Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Bangkok for CNY 2017? 还是首一回!

"爸爸妈妈,其实我们索性就来曼谷过年吧!" I suggested a few weeks ago, while we were having a swell time enjoying a short holiday in this lovely city.
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The affirmation was truly unexpected, this being the first time in the lives of the old folks when they ever were away from home for Chinese New Year.

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Nowadays we knew.  When we took Air Asia, there is never a 'too late'. Just steady steady made our way to
the airport by bus and MRT and we would arrive just in time for boarding.
"Wah lau, 哥! You hijack 爸妈 for New Year!" jokingly protested Ah San. Hahaha... she was quite right.  Ok lah. We would make it up with an early reunion for everybody lah. Haha...
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奶奶还有时间看报纸呢!

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Escape for CNY?

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Bangkok had been a traditional haven for CNY-weary Singaporeans who wanted to escape home for the Chinese New Year.  Having downgraded to very tiny apartments, it no longer became feasible for us to host the CNY celebrations which we had been doing for the past 16 years.  And repeated to-ing and fro-ing of who were to host it, in no small way became a push factor for the old folks to take this nice sweet escapade, with which I gladly complied.  Don't take me wrong.  I still enjoyed celebrating CNY.  But with age and perhaps with also a degree of lethargy, the magnitude and the ostentatiousness of the celebration had mellowed.  And I found being in the quiet cosy company of just the core family members during this festive season, most reassuring.

 
Sincerely I was thus glad that we had 爷爷奶奶 with us for this CNY trip.  A somewhat reluctant 姐姐 finally decided that being with the core family was more meaningful than the original intent of spending CNY with the best friends and cousins, and my heart brightened up to be able to click 'pay' for her plane ticket.  
Until very recently, the traditionalist in me deemed it unthinkable to even harbour the thought of flying away from home during the all-important Chinese New Year, and I had always proudly proclaimed that to friends and patients.  Somehow over the very recent time, I began to see things a little differently.  And the once-clear line became fuzzy, like many other things in life.  The stamp of approval for the patriarch and matriarch for this trip was of the most significance.  Moving forward this stage would, I believe, have been set as the precedence for future years.

"Uncle, my work schedule is so tight the days leading up to New Year.  And I have a class to attend on the 26th Jan afternoon even," said Fann, who had become so entangled in the web of work cum post-grad studies cum personal hobbies cum devotion to her best friends. "I had to negotiate with him to submit by Saturday day one of Chinese New Year. Luckily he didn't insist on Friday. If he had, I won't even have time to sleep and poop already." This Fann was really a poor thing.

So a special arrangement was made to fly her and Questal into Bangkok a day later, albeit at double the plane ticket price, and to let these two grown-ups fly back two days later so that they may have some more time roaming the streets of Bangkok free and easy.
"My professor wanted me to do so many reports, that I think I will be so busy working even when I am in Bangkok," declared this workaholic-climbaholic young lady.

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Of Weekend market, Aquarium and a Wat.

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Yeye: "Wah I haven't been so cold in the plane for a long time!"
What kind of itinerary should I plan for the family this time round? That was the burning question in my mind. 

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Chatuchak weekend market was definitely one of the highlights as the children hadn't been to this famous weekend market.  I would love to see if we could throw in a Night Market too.
"Uncle, my friend told me that we have to go Chatuchak market very early because there are so much to see there," said Questal.
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I totally agreed with that.  
For want of sounding cliche, I desired very much to bring the family to visit that much-mentioned Sea Life Ocean World aquarium in Siam Paragon.  A quick search online brought me to Klook where I got the tickets for S$22 each, instead of having to fork out S$40 (990 Baht) per person if I were to buy from the official website.

The VIDEO Number 1: Arriving in Bangkok




Another visit that I longed to conduct was a trip to a Wat, a temple. But try as I did, I could not slot the visit to The Grand Palace to visit the Emerald Buddha.  Taking it a small step back, a visit to Wat Pathum Wanaram, a quaint and quiet little temple just located between Siam Paragon and Central World was a great compromise, after reading a little into the history of this delightful little Wat.

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"Papa, will you do pedicure?" asked Ah Li.
"Of course I will, if you all are doing." I replied.
"爷爷,你答应我你会做一副老花眼镜给我的!"Serene reminded Yeye of his promises.

 
"Ok, 这一次 Mr and Mrs Lampong 会在年除夕当天跟我们一起用午餐。" announced Yeye. That was great news! Hadn't seen the old friends for a long time.



Missing school for a couple of days? BLAH!!




Meeting up with the Lampongs was also a good excuse for us to take this earlier pre-CNY trip, as I had to write a letter to Ah Li's internship mentor to request for special permissions.  I lost track of how many letters I had written for her and Ah Sing for all these trips I brought them on.  What was most memorable was when Ah Li's form teacher last year threatened to deduct her conduct points if I were to take her out of school for the London trip on the day the school celebrated Chinese New Year!  I really could not fathom what the education system in Singapore had deteriorated into- a system of mere points and assessment points and more points.  Honestly I had more important things to impart to my children than these.  Of course, the non-conformist in me would always (politely towards the teacher) have my way when I weighed the trips to be of more importance than a couple of days of missed lessons.  Talked about Singaporean children being stressed by studies and teachers.  Personally I was of the respectful opinion that as the schools called the shots on how much the students needed to study, as parents we needed to be the moderators nowadays to how much WE should have our children pressurised.  Too many cases of psychiatrically deranged Singaporean teenagers I saw in my daily practice had consolidated my view that Singapore was heading towards a catastrophically high prevalence of psychosis and neurosis in our younger generations. 


Of Happy Tourist SIM card

"I'm sorry, Sir.  We didn't load up the Traveller's SIM card on board this flight," the smiling Air Asia Thai stewardess words jolted me from my reverie.
Aiyah.. why like that ah? Ma-fan ah.
But hey.. this gave us a chance to learn something new. Those two little gentle ladies at the counter helpfully activated all the SIM card after they inserted in each and every one of our hand phones. And I realized by activating thus, they gave us an extra 1Gb of data at maximum speed!  That was something! Because last round we found that for those of us who uploaded plenty of photos into our Flickr and such, the speed of transmission eventually fell to a slow speed although data was still unlimited.

Ironically, this time round my planning for meals was not as precise as the previous visits.  Apart from just a few meals which I had designated restaurants, the rest of the mealtimes were going to be on impromptu basis, and it depended solely on where we would be at that point in time.   That was the essence of Free and Easy ba... now how on earth was I going to convince Yeye and Serene to dig into a plate of real Street food in Bangkok - that was the toughest part.

Inter Restaurant.. again!

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 "Papa, this time round our bus trip and our BTS trip seems to be faster than the last time round,"remarked Ah Sing.  
Somehow she was right.  Being a Wednesday night the A2 bus was not crowded, and neither was the BTS to Siam.

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We arrived at Inter Restaurant just before 9pm.
"Papa let's just order one shot everything," said Ah Li. "Their last order is at 9:30pm."

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"Let's order four Pad Thai, four fried chicken wing mid section, two of the fresh dead prawns, one Kway Teow for Yeye Nainai, one Tom Yam, two oyster omelette, one Kang kong, one Kai Lan which Ah Sing loves," rattled off Serene.
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"哇,一共十五道菜," said 奶奶.  In fact the waitress, who Nainai recognized from our last trip, laughed at the way we ordered... possibly amused by the quantity of the dishes.  She must be thinking these Singaporeans must be 从监牢里放出来的!
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"Wah this Eng-chai is really nice! The wok-hei is really good!" I announced.
"Tonight the Tom Yam is delicious," said Serene. "I like it when it is  it so full of coconut."
"这个生虾好吃 meh?" asked 奶奶. "我就来试一试吧!"
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Yeye also tried the fresh dead prawns and he actually quite liked it.  Ah Li and Niang Serene kept going at the fried chicken wing mid-sections while Nainai asked for an additional bowl of white rice.
Wow.. this evening everyone was hungry!  With drinks and dessert, the total bill was 1885 Bahts (S$76).
"Dar, take a shot of the dead prawn and tempt Fann,"said Serene, knowing how gian Fann was of the fresh dead prawn.  So I did just that.

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The walk along the Skywalk from Siam Station to our budget hotel was nice and relaxing, all well nourished and finally happy.  Ah Sing was truly impressive because she literally knew how to walk back towards chitlom station and to the hotel.

 
"Nowadays the younger generation are very good," I mentioned of Ah Sing and Ah Li. "They can remember directions and routes very well and you just need to show them once and they will know exactly how to go the next round."

"哎呀,可惜那个卖椰子水的小摊不在旅馆外面!" said a disappointed Nainai, obviously missing the fresh coconut.
"现在几点了?" said Yeye. "人家回家啦!"
"妈妈,别担心。接下来几天肯定会回来买给您老人家的!" I reassured her.
”Dar, outside our hotel got two massage salon leh!" exclaimed Serene excitedly. Ok lah ok lah. We will go massage tomorrow lah.
 

It was late liao.  And the well-fed troupe was just too glad to be able to lay in bed and finally go to sleep.



Day 2 [26 Jan Thursday]: Something old, something new...

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8:35am.  We walked out of the lobby, nice and clean and lightened after crunching on some of the pastries bought the night before.

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"Don't eat too much first. Later we are going to eat Boat noodle one," I told the family.
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Most likely this was the first time I found taking photos of the streets of Bangkok so intriguing.  To a small part due to the lovely handphone. And I felt to a great deal because of the leisurely nature of the morning. 
After a while, and after decades of observation, I think I had learned to be more at ease when I travel.  My genetics and my upbringing may work against me when it came to hyperstimulation of the nerves, however all these can be suppressed as much as humanly possible.

The VIDEO Number 2: 拜拜四面佛



回来四面佛还愿

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Certain things had u-turned, certain little nuances had been remotely sensed, some biochemical connections had been reignited, and some of the tension had been somewhat loosened.
However small these little signs were, they called for a revisit to give thanks. And what better way than to yet again have the family together.

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Well-rehearsed, Serene guided Yeye and Nainai to give thanks and to hold the tray of garlands and candles while Yeye and I lit the joss sticks.

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On this Thursday morning at just before 9am there was not many devotees and the weather was nice and cool. Ah Sing was there still praying in every sincere way, while Ah Li went around documenting the process.  Her favourite part, aside form taking the videos and the photos, was to have her acne washed by the holy water from the golden pot at the end of the compound.

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I was gladdened to see the sincerity in the family.

It would not come across as strange for many of this age to harbour the desire for betterment of the many facets of life.  These facets and the turbulence they would go through, oft undermined the very fabric of peace in one's continued existence in this current lifetime, the root of the turmoil stemming from one's ignorance, greed and sheer lack of judgment.  A recent phrase popped up in social media: "Mistakes are for you to learn from."  How many people actually truly understood the essence of this simple sentence?

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A person living in this modern society in his fourth or fifth decade of existence and who never once had the need to realise his shortcomings and repent and relearn, would be as rare as the sun rising from the North.  As I scanned around the shrine of the Four-Face Buddha, I saw individuals with facial expressions intense in sincere concentration, marshalling whatever words he or she could, to ask for His Blessings.  In them I saw myself.  A mortal who was still trying his hardest to smoothen out the paths ahead for himself, his wife, for the family, and for the children.  I wished I could be much more enlightened. But I believe that would take many many life times.  Until then, this mortal being would still pay his regular respects to the Enlightened Teachers.

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As always Ah Li and I were the ones who would devotedly wash our faces.

One important observation to note was, with each visit, the requests to the Buddha would be generally similar, but each time, there would be some tiny little differences, another aspect of the same problem, another angle of the same issue, that needed to be addressed.  That was a good sign, in my humble opinion, because it meant that the issue at hand was evolving and possibly for the better, rather than one that remained stagnant.  Thus it was always with a happy heart that I arrived at the Erawan Shrine to give thanks to Four Face Buddha.

Kin Donburi Restaurant 

Probably once and that would be enough.
The VIDEO Number 3: Around Siam Square



A very relax stroll along the Skywalk brought us back to the Boat Noodle store. It was 9:30am.  The stal was opened  but the nice lady gestured that they didn't have the noodles yet. Oh what a shame.  We were too early. Next door was the little Kin Ramen restaurant.  Good ramen, especially the Cha Shu ramen and lovely tasting fried potato balls. But the let down was the non-smiling service of the pretty young waitress, whose facial muscles only managed to lift up a notch to break into a half-smile kind of grimace upon my reminder that we were from Singapore, and not from China.

 
"奶奶爷爷你们讲华语嘛,难怪他们会以为我们是从中国来的," said Ah Sing.
A point that I concurred. Repeated visits to Bangkok also drew an observation that, like many other Asian countries, the Thailand retail industry bore the brunt of the onslaught of PRC rudeness and their notorious lack of social courtesy.

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Increasingly many of us in Singapore, except the older generation like Yeye and Nainai's who still had their umbilical cords attached up north, had distant ourselves from this huge hinterland of social etiquette  inadequacy.  

 

As indicated  humorously in one of the many signboards in Bangkok, the locals seemed to expect that 'China' was going to be 'in town' soon and they were going to be inundated and were bracing themselves.

Siam Square!

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Every shop was still closed in Siam Square at almost 11am on this Thursday morning. There was, however, a bazaar being set up beside Siam Square early in the morning, and the girls went ga-ga over them. 
In the shades of the alley between the two buildings the rows of tents housed myriads of fashion glasses, dresses, pouches,  belts, soft toys, everything.  Literally it was like a Pasar Malam.

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"Ah Sing, Ah Li, I want to take portrait shots of you all!"  I told the two young ladies.

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Ah Li also went crazy.   And Ah Sing went crazy too.. in a slightly different way.

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It was quite cute, some of the displays here.  The young stall owners were very apparently a more lively bunch of business retailers, without the baggage of the older generation, and they were certainly cheerful in their dealings.  That was the vibes that I got from them.  It felt almost like Insadong.

 

For reasons not unfamiliar to ourselves, Yeye and Nainai got drawn to socks at $1 a pair.  And they were so impressed by the quality of these socks that the next morning they kept wanting to go back to buy some more.

 

I appreciated the vibrancy of this place, as I stood in the middle of the pavement.


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Ah Sing was clever.  She bought a nice golden frame at S$8, quite a bargain.
Ah Sing really loved her pair of golden frames.

"Should I make a pair of lenses for this frame?" Asked the young lady some time later.
"It all depends on the quality of this pair of spectacle frame.  Usually cheap ones like these will have peeling of their golden layers and tarnishing after prolonged usage.  And fixing a pair of prescription lenses on them may not be worth while," I explained. "You can wear them as fashion pieces for say, six months first.  If after that period it is still in good condition and you still find that you love it, then by all means fix the lenses on."

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A very interesting display Serene found at Siam Square
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Progressive lenses in Bangkok?

Yeah.  I never thought I'd be doing this.  The pair of Korean frames that made me look so much like a Korean star was sitting at home for more than a year.  And after reading up on some of the Trip Advisor forum reviews, I thought why don't I just bring it over and see if my karma allowed me the chance to have a pair of lenses fixed.

I had to get progressive glasses because a presbyopia of +2.25 and some mild regression of my myopia to -0.50 made it necessary to use progressive lenses in order not to feel giddy.

 

Serene was lucky. For S$40, she had her 老花眼镜 done is twenty minutes, a gift from Yeye.

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And my gift from Yeye? A S$153 pair of prescription progressive lenses for my Korean Star spectacle frame. To be collected three days later.  Meanwhile, Serene and Nainai waited in the clothing shop next door.

 

 



Sea Life Ocean World 


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Fortunate for me, I found the online site Klook.com that gave really good discount off the tickets for the admission.  
"Wow this place is packed.. with school children!" was Ah Li's first words when the escalator reached Basement.
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Perhaps a sign that we had ended up at the wrong kind of destination. Since we came specially for this, might as well just make full use of the opportunity.

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"Ok we can spend as long as we want inside here or as short as we wish, then we will go for lunch," I said.
A lukewarm start took us through some crystal ball displays of fishes, the name of which totally escaped me.  Truth to be told, as we slowly explored, some sections turned out to be really interesting.  Especially with the sharks, penguin, and some of the sea horses sections.



The Video Number 4: Sea Life Bangkok Ocean World!



And the PRCs were at it again!

Soothing music permeated the air, suitably choreographed to the swim of the graceful sea animals.   I personally enjoyed that feeling.  A feeling only spoilt by groups after groups of rowdy, loud-mouthed PRC tourists, blaring their accented voices across the dimly-lit hallways.

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"I was so angry with the China Chinese just now," complained Ah Li. "The signage already indicated 'NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY PLEASE' (and in Chinese too), and I told them cannot use flash, but they just kept flashing their cameras."
I tried to explain: "Well I guess can't be helped. Many of these PRC's are ignorant of  the proper social behavior."
Times like these my heart went out to all the local Thai service providers who had to deal with PRCs who rushed in in hordes and swept off big plates after plates of seafood at a buffet restaurant, as well as all those poor Hokkaido Airport security staff who recently had to restrain a mayhem of irate PRC passengers after their plane was delayed by snow, and also my heartfelt sympathy to the South Korean waitresses who endured hardships aplenty from up north.

It was (un)fortunately CNY, and the marauders descended en mass upon all of Asia's and South East Asia's countries with big wads of notes sticking out of their pockets, ready to throw them in the faces of anyone who was willing to open their palms to accept.

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The tunnel was really nice, and all the sharks and fishes swam above and around us with the blue hue casting nice shadows upon our faces. 

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The iPhone 7 plus was really handy with its shallow depth of field.  The newly-acquired selfie stick with its fill-in LED light was helpful.

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Yeye: "哎哟,这些企鹅这么可怜。站在那里呆呆的。整天无所事事。”

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Reaching the end of the aquarium visit, the tanks presented us another highlight - that of a collection of jellyfishes, propelling themselves under the enchantment of ultraviolet lights.

[Photo: Ah Li]
Again, Ah Li made us do all kinds of pattern, leaving Yeye the only one sitting 傻傻 like that.


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"Wait, I want to buy a yam pie," suddenly announced Yeye on the ground floor of Siam Paragon.  So we all waited while he made the purchase.


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One round in the Sea Life Ocean World and one more item on our bucket list for Bangkok was ticked.  Was it entertaining? Well, it wasn't that bad.  Was it worth the S$22 discounted rate (normal rates $$40 without online discount)?  I would say a no.  Unless I had toddlers or young children whose curiosities I needed to tend to.

The Video number 5: walking to The Terrace



Street shots in Bangkok

Bangkok was a lovely place for street photography. Especially if it was a discreet iphone 7 plus.  This versatility of the iPhone 7 plus in just capturing a scene for documentation
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It was afternoon and our stomachs were ready for the highly-anticipated Deep fried snapper fish at The Terrace.  I was remarking to the family how funny it would look if the whole table was covered with dishes of the deep fried fish when our orders came.

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"Let me bring you all walking on the street level for once instead of going by the Skywalk," I told them.  It was a short walk and one would definitely see more on the street level than if one was on the Skywalk.

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And not only did we see more, we also had the luxury of refilling our water bottles from a street water fountain that was dedicated for drinking water.  Much-welcome was the refreshment.

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"Aunty Serene, Papa... quick let me take a picture of you all like this," said Ah Li as we went up the escalator to The Terrace, comfortably within the air conditioned environment of the Central a World.

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On our way up to The Terrace [Photo: Ah Li]

Four 油浸顺福 (其实是油浸金目鲈鱼 Sea Bass)on the table...

So away went the calls for the orders - Pad Thai, Deep fried fish.. the works.  It was about after 2pm, between a cockroach and confused PRC customers tying to order their food but ending up walking away due to inability to communicate, the manager, one waitress and one cook managed to complete our food.  And we did enjoy ourselves as much as before at The Terrace.

 

The mandatory massage for five was booked at Foot Master and this time round even Ah Sing also enjoyed the foot massage.
"他们只按摩脚而已 lei," said Nainai afterward. "我要单单按摩颈项和肩膀。"
Ok ok this Nainai was very specific in her requirement because her neck was aching.  好的好的,明天我给你们预一个单单颈项肩膀60分钟的。


 

"我看我们就索性去 Central World shopping 后,回来 Amarin Plaza 这里的 Bazaar 吃他们街边卖的小吃当晚餐吧!" Suggested Yeye, to the girls' delight.


So instead of a big meal at Nara Thai Central world, we ended up enjoying the street food right outside of McDonald's at the Amarin Plaza Bazaar.

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Ah Sing's favourite Mango Sticky Rice.

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It was quite an interesting sight, that the Thais also had some resemblance of festive decorations for the lunar new year.  Understandably, there were plenty of Thais of Chinese descendent in Thailand, who did celebrate CNY but as it was our first time in Bangkok for the CNY we were surprised to see the various localities with CNY bazaars and red lanterns and ribbons.

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And we did end up having street food.  Well, street food from the not-so-street-like Bazaar stalls that sold the same fares at a slightly higher fare.

 

Ah Li said: "It is very much worth our money it to eat here."
Me: "Why?"
Ah Li: "Because all the food come with free flies."
Hahaha.. yes yes, I forgot about that.  Yeye was kinda saying that the hygiene looked not too bad at the stalls here.  Thankfully he didn't get to see the uglier side of the preparation.  Because these were, at the end of the day, still street food, with all the necessary 'ingredients' thrown in.

 


 

Walking down from the Skywalk we saw the Chinese festive words.  They were... yeah.. about there but.. the expressions were somewhat dissimilar.
It was later when Yeye suddenly realized that these were written out of a direct translation from Teochew Chinese New Year greetings that everything made sense to us!

"Sin Jia Joo Yee. Sin Nee Huat Chai!"

 

I knew I wanted to eat the pork blood.  But I could only point to the photos of the bowls and gestured the numbers.  So I ended up with three different bowls.  But the family was quite sporting.  They are then all up.

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And even this that I originally thought was ngo hiang, turned out to be something else.

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"Heng Heng Ah!"

 

The evening done. The family tired out after a long day.  It was time for us to retire back to our 'Boutique' Hotel for the well deserved rest.

But not before we waited for Questal and Fann to arrive from their evening Air Asia flight into Bangkok.  For some strange reasons, these two girls got out of the airport late.  And by the time they stepped out, it was about 11pm.  But they were good because they managed to get an official taxi from outside the airport and only spend 250Bahts from Don Mueang airport to the hotel! Impressive!

 

Questal laughed when I struggled to plead this highly myopic counter girl to give them a room at the same level, but only managed to get a multitude of 'sorry' from her.



As it ended up, room 202 was facing the main road that had very heavy noisy road construction and poundings (yes poundings!) on the main road all the way up till 3am.  And Questal suffered like crazy that night whole night being kept up by the pounding.  Surprisingly there didn't seem to be any regulations restricting cessation of noisy construction work in the evening in Bangkok. 



DAY 3 (27th Jan Friday, 除夕): A simple Wat, a reunion with the Lampongs and a reunion with Yaowarat.

 



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Walking outside Gaysorn on the way to Wat Pathum Wanaram.
"Eh why you walk here today?" asked Serene.
"Oh I thought we would walk on the road for a change today mah," I replied. "It's just a short walk away."
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I really like the way the iPhone 7 Plus captured shots like this [Photo: Ah Li]

The Video number 6: Wat Pathum Wanaram







Wat Pathum Wanaram

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Yeye had asked me during our previous trip what was that little compound surrounded by a moat-like canal, in between Siam Paragon and Central World.  I could only hazard that that was some government building.  But little did I know that hidden here was a quaint little temple called Wat Pathum Wanaram.  It was built by King Mongkut in 1857 and during those days it was surrounded by paddy fields and was only accessible from the Chao Phraya by small little canals.

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Now, trapped in its own time capsule, it sat serenely amongst the bustling modern skyscrapers.  I read on the Trip Advisor that this was a peaceful and quiet but yet architecturally classical class three wat built by King Mongkut (Rama IV) for prayer near his own palace.

Yeye Nainai slowly kneeling down on their arthritic knees to pray.

On this morning, Fann was still frantically trying to finish off her report submission in the hotel, and Questal was still trying to catch up with some sleep after a whole night of high decibel pounding outside her hotel room window.

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The serenity of Wat Pathum Wanaram was soothing.  Compared with the crowd in The Grand Palace and its Wat Phra Kaew (The Emerald Buddha), this was such an oasis of tranquility.  I was glad circumstances did not allow us to make that trip down to The Grand Palace this round, but brought us to Wat Pathum Wanaram.

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Admission was free and there was no tourists but local Thais here - elderly ladies here for their morning prayer session with the monks, young men and young ladies who were here for their short prayers before going to work.  And of course us, this group of clever foreigners who stumbled upon this lovely Wat.

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We had a short but great time here.
"妈妈,你来看你来看。这里和尚们在做早课叻!" I pointed out to Nainai.
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A short prayer with the monks and we were out in the nice sun.  The weather in Bangkok at this time was certainly a notch warmer than we were here about three weeks ago, though the morning air was still crisp.

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Finally, Mr and Mrs Lampong!

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"Quick, the whole world waiting for you already!" texted Serene as the two ladies rushed down.

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Mr and Mrs Lampong were already waiting at the hotel lobby, Mr Lampong visibly older as when we last met about 7-8 years ago. Even way before that,  I was merely a primary 5 or 6 teenager when Mr Lampong first saw me.



The Video number 7: Meeting Mr & Mrs Lampong
[Click on the video above to watch]


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"Uncle, don't take my photo! I didn't sleep well last night and my nose is red!" the camera-shy Questal at it again. Hahaha..

A round of pleasantries and hugs and Yeye and Nainai were so happy to be meeting with their old old friends once again.  It was never easy for Mr Lampong to walk far, in his own words, "not more than 50m." because of his heart surgery and ageing limbs.

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"How, how are you?" inquired the gentle old chancellor of me, in his old glazed eyes the signs of a wise man was still apparent.

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The 15 years old lady and the 15 years old girl.
"Mr Lampong is only 15 years old," joked the ever-jovial Mrs Lampong. "15 years to 100." she added.

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Ever since a $20,000 CABG two years ago, the old Chancellor had been a little weaker.  He gestured that he almost went upstairs two years ago when he had his heart attack.

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Entering the gate to Mr Lampong's house.

"For more than two months, I was being fed on the tube," said the well-travelled Mr Lampong, who remembered everything in the past, and couldn't say enough of Yeye's daily cooking back in Manila 39 years ago, that kept all of the principals well-fed.  Fond memories of their three months together during training and the subsequent friendship that blossomed flowed as the two old men slowly chatted.
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The old pot purri on top of the old table in the old porch.
"I spend most of my time sleeping," joked Mr Lampong when I enquired how he spent most of his time nowadays.  A fact that we soon understood when we arrived at his home.
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The sumptuous Chinese lunch in a Teochew restaurant Charndperng just south of Lhumpini Park was a luxury.  And we were truly honoured by their hospitality.  On our last trip, Mr Lampong's own joking words were: "It's against the law of Thailand if the host doesn't pay for a meal."

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The university minibus drove us to his house at Rim Phayao alley 2, somewhere in the suburbs of Bangkok, where Mrs Lampong did her daily morning walks along the canal to the local market and back.

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"She is still very active," said Ah Li later.  Certainly she was.  Not a single year older than when I last saw her, despite her being also another '15 years to 100'.
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The Lampong residence was exactly as I remembered it, as a primary school child.  I still remember the stern, old-fashioned, dark furniture, the dining area and of course the unforgettable toilet.
Nothing had changed.  Literally nothing.

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The toilet exactly the way I remembered it as an 11 year old child.
Time stood still in this very down-to-earth abode of two very highly-acclaimed yet very humble scholars.  Mr and Mrs Lampong were very proud of their children and their grandchildren's achievements and they showed us photos of King Bhumibol conferring the degree to Mr Lampong himself and later on another ceremony to his son. And also photos of he grandson Bob who was a pilot with Thai airways.  Their daughter Usa who was 57 years old this year, was still a long-serving manager in Cathay Pacific, and her house was just across the road from theirs.
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I was simply glad that the children slowly let down their guards and became more relax and the minutes ticked by.  Ah Sing was her usual inquisitive self and started asking Mr Lampong all kinds of question, while Fann and Ah Li simply enjoyed the snacks, but they did leave several pieces of 'paiseh' chocolate untouched.  The mandarin oranges were sweet and the children devoured them.  And Ah Sing was so genetically gifted she swept one piece that I passed to her like a tennis ball and it landed snack right into her glass of water with nary a splash!  That was really brilliant.  Although it did crack all the children up.  What a highlight that was.

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Mrs Lampong's tea was much welcomed.  And it was with much reluctance when we bid farewell to the Lampongs at the front porch, that Mr Lampong stood with his walking stick at his veranda waving good bye to us, especially to his good old friend Yeye.
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I sincerely doubt that significance of this meeting would ever strike the younger generations,  Definitely not at this moment.  The reunion of two comrades in the education world, who had seen each other grown older over four decades, meant aplenty.  Not many words needed spoken. But just being together again, in each other's presence, was a recounting of old times, a reliving of their past, as memories must have resurfaced.  As I stood behind Yeye at the rusty gate watching him wave to his old friend, I could almost feel that uncertainty in the hearts of old men, when they would ever meet again.

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Yeye taking a shot of Mr Lampong and his house before waving bye bye and leaving.



团圆饭 at Yaowarat


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Busy traffic at Yaowarat.

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CNY decorations.


This Eve of Chinese New Year seemed to be a day of reunions- reunion with old friends and reunion with old locality.  Finally we were heading for Yaowarat, the Chinatown of Bangkok, for Yeye and Nainai to reunite with their Yaowarat seafood restaurant...  and perhaps a bowl or two of sharksfin.

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"Wah those days, Ah Meng lah, Larry lah.. whenever we came we must always come over to Yaowarat to have the birds nest and seafood.  They were always cheap and delicious," recounted Yeye.
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The driver very kindly dropped us at Yaowarat, not far from our restaurant.  But the time was still early. 4pm. Half an hour from their opening at T&K Restaurant.  Nam Sing, the famous birds nest restaurant was just right next door.  But I wanted to have our dinner at T&K because it was highly recommended in Trip Advisor and it was of a much more reasonable price compare with Nam Sing.
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So while waiting, we walked aimlessly around.  And we were not surprised to find many CNY things around in this eve of the New Year- decorations, people in red waiting to celebrate, babies in festive costumes, lion dances, boss sticks and candles altars with offerings to the gods, and all the shops were opened.
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Threading of eye brow in preparation for CNY. [Photo: Serene]

We were amused to find suddenly a couple of police officers stopping the traffic of motorbikes and cars in the middle of the road.  Just like that. Smack right in the middle of the road, for no reason nor rhyme. The motorists just patiently waited with their engines humming, legs at standby while the police officer held up their hands, and tourists and locals alike swarmed the streets and took selfies and pictures of themselves in the middle of the empty road with the horde of motorbikes waiting in the background.

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A most lovely panoramic shot of the bewildering traffic stoppage by the Thai police officer by Serene.

"What on earth are they doing?" wondered Questal.
"Yah lor.. no reason one right? Mo-tuen-tuen like that no announcement like that just stopped the traffic," I said.
"Yah lor, and the motorbikes also guai guai patiently wait there like that," added Yeye.
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60 Bahts a coconut on CNY Eve.
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Honestly it was for quite a long while.  We really didn't know how long this would last.  But after what seemed to be a long long time, the motorists were finally allowed to move.  But merely for a few tens of meters before another police officer stopped them again!  This was turning out to be quite an interesting sight.  Imagine - traffic stoppage for no reason but perhaps just for the tourists to 'enjoy' a little space on the road.

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The elder sisters looking at the Thai 100% gold.
We needed to look for some cold coconut water while some needed the toilet.  Somehow we ended inside the cold comfort of a Jewellery' aircon premises.  On this CNY eve all the Jewellery shops were filled with customers crowding around the glass display counters.

"Why so many people want to buy gold on CNY eve?"
"Don't know. Maybe they have special discount on the eve," suggested Yeye.

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"Ok we were saying we wanted to come here to look for四典金 for Questal one mah, right?" joked Serene.
"Hahaha yah yah.. I like the Dragon lah, the Phoenix lah, the elephant and the pig designs.." I said.

Questal and Fann actually DID take a look at some of the items. And they found that the ear rings were going at about S$30+ for 100% gold or something to that effect, which promoted Yeye Nainai to share their experiences with gold buying.  Back home, they said, those from established chains like Poh Heng or such would have an unbeatable reputation, and Jewellery from Poh Heng would always be welcomed anywhere and one could even bring the item back to Poh Heng to have it melted without any questions asked.  And the old folks taught the younger generation about Full 100% Gold 足金, which was more malleable and thus softer and 916 Gold, which was alloyed with copper and thus harder.

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Reaching The T & K Restaurant just beside Nam Sing.

T & K Seafood Restaurant

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The narrow staircase of T & K Seafood Restaurant.
Time inside the air-conditioned Jewellery flew and 4:30pm came and we were quick to make our way back to T&K Restaurant. We were ushered to the second floor, and as I made my way up I was surprised to find that there was even a loft at the second and a half floor that could sit another 7-8 persons, although seated on the floor round a low table, that acted also like a dining area.

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Reunion Dinner at T&K Restaurant.
The cooks were literally cooking at the balconies of the second and the third floors and inside the tiny area was packed with tables and chairs, which made me worried a little about fire hazards as I looked around and found nowhere to run except that narrow steep staircase, in the event of a fire breakout. 
The service staff in green were very efficient- fast and smiling.  And they took their orders quickly and delivered their dishes very rapidly.

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Chao-dar crab with roe.

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Taste-less and hardened gong-gong.

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Fresh dead prawns
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We had a whole selection: crabs with roe, steamed snapper, deep fried sea bass, grilled spuid (squid), Gong-gong, oyster omelette, Sharksfin, fish maw, several dishes of vegetables... all came up to 5400 Bahts with drinks (S$218). For 8 persons, and for the amount of food, that was really very reasonably-priced.  Only things was, the taste of the food was quite a let down- crabs over done and chao-dar-ed. Gong-gong tasteless. Sharksfin and fish maw so-so only.

Still, a CNY reunion dinner in the heart of Chinatown in Bangkok on Chinese New Year's Eve was quite a different experience from our usual.  And we were all glad to be here having this special meal together with all our loved ones.

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walking down the stairs


It seems that many from Taiwan, China, Malaysia, Hong Kong had the same intention as us, and we shared the premises with many tourists from all over.  Even as we stepped out of the restaurant later, we were still shocked by how inundated they were- a gigantic queue was already snaking outside the sliding door of the shop with many Chinese awaiting (im)patiently to get in.

Ah Li was infuriated. 
"Why? What happened?" I asked her.
"Just now I was holding the sliding glass door opened for a bunch of PRC Chinese and they as they came in they kept pushing and pushing against me until I fed up and let go of the sliding door and let it hit them."
So funny. She was seldom so angered.  But I was sure the PRC Chinese must have behaved badly.
The Video number 8: Reunion Dinner at Yaowarat

"哇,阿豪, 还好你有先见。尽快到 Yaowarat 这里先到餐馆用晚餐。不然的话,你看!现在这么拥挤。一定等到我们笑的!" said 奶奶.
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An unbelievably packed T & K Restaurant on CNY Eve. [Photo: Serene]

"Fann, you just use your Google map to navigate to the bus station," I instructed Fann, knowing how good she was when it came to navigation.
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The wrong bus stop number '25' for bus no. 25.

But the bus 25 station seemed elusive.  And we ended up crossing the river before we came to Hua Lamphong MRT station where the bus station was found.  It was not a bad experience at all, just that we had to navigate several roads with heavy traffic and also meandered through some old local residences.  I personally thought that was a good experience.

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We just walked lor.
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Then sky had turned dark and a bus 25 came but it was so jam-packed that we couldn't get up. A family of three from PRC was ushered down the bus and the irate mother was complaining that the bus driver insisted that they got off because they were at their stop already.  They wanted to go Phrom Phong.  But this was Hua Lamphong.  Such a funny incidence.  As the woman asked me in her heavy PRC accent, I laughed and told her perhaps the driver heard her wrongly.  But in my heart the real answer was already clear.  The poor bus conductor must have had enough of PRC Chinese's nonsense.

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A trip of learning for myself and Yeye...

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Our Uber came!
During this trip, I demonstrated to Yeye how to use Google Translate to write in English and let it translate into Thai when we were trying to communicate with the Thai optician, and he was impressed.  Another occasion when I took a photo of a Japanese signboard and ran my finger through the sentence that I wanted the App to do an OCR (Optical Character Recognition), it translated that sentence perfectly from Japanese to Chinese,  and Yeye was even more impressed.

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In addition, on our way back from Mr Lampong's home to Yaowarat, I demonstrated to him how to use the Google Map navigation App and for the first time he realised that he no longer needed the outdated built-in dashboard GPS set in his car, which had been bringing him to all the wrong places.
As much as Yeye learned from me, on this trip I learned from Questal and Fann how to make use of the Uber and the Grab App to book taxis to bring us back to the hotel.
And on this evening at the bus stop at Hua Lamphong, the elder sisters did a great job by booking two Uber cabs to bring us back to our hotel, at about 86 to 103 Bahts each.
"You all see,  Uncle is now so excited about the Uber and Grab App," laughed Serene.   Indeed she was correct.  I could easily book a taxi wherever I was.
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As I explained in summary to Yeye some time later.  Travelling nowadays was like this: "一机在手,全世界走。“

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Buying breakfast for the next morning


大年初一: 新正如意!



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大年初一,旅馆外自拍!

DAY  4 (28 Jan CNY first day): A exciting day ahead at the Weekend Market

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一大清早派红包!
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派了二楼再派三楼!


It was 大年初一. And it was a wonderful feeling waking up to a brand New Year in a different bed on a different land, knowing that an adventure awaited us that day.
Serene and I remembered Chatuchak from our previous trip as a sprawling, hot and humid enclosure of small little shops and stalls selling local handicrafts and clothing that held no attractions to us. Since this was the children's first visit, we concluded that a trip to Bangkok would never be complete without a few minutes spent at Chatuchak.
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Another night of little sleep, and (most likely) anxiety (seeing the way Questal was biting her nails) ...
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But Nainai had a interesting dream...
8:35am.  We left the hotel to take a 42 Bahts BTS from Chit Lom to Mo Chit.
"Uncle, I read that you can cross the bridge or walk across the park," said Questal.
We ended up just following the crowd.  And boy, was it so easy to arrive at Chatuchak once out of the BTS station.  I still remembered years back when Yeye Nainai brought me here as a child, it was quite troublesome.  We had to take taxi from our hotel to here and then we walked a little more.  The train had really simplified the journey and naturally brought more businesses to the retailers at Chatuchak.
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奶奶 must have been bored because all the BTS stations named either sounded like food...
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... or sounded like money to her!
The detail cross section layout of Chatuchak Questal showed earlier totally escaped me. It looked too complicated. But on hindsight a close study of that would have saved us plenty of time.

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One thing that struck me was, the stall holders were much more courteous and the variety of merchandise was very wide. In no time everyone took to the shops of their preferences. Even Yeye found several leather shops and grabbed some pouches and belts while Nainai got herself some pajamas. Young stall holders abound and a few of them could speak Mandarin. It seemed that time had changed. And the flavour of Chatuchak had evolved in accordance to the taste of the newer generation. Very wisely so too, I thought.
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"There is an original coconut ice cream stall with green shades that we must look for and try." I instructed. Because some reviews said that this coconut ice cream was the best.
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The ORIGINAL coconut ice cream just outside Toilet number 3.

And tried we did, after Yeye had to look for the toilet. In his usual confusion Yeye just ordered five coconut ice creams with two or three servings of all kinds of toppings, thinking that the toppings came totally free of charge, but only to be astonished by the price when the heavily loaded five cups of ice creams were passed to us.

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Our first stop into Chatuchak was a coffee and coconut ice cream break.

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My eye brows were on their way there.. almost like Yeye's already.  Almost.

It was no longer hot and humid inside the covered compound. Fanned breeze and much-improved ventilation took the heat out of roaming the wooden thatched cubicles, and brought in a new level of enjoyment. Made even more fun by being able to bargain down the prices.


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I even found knock-off, huge 75 litres North Face and Deuter trekking backpacks at about 1300 Bahts (S$52) and would had bargained RBM down even more, but for the fear of not having enough space in the luggage to bring them back, and, more reasonably so, for worry about their quality.

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"Ah Li, we will go back home and check out Decathlon's backpacks once again and if I ever come by then I may get some for our year end trip," I told Ah Li.
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What caught my attention was a nice little wallet with coin compartment with a smooth texture that Serene discovered. So I made it mine for 225 Bahts.
We were originally supposed to rendezvous at the entrance at 12pm. But it was obvious that the ladies needed more time. Even the old folks I was sure would love to have more time.

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"我们才走不到十分之一!” said Yeye. Which was very true.
"要走 Chatuchak 要至少两天的啦!" Serene correctly pointed out.
"下次我们再来。但是我们拜六礼拜都过来吧!" Said Nainai.
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My favourite shop.  Ran by this very steady and very friendly man.
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This shop was really good.  I even took down a picture of its exact location

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Ah Sing was lost somewhere deep and she managed to grab herself some food inside. So did Questal and Fann, these two cleverly skirted the outer ring of Chatuchak before deciding which entrance to attack.

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Ah Sing very independent already.  She already knew how to walk around and feed herself.
We found a nice shaded small stall selling nice pad Thai, chicken wings and drinks and sat down for a cheap lunch. It was a well-deserved rest for Nainai and Yeye's tired legs.

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Niang Serene was very clever. She knew Ah Li loved a certain dress and before lunch they were not able to reach a consensus about price with the shop owner. After we filled our stomachs, the two of them went in again to grab that dress.

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Seeing everyone's faces flushed with excitement as she emerged from the belly of Chatuchak, I was glad we made the decision to come on this trip. As a matter of fact, Chatuchak seemed to have been elevated to the position of a major highlight for this holiday.


The Video number 9: Chatuchak Weekend Market

"Wah like this hor, for our next trip let's do not only Chatuchak but also the Rot Fai night market," I said. I heard the night market is a great place for young girls to shop.
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Thus in classic LWH style, the plan was laid for the next trip even before this one had ended.
Questal and Fann both kicked into action with their Uber App as we waited at Exit 4 of the Mo Chit BTS station, to grab two taxis for our journey back. This Uber thing was getting more and more addictive to me. The only surprise was how bad the traffic condition was from Chatuchak back to our hotel. It was jam-packed on the roads all the way despite being a relatively straight route. That got me a little worried about grabbing an Uber for our trip back to Don Mueang airport tomorrow late morning. The traffic jam could mean the difference between being on time or being late for the flight. Hahaha!
"我要按摩肩膀和颈项。" said Nainai. Yeye and Ah Sing also wanted. So the appointment for Foot Master was made for them at 3:15pm. It must have been a busy Saturday for they only had enough slots for three persons, and Serene booked a two hour full body traditional Thai massage at the massage below our hotel, which turned out to be fantastic.
"Ah Li, let's go to eat Happy Food!" I said.
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SnowTree
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That was exactly what we both did. We went to SnowTree to share a small 170Baht Bingsul and we went down to the Terrace to share a Deep Fried sea bass.

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 Jiaklat.  One family trip, didn't know how many sea basses we have killed.  But one thing for sure.  My weight jumped from 75kg to 78kg.  And that was about right - the amount of sea bass and pad thai and ice creams and Bingsuls all thrown in.

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Meeting Yeye Nainai and Ah Sing at Siam Square 5pm to collect my glasses, we slowly walked back.


AKA Japanese Restaurant! YES!!!

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"今晚的晚餐我请!" Announced Yeye.  Wah, that was great!
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The Japanese restaurant and the Korean man.
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Busy ordering while Yeye Nainai rested their tired feet.
His original plan to have lobster at one of the Japanese restaurant was found to be not so feasible because even thought each lobster was 1100 Baht (S$44), the sushi and other ala carte items were not so nice (cheap). Questal arrived early to help us queue for a right person table. The wait was long, but when the food came, we were all thrilled. Especially so was Yeye Nainai with the prawns and Fann with the pork belly and beef. I found the squid, the muscles and the beef Bacon very nice. Ah Li just ate everything. And Ah Sing and Yeye took an instant liking TK the salmon. Serene found the lemon juice at the end to be surprisingly refreshing. So everyone was happy.

"Wah lau, Yeye really ate so many prawns!" said Questal afterward. "I was sitting next to him and I saw him kept whacking the prawns, and you all just kept cooking and passing him prawns!"

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爷爷,奶奶与娘的 favourite!
"哇今晚这顿饭真的是很值得。吃这么多虾和肉,一个人才大概 $20." Said Nainai. "我问 Lampong 一个平均泰国人的日入多少。他告诉我大概 300泰铢。哇,这样子我们一个人吃到来500多泰铢,对他们来说应该是很奢侈的啊!下一次我们一定得回来这里吃!"
Well, if Nainai says so, then we must come. In my heart there were several other restaurants that I really wanted to try. But the sheer number made it impossible to eat in more than 1-2 restaurants a day.

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With future trips, I would love to slowly move into other areas of Bangkok that had interesting sights and more of local flavours than this central shopping and commercial district. But those would need to come another time.
Questal and Fann would come back to Chatuchak the next day, as they were staying in Bangkok for an additional two days for more shopping and rock climbing (crazy!). For the rest of us, our trip had almost ended and we were (not really) ready to go home.

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Back at the hotel... thinking of what she would buy the next day at Chatuchak.



The Video number 10: AKA Restaurant & Flying home lor...!



DAY 5: Home sweet home for everyone except for Ah Boy and Ah Girl.



Ha nor.  How I wish I could stay for a few more days.
While everyone was still sleeping... I set off at 7:30am to walk around the neighbourhood and to do some street shooting.
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The Mercury Ville just across the road from Central Chidlom

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I wonder if these public rental bikes were indeed regularly used or not.

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Outside the Big C.
And when Ah Li and Nainai woke up, they both went across the road to McDonald's.
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Nainai and Ah Li went for their very own McDonald's coffee breakfast.

And then we went home.
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Both Serene and I failed to book any Grab taxi cos our traffic here was too jammed.  No one wanted to come in to pick us up to go to the airport.
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... and like what I told Yeye Nainai: "Some days you would be lucky to have the bridge to walk through. Other days you gotta take the bus to the plane. That's the budget way of travelling."

As for Questal and Fann, well... they had another two more days of sisters' days together in Bangkok.  They literally shopped Chatuchak again, played and ate.

They ate at Inter restaurant another two times, the first time tom yam was not so good. But the second time round, the tom yam was fantastic...

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Yes Questal... the fresh dead prawns again!
They managed to eat the Boat Noodle that we didn't...

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Questal: "I couldn't believe how small a portion each bowl was.  I had to eat THREE bowls of them!"

They did rock climbing at Phrom Phong...

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... and they ate again.  This time round at Forever Hungry just down the road...

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And finally, two days after we arrived back home, these two girls touched down on the soil of Singapore.


FINALLY back to reality

Yah.  It was either spending CNY back at home, and totally tired out after five days of celebrations and feasting and gatherings and such... or spending that five days relaxing on a holiday.  After this second consecutive year away from home during CNY, I was even more certain that this was the way to go.
And as staunchly traditional as they might be, Yeye and Nainai also seemed to be sold on that idea.  And we were planning for our next CNY trip even on our flight back.
It had been a swell time in Bangkok.  And truth to be told, Bangkok never disappointed us.  We would be back again.