Bikes and Boîtes in Bangkok

Bangkok, Thailand – 18 & 19 April 2018

Presented myself at Grasshopper Adventures for my Bangkok bike tour. As it turned out, I was the only person taking the tour that day, so it was just me and my guide for the day, Tick. It was a pretty great day! We rode across Chao Phraya then through mostly quiet residential areas and narrow paths surrounded by greenery and water. I didn’t actually take many photos – which I suppose I regret, but honestly, spending most of the day in the saddle was great for me. I miss riding when I travel and it’s good for me physically and mentally – and I hope it helped me work off my vastly increased intake of condensed milk, thanks to my love of Thai ice tea.

Tick figured out right away that I am a fairly experienced urban rider, which meant we kept up a pretty good pace. Of course, some of the narrow paths had very sharp turns or were slippery or had no railings or all of the above, so my adrenal glands def got a bit of a workout – but I only had one near death experience… Not really, of course, but I did almost leave the path at what would’ve been a very inopportune moment.

We stopped at a couple of temples along the way, which were lovely as is pretty much always the case here in Thailand. Tick was really knowledgeable and told me about various conservation and construction efforts underway at our various stops. We also saw lots of dogs and a few cats, which was not only great, but made me think of Calvin, whose ashes I scattered in Chao Phraya two years ago, not too far from where we were riding…

Next to one of the temples there were food vendors and I had some pad Thai which was absolutely delicious – one of the best I’ve had! It was a great day and a great tour and I really loved it.

After Ak finished work, we headed to Vogue Lounge, an old favorite of both of ours, and enjoyed a couple of cocktails outdoors under the shadow of Mahanakhon Tower. Next stop was Iron Balls Bar, a new place from A.R. Sutton (I’ve still not been to his OG place) and my opportunity to finally try locally-distilled Iron Balls gin.

The bar was pretty cool looking and our drinks were good – but the atmosphere was pretty terrible. The place wasn’t crowded but it was mostly folks who seemed like they were all very impressed with themselves. The staff all seemed fairly unhappy to be there – though the bartender who made my drink was pretty friendly once we ordered. Anyway, it’s not a bar I’ll go back to – not really my kind of vibe, I guess.

Dinner was just up the street at a place called Thai Lao Yeh – chosen mainly for its proximity to the bar. Well! It turned out to be excellent. Located in the lovely Cabochon Hotel, the colonial-style dining room was looked after by an extremely friendly staff.

And the food! Like Thai Niyom the other night, this was Esan style food and it was all delicious – though also like Thai Niyom, the simplest dish was my favorite: steamed clams with lemongrass. The plump clams were impeccably fresh and tender and the lemongrass lent just a bit of perfume to the dish. Wonderful! And this being Esan food, of course we had sausages – juicy and spicy and sour and so tasty. Our shaved ice dessert with tapioca pearls and condensed milk was the perfect end to the meal – and très, très léger…

Thursday was pretty quiet. Ak and I had breakfast at the bbq pork noodle place near our hotel, then he headed off to work. I dropped off some laundry and then spent the day shopping at Bangkok’s amazing malls. And I may have found time for a few hours of massage therapy…

Drinks that night at Salon de Japonisant, a great little bar tended by Kei Sawada from Japan. The place is simply decorated and the “art” on the walls is really cool labels from Japanese liquor bottles. The drinks are intricately handcrafted without being fussy and are gorgeous to behold. They’re pretty delicious too!

The crowd was bit hi-so for our taste – and due to the painstaking construction of each cocktail (including hand-carving ice into the appropriate shape), the pace can be slow. We were the first to arrive at 7:30, so our first round was served quickly. But next time I go, I’d probably try to get there at opening at 7PM so the second round could’ve been served to us a bit more quickly.

Dinner at Soul Food Mahanakhon, another old favorite – I think we’ve eaten here every time I’ve visited! Food was all tasty per usual, though my favorite is always the miang kham. We did both nearly sprain our eye-rolling muscles (Ak especially!) when the farang at the next table claimed to his companions to know everything about Thai food while butchering the pronunciations. Eh, I guess I shouldn’t judge, since I’m sure I’m no better – but judge I did!

We met an adorable kitten outside the restaurant – obv the highlight of the evening – on our way to Rabbit Hole for a quick nightcap. Then back to the hotel and ended the night with another argument about the correct method of taking photographs. At least we’re consistent! Tomorrow is TGIF for Ak and the start of my last weekend in Bangkok. Sigh…

First Day in Siem Reap

Off to Cambodia! Things started off well enough, with Ak and me 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!

 

 

 

So Long, Bangkok!

My last day in Thailand! How is this even possible? I feel simultaneously as if I’ve been here for ages and as though I’ve only just arrived…

Met Ak for brunch at the hotel – a fancy and frankly ridiculously pricey buffet at the Red Oven. Now, I don’t mind spending a couple of bucks on a meal – but this was decidedly mediocre. In fact, compared to the breakfasts I’d had at Riva Surya and Dusit D2 earlier in my stay, this was far and away the least impressive and the most expensive. The view was nice, but that’s about it… So, if you’re staying at the Sofitel So, don’t bother with breakfast here.

Anyway, long before I’d even planned on visiting Thailand, I’d read this article in the NYTimes about Bang Krachao, Bangkok’s “Green Lung.” Given my penchant for bicycle riding, it sounded like someplace I’d really like to visit – and here I was, two years after reading about it actually on my way there.

Ak, despite being a native of Bangkok, had also never been – but it was certainly ideal having him along this morning. Sure, I could probably have figured out how to get here on my own – but having a local who can instruct the taxi driver where to go and then get me onto the (very small!) boat to cross the river to Bang Krachao and take care of renting some bikes once there? That is fantastic – especially since I could focus on our surroundings rather than worrying about where I might wind up.

First we had a good ride around Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan Park. Green and pleasant, with a large lake and lots of smaller ponds. From there, we headed to the local floating market. Parked our bikes and spent a good hour or so making it from one end to other and back. Crowded mostly with locals, though a good sprinkling of tourists as well. Then back on our bikes to find the Bangkok Tree House, the eco-lodge mentioned in the Times. It took us a bit to find our way, as there is a small (and to be honest, potentially perilous) path for walkers, cyclists and scooters (!) over the swamp and through the trees. It was a bit of an adventure to get there, but get there we did – and treated ourselves to a couple of ice cold beers.

It was quite a bit easier finding our way back – though encountering scooters on the narrow path remained rather heart-pounding. But just like Kelly and Michelle from Destiny’s Child, we are survivors!

Back across the river and a taxi to the hotel. A perfect time to have a dip in the Sofitel’s gorgeous pool (and a cocktail naturally). After a little downtime, we headed to the roof for a couple of cocktails while the sun set.

Dinner at Naamsah Bottling Trust, a lovely old house turned into a charming restaurant. Had a couple of tasty cocktails at the bar before heading upstairs for dinner. The food was tasty – though the lights were kept quite low, so none of my photos came out very well. But the portions were generous – we definitely over-ordered. And we didn’t skimp on the wine! So, as much as I enjoyed the meal, it was spending a really fun evening with my friend Ak that is my favorite memory of Naamsah. Well, that and the super-handsome Oscar-Isaac-lookalike sitting on the opposite side of the dining room that we both kept sneaking looks at…

From Naamsah, we headed back for one last drink at Bas Bar in Silom Soi 4 – stopping along the way to pose with a clown, an octopus and to attempt several cat-nappings of various adorable street kittens. And there may or may not have been some singing of Cher songs along the way…

Back to my hotel for a bit of a nap – but not much of one. My flight from BKK departed at 7AM, meaning I had to be at the airport at 5AM, meaning a car was coming to collect me at 415AM. UGH. Though as it turned out, this was OK. I slept a good portion of the six-hour flight to NRT; did my usual shower-beer-sushi during my three-hour layover (N.B.: let me just reiterate – if you are flying to Asia, it’s worth your while to transit through Narita just to have the sushi at Kyotatsu), then was on my way back to SFO. I arrived 11AM the same day and was back home by noon. I mostly stayed awake until about 10PM, went to sleep and was up for work just a bit earlier than usual.

And just like that, I’m back at the office. It’s almost like I never left! Happily, though I have a ton of great memories and experiences (plus about 1200 photos) of my first visit to Thailand. And, even better, I’ve already planned my next trip back – in just about four months from now!

Here’s a bit of our ride through the jungle:

 

And our boat trip back across the river:

 

BONUS FOOTAGE: proving once again that Japan is great, the beer pouring machine in the United Lounge at Narita.

Pulled Over!

I must confess, I was a bit leery of sharing this video on here, what with the slim chance that some anti-bike nuts will stumble across it and brand me history’s greatest monster for my horrible lawlessness and disregard for human life. But, eh – what’re you gonna do?

Anyhoo, a few weeks ago, I was biking home, eastbound on Market St. and I got pulled over by an SFPD officer. My crime? Stopping for a red light at 10th and Market – but doing so after the intersection’s limit line.

Oh, and while you watch, please keep your eye out for the MB SUV in the left lane – I’ll have more to say about him later…

Now, let me state for the record: YES, I AM WELL-AWARE THAT WHAT I DID WAS A VIOLATION OF THE MOTOR VEHICLE CODE. I also certainly appreciated that I was let go with a warning and that the officer was generally courteous (though I thought he belabored the rules about the limit line).

But here’s why I have some issues with this incident:

1. This is a particularly poorly designed stretch of road. As cars and bikes pass Van Ness going eastbound, they are forced to cross paths in a way that is confusing and potentially dangerous for the uninitiated. Vehicles must get into the far right lane as bikes must merge from the right into the center bike lane. Once at 10th, the intersection’s limit line is six car-lengths back from 10th St. Thus, while I did in fact go past the limit line, I was not in the path of any vehicular traffic nor did I interact with any pedestrians, since there were none present at any time during this incident. Also, what about the the two cars in the right lane that had passed the limit line? Why weren’t they busted?

2. What happened to that MB SUV? He was in the transit/taxi only lane in the left yet he never passed the waiting SFPD officer east of 10th St. So, besides having already been illegally traveling in the transit lane, he had to have executed an illegal left- or U-turn – or made a right turn from the left lane onto 10th St. cutting across the bike lane – both illegal and dangerous. And given that he must’ve seen the scooter getting pulled over, the MB driver was pretty clearly aware that he was illegally traveling in the transit lane. Of the bikes, the scooter and the MB, the MB’s actions were, in my view, the most serious and included multiple violations – yet he got away scot-free.

3. What about the first biker guy? He just kept going and thus didn’t get a lecture. That’s a pretty lousy lesson – that I’d be better off ignoring a police officer, since he won’t bother to pursue.

4. Finally – and, really, this is far and away my biggest complaint about this incident – this little stakeout on Market St. was on the afternoon of December 14th – the same day as SantaCon. In other words, someone in command at SFPD decided that, despite the presence in the city that day of thousands of open-container-carrying, public-urinating, projectile-vomiting, “Show us your tits!”-screaming, drunken Santas staggering from bar to bar (several of whom can be seen and heard in the background of my video), this was the ideal day to set up a little trap on Market St. to catch bikers who stopped for a red light but a few feet past the limit line. Excellent setting of priorities, SFPD!

I Love My Commute

Got a cool new Contour helmet cam for my birthday! I’m looking forward to documenting and sharing the various bad behaviors and outrages visited upon me as a pedal my way around the city.

And here’s my maiden voyage. I still need to get something to help cut down on the wind noise, but it’s actually not too bad as-is. My favorite part? The mike picks up quite easily on everything I say – which most typically is “What’s this idiot doing?” or “Jesus, look at this jackass.” This particular ride was uneventful, so no narration. But I’m sure that’ll change!

Not Cool, FedEx Driver, Not Cool…

I was riding my bike home after work on Friday, June 13, using the marked bicycle lane on Howard St. here in SF. And, for the third day in a row, came across a FedEx delivery truck parked in front of 500 Howard thusly:

The white line on the left is the bike lane marker.
The white line on the left is the bike lane marker.
And here one can see that the driver had plenty of room to keep from blocking the bike lane.
And here one can see that the driver had plenty of room to keep from blocking the bike lane.

Now, as a regular recipient of packages from FedEx and UPS, I am not unsympathetic to drivers and their need to park their vehicles and keep to their schedule. But given that this fellow had plenty of room both in front of and behind his truck to park in this marked loading zone, his decision to completely block the bike lane is either rank incompetence or a big “fuck you” to cyclists. Frankly, the motivation doesn’t matter. He has created a situation that is dangerous for every cyclist using this heavily-traveled route – and right at the beginning of rush hour.

Howard St. is a one-way, four-lane artery to both the Bay Bridge and the 101 freeway – plus this location at 500 Howard is immediately after a traffic signal – meaning that this FedEx driver’s blocking of the bike lane virtually guarantees interaction between bikes and cars as the bikes are forced to merge into the traffic lane to go around the FedEx truck.

Unfortunately, the driver of the truck was not near his truck on Friday – but I can assure you the next time I come across this (and yes, I’m sure there’ll be a next time – like I said, this was the third day in a row that he’d parked like this) and he’s around, I’ll address it with him directly. But I certainly hope that someone at FedEx sees this post and takes some steps to ensure their drivers don’t engage in such blatant disregard for bicyclists and the CA vehicle code (section 21211, if you’re interested).

Nice Job, Topeak!

rackI have a Topeak beam rack for my bike – it’s a rack that attaches via quick-release to my seat post and allows me to carry a case with my gym stuff in it. It’s a superbly designed accessory, especially the fact that it’s so easy to attach and remove from my bike.

Anyway, I’ve owned this rack for 18 months or so and I noticed the bungee part of the rack seemed to be wearing out and getting ready to break. So, I sent Topeak an email at 9:04AM today, asking how one goes about ordering a replacement.

And at 9:05AM, I received a reply from Nick at Topeak with specific instructions on how to do exactly that. That’s right – I received a reply to my email within one minute of sending it. I called the 800 number he provided, spoke with a very efficient woman at Topeak who took my order for a new bungee and it’s being sent to me presently.

So, within ten minutes of contacting Topeak by email, not only had they answered my question, they had fulfilled my request for a replacement bungee (and it only cost $6). While this is first and foremost a tribute to some fine customer service on the part of Topeak, it’s also a rather sad commentary on the general level of service I am accustomed to receiving. What Topeak did was straightforward and something they likely do every day – it really shouldn’t even be remarkable, since nothing I sought from this interaction was unusual.

But for so many other businesses, even responding to a customer inquiry is too much to ask for. I recently attempted to contact JayBird regarding some of their Bluetooth headphones I own – I’ve been having trouble with them holding a charge. I submitted my inquiry online – and the site told me to expect a reply within 24 hours. That was several weeks ago and I’ve heard nothing… and I’ve since purchased new Bluetooth headphones from one of their competitors.

So, good job Topeak! And, even though I generally frown upon the inclusion of literary quotations in email signatures, I couldn’t help but smile at the one that Nick from Topeak used:

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” – Dr. Seuss