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Friday, March 16, 2012

The red lights of Thailand.. (wink, wink..;))

It’s funny that when you tell people that you’re going to Thailand, they usually respond with a sly smile. And once they gather that you’re single, they add in a naughty lil wink. After all, Bangkok has always been notorious as the world capital for a certain popular kind of sport. (wink, wink..;))

My dad, when he learnt that I had already booked my tickets, had an "American Pie" moment with me where he explained upon me the importance of “safety” that went beyond looking both sides before crossing the road (wink, wink.. ;)). After I survived that, my faithful friends pasted a large placard on my car saying “Happy ‘Bang’ing” obviously derived from ‘Bang’kok (Thank God I wasn’t going to Phuket.) I had to tell my pious neighbors that I was going for a religious trip to the mountains; my elder neighbor wished me the very best in my endeavors and regretted that he could not join me in my pursuit to attain moksha and salvationJ

But besides all the winks and the jokes, I must say that Thailand is an incredible place for an incredible holiday. And as I was boarding Bangkok Airways, I distinctly remembering my mind religiously singing the Saif Ali Khan song “Aahun, Aahun, Aahun…. Aahun, Aahun, Aahun…. Aahun, Aahun, Aahun, Aahun, Aahun, Aahun, Aahun…..”
OK, first things first – Thailand is much, much more than what ‘Hangover2’ made us to believe. Thailand is an awesome place for a great holiday – it’s got amazing food, great shopping, fabulous beaches and some remarkable instances of heritage. And the best part is that it’s pretty much within one’s budget ; I mean, I’ve seen vacation packages to Kerala that are more expensive than the same to Thailand.

And yes, the red lights of Bangkok blends in harmoniously with the blue waters of Pattaya’s beaches to offer one with an outstanding and unique experience. I spent two days in Bangkok and three in Pattaya. Bangkok was where I did all my shopping and in Pattaya, I do my yearly ritual of lazing on the beach, watching the waves with a bottle of beer and junk food in hand. While Bangkok is known for shopping, Pattaya is known mainly for ‘the Walking Street’ – a stretch of road lined with go-go bars, eating joints and pubs with people from various nationalities just walking up and down the road. What adds in to the spice on Walking Street are the many “women of the night” doing various ‘outrageous’ acts to charm the men (wink, wink..;)). Walking Street simmers between 10PM- 12 PM in the night and it needs to be seen to be believed! Of course, the notorious massage bars dot almost all roads in both Bangkok and Pattaya– sinning has never been so much fun!

What is incredible about Thailand is that it is a change in one’s perspective – it’s got lovely people: the Thais are very polite and well mannered people who are perennially helpful, it’s a great getaway place with beaches, temples and skyscrapers blending together seamlessly to give a vacationer an amazing experience and yes, it provides an unbelievable realization that things like this can happen (wink, wink..;)). My biggest take away from this incredible vacation is the incredible power of the smile. The smile is ubiquitous in Thailand and its surprisingly funny how things just get moving with a simple smile. I got the best deals not just by haggling but by haggling with a smile (J) and you tend to notice that almost everyone politely welcomes foreigners with what else, but a smile. Incidentally, Thailand is also known as “the land of the smiles”.

In summary, Thailand is one place where a lot more Indians will vacation going forward mainly for the amazing and truly unique experience only Thailand can offer – I mean, this place has got temples, zoos, shows( don’t miss the Alcazar show performed by girls who are actually boys  J ), water sports, museums, night clubs, nature, bars. And yes, due to the better ‘bang’ for the buck ( J ).

So what makes this incredible place even more incredible? Well, ……

(wink, wink..;))…..


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For people who wanna get into the details, here’s a rundown of a trip gone incredibly amazing…

When NOT to go to Thailand
Well, first check the weather forecast – the land of the Thai can be pretty freakin hot during the months of March to June and then it pours till October. So November till February is usually the best time to hit Thailand. Another reason to avoid April, Thailand’s hottest month, is to avoid the Thai New Year, known as the Songkran, which runs from April 13-15th when almost everyone leaves Bangkok and other touristy places to go back to their native shores – so you’ll usually find shut shops and nobody on the streets then. Also try not going to Thai during the royal or national holidays (list of Thai holiday here). Of course, the other angle to the off-season is that you usually get the best deals during this time - I chose the first week of March to go to the land of the smiles mainly cos I got a Rs. 6000 off deal on my air tickets.

Getting Forex
OK, this applies to any foreign trip – forex always costs the highest at the airports, malls and tech parks as they include their hefty office rent into their forex rates. A good trick I learnt along the way is to call JustDial and they’ll make sure forex providers will call you back and you could choose the best rate yourself. I happened to get my best rates from Thomas Cook, Brigade road in Bangalore. Also, always insist on a bill as some guys will quote a lower rate only to later say that its without a bill. This could land you in trouble due to fake notes and stuff. So shop around for the best rates and avoid the airport, malls and tech-parks for ur forex. Thai currency is the Baht(B), by the way.

Bangaloreans seem to be pretty lucky on this side as there’s both Thai Airways and now the recently started Bangkok Airways, both of which have daily flights to Bangkok. From a service factor, Thai scores any day with its world renowned hospitality with better food and drinks options, individual screens and better in flight entertainment options over Bangkok Airways; but like I said, I opted for the latter as they had a 6k off introductory offer. Must say, there weren’t many people on board so I could really use three adjacent seats to stretch my legs and get a good sleep. So snoop around for offers from either flights but between the two for the same price (between 18K – 20K), I’d choose Thai Airways any day – also the stewardesses are hotter on Thai. J

With the slew of internet booking options available, this is now a cinch. My suggestion here is to not book directly through the hotel ka site and opt for generic sites as they always have an Indian helpline. I did my bookings through hotels.com and they were very helpful and had a few offers too. I stayed at Hotel Diamond City in Bangkok, which was pretty much in the center of everything (though the breakfast sucked!) and was kinda clean and cheap. In Pattaya, I stayed at Sunshine Residences, which I felt was much better however, I’d suggest you go for the balcony rooms – they're much bigger and more spacious.

Visa On Arrival
You’ll reach Bangkok at around 6AM and you can take your tourist visa at the Bangkok Airport (Swarnabhoomi) itself just after you land and it’s a very simple and hassle free process. You’d need to pay 1000B and have two pics with you. You also have a fast track queue there itself which costs about 1000B more for faster service. I asked some agents here in India to get it done and they were charging between 2K- 3K for it – it’s a total rip off! It’s very easy to get it done at the Bangkok airport itself and since most hotel check ins are at 12 noon, I took the normal queue to kill time at the airport. So suggestion is to get ur visa done on arrival rather than getting it done in India.

Transportation in Bangkok- Pattaya
Bangkok is extremely well connected to most touristy places via the awesome metro rail service (called BTS - route map here). They even have connectivity from the airport. If you need to go to Pattaya, suggestion is to take the BTS to Ekamai station and take the local air-conditioned bus to Pattaya – the cost works out to be ~ 180 B per head while a taxi would cost ~ 1500 B(!). In Pattaya, you could always use the local pickup trucks called Songtows to travel around – cost around 20 B, while taxis are much costlier. In Pattaya, it’s quite an experience to walk along the beach road and of course, Walking Street – you’ll sure see some sights (wink, wink..;)).

Shopping in Thailand
Thailand is the land of bargain shopping but the real shopping bargains are in the streets. Thai’s a good place for clothes (remember to buy clothes one size larger in Thailand), chocolates, hats, electronics (beware of fakes!)…. (the list goes on….)… Some places to find some real mean deals are the Prathunam Market and Indira Square near the Platinum Mall, the Chatuchak weekend market and MBK. I found the first two options a lot cheaper than MBK but MBK scores with the connectivity factor as it is well connected via the BTS. A general rule of thumb with bargain shopping is to start bargaining at a fourth of what the vendor tells you. And you won’t believe this but a smile and a happy disposition can really bring down the rates pretty drastically. Try it to believe it! J

Thai massages
Anyone’s who’s going to Thai has to go for the world famous(or notorious - wink, wink..;) ) Thai massages – I felt the massages in Bangkok were a lot wilder than the ones in Pattaya (wink, wink..:)). The most popular ones are the foot massage, the oil massage and the Thai massage. The Thai massage is pretty brutal with the masseuse literally pinching you all over to rejuvenate your blood flow; the foot massage is the best bet and I’m told the oil massage usually ends in a “happys endingz” (wink, wink..;)). Bangkok is teaming with massage parlors all around the place and you’ll invariably end up in one – just be careful not to carry any valuables on you when going for a massage.

What to do in Bangkok - Pattaya
In one word – “shop”! In two words – “like hell”! In three – “till you drop”! Recommended places are MBK, Prathunam Market near Platinum Mall and Chatuchak weekend market (don’t forget loose fittin clothes, lotsa water and sunscreen). Don’t miss the massages, at least go for the foot massage. In Bangkok, a visit to Nana Plaza and Patpong are recommended as they are where “it” all started (wink, wink..;)). A trip to the Alcazar show at Pattaya (Known as Tiffany Show in Bangkok) is a must – you’ll be surprised that all those fabulous women performing, are actually men! The other attraction in Pattaya is the Walking Street. Also a trip down to The World Gems Gallery, considered to be the world’s biggest jewelry store can set you back by a few dollars but richer by a lot of memories – they even have a show depicting the process of jewelry making.

What NOT to do in Thailand
The Thai are very genial and welcoming people and it’s very rare that one gets into arguments with them. However, if in the rare chance that you do, make sure you stop it right then and there, smile and walk back - Do not pick up arguments with the locals! The Thai laws are very biased to their own and are extremely severe even for petty offences. Nothing can be more terrible than ending up in jail in foreign lands. Also, do NOT make fun of the king or the royal family as it is viewed as a very serious offence – there was this story of a German who stamped on a fallen coin to prevent it from rolling away and few locals jumped on him angrily as coins bears pics of the King. Another interesting thing is that we Indians are being viewed in Thai as “very stingy people” ( J ) and what they think about us is what they think about our country- so make sure you tip well and act civil. J

Have fun peoples and don’t be too naughty… (wink, wink..;)).


The International Indian

So a while back, I went to Bangkok (wink, wink..:))…

And besides the shopping, the splendor and the sleaze (J), one thing that struck me was the increasing number of Indians hitting the Thai land, which is increasing significantly over the years (yes, this is my 5th trip that side – yes, I think I have OBS – Obsessive Bangkok Syndrome! J) And going forward, I’m pretty sure that more Indians will be visiting Thai soil very soon.

Now an interesting incident happened at the airport, where I was waiting to get my visa on arrival.

So like I was saying, there were many people from many nations (n wow, the Russian babes were sooo hot!) and everyone was standing there maintaining a disciplined queue. Now enter this motley set of Indian guys dressed very shabbily in shorts, smelling of the free in-flight alcohol and talking loudly with each other. As they walked into the visa bay, they came up to near the middle of the queue and jumped the queue right in front of an American lady. The lady politely told them to maintain the queue but the guy shouted back to the lady in broken English, “This ees … origeenal line… You line, … olddd line” and all of them burst out laughing to their own joke and continued standing where they were. People from the back, irritated by their antics, started voicing their displeasure and one of our fat guys yelled back at them loudly. This shocked most people and the American lady politely let the bunch stand in front of her. Now once they were allowed to find a place in the queue, they looked victoriously to the people at the back of the queue and started singing some random Hindi songs and started clapping. This went on for a while as they made a total mockery of themselves. Finally when the officer at the counter called upon our guys, turned out that they did not carry the required documents and they wasted everybody’s time.

Now sit back, take a deep breath and think….

So what do you think happened that day due to these guys?

Well, me thinks that, that day, the flag of a great nation whose anthem we stand up to with pride, patriotism and passion fell down by a great deal in the eyes of the many people gathered at that bay. After all, nobody knew who they were and nobody will ever know who they are - but these guys will always be registered in everyone’s minds as “those Indians”. And thus, the uncivilized behavior of a handful of crude Indians tarnished a great nation in the minds of all the people gathered at that bay that day.

And the funny thing is this – we, as a nation, are pretty well cultured, are great hosts and have the aspects of civility and ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ pretty much ingrained in most of us; yet when we group up and hit foreign soils, we test their patience by indulging in such petty behavior. I’m quite sure that these gentlemen would behave with some sort of civility when in India with their own friends, family and strangers alike. What we fail to see is that we are our country’s biggest brand ambassadors in foreign lands and we’re actually letting down our country to the many foreign eyes there.

A small change I’d like to see is actually a very small one; but I’m pretty sure, it’ll make a huge, huge impact on our country at a global level. With the amount of progress that our country is making, we are becoming a nation of International Indians - there are a lot of us Indians travelling abroad on business/pleasure/both. I can bet that all the readers of this post have travelled /will travel soon internationally. And like I said, in foreign soils, we are our country’s biggest brand ambassadors and whatever we do there, our actions, our deeds, are a reflection on our country. I wish we could all change the way we behave on foreign lands and behave the way we know how to behave. Why do we give a holiday to the way we treat other people, when we actually are known as great hosts back home, by the world?

Just to make this as clich├ęd as possible, I’d like to end this piece with a “Jai Hind” or a “Mera Bharat Mahaan”….

but seriously, think about it - do we really, really even mean it when we say it?

If we do, well, don’t you think it’s up to us to make our India proud?

Let’s start doing something bout it, blogdosts.

Don't you think???


This is an entry for the Stay Free - Time to Change contest.

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Pic courtesy here.