THROUGH MY LENSES : BANGKOK & PHUKET, THAILAND

 

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In May, I booked a one-way ticket to Bangkok and set foot on the most visited city in Southeast Asia. I had very little planned for the trip but I was sure of eating lots of Thai food, visiting monumental sites filled with history and culture and a lot of tuk tuk riding.

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THE GRAND PALACE

The Grand Palace is the go-to tourist attraction in Bangkok. As soon as you reach 100 metres from the entrance, you’ll see at least five large tourist groups. It was the residence of the Thai monarchy since the 1780s. It is large and extensive, incredibly majestic with the most remarkable gold and embellishments. Inside the palace holds The Temple of the Emerald Buddha and you’ll see hundreds of Buddhist swarm the temple, pray and give their respects. The temple itself is almost impossible to enter but when you do, you won’t regret it.

However, I can’t help but be critical of the entrance fee of the palace itself. It’s THB500 per person and with thousands, if not hundred thousands, of visitors a day, it seems like the government is profiting a whole lot off of, not only tourists, but devoted Buddhists who not only pay for the entrance fee but willingly make donations as well.

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CHAO PHRAYA RIVER BOAT TOUR

I don’t think there’s an activity more recommended online than the boat tour. When you exit the Grand Palace and turn to the left, you’ll end up at a pier with multiple boat tour & travel companies. All you have to do is choose a company, and haggle your price. Haggling is an integral part of travelling in Bangkok. I’m no good at it but thankfully, my travel partner is and we managed to save some money from the hiked tourist prices. Be sure to go as low as you can, and the ticket seller will give you his best price.

The boat will take you across the river than through a long stretch of villages, which isn’t a pretty sight because of the outright poverty. You’ll see lopsided wooden houses, houses as small as a public bathroom, massive private villas and a couple of boat markets. If you go at off-peak hour, you can even get the boat to yourself.

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JIM THOMPSON’S HOUSE

Jim Thompson is referred to as the Thai Silk King. He ran a Thai Silk company in Bangkok and had clienteles like Vogue and other major fashion houses. In the 1960s, he visited Cameron Highlands and nobody heard from him since. His house and collection of art and interesting collectibles like various China patterns and Buddhas have been kept and preserved. With only THB150, you can get an intimate English tour of the house and it is absolutely spectacular. There’s nothing more interesting than a dead White man who had a rather peculiar interest in the culture of the third world.

In all seriousness, I really do recommend it.

 

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After three and a half days in Bangkok, we set foot in Phuket. We almost missed our flight to Phuket, which would’ve been a disaster for me. I never miss my flights and I would like to keep that record.

We arrived at Phuket International Airport with very little plans, no hotel booked or a ride to the city. We were surprised to discover that we were really far from the city and the only way there was by taxi or a charter, and all options were very expensive. So, we took the cheapest route there was and made a quick decision to stay by the beaches. The minibus went from the airport to Patong-Kata-Karon so we had to choose between the three. We stayed in Kata the first night and woke up to a very quiet town. There was barely any halal food and we felt deserted.

When we saw an airport charter drop off his last passengers at our hotel, we asked for a ride and moved to Patong, which was the best decision we made during the trip. Patong was loud and crowded but cheap and convenient. We got a cheap hotel with the beach and three halal restaurants right outside. Everything is in walking distance; you name it. Family Mart, 7 Eleven, souvenir stores, McDonalds, Burger King, seafood restaurants and most importantly, cheap massage parlours. We had a massage every single day, stayed by the beach, ate halal food, drank fresh coconut water. We were living our best lives. The best thing about all of it is it was affordable.

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There are indeed a lot of things you can do in Phuket. You can go to the islands, go on a yacht group tour, go snorkelling, visit the elephant sanctuary (something I am very keen on doing), visit more Buddhas. However, these activities are pricey and since we didn’t want to cash out on it, we decided to do them when we have some time and of course, money to revisit. What we did do though, is para-sailing. We were each tied up to a boat and flew over the beach. It was absolutely incredible. The best part is we haggled and got the price slashed by half.

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My first Thai milk tea, mango sticky rice and pad thai in Thailand
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Pad thai
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From top left; tom yum & fried rice, nutella crepe, coconut ice-cream, butter chicken and garlic naan (Indian), banana & nutella pancake

With every trip comes the popular question, “What about the food?”.

Food in Bangkok is very easy to find. There are streetfood carts everywhere, selling fruits, papaya salads, meatball noodles, banana pancakes; all for a good price point but if you’re looking for strictly halal food, it’s not as accessible as you may think and they’re a bit more expensive. The area I was in was abundant with halal Indian/Arab restaurants but you can only eat enough tandoori chicken and chicken tikka masala for a couple of days. Maybe find a Muslim area to stay in and you’ll discover Muslim-owned/halal Thai restaurants that are completely off the grid. The good thing is Thai supermarkets stock up on halal meat so if you’re keen on cooking your own meals, it’s an excellent choice. Luckily we stayed in a serviced apartment so we made our own breakfast and dinner.

Phuket is, however, a safe haven for halal food. You can find it anywhere and everywhere, and it’s not exclusive to Indian/Arab food. There is a halal restaurant in every few metres and there’s a large variety of Thai food to choose from.

Talk again soon,
Hani Lutfi

2 thoughts on “THROUGH MY LENSES : BANGKOK & PHUKET, THAILAND

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