Sunday, September 21, 2008

Thailand: Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha

The Grand Palace, which includes the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is one of the must visits when you are in Bangkok. It was the official residence of Thailand's kings up to the mid-20th century but is still as grand as its name implies. After resting a bit at the hotel, we took a cab to the Grand Palace.

As soon as we got off our taxi, a guy in a khaki uniform wearing a pin which looked like some kind of royal emblem approached us and pointed us toward a gate on the side. I was a bit suspicious since I knew where the main gate was having been there twice before. When we got to the smaller gate, I saw a sign which said "no entry" (obviously, it was not an entrance). Then a guy came out from the gate telling us that the temple was closed early today since it's prayer day for the locals and told us to come back tomorrow. Then he pointed to a tuktuk waiting by the gate and they started selling us a guided tour. Irked, I told shouted "no" to them and brought my family back to where we got down. We almost left but I decided to walk by the entrance I remembered and saw it was open. So I checked inside only to find out the Grand Palace was indeed open!

It's sick that such happens right at the gate of the Grand Palace itself. Were the authorities playing blind to such a modus operandi happening right at their doorstep? It was a good thing I had been there before. But I could just imagine other people they had fooled into taking those over-priced tuktuk tours. When we exited the palace, I saw the same guy in the khaki uniform still standing at the gate and I looked him straight in the eye with disdain.

Well, enough of that bad incident since any visit to the Grand Palace is a grand experience! The first thing you'll see when you enter is the Wat Phra Kaew or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. You'll need to be in proper attire when you enter the compound. No shorts or sleeveless shirts. It was good that they have long trouser and sarong rentals there since my mom was in shorts and had to rent a sarong to enter.

The Emerald Buddha is actually made of green jade and is clothed in gold. There are three sets of gold clothing corresponding to Thailand's three seasons namely hot, rainy and cool. And the king himself changes the clothes in ceremonies marking the change of season.

When you enter the main palace area, you won't miss the Chakri Mahaprasad Hall, a building influenced by the Italian Renaissance style but distinctly Thai. By the time we reached this hall, the palace security were herding people out for closing. So we were there just in time to have the area all to ourselves. We proceeded to Siam Paragon right after. But we had to go through Bangkok's snarled weekend traffic to get there.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Thailand: Chatuchak Market in Bangkok, Thailand

You haven't been to Bangkok if you haven't shopped in the Chatuchak Weekend Market! The locals usually refer to it as JJ Market. At 1.13 square kilometers and with 15,000 stalls, it is said to be the biggest market in the world. Make sure to come on a weekend because most stalls are closed on other days.

We went straight to the market right after breakfast since we wanted to maximize our time there. You'll find everything under the sun there including household items, clothing, jewelry, Thai handicrafts, religious artifacts, collectibles, food, and live animals and plants. It's one of the best places to get local handicrafts, silk and other souvenir items.

After making rounds of the different sections (we weren't able to cover the whole market due to time constraints), we went around the food stalls to try out the local dishes. We had noodles or course, but I especially liked the coconut milk ice cream served in a coconut shell with coconut shavings and peanuts.

We didn't stay too long since we planned to visit the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha late in the afternoon. So we proceeded back to our hotel to get some rest and freshen up before proceeding there.

How to get there
Chatuchak market is adjacent to the Kamphaengphet station of the Bangkok Metro, or about a 5-minute walk from the Mo Chit Skytrain (BTS) station and Suan Chatuchak (Chatuchak Park) station of the MRT. Of course, you can take a cab going there. But after shopping, you'll definitely need to take a cab back to your hotel!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Thailand: Back in Bangkok!

Bangkok is one of my favorite Asian cities. And I found myself back again in Bangkok for a family vacation. I'm not a fan of package tours for international trips. But in this instance, it was cheaper and more convenient, especially since my niece was with us. It was my first time to see Bangkok's impressive new airport, the Suvarnabhumi Airport.

We had a half-day city tour as soon as we arrived. We were first taken to a relatively new temple (I was not able to get the name since it's not in the usual tourist radar when visiting Bangkok). But for people who've seen a Thai temple for the first time, I'm sure it looked impressive.

Since we were to visit two temples, I had requested our guides to take us to Wat Pho, the oldest and one of the largest temples in Bangkok. Said to be the birthplace of Thai massage, it's most known for its gargantuan Reclining Buddha which is 46 meters long and 15 meters high.

Another element of this temple compound which I find equally impressive are four large chedis or stupas dedicated to the first four kings of Thailand's Chakri Dynasty, Rama I, II, III, and IV. Each is 41 meters high and intricately decorated with tiles.

And just like in any tour, they brought us to a jewelry shop! At least it wasn't as bad as our Hong Kong-Shenzen tour. We didn't stay up late since we want to be in Chatuchak Market early tomorrow to shop!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pampanga and Tagaytay food tours

Southern Secrets by the Spoonful! (October 12, Sunday)
Up up to the highlands! Let's us savor a smorgasbord as we explore the best international kitchens in the coolest city south of Manila! From the best buko pie to the tastiest banh da lon, let us cruise along this city by the ridge, taking in her scenic views, mountain weather and best of all, indulging in her undiscovered culinary delights!

More than the food, let us meet the people behind some of Tagaytay's most delicious dining establishments as we share the stories and behind the recipes. A tour to nourish your stomach and spirit!

The tour experience includes Ilog Maria Honey Bee Farm Tour, Bawai Vietnamese Kitchen, Chateau Hestia European Garden Restaurant, Yoki's Treasures and the Hydrophonic Farm, and T-house Dining. Tour fee is P2,800 per person inclusive of meals, transportation, and surprises. Maximum of 30 people; we have 15 slots left!

Pampanga in a Plate full! (October 25, Saturday)
Journey to the central heartland as we immerse ourselves in things Kapampangan! From Baroque to betute, its fun-filled day as we poke around and get intimate with the very best of Pampanga's cultural offerings. Gawk at the jewel-box of church in Betis while wading through the lahar-buried town of Bacolor.

We'll stuff ourselves silly with the best Kapampangan fare by one of the country's best known Pampanga chefs! A tour with nothing but Kapampangan cool!

The tour experience includes Betis Church, Bacolor Church, Claude Tayag's Bale Dutung, and Pampanga specialty shops. Tour fee is P3,800 per person inclusive of meals, transportation, and surprises. Maximum of 30 people; this is our best seller and all slots have been taken. But we might open more slots. So book now to be included in the wait list.

The Ultimate Philippines Travel Experiences is brought to you by Our Awesome Planet, Ivan About Town, Manila Boy & Old Manila Walks. E-mail for bookings.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Batangas: Intro dive at Dive and Trek in Bauan, Batangas

Who said you can't try scuba diving without a license? Well, if you're interested but are not yet sure if you want to make the investment, why not go for an intro dive? And that's what we did! We trooped to Bauan, Batangas to check out the life underneath the water at Dive and Trek Resort.

An intro dive is an opportunity for non-divers to experience diving and see for themselves what's actually down there. And you do it with a dive master who takes you around for about 30 minutes. All you do is relax and enjoy the view and the dive master will push you around the coral reefs. And if you like what you see, then you take the next step and get yourself a license!

The fastest way to Dive and Trek is via Tagaytay, and the towns of Lemery, Taal and San Luis, Batangas. Just a little over two hours from Manila, it's a really convenient drive down south. There is a designated parking area at the end of the road, just look for the sign. And from there, a pump boat picked us up to take us to the resort.

I've been extra lucky since this was my fourth straight sunny weekend in between typhoons. We booked our intro dive through Green Goose Adventure Tours and it was really worth it for a dive! Packages start at PHP2300 per head, inclusive of gear, use of the resort, buffet lunch and merienda.

Anyway, we went down two by two since there were two dive masters available. But since we had licensed divers in our group, they joined us as well. Marveling at the different species of fish, corals and other marine life forms was a really great experience!

After the thirty minute dive, I rested a bit on one of the lounge chairs before heading to lunch. And lunch did not disappoint! Since our dive master was a classmate at the Ateneo, I asked if we could go down one more time after lunch and we did! It looks like I'll be getting a diving license in the near future since I definitely enjoyed it. But maybe after all my international trips this year.

On the way back, we experienced turbulent waters but it was not too much a hassle. Before returning to Manila, we had dinner at Mano's Greek Taverna in Tagaytay. Wonderful food! I'll talk about it in my next blog entry.

Green Goose Adventure Tours
Ryan Guzman (0928) 9067151
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