Bangkok Day 1 (6 Nov 14) – Soaking in the festive mood of Loy Krathong in the Land of Smiles

We planned this trip some months ago as a birthday trip for one of my friends. Coincidentally, his birthday falls on the same day as the Loy Krathong festival in Thailand. Loy Krathong festival is known as the “Festival of Lights” to the Thais and is celebrated on the 12th Lunar Month on the Thai calendar.  Loy Krathong literally translates to mean floating basket.
The bird that took us to the Land of Smiles
Arrival at Suvarnabhumi Airport
We took the first flight out of Singapore to Bangkok, cleared custom in relatively fast timing. Soon we found ourselves heading towards the hotel that we called home for the next 3 nights. The hotel we put up during our trip here is centrally located. We opted this hotel mainly for its centralised location and we were not surprised at the convenience of the location of the hotel when we arrived. As our rooms are yet to be ready (we were way earlier for the staff to check us in), hence we left our luggage at the concierge and headed for the nearest supermarket to stock up on drinks for the next 4 days. Before heading for Siam Square, we stopped by the famous 4-faced Buddha shrine – Erawan Shrine to offer our prayers to the Buddha and seek his blessings for a safe trip. This Shrine, located just in front of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, has continued to attract hordes of locals and tourists alike for its ability to grant wishes. It was 11am when we arrived at the shrine and already it was jam packed with people seeking blessings from the Buddha. After offering our prayers, we continued to head for Siam Square.
Taking a wefie at the hotel lounge
The famous Erawan Shrine at downtown Bangkok
Praying at Erawan Shrine is believed to bring good luck
Wefie at the shrine

As we were walking towards the supermarket, since there are some time for us to kill, I proposed to my friends that we head over to Siam Square, where the Hello Kitty House is located. One of my friends is an ardent Hello Kitty fan, hence the trip to the “pink house”. As Siam Square is not far from our hotel, we went there by foot. To reach Siam Square, there are a series of shopping malls that we had to cut through. The first mall that we walked past and into is the Central World Shopping Mall.  As we were through the mall, we bumped into a foreigner distributing samples of the cakes that the cafe is selling. Maxim’s Bistro is a French cafe, mainly sells cakes and is famous for their chocolate cake. I jokingly informed the staff that it was my friend’s birthday, the staff immediately invited us into the cafe and offered my friend a slice of their signature cake on the house for his birthday with no obligations from us. That is great service there. We chatted with the manager of the store whom invited us back the next day for complementary drinks.

 

Pastries at the cafe
Picture with the birthday boy
The cafe is rather contemporary and is a great place to chill
We continued our journey towards Siam Square, passing by Siam Paragon and finally reached Siam Square opposite Siam Paragon. We did not quite know where the Hello Kitty House is located. All we know is that it is in Siam Square. We searched abit around and finally found it. As it is a Friday afternoon, there is no crowd here (I was told that this place is packed during weekends). At first I thought we are going into some Hello Kitty Museum, but we were soon disappointed. This place is actually a shop with cafe selling Hello Kitty item, ranging from notepads to body lotions to cakes and coffee. The constant “Hello Kitty…. Hello Hello Hello Hello….. Hello Kitty” playing over and over again like a broken record soon started to annoy us. We hurried our ardent Hello Kitty Fan friend and got out as soon as we can. My verdict, this place is not worth visiting at all. After getting out of the cafe, we headed to the supermarket to get some food stuffs and drinks, in case we are thirsty or hungry at nights. By the time we were done, it is nearly 4pm, we headed back to the hotel for checking in and settle down. After checking in, we rest in our rooms for a bit before heading back out to Asiatique for Loy Krathong. (The staff at the hotel recommended for us to head out at around 6pm before the place gets crowded.)
My friend at Hello Kitty House
My friends at Hello Kitty House

We must have overslept. By the time we woke up, it is already nearly 8pm. We quickly readied ourselves and headed out for Asiatique, which is along Chao Praya River. To get there we took the BTS and then transfer onto the ferry for Asiatique. I love to travel via BTS in Bangkok as it is the fastest way to travel in relatively comfortable environment (Bangkok is infamous known for its horrendous traffic situation). We had to transfer to another BTS at Siam Square Station, as we were heading down to the next platform where another BTS will take us to Chao Praya River, we were shocked at what was in front of us. The platform was crowded! Despite the crowd, the Thais are still patiently and orderly standing in their queue awaiting to board the BTS (and so did we). As the BTS pulled into the station, we were being pushed into the train. Instead of finally it disturbing, my friends and I actually found it fun! This is something that we had not experienced before. The BTS was so jam packed that one will not fall from the jerking motion of the train, as there will be another person around you cushioning the fall. Despite the crowded BTS, people still manage to alight the train as the locals will alight for those further in to alight before boarding again. This is what I love about the Thais, patient and considerate.

Queuing up to board the crowded BTS
Boarding the BTS
The crowd onto the BTS is just amazing

We arrived at the BTS near Chao Praya River (Saphan Taksin). It is really crowded here, with most people going up the river towards Wat Arun for Loy Krathong or down towards Asiatique. As we alighted the BTS station, we saw numerous stalls selling mainly food and the floating lantern (or Krathong) for the festival. I told my friends to buy our Krathongs here instead of Asiatique, which is likely to be more expensive. And so we shopped for our Krathongs. There are basically 2 types on sale, on with the base made up of Styrofoam, the type made with banana tree trunk. I read that the one made of the banana tree trunk is more traditional and urged my friends to find one that is made of that material. To choose a Krathong, opt for the ones that are made out of banana tree trunk as it is more traditional, the top of the Krathong is based on individual’s liking on the type of flowers and the design the local vendor has on their Krathongs for sale. There are several design of the Krathongs with lots of stalls selling Krathong, other then the base (which to me is more important), the rest is really up to one’s preference on what flower they want on their Krathong. A Krathong usually has a base and is wrapped by a banana leaves, flowers, a candle and and incense. The Thais believe that floating a Krathong on this day symbolises letting go of anger and bad luck. A strand of hair, a clipping of finger nail, or a coin is usually being placed in the Krathong before floating it down the river.

Various Krathongs on sale
Shopping for Krathongs
Wefie with our Krathongs
My friends choosing their Krathongs
Shopping for Krathongs

It took us quite awhile to find a Krathong each to our liking. After picking our Krathong, it is another waiting game. As the crowd going to Asiatique is huge, we had to wait for the ferry that would send us there. We must have waited for around 1 hour before managing to board on towards Asiatique. Initially, I was a little puzzled at how we are going to release our Krathong, as there is quite a bit of height from at the harbourside in Asiatique, I have only read of people releasing Krathongs and not throwing them over.  Are we going to throw our Krathongs over the edge of the river or what???!! Soon the mystery was solved. Upon alighting from the ferry, we followed the crowd to the edge of the river. There is a long pole with a basket at the end for people to lower their Krathongs onto Chao Praya River. Despite the crowd, there were absolutely no pushing or chaos or anyone jumping queue. This is one thing I like about the Thais, people were generally patiently waiting for their turn to use the pole, and there is no need for any form of crowd or queue. Soon it was our turn to use the pole, before lowering the Krathong, I reminded my friend to put a coin into our Krathongs, symbolising good luck.  Using the pole to lower our Krathong into the river is harder than it looked. The pole was rather heavy and one would have to stretch, while balancing the Krathong on the pole and hoping that the flame on the candle do not extinguish. It is a mixture of strength, balance and more importantly luck lowering the Krathong into the river. Of the four of us, my Krathong is the only one where the flame on the candle did not extinguish. It must have been a tough job for one of my friends, whose Krathong toppled when she was lowering hers.

Boarding the ferry to Asiatique
My friend with her Krathong
Nearing Asiatique
The huge crowd at Asiatique
Asiatique at night
Krathongs that were lowered into the river
Me at Asiatique
Getting ready to lower our Krathongs
First have to light up the incense and then the candle
My Krathong ready to be lowered onto the river
Lowering Krathong
It takes strength and balance to lower the Krathong into the river
My friend trying her best to lower her Krathong
Posing for the camera while lowering her Krathong
My turn lowering my Krathong

After releasing our Krathong, we walked around Asiatique looking for some street food. I visited Asiatique last December and remembered there were street food. However not this time round. I generally find Asiatique to be boring. The food is expensive (comparable to restaurant in an upscale hotel in Bangkok) and the merchandise for sale are a tad more than what one will be able to find elsewhere. There are, however, several local designer clothing up for sale. As we planned to head to Chaktuchak Market in 2 days time, we thought it is not worth the time to do any shopping here. As Asiatique was very crowded, we left Asiatique and headed for Patpong for the night market. We managed to get a Tuk-tuk at a reasonable price. It was the first time experience on a Tuk-tuk for some of my friends, they were certainly excited over this popular mode of transport in Bangkok.

Walking around Asiatique
Asiatique at night
On a Tuk-tuk to Patpong
On a Tuk-tuk to Patpong 
On a Tuk-tuk to Patpong
We bumped our friend onto the floor of the Tuk-tuk

It did not take us very long to reach Patpong night market. This is one of the few night markets in Bangkok. Generally the prices of the goods here is rather reasonable. I thought it is a good thing that I can speak Thai, we managed to obtained some good bargains here. After walking for a good hour or two, it is time for us to settle down for dinner (or is it supper, as it was already nearly midnight). We headed for one of the road side stalls for dinner. The food was great and inexpensive. After dinner, we hailed a cab and headed back to the hotel to rest for the night.

Dinner at the roadside stall
The Tomyam chicken is very flavourful
Simple season of salt and pepper can bring so much taste to this sea bass

 

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[Hotel Review] – Conrad Centennial (Executive Suite), Singapore (18 – 19 Oct 14)

Location

Conrad Centennial is located next to the Millennia Walk Shopping Mall and Suntec City Shopping Mall. It is within minutes walk from Marina Centre Shopping Mall. The hotel is a great place to stay for those who prefer a convenient location and links to shopping malls and subway stations.

The Suite

Entrance to the Suite

I checked into the Executive Suite or the Chancellor Suite as named by the hotel. The suite was huge, measuring a good 104m². As I entered the somewhat classic looking suite, decked out with several pieces of artwork, a corridor leads the way into the suite. To the right of the corridor is where the powder room is located. This room equipped with a toilet bowl and a sink, which can double up as a second toilet. This suite allows one to entertain visitors and allow visitors to use the toilet without intruding into the sleeping area of the suite. To the left of the main entrance of the suite is another door, which can be opened using the same keycard as with the main door. This door leads to the sleeping area of the suite.

Chancellor Suite 
Powder Room
Some Artwork in the suite

Bathroom

Past the door that leads into the bedroom, on its left is where one can find a rather spacious wardrobe. The generously spaced 2 compartment wardrobe is sufficient for 2 pax to unpack their one’s week’s clothing into. One can find more storage space on the other compartment with 4 drawers for one to unpack into. To the right of the door, opposite the wardrobe, a marble laden bathroom greets guests. The spacious bathroom has a generous countertop on the sink area. Further into the bathroom, at the end of the bathroom, is the bathtub. Next to the bathtub is the walk-in shower. Tucked to the right of the door to the bathroom is where one will find the toilet bowl. The orange lighting in the bathroom, coupled with the marble material used to decorate the bathroom, gives one a feel of class in the bathroom.

Wardrobe
Walk-in Shower and toilet 
Sink and Bathtub

Bedroom

Passing the bathroom the area opens up into the bedroom. A cabinet housing a LED TV, nicely stowed away when not in use. There are a couple of drawers on the base of the cabinet where one can store more stuffs in. There is a dresser on the right of the entrance to the bedroom, with 3 drawers guests can ensure more storage space in the whole suite to stow away more items. Right across the room, by the window, is where one can find a study desk. The study desk has all the amenities where one needs to do some work. Next to the study desk is where a single seater couch lies. Placed at angle facing the TV, this is where one can relax into while watching TV or simply read a book. The centrepiece of this area of the suite is the king bed. The bed is placed opposite the TV for guests to lie onto while watching TV. The sleep quality on the bed is excellent, with extremely comfortable linens, one can be ensured with a good night’s sleep. The hotel also provides a menu of pillows for one to choose from should the standard issued pillows does not fit one’s liking. This area of the suite is large with ample storage spaces, this part of the suite does not feel claustrophobic and the space in this part is rather generous.

King Bed in the bedroom
View from the bedroom

Living Room

Exiting the bedroom into the main part of the suite, after the powder room, is where one can find the lounge area. Decked out with a 2 seater couch and a couple of arm chairs, this lounge area is where can relax and enjoy either the view from the floor to ceiling window behind the couches or watch a show on the 46″ LED TV.  Beside the couch, one can find a side table, where the hotel has placed a complementary place of tropic fruits and a couple of boxes of chocolates for guests to enjoy. In front of the couch is a coffee table. Placed opposite the couches is where one will find a cabinet with the TV on top of it. There is also a Nespresso Coffee machine on the same table top as the TV. Beneath the TV is where one can find a DVD player, which doubles up as radio. The entire suite was decked out in classical music from one of the radio stations to give guests a relaxing feel upon our entry to the suite. In the same cabinet, one can find a mini bar well hidden from sight. There are a few drawers where glassware for one to enjoy drinks from the mini bar.

Lounge Area
Lounge Area
Complementary Chocolates
Huge TV

Dinning Area

Further to the right (from the main door) of the lounge area is where the dinning area is located. This is a large area, where one can entertain guests for in-room dinner. The large round dinning table, with 6 dinning chairs allows one to just do that. The one thing good about this suite is the bedroom can be isolated from the general area, which allows one to entertain guests without compromising one’s privacy. In this area, one can enjoy the views of the nearby Suntec City shopping mall and a glimpse of the Kallang area. This is also where one can find a Chinese-themed cabinet with more storage space or simply for decoration. I would reckon the cabinet fits into the decor of the entire suite, despite being the only furniture with a  Chinese-theme. One on corner of the suite, next to a door which allows the suite to be converted to a 2 Bedroom suite, is another desk area for one to do their work on without entering the bedroom.

Dinning area
Dinning Table
More Artwork

Executive Lounge

Staying in the Executive Suite entitles its guests the access to the Executive Lounge. The lounge is a great place to wind down and relax, with refreshments available. The spacious lounge is bright and the floor to ceiling windows allow plenty of natural light to enter the lounge, making it more lively. There are a few good spots in the lounge. The one that I particularly like is that which faces the Marina Bay area. It looks into the bay area and the financial centre of Singapore. The only flaw with this view is the nearby hotel only offers partial view of the bay area. Nonetheless, this is still a great spot to relax in. There are food available at certain times of the day. The evening cocktail is when one will find more food options put up for guests to grab a bite with.

Executive Lounge
Snacks on offer
Snacks on offer
View from the Executive Lounge
View from the Executive Lounge
View from the Executive Lounge

Service

The service I received during my stay at Conrad this time round was impeccable. 4 outstanding staff that I have encountered during my say attested to the core principle of the hotel and what made Conrad a hotel worth coming back for. The first staff was Minh, the Assistant Front Office Manager. I arrived at the hotel and wanted to check in at the lounge instead of the reception, I approached the concierge, where Minh happened to be there. She went all way to ensure that I was well taken care off from the little non-intrusive gestures. I approached the front desk with the purpose of gaining access to the lounge, Minh escorted me all the way up to the 31st floor lounge area. She even offered to lend a hand with my baggage, which I declined. She ensured that I knew where to go and that her colleague at the lounge knew my purpose of visiting them.

The next staff that displayed outstanding service standards is Michelle, the Lounge Manager. I did not realise her position in the hotel until the day of my checking out, when she introduced herself. Michelle processed my check in swiftly and not wanting to let me wait for longer then I should. Michelle also took the initiative to engage in a conversation. She also reassured me to call the lounge should I need any assistance. Close to the time of my checking out, I received a call in the suite. It was Michelle who called and enquired how my stay in the hotel has been thus far. She also took notice that I did not appear at the lounge and showed concern if I was alright. It seemed that she felt relieved to find out that I have probably missed her during my visit to the lounge. It is during this phone call that I realise she is the Lounge Manager.

My suite was kept in a tip top condition by the hardworking background housekeeping staff. Theresa ensured that all the supplies were promptly topped up and the suite was maintained to the highest standard. From the way my suite was being maintained by Theresa during turn down in the evening and the make up room the next day (despite my checking out at 6pm on the same day), the suite was never in a shabby condition. Most hotels do not offer make up room on the day of checking out, even if they do, they would make up the room with the bare minimum standard which seem to echo the room will still be made up after the guest has checked out. None of these attitude was portrayed by Theresa. It can be seen that on the day of checking out, the suite I was staying in was made up to the same condition as when I first checked in.

On the next day, I woke up rather close to the time where the breakfast service ends. I quickly freshen up myself and found that I have only 15 mins to go when I reached the restaurant by the pool for breakfast. I apologised to the staff there – Grace, whom told me to take my time, and don’t rush. Her reassurance cannot come in a better timing. I was served coffee and egg and had a hearty breakfast. Despite being the last guest to enter the restaurant and despite the need to prepare the restaurant for lunch service, I was not even pressured by Grace or any of the other staffs at the restaurant. Grace kept the food at where they were for guests and only cleared them when I was done eating.

The lounge staff was fantastic this time round when I stayed with Conrad, which is a stark difference from my last stay in Conrad. The staffs were warm and was seen in engaging with guests. The staffs will always look out for the seat with the best view every time I visited the lounge. In one particular instance the lounge was full, the lounge staff housed me at the meeting room, which is isolated from the lounge. Despite the spatial distance, staffs at the lounge popped by frequently to clear my plates and checked if my drinks needed topping up. I had a chance to chat with Siti, who was very knowledgeable in travels and hotel stays.

Overall

I had a very pleasant stay in Conrad this time round. The suite assigned had really great views and the sleep quality is excellent. The suite is large enough for one to host up to 5 other guests, and the very fact that the bedroom was segregated from the lounge and dinning area makes hosting business meetings possible. The decor of the suite looks timeless and yet not tired. However as with my previous comments on this hotel, in terms of electronics there are some room for improvements. The powerpoint outlets seem limited and was positioned in inaccessible areas of the suite. The input to the TVs also needs upgrading to HDMI port instead of the existing VGA port. In terms of service, the hotel staff truly understands what customer service is all about. The staffs gave me a feel that they are willing to go all way out to ensure customers are comfortable during their stay with Conrad. Conrad has the hit the right note in terms of both hardware and software with customers, coupled with the convenient location, Conrad is an ideal spot for both business and leisure travelers.