Tag Archives: Asia

Bangkok – THAILAND

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Bangkok – THAILAND

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Bangkok is the capital, largest urban area and primary city of Thailand. Known in Thai as Krung Thep Mahanakhon ), meaning “City of the Deity”) for short, it was a small trading post at the mouth of the Chao Phraya River during the Ayutthaya Kingdom. It came to the forefront of Siam when it was given the status as the capital city in 1768 after the burning of Ayutthaya. However, the current Rattanakosin Kingdom did not begin until 1782 when the capital was moved across the river by Rama I after the death of King Taksin. The Rattanakosin capital is now more formally called “Phra Nakhon” (Thai: พระนคร), pertaining to the ancient boundaries in the metropolis’ core and the name Bangkok now incorporates the urban build-up since the 18th century which has its own public administration and governor.

Since its inception as the capital of Siam, it was at the center of European Colonial plans, but due to its strategic location in Indochina, it acted as a buffer-zone and brokered power between the European forces. Through this, it gained notoriety in the world as an independent, dynamic, and influential city. And in the span of over two hundred years, Bangkok has grown to become the political, social and economic center of Thailand, Indochina and one of Southeast Asia.

As a direct result of the 1980s and 1990s Asian investment boom, numerous multinational corporations base their regional headquarters in Bangkok and the city has become a regional force in finance and business. Its increasing influence on global politics, culture, fashion, and entertainment underlines its status as a global city. In 2009, it was the second most expensive city in South-East Asia behind Singapore.

The city’s wealth of cultural landmarks and attractions in addition to its notorious entertainment venues has made it synonymous with exoticism. Its historic wealth coincides with its rapid modernization, reflected in the cityscape and the urban society. The Grand Palace, Vimanmek Palace Complex, its thousands of temples, and the city’s notorious red-light districts combine draw in 11 million international visitors each year, trailing just Paris and London.

Bangkok has a population of approximately 6,355,144 residents while the greater Bangkok area has a population of 11,971,000 (January 2008). The capital is part of the heavily urbanized triangle of central and eastern Thailand which stretches from Nakhon Ratchasima along Bangkok to the heavily Industrialized Eastern Seaboard. Bangkok borders six other provinces: Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Samut Prakan, Samut Sakhon and Nakhon Pathom, and all five provinces are joined in the conurbation of the Bangkok Metropolitan Area. It is served by two international airports, Suvarnabhumi International Airport and Don Muang, four rapid transit lines operated by the BTS, MRT, and the SRT, with plans to add eight more by 2020.

What to Do at Night in Sukhumvit

Sukhumvit’s nightlife is exciting, ever-evolving, cosmopolitan and can be reduced to three main hedonistic pursuits: drinking, dancing and debauchery.

Along it, and its many adjoining sois, are countless pubs and bars, many of them very popular with expats and tourists. Most are either American-style bars or European watering holes, with the selection of draught beers and foods on sale usually reflecting the adopted theme (and more often than not the nationality of the owner).

They usually close between midnight and 01:00, and many have live music and pool tables. See our Bangkok pubs and bars section for details.  The perfect prelude to a big night out, many hotels here have flash upscale bars perfect for warm-up cocktails. These include the Westin Grande, Dream and Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit.

Bangkok Go-Go Bars

Bangkok Hot Spots :

Bikini-clad dancing girls, over-the-top ladyboys and lewd, eye-popping shows… Yes, the Go-Go bars that earned Bangkok its worldwide notoriety are still alive and letting it all hang out. For better or worse, Bangkok’s illustrious ‘After Dark’ reputation owes much to these spots.

The first area that springs to mind is Patpong – Nowadays, having become part of a wider entertainment scene that includes the popular Patpong Night Market, bars, nightclubs and a gay area, it isn’t the aggressive red-light district it once was.

Open-minded visitors, lured in by hard-selling touts and their curiosity, treat the infamous upstairs shows like a circus show, coming in for a quick look at the inventive performances, a giggle and a couple of overpriced drinks before heading off to continue their shopping or hit a nearby club (these performances are also dubbed ‘ping-pong shows’, and a lot of imagination isn’t needed to guess the origins of this phrase.)

These are found predominantly at Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy, red light districts both situated on lower Sukhumvit Road. Depending on the current level of police interference, both offer explicit shows featuring girls in various stages of undress; usually uniforms, bikinis or pretty much nothing bar a coy smile and a dash of Burberry Weekend. Nana even has its own on-site ‘guesthouse’ for clients.

Nana Entertainment Plaza

Greeting you when you pass beneath the monstrous ‘Nana Entertainment Plaza’ entrance sign is a mass of glowing neon signs, yelling at you from all directions. Shouting even louder than the neon is the intriguing cast of upfront characters – ladyboys, midgets and, of course, girls – who will try and accost you. They can be in your face, but it’s all light-hearted and unthreatening.

On the ground floor there are mostly open-air beer bars to choose from. With salacious names like Lollipop and Red Lips, girls here will try and tempt you in for a drink, a game of Jenga and, probably, more. Some will step into your path or give you a gentle jab in the kidneys to encourage you. Others will resort to trying to drag you in – a shrug and a quick side-step is usually enough to shake them off. A few go-go bars line the right side. Playschool, Rainbow 1 and Rainbow 2 all pack them in – both the bikini-clad girls and the punters.

Nights in White Satin

Ascend up the escalator to the first floor and it’s mostly go-go bars. These include Spankys, Fantasia and Rainbow 3. Rainbow 4 is one of the biggest, with hordes of Japanese-looking girls attracting a busy mix of Westerners and Japanese spectators.

G-Spot, Cassanova and Temptations are among the most popular, and it’s no surprise – they’re ladyboy bars and put on dazzling shows. Angel Witch, on the left, with its lesbian and dominatrix shows is also a big hit. A lot of thought and energy clearly goes into the costumes and performances here – girls in elegant but provocative strips of white satin were strutting gracefully to ‘Nights in White Satin’ on our visit.

For relative calm, head for Big Dogs bar on the left corner of the entrance. This is a humble watering-hole, with beers and a raised terrace view onto the street and alleyway.
How to get there: walking distance from Nana BTS Skytrain station.

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Penang Food Paradise

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Penang Food Paradise

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Penang is a state in Malaysia, located on the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia by the Strait of Malacca. Penang is the second smallest state in Malaysia after Perlis, and the eighth most populous. A resident of Penang is colloquially known as a Penangite.

Name

The island was referred to as pokok pinang The name “Penang” comes from the modern Malay name Pulau Pinang, which means island of the areca nut palm (Areca catechu, family Palmae). The name Penang can refer either to the island of Penang or the state of Penang.

The capital of Penang state is George Town. More specifically, George Town is also called Tanjung in Malay. Penang Island is simply Pulau Pinang and Penang state is Negeri Pulau Pinang in Malay.

Penang is severally known as “The Pearl of the Orient” and “Pulau Pinang Pulau Mutiara” (Penang Island of Pearls).

Language

The common languages of Penang, depending on social classes, social circles, and ethnic backgrounds are English, Penang Hokkien, Tamil and Malay. Mandarin, which is taught in Chinese-medium schools in the state, is also increasingly spoken.

Penang Hokkien is a variant of Minnan and is widely spoken by a substantial proportion of the Penang populace who are descendants of early Chinese settlers. It bears strong resemblance to the language spoken by Chinese living in the Indonesian city of Medan and is based on the Minnan dialect of Zhangzhou prefecture in Fujian province, China.

It incorporates a large number of loanwords from Malay and English. Many Penangites who are not ethnically Chinese are also able to speak in Hokkien. Most Penang Hokkien speakers are not literate in Hokkien but instead read and write in standard (Mandarin) Chinese, English and/or Malay.

Malay is spoken locally with north-western dialect features, such as hang for “you” and depa for “they/them”.

English is a working language widely used in business and commerce, and is also the language of instruction of Science and Mathematics in schools. English used in an official or formal context is predominantly British English with some American influences. Spoken English, as in the rest of Malaysia, is often in the form of Manglish (Malaysian colloquial English).

Other languages, including Cantonese and Tamil, are also spoken in the state. Teochew is heard more in Province Wellesley than on Penang Island.

Religion

The official religion of Malaysia is Islam and the head of Islam is the Yang Dipertuan Agong, but other religions are freely practised. These are Buddhism, in the Theravada, Mahayana and increasingly also Vajrayana traditions, Taoism, Chinese folk religion, Hinduism, Catholicism, Protestantism (the largest denominations of which are the Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, Anglican, Presbyterian and Baptists) and Sikhism- reflecting Penang’s diverse ethnic and socio-cultural amalgamation.

There is also a small, but little-known, community of Jews in Penang, mainly along Jalan Zainal Abidin (formerly Jalan Yahudi or Jewish Street)

Agriculture

Penang agriculture is mainly made up of the major export crops of rubber and oil palm and some cocoa, the food commodities comprising paddy, fruits, coconut, vegetables, livestock (which is dominated by poultry and swine), fisheries and aquaculture, and new emerging industries such as ornamental fish and floriculture.

Owing to limited land size and the highly industrialised nature of Penang’s economy, agriculture is given little emphasis. In fact, agriculture is the only sector to record negative growth in the state, contributing only 1.3% to the state GDP in 2000. The share of Penang’s paddy area to the national paddy area accounts for only 4.9%.

Food

Penang island is a paradise for food lovers who come from all over Malaysia and even Singapore to sample the island’s unique cuisine, earning Penang the nickname of the food capital of Malaysia. Penang was recognised as having the Best Street Food in Asia by TIME magazine in 2004, citing that nowhere else can such great tasting food be so cheap.

Penang’s cuisine reflects the Chinese, Nyonya, Malay and Indian ethnic mix of Malaysia, but is also strongly influenced by the cuisine of Thailand to the north. It’s especially famous “hawker food”, sold and eaten roadside, strongly features noodles and fresh seafood. Places to savour Penang’s food are Gurney Drive, Pulau Tikus, New Lane, Swatow Lane, Penang Road and Chulia Street. Local Chinese restaurants serve excellent fare too. American fast food outlets and cafés are readily found throughout the state.

Shopping

Although Penang has lost much of its shopping paradise grandeur of its past, it still boasts several modern shopping malls catering a wide range of merchandise. Among the more popular ones on Penang Island are:

  • Queensbay Mall, Penang’s largest and longest shopping centre,
  • Gurney Plaza, touted as Penang’s first lifestyle-oriented shopping mall. Opened in 2001, it is located at the famous Gurney Drive precicnt.
  • KOMTAR is Penang’s first and oldest modern shopping mall. Plans are currently underway to revive the massive complex.

Other notable shopping malls on the mainland part of Penang:

  • Sunway Carnival Mall located at Seberang Jaya.
  • Seberang Prai City Perdana Mall located at Bandar Perda.

Concerns about Penang beaches

State Tourism Development Committee chairman Teng Chang Yeow said that there were plans to clean up and landscape the beaches in Batu Ferringhi. “The cleanliness of our beaches has been neglected for more than 10 years and this is a challenge to the tourism sector,”.

He added that the state Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) took water samples from beaches in Batu Ferringhi and determined numerous pollution sources including the sewage system, illegal restaurants and hawkers and car-washing activities.

State Tourism Development Committee chairman Teng Chang Yeow said he was informed of the matter by the management of Malaysia Airlines. “The number of tourists from these regions has been steadily declining over the past decade” and “Tourists come to the state for the surf and sand but they usually return home disappointed. We are even losing out domestically to Pangkor and Langkawi” “Rivers will be cleaned up and illegal outlets draining sewage into the sea will be connected to a treatment plant by 2009.”

Association of Tourist Attractions Penang (ATAP) chairman Eddy Low said “We strongly discourage food courts or stalls being set up or built near the sea to prevent the dumping of rubbish into the sea and around the area. ” He said there should also be a massive plan for a central sewerage system so that waste would not go to the sea. There is also a need to protect the outer islands such as Pulau Jerejak, Pulau Rimau and Pulau Aman. “It is important for us to maintain these islands which are still pristine and untouched by pollution.”


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St George’s Church

St George's Church - Penang

The Grand Dame of South-East Asia

St George’s Church

Farquhar Street, George Town.

Dedicated to the patron saint of England, St George’s Churh is South-East Asia’s oldest Anglican church and the largest in Malaysia. In 1817, the seed for building this grand house of worship had been sown and just a year later, building commenced at a cost of about 60,000 Spanish dollars – quite a huge sum in those days!

Built by Indian convicts in the veins of Western neo-classical style and Georgian Palladian design, the white building was inspired by the architectural style that was the rage in Britain and other parts of Europe at the time.

The brick building, modeled after a similar one in Madras, has a plastered stone base. The roof was originally flat but was converted to a gable in 1864. The highest point is the octagonal steeple and the most eminent feature is the portico of  Greek columns outside the front entrance. These columns are “Doric” in style (like the Parthenon in Athens).

Former British Governor of Penang Colonel John Alexander Bannerman’s daughter later married at the church that was constructed during her father’s term. Janet Bannerman’s marriage to Governor W.E. Philips Esq on June 30, 1818, was the first marriage ceremony for St George’s.

Then in 1799, the widow of Captain Francis Light – the man who established Penang as a trading post, also chose to re-marry at the Greek and Roman influenced building.

Although it was built under the auspices of Philips and Bannerman themselves (the highest-ranking British officers on the island then), the church was founded by Reverend Sparke Hutchings.

The congregation in those days comprised a multi crew of British officials, printers, tavern-keepers, fiddlers, hairdressers, coach-makers, watchmakers, coppers, shipwrights, merchants, planters and sailors, and French and Dutch prisoners of war who filled the pews and enjoyed the gardens.

Perhaps divine intervention has saved (except for the roof) the church from the World War II air raids, allowing ex-servicemen from the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) to come “home” annually to honour 35 of their comrades who died in the line of duty and were laid to rest in various cemeteries in the country. A plaque bearing the names of those killed in action during their brief sojourn in Malaya between 1947 and 1951 hangs inside the church.

Within the sprawling church compound still sits a beautiful domed structure built more than 120 years ago in memory of Light and in celebration of the founding of Penang as a trading post in 1786.

Shrubs surround the Greek temple-like memorial, bringing with it a sense of tranquility despite its location in the heart of the city.

During the war, (now antique items like the) pews, pulpit, lectern and organ were looted by the locals but a marble plaque (engraved with writings about Light) framed by two column figures, is worth a look.

As a tribute to the Grand Dame, the church was gazetted as a historical monument in 1996, acknowledging its importance and role in the spread of Christianity in the region. Indeed, the essence of the church lies in its unpretentious yet breathtaking facade.

These days, mass is still conducted here every Sunday morning. Non-Christian couples who have fallen in love with the historical church often arrange for their wedding photographs to be taken in the compound while many Christians take great pride in exchanging their vows in a church that epitomises eternity.

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