It ran from 4 to 5 June and it was held in a fancy five-star hotel. It began with massive pomp and circumstance as a member of the Thai royal family delivered the keynote speech. I arrived at the hotel 3 minutes before the day was due to start, and when I walked in, I was greeted by a long red carpet and the sight of numerous people in black blazers and pants/skirts, and men in uniforms carrying guns. I had no idea that there would be royal presence at the conference, so I was understandably shocked and confused. I kept thinking, Um, am I in the right place?
It was awkward walking into the hotel in front of all those people. Even if they didn't really give a crap about me, it still felt like I had all eyes on me as I looked around in bewilderment, trying to find sign posts that directed me to the conference room. It was with much relief that I located the venue and hurried up some stairs to the second floor.
I was put in a spill over room with a handful of other participants because the main room was full; the royal couldn't possibly deliver a speech to a room that wasn't packed to the brim!
I tried to listen, but I was bored. That pretty much summed up the whole conference for me. It wasn't that the topics weren't interesting; it was that some speakers were government officials, others UN bureaucrats, and a few were from civil society - which meant that most of what was being said had little nuance. Sometimes I felt like I could've just gone on to a government website and read for myself whatever the speaker was reading to me on stage.
Therein lies the other problem: a lot of them were reading from a script. As someone who frequently did that, I can understand why, but it really doesn't make for engaging presentations. (I resolve to not read from a prepared script the next time I have to do public speaking, which would ideally be never, but the career path that I want unfortunately involves a lot of public speaking.) The more interesting speakers were the ones that spoke off the cuff, such as an Australian barrister who has been working in Indonesia for the past 20 years and spoke on the importance of legal aid in justice reform. I also liked another speaker, someone from a non-legal background, who has been implementing programmes to create jobs for marginalised people living in the poorest parts of Thailand, who took to producing and selling drugs to make a living. This man read from a script but he was really passionate in his delivery, and his was the only (I think) non-legal and non-nonsense presentation that gave a concrete case study of how the production and trafficking of illegal drugs can be combated by identifying the root cause of the problem, and then implementing schemes to tackle the problem.
I also rather enjoyed an NGO representative railing against investor-state dispute settlements, if only because that's what my boss does and I was imagining his reaction to her speech.
The rest of it was quite boring. The food at the hotel also left something to be desired. It gave me stomach cramps the first day, probably the result of too much iced water. On the second day, an hour or so after lunch, as I sitting in the conference and getting ready to listen to the afternoon panel, I felt a distinct burning sensation in the upper part of my stomach. I willed it to go away but it got worse instead. It was accompanied by an itching sensation on my chest and other parts of my body, and a weird feeling in my throat. It was so bad that I left halfway through the Q&A of the last panel and dragged myself back to the hotel, where I laid on the bed and felt like my stomach was burning a hole in my body. I took two tubes of the baojiwan that my dad bought and which my mom brought and the burning feeling went away after a while. However, I saw small bumps on random parts of my skin; I felt a bit feverish; and later, when the stomach was okay, my palms became quite red and I felt like my hands were swelling up when my mom and me walked out to the BTS station to get dinner.
It was either food poisoning or a weird allergic reaction to something that I ate at the hotel. The thing is, I only had some Thai fish cakes, some fish with white sauce, some fruits and an old-looking pineapple. In short, it was nothing out of the ordinary, except the pineapple, which I don't normally eat (too sour and disgusting) but which I tried that day because my colleague said it was sweet. Maybe that was it, but I have no idea, and now that it's a few days since the incident, I am too lazy to get myself tested for allergies. My logic was (and still is), if I was still breathing normally, it wasn't that serious, i.e. I wasn't gonna die from it, i.e. I probably won't die from it if it happens again - so fuck it, innit?
That was the conference. Let's now move on to Bangkok.
Bangkok is utterly boring. It is like Singapore but dirtier, messier, hotter and more (way more) congested. Having already done the sight-seeing in 2006, there was nothing else to do but shop and eat. I loved the eating part, but the shopping - I mean, if I wanted to shop, I would shop in Singapore. I've long since grown out of buying cheap but average quality clothes (I threw away most of the stuff I bought in Bangkok in 2006 without wearing them) and the malls have all the usual brands that we get in Singapore anyway, and they are even more expensive than in Singapore. I got bored of walking around in the malls in Siam on Saturday, killing time with my mom before meeting a friend of mine for lunch, and the only reason we were there was because my mom broke her shoes and needed a new pair. Siam Paragon was boring, Siam Centre or Square was a bigger version of Basement 1 at Far East Plaza, and Central departmental store next to Central Embassy (near the hotel) was boring too. We didn't go to the markets because we were simply not interested. I mean, the idea of crowding with 38472574634 people in a narrow lane in the middle of the day in that disgusting heat was simply not appealing in any way, shape or form; as such, we didn't bother checking out the weekend market at Chatuchak (I was also put off by the idea of stalls selling animals, knowing the distress it would cause me to see animals treated like shit and being utterly powerless to do anything about it).
In the hopes of doing something interesting, we took the BTS and then the tourist ferry to Wat Arun on Saturday afternoon. It was apparently a temple that we missed on our first trip; I had no recollection of being on a boat, let alone passing by the temple on the said boat, on that trip, but I took my mom's word for it.
The BTS was mercifully not that crowded on the way to the pier (but it was crowded every other time we took it). The boat was okay. The temple was probably beautiful, but I couldn't really tell because it was covered in scaffolding. The parts that weren't under renovation were indeed beautiful, but I couldn't appreciate or enjoy because it was so, so, so blazing hot. I was also made to wear a sarong because I was in a dress with a hem that didn't cover my knees, which made me really uncomfortable. All I wanted to do was to take it off.
All in all, it could've been interesting but it was really fucking hot. My mom kept nagging at me to use my umbrella too. I eventually gave in when I started fretting about skin cancer.
We sat down in the shade for a drink, then after a quick walk around the rest of the place, went back by the boat and BTS to Central Embassy where I introduced my mom to the amazing Thai tea crepe cake (pictured two entries back) from Audrey Cafe & Bistro. I also ordered the milo version to try but alas, it was a bit too rich. The tea one is definitely the best.
Since I'm on the subject of food: I am so in love with pad thai and Thai food in general. If I ever go back to Bangkok voluntarily, it will only be for the food and to see my friends. I love pad thai. My roadside pad thai was delicious. I also dragged my mom to this super famous pad thai stall 20 minutes away by taxi called Thip Samai (this was after the tea crepe cake and at the end of the temple day). We were shocked by the queue that formed outside the humble restaurant, but the queue moved really quickly, probably because there was a grand total of four items on the menu, all variations of pad thai. The wait was maybe 10 minutes. We both ordered the signature pad thai, pad thai wrapped in a thin layer of egg.
I don't know what it is about the pad thai, but it more than lives up to its hype. It was staggeringly delicious and came with two fat giant prawns, all for a measly 80 baht. It was fucking crazy! What was crazier was that the big bottle of orange juice we bought cost 150 baht alone! (It was yummy though, and this is coming from a person who hates orange juice. The pulp was tasty.)
When we left, we saw that the queue had multiplied. I was so glad that we didn't arrive any later because the queue would have been really annoying. I never queue for food in Singapore, and only do so when I'm overseas; this queuing was definitely worth it.
We ate at Eathai twice, because it was convenient and tasty to boot. It's a Thai food version of Marche, basically. It has a lot different types of Thai food, from street food to main course food to desserts and drinks. The chili paste fried rice that I had the first time wasn't great, but the fish cakes were mind-blowing, as was the Thai otah thing. OH MY GOD! I think those two items were a big reason we had lunch there on Sunday before our flight home. The fish cakes were particularly surprising; when I was looking at the fish cakes, I couldn't figure out what they were. They looked kind of gross because they were all shriveled and wrinkly; Thai fish cakes are usually found and flat. I was a bit dubious, but was pretty much sold when I took a piece of the sample to try. DELICIOUS! So unhealthy and oily but delicious! It was chewy and the mix of spices and herbs was perfect.
The otah thing was amazing too. It came in four small pieces and it was definitely not enough!
We also ate at a restaurant that we went to in 2006; my cousin (who was on the trip too) brought us there, and I distinctly remember the seafood otah thing in coconut. Sadly, it didn't taste as good as I remember it to taste, but it was still pretty good. We were joined by Jikky, a Thai girl that I met on my last night in London through Paz at a Latin American party right before I left for The Hague. She was so enthusiastic about meeting up with me when I was in Bangkok that I made sure to make it happen!
She ordered tom yam goong for us. Delicious. The green curry was delicious too. The fried fish with fried lemongrass that she ordered was also freaking amazing. That restaurant is awesome, but it was a bit fucked up when we were already seated at a table and the manager came and asked us to move to another table, vacating our original table for a white couple. He spoke Thai to Jikky so I don't know what reason he gave but if it'd happened in a language that I understood, I would've told him to shove it and fuck off.
We also tried After You. I had the shibuya honey toast that everyone has raved about. It was nice, but I don't like ice-cream and I didn't touch any of the whipped cream, and like my mom said, it was essentially just a piece of bread. It wasn't something that I would go back for again, but the other desserts in the display fridge looked delicious! Too bad I didn't have any.
For lunch on Sunday, we ordered a feast. We shared a large bowl of tom yam soup, I had green curry, we had the fish cakes and otah thing again, my mom had oyster omelet and some pork skewer thing and I forgot what else. She ordered this coconut mousse thing that came in little round holders and it was amazing!!! I totally loved it. The crepe thing with shredded coconut on top which we had from a stall next to the pad thai restaurant was tons better than the one that we had next to the pad thai restaurant, and it was also 2 baht cheaper. What? My mom was convinced that we got ripped off because we were tourists.
Speaking of being ripped off: I was ripped off by a taxi driver. I guess that means that I had the complete Bangkok experience. I met Dana, a friend from LSE, for drinks at Red Sky Bar (Centara hotel next to Central Word) on Friday night. When we were done it was about 10pm, and I was too lazy to take public transport back to the hotel. I got the hotel to get me a taxi, and the driver asked if I was okay with a flat rate of 100 baht.
I thought, That's like 4 Singapore dollars. How dirt cheap! I said, Okay! He got me back to my hotel in about 5 minutes. I was mightily pleased with myself for taking a cheap taxi ride.
Guess what? The taxi ride to the pad thai restaurant, which was about 20 minutes long, was fucking 95 baht.
I'm such an idiotic tourist.
Lastly, save for a faint sewage odour near the toilet bowl in the bathroom, the hotel was very comfortable. We stayed at AETAS Bangkok for SGD89 a night and we had a nice big room and nice big bathroom with a nice 19th-storey view of the city. One of the porters also took an interest in me and went out of his way to make small talk with me whenever he saw me in the lobby. I thought that was pretty cute.
Okay, I'm off to bed!