Friday, 9 January 2015

I survived shopping in Bangkok

Here's the second part of our adventure in Thailand, Bangkok. It's been a decade since I stepped foot there. Landscape is totally different in now. More sheltered walkways and shopping malls. You will not run out of malls or shopping markets to go. And perhaps it was December, it wasn't too searing. 

We booked our stay with Hansar. It was out of our usual travel budget, and definitely one of our most luxurious stay in a long long while. We made do with our friend who's strict with the hotel's gym, Mr Ang! So fitness enthusiasts, gym and swim pool is perfect in there. Room's clean and comfortable too. Almost no complains till the day we checked out, when their staff questioned us on a missing bed runner. Which in the first place did not exist the first moment we stepped into the room. Picture was taken before meddling with the bed, so where's the bed runner? Our penalty for not tipping the housekeeper, I guess.

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Lovely hotel
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Beautiful pool. No kids pool though.

We booked the studio room which in addition came with a washing machine and mini kitchen with cooking facilities. Fridge and pantry were well stocked with drinks (beer inclusive) and snacks. All at no charge. Singaporeans love it, no?

The hotel was a 5 mins walk to the nearest train station, Ratchadamri and one stop away from Siam (think orchard road). Love it for being opposite a decent and affordable massage centre, 270 baht for an hour of Thai or foot massage (about SGD12). Definitely the best place to end each long day.

Here's where we've been:

1. Shopping
I love shopping for the cheap and affordable goods in platinum fashion mall, MBK, Chatuchak weekend market, street stalls in Siam square and the night market. Unfortunately, we ran out of days for MBK. Cheap stuffs are what we should go for in Bangkok, isn't it? Give grace on quality though. Such are the places where you put your bargaining skill to test. I even tested the 'give in or I'll walk off'' strategy. #BargainFail. They ain't gona chase you back to re-deal. Some nice ones would smile and some would give you the 'No big deal' look. So if you really love it, hook it at the best bargain. Some shops do not entertain bargains especially with prices stated upfront. It's not common to chance upon the same piece of clothing elsewhere.

Shopping in their more luxurious mall like Siam Paragon or CentralWorld ain't really my cup of tea, because most brands can be found local at almost the same price. Economics taught me to pump money into my economy to keep jobs and growth sustainable. I'll buy them here if I want them. We enjoyed strolls and meals in there though.

I survive shopping:
1. Even if I've to carry a sleeping child
2. By thanking the husband for taking the sleeping child to a nearby cafe

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Nappy time

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Nice nap they had

2. Floating market - Damnoensaduak
This is extremely touristy, but a very nice experience. About 2 hours drive from our hotel. You may take a taxi there or hire a driver from the hotel. We did the latter as we were a big group. The experience was pricey, appalled that it wiped out all the cash from our wallet. A 2 hours boat ride costs about SGD120 (3000 baht) per boat (fits 6 adults). So it wasn't exactly head counts for us, but per boat for our family. We tried to negotiate fitting 2 families in a boat, they weren't keen in earning a boat less. Then they will try to up sell the elephant ride, monkey show and crocodiles show within. If you think you're aiming for those, bring more cash.

There's definitely a cheaper way to tour. Most taxi or drivers will bring you there, to a private tourist operation (which we ended at). Not directly to the market. You can go directly to the market and get on local small row boats and this would be good at about 150 to 200 baht per pax. Getting your driver to take you directly to the market may be a challenge. You can choose to walk 1.5 to 2km (quoted from what I read) to the market if you didn't meet an angel.

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Bought fruits and food!

Bangkok used to be a city of canals. While most have made way for roads, there are still some preserved. Interestingly, these canals handle the sewage of the city and houses floating markets with residents living on it like that of 'kelong' houses. It did feel really awful to have splashes of water on your face.

Damnoen Saduak is the most popular floating market in Thailand, but I felt it didn't look as authentic as it would be to the Thais. Everything was skewed towards tourists. The things sold were what locals wouldn't buy, and they got similar as you row inwards. For a start, our boatman stopped at almost every stall by the bank, till we sounded him to move on. I reckoned things might be quoted cheaper as you move inward. Bargaining is definitely a must! Boldly go up to 80%! I didn't bargain on food though.

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Photo credit: Ang Tan

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Love their innovative way to retrieve money and send goods

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A way of life

Other than visiting temples (which we skipped) and visiting a sugar coconut farm, it was a pity our tour did not include hopping off at the sheltered area in big market. I thought that would be interesting. I'm not sure if getting a boat ride from the market would bring you through the same water path as ours, going by the residential houses by the water sides. An eye-opener, I thought.

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The pail carries some trades across the canal. Think the boys were buying candies!

Though it's as touristy as it sounds, you should however get your hands into buying something off the boat. That's what make up the big part of your experience, other than witnessing boat jam and water traffic. 

And if you're willing to leave your hotel at about 7am, you could even visit Maeklong railway market before the floating. It's on route to the floating market. Place where an active railway runs through the market. Think marketers packing up hastily for train to go pass. The floating market should however be witnessed in the morning where liveliness is displayed and before the sun greets over our head.
It was an unusual experience for us. The kids enjoyed it very much!
We aren't fans of hello kitty, but was very attracted to get in because there was no queue on the day we visited. A weekday morning we went.

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No crowd
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Pretty food!

Love the pastel pink embellishments with Hello Kitty inspired pastries and beverages. Pretty food and place never fails to excite me. Though I think loyal fans will appreciate it more.

4. KidZania
Located in Siam paragon. Friends who had been in here would tell me it was a wonderful experience for themselves and kids. No doubt, the kids enjoyed it very much. But I've to attest the slight frustration I had with the crowd. It was seemingly overcrowded. I guess, due to the date we were there too. The kids were spending more time in lines than getting their involvement in play. It wasn't easy, especially for Jare, he had to stay in line and not sway in and out, or he'll risk losing his place. I really should not be whining about this when they, being the ones in line aren't whining a single bit about waiting too long. They are sure patient little ones.

Prior entry, we were welcomed by a swelling crowd at the ticket booths, despite coming in on a weekday. Still, we were pretty sure about doing it and queued about an hour to get our tickets. Do check their website for entrance fees promotion, which changes from month to month. The kids had been talked about and were much anticipating this excitement. It was our final full day in Bangkok, and they had been literally following us to shop around. I thought they should have their moment of fun too.

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Sign that it will be overcrowded in there

KidsZania is like a children city. Everything built to their size, like in the real world. They study, contribute and earn from the economy. No work, no money and less spending. No education, you earn lesser. There were many occupations they could get their hands on. They could work as a flight attendant, pilot, veterinarian, optician, pop star, mechanic, construction worker, police, fireman etc. It was really exciting and definitely more fruitful play if the crowd was better manage. But I can also empathize every child's disappointment if they couldn't get in due to crowd management.

The first stop was to cash out money from the bank. It was really cute to see the kids entering and exiting the bank by themselves. It really was high time to let go the helicopter parenting in us. Love the independency trained in here! So yeap, older children might enjoy better.

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Don't lose that money, kids!

As predicted, they didn't conquer many stations and couldn't earn enough Kidzos to get a souveneir from the department store. Minimum redemption at their department store was 100 kidzos. The kids had only 50 kidzos to begin with. Not all stations earn you money, at some, you play being patrons and you spend. While I understand Kidszania might wana introduce the reality of earning and working, it wasn't feasible that day. The kids had to combine their earnings to redeem something. This was also the toughest part during play, because they have not really started counting money. They were left to fend for themselves in the store, while parents observe, yell and cheer from outside. Thankful for shop assistants (kidzania's staff) who came to their rescue.

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Paid to get eyes tested. Became construction workers. Played vet. Became mechanics.

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You've a mail!

They all looked too adorable to be starting 'work' this young. I hoped it had been experiential and fun for them. I knew Jazz had tremendous fun when she said, it was very x 5 fun! I'm happy when they're happy.

Looking forward to welcome kidzania in Singapore soon. Rumour has it that it will open its doors in June 2015. If you've any kidzos left from other countries, I was told you could use it worldwide. No exchange rate risk.

You may also read more on kidZania (Bangkok) review from lil blue bottle. She had a wonderful time in there with her girls.

4. Chatuchak Weekend Market
As the name spells, it's only opened over the weekends, 9am to 6pm. It was one I was contemplating to go, because my experience a decade ago got me really frustrated. I was kid-less then. This time, we gave it a go and spent a whopping 2 hours in there with a lunch break. I think I could survive longer, but Js were giving up on me. I could tell they were really tired and disliking it.

It's a must go if you think you can handle the crowd and kids in there. I was glad we survived. The bottle neck where entrance and exit met, was really crowded. After entering deeper into the vendors, it was a little more breeze. I love it that these local vendors sell products from local factories. Always my target to go for local produce in the land we're in. They sell everything from home furnishing to clothes apparels.

Here are our kids survival tips:
  • Clear bladder before making your way down. Toilet is a challenge in there. Several are around, but it's very crowded and grungy. Sharing our road trips experience - I brought a diaper for Jazz and disposable bottle for Jare. Jazz was dressed in a dress so I could slip up the diaper if her nature calls. Glad she didn't use it though. Jare was easy with the bottle. Judge me not, you'll be a desperate Mum in crowded situations like this. Of course, do your very best to find the most secluded corner for them.
  • Try the food stalls there. They are soooo good! Thai ice tea is always more pleasing and fragrant at street stalls than at most restaurants. Must try! I'm so missing it now.
  • Bargain really hard and buy! You ain't gonna find something similar along the way. The place is enormous, you won't wana go back to the stall after walking away.
  • Bribe the kids! They were all geared up after doing their lollipop cheers. Just be careful of the crowd's nudges with those lollipop sticks. 
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Lollipop cheers!
  • Ask if they would like something, a toy, a bag or how about a hat? It's fair eh, we're all on vacation. We can shop, they can shop!
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You look great darling, but it suits Mummy more
  • I heard most Thais work on Saturday morning, going early on Saturday might ease shopping a little. 
  • Security. Hold close to your belongings and kids, of course!
It does sound like alot of massive shopping for me. But I'm rather thankful most ladies and kids' wears were not to my fashion liking. Age must be the culprit. Some savings there!

Lastly, some good shares before my words finally stop flowing. I need to share this yummy cafe we lunched in Siam Center, Greyhound cafe. Fusion food of western and Thai, all too good! Our friends had the complicated noodles and couldn't stop raving about it. I loved their Yum Thai steak salad. We had no feel of craving for any western delish in the land of smiles. Makes more sense to try their forte.

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Greyhound cafe

And the tuktuk experience was one Js enjoyed much too. We took them twice, first time paying 150 baht and second time 80 baht. Both after some bargaining. There's usually more bargaining power if more tuktuks are gathered together. Competition and price are inversely related.

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Tuk tuk!

If you're into caricature, which we've been waiting to do, you may head down to the night stalls just outside Palladium Mall which is slightly opposite Platinum Mall. We paid 200 baht per face (about SGD8 per face). That's also where you can find customized casing like laptop covers, pouches or passport holders.

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Mine's done. So I'm up taking pics.

That's big chunks of information and experience shared! Hope it's useful in a way or another. It had been a lovely time for us, bonding as a family and travelling with some of the world's best travellers, our friends, Angs and Lees. Special thanks to Mummy Ang for planning this wonderful trip!

A vacation rejuvenates the soul, hope you had or will be having a great one too. 

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