Back to Hanoi

As we got ready to disembark from our Ha Long Bay cruise, Mom reported she was starting to have some stomach issues – seemed she’d eaten something dicey at some point. She got worse rather quickly. We decided to hire a driver to get us back to Hanoi rather than taking the van. It wasn’t a very fun ride for either of us, though for Mom especially. We did make it back to Hanoi and our rooms at the MK Premier Boutique Hotel without incident, though there were some close calls on the three-and-a-half hour journey. Mom retired to her hotel room and unhappily had to miss out on the next couple of days in Hanoi – though she did make a full recovery by the time we were flying onto Bangkok that Tuesday.

My friend Ak was waiting for us in Hanoi. He’d flown in from Bangkok the night before so we could all spend some time together in Vietnam. We were both unhappy that Mom would be sitting out the plans we’d made for our time in Hanoi, but she insisted that we not make any changes while she was recuperating – and I did check in with her regularly to make sure she was OK!

Ak and I had dinner on Saturday evening at Chả Cá Thăng Long whose specialty is (wait for it…) chả cá thăng long, a dish prepared at the table made of fish with fresh dill and scallions, along with the usual Vietnamese accompaniments like vermicelli, fish sauce and peanuts. It was simple and delicious and went great with a couple of cold beers. Ak and I had no problem polishing off everything.

The next morning was our Hanoi street food tour with (wait for it…) Hanoi Street Food Tours. Our guide was Tu and he really knows his food! And he was kind of a riot. Hailing from the south of Vietnam (which I gather is a bit like being a New Yorker in terms of one’s demeanor), his decidedly straightforward approach took a moment or two to adjust to, but once I did, I found him to be both knowledgeable and pretty hilarious – for example, giving us the following advice about photographing: “Just take the pictures. Don’t ask first or they’ll just say no.” Tu himself is a pretty impressive photographer and is really good at the Instragrams. Check out his stream at vietnamesegod.

Tu was also very hands-on. Our very first meal was not at a food stand, but courtesy of a woman on the street with her carrying pole, a gas burner on one side and ingredients on the other. She made us a simple and tasty omelette – with Tu providing her with some very specific instructions on preparation, even grabbing her spatula at one point to help with the cooking and to make sure the omelet was cooked through.

While Ak and I were eating, our chef disappeared – leaving us with her plate and utensils. Tu explained that this was due to the police coming down the street. Apparently, this is a game that everyone plays here: the cops make the technically illegal vendors pack up and leave (or they just take off on their own); then everyone comes back in ten minutes and continues what they were doing.

We stopped at a cool cafe and juice place for a little pick-me-up – coffee for Ak and Tu, some really tasty fresh apple juice for me. A mom and dad were in there with their adorable little girl – and she couldn’t stop staring at Ak and me, likely due to our hairy (and monstrous, obv) visages. She kept looking back and forth, back and forth, with an expression on her face that bordered on terrified. When we tried to get a little closer and say hello, she immediately burst into tears. Eh, I’m used to that – it’s how most people respond when meeting me…

Other food on our tour included grilled pork skewers, crab noodles, a really cool cafe, stewed pork, coconut-coffee slushies (sublime!) and I’m sure I’m forgetting lots – but I took photos of most everything. Surprisingly, thanks to the portions not being crazy big and lots of walking, the amount of food didn’t feel overwhelming at all. It was a really fantastic morning! Our three hours with Tu were over in the blink of an eye and we were sad to see him go. A really excellent tour and I highly recommend it.

Ak and I spent the afternoon at the Ho Chi Minh complex. The mausoleum is currently closed for renovations, but we were able to check out the exterior of the building. We also visited the HCM Museum which was… odd. Given Uncle Ho’s importance to the founding of modern Vietnam, I was surprised at how unwelcoming the museum was. It was quite difficult to navigate, there were signs everywhere instructing “DON’T TOUCH” or “DON’T ENTER” or some other scolding message. The displays were a bit dated and definitely had something of a ‘70s Soviet feel to them – though with that being said, I certainly did leave the museum knowing more about Ho Chi Minh, his life and the history of colonialism and revolution in Vietnam.

After a lie-down and checking in on Mom’s vital signs, we went out for bún chả at (wait for it…) Bún Chả Ta. Ak had eaten here his first night and I hadn’t had bún chả yet, so it was a good choice and we both enjoyed our meals.

Afterwards, we headed off in search of the massage place Tu had pointed out earlier, advising they did a great foot massage. Well, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, the picture I’d taken of the place contained its location in the metadata and pulled up the spot in Google Maps and we found it with no problem – even including a quick stop on the way at Bánh MR HEO, a little bakery specializing in pig-shaped waffle-y treats (IKR?).

Massages were fine. The place wasn’t exactly the most luxurious nor as clean as an operating room – but then the massages were US$5.00 – so the price-to-value ratio was just about unbeatable.

During my massage, three Western dudes came in and were carrying on a lively conversation in a language I couldn’t identify. At first, I thought it was Russian, but the sounds weren’t quite right. Was it Norwegian? Probably not. Turkish? I don’t think so. Anyway, I finally asked and it turns out they were Hungarian – they actually chatted me up a bit about the origins of the Hungarian language, which is to some extent shrouded in mystery. In an odd coincidence, the gal who was on the cruise in Ha Long Bay with us was also fluent in Hungarian! Maybe the fates are telling me to visit Hungary…

Back to the hotel then. Mom still alive and improving – but she did decide to skip tomorrow’s scheduled tour to Trang An. More to come on that!

Hong Kong to Hanoi

Our last day in Hong Kong! And it’s one of those kind of weird last days: our flight isn’t until after 5PM, so we have some time to do stuff in town – but not really that much time since we need to get to the airport, deal with luggage, etc.

The original plan was to visit the Asia Society for a photography exhibit, then have a reputed-to-be-excellent dim sum lunch at one of the fancy hotels. Well, given our track record with fancy expensive meals, Mom and I decided to head back to Joy Hing for a breakfast of char siu – it was amazing, of course and only about US$8 for two. As much as that dim sum place seemed interesting – and probably tasty! – I’m glad I went with a third trip to Joy Hing for their incredible bbq pork as my last meal in Hong Kong.

The Asia Society is a pretty cool venue in and of itself. It’s a modern exterior built into the side of a hill. After passing through the entrance then up to quite lovely roof garden, one heads back to three old British colonial buildings used to store arms back in the day. They’ve been updated with the middle converted to an exhibition space.

The show itself, Picturing Asia, was a “conversation” between photographs taken during monsoon season by Brian Brake and Steve McCurry. There is a clear streak of exocitizing of Asian people and culture in the works of both photographers – I wouldn’t go so far as to say fetishization, so I guess that’s good?- and I just recently read a critic refer to McCurry’s work as boring. But I found much of the imagery to be quite striking – and McCurry in particular is adept engaging the viewer in the humanity of his subjects.

It wasn’t a large show, so it proved to be just the right way to wrap up our stay in Hong Kong.

Had an uneventful transit through HKG and arrived in Hanoi on schedule (flying in coach! #howdreadful). Made it to the MK Premier Boutique Hotel wiith nary a problem and were ready for bed soon after arrival. We’d been upgraded to large suites – IKR? – which was pretty deluxe. So, we had huge rooms each – but they weren’t the most thoughtfully laid out: no dresser or other drawers; the bathroom was large but with a huge, high-sided tub/shower which was a bit of an ordeal to climb into; not much space to lay out one’s toiletries; and the AC seemed to struggle to keep the room cool. But still – the staff was friendly and accommodating and the lobby bar on the front patio proved a nice location to knock back a few beers.

This part of the Old Quarter is also home to some rather prominent boots-and-pants-and-boots-and-pants song stylings from the backpacker bars along the street  and it was rather audible from our rooms at the front of the hotel. Happily, though, it turned out not to interfere too much with sleep and Mom and I both slept well.

Spent our first full day in Hanoi touring with Guang and Kien, two young men from Hanoi Free Walking Tours. It’s a total win-win: they get to practice their English and we get a local perspective on the city. We visited several temples, ambled through the French Quarter, had some coffee in a “secret” cafe on a rooftop overlooking the lake and a great lunch at a big, busy Vietnamese place where our guides ordered for us. Needless to say the lunch was delicious. Also stopped at Hỏa Lò Prison, which was grimly fascinating – and a stark reminder of the cruelty of colonialism.

After our walk our guides delivered us to Spa SF, where I’d made appointments for Mom and me – she for a foot treatment, me for the whole works: massage, reflexology, facial. WELL. It was delightful and I was very happy with my treatments – though I’m not sure how happy the therapist was with my snoring during the facial component.

It had been a long day, so Mom and I just had some snacks and cocktails on the roof of our hotel and called it a day. Tomorrow we out to Ha Long Bay for a two-night boat excursion.

Monday in Hong Kong

Woke up about 4:00 Monday morning and decided to get a jump on our visit to see the Big Buddha on Lantau Island by pre-ordering our tickets for the cable car ride up. The site to book directly required printing the tix (IKR?), so I used Klook – the travel aggregator/reseller I’d used to book my ill-fated airport pick-up at HKG. But it seemed legit – order via their app and you get instant confirmation and a voucher sent directly to your phone. What could go wrong?

Well, after placing my non-refundable order, instead of a confirmation, I got a “we’re still processing your order” – and this being a local holiday, Klook’s help desk doesn’t open until 9:30AM which was exactly the time I planned to already be at the cable car desk redeeming my voucher. So, this was infuriating. I was able to contact them at about 9:31AM from our destination and get things sorted and the voucher was delivered. But I shan’t be using Klook’s services again…

Anyway, the cable car ride up to see the Buddha was pretty cool. There’s a pretty good stretch of the trip that provides a fantastic view of Hong Kong’s airport and I loved watching all the planes taking off and landing. We also got to watch from above as the many more physically fit types hiked up the mountain via the well-maintained but no doubt grueling trail to the top.

The Buddha is quite magnificent, with his serene expression and raised hand. To get up close, a hike up  what I seem to recall is 268 steps from the bottom – not too bad, but definitely a trek! Great views from the top, both of the surroundings and of the Buddha.

After making it back down, we treated ourselves to the vegetarian lunch served at the Po Lin Monastery. It was decent, though nothing to write home about – and certainly superior to the Subway sandwich shop we’d passed on the way in.

The ride back down on the cable car was as nice as the ride up – and I felt like quite the smart tourist for getting an early start. The lines to ride up were massive and here we were already on our way back into town!

Mom and I decided to go our separate ways: she headed back to the history museum and I decided to check out the Tea Museum. It was OK, but I did have a nice walk through the park. On my way back to the hotel, I treated myself to a match latte followed by a foot massage at a little place near the hotel called Sala Raj. Not luxurious by any means, but very well-priced and really excellent service. After five days of non-stop walking, my dogs were barking – and I left here feeling like a million bucks.

Dinner was at Mott 32, a trendy space done up in a sort of 1930s Shanghai-via-Hollywood with a dash of tiki. Drinks were tasty and the food was quite good – though also quite pricey. And as much as we enjoyed our meal, it didn’t seem to have as good a price-to-value ratio as some of the simpler joints we’d tried. I guess that’s pretty much true everywhere in the world…  I will say that I loved the dessert. Maybe a post-modern Moonpie? Chilled disks of chocolate mousse enrobed in a matcha couverture and encrusted with sesame seeds. Simple tastes with a nice variety of textures. Really delicious!

Back to the hotel to start wrapping up our visit to Hong Kong. We fly tomorrow to Hanoi – though not until late afternoon, so we’ll probably squeeze in one or two more activities…

A Busy Day in Hong Kong

We spent Saturday morning with Yvonne, our guide from Context – a walking tour company I’ve used in several cities around the world and always with very interesting walks. This morning was no exception, I’m happy to report. Yvonne met up with us in Statue Square and spent the next three hours walking with us through Hong Kong’s center, first among the towering (both literally and figuratively) financial institutions like HSBC and Bank of China, then up the hill, through SoHo’s trendy restaurants and quieter neighborhoods.

Yvonne’s knowledge of Hong Kong was impressive and Mom and I both enjoyed the morning. I especially liked some of the trivial-but-no-less-fascinating bits of local knowledge  – like learning the nickname of Jardine House, one of HGK’s more distinctive skyscrapers thanks to its round windows, is sometimes known as the House of a Thousand Assholes – referring not just to the fenestration but to Jardine’s still somewhat unsavory reputation given that their business started out smuggling opium.

Along the way, we stopped at the Honolulu Cafe, a greasy spoon style place known for its egg custard tarts. They were very tasty – though my allegiance to Macau’s Portuguese custard tarts remains unchanged.

Some other highlights included St. John’s Cathedral – Hong Kong’s oldest Anglican church; a small local shrine that makes an appearance in a Wong Kar-wai film; and Yvonne’s broad knowledge of local food trends – she gave me several good leads on more places to eat during our few days left in Hong Kong!

After winding up our walk and saying our farewells, Mom and I took the subway over to Kowloon for afternoon tea at the Intercontinental. There are quite a large number places offering afternoon tea set, so it was difficult to choose where. I’d been leaning toward the Peninsula initially, given its reputation as the OG tea in town – but from what I’d read, it can be a bit of a zoo thanks to its popularity and their no-reservations policy means there’s likely to be a wait. A couple of other promising contenders lost out thanks to gimmicky sounding (though rather tasty looking, I’ll confess) themes or mixed reviews – the Intercontinental seemed to tick all the boxes, plus the venue offers a spectacular view of the harbor.

As it turned out, the view was indeed the highlight of the visit. The experience for the most part was a victory for style over substance. The food – both sweets and savories – was lovely to look at, but really not all that interesting to eat. I thought they were a bit stingy with the savories, though that may be as much my personal preference as an actual drawback. But most of the food was difficult to eat – too large to eat in one bite, but too unwieldy to make it two bites without it falling into one’s lap. This was especially true of the sweets. For example, the darling little berry cream shaped like a ladies’ spring hat was served on a little pastry cardboard – when I removed it from there, half of it wound up down the front of my shirt (which was white, of course and the pastry bright red, of course).

The tea was served tepid. The table was too small to easily accommodate the tea service. The chairs low and cushy – comfortable for sitting, not practical for eating from, especially given the dangerous instability of the sweets to which I’d already fallen victim. And the price was really quite breathtaking.

I suppose I should have known better from the get-go, given that reservations are not accepted for afternoon tea at the Intercontinental. This isn’t some trendy little hole-in-the-wall – it’s the lobby lounge that’s part of a luxury hotel chain with locations around the world. The fact that they’re unwilling to accept reservations smacks of “you should be happy that we’re allowing you to eat here” – which is further exacerbated by forbidding non-hotel-guests from sitting at the most desirable tables or from using the hotel’s wifi. The hotel is certainly within its rights to manage their establishment however they like, but it certainly left me disappointed with the experience, particularly given how ridiculously expensive it was.

When we left the hotel, it was still rather early in the afternoon, so we had some free time. On a bit of whim, we walked up to the Hong Kong Museum of History. This turned out to be a very wise choice! The museum didn’t look like much from the exterior, but inside had a huge and extensive history of Hong Kong from prehistoric times to the present day. Even going through at a rapid clip, the 90 minutes we spent there really only got us as far as the Opium Wars – we may try to squeeze in another visit if we have time.

Back to the hotel to rest up for this evening’s festivities – which really just consisted of a reservation at J.Boroski. I’d been to the original Bangkok outpost of this bar and really enjoyed it, so was quite excited to visit their new outopost in Hong Kong. Located down an alley and behind an unmarked door, the interior is super cool – a long room with a low curved ceiling covered with mounted scarabs, the bar on the left some tables down the center and along the wall with some fringed dividers. A really cool space. Had a very nice bartender who did the usual spiel, asking about what spirit we wanted in our drinks and what other flavors we liked. He made mom a very tasty take on a margarita but with elderflower and fig. I indicated I liked citrus fruit and watermelon, perhaps some fresh herbs or heat but nothing medicinal – and he prepared me a drink that had no discernible fruit and was medicinal. Sigh…

Dinner was down the street at Mak’s Noodles for wonton noodle soup. We’d tried to go the other day, but too early and they’d not yet opened. I wasn’t planning on a return trip, but our guide Yvonne had indicated that they really do make some of the best wontons in HKG – and she was not wrong! Portions are a bit on the small side, which was nice since neither Mom nor I were famished at this point. It was a really great meal and I’d say don’t miss it if you’re in Hong Kong.

Headed back to the hotel and called it a night. Well, just about – I convinced myself I was still feeling a bit peckish, but I think I really just wanted an excuse for another plate of char siu at Joy Hing. Saw Mom up to her room, then nipped up the street for my bbq pork fix – it was just as delicious as the previous evening. I hope I can squeeze in one more visit before we leave for Hanoi on Tuesday – but we’ve still got some other places to eat while we’re here!

A Day in Macau

Mom and I got an early-ish start on Friday and made our way to the Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Terminal for our ultra-deluxe, mega-luxurious hour-long ferry ride to Macau in Premier Grand class on TurboJet. Was it worth the money? Hard to say. We got priority boarding and reserved seats in a comfy-though-not-exactly-Cathay-Pacific-first-class-style, if you know what I mean. We also got a meal – which was also not exactly first class, consisting as it did of scrambled eggs, “sausages” which were much more akin to chicken hot dogs and canned corn.

But then again, we did also get to pass through immigration before all the other passengers – and once cleared, TurboJet provided us with a driver to take us to where we wanted to be dropped off in Macau.

He left us at Rotunda da Carlos Maia and we followed along one of the several walking tours laid out in the Macau Tourist Bureau’s really quite good app. Saw a few different temples, ambled through the Fireman’s Museum and enjoyed walking the narrow streets which are certainly reminiscent of Europe given Macau’s long history as a Portuguese colony. Stopped in the park along the way and a group of school kids spotted the two Westerners and came running right at us – they were practicing their English by asking questions such as “Do you like chocolate?” and “Do you speak more than one language?” and tracking their results. Nice kids and a fun little break. 

Took in the ruins of St. Paul’s, doubtless Macau’s most famous landmark. Sitting at the top of a hill it’s impressive to behold – as are the hordes of tourists. Starting our walk had taken us through more local scenery – but here we were at the nexus of the throngs of visitors. It was a little hectic to say the least.

One saving grace: there was an outpost of Tai Lei Loi Kei at the bottom of the hill, Macau’s most famous purveyor of fried pork chop sandwich. Mom and I got one regular and one served on a sweet bun. They were just OK, sadly. Not bad, mind you – but I certainly didn’t understand the hype.

I’d wanted to visit the Macau Museum, but it turned out it was a fairly long schlep back up the hill we’d just walked down and mom was not eager to fight our way back up through the crowds in the noon heat. We made our way toward Senado Square and took in some of the of other churches and government buildings, eventually winding up at the Opium House near the Inner Harbor. There wasn’t actually a lot to see over here and it was still early – so I suggested we just get a cab to take us back to the museum. No schlepping involved, plus some much needed AC to revive us.

WELL. This turned out to be a great decision. Mom and I both loved the museum. A solid and entertaining overview of Macanese traditions and history along with a special exhibition about Chinese opera. We were both so happy we decided to make the trek.

Next stop was in Coloane Village (after a rather difficult time finding a taxi) where I wanted to try Lord Stow’s Portugese egg custard tarts. I think they have branches in some of the hotel/casinos here, but I wanted to check out the OG location. It’s still tiny shop on the edge of the water, though they’ve added a comfy little cafe around back where Mom and I sat down for some tea and tarts. The tarts were absolutely delicious! Unlike the egg custard tarts back in Hong Kong, these were creamier with golden brown crust on top – almost reminiscent of crème brûlée – and a crispy flaky crust. Given that I’m unlikely to be in Macau again soon, it certainly seemed correct to order a second tart…

Had a little walk around afterward, checking out a few little side streets and some shops along the harbor. Very quiet and local – a nice way to wrap up our day in Macau.

Our exclusive and ultra-fancy Premier Grand VVIP shuttle showed up right on time and whisked us back to the ferry terminal. The ride there was pretty interesting as we got a closer look at some of the truly astonishing casino hotels here. Several of them are quite gargantuan and outlandish – Vegas, eat your heart out!

Upon arriving at the terminal, a helper from the ferry greeted us and asked if wanted to get on the 4:30 ferry rather than the 5:00 we were ticketed on. Answer in the affirmative, so we hot-footed it through the terminal and were escorted to our seats. About two minutes later we were headed back to Hong Kong.

After getting back to our hotel and freshening up, we decided we could use a little something to eat. There’s a very well-reputed roast meat shop called Joy Hing just up the road from our hotel. I wasn’t sure if Mom would be in the mood for the experience, so I texted her with the particulars: it’s divey, not pristine, small and very crowded which means sharing tables, could be a wait, servers are brusque and the ambiance is “eat, pay and get out.” Her reply to me was, “Do they have beer?” So off we went!

Happily, there was no line and we got right in – though we were disappointed to discover they do not in fact have beer. We ordered some roast chicken, which we both found pretty “meh” – not a lot of meat on the bones and skin was rubbery rather than crispy. The char siu pork however was sublime – I’m quite comfortable declaring it the best roast pork I’ve ever had. Tender, meaty, a bit smoky with a caramelized exterior and served on rice. There was some sweet-and-spicy sauce on the table that one of the quite-reasonably-friendly ladies working there recommended. This was the best meal I’ve had this trip so far and I’ll be sure to be back – possibly daily since they open at 9AM and I love nothing better than roast pork for breakfast (save your jokes, Skip and Emily – I’ve already made them all in my head).

Since we didn’t get our beers, we retired to a local restaurant and had a couple of cocktails while sitting on their terrace enjoying the warm tropical evening. A great way to wrap up our latest adventure here.

I’m in Hong Kong!

Well, I don’t suppose I really need to go into a huge amount of detail when I describe my flight from SFO to HKG. I’d cashed in miles before American devalued them – and as a result, I flew first class in seat 1A on Cathay Pacific. Here’s how things went: arrived at airport and was checked in immediately with no waiting. Made my way through the “priority” security line, which sure seemed to have more than its fair share of hopeless rubes gumming up the works. Then onto the Cathay Pacific lounge, where I enjoyed some wonton soup and a glass of Chardonnay. Our flight was announced, I strolled from the lounge to gate 7 and walked directly onto the plane. Oh, if only air travel could always be this easy…

Oh, and there was some WASP-y, Los Altos-y looking couple in the lounge who seemed to be giving me a bit of a “who let him in?” look in the lounge. Let me just say, it was delightful to have them walk past me sitting all the way up front on their way back to business. “Enjoy the flight – if you can, you poor slobs!” went through my head, because I am the worst.

Food all very tasty and service amazing – and I got a fairly good seven hours of sleep, despite a bumpy ride across the Pacific. I arrived in Hong Kong feeling pretty perky in spite of the 14 hours in the air.

I was feeling decidedly less perky after the car service I’d booked and paid for was a no-show at HKG. But it was easy enough to get a taxi and I was soon at my home for the next five days, the Novotel Century. My room wasn’t ready at this early hour, but Mom had arrived the night before, so I was able to leave my stuff in her place and take a shower. Then it was off for some food and shopping!

Honestly, I didn’t plan to do much in the way of shopping in HKG – I assume I’ll find better prices once I get to Hanoi and Bangkok. But along with the delightful pajamas I got during my Cathay flight, they include a coupon from PYE, a maker of high-quality shirts – and those pajamas from the flight. The coupon is good for a free gift or a large discount on a purchase – and since one of my fellow passengers foolishly left their coupon behind on the plane, I snagged it to supplement my own. Waste not, want not…

Anyway, found the place eventually (after not finding the branch of Tim Ho Wan I’d been searching for) and received a box of handkerchiefs. If I’d been more frugal, I’d just have gotten two boxes – but I wound up getting a quite handsome navy polo shirt with my other coupon. On my way out, I bumped into the fellow who’d been sitting behind me on my flight, who was also wringing every bit of benefit from flying first class with Cathay… A man after my own heart.

Next stop was to be Mak’s Noodles, reputed to have some of Hong Kong’s tastiest wonton noodle soup. Found the place without too much difficult and arrived there hungry and a good half hour before they opened. Happily, Tsim Chai Kee is right across the street and also has great wonton noodle soup and is open! This was my first “real” meal in Hong Kong and it was very tasty.

After a pit stop at the hotel, mom and I walked over to the Star Ferry pier in Wan Chai and headed over to Tsim Sha Tsui to meet up with our tour guide Gabi from Walk Hong Kong for a Kowloon market walk. She’s an ex-pat from Switzerland who’s been living in HKG with her husband (and three children born here in HKG) for 20 years.

She took us by bus a bit north by bus and we spent most of the afternoon walking. We saw one of the many local food markets, the flower market, the bird market, the lady market. Gabi gave us a solid overview of everyday life in Hong Kong and some great historical background. We also visited Tin Hau Temple, the center of which was filled with large coils of burning incense hung at roof level. They were beautiful and smelled lovely.

Our tour was a great intro to Hong Kong – especially spending time in Kowloon, which we would no doubt have been unable to see as much of on our own. A really fine way to spend the afternoon.

Mom and I were a lot hungrier than we realized and dinner was decent – pork was tasty though not spectacular. The pan-fried vegetable dumplings tasted as though the dough hadn’t been thoroughly cooked. A quick ferry ride home across the harbor at twilight gave us some pretty views of the Hong Kong skyline. We made a quick stop for me at the musubi/onigiri place so I could have a little snack later, then at 7/11 for a couple of cans of beer, since mom and I are both very classy and elegant ladies. Back to hotel for a very early night – I was asleep before 9PM! – as we re-energize for Friday’s trip to Macau.

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!