clothes? I miss Phuket. My heart is still there....

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Crispy Pata and Chicharrón (Easy version)


Crispy Pata and Chicharrón 

Through sheer luck and by the hands of fate, i decided to attempt a Chicharrón (deep fried pork belly fried in it's own fats!) recipe i stumbled upon the internet. By right, the you are supposed to boil/simmer the pork belly with some water for a few hours and let the fats seep out before turning up the fire to fry it. But half way through cooking, I was advised by my filipino friend that the pork sold in Singapore is unlike those in the Philippines! Apparently the pork sold in Singapore is thin and qualifies to be a spokesperson for pig slimming pills (if there were ever such a thing). Hence, it is almost impossible to get enough lard from the cooked pork belly for its own deep frying. At this point in time, images of pork fat cubes sold at Sheng Siong flashed across my mind. I could stir fry the fats until i get enough oil to fry the pork belly! Yes it's cheating but it's also a viable method. Unfortunately, there was no extra fats at hand. So i did the next best thing, throw the cooked pork belly into the deep fryer (yes with normal vegetable oil). I ended up with pork belly that was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside! I can only imagine how much more fragrant it will be if its fried in lard.
Close up Crispy Pata and Chicharron 

On the day of my experiment, I bought pork front knuckles as well. The idea was to boil them till tender and deep fry it to obtain a crispy skin. In my head, i figured that's how pork knuckles are done. That same filipino friend said its a popular dish they have in the Philippines - Crispy Pata! Boiling the knuckles made them tender. Deep frying them made the skin crispy. Not quite like the pork knuckles sold outside but a yummy snack nevertheless. Check out the simple and straight forward recipe below for a 2 in 1 treat!

Pork knuckles/leg/front or hind hock (Sold in Sheng Siong). Pick the ones with meat and skin!
Pork Belly (as much as you like)
All Purpose Seasoning (You can pick you own desired seasoning. To be sprinkled on the pork at the end of the frying)

1. Cut the knuckles and pork belly into small pieces. Note that the pork will shrink when cooking. If you don't want to end up with mini pieces, don't cut too small.
2. Put all the pork into a pot of water to boil and simmer. It's a bit tricky to tell you how long they should cook because it depends on how much pork you are using. Pork knuckles will take a longer time to cook and be tender compared to pork belly. I recommend 1.5 hours to 2 hours ought to be enough.
3. Drain the pork.
4. Deep fry in oil till crispy. It takes less than 5 minutes. Do not walk away! Watch the pork!
5. Sprinkle desired seasoning on the fried pork. Serve immediately.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Excursion to Batam (Day Trip)


I want to blog about my experience to Batam since while i was goggling the map for more information, there was very little i could find from local bloggers.

I went to Batam on a Saturday. Prior to that, i first had to decide which ferry terminal i wanted to alight at. Based on pure speculation, we picked Batam Centre to stop. We took Batam Fast's ferry. I called (tel: 6270 2228) their Harbourfront office on Friday to book the tickets. You have to get ready names, passport nos, dates of expiry and dates of birthday for reservation. Please check Batam Fast's website for the ferry schedule. The whole journey from departure to stepping foot in Batam took about 1hour and 15 mins.

On departure day, you are supposed to pick up the tickets at the counter 1 hour before the ferry departs. Being the kiasu Singaporean i am, i went earlier. We were supposed to catch the 10.50am ferry. I was at Habourfront to collect the tickets at 9.30am while imagining there was going to be a long queue of people. But i was wrong. There were only 2 people in the queue. I was given the tickets (aka boarding pass) and the arrival and departure forms all filled up! Very impressive! The total cost per pax for both ways including both terminal fees is S$47. You can pay by cash, nets or credit card. You will be given the boarding pass and an open ticket for the ride back. You have to book your ferry timing at the Batam ferry terminal with your open ticket. I suggest you book the timing upon arrival so as to guarantee a seat back at the time you want. Departure gate closes 15 minutes before departure time. Go earlier to avoid any unexpected delays from the crowd.

As my dad rightly pointed out, the exchange rate is slightly better in Batam. Upon arrival at the Batam Centre Ferry Terminal and exiting the customs area, turn right and there are 2 money exchange counters. The counter staffs practically waved at us in hope that we would go to their counters. Quite an amusing sight. Initially they quoted me 720,000 rupiah for S$100 which was the same as when i asked in Singapore. In the end i asked for more after telling her we were changing S$200. She gave us 730,000 rupiah for S$100.

Since we were going Isabella (based on Lady Iron Chef's review) for massage, there was free transport provided to and from the massage place. The driver was already waiting for us with a paper stating my name. He spoke almost no English at all. But it was ok. Pointing helps! Please email Isabella @ for their massage price list. Their response is quite fast. I picked the foot, hand and shoulder reflexology package while my friend picked the Aroma Therapy massage. It was 2 hours each and cost 200k rupiah. About S$30. The ride to Isabella is 15-20 minutes. The length of the journey is not long but the vehicle was travelling rather slowly. Safety first i guess. Isabella is right behind Nagoya Hill Shopping Centre. When we arrived at the centre, we told them we wanted to have lunch first and delayed our appointment time by 30 minutes. The staff were friendly and eager to serve. They gave us welcome drinks.

Lunch was A&W at Nagoya Hill Shopping Centre. After hearing my friends rave about A&W, i wanted to eat it too. But i was sorely disappointed by the poor quality of the food served. Do not think the chicken is big and juicy just like they were in Singapore. No! The chicken was small and dry. The curly fries was of a very small serving. And rootbeer float, is unfortunately about the same everywhere. There was not much shopping to be done at Nagoya unless you want to buy fake branded bags. There were tons. There was a hypermart at the basement. There was also a stretch of food stalls in the mall. A Ba Kut Teh shop caught our eyes but were were too full from the unsatisfying A&W. Maybe next time.

The massage experience was so-so only. Then again, massage is matter of preference. After our massage, there were a lot of people coming in but were disappointed as the place was fully booked. So its best to book before hand to avoid disappointment. We left for Batam Centre shortly after drinking free ginger tea at Isabella. I heard they are able to send you anywhere in the town area for free. Maybe next time we will ask them to send us to a seafood place.

Batam Centre is connected to Mega Mall (i think) via a overhead bridge. Mega Mall looks bigger and newer than Nagoya Hill Shopping Centre. We zoomed to the hypermart after restraining ourselves for the whole day. My friend bought a whole range of indo mee. Apparently their instant noodles are of superb quality. I bought 6 different types. Maybe i will blog about it when i've tried them. My unexpected gain from the hypermart was the 6 varieties of keropoks! I went crazy. I have never seen such keropoks before! I bought a bit of each and went home to fry. Check out the picture. I think the pinkish normal looking keropok (at the top right corner) tasted the best. Its supposed to be fish flavour. The rest tasted similiar, with exception of the rice one. 
I bought a pack of chicken marinate (ayam goreng) in hopes of making ayam penyet. I also bought a pack of mix for goreng pisang. I bought a pack of frozen puff pastry sheets, 750g for S$3. Yes i'm mad. I'll tell you if they are any good when i've tried them.

I conclude, massages and things at the hypermart are cheaper than Singapore's. But whether is it worth spending $47 just for an average massage and to get to a cheap supermarket, maybe not. I think i'll rather go Johor Bahru. Nevertheless, it was good to do something different for a change. The trip was rather relaxing after all the anxiety of planning for it.

For those who want to stay overnight, we spotted Harris Hotel (new and upgraded) right next to the Batam Centre Ferry Terminal. My friend says next time we go Batam, we'll go have Ba Kut Teh, go massage, check in at the hotel, buy loads of beer at the hypermarket, buy dinner and go back to the hotel for a pig out session. The next morning we can tan at the pool until check out, followed by seafood dinner before heading back to Singapore. Sounds like a good plan.