Thursday, October 27, 2016

Here we come again, Bangkok!

The respected Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej passed on a week before we were to fly to Bangkok for our regular 拜拜 trip. But that wouldn't change our plans, as when the recent Central Italy earthquake in Amatrice didn't change our plan to tour Italy earlier in September.

Serene and I loved to fly in late in the afternoon after our morning session of work. And being able to drive home, grab the luggage, take the MRT to the airport and still making it in time for check-in was one of the main reasons why I love Air Asia's 5:05pm departure.
Two and a half hour flight, arriving in Don Muang airport, and a 20-minute, 30 Baht (S$1.20) per person A1 or A2 shuttle bus to Chatuchak market, followed by a 40-minute BTS ride from Mo Chit station to Siam station at 42 Baht (S$1.68) a head, and we were firmly standing on the grounds of Siam Square surely making our route to the highly-recommended Inter Restaurant just behind Siam Square.
"Wear black or dark-coloured clothing," advised one of our regular patients Albert. "The Thais are in mourning for one year. Preferably avoid red or brightly-coloured clothes."
And we were indeed not surprised to see many deeply-loyal Thais across all ages wearing all black or black and white. Many were wearing black ribbons on their left arms as a sign of mourning. Even the Air Asia stewardesses were wearing black arm bands.
One of the many memorials in Bangkok, this one was in Central World Plaza.
The mood of the BTS was sombre, and no music was played, but simply announcement of the passing on of the King on their display panels.
Many buildings were adorned with black and white ribbons as a sign of mourning.
Some of our friends who were to make their trip a little later were concerned if the restaurants and the health and massage establishments would be opened as usual, and our mission was to find that out.
On the trip what I discovered was I could purchase the True H SIM cards right on board the Air Asia plane from the air stewardesses at 299 Baht (S$12) for unlimited data. That was so convenient! I didn't even needed to wait until we landed. Right on board we were able to install the Thai SIM card and got ourselves readied for Internet the moment we landed.
There was an exhibit of paintings of the King by various artists in Central World.

Inter Restaurant

Tucked right at one small alley behind Siam Square, this air-conditioned and brightly-lit restaurant was manned by a crew of young waiter and waitresses. But they were generally smiling and patient with us, as we ordered from what I could remember from the recommendations by Trip Advisor.

This restaurant was full of locals. Young and old. And if a restaurant was frequented by the locals it could not be bad. And it did not disappoint.
  • The Tom Yum was spicy and fragrant. Sour by my standard, but definitely Thai.
  • The green curry was normal standard.

  • The oyster omelette was disappointingly bland.
  • The deep fried chicken wing middle section was spectacular. We both enjoyed.

  • The fried squid with garlic was definitely excellent, and I walloped the whole plate all on my own.
  • The fried beef with oyster sauce was delicious, especially with rice.
  • And the Pad Thai was nice and gently sweetened, just right for me.
Seven dishes and both Serene and I could hardly walk to our hotel right after that. 850 Baht (S$33) plus two Coke Zero was really a nice and inexpensive dinner fit for a just-touched-down pair of tourists.
700m walk along the main road, passing by a drunk man laying supine at a bus stop, and we were at Centara Grand Central World.
"Centara is more expensive than Novotel during this period leh," Kai Sing messaged me. True. I guessed we were paying for the convenience as it was just right at Central World and we didn't need to cross the river each time we were out.

After our last couple of trips to Bangkok, we had come to realise that the few important things we wanted to do each time we were here were:
  • go pray at Erawan Shrine Four Face Buddha.
  • Go massage at Foot Master at Amarin.
  • Shop and eat at Central World, and if time allowed, around Siam Square area.
And those were all within easy reach via the skywalk, Best.
A piece of work of several figures of an old lady dancing and waving the cymbal towards the departed King,
as if they were bidding him farewell.

Gym at Centara Grand

I loved this gym. It had a nice view when I ran on the treadmill, looking across towards Siam Paragon. 8am and I was already enjoying myself on the machine.
The gym instructors were lean and muscular young men who were highly-sought after by the middle-aged ladies in the gym asking to have the instructors pushing down on their backs for a nice stretch. Free water and towel made it such a convenience.

After the run and working out my gluteus and abductors on the machine, I made up my to come back early next morning.

The World Restaurant
"Wei, Dar, are you done yet? I'm hungry!" texted Serene. She must have just woken up.

The World Restaurant at 24th floor was, as usual, full of people at 9:15am. I didn't care. I had burnt about 500Cal this morning and I simply gobbled omelettes, bacons, hams, and plenty of rubbish, not knowing what was to come.
Breakfast at The World was, in my opinion, so-so.  Edible. And yes quite a selection in terms of variety. But nothing to shout about, less so the service.

拜拜 at The Four Face Buddha

It was so nice to walk through the air-conditioned huge Central World Mall and reaching the Groove on the second floor before we crossed Rama I road on the Skywalk to Erawan Shrine.
After the terrorist bombing in August 2015 and the incident of a Toyota car smashing into the shrine during our last visit, it seemed that a visit to the shrine was a leap of faith nowadays. But in no way did it dampen the fervour with which the locals and tourists flocked to pray here.

I always liked to give thanks by inviting 8 dancers to dance (for 710 Bahts), and after that a clockwise round of prayers with the garlands and joss sticks (500 Bahts).

Our good friends Gerard and Darric reminded me to wash my face and gargle with the holy water from the bronze pot at the corner, something that I'd forgotten to do on my last visit. And this time round I made triply sure I executed their instructions to the fullest.

"You sure the water is clean?" texted Charles. "Maybe it has legionella in it."
"I will know after today," was my joking reply to him.
"You never gargled with the water ah?" Darric was adamantly texting me about gargling with the holy water.
"Never fight with the man that drank the water." was KC Obama's staunch reply to everybody's queries.  Hats off to the President.  He was always the one with the wisest answer for every question.

Praying to The Four Face Buddha had become a ritual to me as I tried to make my annual pilgrimage. The only period that saw us away from Bangkok for a prolonged period was those years when the Red shirts and Yellow shirts were fighting against each other.

In search of dessert... on a painful knee

"Let me bring you to this popular Trip Advisor recommended Korean restaurant for lunch," I told Serene. "It's at Siam Square so we can walk there and gai gai a bit before we eat."
"Huh? Korean buffet for lunch? I am still very full from breakfast leh," replied her.
That was quite true. Ok, no lunch. But instead we decided we were going to try out a popular Korean dessert store in Siam Square Soi 2 called Seo Bing Korean Dessert. Fate was such that despite our GPS showing that we were there we could not find it.

And we ended up having a lovely Thai coconut dessert at this icoconut Thai Dessert by the alley. What a discovery! We loved the intricately decorated coconut ice cream and the mango cheese smoothie and young coconut smoothie.
The ceiling design of iCoconut Thai desser

Unbeknown, the dinner the night before and the breakfast coupled with the exertion in the morning had started a whole chain of inflammation on my right knee.
I was dead sure it was my iliotibial band working up as I climbed the overhead bridge. And I remarked to Serene that it felt stiff and swollen.
"Wei, first time I see you pai-kah until like that," she said. I really was limping, like the way many of my gout patients lumped into my room.
And then it struck me halfway up the overhead bridge - gout attack. Shucks. My finger joints were tingling and both my ankles were throbbing by then already. It could not have been anything else but gout.
The display outside Siam Paragon and Siam Centre

I laughed and kicked myself. Serene laughingly said that there must have been plenty of fish sauce in the food we ate. And I agreed with her whole-heartedly- fish sauce, soya sauce, condiments, red meat, sea food, peanuts, chili sauces, spices and the full works.

Served me right. Whenever I travelled I simply threw caution to the wind and ate whatever I could lay my hands on. And on this I was suffering.
I limped my way into Siam Centre and it was deja vu for us as we hadn't been back here for quite a number of years. Serene loved the shops here because the Aunty-ness of the fashion wear catered to her taste.
Slowly (and painfully) we moved through Siam Paragon and then back along the main road.
"Ok let us go back and rest for a while and then we will go up to explore the 6th and 7th floors of Central World and see what would be nice for dinner."
Inside Siam Paragon
Foot Master foot massage at Amarin

On our last trip, we discovered both the Foot Master at Amarin and Asia Herb Association, both highly recommend by Trip Advisor. Asia Herb Association was high class and good. But it was further at Sukhumvit soi 24. A little ma-fan. Instead we found the foot and back massage by the Senior therapists at the Foot Master at Amarin, accessible by Skywalk (again), to be really good. And a two hour session awaited both of us this morning at 4:30pm.
The two supposed senior therapists were good. But they weren't as good as our previous experience.
They seemed a little rushed, although they gave us the full two hours.
Well, at least Serene had her massage and she was happy already.
Whether the foot massage helped me or not, the was some degree of relief, perhaps placebo. But what was real was the rhabdomyolysis post massage as I felt the drowsiness setting in.
Passing through Erawan Shrine on our way back to Cenral World.  The last time we passed through the same spot
 on our previous trip, about half an hour later, the shrine had a toyota car crashed into it.

Shabu Shi Buffet Japanese restaurant
A total disappointment
After a short rest, at 6th floor of Central World we discovered this restaurant with a queue outside. A queue could only meant that the restaurant was not bad. Right? Wrong.
The beef was not nice. The selection was limited. It was like Sukiya watered down (Sukiya nowadays was already pretty watered-down). I ended up eating lots of pork which was probably the only nicer food. Gout or no gout, I was determined to pork myself out. We had the ebi tempura and the gyoza, again salvaging this otherwise uninspiring meal. But sharing the restaurant with plenty of our good neighbours from the big country up north was really not the nicest experience. For 838 Bahts (S$33) for free flow buffet shabu shabu for two, I would rather spend my money elsewhere.

Coconut water from Central Food Hall - hydrate, hydrate and hydrate.
"Ok tonight let's go buy some coconut water from the supermarket and go back to rehydrate myself and rest my knees an ankles," I told Serene. "Tomorrow then we go shopping."
The very obliging supermarket sales assistant at Central Food Hall who helped us
find the shrimp paste chilli powder & green curry paste.

There were a few brands of my favourite packaged coconut water. The UFC ones were listed at 75 Bahts but going at a discounted 69 Bahts (S$2.74), and another brand which was at 70 Bahts. Now I finally understood why it was difficult for NTUC to sell the UFC brand for less than S$6.35 for two bottles. Because here in Thailand the base price was already like this.

"Didn't you try baking soda, like you always advised me to," texted Wai Kit.
No, because my gout was serious lah. When it acted up a while factory of baking soda wouldn't work. I needed my medicine, which thankfully Serene prepared.
That night a thunderstorm struck Bangkok with lightning and heavy rain that rattled the glass window. I loved this kind of weather, especially when I was on holiday.

Shopping, shopping and shopping... and eating again

The next morning my knee and ankles were still throbbing a little but the edge had been taken off them. Wow, this bout of attack must have been terrible. It literally derailed my training plans at the gym.
"Rest lah, you!" scolded Serene and I guai guai obeyed.
Our massage appointment was at 10:30am. I was hoping that some detoxification would help ease my gout.
"Tell then I want a lady therapist this time round," Serene was very specific.
And who did we have this round but that same two senior therapists who did such a great job for us on our previous trip- Aek the male therapist and Nid the female therapist! Now these two were the real deal. Really senior and really strong and experienced. With firm, measured fingers they located and unknotted our painful muscles, leaving. I stones unturned. Serene was ee-ee-ah-ah-ing beside me as the plumpish Nid knelt on her, and on my side of the room here I was struggling to contain my yelping as Aek pushed his knee upon my tight hamstrings.
Their executions were unrelenting and the session we had the day before was nothing compared to this.
We enjoyed ourselves so much thoroughly that we more than doubled the tips for them, and immediately booked our appointment for the next day with the same therapists at 12:30pm.
The 1040 Baht per person (two hour session) was certainly well-worth it.
Small lunch at The Terrace
And after our massage we were still feeling a little not too hungry.
"Ok ok let's go to our usual The Terrace and have our favourite deep-fried fish and Pad Thai and coconut ice cream. And we save some stomach for dinner."
The Terrace on the third floor of Central World was forever a safe choice. If we had no idea what to eat, coming back to The Terrace would always be back to safe territory.
After makan, the shopping started. And Serene and I had our fun.
One thing we really noticed was, throughout the shopping malls, many of the boutique shops' merchandising were in black.  The fashion wears were all in black and certainly many of the huge photos of models were in black and white too, in mourning of the King.

Bingsul, finally!!

I was not satisfied after our last trip with our venture into the Bingsul territory. So this round I was determined to give ourselves another chance.
As we strolled through the 7th floor. We came to this one that I had been searching called OkBingsul.

"The popular one is the strawberry flavour but the original is the red bean one," introduced the young lady. And red bean being Serene's favourite, it was the one that finally ended up on our table, a large Red Bean Bingsul at 190 Bahts (around S$8) a bowl. Not something that you would have every day but once a long long while just to satisfy the taste buds.

English Premier League
EPL on the hotel TV!

And what better way than to spend a nice evening watching how Arsenal beat the backside out of Sunderland 1-4 on a Saturday evening? Of course I was sore that Sunderland scored a goal because of a split second lost of concentration on Arsenal's side. But what to do?

Mo Mo Paradise Japanese Restaurant

The night before we were already deciding between these two: Mo Mo Paradise Japanese restaurant or Aka Japanese restaurant, and Mo Mo Paradise tipped the scale in its favour by the few good reviews on Trip Advisor.
And boy was it a meal! We booked our reservation for 8pm and we were seated within five minutes despite the crowd waiting outside. And the young female waitress was so attentive to us, guiding us in what and how to order, demonstrating how to dip the spongy ramen into the sukiyaki soup, how to use the meat and sukiyaki sauces with our meat and she kept pointing out items which we could order- mango sorbet, bamboo chicken, muah-Chee, rice, udon and literally a whole menu of food which, at a total of 1330+ Baht (S$27 per person) for both of us, offered unlimited choices of food and drinks. We just didn't have the gastronomic capacity to down them. We ended the meal happily, sticking out our tongue at each other in total fullness.

And Mo Mo Paradise went into our book as a great eat.
The night was still young. And we went back to our room still in time to catch Tottenham Hotspur tie with Leicester in another fast-paced match.

Bye bye Bangkok
"Why so fast one ah?" Complained Serene on Sunday morning. "Go holiday like never go holiday like that one!"
Along the Skywalk were exhibits of artists works.

Yeah. She was right. It never would be enough. Not for Bangkok. The way we were enjoying Bangkok we could spend a whole month here and would still not have enough. But we just made the most of our time here. And even on this last day, after our check out at 12 noon, our two-hour massage session with Aek and Nid still was awaiting at the Foot Master.
Still time to squeeze in another two hour session at Amarin.

Rushing to the airport
Time and time again I misjudged the time needed to travel to Don Muang airport. Catching the 2:40pm BTS from Chit Lom and arriving at Mo Chit at 3:15pm meant that we desperately needed our A1 or A2 shuttle buses to arrive as soon as we reached the bus stop, and not at 3:33pm, leaving us gasping for air as the bus rolled into the airport at 4:03pm, with our plane scheduled for departure at 4:40pm.
Thankfully true to its reputation, Air Asia again had a delay of 30 minutes and we were once again safe.
A reminder to myself to give at least one hour and forty-five minutes of traveling time to Don Muang International airport, knowing Thailand's congested roads.