Old Town Bangkok: Preview Venice of the East

Tonight I decided to study my map of Bangkok.  I know it sounds funny since I’ve lived in this city for years, but I have to confess that I usually only go to the areas I am used to.  I know how to get to places and what directions to go, but there are certain areas in Old Bangkok and across the river that still are a mystery to me.  It becomes like another world.  A criss cross of roads that run in random directions.  They are not all thoughtfully planned out in blocks like in the US.  Old towns have their uniqueness.

I learn more than I thought I would from my study of the map.  I learn that the oldest road in Bangkok “Charoen Krung” actually runs adjacent to the river and curves along with it.   I also learn that the wholesale markets of Sampeng and Paohurat (Little India) which exists actually have canals probably dating from ancient days running straight from the main Chaophraya river uptowards the wholesale market area.  Bangkok’s Chinatown is located not too far.  Trade in olden days had brought various cultures to Bangkok and as is often the case, people settle near to main transportation routes.   Along this route too is our main train station which stands beautifully in turn of the century architectural style.  One day I have to go inside.

I am reminded that Bangkok in previous lifetimes had been called the “Venice of the East” with its web of canals.  Canals were used for transporting goods and houses and business popped up along its banks.  My parents had told me how in childhood days, busy business district roads had been lined with beautiful canals filled with lotus.  I wish I could see Bangkok then.  It must have been so beautiful.  Now the roads are lined with cars.

It reminds me of my visit to the Bangkokian Museum.  The guide had told us how in olden days the road upon which I had entered the house was a canal.  In fact, he said there had been so many more canals before they were closed up in to make way for roads and to prevent the spread of cholera.  The river had been much more acessible.  I shall have to read up more about this part of history.

I suppose this is what trade everywhere looked like before.  Large ships with goods would come down the river.  Goods would then be transported by barges down canals and to the warehouses which would line up along its path.  The goods would then be distributed by land from these warehouses.  Singapore’s Clarke Quay too served the same purpose.  Now I understand why some of the largest trading families in Thailand own properties in the old areas of Bangkok. It all comes together quite well.

I went on a canal tour a couple of years back by long-tail boat, but I think its about time I took it again.   History I am discovering to be more and more fascinating.  Through history one can learn and understand not only the past, but also the present.  Its because of history that certain things are the way they are. Fascinating isn’t it?  Let’s go on a canal tour one day.  Now its on my “To do” list.

Please “alight”

Languages are funny things.  They evolve and transform over time.  Different countries use different versions of the same language.  Cleaning up some things from my previous trip to Singapore, I was reminded of this funny word I noticed while I was there.  The word “alight.”  Now I haven’t been to England for over a decade so I’m not sure if this word is still used widely there, but in Singapore it is used when you take the underground or as they call it the MRT. 

Upon approaching stations where you can take connecting trains, the speaker will announce “Please alight at XXX station for XXXX.”  It comes out in a clear, crisp and perfectly accented english. It’s easy to understand and the word makes perfect sense, but somehow everytime I hear the word, it makes me grin.  It sounds like a different world. A different time.

I don’t remember having heard the word “alight” being widely used in the US when I was there, but that was a long time ago. (Not on the East Coast or in Philly anyways)  Do you know where else “alight” is widely used?  Or are there other words that somehow pique your interest as “alight” did mine? 😛  Please share 🙂

Bak Kut Teh at Outram Park Ya Hua Rou Gu Cha

I feel like I haven’t been to Singapore if I haven’t had Bak Kut Teh. What is it? It’s pork rib soup. What I love about it is that the soup has lots of pepper and as a meal it is not too heavy. We have this dish also in the southern provinces of Thailand and in Malaysia but I have yet to try the ones there. I think there will be slight variations. There are lots of places to have Bak Kut Teh in Singapore, but my newest discovery is called “Outram Park Ya Hua Rou Gu Cha.” It’s a long name. Don’t ask me what it means..

On my previous visits I’d go to the one on Rangoon road, but this trip I wasn’t able to so you can imagine my delight when a good friend told me that there was one not far from the hotel I was staying at. We walked there and it was a mere 5 minutes walk away from the hotel and is located at the base of Tangong Pagar Complex. Mind you, this is not the same as Tangong Pagar Plaza! This one is located on Keppel Road and is open from early morning to late night. They are closed for a few hours in the afternoon though (I think from 3pm to 6pm)

During lunch time, I am told that it is extremely crowded and you have to sometimes wait to be seated. I went at 1pm when the crowd had all gone and it was lovely. No queues, no waits, the food came very quickly. You can choose to have the traditional pork rib soup with either lean or non-lean ribs (of course I had lean) or you could have it with pork belly, fish and a variety of other things. They all use the same soup. I had the traditional one and it was just delicious. The soup was peppery just the perfect amount and having it with rice and the patong go (fried pastry) gave it added crunchiness. We also ordered vegetables which were also good.

Hmm…now I wish I had time to go again. Soup is always good for the soul. It makes you feel warm and fuzzy. (It does to me anyways) Have a good one!

Singapore’s Hawker Foods

Like in every country, food comes in many ways and forms.  There are always the “elegant” and high end restaurants which just give you an experience to remember and then there’s the “local” kind of foods that most people eat on a day to day basis.  If you come to Singapore and want something “local”  you should try the food at the hawker centres.  These are food that the average Singaporean would eat and is not just for tourists.  During lunch times, these hawker centres are filled with working professionals.

Here are some of the hawker centres I’ve been to whilst exploring Singapore this trip:

1) Lau Pa Sat Hawker Centre:  This place is open 24 hours and has a long history dating from the 1800’s as well a uniquely octagonol shape that is quite beautiful.  It was formerly known as the “Telok Ayer Market” and dates from the times of Sir Raffles, the founding father of Singapore.   There are roughly 80-100 stalls selling food ranging from fish ball soup, congee, xiao lan pao, yong tau fou, chicken rice, indian food, thai food, pork belly soup to korean and even japanese food.  There are so many stalls to choose from.  To be safe, I always eat at the ones with the long queue (which mean that it’s tasty :))  Make sure you also visit the adjoining street that has been dubbed “satay street.”  On this road, there are l0 stalls selling Satay for you to try.   If you come in the evenings, there is even a live band singing songs for you to listen!   I particular like this place more than others because the high ceilings make the place a lot cooler than others during the hot midday sun.  Oh, they have a website: http://www.laupasat.biz/lps.html

2) Amoy Food Centre:  This place is two stories high and has a range of good food too.  I am told that there are good fish balls on the second floor but I have yet to try it. 🙂 It gets a bit hot at this place but after eating here, there is anice adjoining park which makes the walk a bit more interesting.  There is also a buddhist temple just right next to the centre.

3) Maxwell Food Centre:  I go to this food center at the corner of Maxwell road and South Bridge especially for the Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken rice which I wrote about in an earlier post.  However, there are a lot of other stalls and those sitting next to me had some food that looked very tempting, but after a plate of chicken and rice, I could eat no more.  If you are a big fan of it, you can even order for them to pack the chicken in boxes which are convenient for travel. 🙂

Food at these hawker centres are quite inexpensive.  You could eat for a mere S$3 (fish noodles or other stuff like congee..etc..)  Food I tried all tasted good but to be safe look for the long queues 🙂  Oh, if you go during lunch and want to reserve a table  (so that you can go look for food and come back)  bring along a pack of tissues and put it on the table.  I discovered this was how Singaporeans reserve their seats….(no, they weren’t left there for you to use.)

Have a good meal!

Fitness fashion: Did you know?

When you go to the gym or fitness to workout there is a certain sense of  fashion at each one.  In some places in Bangkok, the norm is just an old t-shirt with a pair of shorts, anything goes.  In other gyms (which may cater to the more young and ‘hip’ professionals) the norm might include form fitting tops and matching bottoms especially designed for sports.  Those were the main differences I had observed in Bangkok.  In Singapore though, there is a much more colourful sense of style in fitness clothes.

The mix of clients who come to the M-hotel in Singapore is diverse and multi-cultural.  Singapore is diverse and multi-cultural.  Everywhere I go I see a mix of expatriates from the western world, indians, chinese, and people from other countries.  However, I never expected that this cultural diversity would be apparent in the gym.

I never knew before how muslim females dressed when they went to the gym to exercise.  The thought just never crossed my mind.  I  knew that swimming required swimming suits that covered up the body, but I did not realize that the same would apply to those running on the treadmill.  For the first time, I saw how it was done.  A muslim lady worked out covered from head to toe. Her head was covered with a headscarf and she wore long sleeves and long pants. That was her gym outfit.

Then another thing I never thought about was Indians working out.  Now I’m not sure if perhaps the Indian lady I saw was on holiday and without gym clothes, but she dressed in a beautiful sari complete with a shawl while running on the treadmill. Of course she wore the pants version of the sari.  Forgive me, but I know not what they are called… It was beautiful and certainly added olour to the gym.  She had her shawl tied up beautifully while she ran..I am amazed.

Then there were the super-fit athletes.  I spotted a man in full running outfit getting ready to go out for a run. Around his waist he had one of those professional looking belts with small water bottles and a place for energy food.  I guess he must be a marathon runner… Then there was another lady who was so lean and in such beautiful form-fitting clothes you could tell she was fit.  I wonder when I can get that body, if ever.

What do you wear to work-out?  do you have any other interesting fitness outfits to share? 🙂

Singapore’s Clarke Quay: Life through time

This trip I’ve been to Clarke Quay already three times and everytime it gives me a different vibe. It’s strange this area by the Singapore River but I like it and am at the same time impressed by it.

The first time I went there this trip was on a group tour to take the “Bumboat.”  I’ve been to Singapore so many times but never took the bumboat and so I decided to join it this trip.  I enjoy being the tourist no matter how “touristy” it is and I especially enjoy anything to do with water and rivers.  It’s so calming and relaxing.  We get there at around 9.30am and Clarke Quay resembles a deserted town.  All the shops and restaurants are shut and not a single soul is to be seen.  It’s quiet.  This part of Singapore has not yet awakened.  Only after nearing the crossing roads do we spot a few people.  They are runners out for their morning jog. Healthy people.

It’s quite educational this trip.  I learn that this beautiful area where the shops are painted in different colours and there are outdoor seatings by the singapore river was once the “Stinking sewer” of Singapore.  After the advent of large containers, the bumboats that used to bring goods back and forth to Singapore were abandoned as were the trading houses and warehouses along this river.  People disregarded the river and everything you shouldn’t throw into the river was thrown there.  It stank and it was polluted.  Then in 1977 the Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was said to utter the words “Clean it up.”   It took ten years for the government to clean out this stinking sewer and today its waters are quite clean and it has become a popular place for all to hang out in the evenings.   It gets crazily crowded.

What amazes me though is that this area is also part of the Singapore reservoir and that the long term goal is to make the water drinkable. Imagine that.  Even the bumboats are now operated by batteries so that they don’t pollute the water.

And so in the morning, I am riding down the singapore river in a bumboat with the breeze in my hair. I pass by Clarke Quay, Boat Quay, the Merlion and then out to Marina Bay.  I see a beautiful view of the Marina Bay Sands and hundreds of white balls filled with New Year Wishes of Singaporeans.  It’s relaxing and a great overview to the main sites along the waterway in Singapore. 

I return later that Saturday evening to meet wonderful friends who take me out to enjoy the famous pepper and chilli crab at Jumbo Seafood.  It’s mouthwatering and I eat more than I should.  Food in Singapore is always good and even better when you are with good friends.  We walk around after dinner and the hoards of people are overwhelming.  There are people everywhere,  I hear a couple languages being spoken.  There is a brazillian bar that lures guests with some brazilian dancing.  Guys stop dead in their tracks to watch blocking the passageway.  I wonder if the gimmick works and people actually go in to order food. 
Then  there’s a bar that resembles a clinic. Guests sit in wheelchairs and drink out of hanging blood bags.  It’s a bit too much for me.  At almost midnight, Clarke Quay is still humming full of life on a Saturday evening.

My third visit to Clarke Quay was Sunday evening just before the sunset.  It was not crowded, the shops were open and it was just  lovely to walk along the Quay with my cousin.  I love having relaxing strolls.  If only Alex was here it would be great.  I go have dinner at the Hot Stones restaurant which allows you to cook your own steak on literally hot stones.  Its fun.  The steak stays juicy and delicious.   I make a mental note to buy myself a stone for cooking at home one day…..

There is a certain charm to Clarke Quay.   It’s a mixture of history with modern day life.   Who would imagine 100 years ago that these trading houses and warehouses would one day be converted into restaurants and bars? 

“Cut”: Steak to die for

On trips that bring you away from family and friends for a week or so things can get a little quiet (but that is significantly helped by the wonderful technology of Skype and sim cards.)  Of course, no technology can replace the warm feeling one gets when one is with close friends and I have to say that I feel especially fortunate to have such wonderful friends in Singapore who take great care of me.  From having the skinny pizza with Dalin, pepper and chilli crab with Mark, hot stones steak with my cousin to the wonderful steak house “Cut” with Rasina,  I have to say I am truly enjoying my stay in Singapore.

Today I’ll focus on “Cut” which some of you might be wondering what it is.  (No it’s not a salon where you can go cut your hair, nor is it a nail spa.)  It’s a steakhouse that was brought to Singapore along with the Marina Bay Sands and is by Chef Wolfgang Puck.  Reviews tell me me that in the USA his restaurant has been considered “one of the top steakhouses” and that the one in Beverly Hills goes by the same name. 

Rasina tells me that this place has been open for only a couple of weeks and that it has been getting good reviews. Of course it’s a must try.  For steak lovers, I highly recommend this place. They have all kinds of steaks ranging from the U.S.D.A Prime , Wagyu to the Australian Angus aged 45 days.  There were so many I had difficulty choosing…I think it took everyone a good 15 minutes to decide.  

In the end, I chose the U.S.D.A, prime Sirloin which was also half Wagyu.  They have a name for it, but I forget.. Apparently this is just roughly 50% Wagyu so you get less of the fat, but just enough to make the sirloin meat tender and juicy.  How they do it I don’t know..but it’s perfect.

Once you’ve chosen your steak, you can also order toppings for the steak and any side dishes to share.  I love mushrooms and therefore of course my topping was mushrooms with side dishes of creamed spinach and potatoes.  The brocolli was also wonderful as well as the Armagnac sauce.

The steak? It was amazing. My medium-raw steak was perfectly done and the beef so tender it just melted in my mouth.  Now, generally I am not much of a steak lover, but this one was good.  It was out of this world and definitely one of the best steaks I’ve had.  This is one meal I’d remember for years to come.  It earns a place next to the Michelin Star Restaurant in Brussels which serve exquisite Lamb chomps.

I enjoy every bite and almost finish my entire 150grams.  Oh, the desert is equally good so make space for it…. I roll out the restaurant, but I roll out happily.  Good food is always great for the soul. Thank you Rasina 😀

So if you have an opportunity to come to Singapore and you are looking for a great steak place other than Lawry’s I recommend “Cut” by Wolfgang Puck.  If you don’t want steak, they also serve Lobster and Chicken that looks equally tempting.  Before you go, please make Reservations as all the tables were booked.  Price?  The smallest steak was roughly S$70 and  prices ranged from around S$150-300 per steak depending upon cut, type and size.

And yes, here is the website :  http://www.marinabaysands.com/Restaurants/CUT.aspx    And No, I am not being paid to write this.  Bon Appetit!

iPad: Singapore or Bangkok?

When traveling, everyone always tries to buy goods that are cheaper than what they can get back home.  Being in Singapore, where a lot of people come to buy electronics I had to go check out the prices.  My mission was to find out if electronic products (especially the iPad) are cheaper here or in Bangkok.

Singapore has a mall that specializes in electronics called Funan. It’s easily accessible by MRT (undergound), just get off at City Hall and exit on North Ridge Road.  Funan is just down the street.  It’s like Fortune and Panthip Plaza in Bangkok, but its more quiet and more orderly.

There are a zillion shops selling laptops and computers.  I walk around and just enjoy browsing through all the gadgets and gizmos.  I always had a particular fondness for electronics and the techonology always fascinates me.  Its actually more fun than looking for clothes… 

I check out the price of the ILuv clock radio for iPod and iPhone dual charge. It’s S$399.  With exchange rate of 23.1 thb to 1 SGD, it’s consderably more expensive than the 6,100 THB price tag in Bangkok.   Then I spy beautiful cases for the iPhone and want to get some for my lovely iPhone, but sadly the same brands and design too convert to be slightly more expensive than in Bangkok. 

Not significantly different, but why pay more if you can pay less right?

Anyways, I make my way to the Mac Shop and check the iPad price.

16GB Wifi it S$728,
32 GB Wifi S$878
64 GB Wifi S$1028

Converted to THB, Thailand still remains slightly cheaper.    As I walk around Orchard, I check out the iPad at all the shops I spy..There is practically one at every mall. There is a Mac shop at 313Somerset which is packed with people, but if you want personal time to play around the iPad without interruption, head to the neighboring mall which is opposite Robinsons. Its so quiet there and you can spend a good ten or fifteen minutes playing with the iPad.

What about the iPhone 4? I check out the price and that too is equivalent to the iPhone 4 in Bangkok.

I am tempted, very tempted but I still have time to decide… if I want I can also go buy it in Bangkok.   So in conclusion,  if you want any apple product, between Singapore and Bangkok, it is now currently cheaper in Bangkok. (Exchange rate of 23.1THB to 1SGD)  🙂

Shopping on Singapore’s Orchard Road: Tips and Ideas

Most people who come to Singapore either Eat then Shop or Shop then Eat or if you are not a big fan of eating then you’d Shop.  Most girls I know who come here go crazy with all the shopping malls and variety of brands.  So today (and yesterday) I went round exploring the shopping scene in Singapore as well as to buy everything that’s on my shopping list for friends and family.  I discovered some new malls and also a new route for which to shop.

Before Id ‘always just get off at Orchard MRT for shopping at Orchard Road, but this trip I discovered Somerset MRT.  Somerset MRT actually gives you access to the East side of Orchard road which is awesome if you want to shop at Robinsons, Centre Point, 313@ Somerset before making your way to Paragon, Takashimaya, Wisma and ION.

What and Where:

Robinsons is great if you want to buy Vitamins and other health related products.  They have a section in most Robinsons on the same floor as the comestics and there are almost always some kind of sales or promotions.  Compared to Thailand, there are more brands and the promotions are good. Three bottles of 90 gelcaps Alaskan Salmon Fish Oil was on sale for S$57.   Cross the street once you are off the Somerset MRT on the Orchard Road side.

Centre Point is actually the plaza in which Robinsons is located. I ventured out and discovered the HK brand Sasa cosmetic shops which sells cosmetics at a discount to the department stores.  They had some sales of 15% to 20% for products that were normal priced elsewhere.

313@ Somerset is a newly opened shopping mall (for me anyways) and what stood out was the HUGE Forever 21 shop.  This is great if you are a Forever 21 fan.  It goes up 4 stories but beware, on weekends there was a long line to all the dressing rooms.

By the time you’ve walked through all these crowded shopping malls a great place to relax and have some respite from the chaos of people is at Paragon. Just across the street, it is a fairly peaceful shopping mall with slightly higher end brands.  A great place to have lunch though is at P.S. Cafe which is on the 3rd floor.  It’s part of the Project Shop which sells funky clothing, but their cafe is good and sells great food and cakes.  Dishes range from S$15 upwards . (They have a website of course: http://www.pscafe.sg/)  They have other locations too.  If  you want simpler foods at Paragon, they also have Crystal Jade and a basement which has a number of restaurants and coffee shops.  Oh, and if you have kids, Paragon has a Toys R Us shop on the top floor. 😀 

Now to the mega shopping mall of Takashimaya which is a must visit for me.  For girls, I love their shoe section.  There are lots of different brands and everytime I come there is always some promotion.  If you like brands, Tods was fairly crowded and had some lovely shoes and bags to tempt.   Knowing guys (who find it hard to understand why women shop) there is Kinokuniya bookstore on the plaza side of the third floor I think. It’s absolutely huge and I was told one of the biggest in Asia.  So if you don’t want to shop, you can spend a good deal of time browsing through the books.  Note it also gets very crowded on weekends.

In the basement of Takashimaya, I am in happy land  where there is a large section on cooking utensils and housewares.  I love pots and pans and all the baking stuff.  Then on the lower basement there are food and snacks to tempt me.  They have a wonderful Cold Storage Supermarket there which has lots of scrumptious food, and outside there is a variety of japanese cream puffs, takoyaki, hokkaido ice cream..cookies, Royce chocolate, tea as well as a huge section of Harrods.  It used to be a small section, but this time it has significantly grown.  There is also a new more orderly foodcourt where all the korean, vietnamese and other foods have been relocated.  It’s a great place if you want to sit down and have a simple meal.  It’s just very crowded and the noise level can go quite high on weekends.

From Takashimaya, I walked along the underground levels which connect you to Wisma Atria and eventually Ion.  Walk underground, there are lots of shops ranging from Zara, Bossini, Guess, Charles and Keith, Pretty Fit, and Forever 21.  Depending on what you want to look at, there is everything.  Wisma also has Topshop.

Then I arrive at ION which is one of the newest additions to Orchard Road.  If you look at it from outside, it is a beautifully shaped building full of curves and windows.  On the stops up to the entrance where Louis Vuitton and Gucci just blind you with their displays there is a beautiful scultpure of people going about their business.  There is a man reading a newspaper, a lady shopping and a business man rushing by….each in various colours.  Lovely. Ion has a wonderfully large Sephora store where I spent a good deal of time.  They have OPI nail colours and all the usual brands.  Oh, there is also Uniglo 🙂

ION for me is a great place to end the shopping route.  It is directly connected to the MRT station so just follow the signs or ask someone and you can just hop back to your hotel 🙂

Pricewise, I have to say that Bangkok is cheaper.  Bangkok too has a wonderful shopping scene, yet the variety and the intensity in which people shop cannot be compared to Singapore.  Singaporeans go to Orchard to shop, expatriates go to Orchard to shop and tourists go to Orchard to shop.  Even if you don’t plan on shopping much, its definitely a road you should visit to just experience how people can go crazy shopping. 🙂  Happy Shopping!!

Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands Casino

I don’t gamble, but if there is something new that has to be seen then I’d go see it even if its a casino.  Singapore has just recently opened it’s Marina Bay Sands  Hotel and the area has both Shops and a Casino.  Coming from Las Vegas, they brought the concept here and I must say I felt like I was no longer in the island country of Singapore.  Even the restaurants and the Casino come from Las Vegas.  The casino has 500 tables and 1500 slot machines. Imagine how big it is.  It is a mega gambling empire.

After an extremely delicious meal of scrumptious steak at the newly opened restaurant called “Cut” (which I will write about tomorrow), my dear friend in Singapore took me to see the Casino from a bird’s eye view.  We were standing on the third floor balcony overlooking the 500 tables.  The feeling is unlike any I’ve had before.

Upon first seeing it you are just dazed and awed. It’s all a gigantic space of curves and lights. For a few seconds, I didn’t realize what I was seeing until my senses started adjusting.  Then you see it. It suddenly appears to you just like that.  Beneath all the curved lights in the middle of this large encircled area, which for some reason reminds me of a futuristic behive, there are hundreds and hundreds of tables.  Upon looking even closer, you see them covered in green or blue and cards are being decked out.  It really feels like a behive. I feel like I am in part of a sci-fi movie.  The yellow lights and curved walls give it a strange luminescent glow.

Then once your eyes have adjusted to the sight, your ears suddenly start being aware of a peculiar humming sound that gently vibrates and wavers through the air.  It’s not like the sounds you hear in the Pachinkos in Japan, but instead the sound is like a monotonic “E” that softly hums and rings.  It rings and somehow I feel it go through me.  There is some sort of eerie silence mixed with the sound of slot machines and people playing black jack that makes this monotonic “E.”  Perhaps its because I’m standing high up where the sounds mix and have some lagged effect but nevertheless its a strange feeling.

We take pictures but at the slightest indication of a flash being used, a security guy dressed in a black suit with some wiring to his ear appears out of nowhere and asks us to stop taking pictures.  He leaves just as quickly as he appears and we make our way home.