Why is this Royal Kingdom attractive to world travelers? There are many reasons, and foremost in the mind of Filipinos are the shopping bargains Thailand offers.
The most legendary of Bangkok’s shopping malls is the MBK Center, short for Mahboonkrong, with 2,000 shops packed in eight air-conditioned floors that sell anything and everything. On weekends, when bargains are at maximum, the mall is teeming with foreign and local shoppers. It is so popular that even taxi drivers who don’t speak a word of English know right away where you want to go, the moment you mouth those three magic letters---MBK.
Understandably, the big discounts indicate that the stores here are not as upscale as those in the neighboring malls, like Siam Paragon, Siam Discovery, or the Siam Centre, but who cares about being ritzy when the discounts you get are out-of-this-world?
Of course, the bargains to end all bargains are at the Chatuchak Weekend Market, the largest in Thailand, with 8000 stalls divided into 27 sections. Also known as Jatujak or JJ Market, it is heaven for shopping black-belters, as it offers clothing, ceramics, home furniture and décor, antiques, fresh and dry food, books, plants, and even pets. You can literally “shop ‘till you drop” if you cover the entire 35 acres of bargains that this weekend market is globally known for.
Thailand also has dozens of interesting tourist attractions that never fail to mesmerize foreign visitors. There are the beach destinations of Phuket, Krabi, Hua Hin, Samui, etc. that are magnets to those who want to frolic in a sun, sea and sand environment. For those who place premium on the culture of the country, there are dozens of places to visit.
The Grand Palace in Bangkok is made up of several buildings right in the heart of the city. This is where royal ceremonies and state functions are still held, and it used to be the official residence of the kings of Thailand. Its golden roof and spires gleaming in the daytime sun add to its appeal. Within the palace grounds is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, a 26-inch tall jade statue of Buddha, clothed in gold, the most revered icon in the kingdom.
For history buffs, there is the old city of Sukhothai, a UNESCO World Heritage site, with many temples that speak volumes of Thailand’s devotion to Buddhism. There’s also the ancient capital of Ayutthaya, which gives visitors a peek at the glory of ancient Thailand, through its haunting but richly elaborate ruins.
The adventurous soul will find satisfaction at the Khao Yai National Park where you can spend the day with elephants, feeding and bathing them, or riding them through the jungle, or even watching them paint their own masterpieces, expertly using their snout to come up with an attractive visual memento of your visit.
These and many more reasons make Thailand a top attraction for global visitors. Of course, what appeals to legions of tourists are the country’s culinary offerings. Thai food has earned the respect of world’s famous food critics; that’s why when Thai Food Festivals are staged here in Manila, everybody troops to the venue.
The management of Conrad Manila saw this golden opportunity to delight locals with a “slice of Thailand” so, recently, it invited Thai chefs Apichat Sea-Jiang and Chanyut Kaewkra from its sister hotel, Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort and Spa. They whipped up a rich, flavorful, authentic Thai cuisine as part of its Flavors of Thailand food festival at the Conrad Manila’s all-day dining restaurant, Brasserie on 3.
The hotel’s genial General Manager, Harald Feurstein, happily announced that his Executive Chef Thomas Jakobi, with the help of the two guest chefs, was able to curate a special menu of Thai favorites, which were incorporated in the restaurant’s daily buffet.
As expected, foodies like me flocked to the Brasserie on 3 during the five-day run of the festival, formally opened by President of SM Hotels and Conventions Elizabeth Sy, Thai Ambassador Thanatip Upatising, Tourism Assistant Secretary Ricky Alegre and Feurstein.
Some of my favorite Thai specialties on the buffet were the Tom Yum (hot and sour soup), Khao Neeo Mamuang (mango with sticky rice), Yam Talay (spicy seafood salad with crunchy vegetables), Tom Kha Gai (chicken coconut milk soup with lemongrass) and Poo Phad Ponh Karee (stir-fried curried crab with celery and spring onions), among others.
I also liked the Thai welcome at the entrance to the restaurant. We couldn’t help but marvel at the small model of a Thai elephant made of fresh blooms, strategically placed on top of a round table, and the two female staff dressed in colorful Thai costumes presenting each guest with a garland of fresh flowers.
Conrad Manila certainly scored big points with this event as I could only hear words of approval from the many diners around me that day. I can hardly wait for the hotel’s next showcase. Knowing Harald Feurstein and his endless supply of “aces up his sleeves,” I know it’s going to be another exciting event.
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