Normally, I would avoid group tours because the rest of the people in the group would be strangers that shared little or no common background with me. Thus, it was with a little apprehension when I signed up for a trip of Bangkok with other members of The Old Frees' Association. Granted that we were all members of the OFA, there was still some disconnect when we met at the Penang International Airport on the morning of 4 Nov 2016. But the uneasiness dissipated very fast because there were at least two familiar faces among the 11 of us. Those who were strangers quickly became known as we exchanged pleasantries. Perhaps it was that old school tie feeling after all, the ground-breaking question being "what year were you in school?"
I signed up for the Bangkok trip basically because I saw a visit to Maekhlong in the itinerary. I had always wanted to go there to see that famous railway market that would fold up whenever a train approaches the Maekhlong station. But the journey from Bangkok to Maekhlong was a long one, about one-and-a-half hours each way. To travel to Maekhlong on my own would be perhaps out of the question. Thus, seeing that the whole tour group would be taken to this town made me sign up unhesitatingly for the trip.
However, this was a trip that almost didn't happen subsequently. Soon after I had signed up for it with the OFA office, I was persuaded to make the trip to Dittisham instead. Of course, Dittisham would be impossible for me to miss amidst all the excitement of Penang Free School's Bicentenary celebrations but to go to Bangkok as well would stretch my resources a lot. Hence, I almost gave up on the Bangkok trip except that my wife persuaded me not to. It wouldn't be nice to pull out after you have committed to it, she said. And that was why the fourth of November found us on a 4D3N trip to the Thai capital.
Bangkok turned out interesting but the demise of the Thai King put a somewhat damper on our visit as we found the city largely in mourning. I would believe that no-where but in Thailand where the late King was so respected that I would find the common folk willing to wear black clothes, or at the very least dark-coloured clothes, as they go about their daily lives out of respect for their late monarch. And not for one day only; perhaps for the next 100 days from 13 Oct 2016 until the funeral. Entertainment establishments were asked to stop blaring their music publicly although indoors could be another different matter altogether. Thus, when we visited Khaosan Road in the evening of the first day for our dinner, we found a street still full of tourists in colourful attire, it was a music-less occasion and quiet except for normal conversation. The shops and restaurants were manned by Thai people wearing black. Quite dreary, in my opinion, but there was nothing more shocking than to visit the Grand Palace on the second day to find the whole place filled with Thai citizens and all in black as they visited to pay their last respects to the late King. We tourists were asked to wear dark-coloured clothes and pin a small black ribbon on our sleeves as a mark of respect too.
ART IN PARADISE (3D interactive museum)
Don't expect too much in this tourist destination which is located on the fourth floor of a quiet shopping mall. However, the exhibits did bring out the kids in us, even from 70-plus year-olds.
Touristy place, full of foreign backpackers but also full of tourists from the Asean region. We had about two hours here, of which the first hour was spent on locating local Thai food. We were famished and we found one such restaurant there.