Day 05: Bangkok – Pak Khlong Talat, Colours and Smells

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

We took the Express Boat back towards the city and got off at Memorial Bridge Pier to visit… the Pak Khlong Talat, also known as, the flower market!

Once you leave the pier, take the first left and then right at the 7-11. After that, follow the colours and the smell of flowers! ๐Ÿ˜€

Unfortunately, the best time to check out Pak Khlong Talat is pre-dawn from around 3-4am. Needless to say, the market was a little sleepy and empty when we walked around. Still plenty of sights to take in though!

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Such reasonably priced (compared to Canada and Australia) flowers… a little something for everyone!

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We saw many phuang malai garlands being made will skilled hands and sold on the spot. These are used as offerings to images of Buddha inside temples or shrines at home, ancestor shrines, etc.

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Mike… enjoying a nice cold Singha (bought at a nearby 7-11 and opened for by the cashier) on the streets of Bangkok.

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On the way back to the pier, I saw these two sorting out a huge stock of chili peppers and asked if I could take some pictures. They happily waved me to go ahead. Notice the cell phone in the plastic bag – I guess I wouldn’t want chili juice all over my cell either!

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Memorial Bridge and its respective pier with someone fishing.

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Thanks to Mark Weins and his YouTube video about kuay tiew rua (boat noodles) at Victory Monument, we had to try!

Once you get off the BTS at Victory Monument station, stay within the overhead walkway and head towards the canal (keeping Victory Monument on your left).

The canals are now very dirty and polluted.

This is not the side you want to be on…

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You want to be on this side! Which is why it’s important to keep Victory Monument on your left hand side as you are walking through the pedestrian overpass. We didn’t know that and did an unnecessary full circle around Victory Monument.

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When you reach the canal and get down onto the road, there will be a number of boat noodle restaurants to choose from. We decided to follow the one Mark Weins visited in his video and were quite happy!

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So… what are boat noodles? They are called so because they were traditionally served from boats. Nowadays, you can sit in a restaurant and enjoy them instead. They are also sold in small portions that sit shallow in the bowl, to limit spillage due to rocking by the boat.

The noodles are first blanched in hot soup before being tossed into a bowl with a little bit of water spinach (Morning Glory), a pork meatball and a few slivers of either pork or beef. The most important ingredient in a bowl of boat noodles is fresh pig’s blood which cooks immediately once hot soup is poured in, thickening the broth and giving the dish its characteristic wholesome pork flavour.

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The restaurant staff did not speak much English but it wasn’t hard to get our requests across with English on the menu. All dishes cost 10 baht each and we proceeded to eat!

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We both started with one each of the “Noodles thicken soup with beef” and “Noodles thicken soup with pork” The staff also brought over a plate of “Fried dumplings” (fried wonton skins) and “Streaky pork with crispy crackling” (fried pork rinds), which we readily agreed to take.

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Thick chewy noodles in a little bit of really flavoursome porky broth. There was also sugar, fish sauce, chili flakes and vinegar chili sauce at the table so you can flavour the noodles to your liking.

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So tasty! And because the portions are so tiny, we definitely got in a few more orders before leaving satisfied ๐Ÿ™‚ I think the final bill came to 100-150 baht ($3-5). Would definitely come again if we ever visit Bangkok!

By now, it was late afternoon and so we headed back to the hotel to hang with Laura one last time. With a bit of relaxation and chatting by the pool, it wasn’t long before it was time for us to head to the airport!

Sooner than we realized, we were getting off the train and checking into our flight back to Singapore at 8pm.

Our short trip to Bangkok was finally (felt much longer) coming to an end.

A few shots inside the Suvarnabhumi Airport.

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End of our Bangkok trip! … And I guess by default, end of Day 05!

FULL ALBUM OF LAST PORTION IN BANGKOK HERE

Day 04: Bangkok – Wat Saket, The Golden Mount

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

After our visit to Wat Pho, we continued on, walking towards Grand Palace as our next destination.

During the walk, there were many vendors selling historical (war/religious) artifacts like pendants and statues. We assumed the artifacts were real because there were a number of locals using eye magnifiers to inspect the pieces they wanted to buy. I wish we could’ve been able to ask a vendor to tell us more about what was going on.

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And of course, there was food! We stopped for some rice as well as a Cha Yen (Thai iced tea).

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Unfortunately, as we got to the window to buy tickets at the Grand Palace, there was a sign that Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) would be closed shortly for maintenance.

Since Wat Phra Kaew is one of the major sites to visit in the Grand Palace, we decided to come back tomorrow. In the meantime, we would go ahead and visit Wat Saket (The Golden Mount).

This leads to another tip:

  • Taxi drivers will try to rip you off – don’t let them! If a driver doesn’t agree to use the meter and tries to negotiate a fixed price, get out of there!

Since it was a far walk, we decided to grab a taxi from Grand Palace to Wat Saket. The first taxi we found refused to use the meter and insisted on a 200 baht fixed fare. We laughed and left, and finally found a taxi that would use the meter. Total cost? 45 baht. Although the difference between 45 and 200 baht is only around $5, it was the principle that mattered to us. A couple dollars saved with honest taxi drivers meant there was more money towards something else, like tipping those drivers and trying more local cuisine!

The entrance fee to Wat Saket is 20 baht, very little!

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“Wat Saket, popularly known as the Golden Mount or โ€˜Phu Khao Thongโ€™, is a low hill crowned with a gleaming gold chedi. Within, the 58-metre chedi houses a Buddha relic and welcomes worshippers all year round.

It is unfortunate, but we weren’t able to get a good shot from the bottom to show you the full view. Here’s a picture from Google to show you what it looks like:

“The temple dates back to the Ayutthaya era, when it was known as Wat Sakae. When Bangkok became the capital, King Rama I renovated the temple and gave it its present name.”

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“Built on an artificial man-made hill, the Golden Mount is the templeโ€™s most well-known landmark and is a sacred pilgrimage site during the weeklong worshipping period in November. To get to the top requires a climb up some 300 steps, which encircle the chedi like a loosely coiled snake.”

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The steps are tiny tiny tiny. I think they’re equivalent to 100 normal sized steps ๐Ÿ˜‰ But the walk up is super easy, even though it’s terribly hot and you will sweat!

“Approaching the top of the hill, you will be welcomed by a wall of bells and panoramas of historic Bangkok.”

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Mike posing silly but I did see other people ringing the bells as they were praying while ascending.

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Shrine at the top

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Panoramic view of Bangkok from the top!

Bangkok Panorama

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We thought we head reached the top, but wait! You can go up a small set of steep steps to the actual top – right up to the golden stupa. We spent some quiet time here observing others and just taking in the city views and refreshing breeze.

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“Before beginning the climb (or if you are us, after the climb), you will find an unusual cemetery built into the base of the Golden Mount. Covered in vines and overgrown trees, it emits a rather spooky out-of-era vibe. Perhaps this is because in the late 18th century, Wat Saket served as the capital’s crematorium and the dumping ground for some 60,000 plague victims.”

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And that marks the end of our visit to Wat Saket!

During the taxi ride back to Tha Tien Pier, we passed by the Democracy Monument. I was able to grab a quick shot from inside the taxi.

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More to come! ๐Ÿ™‚

Day 04: Bangkok – Wat Pho, Temple of the Reclining Buddha

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

As it often happens on vacation, our plans to start the day super early were spoiled by the laziness to sleep in. No worries! By late morning we were on the BTS heading to Saphan Taksin station, which connects to the Chao Praya Express Boat (and Tourist Boat) at Sathorn Pier.

We were headed off to our first destination of the day: Wat Pho, also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.

“Wat Pho is one of the largest and oldest wats (temples) in Bangkok and is home to more than one thousand Buddha images, as well as one of the largest single Buddha images of 43m length: the Reclining Buddha. It is also thought to be the origin of the original Thai massage.”

Tips:

  1. Sathorn Pier is where you want to be if you will be visiting the Grand Palace and other famous temples… very easy to get to there by boat!
  2. If you want, take the tourist boat once (buy tickets at the kiosk), specifically for the narration while traveling down the river if you aren’t familiar with the area or haven’t done any reading.
  3. After that, take the express boat (it flies orange flags, buy tickets on board), not the tourist boat! It’s 15 baht as opposed to 40 baht and stops at more stations along the river!
  4. Unless you want to wear public attire worn by many other sweaty individuals, make sure you’re dressed appropriately for the temples. Covered shoulders and pants below the knees!
  5. Get there early, the later you go, the more people will be all up in your personal space ๐Ÿ˜‰
  6. If anyone tries to stop you BEFORE you’ve reached the entrance, saying that the temple is closed – do not believe them. You are being scammed.

The express boat can fit quite a few people!

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To get to Wat Pho, take the boat to Tha Tien Pier. As you approach Tha Tien Pier, you will see Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) on the other side of the river. We’ll be visiting Wat Arun later!

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From the pier, walk through the market and just follow the crowd! It’s just across the street, you won’t be able to miss it ๐Ÿ™‚

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Tickets are 100 baht which includes a small bottle of cold water – redeem it! It will be nice and refreshing ๐Ÿ™‚

“The temple has sixteen gates around the complex guarded by Chinese giants carved out of rocks. Only 2 are open for public entrance.”

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Once you enter the complex, if you want to visit the temple, you will be given a bag to put your shoes in and carry with you inside. If you aren’t dressed appropriately, you will be loaned a robe to wear.

Entrance to the temple

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“The image of reclining Buddha is 15 m high and 43 m long with his right arm supporting the head with tight curls on two box-pillows of blue, richly encrusted with glass mosaics.”

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“The 3 m high and 4.5 m long foot of Buddha displays are inlaid with mother-of-pearl. They are divided into 108 arranged panels, displaying the auspicious symbols by which Buddha can be identified like flowers, dancers, white elephants, tigers and altar accessories.”

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“There are 108 bronze bowls in the corridor indicating the 108 auspicious characters of Buddha. People drop coins in these bowls as it is believed to bring good fortune, and to help the monks maintain the wat.”

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Walls are completely covered in intricate, hand painted murals.

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“Outside the temple, the grounds contain 91 chedis (stupas or mounds), four viharas (halls) and a bot (central shrine).”

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“The main temple/chapel is Phra Ubosatha with Phra Buddha Deva Patimakorn, the principal Buddha it is situated a top a three tiered pedestal under which some ashes of King Rama I are kept. The interior of the Hall is covered with fine murals and the inside of the panels for the windows are covered in lacquer work. This is the most impressive building at Wat Pho.”

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Day 02: Singapore – Asian Civilisations Museum

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Woke up and checked out of Big Hotel (left our luggage there for safe keeping)! Xuan met us for a day of fun before our flight to Bangkok in the evening.

First things first, off to breakfast!

As we walked over to Bugis Village Hawker Centre, we passed by a few sights:

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The Sri Krishan Temple, a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Krishna.

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Just a couple of steps away, the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, one of the oldest Buddhist (1884) temples in Singapore. It is a popular place of worship for devotees of Kuan Yin, the Chinese god of mercy.

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We soon made it to the hawker centre where Xuan made sure we tried many yummy local dishes!

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Iced milk tea

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Fresh deep fried goodness! Ham Chim Peng – a savory, rolled bun with 5 spice. You Tiao, crisp light dough sticks that’s called ‘gio chao quay’ in Vietnamese. First time having it fresh out of the fryer… I am now spoiled. And the Butterfly Bun, slightly sweet and covered in sesame seeds – yummy too!

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This is Poh Piah, our favourite of the morning. A thin crepe-like wrap filled with stir fried turnip, hoisin/chili-based sauce, cucumber, crispy peanuts, shallots, lettuce, egg and more. Bursting of flavour and texture! Similar in style and flavour to one of my favourite Vietnamese dished called ‘bo bia‘… both very delicious!

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Another dish, called Chwee Kuay. Steamed rice cakes topped with preserved radish and chili. Simple and tasty, but not a standout to me. I think it’s because the rice cakes reminded me of ‘banh beo‘ in Vietnamese cuisine – except banh beo is much more elevated in flavour with coconut-based rice cakes often topped with dried shrimp, mung bean paste and fried shallots, eaten with nuoc mam (fish sauce vinaigrette).

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With our bellies happy, we proceeded on foot to the Asian Civilisations Museum!

On the way, we passed through Raffles City and Xuan suggested a pit stop at the Tiong Bahru Bakery for their delightful Croissant au Beurre. Crisp, buttery and fluffy – how I’ve missed quality croissants!

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We continue on with our scenic walk, an opportunity to see the Marina Bay Sands Hotel from an angle we’ve never seen before.

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Eventually, we made it to the Asian Civilisations Museum but didn’t go in until we took pictures of the Singapore River with Boat Quay on the other side.

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The Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) is the first museum in the region to present a broad yet integrated perspective of pan-Asian cultures and civilisations… opened on 2 March 2003. Occupying over 14,000 square metres at the newly-restored Empress Place Building, it houses 11 galleries which showcase over 1300 artefacts from the Museum’s growing collections on the civilisations of China, Southeast Asia, South Asia and West Asia/ Islamic. These collections include recent acquisitions as well as artefacts inherited from the historic Southeast Asian ethnographic collection of the former Raffles Museum.

And now onto some of my favourite pieces in the museum! (I am too lazy to write out the description of each piece, but if anyone would like to know more, I will be happy to write more!)

Teak Chettinad Door (19th-20th cent) Chettinad region, Tamil Nadu

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Crowned Buddha in dharmachakra (11th cent) Pala, Bihar

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Ganesha

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Sandstone Yogini (11th cent) Pramara, Bijamandal, Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh

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Schist Nataraja (12th cent) Halebid, Karnataka

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Gateway (Late 17th – early 18th cent) Western Uttar Pradesh or Eastern Rajasthan

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Nebula (2003) by Kouichi Honda, Japan

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Carved Human Skull (1900s) Kayan Dayak, Sarawak, Malaysia

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Multi-armed Quan Am (18th cent or greater) Northern Vietnam

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He-He Erxian (17th cent)

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Shakyamuni Seated in Meditation (early 17th cent)

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Plurality of identities of Daoism

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An interactive area called ‘Share Your Insights‘ that allowed visitors to answer a number of questions. These were some of my favourites.

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“Imagine you are about to marry a person whom you have never met. In 5 words, sum up what is going through your mind”

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“Imagine you are holding your baby for the very first time. What is ONE promise you would make to him or her?”

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“Imagine you can make the world a better place, what is the ONE thing you would do?”

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“Imagine you were an emperor. Name ONE value you would promote.”

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“Imagine how you would defeat a centaur who is bigger and taller than a horse to save a bride?”

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Southeast Asian silver

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Trophy and mug

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Gold Malay pendant necklace with Buddhist symbols and Chinese shop marks on reverse

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Peranakan Chinese bridal ensemble, headband, hairpins, lapel ornaments (19th cent) Java

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Shroud (2011) by Jakkai Siributr, Thailand, Bangkok

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And that marked the end of our visit!

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Next, it was over the bridge and through The Fullerton Hotel where we stopped for drinks at The Landing Point. We were a little under-dressed, but that’s okay! We sat outside and enjoyed the view anyway.

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Finally, it was time to head back to our hotel to grab our luggage and head to the airport for our flight to Bangkok at 5:30pm.

But not without stopping for some food! Haha, this time at Parklane Zha Yun Tun Mee House!

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Mmm, some deep fried wontons (but not enough filling), non-soggy noodles and char siew with a side of soup. Great end to our temporary stay in Singapore!

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THANK YOU FOR TAKING CARE OF US XUAN!

We’ll be back, but for now… off to Bangkok!

FULL DAY 02 ALBUM IN SINGAPORE HERE