BANGKOK SERIES #2-THINGS I DID IN BANGKOK

If you had come across my earlier post, you would have known by now that I had travelled to Bangkok-Thailand for my first solo holiday. 

Day 1
Post the visa processing and baggage collection, I strode across the expansive Suvarnabhumi airport to the meet-up point for my hotel transfer.


Was pleasantly surprised on being met by a uniform attired chauffeur and his BMW. (Woo hoo…Jumping on the inside !) My journey of approx 45-50 minutes was every bit smooth, luxurious and wi-fi enabled, a perfect welcome to the city of angels and the tropical heat.



Once I reached my hotel- Chatrium Riverside Bangkok located in the Sathon district, I was escorted immediately to my room on the 17th floor facing the Chao Phraya river.  The room was large with a splendid view and even a private balcony. But more about my hotel experience later.


Exhausted after my long flight and lack of much sleep, I decided to stay in on my first night in the city enjoying endless room service and the river view.


Day 1
Following morning, I felt relaxed and charged up for my city tour spanning the entire day. I was promptly met by my tour guide- Tui from the company- Tour With Tong. Since I opted for the private tour due to the humid climate and for comfort, she was also accompanied by a driver and an air conditioned car. Tui immediately made me feel at ease and within minutes, I almost felt as if I was reconnecting with an old friend.

My first stop for the day was the most popular place of attraction and must do in the city -The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew –Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The Grand Palace complex consists of several buildings and sprawled an area of more than 50 acres and was only partially open to public. The architecture was magnificent and its work could be noticed to be extremely intricate with the multi-coloured tiles. I particularly loved the colourful architecture with the sun sparkling off the red, blue, green tiles. 











Unfortunately due to the Buddhist occasion of Vichaka Bucha the following day, the entrance to the actual Temple of Emerald Buddha was closed to public for preparations. This day is celebrated to be the day Lord Buddha was born, died and got his enlightenment. Due to this I ended up witnessing jam-packed crowds as the entire complex would also be closed the next day.



But the royal family currently does not live in the Grand Palace. However another local fact I read and quickly understood was that the Thais love their royalty and treat them with immense respect and devotion. It’s a big faux pas and even illegal to talk negative about the royalty.

Infact it is evident from the fact that the National Father’s Day is celebrated on the King’s birthday. Almost all of the major sights are decorated with Blue and Yellow flags symbolizing the King and the Queen respectively depicting the days they were born on. I was told that in Thailand, each day of the week had a colour associated with it.

Post the tour once I stepped outside the complex, spotted several street side stalls from where I tasted some of the most delicious ripe mangoes sprinkled with some chilli salt which was extremely refreshing.


We then travelled to the next sight, which was Wat Pho – Temple of the Reclining Buddha.

After Grand Palace, I just did not want to get out of my air-conditioned vehicle but this sight was such a welcome relief because it was hardly crowded and found it to be airy and breezy. I found out later it was majorly so because the Chinese tourists didn’t have this sight on their itinerary!

BANGKOK SERIES #1-STEP WISE APPROACH TO THE THAILAND VISA ON ARRIVAL ONLINE APPLICATION PROCESS



I was all set and ready to hit the city of Angels- Bangkok for my first solo holiday

However, I heard several not-so-great experiences about the delay faced at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport for the visa on arrival process from family and friends. Nevertheless was completely prepared to wait a good 2-3 hours in the immigration queue.

But that’s when during my research, that I read about the recently launched process for the Online Application for Visa on Arrival through the official Thai government website. Read about other blogger experiences, and guess what it worked ! I would have hardly spend 30 minutes end to end to get my visa stamped and out of passport control.

I thought my penning down my experience could benefit other fellow travellers and couldn't recommend the online procedure enough considering you only need to spend less than 10 minutes in advance and you end up saving a good 1-2 hours of waiting time at the minimum.

However, I would like to clarify that this is not an actual pre-approved visa being issued online rather just a system to enter your personal details directly into the Thai immigration system thereby saving time at their end and hence giving you a skip-the-line option at the airport.

I have enlisted my experiences step wise below:

2.   Click on Tourist -->Apply For Visa on Arrival
3.   You get 30 minutes to fill up the online application with your passport/flight/hotel   
      booking details.
4.   Once done, you are taken to review page before proceeding to accept.
5.   Once accepted, you get a bar code and a reference number with an option to Print 
      VOA Application form.
6.   You would receive a PDF of the form which you can save/print. Ensure to sign off 
      the physical form.
7.   Additionally ensure you carry:
    • Passport (Belonging to the list of eligible countries for Visa on Arrival) with a                validity of more than a month and with atleast 1 complete blank page.
    • 1 passport size photo
    • Return Ticket within 15 days
    • Hotel reservation copy
    • Filled up Arrival/Departure card (I got this from the flight) and Boarding Pass
    • Requirement also indicates for proof of living as 10,000 Baht/person or 20,000 Baht/family. (I was not asked for anything regarding this. If I was, planned to show my debit/credit cards.
    • Visa fee of 1000 Thai Baht in local currency as cash 

Why did I travel Solo and why probably you should ?

Are you really sure?
Aren’t you afraid?
Is it safe?
Won’t you be bored? And even..
Are you crazy?

There were a couple of the reactions that I got when I told people that I would be travelling alone for a holiday. All of this coming from people who have never travelled solo.

Less than 5 % of them actually responded positively and said –Go, Enjoy, Treat yourself. Thank you 5 % !

Why is that when women want to travel (read holiday) solo, it is looked upon negatively or treated with sympathy or as desperate and worse, selfish ?

This is my story.

The husband and me were all set for a ten-day dreamy European holiday to Paris, the French Alps, Burgundy Wine region and charming Bruges.

Visas þ
Air Tickets þ
Hotel bookings þ
Food Tours þ

Alas ! Owing to certain unforeseen entrepreneurial business circumstances for the husband, we had to cancel it all. ALL.

Was I upset ? Most definitely, considering I am a bit of an obsessive planner and had been researching for months for the trip. But even more that I wouId not be enjoying a long deserved break after stressful work situations and toddler tantrums.  

Next emotion: Denial. I refused to not take a break and refused to accept the fact that I was not going anywhere. I neither wanted to end up working nor spend the break cooped up at home and a staycation did not seem good enough.

Checked with some family and friends for their availability which did not materialize considering our original travel dates were just about a week away.

Due to my desperation, I somehow ended up browsing on websites and blogs on female solo travel. If they can do it, why can’t I? But if I where to go, where could I and that too in such short notice.

The husband suggested I stick to the original Europe plan but that somehow felt like a major challenge to me considering it was an itinerary with 4 destinations spread over 10 days and with a considerable bit of travel.

With the time constraints, it also meant countries where pre-approved visas posed as one of the requirements were out of question.

One thing led to another and finally rounded upon Thailand and particularly, Bangkok as my destinations being one of the few countries where Indian passport holders could obtain visa on arrival.

Here I was once again excited and researching for my spontaneous holiday.

However now came the bigger challenger convincing parents –two sets !

RESTAURANT REVIEW #6 - AGORA, GRAND HERITAGE DOHA HOTEL AND SPA

It’s not everyday that the parents from both sides come together in Doha and it was only obvious to celebrate the occasion. However inspite of being quite abreast of the foodie scene in the city, I was in a fix when it came to picking a restaurant that would give us a perfect, quiet ambience, be toddler-friendly, had great food and was situated not too far from our home in Al-Sadd.

That’s when I coincidentally came across Agora located in the Grand Heritage Doha Hotel and Spa, Al Waab which came recommended with a few excellent reviews in Zomato.

As soon we arrived at the hotel, I instantly knew that this place would be a winner. The Victorian like exteriors, plush interiors, smiling faces and the serene environment put us all in a great mood right away.

                             

                                  

Being a Sunday night, the place was hardly crowded and we were seated immediately in what almost seemed like a private area of the restaurant.

                      

Agora serves exclusively Turkish cuisine and we were pleasantly surprised when we were handed over I-pad menus instead of the standard books. Infact, my two-year old daughter was the happiest on seeing this, it being a restricted device at home. Nonetheless, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for us since that enabled the rest of us to “almost” enjoy the rest of the evening peacefully.

                                

Moving on to discuss about the protagonist of the evening–the food. We were served with a lemon-mint welcome drink, which was like any other of its kind. Then came the bread basket with the assorted dips. It was not just the variety from the crispy pita breads to the spongy sesame breads that were amazing but their taste and quality paired with the 3 dips –a black olive tapenade, another one that we deduced were made with sun-dried and fresh tomatoes and the third, butter in all its glory and in the perfect consistency.

                                       


We were also given a complimentary amuse bouche which was a chicken kofta with a base of soaked bread that seemed in texture almost like a crumbly cheese served in a tangy tomato and yoghurt sauce. The dish was spectacular but disappeared in one bite and I was almost tempted to ask the server to bring me a second round but restrained myself when I remembered the array of dishes that were on its way.

                          

The first starter that we had placed the order for was the Eggplant-Pepper dish. This dish was a little too sour for our liking and overpowered our palate with the presence of rolled-up vine leaves and tomato sauce.

              

Next was the Chicken pide, a Turkish pastry.  It can be described to be a crispy pastry casing filled with delicious spiced minced chicken that seemed almost meat like. We thoroughly enjoyed the combination of the crunch of the pastry with the filling inside.

                                          

The portion sizes of the main courses were significant and easily catered to the six adults present.

We had the grilled lamb chops that the husband described to be succulent and perfectly cooked served with mashed potatoes and vegetables.



Sheesh Tawook was good like any other of its counterparts available in the city. The highlight were the accompaniments such as spicy bulgur tasted almost like pulao, carrot salad and grilled vegetables.


Chicken Bayti Kebab was a delightful dish where grilled chicken were dressed up and rolled in a saj bread that kept the chicken extremely juicy and moist and held in the flavours. This was also served in a yoghurt-tomato sauce and French fries.


Home made kofte were basically mutton meatballs served on a moist bread base similar to the amuse bouche, in a tomato sauce. This was served with delicious, plump rice, a carrot salad and French Fries.

     

We also had ordered hummus which was pretty normal and just like any from any other restaurant. The yoghurt accompaniment was also not bad and we particularly liked the addition of black sesame.

                          
    
                                         

After downing all of the above, a dessert in usual scenarios was unthinkable. But once me and the husband saw “Kunafa” on the menu, there definitely was no way that we were leaving without tasting that.

And oh my, weren’t we glad, the dessert was truly the star of the evening ! The crispy Kunafa with its oozing cheese combined with the icecream was just mind-blowing. Utterly sinful in every bite but so worth that a trip to this restaurant just to sample this one dish would be easily justified.

                                     

Me and my family had a great time at the Agora. The only down side that I could nit-pick was that though our server was polite and attentive, she barely knew anything about the food nor could answer our questions when we were placing our order. Also, hardcore foodies like us would have appreciated if the server(s) could have given us a brief of each dish when being served. But on the other hand, the maitre'd did compensate to some extent in this regard.

But having said the above, this surely wouldn’t stop us from visiting the restaurant a second time. We enjoyed the delicious food and the calm ambience. We also were happy to use our Entertainer vouchers and this definitely proved worthwhile considering that the restaurant falls in the expensive bracket. 

            

Restaurant Info:
Agora
Ground Floor
Grand Heritage Doha Hotel and Spa
Al Waab
Doha


Ph:+974-44455555

Verdict:

Criteria
Weightage
Points given
Overall
Food
50%
4.0
2.0
Service
20%
3.5
0.7
Ambience
15%
4.5
0.7
Value for Money
15%
4.0
0.6
4.0


Rating: Excellent JJ

Agora - Grand Heritage Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

RESTAURANT REVIEW #5 - JONES THE GROCER, THE GATE MALL


My visit to Jones The Grocer, was what you could probably call a deliberate coincidence.

Been meaning to visit this eatery after reading several reviews, I was more than delighted when I won a gift voucher of QAR 200 from Zomato Qatar at a lucky draw at the 2nd Food Bloggers Meet.

Initially deciding to head out for a Saturday breakfast, it ended up being a lunch with our leisurely weekend pace. And wasn’t I one pleased customer on seeing that breakfasts are served until 3 pm on weekends !

What I particularly liked about the layout of this branch at the Gate Mall was its widespread area with a gorgeous and inviting display of bakes, pastries , breads among many other treats. They most definitely justified their name since in addition to being a restaurant, they also sold premium coffee, extra virgin olive oils, several varieties of organic pastas, vanilla and gift hampers with a collection of these products which certainly would make excellent gifts.





Getting down to business, once we settled down and examined the menu, I right away zeroed down on one of my biggest breakfast favourites- The Eggs Benedict, inspite of having a full breakfast at home! The husband chose the Wagyu Beef Burger. We also ordered a starter in form of a Olive toast with Fresh Ricotta, Cherry Tomatoes and Avocado.

What I especially liked was the striking presentation of all the dishes. The food looked fresh, healthy, colourful yet unpretentious. 

On the appetizer: It was my first time to taste this unique combination of fresh ricotta with cherry tomatoes and avocado and truly found it to be a delight. Ingredients were super fresh and we loved the explosion of flavours and textures in this dish.


Coming to my Eggs Benedict, the eggs were perfectly poached to my choice and the Hollandaise as well was smooth, rich and buttery just as how a good Hollandaise should be. This was served with smoked turkey ham and sautéed spinach. Mixed greens also served on the side perfectly cleansed one’s palate after the richness from the eggs and Hollandaise.


The husband also found the Wagyu Burger to be top-notch and he rated the quality of meat as great. Fries were decent as well. The quantity was so overwhelming that I thought he almost struggled to finish the dish.


Even after all the above, we definitely were not going to give up on desserts. So we ended up choosing the Crème Brulee , Vanilla Cheesecake and a Brownie Cookie with Chocolate Chips. It’s a weekend after all !

The husband being a big fan of Crème Brulee was converted into a major fan with this dessert ticking all the right boxes in terms of taste, presentation and even the Masterchef spoon tap test where the burnt sugar top cracked perfectly on a tap of the back of the spoon.


Frankly, am not big on plain vanilla flavours and am a chocolate person hands down. But this vanilla cheesecake was a taste of heaven with the prime ingredient- “Vanilla” shining throughout and more so, that one could actually spot the specks of the vanilla in the dish. Cheesecake was smooth, creamy and perfectly sweet.


I most definitely couldn’t cheat on my love for chocolate and hence went for the Brownie Cookie with Chocolate Chips. This was crumbly, chocolate-y and decadent. It was aptly named and tasted like a brownie and a cookie.


Overall from the review, you can evidently see that we loved the food and infact I look forward to returning very soon to try more of the breakfast fare and the much raved about pot pies.

Thanks JTG and Zomato Qatar for a memorable lunch !

Restaurant Info:
Jones The Grocer
Ground Floor
The Gate Mall
West Bay, Doha
Ph:+974-44077175/40296928

Verdict:

Criteria
Weightage
Points given
Overall
Food
50%
4.0
2.0
Service
20%
4.0
0.8
Ambience
15%
4.0
0.6
Value for Money
15%
4.0
0.6
4.0


Rating: Excellent JJ

We used a gift voucher from Zomato Qatar at Jones the Grocer but obviously the opinion I have expressed here is completely mine and honest.

Jones The Grocer Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato