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) (http://www.bts.co.th/customer/en/main.aspx)
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|
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 (http://www.asiahotel.co.th/asia_bangkok.htm). 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|
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 (http://www.calypsocabaret.com/). 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 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.
Chao Phraya Tourist Boat (http://chaophrayaexpressboat.com/en/home/)
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!
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.
We also visited Madam Tussaud at Siam Discovery. I book the late savers tickets from the website (http://www.madametussauds.com/Bangkok/en/). 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....