Saturday, December 13, 2008

Traveling Style

I recently traveled from Kuala Lumpur to Bahrain via Qatar Airways. Since the begining of 'Air Asia Era,' I didn't even remember when was the last time I flew with a normal airline. What amazed me this time was how have I changed my traveling style due to the fact that I was so used to traveling 'Air Asia Style' guiltily.

When I travel with Air Asia, I always arrive the airport with no checked bags, so checking in was easy and fast. This time when I arrived at KL International Airport, I was shocked that the queue to check in was so so long! It took me almost 1 hour to check in myself with my 19.5kg luggage!

Then I proceed to the immigration check point and then further to my departure gate. Shamefully, I was 'rushing' to the gate hoping to get a seat as front as possible at the waiting room. That was because I was, again, applying my 'Air Asia' traveling style to try to get the best seat on the airplane. Then I suddenly realised, 'Wait a minute, I do have a seat number on my ticket. Why am I rushing?'

When it was time for boarding, the flight attendant announced that it was boarding time for the First and Business class passengers. Then it was time for senior citizens and passengers with young children. At last, it was my turn together with the rest of the passengers. When I got on board, I found my seat and happy to see that there were blankets and pillows on my seat. I was also happy to see a screen in front of me. I happily seated and the flight attendant handed me a sticker with options of: 1. 'Wake me up for meal' 2. 'Wake me up for duty free shopping', 3 ' Do not disturb'. I immediately put on sticker number 1 and took a nap. Sure enough, when the meal was served, I was waken up by the flight attendant to enjoy my midnight snack. :D After I finished, I continued my beauty nap...zzz

When I woke up in the middle of the night, I could request for water. Then I watched a few minutes of movie before I fell asleep again. When I was awake again, it was time for breakfast. Not too long after that, it was time for landing.

All these can't be found in Air Asia or other low cost airlines. I am so used to traveling in low budget that I have forgotten the comfort of traveling in a normal airline. If without Air Asia, I don't think many people can travel as frequent as they do now. For example myself who work in Bangkok, going home to Kuala Lumpur is made cheaper by traveling with Air Asia (only sometimes). Malaysian Airlines is loosing business due to stiff competition from Air Asia that they have to lower their price to get customers. Travelers are indirectly benefit from the price war between airlines.

With the introduction of baggage charge on Air Asia, I began to travel light. Unless necessary, I would always have only carry on with me. It save money and also save time during arrival because i don't have to wait for my checked luggage.

I am not saying that Air Asia is the best. But I have to give credit for how it changes people travel. What is interesting to me is that how different we travel depends on the type of airlines travel with. Of course whenever I can afford, I will go for the normal airlines. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen too often. So, I am glad that Air Asia is there to fly me from one city to another.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Public Tranportation in Bangkok

This is my last posting from Bangkok for now. I will dedicate this posting to the public transportation of Bangkok. Bangkok has been famous for its traffic jam for years. I have lived here for 5 months. I can be a living proof that it is indeed very jam. However, to be fair, I think Bangkok has many types of public transportation to ease the traffic. Otherwise, I cannot imagine how bad the traffic can be!

1. Motorcyle Taxi
This is a good way to travel short distance. If you are lazy to walk for a distance of 15 minutes or longer, you can choose this as an option. Fare starts from 10baht and up. It is useful when your bus stop is at the main road and your house is way back in the alley. You can spot them by their colourful vests with Thai numbers are the back.

2. Tuk Tuk
It is one of the symbols of Bangkok. It is not the most comfortable transportation in my opinion and not that cheapest. But it does serve its purpose of bringing passengers from one place to the next.

3. Taxi
I love Bangkok taxis. They are everywhere and goes almost every where even to the nearby provinces. They are relatively cheap compared to taxis in other countries. The downside about Bangkok taxis is that they are very difficult to get during evening rush hour because the drivers have to return the cab to the companies. Some drivers drive like race car drivers. So, be prepared before you get on one.

4. Songteaw
This is a small truck that is being converted into a small passenger bus. It has benches for passengers and room to stand. I find it a bit difficult for foreigners to take it as it is usually driven by non-English speaking drivers with no sign in English. Unless you are sure of your destination, it can be challenging.

5. Mini Van / 'Rot Too' (in Thai)
This is a fast way to travel between downtown Bangkok and the suburbs around Bangkok. It is fast and usually sit 14 passengers. Some of the vans are quite old and narrow seats. It has its route that it follows. It is managed by the Bangkok Mass Transportation Department.

6. Public Bus
Public buses in Bangkok come in a few types and colours. Some of the buses look like 20 years old with no air-conditioner and wooden floor. This is the cheapest way to travel in Bangkok for far. There are also air-conditioned buses just slightly more expensive than the old buses.

7. BTS Skytrain & MRT Subway Train
These two train systems are the most popular, fast and comfortable way to travel in my opinion. They run fast and very frequently. Although it can get crowded during rush hours just like any other transportation, it is still the fastest way to travel.

8. Boats
Bangkok has a lot of canals called 'Khlong'. The city makes full use of the waterways and provided motor boats as an option of public transportation. What a great idea and you can see why Bangkok is the Venice of the East.

Advert Advert Everywhere

Thailand is the Land of Smile. In my opinion, it is also the Land of Advertisements. Advertisements are everywhere in Bangkokians’ daily life. The usual ones like adverts on metro or subway trains, buses, tv, etc. But there are some unexpected ones that pop into my sight once in a while. Let’s read further for some interesting ones that I have seen.

1. Colgate adverts on disposable coffee cup. Instead of having a logo of a local café, Colgate advert take over the cover of the paper cups. You can’t avoid it when you sip your coffee.

2. At petrol stations in Thailand, there are attendants who fill up your tank for you. So, you would be sitting in your car waiting. While you are waiting for your tank to be filled up, ‘boom!’ the attendant would place an advert in front of your windshield telling you about the promotion that is going on in their convenient store. So, instead of waiting in the car, why don’t you get yourself out of the car and go into the convenient store to check out these promotion items? Very clever…

3. This is also a good idea. Advert in the taxi cab! I got on this cab one time, I saw a small laminated advert card of various mint and chewing gums at the back of the headrest in front of me. Then my colleague who was with me in the cab told me that the cab driver is actually selling the gums as well! I thought it is a good way to advertise as we all know Bangkok traffic is bad. A short trip could end up a long one. So, why not buy a pack of gum, and just chill in the cab while the taxi driver brings you to your destination?

4. On TV, you can see a display of a LCD TV with big logo. Also, you will see display of a laptop in front of the desk. You can't avoid adverts even you are watching the news.

I am sure there are some more clever ideas that I have not discovered yet. But just these are some interesting ones that I encountered.

English in Thailand

As a foreigner living in Bangkok, many people would wonder how do I get through with my daily live without speaking Thai language. Well, in Thailand, English is quite a popular foreign language. I notice that Thai culture has an interesting way that uses English as title or slogan for many things. For example, they would have English name for sales in departmental store like ‘Midnight Sale,’ ‘Halloween Sale’, etc. However, other that the name of the sale, the rest are in Thai including date. So, I am clueless as when should I go to shop.

In Thailand, most of the road signs are bilingual. So, for foreigners who would like to drive from one place to another, that shouldn’t be a problem. The only downside is that if there are any traffic update signs on the road, they would be in Thai. So, it’s wise to drive with someone who can read Thai.

Many foreign magazines such as Elle, Wallpaper, Men’s health, etc come in Thai version. When I first went to a book store magazine section, I saw many magazines with English titles. I was excited to flip through them. To my disappointment, the content was 99.9% in Thai language. I don’t blame the magazines as this is Thailand. I shouldn’t expect that magazines come in English to please foreigners like myself who can’t read Thai. So, I can only look at the beautiful pictures in magazines since a picture is worth a thousand words. I guess they are right about don't judge a book by its cover, in this case, a magazine.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Colour Coded Nation

Thailand, especially Bangkok has been in political turmoil for a few months now. However, since last Tuesday, the situation really elevated to affect the aviation in the country. Suvarnabhumi Airport and Don Muang Airport in Bangkok have been seiged by the anti government protesters! The airport authority had decided to close the airport since Tuesday (26th November 2008).

Little do I know about politics. So, I am not going to write anything political. From the recent protests and demonstrations, I can see that Thailand is a colour coded nation. Why do I say so? Thai people are very obedient when it comes to being told what colour to wear.

First of all, we of course have to start from wearing yellow shirt on Monday for HM the King. This new tradition has been started since the celebration of the 60th Year anniversary of the King on throne. And a few years later, today, many Thai people still wear yellow on Monday for the King. Why Monday? Because HM the King was born on Monday. However, on Tuesday, Thai people wear light pink to wish HM the King good health.

Next, Thai people also wear light blue for HM the Queen. However, sorry that I do not know which day people where blue for HM the Queen as it is not as widely worn.

Two weeks ago, Thai people wore black or white during the mourning period (3 to 5 days) of the late Princess Ghalyani Vhadana. I have written about that weekend in my previous blog posting.

Recently, we can see a lot of anti-government protesters wear yellow during demonstrations and protests. I wonder why do they choose yellow since it is the colour for HM the King.

As for the pro-government supporters. They wear red during their gathering in a stadium. When I saw the pictures of the pro-government supporters, it’s like a sea of red chilly!

So, living in Bangkok, I have to be careful of what I wear. Recently, I won’t wear anything yellow or red. Well, actually, I have neither colours in my closet anyway. So, I shouldn’t be worry unless a new group of protesters decide to wear black or blue. Then I might be in trouble.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Peaceful Water Town

If it wasn't a friend from Samut Songkhram, I wouldn't have the fortunate chance to visit Amphawa. The truth is, as a Malaysian, I had never heard of the name, let alone to visit. But to my pleasant surprise, Amphawa has turned out to be one of my favorite places that I have visited in Thailand.

Amphawa is a district located in the province of Samut Songkhram. It is about 60km away from Bangkok. It makes a nice day trip from Bangkok. The more popular Damnoen Saduak floating market is nearby. So, you can throw two birds with one stone if you pay a visit to Samut Songkhram.

The first time I visited Amphawa in May 2008. I visited Amphawa in mid afternoon, there wasn't many tourists at all. We parked our car and walked towards a coffee shop. I didn't know that the the back (or was it the front?) of the coffee shop actually opens to a canal. The canal is like the main street on the small town. On both sides of the canal, there are rows of old houses facing the canal. There is a walkway that links each houses and shops. Visitors can walk on the walkway from one shop to another. There are staircases that lead to the canal. My friend told me that the water level will rise in the late afternoon. Therefore, Amphawa floating market will start later in the afternoon. Well, due to time constrain, we didn't stay late enough to see the floating market. But I definitely enjoyed my 2 hours stay in Amphawa.

In November 2008, I visited Amphawa again. On my second visit, I still liked it. We walked in a market and had lunch by the canal. The atmosphere was relaxing and nostalgic. It was as if I had gone back to 20 or 30 years ago. In Amphawa, you can find old fashioned toys that were popular 20 years ago. There are some homestay at Amphawa. I saw on some pictures that monks row a small boat to collect food donation in the morning. I would like to see that one day. Perhaps I will stay for one night and get the relaxed weekend away from hustle and bustle of Bangkok. Although thee are many visitors in the weekend, I hope the town doesn't get overdeveloped. It is charming the way it is now.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Farewell to a Princess

Last Friday (14 Nov 2008) was the beginning of the 5 days long Royal Cremation Ceremony for Her Royal Highness the late Princess Galyani Vadhana (the elder sister of his Majesty King Bhumipol) of Thailand. In conjunction with the royal cremation, people of Thailand were told to wear black or white for 3 days as the mourning period for the late princess.

Even though I am a foreigner living in Bangkok, I also wore black shirt with grey pants to show my respect. I was glad that I did because as soon as I was on the street, I saw that almost 99.9% of the people wore black or white as told. It was amazing to me that Thai people really respect the royal family. Growing up in Malaysia, I never pay much attention to the royal family in my own country. But here in Thailand, the royal family is part of Thai life. You can walk in the streets of Bangkok without seeing photos of their Majesties the King and Queen.

In light of the late princess’ royal cremation ceremony, I can see that Thai people are very united. Although monarchy has become history in many countries today, it is good to still have a royal family in a country. Though the royal family may not have the power they possessed before, but it sort of unites the people in the period of political separation in Thailand. I cannot imagine any country in the world where almost all the people (including foreigners like myself) would wear black to bid farewell to a princess. To me, this is one of the precious experiences I have in Thailand.

By the way, when Bangkokian wear black, there are still fashionable. I saw black and white poker dots skirt, black lace skirt, or simply black dress with cool silver necklace, etc. From my observation, Bangkokian sure mourned in a fabulous way.