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.

A Mellow Friday in Bangkok

Despite Thursday evening’s large and fancy dinner (accompanied by wine and cocktails, duh), I was up and at ‘em pretty early on Friday morning. I wanted to get to the Jim Thompson House when they opened at 9AM in hopes of avoiding the crowds.

And so I did! Today’s Skytrain ride was uneventful, insofar as I was able to get to my destination without any detours or wrong stops. I got a bit turned around getting from the station to the JT House, but still managed to present myself at the ticket window promptly at 9! Oh, and speaking of JT House, when I’d been texting with Aek the prior evening about how excited I was to visit JT House, I told him I couldn’t wait to meet Justin Timberlake because I am a dork and also hilarious.

ANYWAY, my early arrival wasn’t all that helpful given that the first tours don’t start until 9:30. But I spent my time wandering about the grounds outside the house, which are just marvelous, filled with beautiful plants and trees, small ponds and fountains and beautiful flowers. And it’s relatively unassuming – not a huge plot of land, and with traditional Thai structures that are of nice size, but by no means palatial. It’s a quiet little oasis in the middle of bustling Bangkok and it was undoubtedly one of the loveliest places I’ve ever visited.

The tour of the place was short but quite interesting. No photos permitted – which is kind of good for me every now and again. I think I’m OK at putting down my camera regularly, but it’s always good to have it occasionally enforced. The interiors are an amazing mix of authentic Thai and Western antiques. It felt genuinely comfortable and homey – this guy knew how to live. In fact, take a moment to read a bit about Jim Thompson – including the surprise twist at the end.

After this wonderful start to the morning, I wasn’t sure what to do next. I had a three-hour spa treatment scheduled for 1PM, so not a whole lot of time to kill. I consulted my map and discovered I was not too far from Siam Paragon (IKR?) so this seemed like the perfect spot to grab lunch.

And it was! I had headed over there with the intention of trying the ramen place I’d spied on my last visit. But in addition to having some difficulty locating it (I’ve been to casinos in Las Vegas with more easily navigable floor plans), I came across the “street” food section. All the usual suspects on offer, so I went with classics: chicken & rice, then som tum tai. The lady who prepared my som tum asked how spicy, so I said spicy. She raised an eyebrow and grabbed a huge handful of birdseye peppers. “Spicy?” Jeez, OK, I’m not Thai! “How about medium?” She laughed – but with me, not at me! Or so I told myself…

Now off to Divana Spa, recommended by my friend Nicolas. I made it there with time to spare – but lucky for me, I was just outside Terminal 21, another one of BKK’s super-cool malls. And this place was no exception. There was some kind of crazy bra sale happening on the main floor, so I headed upstairs to “London.” Oh, did I mention that each floor is named after a different world city? And decorated to match? And the top floor is San Francisco and includes a replica Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 (cleverly called Pier 21? Because it’s all true.

“London” was really great – all tiny pop-ups with groovy t-shirts and such. There was one place in particular that had a fine assortment of designs – but apparently stocked only size M. Asian size M. And I’d already learned my lesson in that regard, so I didn’t even bother. Sigh… But I still enjoyed my amble.

Divana was lovely. I sat and relaxed with some tea while they had me smell the different fragrant oils to choose the one for use during my treatment. I had reserved for “Gentlemen Exclusive Care” with scrub, steam, bath, massage and facial. Oh, boy – it was great! The scrub was with some kind of mud which covered me from the neck down. They left it on me and sat me in a steam room for 15 minutes to let it soak in. This was followed by a nice soak in a milk bath replete with bright pink flower petals. Next a relaxing massage and finally my facial treatment (to what little of my face is accessible behind my hobo whiskers). I must say my hamstring injury was still bugging me, so this very relaxing and gentle treatment was a nice contrast to the rather intense series of Thai massages I’d had earlier in my trip. I walked out feeling like a million bucks – despite the disappointment of assuming that my post-treatment snack was balls of fresh pineapple sorbet, when in fact it was just fresh pineapple…

Back to Siam Paragon to meet Ak at the Kinokuniya Bookstore. This would actually be my first time in the mall above the ground floor food hall. Well, this place is even crazier than I thought. In addition to the usual Gucci-Tiffany-Vuiton and their ilk, there was also a Rolls Royce dealership – complete with floor samples. Oh, and another for Bentley. And one for Lamborghini, because why the hell not? I’m going to have to perform a much more in-depth investigation of this mall on my next trip to BKK…

I’d read several accounts of the amazing yellow crab curry at Krua Apsorn before I arrived in Thailand and I really didn’t want to miss it, so Ak agreed to accompany me. It’s over in the older part of town, closer to the river, which means Skytrain isn’t really an option.

“I’m beat, let’s just cab it,” I said.

“No, we ought to take the canal boat. It’s faster, “ Ak replied.

Yes, please! Not only was it faster, it was another bit of adventure. We waited at the stop along with the other folks and along came our boat. It kinda stopped at the pier – I mean it definitely slowed way down and came quite close to stopping. Everyone scrambled on (standing room only!) and grabbed onto something, because the fellow at the wheel was doing whatever the nautical equivalent of putting the pedal to the metal is. A couple of stops later and there we were. And no dallying! I’m pretty sure that boat was already throttling back up to full speed while I had one foot on land and the other still on the boat. Happily, despite a bit of teetering, I did not wind up in the canal.

As for Krua Apsorn, Ak led us there directly. Very crowded, formica tables, bright fluorescent lights and well-worn laminated menus. In other words, the ambiance was nothing to write home about. But, oh that crab. The yellow crab curry was several crabs-worth of large meaty chunks – and nary a shell to be cracked. I mean, who doesn’t like crab? But the normal process back home involving hammers and tongs is a lot of effort for very little reward. At Krua Apsorn, it’s all reward! Ak also ordered a crab omelette – I was almost going to complain about a surfeit of crab and was so glad I didn’t, since this dish was as delicious as the other. This was certainly one of the best meals I had in Thailand.

Also in the neighborhood was Nuttaporn ice cream, another place I’d read about. Been making ice cream for 60 years and supposed to be amazing. Ak told me they close at 5PM, but I insisted we find it anyhow, “just in case.” Well, it does indeed close at 5PM. So, to the bars!

We actually had a nice walk until we wound up back near Wat Pho and then wended our way down an alley across the street to the Sala Rattankosin, a little boutique hotel. Climbed up five stories to the roof where we settled in for a couple of cocktails along with a lovely view of the river and the Temple of Dawn. A fine way to wrap up another marvelous day in Bangkok.

N.B.: Yes, I realize I’m waaaay behind in wrapping up my trip to Thailand – I’ve been back in SF for nearly a month! But this is my penultimate entry. And part of the reason I’ve been too busy to write is that I’m already planning my next trip back to Thailand. Yes, I loved it that much.


Istanbul – Day 3

Saturday evening, I tried to get a table at three different restaurants on my list – all booked! I guess it shouldn’t have come as a surprise on a weekend, but it was frustrating nonetheless. Wound up at Ficcin, which features Caucasian specialties – no that doesn’t mean turkey on white bread with mayo – and had Circassian dumplings for dinner. A decent meal.

Another early start on Sunday. The tram delivered me to Sultanahmet by 830AM, which was great – the hordes of tourists had yet to arrive.

When I got off the tram, I wasn’t quite sure where I was, but I did spy a massive domed edifice. “The Blue Mosque! Wow – it’s pretty amazing! But not very blue…” Turns out I was staring at the Hagia Sophia – which is indeed lovely. But then I turned around and was treated to a splendid view of the actual Blue Mosque (it’s really the Sultan Ahmed Mosque – only foreigners use the term Blue Mosque). Thanks to the early hour and the beautiful blue sky, it was breathtaking.

Wandered around the courtyard snapping photos and then headed inside. Apparently, I was addled since I agreed to some old dude’s offer at the entrance to give me a “tour” for 30TL ($15) – he spent a few minutes telling me a bunch of things about Islam and the design of mosques that I already knew. I was really kicking myself for allowing myself to be fleeced – and it hardly seems pious to be scamming visitors to one’s mosque. Though I suppose as a non-believer, I was fair game…

Next a stroll through the cisterns, which was cool despite the mob of pushy cruise line tourists.

Took a nice long walk to the Süleymaniye Mosque, the exterior of which is even more breathtaking than the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. As for the interior, yes, it was lovely. But just as with churches, shrines and temples, they all start to look a bit the same. Yes, I am a philistine.

Headed back toward the Spice Market and had a rather lovely lunch at Hamdi Et at 1130AM (I’d been up since 5!) – I was the only one in the joint, but who cares? It’s up on the fourth floor and has a spectacular view of the Bosphorus. And the food was pretty darn tasty!

Back to my place for a nap. Did some laundry, had a little downtime and eventually roused myself to get some dinner. Many restos closed Sunday evenings. Happily, the fellow I met on my tour the other day recommended Datli Maya – a whole in the wall with a wood burning oven they use to make lahmacun. I’d been dying to try this local specialty (especially since the place recommended for them in my guidebook had gone out business) and Datli Maya did not disappoint. Like a thin crust pizza, but topped with minced lamb and garlic. Served folded in half and you add fresh parsley, lemon and onions and chow down. It was pretty effing delicious. The one drawback? The tiny dining room upstairs was literally (by which I mean literally) one million degrees.

Back home, hoping again for more than four hours of uninterrupted slumber – but no dice. Up early Monday for another tour. More to come on that on my next post.

Vegas, baby!

Flight in on Virgin was notable only for it’s annoyingness.  Some teenager with Napoleonic tendencies and the mind of a bureaucrat wouldn’t allow me to bring my one carry-on bag onto the plane – despite pointing out that I had carried-on this exact same bag on this exact same airline using the exact same aircraft.  No dice.  So, I had to unpack all the non-checkables (Bette Midler tix, computer, life-preserving medications) and juggle them in my arms along with the giant hardbound novel I was already carrying, as I cursed my way down the jetway.  The overhead bins on the plane were, of course, filled with bags identical in size to my own…

Lucky for me, though, when the chief FA asked how I was doing, I told her not very well and explained why.  She took care of it and got my bag (along with the three other bags that were marked for gate check) onto the aircraft. Would’ve been a very pleasant flight, too, if her colleague hadn’t refused to allow me to use the bathroom when her cart was adjacent to me. “We only have a certain amount of time to serve drinks.”  Well, I only have a certain amount of time before I piss myself…  Oh, and needless to say, in the time it would’ve taken me to get to the john and back, she was still in the exact same location in the aisle…

Anyhoo, through the airport and checked into Vdara.  It’s quite nice.  The rooms all have different layouts, and mine isn’t quite a nice as the one pictured online in terms of layout.  But it is well-appointed with a great bathroom (I took two showers and a bath yesterday, just because I could – and housekeeping replaced all the many, many towels I’d used when they did turn-down service…)

Headed out to Ben Sherman, hoping for more sale stuff… And they were having the same sale as in SF, but it had all been picked over…  I may go back today just to double-check. Wandered around the Planet Hollywood casino, won $50 and grabbed a sandwich and headed back to my hotel.

"Sex and the City" slots at Monte Carlo. Poor Scary Sadshaws!

Spent the rest of the afternoon checking out casino/hotels.  Aria, the Vdara’s sister across the way is quite nice – even the casino is rather tasteful.  But the slots seemed to be mostly penny slots or $1 slots – one too rich for my blood, the other too poor (who wants to win 10,000 pennies? Ugh.) Popped into Monte Carlo, which ate my money immediately without so much as a cocktail waitress showing up to offer me a watered-down cocktail.  Au revoir, Monte Carlo!

Next door is New York, New York, one of the sort of medium-grade places.  But I had good luck – choosing a Lucky 7 slot that paid me a $400 spin and a couple of others in the $100s.  And I had a really nice cocktail waitress who ensured drinks arrived in a timely manner…

So now what?  It’s only around 7PM – nightlife at the clubs doesn’t start until after midnight. A pit stop at my hotel to have a lie-down, then I headed to Casino Royale.  I’d read somewhere that the more downscale casinos (and this one certainly is downscale by standards of the Strip – for example, their casino restaurant is a Subway sandwich shop) have looser slots.  Now I don’t know if this is actually true, but I did walk out of their with $300 more than I’d gone in with.

I’d also heard that Outback Steakhouse has really good burgers – so I went.  And the burger was, in fact, excellent.  Too bad the fries were limp and mealy…

Why am I up at 8:30 in the morning? I didn't get home until 4... Jeez...

Then off to explore the gay bars…  Yikes…  Pretty pathetic.  Of the two larger ones in the little gay area, one was closed and the other was playing Latin hip-hop or something…  I also tried Krave, on the Strip…  A bit livelier, but still yawn city – and crazy expensive.  $5 for a Bud Light.  A Bud Light! I didn’t stay long…  But I spent a couple hours parked in front of another slot machine in the adjacent Planet Hollywood casino. I was up $150 when I left.  Hope my luck holds out for the rest of the trip…


The news reports coming out of Haiti are shocking and grim…  Please donate what you can.  There are lots of great organizations out there that are already engaged in relief efforts to the Haitian people trying to survive this catastrophe.  I sent my money to Doctors Without Borders, a fantastic organization.  I hope you’ll join me…

Update: An article from the NYTimes about relief efforts in Haiti and the great difficulty of getting help to those who need it.  I suspect the news will only grow worse in the coming days.  Please do what you can to help.

Aid Workers Scramble Amid Haiti’s Chaos