Sunday, June 30, 2013

Those 28 seconds!!

I had promised to come up with the master dossier on my Thai expedition by today & even as i am struggling with a seriously bad throat infection and a blowing nose for the past few days i wish i am able to keep my word, especially for a dear friend who is flying there in next couple of days expecting me to be able to add some quality inputs to his own cherishable moments. So, here you go......

As a socially well connected individual one would definitely have come across lot of fency stories about the Thai land from his/her relatives & friends. I am sure not one of them would sound flattering to the ever so sensitive ears of the spouses of poor, hapless (mainly) husbands. They would (justifiably so) get restive in allowing their partners go solo (or worse, in a group of just males) to this forbidden country for the fear of unknown. I would always wonder what's so cheesy about this land but after having spent one full week there i do not have any more unanswered queries. Next time i won't get surprised on hearing comments like, "it's a shamelessly sleazy place"! No matter how hard you try to get away from this in-your-face reality you just can't find a place to hide from these streets full of 'action'! But then lotus grows amidst not so pleasant looking ecology as we also found in the form of myriad adventure activities to keep our adrenaline truly pumped for the rest of our lives. More on it later.

Infrastructure of the entire Thailand is of top quality & its maintenance is even more planned. You won't find a trace of trash any where on roads.

If one held the notion that Mumbai never sleeps than Bangkok shouldn't be blamed for feeling that it doesn't want the Sun to rise only to put a dim on its so vibrant night life which doesn't look at the hour on the clock to say, "time for the last order, sir"!

First up, Sukhumvit is possibly the best tourist friendly suburb of Bangkok. It has got easy connectivity to the airport & other parts of the city using either private cabs or public trains. It is home to all types of accomodations from budget dormitories & boutique hotels to the ultra sassy five stars. It also has loads of attractions for the party goers in Soi Cowboy, Soi 11, Nana 4. Essentially, if you are in Bangkok on a short trip than look no further. This is the place to stay to make the most of it. We stayed on Soi 18 for the first 3 nights & it was just "made to order" locale. From the reasonable 200-300 Baht for an hour of rejuvenating Thai Massage to a steep 130 Baht pint in a strip bar it has everything suiting all budgets. For the shopoholic in you it's a paradise with countless bargain malls in the vicinity vying for your attention. For the Domino's spoiled Indians it also has one (possibly the only in Bangkok) on Soi 16 & could come handy for many, especially the vegetarians. There are plenty of Sub ways though which have veggie delight on their menu unlike KFC's where vegans shouldn't try their luck.

While the aforementioned streets of Sukhumvit have a class of their own if one dares to visit the more (in)famous Pat Pong street of the adjoining Silom suburb it asks for some real guts to be able to stand up to a bunch of goons in a shady strip bar who would 'force' you to buy lady drinks which normally are priced double of your own draught pint! We got seriously embushed in one such filthy bar & had to nearly neutralize (!) half a dozen bouncers & their madam before being able to breathe outside! Completely avoidable place for all your time n effort! Sukhumvit rocks!

Even for all its formal demeanour Sukhumvit also has its share of enticing offering, especially on Soi 16 wherein on their menu the massage parlours put everything from the plain vanilla Thai Massage to the more exotic ones!! Take your pick. But as i said earlier here they don't force you into anything like Pat Pong does.

Besides enjoying the relaxing massages, night life & indulging in sinful shopping on clothes & electronics from MBK, Platinum malls & Indra market (every single person while returning home was carrying one LED TV as they come quite cheap here) one can find merit in some sight seeing as well in Bangkok. You have countless Buddha temples (Emerald & reclining ones are more popular) along with the Grand Palace (it's a pity that even after charging 500 Baht they don't allow visitors entry into a single room, not worth spending this money if you have already seen other more architecturally endowed palaces elsewhere at a fractional price)!

Bangkok's sweltering humidity could definitely dent your spirits while being outdoor during day time especially while you wish to enjoy your time on the indigenous floating markets. And then this city also has its own Madam Tussads', ocean park & safari among other attractions. Bangkok's world famous "Siam Niramit" show is worth a watch but after having already seen the much more vibrant "Kingdom of Dreams" back home we were slightly disappointed, mainly as our expectations were quite high from this show which finds a place in the Guiness Book as well! One thing is noteworthy that the ticket price for this show is 1,500 Baht if you do an over the counter (OTC) booking but with a city agent you can negotiate for even 1,050! Strange but true.

Due to a recent government promotion the tuktuks can give you an amazing bargain deal (20 Baht against 70!) if you agree to spend few minutes on a gems n jewellery showroom enroute. They get 5 litre of gasoline for those 5 minutes you spend there (albeit reluctantly)!!

If Bangkok hit you with its openness Pattaya would simply get you floored with its brazenly inviting appeal! Everywhere you go on the beach street & then as you enter the walking street (these two are the main city attractions) you realize that seemingly the entire economy of this place is dependent on sex tourism. You will find scores of pimps (or agents) walking up to you with graphic pamplets having unmentionables as menu items. After a while & once the feeling sinks in (as to where you are) you get calm on your nerves. It is nearly impossible to distinguish who is what i.e., a male, a female or simply a transvestite / transgender!! For all your sneering on it you also can't help appreciate this society's tolerance & warm embrace of that crucial part of humanity which otherwise doesn't find acceptance in most of the cultures. Hats off for that!

Be on your guard while in the walking street for you never know who could be keeping an eye on your necklace & would then lure you into something crazy while ensuring that s/he gets his/her gold trophy! I highly recommend visitors going with the minimal valuables & cash there. Still..just in case you end up losing that gold chain don't panic for it might have already found its place in the hairdo of that lady who had acted very cosily with you just few minutes back while her troupe was trying to engage you in some talks!! Boom boom!!

Coral island is one of the best known attractions of Pattaya but if you have done some watersports like parasailing & under sea walk already elsewhere you might just want to give it a miss as we did. There are some more engaging activities which you won't easily find elsewhere.

Pattaya is also very famous for its cabaret shows. We watched one such in Alcazar. It goes without saying that its price is negotiable as well. Try your shameless skills in it with a hotel or city agent. The show was truly amazing with some dance performances from across the globe! The auditorium simply erupted in chorous applause for the entire duration of "Nach Le" performance from bollywood. One can't figure out that all those beautiful performances were the art work of transvestites. Such aesthetic grace! Wow!

There was another famous Tiffany's show as well but we gave it a miss as it's seemingly almost the same. Instead we dared to buy for ourselves 800 Baht tickets (OTC price was 2,400) of the naughty "Big Eye" show & the moment we entered we realized it was "strictly" for "adults" show. One shouldn't take their kids, parents & siblings here to avoid the 50 minute long embarrassment. The show is all about crude sexuality & its display in various forms, be it by males, females or the transgenders. I won't get into giving the graphic details of any of such 'acts' but would recommend this show only to those mature adults who don't get unsettled easily with this kind of a brutal cultural shock. Go find it yourself. My take from the entire show was the simply unbelievable acrobatic dance on a 10 metres (or more) high pole by two female dancers. It truly defied all laws of gravity!!

Near Pattaya there is a dolphin resort which takes booking only on its website so no scope for getting a bargain discount here but it gets relatively cheap for a group of 6 or more people. For a solo enthusiast it seriously costs a bomb!! For the first 45 minutes of the show the 4 dolphins entertain you with their trainers & indulge in various antics to keep the clapping going on. The real fun is in the next half when you get to swim with the other 3 dolphins. It's a blissful experience & kids of the age group 6-13 would simply love it. You don't need to know swimming for this activity.

For the water lovers there is scuba diving as well wherein European professionals take you deep in the sea (from the shores) & train you meticulously into various aspects of scuba before you could actually enjoy the underwater beauty yourself. It's seriously a very hard routine for these individuals to train novice enthusiasts & non swimmers like me under some very unpredictable conditions. Hats off to them for keeping their cool even as their patience might be running off at times. Blame it on rough sea weather in Pattaya (on that day) which is an impediment for a thoroughly enjoyable time under water i found the corals & reef of Andaman & Tioman Island much more colourful & versatile (that too when i just did snorkelling there).

I would always tell myself that i want to dearly do a bungee jumping before i die & here in Pattaya we got this opportunity to jump from 50 metre. For all of my bravedo i knew it beforehand that it's not going to be easy by any stretch of imagination & it didn't help the way both of my legs got so tightly tied together. Before i could take the plunge the pain was getting increasingly unbearable even for my kind of tolerance. It certainly wasn't the best frame of mind if one is expected to jump unaided & just with that rope as your saviour! Even before i could hold my breath to let the fresh air in & gather courage the trainer just pushed me from the platform! Here i first went down & then swung endlessly like a volatile pendulum for next few minutes. I must have screamed more in this activity alone more than all of what i did in my nearly three & a half decade of existence put together. To say it was a nasty & avoidable experience would be an understatement!

This trip became more enjoyable as we made friends with two Pakistani siblings. They were such a joy to be with & those 60 or so hours we spent with them will stay with us forever. Their Ammi (mother) was such an epitome of affection. I do look forward to visit them & also to host them soon.

As they say, "keep the best for the last". Sky diving has been on my check list for a while now & it was a pleasant surprise to have discovered it here in Pattaya! Sure, it doesn't come cheap but i am equally sure it won't be cheaper in any part of the world than what is offered here. At 14,000 Baht for one (including video), i knew it's gonna be a memorable one for me. The entire experience from the very moment you dress up in the gear & get introduced to the crew of your tandem jumper & photographer till the time you actually jump from above 10,000 feet is beyond words. You slowly go higher in the plane & mid-way when the door gets opened to allow fresh air in you get goose bumps in sheer anticipation of what's gonna come. At the ATC recommended height when you know the moment has come you don't feel the same as you did while bungee jumping. In fact, quite inexplicably, feeling is that as if you are just about to get into the heaven! Wow, incredible! Now the real dive. Initially you don't even realize that you are free falling at 200 Kmph! You feel like remaining in that stage of tranquility forever. Oh so beautiful clouds & then you see the land down there while your photographer is busy capturing your excitement & frenzy. All of a sudden the fall is curtailed as the parachute opens & you wonder for how long did you actually free fall and why can't that duration be prolonged! You don't trust when your trainer tells you it was around 30 seconds. You gradually get down & the video indeed confirms that you did free fall for 28 seconds! Oh my i wish time stopped its haughtiness then just for few more moments to allow this poor, deprived soul enhale "the life"!

See it for yourself in the award winning short film of the Millennium (featuring yours truly) :-)


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Rape of Conscience

"If you chose to continue to vote for the corrupt, rape of women would also continue at the same pace"!!

With great amusement (for a change) i am watching a ferociously livid Arnab Goswami lambasting Arvind Kejriwal & his Aam Aadmi Party for using this message (as a crude political slogan in Hindi) to serve its political interests well. Despite trying my level best I fail to appreciate why should he be so agitated to discount it as merely use of a 'fear psychosis'. To me, this is a very thought provoking use of (albeit a not so civilized one) a political tool (that's the way it is & that's how it should be perceived as). Arnab himself is pulling from his treasure drove yet another ream of papers brimming proudly with factual data that tells that between Feb & March on 23 days 145 rape cases were registered in the NCR i.e., more than 6 rapes a day!! Quite a numbing stat.

Isn't it anybody's guess that indeed women of Delhi really get scared should they have to venture out unescorted by a MALE family member after the sun sets? It's not merely a media sensationalization. It's a HARD hitting reality on which their Mumbai counterpart would just not believe as in my own personal experience females here won't even care to look at the cab or rickshaw driver's face even if they are boarding alone in the odd night hours on a not so busy bylane.

Given this not so to be proud about ground zero situation why shouldn't AAP be allowed to make it an election campaign agenda item? Just to clear any misinterpretations (which obviously might have creeped in by now) i equally loathe all our politicians, whether seasoned or wanna be's and AK & his troupe is no different. What if the underlying promise he is making to make Delhi as safe (if not more) for women as Mumbai is? What if he deem to convey that statistically (sorry but that's the only available benchmark in the context) his party ought to bring this six point something average to less than the first positive integer from the moment the party comes into power? When Sheila Dixit could enjoy the support of leutens for three consecutive terms & still she has to shoo the media away on any discomforting query after a registered rape why not someone who has the audacity to claim bringing this crime rate against humanity to an absymally low level be given a hearing? What's the harm in allowing this poor chap to explain his agenda as to how his party is going to ensure this ostensibly mammoth clean up, not of the system but that of the minds? I believe he does merit your attention. If he is not able to convince you show him the door. Right?

Just a food for thought your truly thought of serving today.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

What a roller coaster of a trip!!

Don't get flummoxed by the title. It's not any extravagent elaboration of puny instances. It certainly is an eventful one even as i am finally in receipt of an email notification (on 20th June) from the passport admin stating, "Your passport has been dispatched on 2013-06-19 through speed post." It also mentions my passport details like passport no., file no. & speed post tracking no. (eventually)!

Sitting in a foreign land since 16th June i am clueless as to how to react to this super efficient system of our passport department who when i needed it didn't give & now when i already have it for the last 6 days they have sent the tracking details (please refer my last two posts to connect the dots)!

Coming back to the main agenda, to honour my own meticulous follow ups & to not let the disappointment i had just the previous night prevail upon my spirits (and to some extent prove my doom sayers wrong who had written my obituary on this already) i did make the last minute air ticket rescheduling for myself & next day fresh bookings for my wife (making it an official cum leisure trip). I relied on my old trusted travel agent to do the hotel bookings on the next day (not for nothing do i blindly trust him) & left for the Thai land alone while it was raining wolves n mongose.

Few tips (some of them are general & few specific to Thailand).

1. Make sure that you get enough & planned foreign currency for the country you are traveling to. I did not as my plan itself was not confirmed till the very end. At the airport the money exchanges could charge you as much as they wish. Just the last day my colleagues had bought the Thai Baht @ 1.98 INR. At the Mumbai airport i spoke to few agents & their asking rate was 2.35!! I negotiated hard & felt relieved when i could get it in 2.03. My happiness didn't last when he handed over the bill with INR 1,200 as the service fee (inflating the exchange rate further to 2.11)! To me it was a fraudulent charge as none of my colleagues were asked to pay it even as the other agent did actually hand deliver the Baht at our office.

2. There is a recent policy change at the Indian immigration. For the people traveling to "Visa on arrival" destinations they now demand both a return ticket as well as the confirmed hotel booking voucher(s). I just had the former (that too i got printed at the airport counter of Air India) & had a tough time explaining to the officers that i indeed was originally booked with my other office delegates who had flown & reached already. It did help that i could recollect the name of the hotel (or certainly they had me sent back from the airport itself).

3. If you love your spirits make sure you do an advance booking at the Mumbai airport where the duty free gives you a 5% discount on the already discounted prices while handing over that awesome looking calf leather bag to you which Glenlivet is using for its promotion. You can pick up your sculpturous beauties (ah, i meant the bottles guys) on your return! Can it get any better than this?! I certainly am not complaining unless the (uncertain & harmless looking Cobra like) volatile INR retracts from its heavy losses against USD in one week's time.

It was a welcome relief when Air India upgraded my rescheduled ticket to business class.

4. At the Bangkok airport the visa on arrival counter might have a long queue depending upon your time of landing. If it's pretty long to dampen your mood spending a 20% premium of 200 Baht to avail the express service might just be worth it. I used it & i do strongly recommend it. They don't give any receipt for the "extra" amount thus making it a legally admissible form of corruption.

5. Don't forget to get your "arrival" stamped. I found it really amusing that at the time of departing from Thailand my name didn't have any entry against it! Obviously some one had forgotten this piece on my disembarkation. Not at all my fault but it could certainly rob you off those coveted 30-40 minutes you had planned for the Bangkok duty free.

6. If you are going directly to Pattaya then hiring a taxi won't cost you cheaper than 1,500 Baht. If you bargain really hard you might just be able to cut the deal in 1,200! A rather cost effective way is to wait for the hourly bus service for which you can book the ticket between exit 8 & exit 10. Ticket price for this air conditioned, 2×2 set-up having a toilet is a meagre 134 Baht! I later found that inter city public bus service of Thailand can probably give its European counterparts a run for its money. Amazingly planned & maintained world class infrastructure does its bit to smoothen the proceedings.

7. Bargaining is an essential life style evil in Thailand, especially in Bangkok & more painstaking on weekends. For everything from hiring tuktuks n cabs to settling a good massage deal requires sharp reflexes or you might just end up doling out 250 Baht for that 1 Km walk which you won't mind covering on foot.

I can go on & on to share some interesting facts but now that i am through with my trip i would rather try to come up with my experience with some of the most common engagements while in Thailand & some not so popular ones (which would indeed stump many of you). So, keep looking for this space for the next trivia filled, saucy yet factually correct, authentic & informative dossier in next few days. Till then, just keep planning your own trip to this vibrant country offering myriad varieties of recreational work outs.

p.s.: i intended to publish this on around 20th June itself but recurring & exciting opportunities to indulge myself in made sure i couldn't finish it in one go. Apologies for the same. I'll strive not to disappoint you in the much anticipated edition of yours truly's blog by the end of this week.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Am i livid??!!

What a bummer!! As predicted y'day i got my passport now & still the "Application Status" on the passport website is the same as it was 48 hours ago!
"Your Passport has been printed and You would receive an sms/email once the passport is dispatched."
For the uninitiated i haven't received either an SMS or an email yet!
Had they taken care of their so dependent systems & corrected it in time i would at least have known the speed post tracking no. the day before or even y'day! What's the point in having a portal when you can't manage it with your own internal info & then you make the hapless applicants suffer on ends for pretty inocuous reasons like change in name of a city, etc which the whole world knows but you chose to remain oblivious. Such a disgrace!!

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Mirror.... reflects you in your entirety without making room for any narcissist euphemy. It makes you feel proud for what good you feel about yourself but ah! It also doesn't compromise in pulling you down on your most pain inflicting chinks in armour. After a long time i felt the latter today when after waging a lone, perseverant battle for over 3 weeks i am forced to give up. After my (in)famous, unprecedented victories against some of the top corporate honchoes for standing up to my rights i got the bitter taste of medicine and how. This time (once again) i tried to beat the time in my bid to get my passport renewed for our offsite conference starting today. The enervating process flow ensured i had to eat the humble pie at no less than five places for over a dozen of times put together. Did i like the taste? Of course not so indulgently as i relish my supply of juicy lichees & soul quenching alphonsoes. With so many lawmakers, beaurocrats & white collared stakeholders holding their guns, some pumping doses of their inflated ego, some unashamedly & nonchalently blinking with their material desires on the opportunity being thrown upon them i felt like i was on a 10 Km steepalchase, jumping on each one of the hurdles with little less than the perfect maneuvoring.... until today! Eventually i could ensure printing of my passport y'day but then it's foolhardy to presume yourself victorious until you get your hands on cup! I might get it some time before noon tomorrow, just few hours after it would have made for a meaningful purpose. Not that it's going to make a difference to me for the missed company but certainly it has made me realize that from now on i shouldn't live in a fool's paradise by backing myself in doing the unthinkable! I raise both my hands with great humility. I thought that mirror was certainly biased for me but how could it change its chemical properties to make me feel biologically any different :-)

Everlastingly yours

Typos be excused it being a car seat composition on way back home ;-)