Suvarnabhumi

EastforEaster: Day 7 – Tiger Cave, Airports and back

Click here for Part 1 , Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6

We wondered why the cab was picking us up at 8. The airport was less than an hour away and we only had to visit one place on the way. The flight was only just past noon and we only had to check in an hour in advance. We were told by the folks at Harvest House that Tiger Cave was not very far off, but it took a couple of hours to explore. We wondered why.

We ceased to wonder after the driver cheerfully informed us that Tiger Cave involved a climb. He was all smiles probably because his job ended at leaving us at the bottom of the hill. Of course, it would be a wonder if we didn’t have to climb, after the experiences so far. Meanwhile, there were a few other things to see before we started the climb. We saw a Ganesha idol here too.

And now for the climb, which I had been putting off. It involved not 100, not 200, but 1237 steps. I was sure that there was a better way to keep my head in the clouds, but we started out nevertheless. To be honest, the climb itself was quite tiring but manageable, though our legs hurt for days after. The problem was with the design at about 400 steps – they suddenly became steep and narrow, but more tragically, I could see on both sides the height we were at, and climbing, and that meant I became jittery. So yes, we stopped, which turned out to be a good thing, because D’s legs gave out when we were near the bottom!

That also meant that we got to the airport a bit in advance, but Air Asia welcomed us warmly and proved that missing the excess kgs in the earlier flight baggage was an anomaly. 500 bahts later, we were in the aircraft and just over an hour later, in Suvarnabhumi. With the aid of the airport map, we scouted the 3rd and 4th levels for lunch and despite the deluge of Japanese options, settled for a Thai lunch on the 3rd level. On hindsight, might not have been a bad idea to check in and lunch on the 4th Level. 2 hours flew past while we gawked at uber expensive brands spread across what seemed like a few kilometres (must have been the tired legs!) and underwent body scans. Finally, we heard the familiar Kingfisher call for Kolkata. We were assured of reaching there with only the pilot ahead of us as we drew 1A and 1B. :|

Reading a newspaper after a week was a strange experience, and it didn’t help that it was Kolkata Times! But the gossip in the flight rag distracted us even more! Swalpahaar was served, and we watched “Khelein hum jee jaan se” starring Shaky Bachchan and an earnest D-Pad. It was probably because I had drunk a Pepsi after a long time, but I started wondering whether Sid (Mallya kind) would ever wake up and ask D-Pad “Will UB my wife”. Bwahahaha. Ok, sorry.

We landed at Kolkata and immediately felt the brunt of Kolkata’s bureaucratic personnel. For some strange reason, the KF staff insisted that “all passengers proceeding to Bangalore via Hyderabad” had to stick together and move to the other terminal under guidance. Maybe the fuss was because the signs were only in English. Gah. I saw the Coffee Day we had sat in, during our Sikkim trip. We got back into the same flight, D discovered a peanut she had dropped earlier. :) All the airport waits meant that I finished reading one book and I distracted myself from starting a new book with old Sarabhai vs Sarabhai episodes.

After a brief halt in Hyderabad, where I earned the JetSetter badge on 4sq, and a KF staff invasion meant that there were more airport personnel than passengers, we finally reached Bangalore close to 11 pm and discovered a new phenomenon – waiting lines for cabs. :O And as the tee goes, ‘Aap Qatar main hain’ but thankfully, for a cab that would take us home.

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EastforEaster: Day 3 – Bangkok

Click here for Part 1 and Part 2

It was a rainy morning when we left the lovely Siem Reap airport, made even more wonderful with free Wi fi. For some reason we didn’t have to pay the $25 tourist charge either. I am clearly a fan of this airport. We thanked our stars that we weren’t affected by the morning rains when we saw the faces of dejected tourists who had just landed.  Bangkok Airways, “Asia’s Boutique Airline” was indeed stylish and served us a good breakfast. (This was in addition to the breakfast at the hotel, but I’d always wanted to experience a double breakfast) Some good dining tips for Krabi were picked up from the in-flight magazine. We landed at Suvarnabhumi around noon and cleared immigration in a few minutes. This was an elegant, efficient airport, not as pretty as Siem Reap, but definitely more scalable. We picked a free Bangkok map (and airport map) and reached the public taxi counter where an uninterested aunty forced herself to fill a form and send us on.

The taxi driver proved to us that all over the world, there are versions of the auto guys in Bangalore who give first time visitors a well metered city darshan. This was despite the city map and a Google Maps print with point to point directions (in Thai too). He pretended he had lost his way, called a friend to get directions and even tried to take us past our hotel before we opened the door and forced him to stop.

The Tango Vibrant service apartments seemed a slightly grander version of the Ginger Hotels here. Despite being a self-help kind of set up, they provided excellent service and were an extremely helpful bunch of people.

We had arranged our tour with  Absolute Bangkok Tours. Our guide was supposed to meet us at 1.30 and she landed right on time. In the hired car, she introduced herself and after being faced by blank stares and rapid blinking, told us we could call her Nikki. :) Our first stop was the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha.

The thing to remember here is that all that glitters ain’t what it’s supposed to be. That doesn’t make it look any less opulent though. Despite being a Mallu and being bombarded by gold ads all my adult life, this was something! Meanwhile, Bangkok continued our walk-in-progress theme and the Palace was just the start.

The name of the king who built this is also borrowed from Indian royalty/ science fiction – Rama 1. The mural on the left is one from a long stretch that shows the Ramayana. Ravana continues his 4+4+2 head arrangement here too and this is the Rama-Ravana face off scene. (click to enlarge) There were some very interesting characters –  this one is half lion and half man, though an evil soul commented on Facebook that it was JLo. :D

There was Garuda doing one of his regular snake stunts. The gold rush continued with some porcelain and jade for relief. We also saw a model of Angkor Wat. And we walked on. While getting out, we saw a tourist being sent back for wearing shorts. :D You can hire clothes from across the street though.

Despite the two breakfasts, we were hungry and went off to grab some street food near the Palace as we waited for the taxi. Pork, fish and mango for dessert. All absolutely awesome and only costing 20 baht each. The next stop was Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) which required a ferry crossing. We saw a monk who refused to endorse earthly signs even if they seemingly pointed in the right direction.

Wat Arun is another beanstalk to be climbed and a pretty steep one at that. But as always, a good view awaits you. We also saw a few monks who reminded me of a soft drink commercial from years back. The colour of their robes and the drink in their hand is the indicator. :) We crossed the river and proceeded to Wat Pho. Yes yes, I did ask D what for she was making me walk like this.

Wat Pho is another walkathon. We saw the reclining Buddha and I wondered if he had taken a tour too. I vaguely remembered a story I’d read in Tinkle/ACK about a mouse (?) which had set out to find the tallest Buddha. I thought this Buddha featured in it. I tried to remember the story as D dropped 108 coins in 108 vessels kept by the Buddha’s side.

There were also statues of Marco Polo – in what seemed like an extreme Chinese makeover, and another that seemed like Prabhudeva caught in one of his dance moves. The former is accurate and the latter was me seeing things because of excessive walking. But again, another place worth a visit for some beautiful Buddhas.

If I had any hope that the walking had ended, D dashed it when she subtly indicated that there was a good view from the Golden Mount. The view was definitely neat, but it also meant that I began seeing stars early in the evening. That cafe there must be doing great business!

Our penultimate stop for the day was the flower market. D was like a little kid who was seeing flowers for the first time. But I couldn’t really blame her – all sorts of colours, shapes and sizes and a bouquet’s worth of roses selling for 20 baht. Despite all the temptation, D didn’t ask me to buy her flowers. Mah wife is cool that way :) Nikki seemed to be on a shopping spree though.

We left for the last item on our agenda – the Chao Phraya dinner cruise. The sky seemed set for rain and we had about an hour to kill at the River City mall, where the pier was. As we sat inside the mall, too tired to walk, and munched away at the Foi Tong we’d bought earlier (vermicelli like dessert made from egg yolk), it started raining and continued as we got into the boat. We feared the worst. Dinner distracted us as soon as we boarded and we used regular buffet diversion techniques to manage the mobs at the counter. The crowd was a mix – from India, Middle East, Kenya, Bhutan and more, and in an attempt to please Indians, the lady massacred Bolo Ta Ra Ra and Munni!! Thankfully the skies cleared and we could enjoy the cruise despite not having ‘side-seats’. Our tuk tuk driver, on the way back to the hotel, an old man, turned out to be quite a speed demon. But it was a fun ride and looked forward to the shopping mania planned the next day.

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