We, for years now take two short vacations – one in summer and the other in winters to coincide with our son, Ayush’s holidays. Last year (2017), we missed the winter outings as Deepika & I along with our housekeeper and Rolf relocated ourselves to Hyderabad in end-December. So, it was decided to go somewhere outside India for the summer vacation. Our partners (for last one decade, at least) in holidaying, Basu’s were more than ready because we were missing each other since the time we moved from NCR. Among the places of interest were Srilanka (but it was heavy monsoon in the region), Bali-Indonesia (the flight tickets were just too expensive), Europe (same + time crunch), Hongkong (just another expensive cramped city) and Phuket (via Bangkok to save few bucks). After much deliberation over two weeks of April, it was decided to take the last one – Bangkok-Phuket.
Once the destination was decided, it was time for the bookings, flight as well as hotel. Basu’s were to fly from IGIA-T3 but we were in a dilemma whether to fly together from T3 or Bengaluru (with Ayush) or Hyderabad (with Ayush coming over and flying with us). At the end because of demands of corporate world, it was decided that Ayush will fly from B’lore and we will take the flight from Hyderabad, all meeting at Subarnabhumi, Bangkok. We decided to fly VietJet from Bangkok to Phuket as it was way cheaper than Thai Airways for just an hour’s flight.
Next was the hotel booking, onus of which was taken by Sangeeta to check and finalize the hotels both at Bangkok and Phuket. She did a thorough and wonderful job by checking all the options and zeroing on the Novotel Kamala Beach, Phuket property. They were able to book through MMT but when I tried, it showed the property was sold out completely on the days of my choice. I tried other apps and the property showed up in Bookings.com which guided me to the hotel site Accor group. An email to the hotel with our requirements ensured a good package (below the rack rate) and the same was booked instantly. I must say, the response from the hotel was fast and professional and the booking was completed within few hours from the first mail. The next was booking of the hotel in Bangkok for one night; initially we were looking at the popular area like Sukhumvit, Pratunam but finally settled for Holiday Inn, Silom. The area was less congested with good amenities like transport and food joints.
Initially, we had thought of opting for “Visa on Arrival” at Subarnabhumi but considering the long queues with many flights landing simultaneously at that hour, decided to get our visa in India only. Basu’s got theirs well on time but because of hectic schedules and assignments to complete we were lagging far behind. Deepika & I submitted our application in Hyderabad while Ayush did it in Bengaluru just within 6 working days and hoped it would come before our departure as the guys at the Visa Centre informed that it takes about 5-6 days for the visa. Surprisingly, we got our visas on the 4th day after submission and our next job was to get the Thai Baht, I remember, few years back it was almost equal to INR but now it is just double. Anyways, with everything done for the vacation, we were relaxed and awaited for the D-day.
The only job left was to get the confirmation of the walker for Rolf and she came a day before our departure taking away my last bit stress for a relaxing holiday ahead.
DAY ONE (22/06/18)
The Basu’s were the first to reach Subarnabhumi followed by Ayush and lastly Deepika & I around 6:30 am local time. However, our immigration and baggage arrival was the fastest, so, not much time was wasted at the airport. We took two cabs to the hotel, Holiday Inn, Silom. The road from Airport to the hotel was superb, wide and pothole free but with heavy traffic. It took more than an hour to reach Holiday Inn, Silom. We dropped our baggage with the concierge and completed the checking-in formalities. We were assured of the rooms being ready by 11/11:30 am which was still about 2 hours later. We freshened up using the lobby washroom and went out to have breakfast and see around the place. The concierge suggested a Hindu Temple down the road which was accepted by the ladies in the group and we walked down to the temple, Sri Mahamariamman Temple. It is also known as Maha Uma Devi Temple and dedicated to Parvati, consort of Shiva. This temple was built by one of the early Indian settlers from Tamil Nadu, Vaithi Padayatchi in 1879 CE. In fact the road on which the temple is built has been named after him, Soi Vaiti or Vithy Lane in Silom, Bangkok.
After the temple visit, we went to Veranda Café & Restaurant for our breakfast. The place had a high rating on Trip Advisor and lived up to its reputation. The café was small with 3 tables (12 pax) inside and another 2 tables (8 pax) on the verandah and managed by 2 women who seemed to be mother-daughter. The daughter was managing the counter and taking orders while the mother prepared the dishes. The food quality and quantity was good and we enjoyed our first meal on the soil of Thailand. Meanwhile, before this, Sangeeta wanted to try out Thai Street Food and bought some sausages on stick. Though it looked quite inviting but the taste did not appeal to me, there was too much garlic in it which spoiled the taste of the meat.
We strolled back to Holiday Inn and it was still some time before they will provide the rooms, so we went to the 7Eleven shop next to the hotel to pick up some water and beer. The shop also had a eatery section serving breakfast and coffee. We decided to try it out next day before leaving for Phuket.
We finally got our allotted rooms around 11:30 am local time, Basu’s on the 8th floor (#819) and ours on the 11th floor (#1125). We decided to meet after freshening up in about 90 minutes to go out for Bangkok sightseeing. Deepika had already booked a cab (Toyota Innova) for the purpose and between her and Sangeeta shortlisted the places of interest that we should visit.
We met at the hotel lobby around 1 pm and proceeded for our self customized tour of Bangkok. Our first stop was the Grand Palace.
The Grand Palace (Phra Borom Maha Ratcha Wang) is a complex of buildings at the heart of Bangkok, Thailand. The palace has been the official residence of the Kings of Siam (and later Thailand) since 1782. The king, his court and his royal government were based on the grounds of the palace until 1925. King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), resided at the Chitralada Royal Villa and his successor King Vajiralongkorn (Rama X) at the Amphorn Sathan Residential Hall, both in the Dusit Palace, but the Grand Palace is still used for official events. Several royal ceremonies and state functions are held within the walls of the palace every year. The palace is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Thailand.
In shape, the palace complex is roughly rectangular and has a combined area of 218,400 square metres (2,351,000 sq ft), surrounded by four walls. It is situated on the banks of the Chao Phraya River at the heart of the Rattanakosin Island, today in the Phra Nakhon District. The Grand Palace is bordered by Sanam Luang and Na Phra Lan Road to the north, Maharaj Road to the west, Sanamchai Road to the east and Thai Wang Road to the south.
Rather than being a single structure, the Grand Palace is made up of numerous buildings, halls, pavilions set around open lawns, gardens and courtyards. Its asymmetry and eclectic styles are due to its organic development, with additions and rebuilding being made by successive reigning kings over 200 years of history. It is divided into several quarters: the Temple of the Emerald Buddha; the Outer Court, with many public buildings; the Middle Court, including the Phra Maha Monthien Buildings, the Phra Maha Prasat Buildings and the Chakri Maha Prasat Buildings; the Inner Court and the Siwalai Gardens quarter. The Grand Palace is currently partially open to the public as a museum, but it remains a working palace, with several royal offices still situated inside.
Santanu, Sangeeta and I roamed around the grounds of the palace while Deepika & Ayush decide to explore the inner spaces of the Palace and the temple thereon. The funny part is, Sangeeta warned us that some the places we were to visit are very strict with ‘dress code’ and do not allow ‘shorts’ or ‘sleeveless uppers’ so we all had dressed accordingly but she herself was wearing a sleeveless top and had to buy a ‘I love Thailand’ kind of T-Shirt to cover up herself!!!
Our next stop was Wat Pho where the main attraction was the largest (150 ft) reclining Buddha statue.
Wat Pho, is a Buddhist temple complex in the Phra Nakhon District, Bangkok, Thailand. It is on Rattanakosin Island, directly south of the Grand Palace. Known also as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, its official name is Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm Rajwaramahaviharn. The more commonly known name, Wat Pho, is a contraction of its older name Wat Photaram.
The temple is first on the list of six temples in Thailand classed as the highest grade of the first-class royal temples. It is associated with King Rama I who rebuilt the temple complex on an earlier temple site, and became his main temple where some of his ashes are enshrined. The temple was later expanded and extensively renovated by Rama III. The temple complex houses the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, including a 46 m long reclining Buddha. The temple is considered the earliest centre for public education in Thailand, and the marble illustrations and inscriptions placed in the temple for public instructions has been recognised by UNESCO in its Memory of the World Programme. It houses a school of Thai medicine, and is also known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage which is still taught and practiced at the temple.
From here on we crossed the river (or canal) to visit Wat Arun. The road to the temple was like long winding staircase and reminded us of the roads to the hills of north India.
Wat Arun Ratchawararam Ratchawaramahawihan (Wat Arun, “Temple of Dawn”) is a Buddhist temple (wat) in Bangkok Yai district of Bangkok, Thailand, on the Thonburi west bank of the Chao Phraya River. The temple derives its name from the Hindu god Aruna, often personified as the radiations of the rising sun. Wat Arun is among the best known of Thailand’s landmarks and the first light of the morning reflects off the surface of the temple with pearly iridescence. Although the temple had existed since at least the seventeenth century, its distinctive prang (spires) were built in the early nineteenth century during the reign of King Rama II.
A Buddhist temple had existed at the site of Wat Arun since the time of the Ayutthaya Kingdom. It was then known as Wat Makok, after the village of Bang Makok in which it was situated. According to the historian Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, the temple was shown in French maps during the reign of King Narai (1656–1688). The temple was renamed Wat Chaeng by King Takshin when he established his new capital of Thonburi near the temple, following the fall of Ayutthaya. It is believed that Taksin vowed to restore the temple after passing it at dawn. The temple enshrined the Emerald Buddha image before it was transferred to Wat Phra Kaew on the river’s eastern bank in 1785. The temple was located in grounds of the royal palace during Taksin’s reign, before his successor, Rama I, moved the palace to the other side of the river. It was abandoned for a long period of time, until the reign of King Rama II (1809–1824), who had the temple restored and the main pagoda raised to 70 m. The work was finished during the reign of King Rama III (1824–1851).
By the time we were done at Wat Arun, it was well past 5pm and were hungry and tired having slept uncomfortably on the flight for less than 2 hours in the past 36 hours.
The call was to have an early dinner now or have some snacks/ fast food. The cabby suggested that we go to the Platinum Mall at Pratunam which had a large food court that surely will be to our liking. And indeed, it was massive with an array of cuisines that would lure every foodie on this earth. But unfortunately for Deepika and veggies like her, the place doesn’t have much to offer. Having explored all the options we settled on sandwiches for now and preserve some appetite for a nice Bangkok dinner. As I am writing this, I realized that we were so overwhelmed by the variety of dishes that I forgot to click even a single frame!!
Having satiated our hunger for the time being, we went to MBK Mall, the most recommended place by all those who have been to Bangkok. The MBK Mall is a gigantic version of our Palika Bazaar in Connaught Place, New Delhi. If you are not aware of the finer details of the brands, you can easily get fooled by the fake ones that abounds every shop in the mall. There wasn’t much that was irresistible so we picked up few tees and a cap (for Ayush).
We came back to the hotel around 7pm and decided to join at the Basu’s room for a drink before going out for dinner. Santanu bought a Glenmorangie, especially for this trip, all the way from IGIA-T3, and it was our moral obligation to devour it at the earliest opportunity. The advantage of having single malt is that all you need is couple of cubes of ice or just a little water!!
Deepika, Sangeeta and Ayush left early to search for a restaurant as Santanu and I decided to do justice to the glass of Glenmoragie. Ayush called to confirm the place – Café Ice Silom and gave a near perfect direction to the place from our hotel. The restaurant was nice cozy with outside seating options and a rating of high 4 on TripAdvisor. The best part was, they have nice selection of vegetarian dishes for the veggies like Deepika. Frankly, I was a bit high with Glenmorangie running in my blood to remember who ordered what except for me (glass noodle with shrimp) and Santanu (pumpkin soup). But knowing Sangeeta, she too must have had shrimps and Ayush had beef or pork. Deepika ordered Thai Green Curry with rice which looked quite inviting.
It was 11pm when we got back to the hotel and all we wanted was to crash on the bed. Next day, we had less than half day in Bangkok before we fly to Phuket. Basu’s wanted to do some shopping in the morning and said they will check with us if we are ready to go as we were too tired to make any commitment for the morning.
In the morning around 7:30 am, Sangeeta called to say that they were going out to Chatuchak Weekend Market to buy some stuff. We were in no shape to give company to them and asked them to go ahead. We took it easy and had our shower, packed our bags and went out to have breakfast at the Segafredo Zaneti Espresso, right next to our hotel. The food and the drinks, orange juice/ coffee were excellent and we thoroughly enjoyed the relaxed breakfast. Afterwards, we took a cab to the Sampeng Market which is quite like Sadar Bazaar Market of Delhi but much cleaner and far better organized. Deepika wanted to buy some small gifts for use later and an umbrella. I had forgotten my boxer shorts and wanted to pick up one. I ended up buying 2 dozen plus pens and other stationery items instead. The market was so spread out that one needed the whole day to just explore without buying anything. But we were constrained by time, so hurried back to the hotel to check-out and leave for the airport to catch our Vietjet flight to Phuket.