Monday, February 08, 2016

My First FAM Trip to Thailand - Memories from Day 1

I love living out of a suitcase. After visiting over ten countries from 2005 to 2016, I came to the conclusion that I'd never be able to find a place to stay forever. This was until I discovered the Amazing Thailand!


New Beginnings

Suffice to say that my new year started off with a bang!

On January 6, 2016, I was invited by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to be on a familiarization (FAM) tour to Bangkok and Hua Hin. By a strange coincidence, the Thailand Tourism Festival 2016 was also under way from January 13 to 18 in Bangkok.

Thailand sounded like a perfect getaway for vacation, so I graciously accepted the invitation to be on the tour.

My itinerary for six days was planned to a tee. Since my air tickets, hotel stay, and meals were already taken care of by TAT New Delhi, all I needed to do was to soak in the experience of the Land of Smiles.

In this blog post, I am going to summarize the Day 1 of my first FAM tour to Thailand.

DAY 1
Wednesday, January 13, 2016

My Thai Airways flight from the New Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport to the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok was scheduled to take off in the wee hours of Wednesday. Luckily at the Delhi airport I bumped into Runjuan Tongrut, Director at Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). Runjuan later introduced me to Deepak Arora, who also works for TAT.

Me and Runjuan at the Thailand Tourism Festival 2016

We reached Bangkok at around 6 am. I rushed to obtain the visa on arrival but it took nearly an hour and a half to get the visa stamped at immigration.

Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok

After collecting my luggage and getting a new SIM, I headed straight to meet another fellow blogger on the FAM, Rajdeep Bhattacharjee, who was flying all the way from Kolkata. Both me and Rajdeep were formally introduced to our local Guide Tour, Pat.

[Pat continues to remain one of the best tour guides I have had the true pleasure of knowing.]

Rajdeep, Deepak, Pat, and Moi

After a bout of introductions followed by refreshments, we boarded a coach for the 85-storey Baiyoke Sky Hotel Bangkok, which is located near the famous Pratunam and Siam Square shopping areas.

Baiyoke - The Pride of Thailand

The Baiyoke Sky Hotel is hailed as the tallest hotel in Southeast Asia and the seventh tallest in the world.

For the uninitiated, Baiyoke is a luxurious hotel of international repute with 658 rooms and suites, and sizes ranging from 31 square meters to 81 square meters. Each room in the hotel offers a magnificent panoramic view over the Bangkok skyline.

Panoramic view of Bangkok from my hotel room

If you're staying at the Baiyoke, make sure to see the full view of Bangkok City from the 84th floor.

Full view of the Bangkok City from the 84th floor

As I checked into my cozy hotel room located at the 33rd floor, I got a glimpse of the eastern amazement and indefinable aura of the graceful city of angels.

[In Thai, Krung Thep means "City of Angels".]

Yours truly at the Baiyoke Sky Hotel Bangkok

After taking a quick shower, none of us wasted anytime in taking rest and headed towards The Emporium Bangkok where Runjuan treated us for lunch at the Chingcha Chalee.

Emporium Bangkok

Since I was trying authentic Thai cuisine for the very first time, I naturally had more questions than others about the ingredients and flavors used in the cooking.

Thai Lunch at the Chingcha Chalee

It was great to spend some time with Runjuan and Pat after lunch. Being Thai nationals, both of them could narrate several anecdotes about Thai people and their unique culture and customs.

Myths and Facts about Thailand

Like me, most of you would not know that Thailand invaded French-Indochina in 1941. This was around the time when the Thai reclaimed Laos.

Map of French Indochina before the First World War (Image Courtesy: Wikipedia)

Runjuan also mentioned about the period when Japan invaded Thailand on December 8, 1941, right after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese army used Thailand as a base to further invade Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Malaya. Even countries like South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia declared war on Thailand during the World War II period.

Post World War II, Thailand took part in the Korean War and became a base for the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War (1965–75).

Kathoeys or Lady Boys

It was rather unusual to hear about Kathoeys, a Thai term to refer to a transgender woman or an effeminate gay male in Thailand. Most foreign people refer to them as lady boys.

The country has accepted transgender women as a group in their society. Pat told us about a popular Kathoey kick boxer in Thailand by the name of Nong Toom.

Nong Toom's Transformation from a Muay Thai boxer to a Kathoey (Image Courtesy: Gender Benders In Film)

Tata Young - Dhoom Machale

Did you know that a popular Thai singer had sung the English version of the title song for Dhoom? I didn't.

Tata Young is a music icon in Thailand, who is also known as a renowned model, actress, and dancer. She lent her voice for the Bollywood blockbuster in 2004.

Tata Young (Image Courtesy: Bollykings.com)

36th Thailand Tourism Festival

After lunch, we spent some time hanging out in the EmQuartier Shopping Complex in Bangkok, which is home to the Quartier Water Garden.

Deepak, Rajdeep, Pat, Runjuan, and Moi at the Quartier Water Garden

Surrounding an enchanting pond, this 300 square meters indoor, calming green retreat features a variety of wild tropical orchids and lush ferns.

Artwork at the Quartier Water Garden

Around 5pm, we left for the Lumphini Park, where the opening ceremony of the 36th Thailand Tourism Festival was held amid great fanfare.

Thai Dancers at the Thailand Tourism Festival 2016

A Thai artist performing at the Thailand Tourism Festival 2016

Thai beauties at the Thailand Tourism Festival 2016

Thai beauties at the Thailand Tourism Festival 2016

A Thai beauty at the Thailand Tourism Festival 2016

Thai performance at the Thailand Tourism Festival 2016

Mascot at the Thailand Tourism Festival 2016

The park was transformed into a mini Thailand with beautiful replicas of important landmarks and cultural heritage sites from five major regions across Thailand.

Beautiful Thai girls at the Thailand Tourism Festival 2016

The Thailand Tourism Festival took place from January 13 to 17 this year. As a first time visitor to the country, I was overjoyed to be a part of the festival that offered a harmonious mix of Thai culture and a sneak peek into the Thai ways of life.

Professional fire breather at the Thailand Tourism Festival 2016 

The 58 hectare lush green park was divided into four distinctive zones to provide visitors information about the ongoing tourism campaign, annual events and festivals, tourism products from five regions of Thailand, different delicacies from 50 districts of the city, and entertainment activities promoted by celebrities.

Me & a Thai girl at the Thailand Tourism Festival 2016

The highlight was a special performance by the name of "Discover Thainess Enjoy Amusement of Siam".

Later in the evening, I spent some time talking to Mrs. Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, Minister of Tourism and Sports (Thailand), who also presented a report on the Thailand Tourism Festival in front of a packed crowd.

Mrs. Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul at the Thailand Tourism Festival 2016 

The opening address was given by Mr. Prajin Juntong who is the Chairperson, Deputy Prime Minister, and Air Chief Marshal.

Mr. Prajin Juntong at the Thailand Tourism Festival 2016 

Overall, my first day in Thailand was an affair to remember. I gained tremendous insights about the Thai folk music (Luk Thung), Thai mask dance (Khon), Opera performance (Likay), and historical religious landmarks like Wat Phra That Phanom and Chedi.

Thailand Tourism Festival 2016

In my upcoming blog post, I am going to write about a visit to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho (Temple of Reclining Buddha), a lunch at the DECK by the river, a canal tour, a visit to premium Indian restaurant called INDUS, and a night visit at Asiatique - the river front mall.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Warehouse Cafe Gurgaon - Get Spoilt For Choices!

When it comes to one of the most successful restaurateurs in Delhi, you can't help but shower praises on Priyank Sukhija. Born dyslexic, Priyank has defied the odds to emerge successful, in turn earning respect as a creative genius who continues to gift the national capital with one success story after the other. 

In this blog post, I am going to talk about the launch of his most successful brand to date, Warehouse Cafe, in Gurgaon.


A one-stop destination for great food and drinks, the Warehouse Cafe in Gurgaon woos you with impeccable service and superb music. Brainchild of Priyank, the restaurant is jointly owned by three other stakeholders: Anshul Aggarwal, Murli Mani, and Balan Mani.

Priyank Sukhija and Anshul Aggarwal 

Strategically located in Sector 29, unarguably the most happening corner of Gurgaon, the Warehouse Cafe impresses you from the word go. Get ready to feel like a celeb as you take that walk of fame on the grand Red Carpet.

Red Carpet Welcome at the Warehouse Cafe

Once you enter the premises, world-class interiors set the right precedent for a wonderful fine-dining experience. You feel a great sense of arrival and anticipation meandering through the property.

Yours truly at the Warehouse Cafe

Doesn't take long to notice Priyank's fetish for superheroes - Superman and Batman in particular.

Superman and Batman Logos at the Warehouse Cafe

Like it is with any Priyank Sukhija property, the Warehouse Cafe too endorses theme based food. The inspired environment of a warehouse style cafe is beautifully complimented by wooden seating that spans across the two levels of the restaurant. You really cannot get a more compact yet classy arrangement to accentuate the space than this cafe!

Basement - Sitting Area at the Warehouse Cafe
Basement - Sitting Area at the Warehouse Cafe
Basement - Sitting Area at the Warehouse Cafe
Ground Floor - Play Area at the Warehouse Cafe
Ground Floor - Sitting Area at the Warehouse Cafe

Talking of food in particular, I am yet to see a more elaborate menu than the Warehouse Cafe. I kid you not!

Perhaps the only property in town that serves a well-researched and defined menu per category. Choosing from an array of 365 dishes seemed like a tall order at first, but wasn't so difficult once the calendar format menu was handed over. Very innovative menu I must say!

Calendar Format Menu at the Warehouse Cafe

My favorites include:

Drinks
  • Faithful Bitch: True to its name, this unconventional cocktail is made of vodka, tang sour apple and lemonade with a drizzle of grenadine.
[My Rating: 5 out of 5]
Faithful Bitch
  • Fast and Furious: Get your first high-octane installment of a near perfect cocktail made of vanilla vodka, Malibu, fresh cranberry, and pineapple juice.
[My Rating: 4 out of 5]
Fast and Furious
  • Psycho Jack: Living up to its reputation, this popular cocktail is an intoxicating mix of Jack Daniel's, strawberry, and lemonade.
[My Rating: 4 out of 5]
Psycho Jack

Starters
  • Dim Sums: Even though I relished the chicken dim sums with Soy and Schezwan dipping sauce, how I craved for seafood dim sums ... missing in their otherwise elaborate menu!
    • Chicken Bell Pepper Dim Sums
[My Rating: 3 out of 5]
Chicken Bell Pepper Dim Sums
    • Chicken SiuMai (Shumai) Dim Sums
[My Rating: 3.5 out of 5]
Chicken SiuMai (Shumai) Dim Sums
  • Pasta: For the uninitiated, Warehouse Cafe serves the best Tuna Pasta in the town.
    • Penne Al Tonno: Come, fall in love with this penne with tuna and peppers cooked in tomato-herb sauce.
[My Rating: 4 out of 5]
Penne Al Tonno
Mains
  • Pizza: I am sucker for a thin crust, wood fired pizza at Warehouse Cafe Gurgaon.  
    • Warehouse Special Pizza: A delight for pizza lovers, the Warehouse Special Pizza is loaded with chunks of meat (especially Chicken Tikka and Malai Tikka) and vegetables like Mushrooms, Capsicums, and Cornlettes. An exceptionally thin and crispy pizza base results in a truly delectable experience.
[My Rating: 5 out of 5]
Warehouse Special Pizza
  • Fried Lamb Chops: Bursting with flavors, these tender yet juicy lamb chops are definitely going to win you over. Perfect for a quick dinner!
[My Rating: 4.5 out of 5]
Fried Lamb Chops
  • Crispy Fried Prawns: Have you ever longed for classic deep-fried shrimps that taste so crunchy they almost "bounce" in your mouth? With Crispy Fried Prawns, you'll continue to sink your teeth into the firm flesh until you're plate is empty.
[My Rating: 4 out of 5]
Crispy Fried Prawns
  • Prawn Capers BruschettaFilling and flavorsome, this delicious prawn and caper bruschetta is apt for a hearty luncheon.
[My Rating: 5 out of 5]
Prawn Capers Bruschetta
  • Burgers: When easier options such as McDonald's are available, then why go for a burger here? Well, this is a no-brainer! Foodies like me are getting tired of the same old crap being repackaged and thrown at us over and over again. Burgers here are not only new and innovative, but also better in terms of taste.
    • Grilled Fish Burger
    • Beef Steak Burger
[My Rating: 4 out of 5]
Grilled Fish Burger

I was quite amazed at the food innovation in each category - be it Oriental, Continental, Grill, North Indian, or Mughlai. You are spoilt for choices here. And it seriously doesn't matter what type of appetite you have. There's something for every type of foodie!

The cafe endorses global and fusion music, mostly compilations from different international artists. Open every day from 7 pm to 11.30 pm, the cafe promises not to make a huge dent in your pocket.

Sachin, Tushar, Veta, Piyush, and Me at the Warehouse Cafe Gurgaon
Being a trendsetter, Priyank sure knows the pulse of the new age, sassy urban crowd of Delhi-NCR. I strongly recommend this property!