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.

 

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.

 

A Day with Elephants

Do you like elephants? Well, you’d sure better, because in this post, I’ve finally gotten around to winnowing my 300+ photos (plus action cam vids!) from my visit to Elephant Nature Park down to a discreet 70-something. I still have plenty to blah-blah-blah about in this post, but let me just say that the this visit was everything I’d hoped for and more. If you are interested in interacting with elephants in an environment that is focused first on the well-being of these wonderful creatures, this is the place for you.

So, our guide for the day, Ging, showed up at my hotel as scheduled and I piled into the van with, at that point, one other couple. At our next stop, the first person to board looked quite familiar to me. “You were sitting in front of me on the flight from SFO to Tokyo, weren’t you?” Answer in the affirmative – this was Jodie, traveling with her step-daughter Katie (on a break from teaching English to school children in Korea). As it turned out, not only were we geographical neighbors in the Bay Area, our respective itineraries had much in common. The two of them had just done the cooking class at Thai Farm Cooking School and declared it a rollicking success – it was good to hear, as my own class was coming up later in the week. After our tour wrapped up, the three of us had a nice dinner together (making friends with several resident kittens at the restaurant!) back in CM.

We continued to pick up other folks and the van filled up – kind of a surprise to me, given that October is still the tail end of low season and the other tours I’d been on were rather sparsely populated it seemed. On the halfway point of our journey to Elephant Nature Park, we stopped for a bathroom break and there were probably 20 similarly populated vans, all on their way to the same destination. Another surprise – I was a little concerned about what this would mean in terms of crowds at our destination. But thanks to a large parcel of land and an extremely well-run program for visitors, our tour that day was extraordinarily intimate and with little overlap with other folks at the park.

Anyway, we arrived at our destination, clambered out of the van and there were three gorgeous elephants hanging out in the grass. Seeing a group of easy marks for bananas and watermelons, they made their way toward us immediately. It was really quite remarkable that literally the moment we arrived, we were interacting with elephants. I was also pleased at how relaxed it was. I’ll be honest – large animals can be a scary to be around. But these gentle old ladies (all in their 60s and 70s) seemed pretty content to scarf up the food we had to offer and were clearly used to being around tourists. Of course, our guide and the mahouts were close at hand to make sure nobody got trampled…

From there, we and our new elephant friends ambled along toward the river – most of us visitors attempting to master taking photographs while also feeding our rather demanding companions who knew exactly what was in those bags we were carrying (bananas… sooo many delicious bananas…). And we all adjusted fairly quickly to the fact that one winds up covered with rather a lot of elephant saliva when feeding them.

I have to say, touching the elephants was amazing – most especially so when they were grabbing food from your hands with their trunks. It was fantastic to see exactly how both agile and delicate those trunks are – not to mention how incredibly strong.

At the river, we forded on foot, humans and animals alike, and continued our trek up into the hills a bit. As I got used to the idea of chilling with elephants, I finally noticed how really beautiful the setting was. We were surrounded by tree-covered hills, the sky bright blue with fluffy white clouds. And from the hillside, we had great views of the river and the rest of the sanctuary, seeing other small groups of elephants in the distance.

A stop for lunch, a simple vegetarian spread that was that special kind of delicious that goes with a healthy appetite after a good hike. We all got to know each other a little better – it was a fun mix of Yanks, Brits and Aussies in our particular group.

After lunch, we headed back down to the river along a different path, though we crossed at the same place. Once across, we got buckets (and more watermelons!) to give our elephant friends a nice soaking, followed by a group photo.

Once back to where we started, we piled back into our van – though not before I took the opportunity to purchase what is likely to be my most cherished memento from my visit to Thailand, a small elephant carving, made by one of the mahouts. Not only does this little guy have a ton of personality, but like each of the carvings for sale, he is based on one of the local residents – in this case, a handsome fellow called Banyen.

For some reason, I’d forgotten that the particular program I was enrolled in – “Pamper a Pachyderm” (IKR?) – included a raft trip. And this was in spite of the fact that Ging, our extremely personable and knowledgeable guide, had mentioned it repeatedly – though he’d also been quick to pull  my leg about a couple of things, so I thought this was just him ribbing another camera-laden city slicker.

Anyway, it was no joke! Which was fine… but I suppose I imagined a gentle ride down the river while I sipped a cocktail. Well, it was a bit more athletic than that (and required me to don a highly unflattering life jacket! And to paddle!), but it was a super-fun trip down a mostly gentle river, with a couple of small but exciting rapids.

Our raft trip ended at ENP HQ, home to the main lodge along with all of the various support facilities, like the kitchen, vet, etc. This is also where we met lots and lots of wonderful dogs and cats who reside at ENP – and who are for the most part ready to be adopted.

We spent the rest of our time observing a couple of groups of elephants, one including a toddler who happily played with his tire and frolicked in the river while his adoptive moms bathed. Wrapped things up with a beer in the lodge before heading back into Chiang Mai.

I can’t recommend Elephant Nature Park highly enough. They do a really amazing job looking after their resident elephants and their programs for visitors are well-organized and provide a truly memorable experience. All of the staff appear to be really engaged with the organization’s mission and to care deeply about the elephants in the park – and they are certainly a huge part of what made this day so special. A superb highlight of my visit to Thailand.

BONUS:

Here’re a few excerpts from my head-mounted action cam. It’s a little Blair-Witchy, so if you’re prone to motion sickness, maybe skip it. But I hope it gives at least some sense of exactly how up-close visitors get to interact with the elephants. I know I keep using the word, but it was really quite amazing.

And here’s a bit of rafting!

The Cats (and a Few Dogs) of Istanbul

THERE ARE CATS EVERYWHERE IN ISTANBUL! And, I must say, for the most part, they seem in relatively decent shape. Though I’m sure it’s still a fairly tough life out on the street. And, as much as I wanted to, I refrained from cuddling with them. I do love cats, but I also value my stunningly-beautiful countenance and didn’t want it slashed to ribbons.

Oh and there is also a pretty decent size cat population in Tel Aviv – so the last few photos are actually from Israel.

Cat Dressed as a Shark Riding a Roomba and Chasing a Duckling

I repeat – cat dressed as a shark riding a Roomba and chasing a duckling.

I posted this already on Facebook and it got only ONE response. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE? This is the pinnacle of both human evolution and technological innovation. Keep your flying cars and your moonbases and your cure for the common cold. This is a cat dressed as a shark riding a Roomba and chasing a duckling – along with a cameo at the end of a dog dressed as a hammerhead shark.

Oh, GIFs…

Every time I see an animated GIF, I think, “Oh, this is the best one ever! There’ll never be another one better than this…” And then, this, from #whatshouldwecallme entitled “When a Couple Starts Making Out in Front of Me”

barf

THIS IS TRUE x 1 MILLION. Also, CATS!

from #whatshouldwecallme

For Unto Us a Child Is Born

I don’t get much into the “holiday spirit” beyond emulating the demeanor of one Ebenezer Scrooge before those infernal ghosts somehow altered his completely realistic and appealing view of the season. But, being a big ol’ gay, I do like to decorate – and several years ago, I crafted a truly glorious scene of the Nativity.

Behold!

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