Bangkok: My Old Friend

Bangkok, Thailand – 19-25 November 2018

As I’ve been lucky enough to say half-a-dozen times, I’m back in Bangkok. One of my favorite cities and home to my friend, Ak. The city here is both familiar and brand-new every time I visit, thanks in large part to the extremely lively bar and restaurant scene – and on this particular trip, the first ever Bangkok Art Bienniale, with displays and installations throughout the city.

I was soon enough checked into my home-away-from-home here, Le Méridien – and, as usual, I was welcomed by the staff like they’d just seen me yesterday. I really do love this place.

One of the things that’s so nice about coming back to Bangkok is that, while in some ways I’ve barely scratched the surface of everything there is to do and see here, I’ve certainly made a dent in my previous six visits. And there’s something very relaxing about being able to explore a big city like this at a leisurely pace.

For the most part, I’ll let my photos tell the story of this visit, though there are of course some places I’ll need to call out specifically, either because they are new – or just continue to be amazing.

In the latter category is the restaurant Thai Niyom. Ak and I discovered this place last time I was in BKK. It was still new then and was pretty quiet both times we ate there. But the food! So good. The most amazing dish I ate last time was cabbage stir-fried with fish sauce and garlic. Simple and simply fantastic. And this visit? Same dish, still amazing! We ate here twice again. I can’t recommend this place highly enough. And they got a Bib Gourmand mention – very deservedly so. I was happy to see the place is doing a brisk business – not only because they should be but so that I can look forward to more meals there next time I’m in BKK.

Ak and I also had a lovely afternoon tea at Peacock Alley in the new Waldorf Astoria. Tea in fancy hotels is a bit of hit-or-miss prospect in my experience, with style often winning out over substance all too frequently. I’m happy to report that this tea was mostly quite good. It was absolutely stylish, a sunlight-filled modern room overlooking the Royal Bangkok Sports Club. There was a nice selection of tea-infused cocktails which were as tasty as they were delicious. The sweets and savories were really gorgeous – clearly made with Instagram in mind – but were also quite tasty. There were a few duds, but overall everything was quite good. Granted, I’d’ve preferred a higher savory-to-sweet ratio, but that’s been true just about everywhere I’ve had afternoon tea.

Another very special evening was spent at Sawaan, a new-ish fine dining restaurant serving Thai food – and the recent recipient of a Michelin star. Since this was a “fancy” dinner, I’d reserved for Thanksgiving – which is obviously not celebrated here, but it felt like a good reason to celebrate.

Well, this place was delightful. The service was just lovely – warm and welcoming and the entire staff really went out of their way to make sure our evening was special, as I’d mentioned in my reservation that it was Thanksgiving for me and a belated celebration of Ak’s 25th birthday. They served us a complimentary round of drinks for the holiday and presented Ak with a wonderful extra dessert at the end of our ten-course meal.

And the food? Just wonderful. Large multi-course tasting menus can feel daunting at times, but this one worked really well, not just in terms of the food but in the pacing. Several of the dishes were served with some theatricality, though it didn’t feel precious – and the food itself was amazing.

A few standouts: Fresh amberjack minced tableside with a dozen different herbs and other flavorings. A fat, buttery oyster presented in a bowl, into which a ewer of mushroom broth was poured, gently poaching the mollusk. A slice of Iberico pork, cooked simply but with a complex marinade of Thai herbs and spices.

It was a wonderful meal – and a really fine way to spend Thanksgiving. And I was indeed thankful – not just to be spending the holiday with my good friend Ak, but also being reminded once again of how very lucky I am to get to travel to amazing places like Bangkok.

We also visited the just-opened Icon Siam, a huge new shopping mall on the banks of Chao Phraya. The place is pretty swanky and includes an indoor “floating market” with plenty of local food and snacks for sale. Of course, for us, the best part turned out to be the outdoor promenade along the river – it provided many excellent opportunities for us to pose for our lives. And honestly, I wish I had Ak around as my personal photographer on the regular – he always manages to make me look good in photos.

While I didn’t come close to seeing everything on display for Bangkok’s first Bienniale, I did see quite a bit. Choi Jeong Hwa’s (South Korea) work was displayed in several locations and was always colorful and engaging. I especially liked Sornchai Phongsa’s (Thailand) installation at BACC – it was fascinating to see and was given particular depth when I learned that the artist had hired undocumented immigrants to build the structure, a commentary on the many stateless residents of Thailand. 

Thanks to all the amazing food, cool bars, great art and fun times with Ak, my six days in Bangkok flew by. Soon enough, I was winging my way back to real life in SF. Looking forward to my next visit to Thailand in October!

 

Last Weekend in Bangkok

Bangkok, Thailand – 21 & 22 April 2018

Sigh… My last weekend here. I guess we’d better make the most of it! Friday was pretty quiet and we got dinner at Suppaniga Eating Room, an old favorite that’s not too far from the hotel.

Got an early start on Saturday and heading to the subway, we walked up the alley right next to Le Meridien. I can’t believe we’d never walked up here before! It was really quiet and local – hard to believe we were just a few dozen meters from the craziness of Patpong. And there were cats, so it was a double win!

Took subway to Chatuchak Market (of course!) with a stop for breakfast at Or Tor Kor Market (of course!). I scored big time on t-shirts – which made me really happy, since I’d mostly struck out during my visit to Terminal 21 earlier in the week, my usual spot for cool shirts. Ak found several great-looking shirts at his favorite thrift stall.

After the market, we decided to check out Papaya Vintage Market. I’d read about it in the NYTimes and it sounded pretty cool. Granted, I’m probably not going to have room for a vintage mid-century occasional table in my luggage, but always fun to check out what’s for sale. WELL! This place was kind of amazing – a large, multi-story warehouse crammed with everything from Danish modern coffee tables to 70s stereo consoles to giant Ultraman figures. We probably spent about an hour just wandering and gawking and we loved it.

Next stop was at the old race track, slated for demolition, where they were having a special pop-up market. Took as a while to get there, thanks to the usual crazy traffic in town – but not long enough as it turned out. We arrived at 3:00, only to discover that the market doesn’t start until 4:00. Oopsie! So, given the heat and that we were kind of hungry, we made the only logical decision and headed to the mall.

The Siam Paragon food halls usually have one large section with a special theme and today it was “Floating Market” – so Thai street food! We shared a variety of sweet and savory coconut tarts and some deep-fried pork – you know, just a little snack to tide us over ‘til dinner…

Of course, before dinner comes cocktails and tonight we decided to try the Penthouse rooftop bar at the recently-opened Park Hyatt. The interior of the hotel is swankily modern. The bar, a bit less so. It’s a cool space with great views and I really liked being seated under the large swoosh of aluminum that crowns the building. But the decor was a little out of place to me, feeling rather “generic suburban hotel.” It wasn’t terrible by any means, but the vibe didn’t seem to match the quite spectacular architecture of the building – and the chairs were oddly proportioned, with a too-shallow seat making them not so comfy. Drinks were decent and rather reasonably priced for this being a bar on top of a fancy hotel.

Downstairs from the rooftop is another bar and restaurant – and, hidden away on the other side of the top floor, The Whisky Room. Ak’s friend who writes about the bar scene in Bangkok said it was a must-visit – and she was not wrong!

The space is really cool. Kind of old-school clubby feeling, but with some mood lighting to jazz the place up – plus some giant windows to take in the city. We sat at the bar. I don’t know much about whiskey, so I stuck with an old favorite, Maker’s Mark. Prior to ordering, I didn’t engage our extremely friendly barkeep in deciding what I ought to try – a mistake, as it turned out, since he was extremely well-versed in his inventory. He shared lots of his knowledge and opinions with us and I can’t wait to come back and try some of the pricier-though-not-crazily-so whisky that he recommended. But we had several other bars on the list for evening, so I was trying to pace myself…

For dinner, we went back to Thai Niyom – and it was excellent again, especially the cabbage with nam pla. Dessert was sticky rice served with a caramelized shredded coconut and it was fantastic.

Next stop: Tropic City, a rum bar with a tiki vibe and an extraordinarily friendly staff. Then we cabbed over to Asia Today – the sister establishment to (and around the corner from) Teens of Thailand – in Chinatown for a final couple of rounds of very tasty drinks, made with less-commonly-found ingredients like Tiger Ear and local honey.

Despite the many venues, we didn’t overdo it and were up at a reasonable hour Sunday morning. Decided to walk through Lumphini Park – and were rewarded with several cat sightings! – on our way to lunch at Eathai in Central Embassy. I had my favorite char siu and we shared some moo ping and fried dumplings. Did a bit of shopping. Posed for my now-obligatory photo in front of the Gaysorn sign. And then it was time to get back to the hotel and say our farewells – always the most difficult part of my visits. I hate saying goodbye to my friend Ak and to this city that I love coming back to and getting to know a little better each time.

Of course, the sting of leaving was soothed a bit by getting to fly Cathay business class back to SFO. It was certainly comfortable – though the food was unremarkable (especially compared to the really tasty meals I’d had on SWISS when I flew here). My prior flights with Cathay had seemed more impressive – though this was an overnight flight from HKG, so maybe it was just low key due to the late hour. Anyway, all went smoothly and I arrived in SF, whizzed through Immigration thanks to Global Entry and was home on my sofa less than 60 minutes after I was wheels down on the runway. Pretty great! Well, except for the fact that I’m home and not in Bangkok and that real life starts bright and early the next day as I return to work. Good thing I’ve already got my tickets booked for my next trip this autumn!

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…

Bangkok Days…

Bangkok, Thailand – 16 & 17 April 2018

Started the day in a shameful – though nearly traditional at this point – breakfast at Au Bon Pain. In our defense, due to Songkran holiday, many places closed, including our favorite bbq pork noodle place, so here we are.

The streets this morning were eerily quiet. Silom Rd. is generally teeming with people and traffic pretty much 24/7 – but everyone is either out of town or still hungover from yesterday’s Songkran craziness, so Silom was weirdly empty.

Anyhow, we got ourselves to Wat Saket (The Golden Mount) and climbed up to the top. It’s magnificent! The wat itself is lovely and the view is amazing – high enough above Bangkok to see a huge swath of the city but not so high that you can’t see life teeming below you. Set in the old part of Bangkok, it was especially great to see all the old shops, houses and other buildings in the immediate neighborhood.

While gazing up at the golden stupa at the crest of the wat, I had a bit of a moment. Not full-blown Stendhal Syndrome, but certainly something akin to it. I seem to experience it once or twice every time I travel somewhere and find myself in a place that is particularly beautiful or simply just so of its place and I marvel at the fact that I am there and that I have the great good fortune to see and experience these things – especially along with my dear friend Ak, who is always proud and happy to teach me about his home city and country. Ok, sometimes it’s tinged with exasperation with my ignorance, but still! It was a wonderful way to start my day in this city that I never tire of visiting.

Next stop was at Wat Suthat, another temple nearby – and another place I’d never visited. The interior of the temple was beautifully painted – all the columns, walls, doors and ceiling. And we saw a couple of workers doing some restoration on the paint.

Lunch at Krua Apsorn, an old favorite that I first tried back in October 2015 – my very first visit to Bangkok! – after reading about their justly world-famous crab with yellow curry. It’s a bit pricey by Thai standards at THB500, but it’s piled high with huge chunks of crab meat that are fresh and tender – and require no extrication work by the customers and certainly not a bib… We also had a really tasty larb moo and some stir-fry pork.

Ak observed a rather hilarious – and not just a tad depressing – interaction with a couple of Western hippie backpacker types (you know, the ones always in search of authenticity) and their server. Anyway, despite a menu that was in both English and Thai and that had photos of every dish, these two ordered massaman curry – which is not in fact on the menu. Next, they requested pad Thai (because of course) and were advised that pad Thai was also not served in this establishment.

At this point, they decided to leave – not willing to give up on the authentic Thai food they craved at this clearly-not-authentically-Thai restaurant. It was laughable at best – but honestly, if you mention Krua Apsorn to just about anyone who’s been to Bangkok (or has Google), the response would be, “Oh, that place with the fantastic crab curry? You have to go!” #ohfarangs

Next we stopped for some shaved ice with noodles, sticky rice, fruit and one or two other items thrown in for good measure. So tasty on a hot day! Our next stop was Nuttaporn ice cream for Round 2 – but they were closed for the holiday. #tripruined

Onward, though, to the Grand Palace and a visit to Queen Sirikit’s Museum of Textiles. There was a special exhibit celebrating 200 years of friendship between Thailand and the US. Lots of diplomatic documents and communications from the 1800s on up to display of some of the beautiful Thai nielloware presented to various US Presidents and their families.

Of course, my favorite part of this museum is always seeing the selections from the Queen’s personal wardrobe, most of them from the 60s and 70s, designed to her specifications by Pierre Balmain and typically incorporating Thai silks and patterns. The materials are all so gorgeous and the workmanship is unbelievable.

Went back to the hotel to freshen up and decided to try a new place for dinner, Thai Niyom. I’d read a little blurb about it online somewhere, as it’d just recently opened and it wasn’t too terribly far from our hotel.

WELL. I don’t mean to engage in hyperbole, but it was one of the best Thai meals I’ve ever had – and Ak thought it was pretty amazing too and he’s Thai. We had spicy beef soup (tom sep) which was simply prepared – tender brisket in a deep, rich broth. And super spicy! But the kind of spicy that’s so delicious, you can’t stop eating it.

We also ordered a deceptively plain sounding dish of cabbage stir-fried with nam pla and garlic. The ingredients were straightforward – but the preparation was perfection. This is dish I will never forget eating – truly one of the most amazing things I’ve ever had.

We had a couple of kinds of Esan sausage and a seafood salad. Everything was great! We were so delighted to try someplace new and have it turn out to such a fantastic meal.

Tuesday, Ak was back to work (#poorhim), so I was on my own. On my way out, I had the pleasure of meeting Killian Donoghue, the GM at Le Meridien, who had been so helpful in resolving my issue with check-in. In his email yesterday, he’d said he hoped to meet me during my stay and I responded that he should just be on the look-out for a bespectacled farang with a crazy gray beard – so obviously, when I was walking through the lobby, he had no problem identifying me. Anyway, he was as gracious as could be – and I thanked him again for his assistance. I’m happy to report that the rest of my stay at Le Meridien was just as great as always – thanks to a really fine staff who all deliver top-notch service and make it all seem effortless. I’m looking forward to my next stay this autumn.

Next up was a visit to Terminal 21 for some shopping. I usually find some cute t-shirts there (assuming I can find any large enough to fit me. Sizing in Asia is not kind to farangs…), but had no luck this time – though I did get a cute aloha shirt, which everyone wears during Songkran, so the selection was good. I was looking at another shop where I’ve had some success in the past, but as I was looking at shirts on the rack, the lady running the place announced, “Not for you. Too small.” and shooed me over to small selection of what might actually fit me. As I said to Ak later, “I think this was the Thai version of ‘We only carry sizes 2 and 4. Maybe you should try Sears.’”

I consoled myself with a massage later at Infinty Spa. It was lovely! The Thai body massage was fine – nothing to write home about – but the subsequent foot massage was superb. And I’ll say the same about the post-massage snack of mango sticky rice – so good!

Met up with Ak at Eat Me for a couple of cocktails, base on Thai street food – my first was Kaeng Tai Pla: mezcal, shallot, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, curry and lime. Just enough tart, savory and umami to make a great drink. Second was larb – a similar flavor profile but a bit limier and served with a strip of crispy ham (#nom). Ak had a sake spritzer with elderflower which he loved (I agreed when I got a taste).

Dinner near the hotel at a ramen place, then made an early night of it. Wednesday morning would be an early one for me, as I had to be down near Old Town before 9AM to go on a bike tour.

 

A couple of videos from our visit to Wat Saket:

 

Hoi An, Then Back to Bangkok

Hoi An, Vietnam – 14 April 2018
Bangkok, Thailand – 15 April 2018

Made our way into town to Hai Cafe, the meeting point for our cooking class with Red Bridge. Our morning guide met us promptly and we had something to drink while we waited for our fellow tourists, who turned out to be a couple of not-particularly-friendly Aussie women. They weren’t unfriendly, exactly, but were not especially interested in engaging with anyone but one another. NBD, though it was a little exhausting for me trying to do the heavy lifting to keep a conversation going until I just threw in the towel.

The first part of the tour involved a stop at a local organic garden, which was pretty interesting – though went on perhaps a bit longer than was necessary. Same could be said for our trip to the market, especially since we’d already been through it during one of our food tours.

Once we arrived at the Red Bridge School and Villa, things took a turn for the better. The setting was lovely and the outdoor cooking facility was great in terms of both the working space and all the fresh ingredients. Our instructor Mimi was great – gregarious and knowledgeable and enjoyed sharing her techniques and showing us what to do.

We started off prepping the ingredients for a banana leaf salad with grilled chicken. All the different fruits and vegetables in the salad were just gorgeous and the bbq’d chicken turned out to be as wonderful as it looked and smelled.

We also worked on broth for pho, grilling up beef leg bones over the fire before starting the soup. This was followed by prepping chiles and aromatics to make a marinade for shrimp that we wrapped in banana leaves before grilling. Then we ended with hotpot with fish and dill. Really tasty!

It was a fun afternoon – though it also seemed as if our two other students were pretty unfamiliar with cooking. Which is fine, I guess, but it seemed an odd choice of activities for them.

We’d done four different tourist activities while in Hoi An: two food tours, a cooking class and a bike tour. The cooking class and the second of the food tours were run/owned by non-Vietnamese apparently – and while I wouldn’t say they were terrible, they seemed to lack the local take that we enjoyed so much on our first food tour and the bike tour. The locally-run tours just felt more like we were interacting with Vietnamese folks on their terms and in a way that felt more personal. The other experiences felt more highly scripted and almost veered into performance. I don’t suppose there’s anything wrong with that – but it’s a type of tour that I find less interesting.

Took a boat back to Old Town and wandered for a bit. Back to hotel for a nap, then dinner again at Morning Glory. We probably should’ve tried somewhere new, but we’d really enjoyed the previous meal there, so why not go with a sure thing for our last evening?

Walked around after dinner. Hoi An is really quite magical in the evening, with hundreds of different colored lanterns strung across every street and building. It’s brimming with tourists, yet it still feels just delightful to be out and about.

We bought a couple of candles to float down the river, mainly because I was thinking of a good friend back home who will soon be saying farewell to her kitty companion. It was nice to be able to do a little something to keep them in my thoughts, but it got me a lot more choked up than I’d anticipated. Nevertheless, a very nice way to wrap up our evening.

Up and on our way to the airport by 9AM, despite a bit of a kerfuffle at check-out as to whether or not I’d pre-paid for our stay (I had), but it was resolved quickly. Hung out at the lounge in Da Nang, thanks to my Priority Pass and soon enough we were BKK-bound. Well, technically, DMK-bound – the LaGuardia to Suvarnabhumi’s JFK. But it was an easy flight and we were quickly in a Grab, headed toward Le Meridien, my home-away-from-home here in Bangkok.

Or is it? Check in was a bit of a bother when they charged me extra to “upgrade” to a room with a Toto Washlet (because who doesn’t love a Washlet?) – something they’d never done in the past when I’d requested it and this being my fifth or sixth stay here (and I’m a Starwood member), I was not pleased –  but I paid it and then sent an email along to the GM, sharing my disappointment. Happy to report, he got back to me the next morning to advise the charges had been reversed. Squeaky wheel, grease, etc., yes – but still left me with a rather less enthusiastic feeling for this hotel at check in, a hotel that I’ve been singing the praises of since my first visit a couple of years ago. Well, we see how the week goes.

Oh, and it’s Songkran weekend, the Thai new year and unofficial gay pride celebration. The streets in Silom are mobbed with folks armed with huge water guns and buckets as they participate in the nationwide water fight that rings in the Thai new year. And apparently, Le Meridien is also queen central, if the parade of toned male couples in tank tops and expensive sneakers were any indication – including two shirtless and soaking wet muscle queens and their water bazookas just chillin’ in the lobby. Fancy!

Dinner at the mall: great Thai food that we’d both been craving. Sure, we’d had plenty of great food in Singapore and Hoi An, but let’s face it: Thai food is best.

Also at the mall: a big Songkran circuit party – I shit you not. It was pretty hilarious seeing gaggles of queens in harnesses and booty shorts sashaying past Uniqlo and through the food court on their way up to rave the night away. Westfield Center take note!

Tomorrow: a visit to Old Town!

 

So Long, Bangkok!

Bangkok, Thailand – 20, 21 & 22 October 2017

Hard to believe it’s my last few days here already… Spent the time mostly re-visiting some old favorite hangouts along with checking out some new ones.

Friday we mostly spent wandering around town checking out shops and snacking at Siam Paragon as usual. Dinner that evening at Soul Food Mahanakorn, but we stopped by the Okura Hotel to check out their happy hour, served on an open-air terrace off the lobby on the 24th floor. It was OK, but I was frankly underwhelmed – it just wasn’t a very interesting space and the cocktails were unmemorable.

Ak suggested we make our next stop at the Siwilai City Club at Central Embassy. WELL! This was much more to my liking. The space up on the top of the mall is really cool, with a beach-y vibe. Plus, I really liked the perspective of being only about six floors above street level, surrounded by tall buildings and hearing the BTS passing by just below. A great space and some tasty drinks.

Dinner was great, as expected – especially the miang kham, which is a plate of pork, coconut, lime, chile, ginger, peanuts and onion that you use as you like to fill a leaf and then pop it into your mouth. So simple and so delicious.

Saturday and we headed to Chatuchak Market (of course!) with a stop at Or Tor Kor Market for lunch. I even managed to order my own cha nom yen in Thai! Well, OK, the lady did correct my pronunciation, but still!

Shopping was good that day: I found a bunch of cool t-shirts, Ak got me a great new travel bag printed with angry cats along with some new toys for his cat. There was another torrential downpour which was kind of hilarious given that the “indoor” sections of the market aren’t necessarily as indoor as one might think, so we wound up rather damp. Good thing we found a little sweet shop to duck into for a snack…

After we were back in the city, we checked out an exhibit about the construction of the crematorium for the King. It was a small show, but really fascinating to learn about all of the work that went into the design and construction of this magnificent structure – that will be dismantled after the King’s funeral. There was also an amazing scale model, which I was really excited to see since we hadn’t been able to get very close to the real one next to the palace.

Dinner that night at Jay Fai, a shophouse restaurant long famous for drunken noodles and other seafood dishes prepared by Auntie Fai. It’d been on my list for a long time but this was the first time Ak and I actually visited. And, it was fine. The serving was generous and the seafood very fresh – but was it the pantheon of my favorite meals in Bangkok? Nope, not really. Ak was more critical than I, particularly given the high price relative to other “street food” type places – though by SF standards, the price was not at all unreasonable, though certainly higher than is usual in Bangkok. I’m really glad we did get a chance to visit and that it was a pretty low-key affair. The place was recently awarded one Michelin star, so it’s likely to have nightmarishly long lines now – and I can say, “Oh, I ate there aaaaaaaages ago, long before Michelin star…”

Since we shared our meal, we still had plenty of room for more food next door at Thip Samai, with a reputation for serving the best pad Thai in town. I’d eaten here before with Ak and we really liked it. The food was still very good – but the line this evening was nuts. I think we waited 45 minutes for a table? And someone who shall remain nameless (but whose name rhymes with “I’m-never-coming-BACK-here”…) was already kind of crabby so it wasn’t the most enjoyable meal of this trip. I’m not a really a huge fan of pad Thai anyhow – but I think this place really does make a fantastic pad Thai. I probably don’t think it’s worth the long wait – really, what is in a town with so much amazing food? – but if the line isn’t too cray, it’s worth a visit.

Next stop was Tep Bar, which I only visited for the first time last April and really loved it. Tonight was no different, with the usual live performance of traditional Thai music. The place was packed, but we lucked out and got the last table and enjoyed a couple of cocktails. Next stop was up the road at Foo John. They had a live jazz combo playing upstairs which was nice way for us to wrap our evening – my last in Bangkok before heading back home to SF.

Up early – but not too early! – to head to the airport. It’s always so sad to say goodbye to Ak and to leave behind this city I love so much. The blow was softened somewhat knowing I’d already booked my next trip to this part of the world for April 2018. And softened even further thanks to the fact that I’m flying EVA Air business class via Taipei – making the 19-hour voyage home more than just tolerable, but quite lovely.

I’d flown EVA before. They are a great choice out of BKK, given that they have the best lounge that I’ve visited there – even better than the just re-modeled Singapore Airlines lounge, which was fine, but EVA has a nicer location with great tarmac views, an excellent selection of food and – best of all – Toto Washlets in the bathrooms. Another perk is that EVA’s regional business class is the same excellent lie-flat pod-style seat as on their long-haul flights. Many of the Asian carriers have regional configurations with comfortable seats with plenty of leg-room – but in a 2-3-2 layout which means substantially less privacy than EVA’s 1-2-1.

The one thing that surprises me – and not in a good way – is how underwhelming the EVA lounges are in Taipei, their home airport. They are quite crowded, the design feels dated, the facilities shopworn and the food uninspired. I actually preferred the ambiance at the Priority Pass lounges around the corner. Eh, first world problems.

The flights were great though. Really tasty food, excellent service from the crew and plenty of Veuve Clicquot La Grand Dame was poured as we jetted across the Pacific… Soon enough, I was wheels down at SFO, whisked through immigration thanks to the best $100 I ever spent for Global Entry and I was home in my living less than one hour after arriving at the gate. And just like that, vacation is over. Back to work in the morning – but counting the days until April… Next stop: Singapore!

More from Bangkok

Bangkok, Thailand – 17, 18 & 19 October 2017

Tuesday morning and I decided I needed to finally visit Lumphini Park. I generally stay in Silom when I visit Bangkok, so it’s kind of shocking I’d never actually ventured inside the park. Well! It’s really just lovely – green and quiet and a nice respite from the bustling city surrounding it. And I saw some cats, so that’s the sign of a great day.

After the park, we walked up Wireless Road, past the US and other embassies on our way to Central Embassy mall. Besides some window-shopping (and availing ourselves of the Washlet-equipped toilets), we popped into Eathai downstairs for a snack of roasted bananas with caramel sauce and moo ping.

Next up: a movie! Bangkok’s malls, besides being home to amazing food, house some of the biggest and most luxurious movie theaters I’ve ever seen. If you’re willing to pay for it, you can sit in big luxurious chairs or even sofas or beds, along with pillows and blankets and food delivered to your seat. But I’m a cheap bastard and went with the OG style auditorium – which was still huge and comfy and reasonably priced. Oh, and we saw “Blade Runner 2049” – which I liked, but JHC, they could’ve been a bit more aggressive in that editing room. If we’d gone with the recliner seats and blankets, I’m sure I’d’ve dozed off at some point during what felt like the fourth hour…

After the movie, haircut for me and haircut and beard trim for Ak. He took me to his usual barber shop, David No. 5, a tiny two seat space right off Silom Rd. I got a great cut for only THB250! This place is now on my list of “must visits” in Bangkok. There’s nothing better than getting my fade cleaned up while I’m on vacation.

Dinner at Jae Koy, one the many great local places Ak has introduced me to here. There’s really nothing I like more than being the only farang in the place. Not only do I know the food will be good, I feel like I’m getting to see something most other tourists don’t get to experience. Food was delicious as always: grilled pork, larb, tom yum, noodles with seafood. A real feast!

In some ways, this was my favorite day in Bangkok – I think because it was so ordinary and gave me a small taste of what it might be like to actually live here.

Wednesday we tried to visit the King’s crematorium next to the Grand Palace – but didn’t have much luck. There were crowds everywhere and lots of street closures with very little in the way of instructions on how to get where we wanted to go. It would’ve felt like a bit of a wasted morning, but it was still interesting to see all the people down there – plus we had an appointment for massage that afternoon at Pai Spa, the first Thai massage place I went on my very first visit to Bangok two years ago – and happily, Jin, my therapist from that visit was there and her massage was as amazing as I remember.

Dinner that night at the new location for one of our favorites, Suppaniga Eating Room – or so we thought. We arrived at the riverside inn where it’s located and were directed to the elevator up to the roof. It was a nice spot with a lovely view – though for some reason, the staff seemed a little flustered by our arrival and my assertion that we had a reservation – but we were seated nevertheless.

We ordered a couple of drinks and a snack – and I remarked to Ak that the menu seemed kind of weird. A lot of fancy Western-sounding dishes like pasta, but little in the way of the Thai food we know and love at Suppaniga. We finally figured out we were in a different restaurant entirely – Suppaniga is on the street level, across from the hotel entrance. So, NBD, right? We paid for our cocktails and headed down for our actual reservation – only to discover that the afternoon’s torrential downpour had left the alley between where we were and where the restaurant’s entrance was flooded with knee-deep water. So, not our most successful evening – but we made do by heading back to our old stomping grounds and visiting our usual branch of Suppaniga. Granted, no view of the river and Wat Arun but the food was great as always and we were able to enter the restaurant without fording any streams…

Thursday was for shopping! First stop: Jim Thompson Factory Store, which I was so happy to discover last time I was in Bangkok. Got some new pillow covers and a couple of other goodies at prices not quite as high as in the shops in town. I think it’s mostly first quality, just last season’s colors and patterns. After this, we spent some time back in the malls and stopped in for an underwhelming afternoon tea at Erawan Tea Room.

Back at the hotel, Ak availed himself of the large tub in our bathroom and attempted to take a bubble bath. I wasn’t really sure what he was up to in there but there seemed to be quite a bit of commotion – eventually followed by the crestfallen exclamation that there were no bubbles.

When I went in to help get things sorted, I may have rolled my eyes – and Ak cried, “But I don’t know how to take a bath!”

“What do you mean ‘I don’t know how to take a bath’?” I said.

“I’ve never taken a bath. I’m from third world,” he replied, using his hilarious catch-all excuse for anything that he doesn’t know – or, as is more often the case, can’t be bothered with. Anyway, he had his bath and all went well.

Thursday evening was a special dinner at Restaurant Sühring, a German restaurant helmed by brothers Thomas and Mathias. It’s reputed to be one of Bangkok’s best restaurants and I had been wanting to try it for a while. Granted, I felt a little guilty about not eating Thai food for every meal, but I figured I’ve been to Bangkok enough that I can start expanding my culinary horizons a bit.

Ak was dressed in his fancy new shirt that he’d gotten for his birthday – sent to him by a designer friend Timmyyy from his latest collection. Appropriately, our first stop was at Vogue Lounge for cocktails before dinner.

Then we headed to the restaurant. This turned out to be fun! I’d not told Ak where we were going, only that it was someplace nice. I was sure he’d have figured out our destination, but as we continued along our way, he announced he had no clue where we were or what our destination could be. When we arrived and he saw the sign out front for Sühring, he was genuinely surprised and very excited for dinner – as was I!

The place is lovely – an old house with three separate seating areas: The Garden, an atrium looking out on the lovely grounds; The Living Room, the main seating area; and our choice, The Kitchen, where we sat at the counter and watched our chefs prepare all of our courses.

What can I say? It was an amazing meal and a wonderful experience. The service was both highly professional and very personable – there was none of the stuffiness that sometimes accompanies service in a high-end restaurant. We had some excellent wine, thanks to the recommendations of the sommelier.

And the food – wow! I enjoyed the entire meal – though looking back on it, a few of the courses that stood out for me and still remain very fresh in my mind were the pretzel rolls served with obatzda – a mixture of cheese and butter – along with tiny steins of beer; crawfish served with a sublime assortment of tomatoes and a scoop of Ossetra caviar; a simple and stunning cut of lamb; and a dessert with buttermilk ice cream and gin-and-tonic sorbet that made me laugh out loud at how amazing the G&T was.

And as clever and amusing as some of the presentations were, it never felt like they crossed into being overly precious. We also both really enjoyed interacting with the chefs, who served some of the courses to us themselves as they explained how they’d prepared it.

After twelve course, we left feeling deeply satisfied – but not gluttonous! – and happy to have shared such a lovely meal together. It was a wonderful evening.