SHOPPING AND THE ART OF BARGAINING

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Thailand, it’s pretty easy to get lost in its many shopping malls, street side bazaar and even bargain sois. The number of shopping places are simply dizzying as do their offerings. Here are a few tips to help you make your shopping less stressful and more pleasant. First, keep your shopping close to your hotel so you avoid being caught in a traffic jam. And go only to shops located in clusters so you don’t have to go too far.

Before going, keep a pen handy to mark the places you want to visit. If you have a particular item in mind, it’s best to ask around first where you can get it. The concierge at your hotel and staff at some tourist information booths will usually know where you can get a good deal. If it costs less in a certain area, but you risk getting stuck for hours in traffic, re-evaluate if it’s worth the time and trouble. Rule of thumb in “saving” on shopping: If it costs a significant amount of time and money just to get there, it may actually be costing you more. Unless you’re a long-staying tourist, time, of course, is of the essence. Though, most shops are open until 9 p.m., or much later, you may think there plenty of time to browse, haggle, and and compare, but you’ll be surprised how fast time flies when you’re trying to find that “perfect bargain”.p5

Try to spend no more than ten minutes comparing and haggling for each item. Do remember also those small shops, even in large shopping centers, usually close on Sundays, while large department stores are open seven days a week. Markets offer great deals from jeans to souvenirs to great food. If you’re shopping in markets, plan your itinerary with a map. Be advised that shopping in markets is fantastic for bargains, but unlike air-conditioned malls, you could be dehydrated, and in extreme cases, suffer heat strokes. Keep a bottle of water handy, or relax and enjoy refreshments at restaurants or cafes in these markets. You’re not here to give a new meaning to “shop till you drop.” Haggling is the norm here and practically all shops will bargain, except the big department stores.

p6Some of the more tourist-oriented shop will display notices saying their prices are fixed, but even they are willing to bargain. Always bargain with a smile, play it like a game and you’ll be surprised with the results. Many Thais work long hours, but they always appreciate a smile and good humor. You’ll be amazed at how far a smile can take you when haggling in Thailand. If you can, shop around a little first to get a general idea of what the prices are. After the vendor gives you a quote, offer less than what you would expect to pay with (with a smile, of course) and see the reaction. Never, never, lose your temper or be nasty. As locals would say “Chai yen yen” – or keep it cool and you’ll be surprised at the result.

 

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Chinese delicacies in Thailand

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Chinese cuisine is not only known for its variety, but also for the meticulous preparations involved before cooking. The introduction to Chinese food often begins with a meal at a restaurant that serves Cantonese dishes. Everyone has probably tried dim sum, which literally means “touch your heart”. It’s basically an assortment of pastries and dumplings. Another sought after dish is Peking (Beijing) Duck, or grilled duck.

In most Chinese restaurants, Peking duck is usually served slicked and eaten with thin pancakes. It is accompanied by a sweet sauce make of fermented flour, scallions and thinly cut cucumber. Noodles are part of the standard fare. The Chinese believe that eating noodles leads to longer life. In making noodle in the traditional Chinese way, the dough is pulled and whirled through the air in order to stretch it.

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There are two kinds of noodles in Chinese cuisine: egg noodles or mien, and rice noodle, or bijon (called glass noodle in English). Whereas egg noodles are mostly shaped like thin spaghetti, rice noodles are wide like fettuccini and tagliarelle. According to the Chinese noodles can be served in three different ways; in a clear coup with meat and some vegetables, mixed with meat with a thick sauce (egg noodles:; or without sauce (bijon). Two of the more common Chinese soups, shark’s fin soup and bird’s nest soup, are thick not due to the addition of cornstarch but due to the two main ingredients that are simmered for several hours.

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In Thailand, there are many Chinese restaurants where prices are reasonable.

Beach and roadside buffet

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A country of outdoor kitchens and makeshift dining areas – these probably the initial impression a first-time visitor gets on his or her first few days in Thailand. At every corner, someone fries, grills or cooks something. A mobile kitchen on a bicycle or a small motorbike makes it possible to offer food on different locations. Anywhere you look and no matter what time it is, you will always see those ubiquitous food stalls.

In Pattaya, food paddlers are to the beach what files are to the buffalo. They come in swarms. Some even have charcoal ovens in tow, ready to grill your favorite seafood – crabs, shrimps, squids and seashells, whatever – right before your eyes.

Elsewhere, a huge parking area or a side-street transforms every night into a enormous restaurant with hundreds of fish, fried vegetables, dried squid, soup (with or without coconut milk), fruits, a variety of sweets, beers, and even Mekong, the Thai whiskey. There’s nothing really unusual about street vendors. Roadside stalls roasting chestnuts in charcoal braziers are common sights in most cities around the world. Not common in other cities, however, are pushcarts selling fresh, sliced fruits or preserved fruits. The fresh fruits, kept fresh by the ice at the base of the glass display, are sold by the piece, not by weight. The fruit commonly hawked are pineapple, watermelon, mango, guava, papaya, rose apple and other seasonal fruits.

Preserved fruits on the other hand are sold by weight. Another food commonly available from pushcart hawkers is coconut pudding or “Khanom Krok.” And what make it, interesting is that you get to see how it’s done – batter is poured into a large round pan with little potholes, covered, and cooked on a charcoal stove. The most common of all these mobile food stalls are those selling grilled meatballs (look chin ping) usually on barbecue sticks. They are dipped in a chili sauce before they are eaten.

Even roasted potatoes (mun ping) along with grilled eggs, can be bought from hawkers. Another favorite Thai snack, also available from itinerant vendors, is crispy pancake with fillings (Khanom Buang), which looks like Mexican taco. A spoonful of batter is cooked on a flat pan then filled with white icing cream, shredded coconut and egg yolk strips (Foi Thong) among other things. Of course, drinks are also available.

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There is green leaf water (nam bai bua bok) which has a unique smell and taste. Another popular hawker’s drink is the longan juice (nam lam yai), a brown-colored juice usually served with crushed ice. Travel isn’t all about sightseeing, beachcombing or bargain hunting. It is also about exploring food. In Thailand, there is much food to explore even along roadside.

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A paradise in Trat

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If you want to take a break from the glitz of Pattaya, go to the nearby province of Trat for a change of pace. Some of its most interesting attractions are:

Laem Ngob Laem (cape) Ngob, about 20 km from the town of Trat (Highway 3148) is where fishing boats moor on the long jetty. Locally preserved food, including shrimp paste and fish sauce, is on sale here. From the pier at the end of the cape, large vessels can be hired to Koh Chang and other nearby islands.

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Koh Kradat This is the only island in Thailand that is privately owned. The title deed for the island was issued during the reign of King Rama V. So called because of its flatness, Koh Kradat has some picturesque coconut plantations, pleasant beaches and a hotel with comfortable bungalows.

Koh Kradat and nearby Koh Rad are about 42 kms or 2-3 hours by boat from Laem Ngob. Both are blessed with exquisite landscape. They lend well to swimming and sightseeing. Owing to its good accommodation facilities,

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Koh Kradat is often used by tourists as springboard to nearby island like Koh Mak. Koh Kood A boat trip from Laem Ngob to this islands, located at the end of the eastern reaches of Thailand, takes about 45 minutes. It is about half an hour from Koh Kradat.

Klong Chao and Tarn Sanuk are two scenic waterfalls on the island. The name “Tarn Sanuk,” which literally means stream of fun, was given by King Rama VI in 1911. Koh Kradat, Koh Mak and Koh Kood are the only island off Trat which have not been declared part of the national park.

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Borai District Fifty-five kilometers from Trat is this former gem center of the eastern region, at title now held by Chanthaburi. Rubies were first discovered in Borai over three decades ago. A ruby festival is held here every year to attract tourists and potential buyers.

 

 

Love affair with the jumbo

p1In a country where Lord Buddha is highly revered, the story about an elephant taking good care of him during his life as a hermit tugs at the heartstrings of the people The Thais since time immemorial have always had special affection for the elephant. In ancient Siam, it was a national symbol, depicted in the country’s insignia.

During the reign of King Rama II, a picture of a white elephant was part of the national flag. That was nothing to be surprised about. During that time, the elephant was the chief means of royal transport. In special ceremonies or in battles, the king could always be seen riding an elephant. In the Sukhotai period, for instance, an elephant-riding King Ram Kang Hang the Great went to battle against the forces of Kun Sam Chon, ruler of Chod City, and won. In Ayutthaya, King Jak Kra Pad the Great fought against Prince Prae also while riding an elephant.

King Na Re Suan the Great fought against the army of King Oup Pra Raj the Great of the Hong Sa Wa Dee empire while astride mammoth-sized animal. Not to be overlooked, the elephant has been the country’s beast of burden, used to carry heavy logs across rivers and mountains. Although this has nothing to do with racism, the white elephants are plain lucky. Because of their rarity, they are elevated to royal status and consigned to a life of comfort with almost nothing to do.

The elephant had also played an important role in Buddhism. It is said that before Queen Sirimahamaya conceived Lord Buddha, she dreamed of a white elephant walking around her three times. It was widely believed that the white elephant in that dream was the infant Buddha getting into the womb of the queen.

A Brahman then predicted that the queen would give birth to a deity son who would be a great king if he chose to reign, or a holy man if he chose a spiritual life. Buddha was born and grew up to be a king. However, he later abandoned his royal heritage to live a life of a hermit in a remote village. In that remote village, the story goes, he found an elephant which took good care of him, finding food for him and even preparing his bed.

The elephant was said to have died after the Buddha left him to head for the Sawittee Empire. In a country where Lord Buddha is highly revered,such elephantine loyalty tugs at the heartstrings of the people.

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Jomtien Beach A thriving paradise

p1Known as “Paradise by the white sand and seemingly endless beach” even after Pattaya became famous as a beach resort give Jomtien Beach that special allure. Renewed tourist interest is evident. Even on an ordinary day, the resort is putting on the face of a fun-filled carnival. Colorful umbrellas dot the clean sands and sun worshippers in attractive swimwear, with food vendors maneuvering in between , crowd and spice up the scene. They make interesting foreground to the huge palm leaves that frame the overhead.

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The gentle breeze completes a tropical beach tableau. Jomtien Beach was already a tourist center by the massive development of Pattaya. Many years ago, this peaceful fishing village was a favorite destination of Bangkokian who came here in groups with friend or family. Jomtien Beach reverted to a stopover for lunch for those who want to lie down on the white sand beach and hang out with a group before leave from Pattaya.

p2The white sand beach is obviously the main attraction. But other attractions lived up the pace for those who want an action such as Skydiving, Kite boarding, Water sport etc. In the surrounding beach, unusual adventures and unique sight-seeing thrills can be enjoyed. Massage service, the fishing wharf and portside seafood restaurants provide a great day’s fun.

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Pattaya beach road by night

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During the day, Pattaya’s main promenade, the four-kilometer Beach Road that parallels the city’s curving Acapulco-like coastline, looks more like a seaside park-cool and breezy under the canopy of palm leaves with the blue calm waters for backdrop. As darkness falls, the road suddenly comes alive with twinkling lights from high rise hotels and condos and the neon signs of bars, shops, restaurants and businesses that cater to tourists. Part of the south end of the beach street is blocked off and made into a pedestrian mall appropriately called “Walking Street.”

The bars here often have “hawkers” on the sidewalk to attract business but they are not obtrusive. NO one is harassed or menaced. A simple “no” sends them away. Nevertheless, it is not an uncommon sight to see silvergray- haired white gentlemen walking with their arms around young girls. A word of caution though. You may be a faceless stranger in this city, but it’s well to remember that during this Orwellian age of live cams you can’t really hide in the crowd. Secret cameras are strategically located along Beach Road, Walking Street and on Jomtien Beach.

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These real time images are fed live to the Internet, allowing people around the world-wives or husbands back home- to watch you as you walk down these roads. Of course, such invasion of a visitor’s “privacy” doesn’t really matter, as long as you don’t do anything wrong or foolish, like taking a pick-up date for walk along these wired places. Two main streets run parallel to the Beach Road-the 2nd Road and the 3rd Road. Both are also full of shops and restaurants. The three streets are intersected by small alleyways, to create a herringbone grid. There are clubs and bars everywhere as well. To attract more upscale tourism and families, a number of very elegant hotels have been built around these areas. There’s the Hard Rock Hotel, not so far from Avani near the town center.

p4The Siam Hotel chain has two high quality comfortable properties. Then there’s Bayside, Bayshore, Dusit Pattaya. All with 5-star properties and world-class services. Pattaya may no longer be the sleepy fishing village it was fifty years ago. But, thankfully, life here remains neat and easy.