My Foggy Tomorrow, the Soundtrack

Khalid AlShaikh – 3a6ny wa3ad (Chapter 2)

Ahmed AlJumairy – Taw elNahar (Chapter 3)

Abdulrab Edris – Laila (Chapter 15)

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Kuwait, The Happy Bubble

It was a perfect evening in Zwara Café at The Grand Avenues. I was sipping Turkish Coffee with medium sugar, just the way I like it, while discussing the Gulf War with my friends. The Ogaily and Kunafa that we were sharing were extremely tasteful that we had to cut the conversation to compliment them after every bite. I love talking about the Gulf War with Kuwaitis because I get to hear inside stories from people who witnessed the events, lived through it and survived it. And there we were, four Bahraini girls and a Kuwaiti one, having a rich conversation with classic Khaleeji songs playing in the background. My mind withdrew from the conversation when Abdulkarim Abdulqader started singing Meshtereeh. It was a pure Kuwaiti moment with all the traditional surroundings, the accent echoing all around us, the taste of the authentic desserts and the old music. I just wished that the beautiful feeling I felt right then could last forever.

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For three full days I felt like I was living on a cloud. I’m a person who gets easily irritated but I was in such a good mood that nothing was able to ruin it. I came to a conclusion that Kuwait is the most inspiring country in the Gulf. It’s easy to spot and feel the passion of the talented youth wherever you go. It was like watching a modern version of “7aflat elKuwait” and admiring every scene just like I used to do when I was a kid. Kuwaitis never fail to impress the world with their talents, uniqueness, originality and most importantly; their genuine love for their country.

It was very exciting to be surrounded by fashionable people. Girls, guys, mothers, kids, men and even grandmothers were dressed up. Each one of them had his own unique style. I admired how familiar they were with fashion and how they had the ability and confidence to play with their look. For example, if the outfit was too simple, the wavy hair and dark makeup would balance the look. It was also very interesting to see people spending the day out of their homes and enjoying their time. All restaurants and cafes were lively and full. The food was excellent and the atmosphere was vibrant everywhere we went. I believe that this was the source of the happy vibes I got.

We made the right decision by staying at Missoni Hotel. Fresh colors, very good service and location (it was not as far as people made it sound), and the view of the city extending over the sea was beautiful. But more was expected from a 5 starts hotel, like providing shower caps and cotton buds in the toilet. But it was a comfortable hotel nonetheless and the breakfast buffet was extremely delicious.

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Having late lunch at B+F was a pleasant experience. The food was very good and the restaurant was almost full which was not expected since it was half past three. 360 mall was nearly empty but it was nice to walk around the designer shops and cafes.

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We visited two local boutiques in AlJabria area. The Creative Style and My May. It wasn’t my favorite part of the trip as I’m not a fan of funky outfits but I made sure to buy the only classic item I found! It was raining outside and that was a lovely thing to remember other than digging for something that suited me.

Chocolate Bar was never my kind of café. But I was desperate for caffeine and it was one of the few attractive options at AlHamra Mall. The Turkish Coffee was good but the cookie wasn’t. Discovering this new mall was quite interesting as it was quiet with a variety of shops, mostly designers. Note that “quiet” in Kuwait means almost full but not crowded, while “quiet” in Bahrain means almost empty.

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Salheya was packed at night. All cafes and restaurants were full and we had to wait for almost an hour to get a table at Gathering. Walking with high heals was not easy because of all the bricks and it was funny how all women were watching their steps. I loved everything about Gathering; the style, the food, the colors and the location.

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The Avenues didn’t exist when I last went to Kuwait in 2007. I was mesmerized with the Grand Avenues the moment I stepped in. It was bright, spacious and grand! I couldn’t stop smiling while walking around and seeing people having coffee, shopping, eating, socializing and even working out! It was the place to be. I fell in love with the new section too (traditional souq) and enjoyed shopping there. All the cafes and restaurants were busy and tempting to try. I wish that I had more time to try them all but we only managed to try Figs and Katsuya for lunch, Life with Cacao and Zwara for dessert and Khobz ElDar for a snack.

I found the concepts and menus of the local contemporary restaurants very similar. They mainly served modern salads, pizzas, pastas and small dishes to share. But each one of them had something special that was highlighted by people.

Figs, excellent food.

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If I had to pick one restaurant to recommend after this trip, I’d definitely say Katsuya. I can easily say and without any competition that it’s the best Japanese food I’ve ever had. Every single dish was extremely tasteful and delicious. Staff were very helpful and friendly. Rating: 10/10.

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I liked the concept of Khobz ElDar, Saj on the go. The interior of the place was beautifully designed and the small place was well utilized. The taste was average though.

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Life with Cacao, what can I say! Delicious desserts that keep surprising you with every bite. Dip the cookies in the chocolate fondue and you’ll be in heaven. Their coffee was also good.

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Cocoa Room was lovely but I felt it was a bit overrated. Service was bad, tea was finished and falafel was finished too. We ordered two egg dishes and they were ok. BUT the Nutella French Toast was one of the best desserts I’ve ever had. It looked beautiful and tasted even better.  Not to be missed if you’re visiting Kuwait.

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Melenzane was located in a complex inline with other restaurants and cafes and it was nice to walk outdoors and view the different available options. It was Thursday night and the place was packed. Food was good but also too heavy that we couldn’t finish any of the dishes. If I had to choose between Figs and Melenzane I’d go for Figs.

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We had another amazing dessert in Prime & Toast, Cream Ford Caramel. What I loved about it is how it tasted like a modernized version of a Ramadan homemade sweet. You can feel the famous taste of Morning Coffee biscuit mixed with condensed milk but it was much more than that. It had a rich taste and it was addictive. You won’t be able to put the spoon down.

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Putting food aside, I loved the local radio stations. Their DJs were funny and their choice of songs was upbeat and fun. We were thrilled when we opened the radio once and Ya Nar Shibby started playing. While walking to Melenzane, one of the passing cars was playing Ya Seedhum Wainek for Nawal.

Their publications are another story. The local newspapers and magazines are interesting and written/published by passionate people who have the experience and knowledge. Kuwait was always the leading country in the Gulf when it came to media and it’s impressive how it still is number one.

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Kuwait is a country of class and high taste. Inspiration can be found in every corner; between the old and the new, the traditional and the modern, the affordable and the expensive. People change after going through catastrophic events and I can see how the Gulf War changed Kuwait and every Kuwaiti. They grew out of it, built their country with love and confidence and they keep developing by the day. And I really respect that.

I’m sending my love to Kuwait through this post. الله يديم عليكم الأمان والسعادة

November 2013

Oman.. The Mountain & The Sea..

Living on an island in the Arabian Gulf, you’d expect being surround by beaches and sea activities. Unfortunately, we used to say that the closest decent beach to us was in Dubai. But after visiting Oman, i totally changed my mind. I an now definitely sure that Oman is the number one beach destination in the region.

We spent 4 nights in May 2013 (Labor Day holiday) in Shangri-La Barr Al Jissa. It was a great stay despite the slow service at the reception, the rainy storms at night and the smelly bed sheets.

Flight: Oman Air: 1 hour and thirty minutes from Bahrain to Muscat. Around BD70. It was my first time to try Oman Air and i was pleased.

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We got to witness how sweet and nice Omanis were as soon as we arrived. The guy who worked in Omantel in the airport was very  friendly and funny. The taxi driver who dropped us to the hotel gave us a tour and brief descriptions about every landmark that was on our way.

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The drive from the airport to the hotel was around one hour. The hotel was located on a mountain so the road got a bit scary after passing the center of the city which is around half an hour away from the hotel.

Shangri-La Barr Al Jissa consists of three different hotels; 1) Al-Husn, the most luxurious of the three and It has its own private beach and pool that kids under 16 years old can’t use. 2) Al-Bandar: Old town design, less luxurious than Al-Husn and better quality than Al-Waha. It was my least favorite. 3) Al-Waha: Family friendly & the cheapest of the three hotels. It has a shared beach with Al-Bandar but it also has its own pool. It’s the largest hotel of the three.

The view from the room in Al-Waha was very beautiful and relaxing (sea-view room). I used to wake up early in the morning, sit in the balcony , breath the fresh air and listen to the sound of the waves hitting the shore. Another option was to go for an early walk on the beach. The weather was good during the day/ stormy at night.

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After breakfast, most people lay by the beach, read a book while tanning and swim in the Gulf of Oman. The beach was very clean (no stones or sea weeds) and the temperature of the water was perfect. The waves were a bit high which made swimming much more fun.

Sea activities were also available; snorkeling, canoeing, fishing, boat rides etc.

The way the hotel was positioned between the stoney mountains added a lot to the atmosphere and it was a great reminder that you’re in Oman!

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In addition to the pool, there is a Lazy River that takes you from Al-Bandar to Al-Waha and vice versa!

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We were a bit disappointed with the rooms. The furniture was pretty old. You’d expect more luxury being in Shangri-La even if it was a resort especially that the room rate was not cheap. My friend couldn’t stand the smell of the sheets which I only noticed after she complained. I liked the cute traditional painting on top of the bed.

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Hotel Restaurants:

Sultana (Al-Husn): Fine dining. There are two dining areas; indoor & outdoor. When the weather is fine, dining outdoors is a must!. It’s too dark to see what you’re eating or to see the lovely view though. Delicious food & rich atmosphere.

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Samba (Al-Waha): Breakfast is served there. Loved the fresh colors of the interiors and the variety of food.

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Al Tanoor (Al Bandar): Breakfast is also served there. We tried it once but i preferred Samba.

Zafran Cafe: Located in an arcade and hotel residents can reach it by buggy. Loved their light sandwiches and tea.

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Not forgetting the best part of any beach holiday: Burger by the beach!

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More restaurants were available at the hotel. But we only tried the ones above since we used to leave the hotel to discover the city by afternoon.

Muscat:

The drive from the hotel to the city was an amazing experience. The hotel provided bus rides to the city at certain hours of the day but you can also take a taxi to reach faster. We tried both. The benefit of being on the bus gives you enough time to view the beautiful scenery with a mountain on your left side and the sea on your right! Once you pass that part, beautiful white buildings start appearing by the sides of the road. They are all designed in a similar way with the same height. Even the signs of the shops were very similar to each other which gave the city a very clean and tidy image. It didn’t look real. It felt like being in Lego Land!

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Souq Muttrah:

It’s beautiful how this souq is located in front of the corniche. The entrance is lined up with all the other shops which are facing the corniche that you don’t expect a whole souq right behind it. All kinds of shops can be found there; shoes, perfumes, souvenirs, toys, antiques etc. However, i expected more variety of local stuff but there wasn’t much to buy. It was raining when we went and we didn’t understand why the shops suddenly started closing. Shortly after, the place started flooding and we had to leave. It was a fun experience!

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On our way to Muttrah we found a small shop that served fried snacks. We had to try the Rgag when we found out that it was served there. We ordered one with cheese & honey and another with cheese & chips Oman. It was delicious!

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Royal Opera House:

Unfortunately it was closed when we went and they did’t allow any tourists inside. Everything looked grand from the outside and i was very sad that no shows were playing during our stay in Muscat. I will definitely fly there someday just to attend a show in this posh place.

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Opera Galleria is a shopping mall that is a part of the Opera House. It was too quiet with few shops open including the famous restaurant More. The local staff of the mall were not helpful at all and it was very difficult to find a taxi around the area.

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Jawharat AlShate’a Mall: There were a couple of cute cafes, a vintage shop and a post office inside (Those were the only places that caught my attention). But the mall itself looked very old just like a blast from the 80’s.

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Grand Mall: We went there planning to do some shopping but there was nothing to buy. None of the international clothing stores (Zara, Mango etc) were available. Footwear, make up, electronics, and perfume shops were there but it was shocking that a new mall which was supposed to be Grand didn’t sell any decent clothes!

Halwa ElDeewaneya: A local shop that sells Omani Halwa in different kinds and sizes. They offer packing the boxes and delivering them to the hotel to be taken home fresh.

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Restaurants:

1) Kargeen: We had high expectations about this restaurant because it looked beautiful in pictures. The outdoor area was nice but sitting there was not an option because of the stormy weather. We walked through mazes of trees till we reached the room where we were going to have our lunch/dinner. It looked like a dining room in a haunted house with a long dining table in the center and a chandelier hanging on top of it. It was impossible to identify the theme of the restaurant. It had no identity and more like “too much of everything”. The waitresses were dressed in Jasmin’s costume (from Aladdin)  and the service was extremely bad. It took them a very long time to take our orders and over an hour to get our food. Their excuse was that they had nothing to cover the plates with to bring them from the kitchen since it was raining heavily. They were waiting for the rain to stop!! We offered our umbrellas and they immediately got the food using them!

The food was average. All kinds of food were available on the menu (which was full of ads & looked more like a magazine) but we decided to try an Omani dish called Shuwa. It was delicious at the beginning but the high amount of herbs used made us all feel nauseous afterwards.

The music had nothing to do with the place. It was Egyptian and very out of date. On top of all that, the ceiling was leaking and our chair got wet. It was one of the worst and maybe the freakiest dining experiences i’ve ever had.

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Sliders Station: Loud and crowded in a beautiful way. It was located in a complex along with other cafes and restaurants. It was a Thursday night and all the locals were hanging out there. The food, which was shared, was good. I liked the sliders concept.

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The Chedi (hotel):

The moment i stepped in, i knew where i was going to stay in my next visit to Muscat. It wasn’t as big and bright as a chain hotel and not so dark and tight like a boutique hotel. It was somewhere in between. We had a look at the Long Pool Cabana which was full of expats enjoying their weekend in a chilled atmosphere. It was not possible to make a reservation in this restaurant so we made a reservation earlier that day at The Restaurant in the same hotel.

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The Restaurant:

One of the best dining experiences i’ve ever had. The place was gorgeous with many chandeliers hanging down the ceiling. The food was excellent and the atmosphere was very classy.

Don’t miss the unique toilets at the lobby of the hotel!

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I made sure to explore Muscat as a city although the main purpose of the trip was to relax by the beach. I was impressed with the clean and tidy look of the buildings and roads but i was also shocked to see how it lacked a lot of main attractions. The city has potential to grow and it is developing in a slow pace. Something has  to be done about providing more dining options and franchising shops and restaurants to entertain the tourists who visit mainly for the beach and sea activities.

Muscat is a great option for a short vacation even if you decide not to leave the hotel!

A Night in Doha

It’s definitely worth it to fly to Doha to attend an event.  Not only because it’s 45 minutes away from Bahrain by airplane, but also because it’s fun to squeeze your limited activities there around a day or two.

In January 2013, we went to Doha for one night to attend Majida AlRoumi’s concert in Katara and here is how we planned the visit:

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Airline: Qatar Airways (around BD50).

Transportation: It’s not easy to find taxis in Doha. We hired a driver.

Hotel: Grand Hayatt: We chose it because it was the closest to Katara and the room price was good. It was a nice traditional style hotel with friendly staff. But the rooms were small so adding an extra bed wasn’t an option. The room can only accommodate a maximum of 2 people. The city view was beautiful.

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Day 1:

Museum of Modern Art: A must visit whether you love or hate museums. It’s something  to be proud of. You will need a maximum of 2 hours to walk around the halls and view every piece. Once you’re done, have a cup of tea or coffee in the cafe. Spectacular view.

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Katara (cultural village): A walk around Katara to explore the cafes, restaurants, galleries and exhibitions. We had Chapati & Karak while waiting for the concert to start.

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The concert was held in the open air theatre and the setting was beautiful. Comfortable seats (chairs with no legs) were placed on the steps of the theatre. The concert was too good to be true and very well organized. Being a big fan of Majida i enjoyed every second of it. ImageImageImageImage

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All the restaurants in Katara were fully booked after the concert. I was glad that i made a booking at Sukar Pasha Turkish restaurant earlier that day. The food was very good and the decoration was luxurious with an Ottoman touch. Recommended.

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Day 2:

Souq Wagif: We had breakfast in Zatar o Zait and then walked around the souq. Unfortunately for us, it was Friday and all shops started closing by 11:30am for Juma Prayer. Generally speaking, Souq Wagif is a very lively and authentic place to visit and shop for traditional stuff (material, food, birds etc).

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Villaggio Mall:

All the shops, cafes, restaurants, supermarket and cinema in Villaggio Mall were closed for Friday prayer. It was shocking to know that a city where you can see more expats than locals close for hours during the weekend. We had to hide in a cafe (luckily he agreed to sneak us in) till all the places started opening by 2pm. Anyhow, Villaggio is a good place for shopping and hanging out in Doha. We had our lunch in Shake Shack.

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Our Thursday was well utilized but Friday afternoon was a waste of time. We wished that we knew about the closing hours in order to book a morning flight back to Bahrain instead of an evening one.

24 hours in Doha could be a great way to break your routine or have a quick break. Keep an eye on the events that take place during the year. It could be Cirque du Soleil or a concert in Katara. It will definitely be a night to remember.

Saks & the City

Have you ever walked into a fashion store and wished that it was your wardrobe? That wish came true for me yesterday!! Me & some other lucky bloggers got an interesting invitation from Saks M.E to design our own mannequins. And what a fun experience it was!! At first it was very challenging to pick an outfit out of all the gorgeous displayed items. But it got easier when i narrowed my options and decided to go for a simple outfit that represented me best. A pink, short Marni dress caught my eyes and i fell in love with it immediately. I wanted my mannequin to look elegant, not funky nor loud. And so the pink dress was the perfect choice. I started walking around holding the dress, looking for a matching bag, accessory and shoes. It was funny how everyone was telling me: That’s so you!! It was a good lesson for me to stop wishing to change my style and go for a new look. Because it seemed like i had my own look that i was known for. Even though it’s simple, it tells a lot about my personality. I tried to break the simplicity by looking for a funky accessory. I like the combination of pink and green and i had green in mind while searching for a necklace. It took me a while, but i found the perfect one! I failed to find green heels in the shoe section but i went for classic black heels to maintain the elegant look. Finding a matching bag was the most difficult part. I kept roaming around between Balenciaga, Bottega, Celine, and Mulberry but none of the bags complimented the look i was going for. I gave up and picked a pink Balenciaga. And so, my mannequin ended up looking exactly like me. Simple and pink with a failed trial to break the classic look, which was the green necklace.

For someone who finds her fun in writing and reading, fashion was a great way to break the routine and seek inspiration elsewhere. Thank you Saks for this great opportunity.

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Istanbul.. How Deep is Your Love?

 

Lists of tried and tested hotels, malls, other attractions and most importantly restaurants and cafes:

Hotels:

1) Park Hyatt: Great location in Nişantaşı, spacious rooms and friendly staff. We faced some issues with housekeeping which was a disappointment but we had a pleasant stay overall.

2) Pera Palace Jumeira Hotel: Since 1892! Staying there is an experience of its own as it’s more of a museum/hotel.  The hotel is now managed by Jumeirah and the room rates are quite high. We were disappointed with the service and some of the room facilities but other than that we enjoyed going back in time. The classic furniture was breathtaking (especially in the corner room that we stayed in). Don’t miss the pink tearoom in the ground floor.

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3) Swissotel: One of the best hotels that overlooks the Bosphorus. The room view is breathtaking (make sure you book a Bosphorus view room). The rooms are spacious and the service is very good. I stayed in it twice and i was pleased both times. If you book an executive room you get to use the Executive Lounge which offers breakfast and snacks all day.

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4) Park Dedeman, Levent: A new hotel right next to Kanyon Shopping Center. Suitable for a casual stay if you’re using public transportation. Note that it’s a 4 stars hotel and amenities are limited.

5) Conrad Istanbul, Bosphorus: If you prefer a hotel with a Bosphorus view and a good rate then Conrad is a great option. The rate is not as high as the other 5 stars hotels that offer a Bosphorus view and the rooms are clean and comfortable.

6) The Sofa Hotel: A nice and cozy boutique hotel in Nisantasi. Recent comments and reviews show a high drop in quality and services though.

7) Radisson Blu Bosphorus Hotel: Great location in Ortakoy with a direct view over the Bosphorus. Tight rooms and not so convenient.

 

8) Hilton Istanbul Bomonti: Twenty minutes walk from Nişantaşı and no access to public transportation (closest is Osmanbey 20 mins on foot). Service and amenities were much better during my first stay but it was the total opposite in 2018.

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9) The Marmara Taksim Hotel: Perfect location for first timers and for those who love Taksim. Excellent if you use public transportation. 

 

History & Culture:

1) Dolmabahce Palace: Separated from all the other historical attractions and so the visit needs to be planned on its own. Only guided tours are allowed and the queue/wait is usually long so it’s better to avoid weekends and peak hours.

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2) Suleymaniye Mosque: The most beautiful mosque interior i’ve ever witnessed. Just look up at the beautiful ceiling and lights and you’d understand. The red carpet is adding a lot to the beauty of this mosque too.

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3) Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque).

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4) Topkapi Palace: Your visit to Istanbul won’t be complete if you don’t visit Topkapi. It is huge, extraordinary and you can feel the history in every brick around you. The garden is the most beautiful part with its amazing sea view. Don’t miss the room where Quran is being read 24 hours and where you’ll see some of Prophet Mohammed’s belongings.

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5) Grand Bazaar: Over 3000 shops and you won’t get bored or tired of shopping. They sell the most beautiful teaware and accessories. Make sure you bargain because you will probably find the same items in other shops.

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6) Spice Bazaar: An L shaped bazaar where you’ll find spices, sweets, teas, loofas, teaware etc. The market behind the Bazaar is even more fun to shop at so make sure to continue shopping outside once you’re done.

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7) Hagia Sophia: A must visit museum (which was a church and then a mosque). There is a great historical background behind it that you don’t want to miss so make sure you take an audio tour.

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8) Basilica Cistern: Where water used to be stored underground. It’s dark, humid, and slippery!

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9) Galata Tower: Climb the tower if you want to take panoramic pictures of the city. It is very tight and crowded on top so if photography is not your thing don’t go up there. The area is full of beautiful shops that you don’t want to miss.

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10) The Museum of Innocence: For literature lovers. This museum is based on Orhan Pamuk’s mesmerizing novel. It is highly recommended to visit even if you have not read the novel. You will fall in love with the details and lose track of time..

11) Istanbul Modern: Museum of Modern Art. A must for art lovers.

12) Sakıp Sabancı Müzesi: Formerly the home of Sakıp Sabancı and currently a museum. Family portraits and furniture are displayed and temporary international exhibitions are hosted there.

Malls: 

1) Istinye Park: The perfect place to shop & dine. International brands are located outside in a beautiful square with restaurants in the center. Inside the mall you’ll find a lot of stores (local/international). My favourite spot is the bazaar (-1) where you’ll find gourmet shops, cafes & restaurants!

2) Kanyan Mall: A one of a kind outdoor shopping mall. Beautiful architecture and atmosphere. Lots of options for dining.

3) Zorlu Center: For shopping, dining, or just hanging out. A beautiful place to be.

4) Vadi Istanbul.

5) Emaar Square.

6) Ozdilek Shopping Center.

7) City’s Nişantaşı For a quick round of shopping once you’re around the area.

8) Akmerkez: One of the oldest malls but it has everything you need. This is a great option if you have limited time to shop.

9) Akasya Mall: The place to shop when you’re in the Asian side.

10) Cevahir Mall.

11) Astoria.

12) Metro City.

 

Restaurants & Cafes:

1) Karaköy Lokantası: Delicious Turkish dishes, marble turquoise walls and a great closure to a stroll around Karaköy’s allies. A family owned non-touristy restaurant that is worth visiting. Booking required.

2) Martinez: I fell in love with this new comer. Excellent service and an enjoyable atmosphere. Some dishes were really good and some were average but I’d love to go again for lunch. Once you book, request an outdoor table as the atmosphere is more vibrant in the terrace.

3) Bazlama: This is the place to be for breakfast nowadays. Colorful and yummy set menu with a sweet lady baking bread by the entrance. Open from Thursday to Sunday only. Make sure to go early to avoid the long queue. Location: Nisantasi.

4) Lokma: A place that never gets old and one of the most popular breakfast spots. Breathtaking Bosphorus view and very tasty food.

5) Delicatessen: Beautiful space and a local crowd. It’s more of a gourmet/cafe during lunch time. The food was fresh and delicious (especially their seasonal menu). Location: Nisantasi.

6) Mangerie: A chic cafe hidden in a terrace in Bebek. It serves Turkish and international food and famous for its breakfast. Get a table in the balcony as the view is not to be missed.

7) Grandma: Everything is phenomenal about this place. The food, the interior, the friendly staff. Recommended dish: Fried eggs in scone. Location: Akmerkez Shopping Center.

8) Nev Lokanta: Located in Kanyon Shopping Center. Good food, beautiful interior and classic Turkish songs playing in the background.

9) Mim Kahve: This cafe is situated in a very narrow and long building in Eminönü that was hard to spot. The sign of the letter Mim written in Arabic was like a secret code or a clue to let you know that there is a magical place hidden inside.

10) Tahin: Suitable for vegetarians. Delicious food and several locations around Istanbul.

11) Passage: Food that is cooked to perfection. The ambience will make you forget that you’re inside a shopping mall. (Location: Kanyon Shopping Center)

12) Norm: For coffee lovers or coffee on the go. Cihangir.

13) Eataly: Wonderland for Italian food lovers with different stations and dining areas for each item. Zorlu Center.

14) VI Coffee & Healthy Living: A great spot to hangout and have a good cup of coffee.

15) Nişantaşı Başköşe: If you are around the area and in the mood for Turkish food then it’s worth a visit. 

16) Sade Kahve: A tiny and bright cafe with delicious Turkish Breakfast overlooking the Bosphorus in Rumeli Hisari.

17) Forno: For breakfast or a load of carbs when you’re starving in Balat!

18) Fida Cafe: A cozy cafe in Balat with good music. Suitable for a coffee break.

19)  Hümaliva Çikolata: A cozy cafe with great music and interesting interior in Nisantasi.

20) Velvet Cafe: Few meters away from Galata Tower. Beautifully accessorized and pretty teaware/plates. Breakfast is served all day.

21) Fasuli: A traditional restaurant in Karakoy that serves Fasulye out of huge pots. Worth trying.

22) Da Mario: A vibrant fine dining Italian restaurant located in Etiler. Book a table in the garden if the weather is allowing. Delicious dishes!

23) Bebek Mini Dondurma: Ice cream on the go. The pistachio is excellent.

24) Starbucks Bebek: Three floors with a magnificent view! One of the most beautiful Stabucks branches in the world.

25) Grandpa: When you need a break from Turkish food, head there for some baked goods and coffee. Beautiful interior. Don’t miss the mini garden in the back!

26) Must: It is impossible not to notice this restaurant while strolling around Nisantasi and impossible to resist walking in. The decoration is too attractive to ignore.

27) Not Just Coffee: Excellent coffee served in a very cute space in Cihangir. Highly recommended for coffee addicts.

28) Dem: A very pretty cafe in Moda (Asian side). A great place to have some tea and cake in the afternoon. Another branch is available in Karakoy.

29) LOL Coffee Roasters: It’s tough to settle on a place when you’re in Karakoy, but if you’re looking for a good cup of coffee then you won’t go wrong with LOL.

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30) Naif: Beautiful interior and good food with a Turkish twist. Located in Karakoy.

31) Taze Lokanta: Famous for its Manti. Located in Kanyon Shopping Center.

32) Aşiyan Kitap Kahve: Colorful and calm with books and a quiet crowd. Located in Üsküdar (Asian side).

33) Pim Karaköy: Located in the center and buzzing side of Karaköy. Good Food.

34) Ulus 29: My number one restaurant in Istanbul. The atmosphere is classy yet fun and the view from the balcony is breathtaking. It’s very hard to make a decision once you go through the menu and sharing is the best option. Their dishes are unique.

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35) Kale Cafe: A perfect choice for a local breakfast with a Bosphorus view. You will be seated on the pavement and the strangers next to you will seem as if they are sharing your table, but this could be one of the most relaxing breakfast experiences you’ll ever have. You will be served some basic dishes (and tea of course) as soon as you are seated and then add whatever you wish to try from the menu. Sipping Turkish tea while watching the seagulls spread their wings and fly around the Bosphorus bridge is always the most delightful experience in Istanbul.

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36) Aşşk Kahve: Beautiful interior and view but the food is overrated. It is a popular place especially for Khaleejis so if you want to avoid the crowd choose another place on the same road or try the other hidden branch in Nisantasi.

37) Nusret: Nusret Steakhouse is one of the most popular and busiest restaurants in Istanbul. Nusret Burger is more casual and several branches are available. The steakhouse is now open in Istinye Park Shopping Center.

38) Tom’s Kitchen: Located in Zorlu Mall. A great option for brunch.

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39) Sütiş: There are several branches of Sütiş but we were told that the one by the Bosphorus (Emirgan) was the nicest. We went for dinner and it was full and vibrant but the food options were limited. For breakfast, it is one of the top of most delicious places in Istanbul.

 

40) Develi Restaurant: A good option for a Turkish meal when you’re in Nişantaşı. Delicious Meze in a modernized Turkish atmosphere.

41) Van Kahvaltı Evi: You will never get enough of this yummy Turkish breakfast. It’s a tiny place in Cihangir and totally worth visiting.

 

42) House Cafe: Perfect for a casual meal, good food and chilled atmosphere. The breakfast is very good too. You will find a nearby branch wherever you go. My favourite branch is the one in Ortakoy (especially the outdoor area overlooking the Bosphorus in summer).

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43) Kitchenette: A similar concept to House Cafe. Casual and relaxing.

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44) Masa: One of the most popular restaurants in Istinye Park. Always busy and vibrant.

45) Nezih: Another awesome traditional restaurant that serves breakfast by the Bosphorus.

46) Doğaya Dönüş Bistro: A heavenly cafe for vegetarians. You can pick and choose what you desire from the available pots and cold dishes and have a colorful plate filled with delicious and colorful veggies. Location:Nişantaşı. 

47) Dandin:  A very cute bakery/cafe tucked in one of Karakoy’s busiest allies. Beautiful interior and tasteful quick bites.

48) Saray Muhallebicisi: One of the most famous casual Turkish chains. Breakfast is not to be missed. 

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49) Meze by Lemon Tree: A very small restaurant that serves modern Turkish cuisine. It was rated number one on Tripadvisor in 2009. Delicious food.

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50) Topaz: Turkish fine dining at its best. It’s overlooking the Bosphorus and serves modern Ottomani cuisine. If you’re not a fan of formal dining then this is not the place for you.

51) Zoma: Japanese restaurant located in Ortakoy (Radison Blu Hotel). Extremely delicious. We celebrated New Years Eve there and it was a perfect location to view the fireworks by the Bosphorus. Another branch is now open in Istinye Shopping Center.

52) Chillai: Delicious food and chilled atmosphere especially during sunset. Located in Bebek.

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53) Kosebasi: Even if it’s franchised in your country, the taste in Istanbul is completely different.

54) Hamdi: Delicious local Turkish food located next to Spice Bazaar. Worth a visit. Make sure you try the pistachio kebab.

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55) Cafe Firuz: For a quick meal when you’re in Cihangir.

56) Mado: A good option for a quick stop for tea/coffee and dessert. The Kunafa is to die for and the Sahlab is popular.

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57) Zamane Kahvesi: A small local restaurant in Nisantasi. It serves the most delicious Turkish breakfast I’ve ever tried. Very fresh.

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58) Laledan Restaurant at Ciragan Palace Kempinski: Grand breakfast buffet with a view. Endless variety of food and it all tastes excellent. You won’t be able to stop eating. Highly recommended.

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59) Sultanahmet Koftecisi Selim Usta: One of the traditional restaurants in Sultanahmed that serves a set menu of salad and kebab. It’s nice to be experienced once in a lifetime. It’s a three floor crowded restaurant that is perfect for tourists. The kebab was delicious but i didn’t like the aftertaste of it. There is a place right next to it, owned by the same person, that serves delicious local desserts. Worth a visit.

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60) Hunkar: A Turkish restaurant in Nisantasi located beautifully below the ground floor of a building. We tried their Iftar menu and it was an amazing experience to have Iftar the Turkish way. Their dishes were unique and not the typical Turkish dishes we try everywhere.

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61) Mikla: This restaurant was recommended in several websites and i was expecting a very special ambience. The location was practical (rooftop of Marmara Pera Hotel which was opposite to our hotel Pera Palace Jumeira). I booked a table in the balcony which is famous for its spectacular view of the city, but i arrived to find that the balcony was closed. Another surprise was that we had to select one of their three set menus (which didn’t include any chicken!). The service was slow and i got the feeling that this place was once the place to be, but not anymore!

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62) Mahallenin Kahvesi: Located in Beylerbeyi in the Asian side. This is the cafe were Omer & Elif used to meet in Kara Para Aşk. Excellent breakfast and your eyes will never get tired of scanning all the collections around the walls.

 

63) 360: Not one of my favourites but nicely located on the top floor of a building in Taksim. The atmosphere is electric with shows every now and then. It feels like a circus to me but people like it. The food is good.

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64)Küçük Ev: A delicious quick bite. Can be found in food courts and different streets. Good doner.

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65) Haskral: A traditional Turkish restaurant that serves the famous chicken which is stuffed with rice, cooked and served in rock salt. It’s a popular place for Khaleejis.

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66) Osmani: Casual Turkish. Average food. Located in the basement of Istinye Park.

67) Istinye Kahvecisi: When you need a break from shopping have a cup of Turkish Coffee here. It is located in the Bazaar section in Istinye Park (-1).

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68) Big Chefs: International and Turkish dishes with several branches around Istanbul.

69) Karakoy Gulluoglu: The best Baqlava in Istanbul that comes in different flavors and shapes. You choose the size of the box and, you select the baqlava that you want to add and you pay according to weight. They also wrap it and pack it for you so its more practical to go on your way to the airport. Passing by to have a quick fresh baqlava with a cup of Turkish tea is a must do.

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Outside Istanbul:

There are many cities and areas outside Istanbul that i wish to visit which includes Antalya, Antakya  Bodrum, Cappadocia and Izmir. The furthest i’ve been is Bursa, passing by Iznik on our way.

1) Iznik: It was famous for pottery making during the Ottoman period and Ibn Battuta stayed in it in 1331. If you’re a fan of history make sure to pass by Iznik to see some monuments and leftovers of a great era.

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2) Bursa: Getting to Bursa was a very interesting experience because we used two forms of transportation (car and ferry). We drove to the port, parked the car inside the ferry and enjoyed the one hour journey across the sea of Marmara while sipping tea on the top deck. We continued our way to Bursa by car and made a stop at Iznik.

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Our first stop in Bursa was at the Grand Mosque where we prayed Juma Prayer. The mosque was mesmerizing and some verses from the Quran were written on the columns. It was packed with locals who rushed from the nearby shops to perform Juma Prayer.

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Next stop was at the Green Mosque. It was small in size but rich with history.

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I will never forget the flavorful meaty taste of the lunch i had in Bursa. It was in a local restaurant that served one dish only: Meatball with Pita (Iskender Kebab).

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Shopping in Bursa was crazy. We literally went crazy because the prices were much cheaper than the prices of the same products in Istanbul. Everything we were looking for was available in one multi-story shop.

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We wrapped up our day trip with a relaxing walk around Tophane Park where the Bursa Clock Tower was located.

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3) Princes’ Isles: I visited the island out of curiosity after hearing a lot of good feedback about it. We toured around the old houses in a carriage and had seafood by the sea for lunch. That was it. There was nothing else to do over there. I actually found the ferry ride to the island much more interesting than the island itself, as the ferry stops in other islands to drop and pick passengers on its way to the main island (they are a total of nine islands). Cars are not allowed in Princes’ Islands. People move around on horses and carriages or bikes. It’s more of a residential area for residents who move there during summer to have a break of the city life.

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Planning a trip?

In my opinion, the best time to  visit Istanbul is in October. The weather is cool and breezy around that time of the year and the roads and venues are not as busy as the summer season. It starts getting busy again around Christmas/New Year time. But if you decide to celebrate New Years in Istanbul, make sure to book a restaurant by the Bosphorus to have a close view of the fireworks. I was excited to experience Ramadan in Istanbul, but  to my surprise there was nothing special other than the Iftar set menu that restaurants offered. The opening hours of the shops did not change and restaurants didn’t close during the day.

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Gulf Air and Turkish Air fly direct to Istanbul and tickets cost around BD200 or less during low seasons.

Enjoy your trip!

Travel Journal: Bangkok, The Mall Culture

Duration of stay: 3 nights.

Date: 28-31 October 2012

Flight: Direct 7 hours flight on Gulf Air Bahrain-Bangkok + Thai Smile for internal flights.

Purpose of trip: Transit after our holiday in Phuket + shopping.

Hotel: Siam Kempinski. It was the most interesting part of our stay in Bangkok. I can say that it was one of the best hotels i’ve ever stayed at and deciding to stay there was a wise decision. Mainly because most Arabs who visit Bangkok stay at Intercontinental and we didn’t want to go with the flow. The location was also great, right next to Siam Paragon shopping mall. What i loved about the hotel the most is the high ceilings that gave it a grand feel and of course the beautiful colorful flowers all around. It was a pleasure to the eye to see those gorgeous unique flowers every time we walkied in and out of the hotel. The breakfast buffet was good enough and the overall service was very good. The only negative thing about it was the concierge. When we first arrived we wanted to have Thai food for dinner, the man behind the concierge desk said that everywhere closes by 10pm but there is one place that closes at 10:30. We had to walk for 20 minutes to reach that place to find out that it was already closed by 10:15! (the owner + waitress were extremely rude). I also asked him about any local markets other than the Floating Market and he said that this is the only market. I didn’t bother to do my usual research as we were on a tight schedule but i later found out that there were other markets (the Night Market for example). Another thing is that i was keen on visiting malls with local brands in addition to the international ones that were mentioned in many brochures. He also said that those were the only malls available. I don’t know if it’s because of the language or that he really wasn’t familiar with the city. I didn’t trust his answer and asked around and found out about two of the most interesting local malls in Bangkok, MBK and Platinum. However, everything else about the hotel was perfect.

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Malls:

Walking around the streets in Bangkok was not so pleasant. If you put the humid and hot weather aside, the roads are smelly and not clean. We got a feel of the city when we took that 20 minutes walk to the closed restaurant, other than that we spent our stay jumping around from a mall to the other. I see Bangkok as a huge mall. Because that’s the only convenient thing you can do over there.

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1. Siam Paragon: Was my favourite. It’s huge with lots of international brands of all kinds. The best part about it was the restaurant area, especially the Food Hall part. All kind of restaurants spread around in a beautiful random way. Not in line or in blocks. It felt like each restaurant walked in and selected its own space without previous planning. I loved it and we had few meals there because the variety of restaurants was very interesting. We dined in Four Season Restaurant (Chinese, average food), Coffee Bean by Doa (the food looked interesting but we had dessert and it was nice), there was a Thai restaurant that had a long Thai name and served casual Thai cuisine which was average, and the Fish & Chips (Cafe Fish) was very delicious although it was the least busy place for some reason.

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2. MBK:

Just like an indoor market that sells local products; t-shirts, shoes, clothes, hair clips, bags and few souvenirs too. My discovery here was finding out how Food Courts operate in Thailand. The usual food courts that we know about consist of different restaurants, whereas in Thailand it’s one huge court with different types of food that operates under the same restaurant (like one huge restaurant with different units). One unit serves noodles, the other serves rice, and another one for juices, even Halal food had its own unit. How it works is that you buy coupons at first and then use them to place your order. It was an interesting experience to try it although the food was not that good. Another thing that grabbed my attention was a huge box for collecting used books.

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3. Emporium Mall:

Mainly international shops and a department store with posh Thai brands. Size wise it wasn’t as big as the other malls, but you can find what you’re looking for and finish shopping in an hour or two. It didn’t seem to be a tourists destination as almost all the people there were either housewives or students with their uniforms on. I was so happy to see one of my favourite bookstores Kinokuniya there. We also enjoyed tea & scones in TWG tearoom that had the longest tea menu i’ve ever had to go through.

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4. Platinum Fashion Mall:

This was the kind of mall that i was looking for. Local designs at cheap prices. It is very crowded and tight that you will suffocate and push people to manage to move but it’s worth it. They have some trendy funky outfits but you have to have the energy to search to find good pieces between all the piled clothes. Most people walk around pulling a huge pully to put all the shopping bags inside. Luckily they sell those pullies there and i got one which made shopping there much more practical and fun.

5. Discovery Mall: A small shopping center with few shops that i didn’t find interesting. I love the Thai bag brand Naraya and there was a big shop there that i enjoyed shopping at. There was a store that sells funky stationary and home accessories which was interesting. One of the girls didn’t feel like shopping so she spent an hour having a massage somewhere in the mall. There is a nice Starbucks there too.

If i’ll ever go to Bangkok again i will only go for shopping. Restaurants and malls close at 10pm so a group of girls will have nothing to do after that other than chilling at the hotel. I was expecting a variety of fine dining restaurants but the nearest restaurant that was open after 10pm (20 mins by car from hotel) was Eat Me and it was completely empty. It was a lovely restaurant and the food was good.

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Taxis are the best way to move around and they charge less than Tuk Tuks. The taxi drivers are not really friendly and they don’t undertand English. Some of them are bad with directions too.

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I think that i should visit Bangkok again to cover the tourist attractions starting from the Floating Market and cover the markets and malls that i didn’t get a chance to visit or didn’t know about this time. The shopping there was convenient and enjoyable and i can say that it’s one of the best cities for shopping. I would love to try other hotels too. The only thing that i don’t think that i’ll be excited about is the food. Since i only had sea food my options were limited and kind of tasteless. The supermarkets and bakeries were fun to shop at also.

If you’re a massive shopper i recommend Bangkok to you. If not, don’t bother..