Posts Tagged ‘bangkok’
Wat Pho is one of the most-visited temples in Bangkok and it’s one of the most photographed. So when I returned to the temple last weekend, I deliberately tried to stay clear of the crowds as far as that was possible and explored some of the quieter corners of the complex.
I like going to museums. But Thailand’s National Museum in Bangkok is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s like one of those fairy tale places that have fallen under a spell and are asleep for a hundred years.
The strange thing is that hardly anyone in Bangkok seems to be aware of the National Museum. My taxi driver didn’t even know where it was and had to ask for directions on the way.
The museum is a very quiet place. Fallen out of time. There were hardly any other visitors at the museum the Sunday I was there. Almost the only life you saw were middle-aged Thai ladies placed in every exhibition room as museum guards – more softly snoozing than supervising the visitors.
The museum’s collection is eclectic. Everything from golden Buddhas to royal porcelain and a shell collection. From doll houses to the royal funeral chariots and a collection of shadow puppets.
All exhibits all seem a little dusty, like someone put the together fifty years ago and then forgot about them. But all in all very charming and just the place to go if you’re looking for a little quiet time in Bangkok.
I was ready to head back to my hotel after having walked around Chatuchak Weekend Market for the better part of the morning.
I was tired and looking forward to my hotel swimming pool, a nice cool drink and some relaxing music from my i-pod.
But when I got to the lower level at Kamphaeng Phet subway station, I was in for a surprise. And that surprise made me forget the pool, the drink and the music for another hour.
Here in this subway station was the entrance to an underground shopping mall. An Idea Market that is only open on weekends.
A mall especially for young designers
Some of the designers at Kamphaeng Phet already had their own shops where they sold their own lines of fashion, gifts or perfumes.
Others, however, were just getting started and obviously couldn’t afford renting a store yet.
They had spread out their goods on the floor in front of them – pretty much like kids selling old toys at a flea market.
Some of these vendors were selling interesting stuff that they were making themselves on the spot: designer bags , jewelery, hand-sewn teddy bears or knit sweaters.
I never studied design at school, but I thought that some of those people at the Kamphaeng Phet Idea Market were pretty talented.
And the prices were very reasonable. I bought a pair of designer shorts at one men’s fashion store, which cost me the equivalent of four dollars. Can’t really complain about that…
I’ve been to Bangkok dozens of times – it’s the hub I always have to go through when I’m travelling to another Asian country on business.
But if I thought I’d seen all the major sights in Bangkok, I was proven wrong on this stay.
I finally managed to head out to the Chatuchak Weekend Market. So far, I’d always thought it would be too far out (way in the north of the city). But I guess I must have had things a little wrong.
Yes, the weekend market is on the outskirts of Bangkok, but the city’s new subway has a stop right in the center of the market.
Actually, you can choose between two different subway stops if you want to get to Chatuchak – that might give you an idea how big this weekend market is.
It’s billed as the world’s biggest market
You can reach Chatuchak Weekend Market by getting off the Chatuchak Park subway stop or by getting off at Kamphaeng Phet Station. I’d recommend the latter, because that lands you right near the market’s entrance gate one.
Gate one is a good place to start because this is where you can pick up a market map. And believe me: if you don’t want to get lost or risk missing the best parts of this huge market, it’s a good idea to take one of those maps along.
Chatuchak is the only market I know that actually publishes a map. This market is really almost the size of a small city.
To make life on the shoppers a little easier, the market is subdivided into streets and 28 sections. In some sections, you’ll find t-shirts, in others handicrafts, pets or antiques.
There’s no way to say how many vendors sell at this market. I’ve seen numbers published from 10 000 to 15 000 stalls.
The selection is overwhelming
I think you should be able to find any product made in Thailand on this market. And at great prices.
I couldn’t believe how cheap Thai souvenirs were at Chatuchak.
(Sorry if I’m beginning to sound like an info-mercial, but I was really overwhelmed by this place.)
Whether it was Thai silk, wood carvings, mother-of-pearl or porcelain – everything I saw here seemed much cheaper than at retail stores throughout the country.
I guess you pay something close to the retail price at Chatuchak Weekend Market.
Facts and figures
O.k. – after all the raving, here some fast facts for those among us who love numbers and figures: Chatuchak is supposedly number one in the world when it comes to weekend markets.
Other sources are a little more cautious and just say it’s “…one of the world’s largest weekend markets.”
Chatuchak covers some 28 acres and has over 200 000 visitors each Saturday and Sunday. The large majority of those visitors (approximately 70 %) are Thais.
So you see that this isn’t your average “let’s rip off the tourists-market”.
It’s a place where the Thais come to shop (which explains some of the sections of the market: furniture, plants, pets – I guess you wouldn’t carry any of that home in your backpack after an Asian vacation…
Oh, and two more interesting trivia: Chatuchak Weekend Market has its own little electric train that drives shoppers around the market for free.
And – unlike markets in Europe or the US – it also has booths that offer foot massages for those who just can’t take another step.
My friend Sandro is a flight attendant. In his blog, he recently wrote about flying to Bangkok with a pilot who is about to retire.
This flight was going to be one of the last ones for the pilot.
When they arrived in Bangkok, the pilot invited the whole crew out to dinner.
And to thank him, they sang a song for him after their meal: Leaving on a Jet Plane by John Denver.
The next morning, they sang it again for him – I guess as a double thank you and farewell.
According to Sandro, singing this song for crewmembers who are retiring, quitting or leaving the company is a tradition among airline personnel.
I didn’t know that and thougth it was kind of touching.
In addition, the idea of the whole happy cabin crew singing just made me smile.
Wouldn’t it be hilarious if the flight attendants also sang on the plane during their emergency-exit-oxygen-mask-routine? I mean, what would lend itself better to a musical number than this cabin-crew-choreography before every flight?
That has no style whatsoever! I paid for the live show!
More music on airplanes
Speaking of song-and-dance routines and music in general on airplanes: a few years ago, I was on a flight to Spain. It was a pretty rough flight and as soon as our plane touched down, the crew played some soothing music over the cabin sound system.
The first song the passengers heard was Time to say good-bye by Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli.
When that was over, the next song was Who wants to live forever by Freddy Mercury and Queen.
I always wondered if they’d played those songs in reverse order during the flight in case those turbulences had gotten worse…
Lunch at a royal palace is something pretty unusual for me. But on my last day in Bangkok, Dusit Palace is really where I had my lunch.
O.K. – so it wasn’t exactly a 15 course state lunch with the Royals at one of the palace’s banquet halls. It was a modest snack at a nice little restaurant next to the Moorish-looking Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall.
The place caters mainly to the employees working in the different museums housed in the palace complex.
But still: for me, eating at this little restaurant was lunch at Dusit Palace! Sitting there on the restaurant’s porch, looking out into the lush royal gardens, I felt just a little blue-blooded.
I didn’t even mind that Thailand’s King Bhumibol hasn’t been seen at this palace for ages. I still enjoyed my lunch – even without him.
Caught in the rain
The pouring rain forced me to sit under the roof of that porch much longer than I’d planned. There was just no getting away without getting totally soaked.
After almost an hour of torrential rain, the palace gardens, the paths and roads were ankle-deep under water. The earth and the gutters just couldn’t absorb that much water in such a short time.
Should the Thai king, by any chance, ever visit Dusit Palace and suddenly get hungry, I could definitely recommend this little restaurant.
He should just make sure he doesn’t go to the big tourist eating joint at the main entrance – that has absolutely no charm whatsoever.
But at this small place next to Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall, he’d be able to chat with the locals, meet his staff, so to speak. I could recommend the rice with prawn with chilies and hot basil leaves stir fry. At 85 Thai Baht (1,65 Euro or 2.60 US Dollars), this dish wouldn’t even leave a dent in his the royal budget.
And when the waitress brought my change, I realized that King Bhumibol was there with me after all…
Taking a taxi in Thailand isn’t easy if you’re a foreigner who doesn’t speak the language. This morning, I wanted to take a taxi to Vimanmek Mansion for some sightseeing.
The place was recommended in Thai Airways’ in-flight magazine as one of the lesser-known, yet worth-while sights in Bangkok. “Famous as the world’s largest teakwood building, Vimanmek Mansion is set in spacious green gardens…” it said in the magazine. Reason enough for me to go there.
Off the beaten track…
The first taxi I got into didn’t know what the hell I was talking about when I told him I wanted to go to Vimanmek Mansion. I showed him the page from the Thai Airways magazine, which I’d cleverly torn our and saved, but that didn’t help either.
My taxi driver couldn’t read the name Vimanmek because the Thais have a different alphabet. And the picture in the text didn’t look like anything he recognized.
So after some shrugging, smiling and friendly explanations (I presume) in Thai, he pulled over and let me out of his car.
In the next taxi, things got off to a familiar start. This time, however, the driver called someone on his cell phone and then handed it to me.
I guess the person on the other end was supposed to be able to understand me and then explain to the driver where I wanted to go.
So in the friendliest and most arti-cu-la-ted way I could, I told the person on the other end: “I would like to go to Vimanmek Mansion.”
I heard a click and the line went dead.
But my taxi driver had his heart set on getting me to my destination, so he made another call. Again, he gave me the phone and once again, I tried to explain what I wanted to the stranger on the other end “Vimanmek Mansion. I want to go to Vimanmek Mansion.”
But I just got passed on to someone else. “Vimanmek Mansion. I would like to go to Vimanmek,” I told him, but his response in Thai was beyond me. “Vimanmek. I want to go to Vimanmek,” I said one more time. He hung up.
Frustration turns to puzzlement
I was almost ready to get out of the taxi in the hope that another driver might know this place, but my driver had already pulled up to a hotel and gotten the attention of the livered employee standing in front of it.
I can only guess that what he then said must have been something like: “Oh, you want to go to Vimanmek! Why didn’t you just say so? Vimanmek Mansion, ha ha, Vimanmek Mansion!”
But wasn’t that what I’d said all along?
I still haven’t figured out why episodes like this one happen so often when Westerners try to pronounce Asian words.
It’s always the same story: The Asians we address just look at us as though we’re speaking gibberish. We try to say the word again and again, until finally someone understands what we’re trying to say.
And then they repeat what we’ve said just the way we’ve said it (at least it always seems that way to me). But to our Asian counterparts, the way we said it must have been absolutely incomprehensible.
Maybe it’s the tonal thing – that we Westerners just can’t get the tonality of the words right. All we hear is the pronunciation, not the pitch or melody of the word.
By the way: if you’re ever in Bangkok and thinking about visiting Vimanmek Mansion, go! It’s worth it.
But you may want to ask a Thai to write it down for you in Thai script before you get on a taxi.