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.

 

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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!

La Gon, Calvin…

Today was a special day for me here in Bangkok – both happy and sad simultaneously. My best little buddy and world’s most delightful cat died this past December. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with his ashes back home – but then I read about a Buddhist temple in Bangkok that performs funerals for pets. Since Calvin had already been cremated, I didn’t need the whole funeral ceremony – but I really liked the idea of scattering his ashes in Chao Phraya here in this city that I fell in love with so quickly last year and to which I hope I’ll return many times.

My dear friend Ak was kind enough to make all the arrangements, reserving a boat to take us out onto the river once we’d made it up to Nonthanburi. After a short ride, we were in front of Wat Bang Jak where a lay Buddhist (and our boat’s captain) said prayers to the river goddess and for Calvin while we burned incense. We tossed some coins into the river for Calvin for his journey, along with a garland of flowers. I scattered his ashes into the river and and then Ak and I strewed some more flowers and a bottle of fragrant perfume in his wake.

It was a lovely way for me to say my last farewell to an amazing cat who brought me so much joy. And it certainly makes me happy knowing that I can visit him every time I’m in Bangkok and that the great golden Buddha at Wat Bang Jak will be watching over him.

 

SFO to BKK

My flight from SFO to HKG was nearly 15 hours, thanks to some quite strong headwinds which added about an hour to the already long flight. Seatbelt sign was on for most of the first two hours of the flight, thanks to some rather choppy air. It was a very bumpy ride for awhile there, but otherwise AOK.

Of course, it didn’t help that I intentionally stayed awake for most of the trip in an effort to combat jet lag once I arrived in Bangkok. I slept for maybe 45 mins toward the end of the flight, but other than was up watching TV and movies: all season 2 of “Catastrophe”; “Legend” starring Tom Hardy as twins (!) with laid-on-thick Cockney accents (hot); “The Big Short” which was pretty good, though don’t understand why Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling and Steve Carrell all had to be so distractingly made-up and bewigged to look like their non-famous real-life characters; and a large dose of “Family Guy” and “Archer.” So, yes I was clearly bringing my intellectual A-game…

As for flying business class (using miles obviously) on Cathay Pacific? Well, it was pretty darn great. The experience at SFO was a delight. No line to check in; priority lane through security; then an hour or so in the lounge enjoying made-to-order won-ton soup and a bit of champagne in a spacious, comfortable and quiet space. When boarding was announced, I walked from the lounge and directly onto the plane, with no queuing for the jetway or battling fellow passengers for overhead space or armrests.

Now, while I’m certain I was more comfortable than all the folks back in coach (both regular and premium varieties), I did have some difficulty finding a comfortable position for the seat (I know, I know – #RPP). When reclined into the sort of lounge chair position, my feet kind of hung over the edge and it was awkward to rest them on the ottoman. Of course this was partially due to the fact that my same hamstring injury that was bothering me on my last trip to BKK was making it just generally uncomfortable to sit. The seat also afforded me a great deal of privacy and I really didn’t see much of my fellow passengers, so that was a huge plus.

Flight attendants, in addition to being super-friendly and helpful, address passengers by name. “More champagne, Mr. Cohen?” always gets a favorable response from me… The food was all quite good, too – the on-demand “snacks” of won ton soup and cheeseburger were both quite impressive for being prepared at 35K feet over the Pacfic. 

Layover in Hong Kong was fine. The airport is huge. Popped into The Bridge lounge which was just steps from the transit security line (which was basically non-existent since I was about the first person off the aircraft) and had a shower, which left me feeling refreshed, though still exhausted. I’d really wanted to check out the Noodle Bar at The Wing lounge, so I schlepped (and it was quite a schlep) down there. And honestly? Sure it’s nice to have this type of food on offer, by my dan dan noodles were just OK – though the accompanying pork bao was pretty tasty. I headed back to the The Bridge, since it was closer to my gate and really had the superior atmosphere – quiet and comfortable – to wait for the the last leg of my journey.

Cathay’s regional business class is certainly nice – though the seats are more “old school” – that is, they aren’t “pods” but large and roomy recliner-stye seats. There were only four passengers in biz that evening so I had a window seat and no one around me. They served dinner, but I skipped it and slept for half of the 2.5 hour flight to BKK.

Again, I was first off the plane and made a beeline for immigration, hoping I wouldn’t need to forfeit my “priority” pass for the business express lane, given that the pass is undated and could come in handy when I’m back to flying coach into BKK. I thought I was done for when I got caught between four huge groups of elderly tourists on the moving sidewalk, but they had to stop and re-group before immigration. Happily, lines were short – even more so when I shot an “Are you in line?” at the two farang backpacker types who were attempting to maintain their place in line while simultaneously filling out their immigration forms which they were finding to be quiet baffling apparently. “Oh, no, you can go ahead!” – which I did.

My bag was about the sixth to hit the carousel – those “PRIORITY” tags really work! –  and I was soon in the main terminal and spotted my driver holding up the sign with my name on it. A half-hour drive into the city, a quick and friendly check in at Le Méridien and I was finally here. 26 hours door-to-door from my place in SF. Slept well and was up-and-at-’em by 9AM with no jet lag and enough time before my spa appointment downstairs to unpack and really settle in. Now to start another adventure in Bangkok!