Last Days in BKK

A quick taxi ride from DMK airport and I arrived at my home for my last few days in Bangkok, the Hansar. WELL. This place is pretty deluxe! A spacious and lovely suite and a huge bathroom and dressing area. I could get used to this…

Anyway, had a low-key evening and then was up at a reasonable hour on Sunday and headed out for lunch at May Kaidee, reputed to be one of BKK’s best vegetarian restaurants. Now, I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “Why on earth would you go to a vegetarian place when there are hundreds of places serving up delicious meat, fish and seafood mere steps from your hotel?” Well, in one of those “small world” type deals, my friend and former colleague Amanda and her b.f. just happened to be in BKK at the same as I was. They are in the middle of a rather long trip that started in South America and then brought them to Australia and parts of Asia. Oh, and she and her b.f. are both vegetarian, hence my magnanimous gesture in foregoing meat for a single meal during my visit to Thailand.

And the food was quite tasty! Plus it was really fun to catch up and hear about their adventures thus far. Ak and I gave them the 4-1-1 on our trip to Siem Reap, which was their next stop (our recommendation of Chanrey Tree was a big success, according to Amanda’s email a few days later). I had such an enjoyable time that I neglected to get out my phone for even one group selfie. Christ, what an asshole!

Back to the Hansar for some r&r by the pool, then out to dinner at what was listed on my itinerary as “Ak’s secret” – meaning Ak had chosen where we were eating and it was a surprise. It was a place called Hot Rod and they specialized in “Asian tapas” – which sounds a little suspect, but we were sitting at the bar and got to see all of our food (and cocktails, obv) prepared to order. Everything was pretty delicious, especially the grilled beef – not to mention my “Panda & Buffalo” cocktail. We had a great time here.

Next stop was J.boroski Mixology. Yeah, I know, it already sounds kind of insufferable – and I’ll cop to it being a bit precious. It’s located at the end of a non-descript alley in Thonglor. There’s no sign out front, though there is a discreet door guy who’ll let you know you’re in the right place. Inside it’s small and very dark (TBH, a bit too dark – but what’re you gonna do?). Ak and I were shown to a couple of seats in back and the fellow taking orders explained how things work: we tell him what kind of spirit we like, along with some ingredients or flavor profiles and he’ll tell the bartender who’ll create something for us. I mentioned gin and watermelon… Like I said, a bit presh – but you know what? The cocktails were fantastic and delicious. And the speakeasy vibe was pretty cool too – we def felt like we were someplace special, only open to those in the know. I really loved this place!

Then on to Sing Sing, voted one of BKK’s best bars. It’s done up in 1930s Shanghai-style glam and the photos I’d seen looked amazing. The reality was a bit different. It was pretty cool looking inside, but the music was lousy and painfully loud. And the few patrons there during my visit were all kinda bro types – I found the atmosphere rather uninviting. With that being said, our cocktail waitress was very nice – though the cocktails themselves were disappointing. All in all, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that I much preferred the low-key vibe of J.boroski to the OTT atmosphere of Sing Sing.

Back in Silom, we stopped in Soi 4  for another couple of drinks (because why not?) and then found ourselves feeling a bit peckish ‘round about midnight, as one does. Luckily, there was a Japanese place around the corner where we had ramen and gyoza before calling it a night.

Monday we planned to visit one of the residences of the royal family, the Queen Savang Vadhana Museum. It is only open for visits by the public during certain times of the year and I was lucky enough to be in Bangkok during that time. Conveniently located right next to Siam Paragon, we showed up there before lunch and we’re promptly told we needed to call to book an appointment in order to visit. Once again, I was very fortunate to have Ak with me – he got on the phone and was able to make arrangements for us to visit that afternoon.

So,  Ak and I headed off in search of a shop that sold home fragrance, only to discover that its location had been demolished. Happily, though, we were just a short walk from Terminal 21, one of BKK’s many cool malls, this one with each floor representing a different city. My favorite was “London,” filled with small shops selling mostly local designs. I was even able to find a couple of t-shirts that I was able to squeeze my lumpy farang body into!

Back to the Sra Prathum Palace at the appointed hour and had a very enjoyable visit. It’s a lovely place, a large and lovely house on 17 acres in the heart of Bangkok. It’s quite astonishing to walk through the beautiful and quiet grounds and realize you’re barely a stone’s throw from the teeming throngs at Siam Paragon and its surroundings.

No cameras allowed, which is always a nice respite and a chance to really take in one’s surroundings. The tour guide was Thai (duh, obviously) and her discussion of the grounds and palace were in Thai (again, duh). But in typically gracious fashion, a separate guide was assigned to me, the lone farang, to provide me a tour in English.

The museum portion was very interesting. I spent quite a great deal of time in front of the royal family tree, trying to figure out how successions had worked. I was relieved to be advised that even Thai people find it very confusing.

The palace itself is a grand old place. It’s large of course, but not overwhelmingly so. It feels quite homey – and I can understand why Queen Savang Vadhana spent such a large portion of her life living in this lovely place.

After a quick visit to Siam Paragon (because of course), we headed back to the Hansar – but with a stop first at the St. Regis for an afternoon cocktail. They have a great bar/lounge up on the 7th floor and I was dying to try the Siam Mary, a Bloody Mary re-interpreted with Thai flavorings like lemongrass. It did it’s job and revived me sufficiently to decide on where to have dinner.

After a bit of downtime, we returned to Suppaniga Eating Room – and since we were in the neighborhood, we also popped back in for a round of drinks at the bar at The House on Sathorn. This time we sat at the bar and got to chat up the bartenders while they made our drinks. I tried some kind of fancy margarita, which was very good – though not nearly as good as The Garden I’d had last time. Luckily, we had time for a second round, so….

Dinner at Suppaniga was great. Food was again excellent (esp sai oua and grilled pork!) and I think we had a better table. Mango sticky rice for dessert…

Tuesday was my last full day in Bangkok! Needless to say, this meant starting the day off with my favorite bhang mee moo dang hang – bbq pork with noodles (with extra pork, DUH). I miss all of the food in Thailand, but this really was my favorite breakfast and I can’t wait to have it again.

Next stop: the National Museum! Sadly, we did not check the hours and discovered they are closed both Mondays and Tuesdays. UGH. Well, what’re you gonna do? In our case, we decided to have a snack and then cross the river to visit Wat Arun.

I’d been through here once before while on a bike tour, but it was in the evening. I was happy to see it again in daylight. We had a nice wander around and then decided to explore one of the little alleys adjacent to the temple. WELL. This was a wise decision, since the alley was filled with friendly cats and both Ak and I got our fill of “aww-ing” and petting all these adorable little felines

Headed back to Wat Pho so we could have the extreme stress of finding the museum closed worked out by their fine massage therapists. Then a tasty lunch across the street at Inn A Day, a place I’d eaten at on my last visit. I was quite pleased and relieved when Ak pronounced the food delicious and sufficiently authentic.

Now, my sense of direction is still rather challenged in Bangkok – I definitely don’t have a good feel for where things are in relationship to one another. But I had a sense that we were not too terribly far from Nuttaporn ice cream. OK, it wasn’t exactly right around the corner but we walked off our lunch to revisit this amazing little shop. I’d wanted to try the Thai tea flavor and we also wanted to taste the coconut cream (a slightly different version of the regular coconut ice cream we had last time). They were both pretty tasty! But neither of them compared to the mango and coffee flavors we’d had last visit – so, this being my last day and all, time for a second dessert. Ak had the extremely smart idea to get sticky rice on our mango ice cream. SO GOOD!

Later that evening, we headed up to the rooftop of the Centara Grand Hotel. We’d wanted to get here for sunset, but after such an exhausting day, that proved to be a little ambitious to fit in after a nap. But it was a great view from up there – and Ak is always a font of information, pointing out buildings and sights, as well as making recommendations about what part of town I should live in, just in case I decide to abandon the US.

Dinner that night at Bo.lan, one of the many places I’d wanted to try on my previous visit but ran out of time. I must confess, I was slightly hesitant – only because the other two restaurants we’d tried from the “Best in Asia” list were both among the more disappointing meals of the trip. But what the hell? We gave it a try.

And it was great! The place itself is absolutely charming. Located at the end of a little alley, it feels like one is entering an old style Thai home, though with modern furnishings. Service was lovely and friendly. Even before the first bite, I was loving this place.

The dinner options are two tasting menus – one large and one small. We chose the smaller, because we are fucking dainty. And we loved it. Now, I must confess, I’m writing this update more than two months after the fact, so the specifics of what we had escape me. Plus  Ak and I enjoyed our evening so much, I wasn’t exactly in reporter mode. But it was great fun and a fine way to wind up my visit to Bangkok.

On the way out we chatted briefly with Chef Bo. She’s something of a celebrity in Thailand, so Ak was a bit starstruck. But she very kind and we both told her what an excellent meal we’d had.

Back to the Hansar to finish packing. Then to sleep – though only for a bit. I left for Suvarnabhumi Airport at 5:30AM for an 8:00AM flight home. As always, sad to be leaving Bangkok and saying goodbye to my friend Ak. Happily, though, I’ll be back in again in October!

More from Siem Reap

Our next day in Siem Reap was in many ways similar to our last: up early (though thankfully well after sunrise this time) and back to visit more of Angkor Wat, though this time focusing on temples along the “Grand Circuit” so we wouldn’t be visiting the same places as yesterday. And as much I as enjoyed exploring Angkor Wat by bicycle, there is certainly something to be said for touring via an automobile with AC!

Our guide, Kimthet, was great. Extremely well-versed in the history and construction of the various places we visited during the day, including the ruins of Neak Pean, a 12th century hospital made up of pools that were believed to have curative powers and Banteay Srei, an amazing temple from the 10th century carved largely from pink sandstone. The materials and motifs used to construct this temple were notably different than other temples in the Angkor Wat complex, so it was a particular highlight of our visit.

Now, with that being said, I rarely post about my travels without acknowledging my own philistinism, particularly when it comes to visiting ancient ruins. Don’t get me wrong – the temples here are fascinating! But after visiting several of them over the course of the day, they do start to feel rather similar (with the fairly notably exception of Banteay Srei) – and the 100° heat can make getting out of the car a positively Herculean effort. But Ak and I soldiered on and really enjoyed our day.

It certainly helped that we had a nice break for lunch. The tasty food was welcome of course, but even better was making some more new cat and dog friends during lunch. We ❤ cats!

As I said, Kimthet was a great guide, a real storehouse of knowledge about Angkor Wat. At one point during the day, we were talking about tourism’s impact on Siem Reap. Despite the huge influx of tourists and the money they bring, much of that money doesn’t stay in Cambodia. Many of the large resorts are foreign-owned and even the merchandise at the tourist markets tends to be made in China and Vietnam. Kimthet gave us some excellent recommendations when I asked what I could do to be a “good” tourist (or at least nominally less awful). One was to donate to the local children’s hospital (something I was happy to do); the other was to avoid shopping for trinkets and souvenirs at the tourist markets and instead visit Artisans Angkor, which trains young people in various Cambodian handicrafts and offers their works for sale.

Kimthet also told us a bit about his own quite harrowing experiences growing up in Cambodia. It was eye-opening, to put it mildly. He reminded us that fully half of Cambodia’s population today is under 22 – a sobering legacy of the millions killed during the Khmer Rouge and in the subsequent Cambodian-Vietnamese war. Should you find yourself visiting Siem Reap, I certainly encourage you to engage the guide services of Mr. Kimthet Lay – you’ll find him to be an excellent guide who’ll teach you many things about his country. You can email him at artisansangkor@yahoo.com.

After our long, sweaty day visiting temples, Ak and I were happy to get back to our little hotel and have a swim. We had a bit of time to waste before dinner – so I had the clever idea of returning to Bodia Spa, just for a quick hour of foot reflexology. Happily, they had room for us and sent a tuk-tuk over to ferry us back to the spa. I could def get used to this…

After the spa, we went out in search of Miss Wong Cocktail Bar, someplace Ak had read about in his research for our trip. We got a tiny bit lost but eventually found our way up a small alley to a cozy bar done up in Shanghai 1930s style. Had a couple of very tasty cocktails, posed for our lives for some selfies and then ambled off to dinner at Viroth’s Restaurant, located at our hotel’s sister establishment. Dinner was outside, the food was great, the waiter adorable – can’t ask for much more than that.

Saturday morning we headed over to the “real” (as opposed to tourist) market, Psha Leu. We wandered the aisles for a good hour or two, staring at all the things for sale: everything from freshly-caught fish to just-slaughtered pigs to umbrellas to ballgowns. One of the more fascinating sights was a lady selling corn. She had a large bowl of kernels that had been stripped from the corn and was scooping them up and dumping them out in front of an electric fan – thus blowing the silk remnants out and leaving just the kernels behind.

After our shopping excursion, we headed into town to visit Angkor Artisans, per Kimthet’s recommendation. It was great! Really beautiful silk ware, wood and stone carvings, some lovely jewelry. I got charming little carved pig to take home with me and Ak picked out a necklace with a soapstone pendant. We didn’t have time to take the tour of the workshops, but I was really impressed with the fine quality of all that was being sold in the shop.

Then, it was back to the hotel to collect our luggage and head to the airport. A relatively uneventful trip back to Bangkok – though I did have to perform some ridiculous charade of moving stuff between my suitcase and my backpack in order to meet Air Asia’s absurd weight limitation for carry-on bags. The end result was that I brought on the exact same two pieces of luggage I arrived with and put them in the exact same location in the overhead bin – but that some of my clothes were now in my backpack rather than my suitcase. Proving once again, I suppose, that you get what you pay for…

As much as I enjoyed Cambodia, I was also happy to be back in Bangkok. Sure, it’s only my second visit and I have much to learn still about this city, but there is already an element of “coming home” when I get here.

And here we are in our tuk-tuk, heading to the spa. Wheeeee!

 

 

First Day in Siem Reap

Off to Cambodia! Things started off well enough, with Ak and I managing to arrive at Don Mueang airport nearly simultaneously. This is Bangkok’s “old” airport and currently serves mostly low-cost carriers on short hops in and around SE Asia. It’s also really crowded and not the most modern of facilities… and the AC was mostly conked out. So, all in all, not the most glamorous introduction to air travel for Ak, who was making his first flight!

Our flight on Air Asia was delayed by about an hour. And, in a bit of “are you for real?” on my part, my “Premium Flex” ticket for which I paid extra and which included among other things pre-boarding of the aircraft was rather a misnomer. Our aircraft was out on the tarmac and we were transported by bus from the terminal to the plane. So, while I did indeed get to board that bus first, I schlepped up the stairs in the midst of all the hordes of people who’d crammed onto the bus after me. Yes, yes, first world problem, blah, blah, blah. But I did in fact pay for something which I didn’t get.

Anyway, the flight itself was pleasant enough and Ak didn’t flip out – though he may gone just a bit saucer-eyed at the landing, which was a bit of a jolt. The small Siem Reap airport seems very new and immigration was relatively painless, if not the friendliest. And even after such a short flight, it’s always a lovely thing to see a driver holding a sign with one’s name on it when entering the main terminal.

The first thing I noticed on the short trip to our hotel was how much calmer the traffic was compared to Bangkok. Granted, Siem Reap is quite a bit smaller – but the roads were populated with more bicycles than cars on the road from the airport and drivers seemed pretty mellow.

Arrived at our hotel for the next few days, Viroth’s Villa – a groovy little boutique place. TBH, I might’ve been happier with a room on the second floor, but I got the only room furnished with separate beds. The place was quite comfy, the staff extraordinarily kind and helpful throughout our stay and the pool provided a lovely way to spend the afternoon after visiting Angkor Wat during the day.

Our first evening we ate at Chanrey Tree. I think I stumbled across it online. It wound up being the perfect choice: a short walk from our hotel, a lovely outside table on a very warm evening, cocktails, tasty food, all in lush garden setting. We loved it!

Made an early night of it, since Thursday morning started early: our guide from Grasshopper Adventures was picking us up at 4:30AM for the short drive to Angkor Wat to watch the sun rise. This certainly seemed like a great idea when I was reserving this trip, though somewhat less so when faced with the prospect of actually piling into a van at 4:30AM…

But pile we did! And it was an ideal way to start our visit. One thing I hadn’t paid attention to, however, was that the tickets required to visit the Angkor Wat compound were not included in the price of this tour. NBD – we stopped to purchase them on our way in. The only little problem was that the tickets are cash only (and US dollars at that), so I was a little more tapped out than I’d anticipated once the trip was over and it came time to tip… Not that I had nothing mind you, but I wish I could’ve been a bit more generous.

Anyway, we got to the main temple of Angkor Wat and found our seats along the exterior moat waiting for the sun to rise. There were a lot of other tourists there – though my sense was that many of them actually walk into the central enclosure for a close-up view of the sun appearing behind the wat’s towers. However, I really enjoyed our vantage point along the moat – not just because it wasn’t too crowded but because the reflection of the ruins on the water was especially lovely as dawn crept up on us… Our guide was great, providing us with snacks to tide us over ‘til breakfast and helping us make friends with the local temple dogs who were hanging out with us.

Once daylight was upon us, we explored the interior structures and frescos. A hike up to the towers via some very steep staircases (to remind us of the difficulty of ascending to the kingdom of the gods) provided a splendid view of our surroundings. And, as if that was not already fantastic enough, we came upon a dozing mama cat and her three gamboling kittens! Really, is there anything better than temple kittehs?

Next we had a simple breakfast before starting the bike portion of our tour. It was a small group – just Ak and me; a fellow from South Africa; a nice woman from Singapore; and a Canadian who was a bit out to lunch: she didn’t realized she’d signed up for a bike trip…  It was kind of funny that it was all singled folks on the trip. When I’d been in Thailand last October, I was typically the only sad Mary-Ann-Singleton on the various tours I’d signed up for. Now, here I was with a traveling companion and everyone else is on their own. Anyway, it was a nice enough group, though no long-lasting friendships were forged.

Now, I do love riding, though I also forget that my urban bike riding experience doesn’t always translate very well to a more off-the-beaten path ride. Luckily, though, one of the fellows in our group looked pretty experienced so I did my best to follow his lead. And I did OK! No wipe-outs and no dropped chains – can’t ask for much more than that.

The rest of the day was spent biking around from temple to temple, with stops to explore on foot. Our guide was very knowledgeable and we had a really enjoyable visit. And I was very pleased that Ak – despite insisting dramatically a couple of times that he was very close to death – held his own on the bicycle, despite not being a daily rider like I am.

Of course, after ten miles of riding in 100° weather, one does get a bit exhausted. So, when we wrapped up our tour with a stop for lunch that include a couple of beers? We were all pretty delighted.

Back to hotel where we washed our stanky grimy selves off. No time to waste, since Bodia Spa was sending a tuk-tuk to collect us at 3:45PM for our our three-hour “Relaxation” package. WELL. This was a delight! Gentle therapeutic massage along with an invigorating body scrub. Really the perfect way to end a rather strenuous day.

Dinner at Cuisine Wat Danmak, listed as one of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. And it was OK – though TBH, neither of us were particularly bowled over by the meal. It was fine and the price was reasonable – but we actually enjoyed the previous night’s dinner more than this one.

A short tuk-tuk ride back to our place and an early night. Tomorrow: more temples!

And here’s a few shots from my helmet cam from our biking trip!

 

 

 

Monday and Tuesday in Bangkok

One of the best things about being on vacation is that Monday is just as delightful as every other day of the week… My agenda for the next couple of days was mostly re-visiting places I’d enjoyed last October or that I’d not had time to visit. But breakfast first, of course! Back to the little joint near my hotel that specializes in pork and noodles – and that’s exactly what I had (again): pork and noodles. Though this time I got barbecue pork and noodles rather than crispy pork belly. No lie, I’d be happy to eat this for breakfast every morning forever.

Next, on to Wat Pho! I’d actually been here a couple of times last visit to Bangkok, but I had foolishly neglected to avail myself of the massage services available from the students at their world-renowned massage school and the spiritual home of Thai massage. Ak and I each went for the full treatment: one hour foot massage followed by one hour Thai massage for the extremely reasonable price of ฿840 each. The surroundings are not fancy and the massage platforms and chairs are tightly-packed. No matter though – the services are, as one would expect, top-notch. I enjoyed my foot massage – but I loved my Thai massage! My therapist really seemed intuitive and by the time I left, my recurring hamstring injury felt nearly cured. Ak found the Thai massage a bit on the intense side for his taste, but really loved his foot massage. À chacun son goût…

Massage leaves one surprisingly hungry, so I was happy that our next destination was Krua Apsorn, where I could once again scarf down some of their amazing crab curry and crab omelet. We walked there – NBD under ordinary circumstances, but BKK’s temperatures that week had been referred to online as “face-meltingly hot” and that was not wrong. The high that day was something around 97° – so our half-hour walk left us rather worn out, despite popping into one of BKK’s ubiquitous 7-11s to ostensibly buy some water but really just to luxuriate in the chilly AC (and also for me to observe all manner of fascinating items for sale!).

But we made it and the meal at Krua Apsorn was as delicious as I remember. And good thing – someone was getting a bit hangry while we waited to be served…

After lunch, a rather short stroll to a place that had been on my list to visit last time, but that I coudn’t fit into my schedule: Nuttaporn Ice Cream, a tiny place that has been turning out coconut-milk-based ice cream for 60+ years. Ak and I each went traditional and ordered the coconut ice cream, me with corn and palm jelly, his with peanuts and palm jelly. It was really good! Deeply coconutty, though with a texture more like sorbet. And rather dainty portions too – which was frankly a relief, since it meant we could order a second round!

I went with coffee, Ak with the fresh mango – no toppings for either of us. OH. EM. GEE. I immediately declared without hyperbole that the coffee ice cream was the finest I’d ever had. The texture was creamy, though a bit less so than one made with cow’s milk. The flavor was intense and only barely sweet. Sublime. As for the mango? It was as if a mango had been plucked off a tree and magically transformed into ice cream. As my nephew accurately observed when he visited Nuttaporn (on my recommendation, natch) last November, “it was the bomb!”

And while Nuttaporn is clearly doing something right – they have been in business for longer than I’ve been alive (which frankly seems impossible, given my childhood spent along the Euphrates…) – it’s quite astonishing to me that the place doesn’t have a line around the block everyday. Bangkok is already a mecca for “foodies” (ugh) and this is place has all the hallmarks of a cult favorite: hole-in-the-wall, simple, inexpensive, delicious, a bit off-the-beaten path. Don’t get me wrong – I’m kinda glad they are just keeping on as they have in the past. Part of its charm is certainly that it’s a local place with a totally neighborhood vibe.

Anway, def go here while you’re in BKK – but don’t ruin it please!

After ice cream, we hopped on the canal boat and wound up, per usual, at Siam Paragon. I think we just passed through on the way to the Skytrain station – or maybe it’s because we can’t seem to avoid popping in at least once a day for whatever reason. Whatever the case, back to my hotel for a little downtime and then time to get ready for more eating – which, if I’m being totally honest, was probably one of the main reasons I returned to BKK so quickly after my last visit, i.e. I had waaaaaaay more food to eat!

This evening, Ak  was taking me to one of this favorite local spots. We met up with his friend Koi and headed to Jae Koy. Super-local, super-simple and not a place I’d likely to have wandered into on my own – in fact, I was the only farang in the place. I loved it! Food was all great – som tum, beef salad, tom yum and gai yang. I think the beef was my particular favorite, thanks to being spicy and tangy and fragrant. Just all of it so delicious…

Toward the end of our meal, I saw a Western couple come in and sit down, as I thought to myself, “Well, they must be really dialed in to the local food scene if they are here.” And then I noticed their Thai companions bright green shirt – it was Olive, the guide who’d taken me on a marvelous floating market tour last October! That’s one great thing about having my crazy beard, nerd glasses and septum piercing – when I started waving, she def remembered me. Anyway, she came over and we chatted a bit – and she pointed out that whoever took me here must really know their food, because the place is excellent. Nice job, Ak! Not that I expected anything less from him…

Had an early night since the plan was for us to meet up early and check out the Teak and Dusit Palaces on Tuesday morning. Met Ak at the BTS station and then we clambered onto a bus for a short-ish ride to the palace grounds.

First stop, the Teak Palace. Lovely both inside and out. And, while I would’ve loved to have taken some photos of the interiors, cameras and phones are strictly prohibited since this is still a royal residence. Visitors are required to store any and all gear in a locker before entering the building. Honestly? It’s kind of nice to just take in the surroundings without trying to get photos of everything – or, as is more often the case, being pushed and shoved by tourists who don’t look at anything that doesn’t appear on their iPhone screen.

Shoes are also not permitted, so off we padded after leaving our shoes in the rather fragrant repository. The palace itself was quite lovely inside. It’s a little disappointing that there’s not much in the way of information about what one is seeing, so it’s mostly just, “Oh! This place is lovely.” Though Ak was able to provide me with some of the history and context – one of the many benefits of having a Thai friend to squire me around!

After the Teak Palace, we schlepped (srsly, it was kind of a schlep – plus it was literally one million degrees out) over to the Dusit Palace. Wow! The palace is as impressive as the lines are long! Similar drill here, too – no cameras or phones allowed. We locked up our stuff and then joined the enormous line in the blazing hot sun with no shade anywhere. This was gonna be a challenge!

Now, one of the things I’ve learned in my travels is that it is very easy to slip into making broad generalizations about the relative lack of social grace possessed by various specific nationalities. However, I’ve learned that this is not primarily a product of varying social mores (though they play a role) but rather that when you get large tour groups of people from anywhere, they tend to behave like boors. And other than Ak and myself, every visitor at the Dusit Palace had just bussed in from whatever the version of Bumfuck is from their respective countries of origin.

Happily, though, this turned out to be a boon. As we waited amongst the loud and jostling crowd, one of the line wranglers saw us and waved us up to the front of the line for immediate entry. Not really sure why (I imagine because we were not part of the massive group that had descended), but quite sure I don’t care why – I was delighted to be inside not just to look at the quite marvelous collection of objets but to experience the blissfully frigid AC.

The various gold and jewel encrusted thrones, litters, boats and other objects were certainly impressive – as were the soaring ceilings and the various painted scenes upon them. But I must say, the huge carved wood panels were breathtaking. The intricacy of the work and the realism of the subjects was astonishing. There were also some silk embroidered panels that were just lovely.

So, enough with the local sights – it’s time for more food! Lunch was at Som Tum Nua, in the Siam Center shopping center. We had som tum (duh), wings and some kind of noodles that Ak chose and were (duh) abso-effing-lutely. Dessert was across the way at Siam Paragon where I managed to eat an extremely dainty matcha-cream-filled pastry, since I myself am dainty AF.

That afternoon was pretty quiet. Had a lie-down and a swim, then grabbed some tasty katsu curry around the corner for dinner, before finishing up packing. Tomorrow would be a travel day – off to Siem Reap, Cambodia to visit the temples. More to come on that in my next post!

Weekend in BKK

Got a reasonably early start on Saturday and headed north to the market. First stop: Or Tor Kor, a wet market, but of the “fancy” variety. Had a nice wander gazing at the exotic offerings as I peppered Ak with repeated inquiries of “What’s that? And what about that?”

But the highlight was obviously in the eating. At the prepared food side of the market, we had som tum, sai oua and mieng kum – all of them delicious per usual. Oh, and a bbq pork bao! Also excellent. Dessert was at an apparently well-known shop inside. We got a couple of custard and sticky rice treats which gave us ample strength before heading to the insanely huge Chatuchak Market.

I barely scratched the surface of this place despite spending a good two or three hours wending through narrow passages between stalls. Lots of cool local t-shirts and other clothes. I was also able to find pretty much exactly the shirt I had in mind for my bike trip in Cambodia – a long-sleeved, gauzy cotton top. Yes, it’s ridiculous and looks like I ought to be in a cult – but comfort is my only goal for this trip!

Finished up our visit with coconut ice cream, obviously. We needed strength for the long train ride home!

I had a quick swim back at the hotel and then freshened up for dinner. Ak was taking me to meet his German friends, Martin and Jill whom he’d met on Little Koh Chang last year. Like me, they’d enjoyed their visit to Thailand so much, they were back! Though Martin had an ulterior motive – he proposed to Jill while they were on Koh Chang. And she accepted. Love is in the air…

But before we could have dinner, we stopped in for our massage appointment at Siladon Spa – they were running a 2-for-1 deal and who doesn’t love a bargain? Given the good deal, I sprang for the “Indulgence” package – three hours of foot reflexology, massage and herbal ball massage (i.e. you are massaged with a heated herbal compress. Get your mind out of the gutter, pervs!). A very relaxing time and helped my effed up back feel rather better.

Dinner that evening was at Thip Samai, reputed to have Bangkok’s best pad thai. The verdict: pretty damn good! We all had pad thai superb, meaning the pad thai is served inside an omelet. “Superb” was pretty accurate.

Drinks atop the Sala Rattakosin, right next to Chao Phraya across from Wat Arun. I’d been here last visit and it was just as lovely this time – plus the Tom Yum-tini, despite the groan-inducing name, is still pretty delcious.

Martin and Jill stayed on for a bit, but given that I’m old, I had to call it a night by 11PM. Ak made sure I got back to my hotel and I had a good night’s sleep before Sunday’s adventures.

Our first order of business (well, after stopping for a delicious breakfast of crispy pork and wontons with noodles at a local hole-in-the-wall) was making our way up to Nonthanburi with Calvin. We went by boat on the Chao Phraya Express – something of a misnomer given the length of the trip, but we made it there eventually. After wishing Calvin well on his journey, we headed to Koh Kret, another market. Our various lunches were excellent – pork satay and dry tom yum for me – and we had coconut custards for dessert. Made our way to the very end of the market where Ak wanted to try the local brew served up at Chit Beer. We raised our glasses to Calvin as we sat along the riverside and all was right with the world.

Another long boat ride back to to Bangkok (and of course we got stuck on the side in the blazing sun – though Ak was kind enough to take the brunt of it, realizing my pale skin would never survive. He did worry though that he’d wind up with a two-tone face…) and we were faced with a difficult question: where should we have dinner?

Ak suggested Suppaniga Eating Room (and please don’t mix up those double consonants….). They had just opened their second location in Silom, not far from my hotel, so off we went. First stop was at the new House on Sathorn, a fancy bar and restaurant housed in the former Russian embassy next door to (and now owned by) the W Hotel. I’d been wanting to try it since reading about it during my last visit to BKK (and in spite of the annoying and distressingly common dress code that forbids shorts. Yes, I get it – without a dress code, stupid tourists of all genders will be showing up in tank tops and coochie cutters. However, when a local blog refers to the weather as “face-meltingly hot,” some leniency would be appreciated. But I digress…). Anyway, the place was super cool. We were going to belly up to the lively looking bar – until we realized it was lively with employees awaiting their first customers of the night. So we grabbed a table…

For me, The Garden, made with gin infused with chrysanthemum and thyme, blended with tea and rosemary and topped with fresh herbs. For Ak, the Diva (obv), a beautiful floral vodka drink topped with rose petals. The verdict? Sensational. We both declared our cocktails some of the best we’d ever had – and Zeus knows, we’ve had our share of cocktails! Drinks were far from inexpensive, but very much worth it, IMO. Just superb.

Dinner was also great. More miang kham, prawn curry with cubes of herbed omelet and grilled steak with spicy sauce. We really enjoyed the meal – and the restaurant is charming with a kind and helpful staff. Dessert was a Thai milk tea panna cotta – it was tasty, though a little heavy-handed with the gelatin. A small miss in an otherwise really nice meal.

A good night’s sleep before getting another early start Monday for some sightseeing.

 

Friday in Bangkok

Friday wound up being rather low-key. Got a not-terribly-early start (Ak has a long commute in from the outskirts of BKK) and headed off for breakfast at Ak’s favorite Japanese curry house – only to discover it was closed. Made do with some quite delicious gyoza and chicken across the street and then headed to the BTS Skytrain for our first stop per the recommendation of a guidebook, M.R. Kukrit’s Heritage House. It’s a lovely traditional Thai home that was the residence of a former prime minister and well-known scholar. It was certainly nice looking – but other than a printed map, there was little information on the history of the place or it’s occupant. So, while we enjoyed the visit, it was over very quickly.

In anticipation of our upcoming visit to Siem Reap, I was in a bit of tizzy as far as clothing was concerned. Temps are forecast to be hovering around 100℉ for our bike ride through Angkor Wat and I needed a super lightweight long sleeve top and shorts that go past my knees to ensure I’m properly dressed for visiting temples. So we headed to MBK and wandered the aisles of fake Calvin Klein undies, elephant pants and Chang beer tank tops. I saw a couple of possibilities but nothing just right. We also hit up the arcade on the top floor – it was pretty crazy and fascinating, though I refrained from trying my luck at the prize claw machines, since they will eat your money almost as fast as a Vegas slot machine.

Headed back to my hotel to rest up for dinner that evening. The plan was to meet up with Ak’s friends Martin and Jill, a German couple he met on holiday on one of Thailand’s islands last year, for drinks and dinner, but they had to postpone. So, off we went for a drink at Octave, the rooftop bar at the Mariott. A lovely view and a tasty round of Thai-style mojitos preceded our dinner up the street at Soul Food Mahanakorn.

Well! This place sure made up for the previous evening’s disappointing meal. Everything was delicious, from our starters of mieng kham and lamb samosas to the sai oua sausage and a vegetarian red curry. All of it was so good! This is absolutely worth seeking out if you find yourself in Bangkok.

As was the case the previous night, I was simply too tired to indulge any further festivities. Despite the huge number of super cool bars on my list of places to visit, I’ve been ready to hit the hay by about 10PM every night. Eh, what’re you gonna do? I’m certainly keeping my days full!

First Day in BKK

Although it was certainly no picnic staying awake for pretty much the entirety of my 24-hours door-to-door journey from SF to BKK, it was absolutely worth it to wake up early Thursday morning in my hotel room with pretty much no jet lag.

I started off by engaging in an OCD and for-me relaxing bout of unpacking, complete with hanging up shirts, folding my underwear and putting it in the dresser and calling the front desk to ask them to empty the mini-fridge so I could feel it with beer from 7/11. I had a bit of time to spare before my spa appointment downstairs at my quite lovely hotel, Le Méridien, so I decided to start things off with an authentic Thai breakfast: a bacon-egg-and-cheese bagel sandwich at Au Bon Pain. Yes, I am indeed the worst – the FWIW, the place was filled with Thai, so perhaps I’d gotten a more authentic start than I’d realized!

Back to the hotel for my “Jet Lag” treatment – and hour of foot massage and an hour of Thai massage. Delightful, obv. Then met up with my good friend Ak, a local fellow I’d met last October with whom I shared the bond of misanthropy and love of cats – truly BFF material. We headed around the corner to Ruenton Coffee Shop, a decidedly peculiar venue that looked a bit like a ‘70s Marie Callendar’s knock-off (and located in the cast-in-amber early ‘80s splendor of the Montien Hotel – like I said, peculiar) yet is reputed to have some of the best khao man gai (Hainanese chicken – basically boiled chicken and rice) in BKK. It was… serviceable. Now granted, I’m no expert – but Ak agreed that the chicken left something to be desired texture-wise. It was bit too soft – bordering on slimy. The rice, however, was especially good – unlike many khao man gai places on the street that use oil to prepare the rice, this rice had obviously and deliciously been made with fresh chicken stock and fat. YUM. Oh, and both of us took a pass on the side of coagulated chicken blood…

Next up was my idea to take the architectural walk laid out in one of my guidebooks. And we kinda did – though it really wound up being Ak leading me on a meander through the Charon Krung neighborhood. I must say, he’s a wonderful guide. One of the highlights of our walk was a view of the “ghost tower” – a huge, unfinished condominium tower whose owners went bust and could afford to finish construction of the 47-story building and so abandoned it. It’s been topped off, but none of the interiors were finished (including windows) and it now sits empty and graffitied and is a magnet for thrill-seeking visitors to climb to the top.

Nearly as thrilling at this was our next stop – Dairy Queen! Now I love me some Dairy Queen. And I especially love me some Mango-Sticky Rice Sundae at DQ BKK! OK, the mango syrup was a little cloying, but sticky rice solves pretty much any problem.

Next stop Siam Paragon to meet up with some of Ak’s friends. He’d engaged me as his wholesaler and transporter for about a dozen Colourpop Ultra Matte Lip. Apparently, it’s all the rage with the kids these days and is also unavailable in Thailand. Honestly, I was happy to bring them, because I know as well as anyone the great joy that accompanies being asked where one can acquire some element of one’s wardrobe or “look” and being able to respond, “Oh, it’s from (place very far away). You can’t get it here. It’s impossible.” Though after making the delivery, I was advised the product was popularized by one of the Kardashians – which had I known initially would’ve elicited a “HARD NOPE” from me, as those people are the fucking worst.

We also got to see the 1600 Pandas exhibition – 1600 papier maché pandas on display, representing the total number of pandas still in the wild. The pandas were pretty cute – but it also certainly drove home the fact that these creatures are very much on the edge of extinction.

ANYHOO. Back to my hotel so we could freshen up and head out for what I anticipated would be a great dinner at Issaya Siamese Club. And TBH? Not so much. The place has a certain charm – though the restaurant’s location in an old house was a bit shabbier than it was chic. The staff were all lovely and attentive; and their cocktail game was spot-on, with my Ginger-Basil Kicker a particular favorite. To start, we had BBQ baby back ribs which were OK, though too fatty for my taste and served at a high enough temperature that the sticky glaze posed serious risk of injury to one’s fingers. The banana blossom salad needed more texture – it was bland and kind of mushy.

For mains, we had a simply grilled chicken breast that was finished with a Thai whiskey flambé at the table. It was tasty and well-cooked. Also had a Mussamun curried lamb shank which was the star of the meal – tender and spicy. Dessert was also a favorite: jasmine panna cotta with rice ice cream and rice tuiles. The panna cotta’s texture was perfectly creamy and the jasmine discreet and not too perfumey.

All in all, the meal was fine – but considering the prices and the long list of plaudits the place has received, I left feeling disappointed and with a considerably lighter wallet.

Ak and I stopped for a nightcap at Small’s and then I headed back to my hotel. Slept like a baby and was up early Friday for Day 2 of my adventures!