Finding Family


I have always thought of myself as an independent and free-thinking person. Growing up, I enjoyed quite a few liberties, thanks to my father. He did not really restrict me with regard to new things that I wanted to do. And that allowed me to have the experiences I have had, to choose journalism, to work in television. I shouldn’t be harping on having been ‘allowed’ to do these things but I know I am lucky to have had the opportunity to do what I have done.

Today, I sit thousands of miles away from him. In a one-bedroom apartment. In a foreign land. Missing what I reluctantly now call my former/other ‘home’. They say it gets easy. But it hasn’t really been. For me.

I’m trying to find my foothold. I’m trying to find all things new. I’m trying to find joy in the smallest of things. I’m trying to find myself.

I recently read somewhere that Indian families never prepare their daughters for life in a different country. We grow up under the protection of our parents, and siblings if any. Parents help us decide every single step in our lives. From which course to study to which motorcycle to purchase to which job to take. And then, when we get married and move out, to a far off place, it hits us. Starting from scratch. Building a new life. Setting up house. Making it a home. Cooking three meals. Ensuring everything is clean. Bills to be paid. Groceries to be bought. It’s a slap in the face if you have never done any of this before.

Fortunately for me, the cooking, cleaning et al have been fairly easy to adjust to. It will never be the same as life was in your ‘home’. But I’m hoping to get there.

The toughest is building a new life. The things you once took for granted are all luxuries now. Not the financial kind. Though that’s there too.

Being able to walk out and talk to your neighbours. Waiting for the vegetable vendor to arrive at your doorstep to buy coriander and green chillies for 5 rupees. Deciding not to cook and instead head to the local fast food joint and eat some Chinese fried rice and Gobi manchurian. Going to friends houses, unannounced.

I did not necessarily do all of these things when I was back home. But the fact is I had the choice to. And now I don’t. These are all luxuries now. Or memories of when I did do them. It’s amazing how you remember the littlest of things and miss them from the bottom of your heart.

While all this is fairly understandable when you move abroad, the worst adjustment is family. No one tells you how much you are actually going to miss them. When someone tells you you are going to miss them a lot, it’s an understatement. No one can even begin to tell you how much you will miss them.

It continues to surprise me, even as I write this, how much I miss my family. And the thing is, you now have to set up your own family. I’m not talking about kids and all though the ‘Is there good news?’ always pops up in the most un-subtlest of ways from an over-enthusiastic aunt or ‘trying-to-be-funny’ acquaintance.

Setting up your own family meaning, now you are the lady of the house and your husband is the man of the house. You turn to each other for advice and discussion and when you hit a roadblock you can’t go running to mom and dad (I’m sure you can, but in the real world you do need to figure out your own stuff unless it’s earth-shattering that parents have to be involved).

The heartache comes in bits and pieces. The smell of freshly-made filter coffee reminds you of making it for your father back home. Looking at fresh flowers in the temple reminds you of the flower-seller hawking your street back home. Watching a TV show makes you try to remember the shows you watched back home. It’s a painful experience. But one that you need to overcome on your own, on your own time and terms.

The wave of sickness can hit you at the most unexpected of times. Don’t even get me started on how it feels when you are actually sick. You want nothing but to be back in that home of your growing up years, to lie down and be taken care of by your parents. A warm cup of milk is all it could take to yearn and crave to go back just one more time and savor everything that you once took for granted.

What I tell myself, every single day, is to try. Because that’s the first step to anything. Trying. Put one foot in front of the other. And try. Try to do better than yesterday.

And so, this new life is like a blank canvas. I get to start from scratch. How many people can actually do that?

I’ve got a new beginning.

Today, I get up at a time of my choosing and it’s a fairly ‘adult’ time to wake up, mind you. Because I know what lies in store in the day ahead and I’m prepared. I make my own rules and decide what I do on any given day. (I know. It’s called being an adult!)

This growing up, this sense of responsibility, this setting up your own family or finding family, is actually pretty cool. No one is forcing me to do it. I’m not unhappy about it. I’m actually enjoying it! And that’s the thing about new experiences. They happen, just like that.

Friends are family for me now. You have them as close as you want but they don’t step on your toes like relatives might. Going out is an event for me. Laugh all you want, but it is. For me. I make a big deal out of the smallest of things i get to do, because I want to enjoy every bit of it. I like holding on to these moments just for a second longer, afraid at times that it may never happen again, but delighted that it is happening.

I get to sit down and ponder things through. Like I’m doing right now, as I write this. This is an opportunity for clarity, for patience, for slow and steady.

I enjoy boardgames. I enjoy cooking (I don’t enjoy looking at a full sink because I’m the one who has to make it un-full). I enjoy reading. I enjoy sitting in the patio and watch the neighbors pets do their thing as the owners pick after in little poopy bags.

This is my life now. And I’m going to make the most of it.

My family is what I make of it. We are two now. We have each other. And that’s what matters.

I get to share all of this every single day with family who live across the seven seas. It’s painful, let me remind you again. But it’s what I have right now. And if you haven’t realized it already, I’ve come to appreciate the smallest of pleasures. And this is one such.

While I do miss the sound of the vegetable vendor shouting ‘Beans, Carrot, Brinjal’, or lighting lamps during Diwali, or navigating my way through crazed traffic, I’ve come to understand the peace and quiet that’s predominant here. It has allowed me time to find myself. To reflect on things gone by and people who have been.

Family is always here, there and everywhere. While my family is far far away, I have another family right here. Family is what you make it to be. It isn’t always about a mother, father, sister, brother and dog (or cat). It can be just two people. Or even friends. Or even acquaintances who could become friends. You build your life with what you have. And this is what I have now.

My new family has made me appreciate my family back home, a lot more. I love them even more. I have also come to realize that family isn’t always blood. They could be anyone who makes you feel comfortable and accepts you for who you are.

I carry my family, old and new, everywhere I go. I think of what they would do if they were with me right then. They sustain me.

I read a quote somewhere that went, “We must take care of our families wherever we find them”. And that’s exactly what I intend to do.

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Bangkok – Day Four


So here I am on Day Four. Utterly exhausted. My last day in Bangkok. I dread the thought of being back at work the next day. My aching joints and limbs. Oh, why Bangkok, why? But I can’t complain, eh, it was supposed to be a holiday.

Oprah Winfrey at the wax museumAs I crashed into bed the previous night, I left all remote thoughts of wanting to visit a floating market. So that’s one thing that’s yet to be ticked off my list after the Tiger Temple. I thought I would be really motivated to go to the floating market early morning on Day Four. But with no inspiration from my brother, sister-in-law (she was ready to accompany me though) and nephew, I just dropped the idea. I don’t think I would have survived the day if I had to get up early again on what was supposed to be a holiday!

Day Four was meant to be more relaxed. My brother finally realised he wanted to do nothing on this day. So most of the plans were my sister-in-law’s and mine. Bro and nephew were going to sleep in. So after having our last breakfast at the hotel, sis-in-law and I took nephew along to the Siam Mall to visit Madame Tussaud’s and Ocean World.

I originally wasn’t too keen on visiting the wax museum as none of the statues there really appealed to me, from what I read up. Except may be Lady Diana. But we finally decided to go.

We took a taxi to the mall and booked discount combo tickets for the museum and Ocean World. The ticket guy was extremely slow, so were the ladies at the entrance counter. Be patient and you will get in soon!

The wax museum, honest to God, was fun! We got to click pictures with the likes of Beyonce, Mahatma Gandhi, Johnny Depp, Julia Roberts, Oprah Winfrey (my fav!), Michelle and Barack Obama and even got to hold an fake Oscar with Brad Pitt. It’s complete timepass and you get some great pictures! Even my 5-year-old nephew had a blast!

Ocean World

We then ran out to the adjacent Siam mall which houses Ocean World on the underground level. You would really wonder how they would have constructed something like this in a mall bang in the middle of the city. That’s the point I guess! It’s more than a technological marvel that they could pull off something like that!

We really weren’t sure if we would have enough time to look around the entire place. So we got moving as fast as we could.

The place is really massive, so I would suggest you go there a little early if you can, again, especially if you have kids.

Ocean World has everything, from sharks, dolphins, crabs, jelly fish and sting rays to snakes, frogs and spiders. It’s constructed amazingly well. There are also several shows that you can watch and take part in. We took a package where we could take a glass-bottomed boat ride, behind the scenes tour and a fish spa. The first two were an absolute waste. They take you on a short 5-minute boat ride. The boat has a partial glass bottom through which you can see a few sharks and sting rays. The behind-the-scenes tour is pretty much near this same water area where they explain how they keep the tanks clean and stuff. Utter nonsense that lasts for barely five minutes.

Goldfish in a washing machine tank!

There were other activities including scuba-diving and ocean walking which take more time. I would have liked to have done the ocean walking but due to lack of time decided against it. I think it cost 1500 BHT.

What we enjoyed was the fish spa. Good fun as the fish come and eat up all the dirt from your feet. I’ve always wanted to get one done and finally got to! And after all the walking Bangkok made me do, I deserved it!

Ocean World is overall lots of fun. I even got to carry a star fish. I have been to the Ocean World in Singapore and it’s not as good as the one in Bangkok. But it will be completely okay if you gave this one a miss. I would still say you go to Platinum mall!

We finished it off with a 5-d show which was again boring. For kids only.

Last few hours in Bangkok

We headed back to the hotel as my bro and family had their flight to catch. Mine was late evening. After bidding goodbyes, I strolled down the street near the hotel to pass away time. I went to Robinsons and Terminal 21 mall. This mall is actually pretty cool. Each floor is built with a theme of a different country/city. The ground floor, for example, was built along the Roman style. The restroom was the best. It had that typical Roman-looking architecture with a fountain-type tap and stuff. Beautifully done! I unfortunately did not take any photographs.

The other floors were done like France, London and Tokyo. The shops looked expensive. I just had a Starbucks coffee.

After some window-shopping I headed back to my hotel to leave for the airport.

Since we had already checked out at 12 noon from our rooms, our luggage was at the hotel lobby. They called a taxi for me and bid goodbye to the beautiful hotel that treated us so well. The ride to the airport was snooze time. And I ended up reaching in approximately 45 minutes! The driver was annoying and I didn’t even realise that he hadn’t put the meter. So ended up paying more.

The Airport

View of Airport from plane

That was the last of being cheated in Bangkok. I walked into the Suvarnabhumi International Airport only to find it jam-packed with Indians! You will never miss home this way! But you will also cringe at the way they try to break rules like jumping the queue.

After a quick check-in and security (there was no physical check done), I entered the most gorgeous and humungous airport I have seen in my life! (I haven’t seen too many though!)

I honest to God did not know where to start! I saw a vast expanse that seemed never-ending. I had a good four hours ahead of me, so walking in and out of each shop was going to be the plan. Which I did! There was just everything! Souvenirs, clothes, chocolates, food, gadgets, liquor, bags, everything! I didn’t really buy anything major except for a souvenir and some chocolates. It is an expensive place but not too bad.

So those were my four packed days. I really felt like a needed a holiday after the holiday! And as is not surprising, wasn’t too keen on getting back to work the next day!

Bangkok was good to me. A visit is a must! And I would probably like to go back again!

Bangkok – Day Three


Wat Phra Kaew

Our third day in Bangkok was set aside to do some touristy stuff. So we decided to head out to the famous temples in the city. Since it was a Sunday there was far less traffic and we reached the Wat Phra Kaew in less than 20 minutes. This temple is located at the Grand Palace premises very close to the banks of the Chao Phraya river. You need to be appropriately dressed for this place – legs and feet covered, no bare shoulders. You could otherwise borrow clothes at the entrance counter for a tiny deposit. Those skirts they lend actually look very beautiful. So I would say dress inappropriately and you will get to at least wear their traditional wrap-around skirts!

The temple charges an entry fee. You can take a guided tour if you want details of these temples. We just did some basic sight-seeing. The temple is really beautiful. The towers, the statues, the details on the wall, very beautiful. The main temple building houses the emerald Buddha. My sister-in-law and I did not even know that it was the emerald Buddha because it was so ornately decorated. I realised only after I returned and read up on the Internet. We thought the emerald Buddha was in some other temple which we had skipped citing lack of time.

We did not even go inside the Grand Palace and pleased our eyes just with its exteriors. After some photographs and walking around, we headed out to the next temple which has the Reclining Buddha. While many may tell you that you can walk from the Wat Phra to Wat Pho, I would suggest you take a tuk tuk like we did. In the hot sun, you really don’t want to walk. The Wat Pho temple is much smaller and is mainly known for the Reclining Buddha which is massive and magnificent. It is known to be a very sacred temple as well.

Wat Pho - Reclining Buddha

I would suggest visiting both these places since it is a major tourist attraction and very beautiful. We again skipped the last of the tri-temples – Wat Arun, located on the other side of the river.

My sister-in-law and I wanted to book a dinner cruise for that evening, so we headed out to that. My brother and nephew headed out to the Samutprakarn crocodile farm which I had visited on Day One.

The best mall ever – Platinum!

After booking the dinner cruise at our hotel itself, my sister-in-law and I left for Platinum mall. This mall in fact does not come up very often when you search online about what to do in Bangkok. Surprising, because this was the best place in Bangkok that we had ever seen! We got to know of it through my brother’s colleagues. The mall is really every girl’s dreams! It is dedicated to women and every floor is jam-packed with stores selling everything a girl needs! There are clothes and more clothes. There is a floor dedicated only to bags. Another floor only for footwear. It is amazing! Now these are not branded. But they are really good. It’s not like a wholesale place. But if you pick more than three items, you will get a really good price.

My sister-in-law and I went bonkers. We didn’t go crazy shopping but we did pick up some good stuff. We were worried about being pressed for time as we had to be back at the hotel by 5 PM since we had to get ready for the dinner cruise.

So after rushing through the mall, we had a quick byte in McDonalds and walked out only to find an adjacent building also called Platinum. We entered the building to realise that this place was similar to the previous one. Floors and floors of clothes! Again!

This building seemed to have even more shops! We rushed through most of the shops as we were running out of time. We had in fact planned to go to another mall in the city. Obviously we scrapped that.

So, here are a couple of take aways. Platinum mall seemed to be the best place to shop in Bangkok. And we discovered that there are two malls adjacent to each other. Try to keep aside a good amount of time to spend there. The more you buy, the more you can bargain. The clothes are really good. The shop owners may be nasty, but stand your ground. And don’t waste their time either!

Chao Phraya dinner cruise

Our Dinner Cruise Boat

My sister-in-law and I left the mall, with pretty much long faces as we really would have loved to spend more time there. We took a tuk tuk back to our hotel. The ride was worse than a roller coaster and we survived!

We got ready for our dinner cruise. Now, we booked the cruise through our hotel. The ticket includes hotel pick up and drop and international buffet. We were picked up from the hotel in a minivan at about 6 PM. We reached the river banks which was actually a mall, at about 6.30 only to be told that the cruise starts at 7.45 PM and that we can go around the mall till then. If we had booked the cruise at the mall, it would have been way cheaper. The cruise we booked was the Chao Phraya Princess. After some window-shopping we finally got to get onto our boats. And then we realised another major bungle up. The entire lower deck of the boat seemed to have been allocated to only Indians. The buffet was Indian, not international. The upper deck seemed to have other foreign nationals. The emcee on the lower deck started singing Made in India, Yeh Dosti and what not, only to my absolute nightmare. I came to Bangkok for this! And there was a huge group of Indian men who were totally enjoying it. We had to put up with eating kebab, tomato soup, papad and biriyani.

View of Wat Arun temple from the cruise boat

About 30 minutes into our cruise, my sister-in-law had had enough and spoke to matron on board and got us seats on the upper deck! So we got to go to the upper deck, which had several empty tables, and enjoy international cuisine as well! So we really got to do a bit of both and were saved of Munni Badnam Hui and Jai Ho being rendered on the deck below!

During the cruise you also get to enjoy the lit up Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Arun temples. They are absolutely beautiful.

The entire cruise lasts about two hours. Would I recommend it? Yes, if you have the time. It’s just a different experience, may not be paisa vasool though.

We asked our minivan driver to drop us off at Patpong as my sister-in-law wanted to check out fake bag stores. We ended up not buying any bags. We did pick up a few souvenirs like fridge magnets (you get better ones at the airport, though expensive) and stuff and headed back to the hotel for our last night in Bangkok.

Bangkok – Day Two


The clothes weren't all that great at Chatuchak. Photo: Sidharth

My sister-in-law and I were eagerly looking forward to visiting the Chatuchak market as we had read loads about it being this massive weekend market with over 8000 stalls. We had decided to spend pretty much the whole day there and hoped to shop till we drop.

We started off with our buffet spread at our hotel which was a mix of vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Salad, bread, egg, bacon, sausage, muffin, juice, porridge, cornflakes, coffee, tea. Lots more. I enjoyed the baked potato the most. I had my share of starch there.

The four of us took a taxi to Chatuchak. Be warned though. Our taxi driver, the same man who took me to the croc farm on Day One, insisted that he take us to a gems dealer. He apparently gets a commission and some fuel money if he takes people there. We knew there would be a catch. So after repeatedly telling him that we wanted to only go to Chatuchak, he finally got the point and shushed up. This is a common problem in Bangkok. Stick to your ground and be firm.

We reached Chatuchak and seriously did not know where to start. One particular shop caught our attention right at the start where they were selling some ethnic-looking clothes. This was probably my best buy, not the best price maybe. 400BHT for a top. But it was different, so good. And also my five-year-old nephew had to use the loo there, so we had to buy something!

And then we walked. And walked some more. And some more. The place is never-ending. My sister-in-law and I were only looking out for clothes stores. Each shop and section is numbered. But the place still confuses the hell out of you. You will get to see a lot of interesting things on offer. There is pretty much everything under the sun available here. But the problem with Chatuchak is that it is too big and tires you out. You need to wear comfortable shoes and clothes. Carry water. You can buy there as well. We did not buy too much here as we didn’t find anything that struck us. There are a few shops here and there that are really nice. I picked up some nice chappals from a store as well. My nephew got himself a t-shirt and a toy. He was also excited about the animals section of the market where there are many dogs, cats and and other animals.

But overall, we didn’t find too much to buy at Chatuchak. My brother liked the art section where he picked up a couple of t-shirts for himself. I also bought my nephew a small painting for his room.

We stopped by for some tender coconut water, mango juice and iced lemon tea. I wouldn’t recommend the last two.

Tender coconut water at Chatuchak

My sister-in-law and I literally wanted to run out of the market because we were so tired and hadn’t even shopped.

Would I recommend the market? Yes, but be prepared to walk a lot and not find anything that you may particularly like. You need to search and search. A lot.

MBK

We left by 12.30 PM and decided to head to the MBK mall since my brother and his wife wanted to check out the place. We had a quick byte at Burger King (avoiding the numerous pork places) and headed out to explore the mall. My sister-in-law got some good bargains at the section on the third floor. I also picked up a pair of fisherman pants which looked very complicated to wear on but also seemed comfortable. They had beautiful dresses and souvenirs as well.

We also took a look at the numerous bag stores which had the 199BHT sale on.

After a quick cup of coffee and a donut for my nephew, we headed back to the hotel. A tiring long day really. We didn’t shop too much either.

We ordered room service to taste some authentic Thai Food. I almost choked on the Coconut Curry. But it was good. If you have a terrible flu or fever, this is the kind of food you need. Hot and spicy.

Patpong

After eating, my brother and I decided to head out to the Patpong night market. Patpong is more popularly known for its red light area. It is lined with clubs that offer you ‘services’. Bro and I took the skytrain and got there in no time. There are two streets to Patpong market. The first street starts off with some shops including those that sell authentic-looking but fakes of Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, Prada and so on. Otherwise the entire street only has these notorious bars. Many stand out with a charge sheet in their hand, detailing the services and charges for each. Ignore them and you will be fine.

The second street is where most of the shops are, interspersed with the clubs. I managed to find some good cotton shirts for my father. Though I did a pay bit much for it after bargaining with the shop lady through her calculator. I also bought a Louis Vuitton phone cover (fake, of course, and the cover has already started peeling off, so not the best buy I guess) and earphones. We got a good price after some decent bargaining. Again, this street also has fake bag stores. If you bargain well and don’t mind owning a fake, you could get something good here. You can also find clothes and souvenirs here. The clothes aren’t all that great though.

Patpong night market again is more about experience. Best not to take children with you. You could find yourself a good bag here if not anything else.

Watch this space for more on my Bangkok escapade

Bangkok – Day One


The hot March air hit my face as I stepped onto the tarmac at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok. After a four-hour flight, all I wanted was to get to the hotel and begin my four-day tour of the city. I got into a taxi with a courteous driver, fortunately for me. My first experience was the crazy traffic that I had read about. It took me a good two hours to reach my hotel after bumper-to-bumper traffic. The taxi drive cost 230 BHT approximately, exclusive of the 25 BHT toll fee for taking the expressway.

Legacy Suites, located on Sukhumvit Soi 29 is like a service apartment. The hotel staff are friendly and at your service. Despite a 2 PM check-in, I was allowed to check-in at 10 in the morning. The room itself was quite spacious with two flatscreen TVs (that’s what we need on a holiday, two TVs!), an ironing board, a coffee machine, a washing machine, room service, free wi-fi (only if you have done online booking) and a beautiful bathroom! They even give you a rollout bed for a nominal fee.

After a scrumptious breakfast from their buffet spread (breakfast is complimentary) I decided to start my day officially exploring Bangkok. Since my brother and his family were going to land in the city only late evening, I chose to visit the Samutprakarn crocodile zoo on the outskirts of the city, which claims to be the largest in the world. The hotel calls in a taxi for you. Better if you mention that you want one with meter. Always always insist for meter, otherwise you will only end up arguing with your taxi driver.

My taxi driver was very nice. Only the next day did I realise he is also annoying. But more on that later. He showed me a bunch of brochures on the various touristy stuff to do in Bangkok. I managed to catch a wink or two after an exhausting 48 hours. I finally reached the crocodile farm.

Crocodiles, Crocodile show & crocodile meat – all in one place

Disclaimers first. Do not go to Samutprakarn with huge expectations. I read up on it before I went. The main draw for me was the photograph that you can take with a tiger there. I would have really chosen to visit the Tiger Temple which is a two-hour drive from Bangkok. But with time constraints, I decided to visit this place.

Like I mentioned earlier Samutprakarn claims to be the largest croc farm in the world with over 100,000 crocs. You can very easily walk your way through the place. So don’t hire a guide. Unless you really want to know about crocs and stuff. The entry fee costs about 300 BHT.

The 13-year-old was wide awake much after I took a photograph with him.

At the entrance itself is the 13 year old tiger that’s chained to a peg. He was also fast asleep when I got there. A photograph with the tiger cost me 200 BHT. He looked sedated to me because the caretaker just dragged him around to the photograph area.
You can also get a photograph with a chimpanzee which almost caught hold of my leg as it seemed to be in quite an agitated state. I also bottle-fed a four-month-old baby tiger. Each of this costs 200 BHT. You get your photograph printed within five minutes. Hand over your camera and they will happily oblige to take photos for you. This is probably the best money spent there.

I then took a walk through the croc displays. There are a good variety. The six-legged one, the chocolate-coloured one. If you are really into crocs, you might actually enjoy this. Otherwise, it’s all just seeing and walking. The hygiene and maintenance is not really laudable. This place has a really long way to go. But I guess the crocs don’t mind all the dirt.

Crocodiles at the Samutprakarn Crocodile Farm

There’s a huge pond at the farm, which is filled with crocs. You can also buy some meat from a stall there and throw them into the pond. If you really wanna bug some crocs, you can keep the meat hanging on the line for a while and watch them splash about in the water. I saw many doing just this! And it also makes for a decent photo op!

At 1 PM I went for the crocodile show, which promised to be daring and dangerous. The show has two stunt guys or trainers or whatever you call them, pulling the crocs by their tail in a small pond area. The show goes on for about an hour and you can see the guys put their hand into a croc’s mouth. They even put their head in between. While the audience throws in coins and currency, the show guys collect this and put it into the croc’s mouth and then attempt to take it out one by one. It is daring. But I really wonder what kind of training they undergo and what do they really do to the crocs. The show would have been even better if there was a little bit of English commentary. It was only Thai. But then again, it is more of a visual thing.

Crocodile show at the Samutprakarn Crocodile Farm

You can also have a photograph taken with a croc for 200 BHT. This was probably the most scared I have been. Especially since you enter the pond area which has so many crocs and there is one that is pulled out for your photo. The trainers soothe the croc by rubbing the side of its head with a baton. This also makes it open its mouth. I squat near the tail and put my hand on its far back. You are advised not to stand behind the croc. I must say it is absolutely scary but makes it all worth it when you see the photo in hand.

All of these are probably the only high points at the zoo. I missed the elephant show, which is really more for kids. I did walk under one of the elephants which is meant to be good luck. By this time it was also getting really hot and sweaty. I wanted to wrap up soon and leave. I skipped the lion enclosure. There is a bird enclosure which has parakeets, macaws, parrots and more. Sadly, all the birds are chained. It’s terrible because I think it is illegal under ????International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) agreement.

Crocodile meat being sold at the Samutprakarn Crocodile Farm.

And even as they claim to be a croc farm, Samutprakarn also sells crocodile meat. Appalling really.

That said, I am not sure I recommend a visit to this place. The photo ops are the only reason I would ask you to go. If you are not even remotely interested in animals, please skip this place. Children will definitely enjoy this.

MBK Shopping Mall

Getting out of Samutprakarn is another task altogether. There was only one taxi at the taxi stand and he insisted on 300 BHT. I had in fact paid only 150 BHT to get there. I didn’t want to take a tuk tuk because it was way too far and I wasn’t sure about how to negotiate a price with them. I instead waited on the road to stop a taxi. I almost lost hope of getting one even as the tuk tuk guys kept telling me I won’t get one and that they could drop me off at the nearby bus station from where I can take a bus. I stood my ground and finally got a meter taxi. The driver again was very courteous and spoke very little. Just what you need.

I slept through most of the taxi drive back to my hotel. The weather just makes everything worse. I then headed out to the MBK mall which is said to be a bargain for shoppers as you can buy in wholesale. On the advice of the hotel staff I chose to take the sky train. The nearest station Asok is a five-minute walk from my hotel and the mall is about four stops away. It cost me about 30 BHT if I remember correctly. Very convenient and easy. You can also skip the maniacal traffic.

After a quick bite at McDonalds, I started looking around the mall. Firstly, it’s a misnomer that this mall is a great bargain. It isn’t really a wholesale place. You get discounts only if you buy more than two or three things. Most of the shop owners are rude and will not even give you a second look. So stand your ground, be nice and walk away if you don’t want anything. The cheaper bargains are on the third floor. There are branded shops too. Many shops were having the 199BHT bag sale which I thought was a steal. So I managed to pick up a bag for myself too. Just be prepared to walk a lot. Be patient and it is likely that you will find something you want.

The day ended with me surprising my nephew when he arrived with my brother and wife. We took a walk down Sukhumvit. Ate at Pizza Hut. The meal was decent. There are a number of shops on the pavement where you could find something interesting. Clothes, souvenirs and stuff.

We wrapped up the day hoping for good bargains the next.

Watch this space for more on my Bangkok escapade

Four days in Bangkok


Bangkok. A city of contradictions. Craziness. Traffic. Shopping. Fleecing. And lots more! It’ll feel just like India except for the god forsaken weather. It’s damn hot!

My recent whirlwind tour to the capital of Thailand was a much-needed one. I mean, who doesn’t want to visit Bangkok? So I jumped at the idea. Of course, after my leave was approved.

From the moment I stepped out at the Suvarnabhumi (pronounced su.wan.na.pum) International Airport in Bangkok, I knew this city wasn’t going to be easy. There were two queues for Visa On Arrival. One cost 1000 BHT. The other 1200. After standing in the 1000 queue for at least 15 minutes and seeing several people jump the queue conveniently, I decided to just pay 200 BHT more and take the shorter queue. I was surprised that half the Indians didn’t want to pay that extra 200 BHT and get out of there. Well, I did get out of there soon enough.

There are several touts outside the airport waiting to fleece you. After a good amount of reading up on what not to do, I found my way to the Meter Taxi Stand and sped away to my hotel which took me two hours.

The next four days were not like any other.

The filthy Samutprakan crocodile zoo, the never-ending Chatuchak market, the massive MBK mall, the unabashedly in-your-face Patpong Night market, the magnificent Grand Palace and Reclining Buddha, the mall of every girl’s dreams – Platinum, the serene dinner cruise on Chao Phraya river spoilt by renditions of Jai ho and Munni Badnam Hui, the wax museum where you can meet Aishwarya Rai, The Dalai Lama and George Clooney (!), and an ocean world experience inside a mall! I think I’ve forgotten my English after leaving out the prepositions and articles while conversing with the locals!

It’s all Bangkok. It all happened in four days. The streets. The sights. Oh my legs ache just at the thought of how much there is to the city. Just when you think there is very little to do, you realise that there is a lot more but very little time.

Bangkok is a good break. It literally jolts you awake. From arguing with the taxi driver to put the meter, to bargaining at the cheap shops with a calculator for a translator, from tasting authentic Thai green curry to those notorious tuk tuks, you have to do it all. They may claim to be the Land of Smiles. Believe me, you’ll get very little of it at most of the tourist places you end up visiting. But respect the city for what it is and take it all in. That’s what I did.

I saw different sides of Bangkok – the swanky highrises, the slum beneath the flyover, the bumper-to-bumper traffic. Add a generous sprinkling of the blazing hot sun, and you have your holiday in Bangkok sorted out.

I learnt a lot those four days. What to do. What not to do. All I need now is one of those Thai massages (which I didn’t get) and some sleep.

Watch this space for a more detailed travelogue of my Bangkok escapade.

Out of its element


G and I recently went to Elements Heritage in Frazer Town. It’s a fairly recently opened restaurant and I suggested we go out for lunch there. The place is owned by the same people who own Five Elements on Nandidurg Road. For those of you who have been there, you would know that the food is well worth it. Unfortunately this one turned out to be a dampener. While the entire restaurant is well-built and looks very appealing and inviting from the outside, the interiors are quite similar to the one on Nandidurg Road, comfortable and nicely done.

Alas, if only the food were that good. It’s probably the worst food I have tasted in recent times. G decided to be a little adventurous and ordered a raw mango starter. And this is how it looks.

It was served with fryums (we have no clue why) and looked extremely unappetizing. It tasted too soggy, gooey and weird.

We ordered a paneer starter as well, which was another disaster (the waiter suggested this particular dish, so we assumed it was their specialty). Firstly, it was served on a naan. While we thought it may have been some kind of mistake, we realized that it was meant to be served that way. The paneer was nowhere close to soft and tasted bland. Again, this dish was also served with fryums. I have no clue why!

Our main dish was a bit of a saver but you would never catch me going back for it. It was a combo, which had curry, rice and naan. We decided to order one since we didn’t know what to expect after the first two gourmet gassers. It was decent and eatable. But definitely nothing great.

You can be rest assured that we didn’t stay back for dessert. And as for the cost, it was well not worth it. My two cents: Stay away from this place even if you are starving.