SJ Mobilità Travel Diaries

September 25, 2020

Vietnam – The Hidden Treasure

Filed under: Travel,Visa — jani @ 10:07 am

Vietnam was a surprise, as I never thought I would be visiting Vietnam so early, as I hardly hear about this country. When ATF hosted the conference in Vietnam, I thought why not? So once I got accepted, I asked Sur to join me as well, so that we could do a bit of sightseeing before the conference starts.

Visa:

Vietnam tourist visa is pretty simple, you have to apply for e-visa through the portal wherein you would be issued 30 days single entry visa. Do refer the below link for the details.

https://evisa.xuatnhapcanh.gov.vn/trang-chu-ttdt

About Vietnam:

Vietnam is a Southeast Asian country known for its beaches, rivers, Buddhist pagodas and bustling cities. Hanoi, the capital, pays homage to the nation’s iconic Communist-era leader, Ho Chi Minh, via a huge marble mausoleum. The credit goes to him mostly for making the Vietnam that is today. My respect and love for their leader.

Travel Itinerary:

Day 1: We had boarded the Singapore Airlines late night; this was part of my wish list to fly with this Airlines and was glad it came true and I enjoyed their hospitality.

Day 2: We landed in Singapore in the morning and were in transit for few hours. Sur and myself explored the airport and went to Sun flower Garden and then Orchid Garden. It was beautiful and the airport is well maintained as well. No wonder this is the best airport in the world.

Then went for a quick bite in one of the food courts, it had lot of options and were great. Then we boarded the flight to Hanoi.

We landed in Hanoi in the afternoon and had to go to Ha Long Bay where my conference was held.  We booked a taxi and it was almost 3-4 hours of drive. The driver stopped midway for a small break for some snacks and we reached the Ha Long Plaza late evening. We decided to stay in the same hotel even for preconference days as the location was more convenient. We had a shock when we had to pay to the driver, as he was charging in millions and then we realized the Vietnamese dong value is much much lower and the payments are in lakhs. Even the currency notes were all in lakhs and we realized minimum currency values were in Thousands. First time in Vietnam, we felt we were crorepatis, because we just needed 32,000 INR to have 1 crore of Vietnamese Dong. Do remember to ignore the last 3 zeroes because of the lower value of the currency. Don’t worry about burning the wallet as well. You will feel like a millionaire or may be a billionaire as well.

For budget travellers in India, you should travel to Vietnam.

Finally after the currency fiasco, we checked into Ha Long Plaza. We rested a while and booked for a massage in the same hotel. That was disappointing, it was not as we expected and was nothing encouraging.

Then we walked around the hotel, we found a travel agency board in a grocery shop next to the hotel, so we enquired and booked for the next 3 days for a sightseeing tour. They were insisting for cash payment.

Thankfully Citi ATM was close by, but withdrawing almost a crore of Vietnamese dong for the 3 day trip was exhausting. Then we headed a little further, found a good restaurant, had our dinner and then returned and crashed for the night.

Day 3: The best thing that I started enjoying during breakfast was the Noodle soup and it was the best soup that I ever had. The extra meat balls, chicken pieces and other non veg item that gets added later in the soup is an acquired taste as it has a very strong flavour. After tasting few times, even I preferred without that. The soup anyway had a chicken broth by default and most of the sauces also were non-veg, which enhanced the flavour, so we didn’t miss out any. I heard from the guide later there is no veg broth made in Vietnam. It’s by default made with meat only. The soup was my favourite so I ended up having for breakfast, lunch and dinner and never got tired of it. We also enjoyed other local delicacies from the breakfast buffet, even they had a Chinese pork dish which was a stable menu for the breakfast, which was similar to the one I had tasted in Beijing.

After a hearty breakfast, we were picked up by the guide to go for the one day Ha Long Bay cruise. We were dropped in the Marine Plaza and we had to walk from there to go to the local boat. The plaza itself is a big shopping place where you can purchase lot of things like exotic dry meats like Scorpion etc, local handicrafts and lot of other items. Since we had to rush, we thought we will check out the plaza later in the evening when we return and headed to our Ha Bing Cruise boat.

We had lot of fresh cut fruits on sale in the boat and beverages. The boat ride was awesome. We could go on the deck on the top of the boat which had a seating arrangement as well and could enjoy the cold breeze as we went in the month of January. If you are travelling at this time, do carry warm clothes. On the way to islands, we were shown multiple rock formation in the shape of 2 cocks fighting and elephant. Sitting in a boat in an open sky, watching the rock formations in different shapes is breath taking. The first pit stop was to Sung Sot (Surprise) cave which has lime stone formation across 10,000 sq feet and its spectacular and it’s a place for photography lovers. Be prepared to climb lots of stairs, but its worth it. You will also find very few local handicrafts being sold as well. Please do not miss out this place.

After a tiring climb to the cave, when we returned to the boat, we were treated for a sumptuous local lunch. The food was served on the table, so the vegetarians had to sit in a separate table to make it easier to keep the veg food together, so Sur has to sit separately and I was left with another large family whose language I didn’t understand and I sat alone with them. The food was kept in each table and we had to serve from there. It was a little awkward for me to ask to pass onto things, because, sometimes by the time I asked to pass on the dishes, those were almost empty and I was too hesitant to ask them to refill.  It was a very awkward situation sitting alone. I also noticed that the elders in the group were very sensitive and they were trying to pass me the dishes before the younger ones finish the plate of food so that I don’t miss out, they kind of realized later.  It was a lesson for me to learn from those elders about being sensitive and inclusive which I didn’t find it with the youngsters of the group. After such an awkward experience, all that I wanted was to leave the table, so I just had a quick lunch and then joined back to Sur. However, the lunch was delicious, they had served noodle soup (it’s a staple food everywhere), fish, meat and fresh vegetables.

After a hearty lunch we headed to the Pearl Museum. Here you can see the pearl cultivation and the entire process of harvesting the pearl. It was a different experience against actual pearling in the sea which I have heard of which is very difficult. This is less tedious way of getting the pearl and also they cultivate as per the desired requirement which is a very good business. There is also a shop to buy the exotic pearls, but I felt it was overpriced.

Then we headed to TiTop Island. Here you have a great view point for which you have to climb quite a lot of stairs and then once you are done, you can come back and enjoy the beach. It was crowded but was good. We spent more time to chill here as this was the last stop before we head back. We enjoyed the local tender coconuts and fresh fruits. The fresh fruits in Vietnam are more tempting than any other food, as they look very colorful, fresh and huge. So we had finished the quota of having fresh fruits in our diet. Then we headed back to the boat, enjoyed the nice boat ride back. I did doze off and by the time we woke up, we reached the port.

We did a little shopping for the local handicrafts in the Marine Plaza and headed back to the hotel. We had our dinner, Sur for a change tried the pizza at the hotel and he couldn’t eat that. The base was so thick, had 4 slices of tomatoes on the top with some cheese slices. That was a disaster. I had to tell Sur to stick with his omelette as he didn’t have much options as he was a vegetarian. I am glad he could eat eggs, that saved him in Vietnam. We then called it a day and crashed for the night.

Day 4: We had our quick breakfast and headed to the capital Hanoi. We reached this time within an hour or two as I understand there was a shortcut which has a toll, which reduces almost 50% of the time taken from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay but has expensive toll charges. Many of the cab drivers, do not take this route as they don’t want to pay this extra toll charges, which is way too expensive for the locals. We asked the guide to take us to the short route as we agreed to pay him the extra toll charges.

Finally we were in Hanoi, we were glad we had a guide with us who knew Vietnamese. Here people hardly spoke English but the youngsters did speak but we found very few in the shop, am sure they were at college.  The people were good, its just that since we didn’t know the local language, most of the communication was done through the guide. My guide had studied in Hanoi, so he was taking us through his memory lane.

We started with a temple visit to Hoen Kiem Lake, here you cannot go to the temple which was in the middle of the lake, but can be viewed from far. After a prayer for the people of Vietnam, we headed to the old quarters. This is the happening place similar to chickpet in Bangalore. You can get almost everything and including wholesale. First I tasted the egg coffee (normal coffee with egg broth), which was recommended by the guide and was good and then walked around the streets. We did a bit of shopping as I heard, most of the high end products are manufactured here and prices are low compared to India.

They had good jackets in Vietnam and Sur was insisting me to buy one, so we went to the shop and asked the girls. They started laughing, saying they don’t have clothes for my size. First time I felt in Vietnam I was obese. This is according to Vietnamese standards as the girls are petite. We laughed and then guide insisted that we try more shops, saying ee might be lucky to get one or two. Then we found a wholesale store, where we did the final try and for our luck, they had 2 jackets. The girl spoke English and she said that’s all they have and it’s very difficult to find my size in Vietnam. Then we  shopped for jeans in the same store as they had good collection. The girls at the shop were extremely friendly and they were happily helping Sur to shop his jeans and he got quite a few as the quality was superb and it came 1/3rd of the price of Levi’s that we would have spent. If you are a jeans lover, this is the country to shop for men. Indian Ladies, sorry, unless you are extremely slim, then you might. I wouldn’t mind going again just to buy jeans for Sur. They are really good and on that excuse, we can also explore more of Vietnam, as I realized we didn’t explore much as we came for a very short period.

The guide recommended a place for lunch, it was a very small local shop which had just 4-5 benches and tables for lunch. Even though Sur doesn’t like soups, (he is scared of hot beverages as he is afraid to get his tongue burnt) we didn’t have much option as there was only soup available. So Sur decided to have a soup, then guide guide informed me that the broth is actually a chicken broth, so I had to cancel the order for Sur and then informed the guide to get just the noodles as he is a vegetarian. They were very kind and customized the noodle just for him, with their own sauces. The noodle served to Sur was the best. Even though my soup was equally good, his noodles scored an extra brownie point for their love and warm hospitality.

After thanking them for accommodating our request we headed to Temple of Literature. This site is the national symbol of Vietnamese education. The temple has, records of Vietnamese scholars, and statues of turtles which are said to bring students good luck in their exams. So every student is asked to visit this place especially before their exams to bring good marks.

Then we headed to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, which houses the embalmed body of Vietnam’s greatest political leader, Hồ Chí Minh. We were not allowed to go inside, we strolled around the building, it has a huge open area.

Then we headed to Hoa Lo Prison Relic. This prison was used by the French colonists in French Indochina for political prisoners, and later by North Vietnam for U.S. prisoners of war during the Vietnam War.  This is the saddest, most gruesome treatment to Vietnamese people and they are not happy to show this to the visitors. My guide stayed away and we just went silently, said a prayer for the people of Vietnam and stepped out and started back to Ha long Bay.

Day 4: After our breakfast, we headed to visit temples close to ha long area. We rode to Cai Bau Pagoda, which is situated on the mountains overlooking Bai Tu Long Bay. This is also known as Truc Lam Giac Tam Monastery and it has the stunning landscapes and maintained well. My favourite was the bonsai plants all around. They looked spectacular and if you are into photography this is the must place. This took almost half the day and the drive was amazing as we drove though the local villages, fields etc. We had our lunch on the way and then headed to Quang Ninh Exhibition of Planning and Expo Centre to collect my entry passes for the conference next day. We came to the hotel and then after some time walked around opposite to the hotel, which was overlooking the waterbody. We found another good restaurant at a walkable distance, had our dinner and crashed for the night.

Day 5-7: Next 3 days was busy with conference and meeting travel suppliers. FLC luxury resort hosted the dinner and that hotel had the best of hospitality. The opening and closing ceremonies were awesome and spoke volumes of the local culture and enjoyed their warm hospitality. I also enjoyed the frog meat. I was surprised, it was served in a five star hotel restaurant for a dinner buffet and was great. The conference ended with memorable experiences and was in awe knowing the local culture, traditions and people more. As I was busy with conference, Sur enjoyed the hospitality of Ha Long Plaza.

Day 8: We had to check out early as we have to reach Hanoi to catch our flights, so had to bid adieu to Ha long Bay after enjoying the hospitality of Ha Long Plaza. Reached Hanoi after a long drive and then boarded the Singapore Airlines for Hanoi. Had a few hours of transit in Singapore. Sur bought his speakers and then it was time to board our flight to Bangalore.

Vietnam surprised me and I think it was my ignorance that I didn’t read about the country, so I didn’t know much about them. I wished we had spent more time as there was lot to explore and am looking forward to visit again. The people are so warm and simple. I just loved enjoying their warm hospitality. My love to Vietnam and their people.

See you Soon, until then Stay Safe, we will defeat this Covid Soon.

September 17, 2020

Singapore, The Best Country in South East Asia

Filed under: Travel,Visa — jani @ 7:10 am

When you think of Singapore, the only expression comes to my mind is WoW. The country is an inspiration to other developing countries in South East Asia. Its growth from the bottom to the top is phenomenal and holding on to the top position for being the best country in South East Asia in terms of social, economic and financial is a credit to it’s Govt and their people. Their hard work, discipline and excellence keeps them at the top position.

They have the best airport in the world and their national airlines is one of the best in the world as well. Their achievements and accolades speak volumes of the country’s commitment to strive for the best. Another interesting thing is to note is that they are also one of the least corrupt countries in the world. Singapore is Par Excellence in every way and my prayers and wishes to the people of Singapore to continue to grow and be the best in everything. Let them be an inspiration to other countries to grow and become like them. My respect and love to the country and it’s people.

When ITB Asia was hosting a conference and I got accepted to attend, I was over the moon.  So I asked Sur to join me for the trip, unfortunately he was short of leaves from his work so he could stay only for the part of the trip leading up to the conference.

Visa: The visa process is pretty simple; all you need is to apply for a tourist visa and you will be issued with an E-visa.

If you are in India, you can apply from any of the three consulates, do refer the below details for the jurisdiction. Do go through the link, check for visa information for visa application details. The application has to be submitted to the authorized agents as per the list provided in the consular websites. It gets updated time to time, so ensure to check before filing.

New Delhi – North & East Region – https://www.mfa.gov.sg/New-Delhi
Mumbai – West Region – https://www.mfa.gov.sg/mumbai
Chennai – South Region – https://www.mfa.gov.sg/chennai

About Singapore: Singapore, officially the Republic of Singapore, is a sovereign island city-state in maritime Southeast Asia.

Day 1:

We had booked the Tiger Airways, and that was the worst decision I have ever made. I now know that LCC’s (low cost carrier) are not the right one for international trips. I didn’t have any issues with the airline as there was no service during the flight being a LCC. I wished that I booked another airline which was non LCC. The flight was non-eventful and we landed in Singapore in the morning, booked a cab to the hotel and reached Holiday Inn Express @ Clarke Quay. This is a budget hotel and was decent for its price. The hotel didn’t have much options for food, so we had to step put to get lunch.

We found a F.R.I.E.N.D.S themed coffee shop named Central Perk near the hotel. Even though both of us are not a fans of the series, the shop looked interesting so we stepped in and were welcomed with a pretty lady waitress and they were extremely hospitable and friendly. We asked her for some recommendations for food and drink and we ordered the same. The food was really good, but the quantity was huge. So be sure to order less so that you don’t waste the food. The waiter also invited us to visit the café in the evening for drinks. We smiled and said we would join if we were close by and thanked her for such a warm hospitality, before stepping out.


Central Perk
Post lunch we walked over to the China Town, where I got a Chinese dress which looked really nice. We also found a travel agents and bought sightseeing passes for the next 3 days.

After which we walked back to the hotel and dozed off since it had been a long day. By the time we woke up it was late night, and all the shops around us were closed by then. Since we didn’t have any other option, we had to come back to the hotel bar to get some snacks. Keeping in mind that this was a budget hotel which meant that they had really limited options for food available. Since I don’t have food restrictions, I had options like burger etc and Sur being a pure vegetarian left with only one option in the menu which was a spaghetti. So we ordered that and I don’t think we have ever eaten a worst spaghetti. It was just plain spaghetti dunked in Olive oil, Yes dunked in Olive oil and one big clove of garlic which had been boiled till it was tasteless was kept in the middle. He just couldn’t eat the dish even though he tried forcing himself and I also tried to help because I didn’t want to waste the food. But it was one of the worst food experience we had in the Singapore.

Day 2: After a wonderful breakfast at the hotel, we took a metro and then a cable car to Sentosa Islands. Sentosa is a sunny island in Singapore, home to exciting events, themed attractions, award-winning spas, lush rainforests, golden sandy beaches and resort-style hotels. This has lot of attractions and we started with Butterfly Park with lots and lots of trees, flowers and exotic birds. There was also a Fossil museum which was great. We also saw Merlion (lion’s head and a fish’s body) which is the tallest merlion in Singapore. We headed for the Mega zipline and jump, me being not the adventure type, I was a bit sceptical. Sur insisted that I do it and am glad that I agreed to do it. It was my most memorable experience. The zip line went from a mini forest to the road and then landed in the beach. That was one awesome ride. Then we went to one of the beach restaurants, had a delicious food and drink. We headed back to Sentosa Park, it had lot of great decorations and interesting statues. We waited then for Laser light show at Wings of Time, which is in the evening. The show was spectacular and then headed to meet Sur’s friends for dinner. we returned to the hotel and called it a day.


Butterfly Park
Day 3: After the breakfast at the hotel, we took a metro and then a cable car to Sentosa Islands back as we were going for Universal Studios. I get headache for such roller coaster rides and I was as usual reluctant. Sur gave me a motion sickness tablet and told me to accompany him as he didn’t want to go alone. So the first ride which was the famous rides Human Vs Cylon, we took Human, it’s the tallest duelling roller coaster. As usual I just closed my eyes and finished the ride. The other Cylon is also similar to Human and since we had more rides to go, we went to others. We took few more rides like revenge of the mummy, treasure hunters (realized later its more for kids, as it was a very slow ride which would be boring for adults), Canopy Flyer and Puss in Boots’ giant journey. We wanted to do more rides but being a weekend and lot of crowd, we couldn’t do much.


Universal Studios
There were quite a lot of restaurants for lunch in the park and we grabbed a quick bite in one of them. We had to do a force stop as the studio was closing it for the day and then headed to the Night Safari after a little break at the hotel. This is in a little outskirt of the city, after a long ride we reached to the park, it’s a open air zoo and was an amazing experience. Watching the animals at night is a completely different experience. After the tour we had our dinner and headed back to the hotel and crashed for the night.


Marina Bay Sands
Day 4: After breakfast we had to check out from Holiday Inn Express which was a good experience overall, as I had to check in at Marina Bay Sands where we were hosted for the ITB Asia conference. Once my check-in formalities were done we went around Marina bay Sands to have a quick look as Sur was leaving the same evening. We had our lunch at Marina Bay Sands and headed to Gardens by the Bay which was at a walkable distance from Marina Bay Sands. This was heaven for me as I love flowers. We enjoyed the flower dome and cloud forest. This was the best experience and it has thousands of trees, plants and flowers from across the globe. It is a paradise for photography and nature lovers. Then we had to head back to the hotel for Sur to bid adieu as he had to catch his flight late in the evening. He complained that he missed out staying in Marina Bay Sands due to his unavailability of leave, I agree with him it was sheer bad luck. Since I cannot explore alone anywhere, ordered the room service for dinner and crashed for the night.


Gardens by the Bay
Day 5: We were served our breakfast at the Sands Expo Convention centre and then headed to back to back meetings with travel suppliers and various talks. Evening we were invited for the Opening Night Function in Marina Bay Sands and after a great evening, we crashed for the night.

Day 6: After breakfast at the Convention centre, back again for the same meetings and talk. Singapore Tourism Board hosted the dinner that day and after another memorable evening, crashed for the night.

Day 7: After such a lovely stay in Marina Bay Sands, I had to check out in the morning since we couldn’t leave the conference midway to come in the afternoon for check out, gave the luggage to the bell boys and headed to the convention centre. After a great breakfast, we were back again to the supplier meetings and talk. Then I had to rush in the evening for the flight to catch which was a late night. The airport was beautiful and I couldn’t explore much as I needed company. So I read a book, waited for the flight to start boarding. Boarded the Tiger airways for return to India and reached bangalore the next day early morning with a WOW experience of Singapore.

Singapore remains an inspiration to all other developing countries across the globe. My respect, love and Kudos to the Singapore Govt and it’s people.

Stay Safe.

September 15, 2020

Thailand, Does it need an Introduction?

Filed under: Travel,Visa — jani @ 8:24 am

About Thailand:

Thailand, officially the Kingdom of Thailand and formerly known as Siam, is a country in Southeast Asia. It’s known for Tropical beaches, Royal palaces, Ancient ruins and Buddha temples.

Visa:

Indian passport holders who are visiting Thailand for Tourism and plan to stay no more than 15 days in the country can avail the Visa on Arrival service from the 32 designated channels of Immigration checkpoints including Phuket International Airport.

Tourist visa can also be applied through the consulates in India (New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai & Kolkata). My personal recommendation is to always apply for the visa before travel and it saves the waiting time at the immigration in Thailand and it’s more hassle free and convenient. Do refer the below link for more details.

https://www.vfs-thailand.co.in/

Travel Itinerary:

Thailand is the go to country for most Indian men, the moment you say Thailand, people only think of sex tourism and when you decide to go, the first question is why are YOU going to Thailand? and they expect only men to travel there. My partner was questioned about this as well when we told that he was accompanying me to Thailand, with folks saying, why are you carrying a home cooked food, when you are going out to eat.

Since I had an opportunity to attend the CTW conference as a Speaker, I had asked Sur to join me so that we can explore Thailand post conference. We were also invited for a Pre-CTW Asia Pacific Luxury Experience for the Speakers along with Partners and were hosted by Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park for 3 days. So we were looking forward to enjoy the Marriott hospitality.

Day 1:

We were booked in Thai Airways and it was my first experience with the airlines and it didn’t disappoint. We had a relaxing flight and landed in Bangkok. We had the VIP experience from the moment we landed. There was a conference representative who came to receive us at the airport and she picked us right inside the airport as we stepped out of the plane. She guided us through the immigration and escorted us to the car that took us to the Marriott where we were getting hosted pre conference.

We were welcomed in the hotel, had a smooth check-in and were allocated the best of rooms. We were a group of 10+ people who were hosted by Marriott. Marriott ensured we had the best experience throughout the stay. The same evening had an introductory cocktail party and got introduced to all the speakers and their partners who had come from across the globe. In the evening, as we were served the cocktail snacks, I informed the F&B team that Sur was a vegetarian and they immediately ensured they prepared something for him as there was hardly anything for a pure vegetarian and he was the only one vegetarian in the entire group.

Day 2: After the awesome breakfast at Goji kitchen + Bar in Marriott, I had few sessions to attend with the CTW organizing committee while Sur was chilling out in the room. Then we along with our partners had a cooking session with one of the local chefs who specializes in Som Tum (spicy green papaya salad with dry shrimp and peanuts) and it was so delicious and fresh. We were asked to prepare a salad by ourselves along with the chef’s guidance and we had made the vegetarian version for Sur without adding the shrimp. If you are in Thailand, ensure not to miss on this one.

Then we were taken for an amazing lunch and I had a laugh at the table as staff had kept a whole fried fish on the table and it’s mouth was open and it was looking at Sur. He was scared to look at it while eating and he whispered to me to move the plate towards me so that fish doesn’t look at him. I had to control myself from laughing out loud, until I reached the room. The lunch spread was delicious and after having a great lunch we headed out for a massage in Quan Spa in Marriott itself, since we both love massages. In the evening we also walked around the hotel, in a public park close by. It literally felt like an open gym where everyone was seriously working out and it was nice to see that people were conscious of their health.


Whole fried fish
I have also heard of Thailand Red bull, which is much better compared to the normal red bull that we get in India and it makes you very hyper. So Sur wanted to try that since he is a red bull fan and we picked up Theoplex-I (Thai Red bull) close to the park and he enjoyed it. We also explored Sukhumvit Street Market which was recommended by friends. If you love budget shopping, then this is a good place to go. Since we are not much into shopping, just spent a little time around and returned.


Thai Red Bull
Then Sur said he wanted to watch Kingsman: The Golden Circle which got released recently, so we thought why not watch it in Thailand as he was saying, by the time we reach India, probably it might be out of the theatre and he didn’t want to miss out. So we headed to Terminal 21, one of the largest shopping malls in Sukhumvit, Bangkok. This mall has almost 600 shops and it has 5 floors, which includes most of the brands, food court and cineplex. We had our dinner at the food court itself and went to the watch the movie and enjoyed the Gold class experience. It got over late night and since the hotel was close by, we just walked back and rested for the night.

Day 3: After another sumptuous breakfast, productive sessions with the organizing committee, we had a seven course lunch arranged in Pagoda Chinese Restaurant and I was amazed that Sur had a separate menu card printed and his veg options were served exclusively to him, they only knew a night before about his food preference. I don’t think I needed another proof to show how the staffs at Marriott ensured that everyone had the best of experience. Hats off to the team of Marriott, Bangkok and I don’t think I have enough words to thank them for going extra mile to ensure everyone was treated with the best of hospitality, specially taking care of Sur.

Then we had to check out from Marriott to go to Centara Grand where the conference was happening. Since we didn’t have much activity planned we checked in, got a room which had an amazing skyline view from the window and that was Sur’s working space for the next 3 days since I was busy with the conference for those days.


Sur’s Office in Thailand
Day 4: After another delicious breakfast I headed for the conference. We also had pre show tour to Sampran Riverside at Nakorn Patham for a local Thai experience. Here we got to interact with locals to know about their organic farming, tried local Thai teas like butterfly blue pea flower and other herbal teas which I heard is super good for health. Tasted local tender coconut, it’s very different from Indian coconuts as it taste like toddy and its an acquired taste. We also got to see the local Thai art and crafts like bamboo dancing, garland making and fruit and vegetable carving. Then we had an amazing local Thai lunch. After a great experience we returned to the hotel.

Once we both finished our official work, we decided to go to Uno Mas, which is a unique Rooftop Restaurant in Centara Grand which serves the finest Spanish & Mediterranean cuisine in the most spectacular Al fresco panoramic city view. Spent a little time, enjoyed their food and then called for the night.

Day 5: Next day after a quick breakfast headed for the full day conference and after a hectic  back to back meetings with the travel suppliers and then came back to the room. Sur and myself went to the Red Sky bar which was on the 27th floor of the Centara Grand hotel. Since we both were cheese lovers we had a cheese platter and cocktails. The presentation was noteworthy as it was very creative. Every drink was presented in a  different way. One cocktail was kept it in a cage and another was served a in wooden art container so we kept ordering different cocktails and, along with it we had an amazing skyline view. It would burn a hole in the wallet but if you can, don’t miss out such unique experiences. I also had a first experience of the blue cheese which was the favourite of Sur and my expression said everything to Sur as I found that it was an acquired taste as well.


Drinks at Red Sky
Day 6: It was a little hectic day as I had breakfast with my team of panelists so that we could discuss and be prepared before we go on stage and then headed to conference. The conference went very well. Being first time on a panel stage gave me confidence and I was glad that it went well. Then as I was meeting the suppliers, I was referred by a relative to Mr. Sunny for organizing some sightseeing which we wanted to do it post conference. Mr. Sunny (+66 817826131) owns Sunny Online Travel and we booked for the sightseeing tours for the next four days.


Panel Discussion
Day 7: Mr. Sunny had sent someone to pick us from the hotel and he took us around in Bangkok in the morning and went to flower market. Which was pretty much empty as Bangkok mostly sleeps during the day so we didn’t stop anywhere and went to the Golden Buddha Temple, it’s officially titled Phra Phuttha Maha Suwanna Patimakon, commonly known in Thai as Phra Sukhothai Traimit, is a gold Maravijaya Attitude seated Buddharupa statue, with a weight of 5.5 tonnes. It is located in the temple of Wat Traimit, Bangkok. The temple is so beautiful and also there are certain dos and dont’s in terms of not having any buddha tattoos on your body and not going there with short dresses. Do read the local guidelines before you visit. This is a place of worship and it needs to be respected. We said a prayer and started our journey to Pattaya. Once we reached Pattya, we met Sunny and he had given us the itinerary for the next few days and we were dropped at the hotel. We checked in and chilled at the hotel for some time before we began our sightseeing in the evening.

Mr. Sunny came to pick us up in the evening and took us to the streets to show where we can hang around before he dropped us for Alcazar Show which is done by the lady boys. It was so graceful and amazing. Kudos to the lady boys, we had a blast. This is a must visit and my thanks and respect for the ladyboys who put us the spectacular show.

Sur really liked one particular lady boy who was so beautiful, even I agreed with him on this and wanted to take a picture. He was too shy to ask, so I went and paid for the photo to be taken with her and gave an extra tips as we were so impressed with her during the show as well. She was very kind. We clicked a picture and thanked her. Sunny picked us up and dropped us to the walking street and he instructed how to walk back to the hotel and he left.


Beautiful Lady from Alcazar Show
I had no clue about the walking street and I did kind of guess by seeing the way ladies were dressed. We had a drink in one of the bars which was an open place and then we walked back. While walking back, these girls were trying to show the card, for me it looked like a food menu card, I didn’t realize the menu card was for sex and I took the card, looked at it and I was in a shock, since the pictures were explicit and it had rates as well. So I started walking back and then the girls were trying to woo Sur to go to their bars and I got paranoid as the street was crowded and I was worried  I might get lost in the crowd and I had no clue how to get back to the hotel alone if I didn’t find Sur. Since I was in a panic mode, we decided to leave and then it started raining, so we had to hurry back quickly. We did get lost on the way since it was too dark and hardly anyone was on the road outside the walking street. Finally we found a small shop which was open, found someone who guided us by sign language since we couldn’t understand/speak Thai. Finally we reached the hotel and this adventure was more than enough for the day and crashed for the night.

Day 8: We started early, had a quick breakfast and headed to the floating market in Pattaya, where the stalls were just getting set up, and it had less crowd since we reached early. So we could go around quickly and were impressed with an elephant painting in neon colors in one of the stalls. It looked so beautiful, however the size that we needed was incomplete and we couldn’t buy immediately. That was a bit let down. The canoe ride was beautiful, attended monkey show in the market which was fun, had a photoshoot with a local costume and tried more local thai teas as well. There was also a zipline which was for a very short distance and I had fun.


All dressed up in Local Ethnic wear
Then for lunch we headed to Nong Nooch garden, which was good and then went around to enjoy the botanical garden spread across 500 acre of land which has Thai Cultural and elephant shows and it’s a beautiful themed garden with thousands and plants and trees.  Then we headed to Underwater world, Pattaya. This is beautifully done with the glass dome for an amazing view. Enjoyed the sharks, sting rays, sea horse and many more. I was bugging Sur, telling him which are the fishes that I ate, and finally he told me to tell only which I had not eaten, as per him, that list might be shorter.

Next we headed to Ripley’s believe it or not and it had packages to choose from, we did the Vault Laser Maze, Moving Theater 12DX, Infinity Maze, Louis Tussad and Haunted Adventure. I am not a big fan of haunted or any of these experiences but Sur had fun so I tagged along reluctantly. Finally when we had to do haunted, I was adamant that I won’t go as I don’t like the haunted house experience. Since Sur didn’t want to go without me, I had to tag along as I didn’t want him to miss out his adventure. So as soon as we entered, I held his hand and closed my eyes and I told Sur, I am not going to open until the end, which I knew,  it was the saw (Movie – Saw) experience where they scare you with the chainsaw. I saw it while standing in the queue as that was the last experience of the haunted house and it was on the first floor balcony and people were coming out screming and running, so I knew what to expect at the end. Sur couldn’t control himself as everyone was trying to scare me, they were surprised why I was not reacting at all, only after few minutes they realized that my eyes were closed. Even I was climbing down the stairs in the haunted house, Sur had to insist me to open my eyes as I might fall. So I opened for a minute and before I stepped into the last step, I closed again as I guessed there might be someone to scare at the end of the stairs. Finally with my closed eyes I reached the balcony for the last chainsaw scary experience and I could hear the loud noise of it. I just stood there with my eyes closed till the guy got tired of scaring me as he knew I am not going to open my eyes until he finishes. So he gave in and went back, then I reconfirmed with Sur and only then opened my eyes and came out of the haunted house. I don’t think anyone went to haunted house with the eyes closed. I am sure, the staffs would have had the last laugh on account of me.

Day 9: We had an early start since we were going for a diving/snorkelling with Jomtien Dive Center. Since Sur had a PADI certificate, he was allowed to go for diving and I had to settle for snorkelling since I didn’t have one. We went to the centre for paperwork and then we were taken to the beach. On the way to the Beach I realized that I forgot my swimsuit and Sur was making fun of me saying, how could I forget the swimsuit which is needed to get into the water and since I didn’t have time to go pick it up anywhere, I was lucky to find a girl selling swimsuits near the boat. I had no other option than to pick one quickly as we had to get into the boat. It was almost an hour drive and enjoyed the ride and then time came to get down for our adventure. Diving groups had been allocated along with the instructor and the owner lady was helping everyone to ensure they get in the water and some of the folks were scared and one of them returned back out of fear, but all others went for a dive. I was given snorkelling kit, was expecting someone to guide like how they did it for diving, since this was my first time. Unfortunately there was none for snorkelling in our group and no one bothered to tell me what to do while I was waiting someone to instruct. Finally I had to ask the lady what should I do and she says just jump and be close to the boat. I was a bit disappointed that I was completely ignored.


Sur Diving
Then I jumped for the snorkelling and ensured I held on to the rope, as I didn’t want to get drifted. This was one of the best experiences watching the various varieties of fish. The water was not that clear, but still it didn’t disappoint and I had a blast. After almost 45 minutes of snorkelling, I went back and Sur returned back from diving as well. We freshened up and sat for a delicious lunch and returned back and I didn’t forget to complain to Sur that I got ignored so I should get my PADI certificate so that I can join him next him and I wouldn’t be left alone.

In the evening we thought will step out for dinner and there was a restaurant adjacent to the hotel, so we thought will try that. The cocktails were good and the best part of it was the glasses were huge with long straws, am sure it contained more than half litre of cocktail. We ordered 2 cocktails without realizing the quantity and we found it difficult to finish. Then we grabbed our dinner there and called it a day.


The large cocktail
Day 10: It was time to return back to Bangkok to catch our flight in the evening. We checked out the hotel in the morning, enroute  we stopped at the Safari world, Bangkok. The entrance was not maintained well as the water had a foul smell, but once we went in, it was great. Went to Safari park for the exotic birds, had our lunch and then watched the Spy war and Hollywood cowboy stunt show which was really cool. There was Orangutan show, which was quite entertaining and the sea lion show which was really fun to watch and the bird show which was amazing. Overall it was a very good experience and while took a turn to leave, there were zebras. With such an breathtaking sight, we had to leave for the airport. Do spent a day here, its worth your time.

We boarded Thai Airways and enjoyed their hospitality while returning and landed with a memorable experience of Thailand. We felt incomplete, as we couldn’t do other beautiful places like Phuket, Krabi etc.

As we came back with the happy experience, I was appalled to hear an experience from another friend of mine who went to Thailand for her first International trip to celebrate her 40th birthday along with her bestie. One of the evenings in Bangkok, she returned to the hotel late night after celebrating her birthday and found a girl, in the hotel lift, bleeding, with fingernail marks all over her body and she was crying. She was telling my friend, she will never go with Indian men. I just couldn’t sleep for that day when I heard about this. The country that you are visiting for pleasure, don’t you think you should be grateful and respect the people who are helping you to attain your pleasure. Is this how we treat another human? Paying for the service doesn’t mean, you own any. No one has any right to hurt someone. Is it that Indian men don’t know how to enjoy sex without hurting the other person? Sorry folks, you need to educate yourself before you go to such places and don’t embarrass the other gentle men of our country.

My apologies on behalf of the Indian men who hurt the Thai women and any other person irrespective of gender, am sorry once again, they didn’t deserve you.

I am looking forward to explore more of Thailand and let’s all pray that we defeat this Covid soon, so that we can start our travel again. Until then, stay safe.

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