Bangkok Day 1 & 2 – Erawan Shrine, Siam Paragon and the Chao Phraya

The long queues at immigration meant it took a while for me to exit the arrival hall before I head towards a telecommunication shop to get a local prepaid SIM card. The helpful store assistant even helped me set up the SIM card on the phone and block the data from activating. After this I was ready to head into the city but which form of transport should I take. Given it was my first solo trip, I wanted to try something other than the good old taxi. I decided on the airport bus, which was cheap and the staff manning the counter mentioned I could reach Grand Hyatt Erawan at one of the stops. With departures from the airport every 30 – 40 minutes, I had to wait around 20 minutes before the next bus arrived. It was already close to 5pm when the bus arrived and we had to wait inside the bus for another 5 minutes or so. There was a luggage rack on the bus, though seats and the overall comfort of the bus is lacking compared to the complimentary shuttle in the Marina Bay Sands. I think I am a spoilt traveller.

Arrival at Suvarnabhumi Airport

Anyway the bus ride was initially going on smoothly across the highway linking Suvarnabhumi with Bangkok, as we pass through fields and the Thai Airways Building near the airport. The problem lies in the city during peak hour as the bus got into one of those notorious jams that Bangkok was famous for. We were stuck in on alleyway for maybe 15-20 minutes before we got to another road which had more delays. And while I was expecting the bus to drop off passengers on a bus-stop of some kind with proper signage, I was terribly wrong. Initially the bus stopped and called for a particular stop but having had no knowledge of the stop and the lack of clarity, I did not know I had reached my destination. That was until the bus moved on again, and called out for the Erawan stop before I realized I was supposed to alight. However this meant I was dropped off in the middle of the road with a divider blocking my access to the pavement. What a way to alight, though it was lucky I only had one luggage and a backpack.

Entrance Lobby at the Grand Hyatt Erawan in Bangkok

The stop was unfamiliar to me, since it was my first time in Bangkok, but with a shopping mall by the corner, I got some information and was able to use the convenience of the skywalk in the area to get to my hotel. In retrospect, I should perhaps take the airport express train or just pay for a taxi. Well, that’s the price one got to pay for being adventurous! It was already sundown by the time I arrived at the hotel building but another problem occurred here. The hotel reception was supposedly located in a different floor to the Erawan Shopping Arcade through which I entered and it was kind of like a maze for first-time visitors. Eventually I reached the check-in desk after taking several escalators, crossing a small staircase and boarding an elevator. Yeah lots of ups and downs, but the idea is that there is a reason why the cost of a taxi is more than that of a bus. Apparently as I reached, nearly every staff member on the reception desk was busy which meant more waiting when I was already tired from the flight and ride. I got attended to shortly and luckily the check-in process did not take long, and this is something I found as a benefit of staying at a hotel where one is a member of. The hotels will prepare your keys beforehand (most of the time at least) and have most of your information online. Again, I wasn’t failed by Hyatt’s guarantee of a non-smoking floor and got myself again a reasonably high-floor.

Grand King Room at Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok
Bathroom with Shelf and Divider

The hotel room in the Grand Hyatt Erawan was smaller than that in Jakarta but was adequate for one person. The bathroom was as good, with a bathtub, separate shower stall and a shelf that acts as a divider for the toilet. Overall a very nice layout for the bathroom, Inside the room itself was a king-sized bed and a work desk which makes full use of the half-bay windows to face the TV Console. In this case both the bed and the work desk could face the TV Console which has a nice LCD TV, again providing guests with great programming. Layout of the room was just like any other though it was comfortable and spacious enough. A couch with an ottoman faces towards the bed, and there was also a welcome platter of fruits in the room. Like the Grand Hyatt Jakarta, the fruits were replenished daily, and I really do prefer to fruits to chocolates which sometimes I don’t really like. When staying in hotels, I always like to wear slippers in the room and Grand Hyatt Erawan really provides some comfortable and high quality bedroom slippers.

Dinner of Fishball Noodle Soup at Nara Restaurant

After exploring the room amenities, I unpacked my luggage and headed for a warm shower to refresh myself before heading to the shopping arcade just downstairs for a bowl of nice and hot fishball noodles. I chose something light this time as I was still recovering from a cough, and decided to get an early rest for the night, as I read the day’s news and watched the TV in the room before I dozed off in the comfy bed. The next morning I woke up to my alarm clock and as a Hyatt GP Member, I was entitled to a cup of morning coffee, while I peeled myself some Fuji Apples. To my suprise, the tray of coffee came with breakfast danish and pastries by the side. Somehow they seemed to be very generous considering the lower rates for rooms in this property compared to properties in Jakarta and Singapore. And the daily morning newspaper (IHT) was also delivered to the room. Feeling satisfied, I went on to do the day’s work and utilized the hotel’s wi-fi in the room which was also very good. I noticed it was provided by NTT DoCoMo, the Japanese telecommunication company.

Coffee and Danish for Breakfast

With some of the day’s work done, I headed to the lobby to check for a post office where I can get postage stamps and was directed to the Amarin Plaza beside the hotel. I got my stamps before heading towards the Erawan Shrine which was just downstairs at the corner of the hotel. It was here that I think I got scammed into those naive-touristy stuff. The streets outside the shrine is lined with stalls selling floral garlands, incense and offerings for prayers. Tourists passing by should jolly well have exact change for incense and/or these floral garlands if they are interested to head to the shrine to pray. It was also here that I ended up with extra floral garland. The four-faced Buddha shrine is popular amongst visitors as they are known to grant devotees their prayers and since I figured I haven’t been to a place of religious worship or offered anything to the deities in a long time, maybe I should do it like once? So I went ahead and bought the floral garlands for the four sides and incense to light at all four sides. The stall vendor, instead of giving me change just went ahead to stuff more stuff like candles and floral garland which I thought was ridiculous. Since it was just a small change, I just let the matter past. The thick smoke of incense in the area in the day just really stings the eye and provides a slightly stuffy atmosphere, and if I do want to visit again, perhaps I would choose the evening or night time when the sun isn’t as hot and the crowds not that much. So, that was my experience at the Erawan Shrine and as a tourist, I might have got cheated perhaps and maybe bought overpriced incense, candles and floral garlands, which I would just have to treat as the fees that tourists would have to pay to explore new places.

Floral garlands sold on the street
Floral Offerings to the Four-faced Buddha at the Erawan Shrine

The exploration of Bangkok continued as I headed towards the Skywalk and took a leisurely walk towards Siam BTS station. The Grand Hyatt Erawan is located between the Siam and Chit Lom BTS Station and both stations are connected by a skywalk with connections to the various shopping malls and hotels in the area. Initially I explored Gaysorn Mall but this upscale mall has limited dining options. It is thus a good idea to take a walk to the Siam BTS station as that station is a major interchange and is just beside Bangkok’s largest shopping mall – Siam Paragon. This huge mall hosts a large supermarket, food court, restaurants, and even a large cinema and aquarium where tourists can visit. On the day I was there, the mall has a large crowd of people queueing up for Krispy Kreme, as it seemed the company might have just opened a branch in Bangkok. The various food options available in the mall allowed me to satisfy my craving for Sukiyaki that day which I had at a small Japanese eatery. The Beef Sukiyaki set served was quite good and I was satisfied with the meal as I left the mall and queued for a taxi at the stand outside the mall to head to the Grand Palace, intending to visit the Palace for the evening.

Siam Paragon Shopping Mall

As I left the mall at around 2.30pm, I only managed to reach the Grand Palace around 3.15pm, and with the Palace due to be closed by 4.30pm, I thought it better to explore the Palace the next day and headed to the nearest water bus jetty passing through a small food and souvenir market along the way. I took a cheap water bus ride downstream from the jetty and not knowing what to expect, and there being not much information in English, I asked a security guard on the jetty and he just told me to wait for the next water bus. The water bus reminds me of the vaporetto in Venice, albeit this one being much smaller and made of wood. The jetty had tourists, monks and locals waiting by the few seats and it was roughly a 10-15 minute wait before the right boat that goes downstream arrived. It is worth noting that visitors could also take the more expensive water taxi option or the tourist cruise option. Boarding the water bus is also tricky for first-timers since the platform is floating and could be subject to the waves on the river. Thus hold tight to your belongings and grab on to any solid support. The bus itself has seats on the front section and standing areas at the back. Passengers should just wait until the one of the boat attendant approaches with a money box where they will collect the money and pass a small ticket. Onboard the water bus, passengers should also note that there are some space reserved for monks, and in this country which has Buddhism as its main religion, monks are revered and respected.

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Flags along the Jetty with Wat Rakhang on the opposite river bank

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Space reserved for monks onboard the water bus

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Cruising Chao Phraya on the water bus

The afternoon cruise of Chao Phraya was nice and really affordable, which means it is something which free and easy leisure travellers should take once while in Bangkok, as one gets to see the various temples along the riverbanks as well as some upscale hotels in the downstream section. I alighted from the water bus at the jetty close to the Mandarin Oriental and intended to walk to the main street to hail cab back to my hotel. Instead, I took a walk around the neighbourhood and ventured into a small shopping arcade specializing in Thai art and handicrafts. I went to take a look at some of the art pieces in the shops. From there I walked back to the Mandarin Oriental, as I checked out this landmark hotel in Bangkok. This hotel is absolutely on a different class compared to the Grand Hyatt Erawan, with its riverfront location and its nice bright  and airy lobby. I walked to the waterfront terrace which has a restaurant operating for lunch and dinner, though at this time of the day, it was pretty empty with no one occupying the riverside seats and tables. This gave me the opportunity to take a few shots with myself in it. Another spot worth exploring in the hotel is the historic building From here, I managed to take a complimentary boat shuttle from the hotel’s private jetty which will bring me to the Saphan Taksin BTS Station, and I could easily take the Skytrain back to Chit Lom and walk back to the Grand Hyatt.

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Mandarin Oriental Lobby in Bangkok

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Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok

And like tourists did, I got lost or rather took the BTS in the opposite direction, which brought me to the end of the line and just made me take the train back. Passengers get tickets from a machine and it was convenient enough to get the tickets to ride on the train. The ride from the end of the line at Wongwian Yai also meant I got an empty train cabin for my journey to Siam Station. However, as it was close to peak hour, the passenger count steadily increased until it became packed. Closer to Siam, I gave up my seat for a mother and her small child. Before long I reached my stop at Siam, alighted and took another train to Chit Lom since the fare to Chit Lom or Siam was the same and I have not tried the walk from Chit Lom to the hotel. Frequent trains and well maintained stations and cabins meant the Bangkok BTS was a very convenient method of travel to reach several places of interest and shopping in the country. The walk from Chit Lom Station to Grand Hyatt Erawan was much more pleasant in my opinion due to the wider walkway with the walk passing through the InterContinental Hotel in Bangkok as well. Returning to my room, I took another shower to refresh myself and did some browsing in the room before heading out again to meet an ex-colleague who moved to Bangkok for work.

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Inside the BTS Train at Wongwian Yai

My friend suggested we meet at a small commercial plaza along Sukhumvit and I decided to walk to Chit Lom having felt that the walkway to Chit Lom was wider, and more pleasant to walk to. I alighted at Asok BTS Station and walked towards our meeting point. The designated meeting point was actually occupied by several Korean BBQ restaurants, Korean supermarkets and some Korean offices, making the area look like a small part of Korea in Bangkok. We wouldn’t be having these for dinner though as upon meeting my friend, she brought me to this interesting restaurant called Cabbages & Condoms. According to my friend, the founder of the restaurant apparently is outspoken about population control and thus opened this restaurant which revolves around the use of this birth-control method. If I am not mistaken, a portion of the earnings is given to causes for rural population control. We ordered some really good and spicy Thai Food, including prawns with curry, chicken in green curry and some vegetables. The food was nice and we were seated in an outdoor courtyard which had a great atmosphere. For dessert, we had the fantastic mango with glutinous rice. And to end the meal, instead of mints provided at restaurants, free condoms were provided for diners, and the joke went on to 2 small boxes from where diners can take a ‘Republican’ or ‘Democrat’ size condom. Though I couldn’t see the difference in either. Catching up with my friend was nice and I even got from her a place for a 60-minute foot reflexology that costs 250 Baht. She even showed me the route to the shop, before we parted ways as she returned home for the night. I had a nice relaxing foot massage first before returning to the hotel for the night.

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Mango and sticky glutinous rice for dessert at Cabbages & Condoms

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Just for laughs!

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