Monday, October 15, 2012

Destination Cambodia II: Bangkok BTS

We were up early next day - obviously, I was really excited to meet my parents, and Ajey, as usual had some work emails to take care of! After a sumptuous breakfast and lunch, we set off for the airport. Ajey's aunt lives in Sukhumvit, which is a really central part of Bangkok. The metro station is a 5 minute walk away, and what with traffic congestion rampant in Bangkok, the Bangkok BTS is a godsend! A short ride on the Skytrain brought us to the station for the Airport Rail Link. It took us about 40 minutes to get to the airport, the same distance would have taken at least an hour and half by taxi - more in traffic!

My parents had made it through visa-on-arrival and customs without any major hassles. Of course, their plane from Mumbai was full of Indian tourists, so it took a little longer than expected. I just love the system of visa-on-arrival! Step off the plane, hand in your money and passport, and voila, the visa is done! Bangkok airport even has little photo kiosks, just in case you forgot to pack photos for the visa! For us Indian citizens, who need a visa to go almost anywhere, it really helps to have such an uncomplicated visa process!

I had booked us into a Best Western close to the airport for that 1 night in Bangkok. I thought 'close' was 10 minutes from the airport - 10 minutes if you drove at breakneck speeds on completely deserted roads! It actually took us close to half hour to get to the hotel - well, at least they had a complimentary shuttle!! The plan was to check into the hotel, grab a bite, rest for a couple of hours - and then go explore a bit. As it turned out, we didn't have time for anything but a quick lunch for my parents, and a delicious welcome drink (pineapple juice with ginger - surprisingly refreshing!) - and it was still 5pm before we left the hotel!

 Ajey's cousin had recommended that we visit the Asiatique in the evening, and that is where we were headed. Located on the banks of the Chao Praya river, the Asiatique was an abandoned East Asiatic Company trading pier that has been converted to an upscale mall/food court. It was also at the other end of the town from the airport! There was no easy way to get there, even by metro we would have to change lines three times!

We started off by taking the hotel shuttle back to the airport. Then the Airport Link to Makkasan station, where we changed to the MRT. Bangkok's transit system has 2 Skytrain lines, 1 MRT underground line and of course, the Airport Rail Link. Usually stations are linked by pedestrian bridges, so transferring between lines is easy. Unfortunately, at Makkasan to transfer to the Phetchaburi station on the MRT, we had to climb down 3 flights of stairs, cross 2 major thoroughfares and walk at least a kilometer through heavy traffic!! Then again, after the ride on the MRT, to transfer back to the Skytrain at Silon, it was a similar trek! Our destination was the Saphan Takshin station, which brought us right to the Chao Praya river. From there, the Asiatique was a boat ride away. It was a pleasant cruise, Bangkok's best and brightest buildings on either side, a cool breeze - until it started to rain! Once the rain covers were pulled down, the boat was stifling, the view was gone- and we then couldn't wait for the ride to get done! Funny how quickly perspectives change!!

A flower shop in the Asiatique
The Asiatique is a nice place to spend the evening. Great views of Bangkok from the pier. Upscale boutiques for clothes and furniture and souvenir shops - fun to browse, but don't expect great bargains! There's a couple of theaters, but we didn't really have the time to take in a show! Plenty of restaurants - ranging from pricey French bistros to stalls for local Thai food to the ubiquitous pizza! And these days, what's a good food court without an Indian joint? Siam India in the Asiatique was where we ate dinner that night. Really tasty food - my benchmark is usually the Dal Makhni, and they did a good job of it!

Now, we were on vacation, but Caterpillar, US was still working! So there Ajey was, hauling around our IPad and earphones, so he could call in to a meeting, while we were at dinner! The background noise was high, so he couldn't really say anything - but he still had to call in and listen. Can't complain though - it is part of his job as an ISE! I just hope that the Cat higher-ups know that they're really getting their money's worth with him!

After dinner, we started the long journey back to our hotel! First the boat ride back to Saphan Takshin. This time around, we decided to stay on the Skytrain - still 3 changes, but at least no walking between stations! So went on to Siam station, and then Phaya Thai, from where we took the Airport Link back to the airport. We were just in time to catch the last shuttle back to the hotel - it was almost midnight! We were all completely wiped out and headed straight to bed!

The next day was a big one! To Cambodia....

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