A Bit of Time in Thailand and Singapore

Jul 30th, 2019, 05:11 PM
  #1  
Amy
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A Bit of Time in Thailand and Singapore

This was a really short trip (12 days total from the East Coast of the US) so there's not a whole lot of there here, but just for future reference and sharing here it is!

My niece and I flew into Bangkok, arriving via Tokyo in the very early morning hours of Saturday. Our fixed-price cab found the Old Capital Bike Inn Old Capital Bike Inn - Bangkok Heritage Bike Innwithout too much problem, owing to us having the map and phone number on hand. (It's a ten-room little hotel, so there are definitely cab drivers who don't know it.) It was a really happy choice for our first three nights, with a large soaking tub overlooking an enclosed garden and with breakfast that I'm still pining for. The bike part is the vintage bikes and the night tours that you can take with the inn's owner, but we skipped that bit, being pretty exhausted by evening. The cozy and friendly inn with its lovely staff made a great start to our trip and a nice calm base in not-so-calm Bangkok.

After some sleep we set out to walk to the Grand Palace. On the way, we noticed a lot of bunting and pix of King Rama X; I knew his father had died a couple of years ago after a 70 year reign, and found out that the coronation had been delayed until May, with another ceremony due to happen in Bangkok in October. There is definitely a lot of attention to the monarchy, and of course Thailand has one of the world's strictest "respect the king" policies. It's a constitutional monarchy, but the Royal Family is still pretty important.

The Grand Palace is a complex of buildings, some of which were in fact closed, although not as many as the touts would have you believe. It was extremely hot, of course, so we contented ourselves with a wander through the complex itself and finding shade where we could. After finding our way back to the hotel, we set out again in the other direction to find a canal boat ("Go down behind the 7-11!") to take us to the Jim Thompson house(s) (he put five of them together) which is a rather lovely house/garden combination and has a restaurant that was quite good: we ended up eating dinner there through simple proximity. http://jimthompsonrestaurant.com/ Thompson was a silk merchant who got lost in the Cameroon Highlands in the 60's; his house is eclectic but attractive--I particularly liked the silk used in the living room furniture.

The canal boat wasn't running back again by the time we left dinner, so we got a cab. There's a distinct possibility that we paid more for the cab than we should have, but at that point we were fairly tuckered and just wanted to be back to the hotel. The 90's plus temperatures and blazing sun can take it out of you a bit.
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Jul 30th, 2019, 06:14 PM
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In order to make the most of our brief time in Bangkok, we had booked the Vanguard Bangkok 360 https://bangkokvanguards.com/experie...k-three-sixty/ tour for Sunday. It's a pretty intensive tour--ours ran from about 8:45 to 4:45, taking in some of the wats and major sites but mostly consisting of various means of transportation, markets, alleys, temples, and what was to me the highlight, a long-tail boat ride down the canals to lunch, and a stop to feed the catfish and walk through a canal "village". Other highlights included breakfast at the Sikh temple--they feed about 2,000 people every day--and the view from the skybar where the trip ended. Our guide was...possibly not optimal? Nice lady, but we didn't get much information really and it felt a bit odd at times, like when she left us to go do some shopping. I do like the structure of the tour and you do indeed see quite a lot of Bangkok in the time. After the tour we went to one of the flower markets via a tuk-tuk negotiated by our guide. It had open-air stalls with flowers arriving from the countryside and garlands galore. (I am a floral designer by trade so I have a particular affinity for markets like this.) Any of the tuk-tuks we were in moved at a pretty rapid (read: death-defying) pace, but it's an interesting way to travel. The long-tail boats were a little death-defying in the getting in and out bits, but otherwise were really great to ride in.

It must be admitted that after our ultra-spicy Thai "homestyle" lunch we went to, um, McDonalds for dinner. We weren't really all that hungry, and I always like to try the apple pies in other countries, because those lovely greasy deep-fried pies aren't available in my area. Turned out to be a pineapple pie here, but the crust was just the same as I remember.
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Jul 31st, 2019, 01:47 AM
  #3  
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Monday found us flying north to Chiang Mai, primarily to go to the Elephant Nature Park. For this excursion we had booked a condo, booking for four nights even though we would be at the elephant park one of those nights. https://hillside-3-condonimman.chian...els365.com/en/ At $30 a night it was perfectly fine, although there was a bit of an issue with the washing machine not emptying; we found out that you needed to drain it into the shower--the water then got all over the floor. (Aha! That's why there's a squeegee in the bathroom and a lingering musty smell in there!) Still, at least we were able to do some laundry and the place was clean and comfortable otherwise. We walked to the mall--pardon, Maya Lifestyle Shopping Center-- down the busy street and got some groceries as our legendary breakfasts at the Bike Inn were now just a memory. The condo was not too far from the airport and was on the pick-up list for tours, which is always a plus, and there are a lot of shops and restaurants nearby.

The next morning we were picked up by mini-bus to go to the Elephant Nature Park about an hour and a half away. https://www.elephantnaturepark.org/ I had done some research to try to find a reasonably ethical situation, and it does seem that ENP is definitely devoted to not only the elephants but also dogs, cats, goats,horses, and water buffalo that are there on the extensive acreage. The setting is gorgeous, ringed about by green mountains and with a river running through (fun watching the ellies in there!) The food served is vegan, quite tasty, although we did surrender to buying a non-vegan Magnum bar. (Dairy would be the reason I'd have a hard time being vegan, I have to admit.)

We were put into a small group, just six altogether, which was nice; our group members were an absolute plus, which is always nice when you're in that close proximity that this makes. There were quite a number of people there from all over the world, and we were merged with a lovely French family the next day. On the first day we fed the elephants that came up to the veranda and went walking through part of the compound, watched them in the river, and walked some of the dogs in the evening, followed by an earnest folk-lore show. The room was surprisingly large and luxurious, with a hot shower and ceiling fan. We slept well after our day outdoors, and got up early to go hiking up to another area (carrying watermelons.) The combination of a flawlessly clear sunny day, the beautiful surroundings, and elephants slurping watermelon was absolutely irresistible, and definitely was worth the sore shoulders from toting the watermelon.

The elephants there have been bought from logging companies, the tourist trade, or even from land-mine accidents in Burma/Myanmar; they range in age, but most seem to be in the 40-80 year range. There are mahouts attending them--these are elephants that wouldn't be able to survive in the wild, but one does keep a respectful distance. It seems to me a reasonable compromise to bring tourists and paying volunteers in to help buy and care for these beautiful animals; in this place, the animals definitely seem to be prioritized.

We saw many of the other animals as well, including an elderly goat in a waistcoat. It appears that, unlike us, he becomes cold easily, thus the vest.
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Jul 31st, 2019, 01:48 AM
  #4  
Amy
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Time for a picture break, including lots of elephants and the goat in a vest! If you click on an individual picture it will go into larger mode--hopefully. Please let me know if the link doesn't work.

https://missalg.smugmug.com/Thailand-and-Singapore-2019/https://missalg.smugmug.com/Thailand-and-Singapore-2019/

Last edited by Amy; Jul 31st, 2019 at 01:50 AM. Reason: added info
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Jul 31st, 2019, 02:05 AM
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Great report, Amy! I'm seeing that you went to some of my favorite gardens in Singapore, so looking forward to that section!
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Jul 31st, 2019, 04:47 AM
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Very nice report and yes the link works. Thank you.
Will follow!
Larry
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Jul 31st, 2019, 03:04 PM
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Amy
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Our final full day in Thailand was spent on a lovely little day tour that we booked at pretty much the last minute from the "Touring Center": Doi Inthanon National Park, the site of the highest mountain in Thailand along with some wonderful cloud forest, waterfalls, and the twin pagodas of the king and queen whose marriage united Thailand. Our guide, Mr. M, was cheerful and informative and just overall great, and the weather was lovely--cool due to the mountain height, but sunny due to me going there. (It's a phenomenon or a blessing or whatever, but anyway even when it's rainy season/rain is predicted {"It will rain on the mountain"} I still get sunshine. It makes me happy, I have to say.) https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attracti..._Province.html

It was a bit of a drive out of Chiang Mai, but the countryside was nice and Mr. M gave us good explanations (until we actually were winding up the mountain, and I sympathize with that!) After the visit to the pagodas we had a really good lunch in a village, with crispy river fish and the best version of the coconut milk soup ever, plus a lot of other stuff of the rice and noodle variety and tempura, which I never actually associated with Thailand, but yum. We walked through the village later and into a Karen hill people village, past the greenest of greens that are rice paddies in the sunshine. I bought a woven scarf from the woman doing the weaving in the village, and we stopped for coffee there as well; coffee is one of the crops that was meant to replace the opium trade for the hill people. It was a really interesting and varied trip; I'm glad we chose to do it, although the White Temple and Chiang Rai looked most interesting as well--but it's really far for a day trip from the sound of things.
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Aug 1st, 2019, 06:21 AM
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Ok. Thank you. The local meal sounds delicious!
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Aug 11th, 2019, 04:17 PM
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Amy
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Okay, sorry for the delay--there was this little break of a family vacay in Disneyworld! (23 of us altogether; it was a great time and loads more heat and humidity, just like Thailand and Singapore...)

On Friday we flew directly from Chiang Mai to Singapore on Silk Airways; nothing special, but it got the job done. Of course Changi Airport is v. glam, but mercy was it crowded! It really is a beautiful place, though. A taxi to Pan Pacific Serviced Suites Beach Road was actually pretty quick; the location of the apart/hotel isn't central, but worked out well for us. https://www.panpacific.com/en/servic...each-road.html
The suites are nice, but a bit choppy in layout; there's not a lot of space to spare, but that's not surprising for Singapore, of course, where space is at a premium. The staff there is lovely, and the breakfast was quite decent. (By the way, it's not served on Sundays or public holidays.) The only real issue we had was that the combination washer dryer just flat out didn't dry, and the stuff that we washed remained damp even after hanging it up for a couple of days. There's a weird thing with the drains being noisy, too, but that's minor. It's well equipped and clean and...it's right across the elevated pedestrian walkway from Positano Risto! I never knew that I needed a halal Italian restaurant in Southeast Asia in my life, but boy am I missing that place. I can just see me trying to do layovers in Singapore on every trip: "Hmmm, we're going to Latvia? Must be some route that takes us via Singapore, right?" On the first night I had an excellent Caprese with freshly made bufalo mozzarella and some deliciously flavorful seafood soup, but the absolute best part was the cocoa cannoli with orange-infused fresh ricotta. My eyes literally rolled back in my head for a moment. The place was busy on that Friday night, and they kindly made room for us in the outdoor cafe part along the pedestrian streetm Bussorah. Positano Risto ? Singapore #1 Halal and Italian Restaurant
The Sultan Mosque is right at the end of Bussorah Street, and it's all quite lovely at night. This is the neighborhood known as Kampong Glam, with Little India and Chinatown close by.
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Aug 12th, 2019, 01:19 AM
  #10  
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Saturday's excursions started with Gardens by the Bay, https://www.gardensbythebay.com.sg/ a beautiful if somewhat Disneyesque complex of two huge conservatories, huge "living" trees, parks and gardens. We took Grab to get there (it's the Singapore based version of Lyft or Uber; actually we'd used it first in Chiang Mai) and spent most of our time in the conservatories, as, for one thing, they're beautifully climate controlled. The Singapore Flyer (big observation Ferris wheel) is visible through the windows, but we skipped that. Wandering the canopy walkway in the cloud forest got us elevated enough! There's a huge waterfall in there, as well as, of course, gorgeous plants, especially orchids, while the other has more color and variety of flowers, although it's definitely got orchids as well. I am a fan of orchids (I have friends who are orchid growers; I often help them with set-up at the Philadelphia Flower Show) and Singapore is definitely orchid central; it's one of the few things that they export rather than import. In fact, the floral conservatory with its various "scenes" reminded me of a permanent Flower Show, not at all a bad thing. We spent a bit of time in the gift shop as my niece was shopping for her family. For some reason, if one approaches the tea there are rather aggressive sales people immediately there; that didn't happen with any of the rest of the items, but it happened with the tea in more than one place. Maybe the tea is an independent contract with its own staff, I don't know...but it surely didn't make me want to purchase any tea!

Tickets purchased in advance are cheaper; we paid about $23 for them.

Last edited by Amy; Aug 12th, 2019 at 01:22 AM. Reason: added link
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Aug 12th, 2019, 05:30 AM
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So glad to hear you enjoyed Singapore. We did too. If I won a big lotto and could figure out a way to lower their average temperature by 15 degrees I’d move.

You description of the gardens brings me back.

BTW per skytrax Changi is rated the best airport in the world. It’s also highly rated per Travel and Leisure mag too.

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Aug 14th, 2019, 02:55 PM
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Amy
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We had a food tour in the afternoon, so we took a cab to the Chinatown MRT station--which isn't the most precise meeting location, according to our taxi driver. We finally found our little group with its enthusiastic guide and began our journey into Chinatown. We went into two different hawker markets, and, unlike most food tours I've been on, were seated while our somewhat handsy and quite voluble guide went to get the food: chicken and rice (so, it's okay, but it's...chicken and rice), a kinda cool daikon radish cake, noodles, and so forth at one, and some amazing pork and duck etc. at the other. In between we heard a fair amount about the city and the hawker centers, which are basically street food carts corralled and inside. They've got government ratings all over them and some are quite famous (Michelin stars and all that.) We also went into The Singapore City Gallery/Urban Redevelopment Authority for quite some time to discuss their 3-D map; to be honest, I was more taken with the 4 meter long drawing by British artist Stephen Wiltshire, who drew the whole thing from memory after a brief flyover. https://www.ura.gov.sg/Corporate/Singapore-City-Gallery

I always like to take a food tour, and this one was good and different, but probably not in my top tour tier. We did hear a fair amount of information (everybody has to pay rent, the poorest people might only pay $50 a month, but still pay--that kind of thing) and about the MRT stations being bunkers and Singapore's general preparedness for war. Oh, and we also visited the lower level "wet market" of one hawker center, where things like crates of frogs are awaiting their fate.
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Aug 15th, 2019, 02:02 AM
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The food tour was filling enough that we didn't need dinner, but went instead to a small local market for snacks and drinks for later on and some breakfast for the next day, as Pan Pacific doesn't serve on Sundays. We finished off the night watching fireworks from the beautiful pool deck of our hotel; they were "practice" ones for Singapore's birthday celebration, but gorgeous nonetheless. The pool is an infinity style one on the 21st floor, but we didn't get in; too tired after the long day!

On Sunday we found our way to the nearby Bougis MRT station; the trains are, of course, quite clean and efficient. We spent the day at the Singapore Botanical Gardens, which are huge! We saw an iguana and turtles and lots of tropical plants, and then spent the additional $5 to go into the colorful and fascinating Orchid Garden; one of the interesting sights there is the pavilion that showcases orchids that were developed and named for various famous people. Orchids have infinite variety and some have amazing fragrance; it was definitely worth the five bucks to be immersed in them. We had lunch at a cafe type restaurant near the exit back to the Metro; it's called the Bee's Knees, and you order at the counter and then the food is brought to you. My standout there was the lavender soda; I had a salad as well which was fine, and my niece enjoyed her Eggs Benedict...but dinner that night was even better, sitting in the upstairs of Positano Risto and having truffle pizza with the perfect thin crust. The owner/manager came to talk to us, and was just lovely. I have to admit, I'm really missing that restaurant!

We had a very early flight out on Monday morning, so I just stayed up until 2:30AM when the taxi arrived to take us back to Changi. There's not much open at that time of the morning, but the long trip (connecting in Tokyo) was fine and uneventful...until we reached Newark Airport, where thunderstorms made it impossible to get our luggage for three hours. We were fortunate compared to a lot of other people who had been on our plane, though, because at least we didn't have any connecting flights to catch; those were being cancelled left, right, and center. J had done long-term parking at a nearby lot, and our shuttle driver from there got us after we finally got our luggage and finally we got home, 33 hours after we left our hotel in Singapore.
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Aug 16th, 2019, 09:08 AM
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Nice TR!
Sorry about your trip back being so long.
Glad you had a nice time and that you enjoyed Singapore so much. We loved it too.
As for the food there its very good as you know. There are several that have received Michelin stars.
http://danielfooddiary.com/2018/01/23/michelinhawker/
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Aug 17th, 2019, 02:07 AM
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Great report! And hey, no shame in McDonald's! I'm also curious how fast food chains differ in each country.
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Aug 17th, 2019, 04:51 AM
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Amy
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Thanks, kapia! Funny thing is, McD's isn't really in my take-out repertoire here, but it is fun (and yes, definitely a glimpse into local culture in the 21st century!) to visit once in another country.

And jacketwatch, thanks for following along and for your responses. It's always nice to know that somebody is reading. I think the "longest" part of the trip back was that three hours waiting for the luggage at Newark airport: so close, and yet so far away...
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Aug 18th, 2019, 02:07 AM
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Originally Posted by kapia View Post
Great report! And hey, no shame in McDonald's! I'm also curious how fast food chains differ in each country.
There was a series on the Food Channel called "Fast Foods Gone Global" which delves into just that.
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Aug 18th, 2019, 02:10 AM
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if someone goes thru the trouble of writing a TR its nice to see some replies.
Glad you finally got home. That wait for your luggage would have been troubling!
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Aug 18th, 2019, 08:11 AM
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I enjoyed reading your report about a couple of my favorite cities! The orchids in the botanical garden are really stunning. I grow orchids, but love seeing the many types I can't grow.
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