A Travellerspoint blog

February 2008

London - A Short Visit

If A Man Is Tired Of London...........

rain 5 °C

In December 2006 my wife, my son and myself went to London for three days. A buss man's holiday really. My son was at that time working in Basel (Switzerland) and he bought cheap last minute tickets with EasyJet. He also arranged hotel accommodation there, in a ***hotel in Queen's Way (Bayswater). He flew from Basel and we two from Dortmund (Germany). We flew in to the London City (Stansted) airport and took a bus from there to central London. The bus fare was BP8.00 per person and took a longer time than the train to Liverpool Street station(BP27.00 one way) which was more than the plane fare. The bus dropped us in Baker Street, it was raining hard and instead of waiting for a bus to take us to Bayswater Road, we took a taxi (fare BP8.00). I write these details to show how expensive London had become over the past five years or so.

The hotel (I am afraid have forgotten its name)was tucked between a newspaper/souvenir shop and a coffee shop with an Italian name, Cafe Bello or something. A narrow door barely visible from the street, led us to the first floor. Even the taxi driver could not find the number of the house. A small room on the second floor with three bunk beds and a small bathroom cost BP72.00 per night, including breakfast. Next morning we went down to the restaurant well within the breakfast serving hours but found the room full. So we waited for a table to vacate. Fifteen minutes before the closing time, the kitchen was closed and the staff refused to serve any more breakfasts to the waiting guests. This happened on the day after too. A surly and arrogant girl behind the reception desk dismissed our complaint and told us that we must have gone in late, after the kitchen was closed. She got into a heated argument with a Dutch (couple who wanted to talk to the manager but were told that he was not available in the hotel. "You can complain by e-mail if you want" they were told.

London has changed a great deal in the last ten years. Even Queen'sway had changed, Tesco supermarket, Chinese and Indonesian food shops, displaying ready cooked food, Pizza Hut and other eateries have sprung up, filling the street with the smell of frying fat. Even a Ann Summers erotic lingerie shop. In the old days there were three Greek restaurants, one Yugoslav and three reputable Chinese restaurants. Only one had remained, next to the Pizza Hut and which has been there since the 1960s. We went in the Pizza Hut and found the place untidy. The pizzas were soggy and cold. We did not finish them. We saw that some other people had also found the food unappetizing and had left it uneaten. We were given two glasses of complimentary soft drinks, although we were three. I don't remember if that was the offer of the day or it was because we had left the food untouched.

The influx of tourists has changed the eating habits of the Londoners, in fact that of whole U.K. In 1950s and 60s, it was fish and chips and soggy sausages. Only the Pub Grub was good. Then came Wimpy hamburger chain which folded because Brits were not ready for change. Then came Pizza and Spaghetti restaurants, but with the introduction of Kentucky Fried Chicken chain, people's eating habits changed. When the pubs closed, the hungry drunks rushed to KFC shops. And with MacDonald, then Burger King and Wendy, people were hooked on junk food. But by 1980s, more and more Indian restaurants opened in Central London and in suburbs and today Chicken Tikka Massala is the British National dish. In england, Wales and Scotland the most popular National dish is Chicken Tikka. If you go down in Queensway towards West borne Park road and turn left, you will find Khan's Indian restaurant. The food is delicious, it has a seating arrangement for over hundred people and is always full. A few meters further is another popular Indian restaurant called Standard, which has always received favorable views from food critics.

The weather was cold and it rained all the time for the three days we were there. I have lived in London for two years (1970-72) although I went there for the first time in 1964 and have been there umpteen times. My wife also has been to London many times. But in December 2006 I went there after a lapse of eight years and my son too had not been there for ten years or so and he always wanted to go there, specially for Christmas shopping. But Oxford street has always seen old established shops closed and new ones opened. The street has always had a high turnover of establishments. Oxford street, despite rain and cold was full of shoppers, people lined up in front of food stands, buying sandwiches and bread rolls, streaming in and out of famous shops like Marks & Spencer, Selfridge's, D.H. Evans etc. Selfridge's has always the most elegant and attractive Christmas window decorations. So has Liberty's and Hamley's Toy Shop in lower Regent street.

We went walking down from Cumberland Hotel (Marble arch) to Regent street, turned right to go down to Piccadilly Circus. At the left hand corner of Regent street, there used to be a Wedgwood shop, selling fine china and porcelain, it was gone. So were many other decades old established shops. We came to Piccadilly Circus and went in to a pub next to Regent Park hotel, which I used to frequent, and had a point of stout beer(BP 2.50). The whole area was full of mini-markets, shops selling soft drinks, bottled water and sweets.

We progressed towards Shaft bury Avenue and turned into Soho. It was as lively as ever, many new restaurants with new names but many old ones too. This part has always been my favorite place for eating Chinese food. I have, at one time or another, eaten in many of the Chinese restaurants there. In 1970 a family called Poons opened a small restaurant in (I think) George street. Old mother Poons cooked in a corner with three or four tables, they were fixing up an upstairs room to turn it into a dinning room for more tables. The food was superb and the place got rave reviews from food critics. Naturally some time later, you had to wait for a table. By then they had opened a few more restaurants in Soho. They had become popular.

In the opinion of Samuel Johnson, the 18th Century author, critic and literary figure, if you are tired of London, you are tired of life. This is true. In London there is always something new, be it Victoria & Albert Hall, The National Art gallery,Tate or Museum of Modern art, History Museum. Even Madam Tussuad's remove and put new figures from time to time. There are always exhibitions and shows going on. And if you are tired of visiting The Buck House or Big Ben, Parliament and Trafalgar square, you can always go into Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly and have their famous Cucumber sandwiches and Earl Grey Tea.

Posted by The Islander 09:21 Archived in England Tagged air_travel Comments (4)

Hua Hin to Bangkok. Time to say Goodbye

Thailand The Fabled Country

sunny 28 °C

We left Hua Hin in the morning and took a mini-bus to Bangkok (Bht.180 pp). The journey was fast and comfortable and in three and half hours we reached Bangkok. From the outskirts of the city to reach Victory Monument, the final bus stop, it took more than half an hour, sitting in the traffic jams, the vehicles moving at a snail's pace, stopping for longer length of time for the traffic lights to change, to move forward and again halt. You can imagine the emission of gas with all the thousands of motor vehicles sitting on the roads, with their motors running.

In every city, if we did not have a prior reservation at a hotel and traveling by bus, we would arrive in the city center, leave our luggage in the Left Luggage office or in a locker and take a walk, find out a suitable hotel/hostel and then move in. If we travel by car, we always park it in a secure garage in the city center and go and sit in a Cafe, pour over the city guide or map and then decide where to stay. In Bangkok, the Bus Terminal was in an alley and we were a little disoriented about our surroundings. We decided to go to either Siam Square or find lodgings in China Town. This wasa wrong decision.

We asked the bus driver directions for going to Siam square but he did not respond, either he did not speak English or he simply ignored the question. An English couple who had traveled with us in the bu, overheard us and kindly told us to take the Sky Train (which was over our heads) and get down at Siam square. In Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) we had taken the Sky Train almost every day to go to Suriya Commercial Center and to other parts of the city. So we went up the stairs to the Station and changed money for tokens which we fed in the machine and got the tickets. The train brought us to Siam square.

When we came out at Siam square, on our right hand side was the entrance to a Shopping Mall, on the left you go down the stairs and are on the main street. So we entered the Mall and found a Cafe and sat down and ordered coffee (Bht.5).

We looked at the map of the city with a list of hotels and compared it with our Lonely Planet Guide, indeed the tariffs of hotels in that area for a double room were between Bht.3000 and Bht.4000. I telephoned three or four hotels and although the tariffs were high, it was impossible to understand the addresses they gave on the phone. So we decided to stay away from the chaos of Siam Square and China Town. We came out of the Mall, crossed the street via a foot bride and tried to get some directions. A man clad in a brown suit approached us, I thought he was a hotel receptionist but he said he was a school teacher. He was very helpful and told us what we knew already, that hotels in that area were expensive and we should go to Domestic Accommodation Location office. He even stopped a rickshaw, gave him the directions and told us to give Bht.20 for the ride. So we went to this place which turned out to be another hotel reservation office. We were told that it was most difficult to find economic accommodation at that time of the year, with festivals and King's approaching birthday celebrations. That we should stay in Banglamphu area, near all the main temples and Grand l Palace and Th Khao San, which is the tourist center and backpackers' favorite place of stay. We agreed and he made the necessary reservation for Bht.1600 for a double room including breakfast.

The name of the hotel is Boonsiri Place, 55 Buranasart Road, Pranakorn(www.boonsisriplace.com). I give full details of the hotel as we found it central to tourist attractions, comfortable and at walking distance to all the important monuments and Wats, which are in the vicinity of the hotel. Democracy Monument, Wat Ratchanada, U.N, Golden Mountain are on the right hand side. Cross Buranasat Road and you are in the area of Grand Palace, Wat Pra Kaeo, Wat Pho and other cultural sites. Banglampu is straight on and Prapinklao Bridge will take you to Chao Praya River. And to reach Th Khao San, you come out of the street where the hotel is, reach the main road, Rajdamnern-Nai Roa, cross the dual carriageway and the street in front will take you to Khao San.

Th Khao San had a lively atmosphere and bohemian flavor of young people and colourful night life. In the evening, shops were selling clothes, backpacks, sunglasses, leather goods, wood carvings. Food halls and restaurants, English Pubs. Fresh fruit and fresh juice and Satay and grilled Corn. Very attractive prices too. Only ice cream was expensive.

We went there for the last two days of our stay in Bangkok and had fresh fish and seafood, rice noodle soup with pork balls and bean sprouts. On the first evening, we went strolling round the parallel streets and found an open air Thai massage center. Men and women were lying down on tables, in open view of passerbys and getting foot massage and face massage etc. The charge was Bht.200 for a 45 minute massage so we too had a very refreshing face massage. Just to lie down and relax was worth the price. In Penang (Malaysia) we had Chinese Massage, a bone crushing experience where the masseur kneaded our bones and the points of pain. A full hour's massage cost MR.10 and afterwards the pain was gone. Believe it or not. We stayed one day more in Penang and paid MR.100 more for the hotel, just to get another massage the next day since I was told that it was not advisable to have more than one massage a day.

On the next morning we came out of the hotel, turned right and reached Ko Ratanakosin area. We visited almost all the Wats and the Grand Palace. The day was warm and it seemed that thousands of tourists were thronging the whole area. It reminded me of crowds outside the Buckingham Palace in London on a sunny day. After we finished the obligatory tour of "places of historical and cultural" interest and dodged the touts who were offering river tours at prices between Bht.1500 and Bht.1000, we reached Th Phra Athit where all the cafes and open air restaurants are. The place was busy, Thai, Chinese dishes displaced to entice your appetite. We were hungry and chose a corner restaurant with a wide range of food trays laid out. Chicken in sauce, frogs in sauce, fried and steamed fish, bamboo shoots and bean sprouts, rice, noodles. My wife as always chose fresh vegetables with rice, bamboo shoots and bean sprouts. I had (twice) fish in lemon grass and ginger sauce , grilled eggplant (no taste) bamboo (no taste) rice and chicken curry and a cold beer.

Thus sated we entered the pavilion where the offices of River Cruise are situated. The touts wanted Bht.1000 for two, then without any bargaining on our part, they brought it down to Bht.500. You may pay even less if you keep on bargaining. However, there are boat cruises which ply on both sides of the river, north bound and south bound. The fare for one hour cruise is Bht.13 per person, although the boats are over crowded and you will feel as if you are commuting on a rush hour underground train in London or Paris. No space to move, packed like sardines in a tin can. No chance of taking any photos or even turning your head. From these jetties you can also go to China Town, which would otherwise cost you Bht.50-70 if you took a taxi.

Afterwards we took a ferry and crossed the river by public ferry (bht.1.80 pp) and went to see Wat Arun on the Thonburi side. The temple is named after Aruna, the Indian God of Dawn and is carved from granite. The temple has hundreds of striking figures etched on the sides of walls and you climb up very narrow steps from one stage to the other. The climb is steep and I had a feeling of vertigo. But very impressive sight it was.

Well, the days of sunshine, the deep blue seas and white sand beaches and fine food and fruit were over. We came back to the hotel and took our luggage. We had arranged for a taxi which came to fetch us and we were on our way to Bangkok airport. At 20hrs. our flight left and we were on our way to freezing cold, rainy, dull and dark Germany.

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Posted by The Islander 16:07 Archived in Thailand Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

Bangkok The City On The Move

Thailand The Fabled Country

Fellow Travelers, welcome to Bangkok, the unplanned and chaotic city of teeming millions, high-rise hotels and modern office buildings, streamlined space-age shopping malls, labyrinth of fly-overs and foot bridges, mind boggling traffic jams and irrelevant street addresses.

The old part of city and the other side of the river is full of hundred of food stalls, temples and an atmosphere of slumbering village, which has long since fallen into ruin. And the new city center of elevated motorways and Sky train, the ultra modern commercial district of Th Sukhumvit brings you to the present day Bangkok. Welcome to the City on the Move. But once you enter the busy Siam Center with its elegant shops, cafes and restaurants, you will feel that unwittingly, you have been transported to a futuristic city. Except for the noise and the high level of pollution which has been strangling the city since a very long time.

The ancient city of Bangkok and indeed Thailand on the whole has been transformed into a modern society. People are friendly, well behaved., polite, well dressed and educated in far more ways than the society in western countries. It is visitor friendly, hospitable, fabulously charming. The population is mostly young, ambitious and eager to learn. Thailand is blessed with breathtaking natural beauty, temples and ancient ruins which inspire you to delve into its history of political and social conflicts, rising and falling kingdoms, which have left their footprints on the pages of its history and monuments.

Thais seem to have preserved their dignity in today's world of vulgar commercialism, pursuit of pleasure is without any feeling of guilt since it was R&R of American soldiers returning from Viet Nam war which affected and corrupted the Thai society. American dollars have indeed corrupted the bodies and souls of many a people in many societies. So who could blame Thai people?

Thailand attracts more tourists than any other country in South East Asia. Hat Yai is popular with Malaysians who come their in pursuit of carnal pleasure. In Thailand sex is one of the main tourist attractions. Bangkok is like a giant sex hypermarket, the capital city of a country chocked by go-go bars, massage parlors, English and German bars, even whorehouses for Muslims.

But what is most degrading is the deluge of European sex tourists, sex offenders to be precise, who have damaged the fabric of Thai society. In countryside, Thai population is poor and there families have been forced to send their young children to Bangkok and Hua Hin, Pukhet and Pattaya, Hat Yai and other large cities to sell themselves to English and German pornographers. It was most reviling to see seventy and eighty years old, fat, bald and shaved heads, ugly tattooed old geezers going with boys and girls of very young age, their arms around them. I bet that these men never ever brought any flowers to their wives in their whole lives, never took them in their arms the way the do with young boys and girls in Thailand.

In Asia the dignity of a person, saving his Face, is most important. In Japan, China and in Thailand , the Loss of Face can lead to humiliation for the whole family and even a village. Men commit suicide if their name has been soiled. Foreign tourists and visitors are much liked in Thailand and many ex-pats have made it their permanent domicile. It is their moral obligation to their host country to respect and safeguard the dignity and honor of its people and not only discourage but to help curb the sex offenses committed by their country folk.

Posted by The Islander 15:16 Archived in Thailand Tagged bus Comments (0)

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