Friday, September 19, 2008

Bangkok Not Dangerous - And Its Rich City Vibe

Nicolas Cage explores the underbelly of Bangkok’s backroads and alleyways in the Pang Brother’s remake of their own “Bangkok Dangerous” – a more solid, glossier, hipper original version. But for the ordinary tourist, there is – almost – nothing dangerous about the capital. In fact, I find it so chaotically relaxed (much like Saigon's touted "organized chaos"), with the locals numbingly preoccupied making ends meet.

On my nth visit to this bustling city, I was in a dilemma what to do with my time. To be honest, I didn’t wanna do anything touristy. I have mostly meandered every tourist spot that needed to be seen. In Londony parlance, been there and done that. After a derisively ambitious overland travels, I was intent on enjoying this city vibe; to immerse myself in everything that a cosmopolitan rush offers!


My brother had been pestering me about some brands of Northface bags that I don’t even use myself. I was supposed to buy them in Hanoi, but I couldn’t find them at the Vinaconnex Mall. Vietnam is apparently known to manufacture these world class bags, and in roadside outlets, these are sold as overruns at a fraction of their original selling price abroad. So – I scampered to a specialty Northface store at the posh Siam Discovery’s second floor. However, as I gradually enumerated the brands that my brother texted, it slowly dawned on me how impossibly lavish these bags were. The countdown of prices was in fact, making me unceremoniously sweat. There were medium sized backpacks to the tune of PhP12,000 ($258 or 8,784 baht) … Php16,000 ($386.30 or 13,200baht)! This was ridiculous! This made Bangkok dangerous, in my book. As fate would have it, most of the names I inquired were not available, except for one that was too big! So … I was keeping my fingers cross that I would find them somehow in Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon where i will be in a few days time. My earlier visit to Isetan was also fruitless. The brand has been pulled out. My frustration sent me queueing to the last full show of this newly released film called “Good Morning, Luang Prabang” (Sabaidee Luang Prabang) – which I’ll probably review next post. It was such a nice welcome to cap my departure from Laos with a feature length movie about it!

Giant mangoes (as big as coconuts) and giant atis (sugar apples) in sidewalks. Unfortunately, these are very expensive commodities - $7.30 or 250 baht a piece.


Of course there were more encounters with the taxi and tuktuk drivers. When you visit Bangkok, it’s almost impossible not to encounter these touts. You call for a taxi, then he takes you to some gem shop, leather shop or silk shop FIRST before taking you to your destination. In the process, you will be forced to buy item from these shops. These drivers are then given gas coupons from the shop owners. This practice has been so annoyingly patronized that most drivers won’t even bother to take you to your destination unless you allow them to take you to these shops first. Beware of those yellow-and-green taxis. Unfortunately, these taxis are numerous in the capital! Just make sure you state your destination clearly and insist on no gem shop detours! It pays to be emphatic!

Bangkok is a relatively inexpensive place for backpackers. This is the reason why Bangkok is well loved by the cash-strapped backpackers who invariably get first-world conveniences from their dollar. They turn into overnight big spenders in Bangkok!
The malls in Bangkok open at 10AM and close at 10PM.

A view from the top floor of the Siam Paragon. The guards here are so strict in allowing photographs taken on this floor - which is also the cinema area. Last time i was here - last June, I got scolded for taking a photo and when I asked why, they just replied with a stern face! How can you say that something is forbidden without giving a reason for it?


There was another movie that I could NOT miss watching and that was M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening, which I went to see at MBK’s 5th floor – a multiplex of cinema houses which they call SF Cinema. Now here’s the interesting thing about watching “The Happening” in Bangkok. This was screened as a digital movie and as such, was to be mounted on a digital screen cinema. This means, the ticket price is 30 baht more expensive, since the digital medium is considered as a newer state-of-the-art medium. So – I was sitting there – pulling off 2 pieces of garlic-flavored chicken drumsticks from my backpack (which is NOT allowed in the cinema – hehe). To my surprise, THIS digital movie boasts of sparkling cinematography that is 5 million light years better than ANY of the digital films that I have EVER seen in the Philippines! THIS digital screening is far removed from the poor picture quality (washed up colors, wavy disproportionate images) that the pinoy digital wave has so far been almost exclusively known for (I am of course referrring to those lucky enough to be screened in commercial theaters). And ain’t that a shame?

I watch most digital movies that come my way so this observation is far from being subjective! So far, the acceptable ones that I have seen are those directly shown at the CCP. But we can’t always go to CCP for our digital fix, can we? My point here is, once the paying public has inculcated in their psyche that a digital movie is a no-budget, poor visual quality medium, most of these paying audience would rather NOT suffer-and-pay for these inadequacies. It is not enough that this specialized medium doles out alternative stories and quirky narratives not otherwise seen in mainstream movies. They have to somehow show the paying public that there is an actual budget allotted to tell their interesting stories. In short, gagastusan mo ba ang isang pelikulang mukhang hindi naman ginastusan? The answer is all too obvious – and if the ongoing trend goes on, the general public will catch up and spend their money where stories are tepid and trite, but the visuals are clear and sparkling. Movie going experience is, after all, a visual treat. It is food for the thought.

My favorite time in Bangkok - leisurely viewing an open-air gallery featuring about 50 huge photos from the different landscapes all over the world. I was simply bowled over by the photographs' stark beauty!

A huge ball that was going to be rolled off a ledge infront of Central World Mall and Isetan. I actually discovered that it is possible to walk from the Siam Paragon and MBK to the Central World Mall at the Pratunam. From there, Indra Regent Hotel is just 4-5 blocks away.

New eye-catchers at the predeparture area of Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Bangkok. These structures will greet everyone after clearing with the immigration on your way to your predeparture area. Donations are encouraged. The money will go to a foundation seeking to preserve the Thai culture.

Random Expenditures:
· Taxi from within Pratunam to MBK Mall – $1.19 or 40 baht or PhP54.50
MBK Food Court – Fried Pork with rice – $1.32 or 45 baht or PhP61.30
1 piece of giant atis (sugar apple aka annona squamosa) – $7.32 or 250 baht or PhP340.50
Siam Ocean World (at the swanky Siam Paragon) entry fee – $21.95 or 750 baht or PhP1020.50
Dinner at a noodle house across MBK – Pad Thai – $2.05 or 70 baht or PhP95.36
Dinner at a noodle house across MBK – Fried pork – $2.05 or 70 baht or PhP95.36
Sago-like dessert – $1.17 or 40 baht or PhP54.50
Coke in can – $0.44 or 15 baht or PhP20.45
Movie ticket for “The Happening” at a digital cinema – $4.70 or 160 baht or PhP218
Postcard stamp to the Philippines at the Suvarnabhumi Airport post office – $0.58 or 20 baht or PhP28.45
Original DVDs at different shops – range from 120 baht to 250 baht to 450 baht ($3.50 to $13)
Taxi from Pratunam to airport (including tip) – $8.80 or 300 baht or PhP407


Unknown said...

ang sarap naman nung atis at manga! but they're sooo expensive. i wouldn't buy them naman ata kung ganun kamahal even if theyre bigger than my head. P250 is a little too much for a single fruit.

oo nga, dinala ko minsan ang mama ko sa isang award winning digital film, pinagalitan ako pagkatapos - kasi ang labo ng pelikula. sayang ang pera. aanhin ko naman ang good story if i cannot enjoy the visuals. it defeats the purpose of a visual medium if what you're viewing is a blur. ako nadala na.

Anonymous said...

I didn't see those decorative statues at the Bangkok Airport when i was there last time. But they look beautiful. Very Thai. Thanks for sharing them.

Cathy Pena said...

my favorite photo is the first one. its beautiful!

eye in the sky said...

@lucy: you and cathy should be good friends. lol

P250 atis is too much, if you ask me. re:digital, sometimes, it isn't the filmmaker's fault. the megamall's (and i believe most of the digital film projector of SM Cinemas all over the country for that matter) are the culprit. They have a projector that leaves nothing to be greenbelt, when they show foreign digital films, the quality is great. i've seen the spanish thriller "intacto" there and it had superior cinematography. the colors and the figures are well preserved.

eye in the sky said...

hey manet. i can't be pretty sure but i believe those statues are newly installed, most probably just last june '08. thanks for the visit.

eye in the sky said...

hey cathy. mine too, that's why it's the very first photo in the set. i find photos taken from the inside looking out very dramatic.

Anonymous said...

You know what i find fascinating in your blog? It's the list of cities that have visited your site from all over the world.It took me all 15 minutes to read all of them - and so many places I haven't even heard of in my life! Great site. - Josh

eye in the sky said...

@Josh: I don't even bother anymore coz it takes forever. LOL

Thanks for the kind words, Josh.

jepayuki said...

this really shows how thailand has beautifully preserved its culture. the open air gallery looks interesting!

eye in the sky said...

hey jepay. that gallery was pretty amazing. it took my breath away! i wish i could have taken photos of the massive photographs of places I havent even heard of. on display were photographs taken from space, if i remember it right. these were the most beautiful landscapes i have ever laid eyes on. unfortunately, there was heavy light reflection on the photos themselves so i couldnt take "photos of the photos".

GMG said...

Hi Eye! After a short break but a long absence, I’m finally back to the blogosphere and found some time to enjoy your excellent blog…
Bangkok is ok, except for the weather and the Paragon that destroyed one of my favourite hotels... ;))
Meanwhile Blogtrotter is now in Kos on the way to Crete! Hope you enjoy and wish you a great weekend and a nice week ahead!

Oman said...

great post. reminded me of my trip there just early this year where i got probably my lifetime's fix of temples and buddhas.

sorry for not visiting sooner, i am still in my vacation in boracay and it is partly raining here so i got a chance to do some blogging. be back browsing in a jiffy. have a nice day.

eye in the sky said...

hey gmg, you're in greece and bloghopping?! thanks for the visit. i am green with envy as you head your way to crete. though i was able to travel and backpack my way through Eurail, i was not able to see Greece. Thus your post on them - WITH some texts to boot this time - are well appreciated. Your travels are an inspiration to a lot of people.

I wonder though which bangkok hotel you're referring to. Prior to my backpacking travels, my family and I always stayed in either the Holiday Inn along Silom or Indra Regent at Pratunam.

Anyway, have a safe and FUN trip ahead. More photos please! lol

eye in the sky said...

@Lawstude: Boracay isn't the place to bloghop! I would be wallowing in the crystal clear waters all day - if I were in your wet shoes. But thanks for the visit! Enjoy your holiday and take lots of great photos.