A Weekend in Santa Fe

Santa Fe & Española, NM – 17-21 April 2018

Spent a really nice long weekend with my sister and sister-in-law at their lovely home in Española. I was coming from a business trip in Phoenix and I flew directly into Santa Fe Municipal Airport. It was a bit pricier than Albuquerque Sunport – but not having to wait for the shuttle to Santa Fe and spending over an hour en route from there was well worth it.

Andrea met me at the airport, since it’s just up the road from her work and I was off the plane and out of the tiny airport in about three minutes! We picked up Marybeth and then headed to Gabriel’s for dinner. It was as good as always – with the notable exception that we didn’t get our second round of margaritas we’d ordered, so the entire trip was obviously ruined… We did however stop at the highly glamorous Kokoman liquor store so we could at least have that second round of drinks once we got back to the ranch.

It was nice to get back to their place. It’d been four years since my last visit (#worstbrotherever) and they’d made some changes around the place, most notably putting in a new staircase to the upstairs, which was now the location of my guest suite! Very comfy – though cats Parsley and Donut, as lovely as they are, didn’t provide the same level of hostess service that Porkchop (#RIP) provided on my last visit – she would snuggle with me at night and then wake me up in the morning by sneezing in my face. Try to find that at the Waldorf Astoria!

Friday was spa day. Andrea works at the Sunrise Springs Spa and Resort, so she treated us to a morning massage, followed by lunch. The whole property is lovely. The massage facilities were just gorgeous and I had 90-minutes of deep tissue massage and reflexology from the very-skilled Oliver. My only complaint was how quickly those 90 minutes flew by!

Lunch on the terrace at the Blue Heron. I had their deservedly award-winning green chile burger and we all shared a lovely bottle of rosé. The meal was really delicious and the service was wonderful. And an hour soaking afterwards in one of the private hot pools was the perfect way to wrap up our visit.

Back home, we alternated between watching reruns of The Royal Wedding and napping, before having a yummy dinner of shrimp with rice and zucchini.

Saturday we visited a lavender farm up in Abiquiu, which was fun – though perhaps not quite meeting our expectation of endless vistas of waving fields of lavender à la Provence. But the scenery up there is beautiful nevertheless.

We’d not reserved early enough to make a visit to Georgia O’Keefe’s house in Abiquiu, so we had to content ourselves with a nice lunch out on the terrace of the Abiquiu Inn. We also stopped at Freddy’s, a regional fast food place, that serves burgers and frozen custard. I got the “Hawiian Delight Concrete” – a blend of frozen custard, pineapple, coconut and macadamia nuts (hold the strawberry, please #c’estleger) and it was pretty darn tasty.

Another dinner at home, prepared by Marybeth, followed by a few episodes of “House Hunters International,” with the three of us all yelling at the contestants and their stupid choices and opinions. In other words, a perfect night.

Sunday we were up and on the road early. Annie and Marybeth dropped me off in the center of Santa Fe, where I met up with my guide for a two-hour tour around town. It was really enjoyable, insofar as I’m always happy when I have an opportunity to ride. With that being said, my guide, while pleasant enough, wasn’t exactly overflowing with knowledge about Santa Fe – or even about alternative bike routes. I mean, it was fine – but I’d probably have been just as happy renting a bike and exploring on my own. Next time…

Meanwhile, though, Annie and Marybeth were on an important mission: visiting a litter of puppies, with the hopes of adopting one. And lo and behold, they did! They picked me up downtown along with the new addition to their menagerie, Pearl, an eight-week-old Great Pyrenees! And she already weighs 17 lbs. – she’s gonna be a big girl.

When we got back to their place, Pearl was a little woozy from the long ride in her crate and had a bout of carsickness. But soon enough she’d had some food and water and was bounding around the yard, settling into her new home, while also getting lots of hugs and belly rubs from the three of us.

While Marybeth got started on dinner (#hero), Annie and I went out to run some errands: getting wine and going to Dairy Queen. Seems simple enough – but not so fast! First liquor store was closed since it’s Sunday (#wtf), so we had to go back to Kokoman, a bit further down the highway. It was actually pretty convenient, since the DQ is just up the road.

Anyway, we got the wine and then popped into DQ where the woman working there greeted us and then advised she had some bad news: no ice cream today! The machine was broken (#insertMcDonaldsjoke) so we were out of luck. I let her know that my weekend was ruined and then suggested they rename the place “Non-Dairy Queen.” (I didn’t actually do that.)

Luckily, there was another DQ back on the other side of town, so off we went and I finally got my fix. And the silver lining? Got to stop and take a photo of a really amazing old sign for the long-gone Arrow Motel.

Had another fine dinner that evening and hit the hay early. Annie drove me down to Albuquerque and we stopped into the Los Poblanos Inn. Their restaurant isn’t open for lunch, but we visited the shop and explored the lovely grounds for a bit. It’s quite charming.

Some lunch up the road (with wine for me since I’m still on vacation!), a walk around Old Town (which was kind of a snooze) and then to the Albuquerque Sunport for my ride home. It was a really great weekend and I can’t wait to come back to see my family and all the animals again soon.

Oh, and here’s a nice “now and then” bit. While there may have been some wine involved, no Donuts were harmed during the making of these videos. What a difference four years makes!

Compare:

 

And contrast:

And Now Back to Bangkok!

Bangkok, Thailand – 15 & 16 October 2017

A mostly uneventful flight from SGN to BKK. I say “mostly” only because when we were served a box of spaghetti as our snack onboard, I suggested we ask for fresh parmigiana – and Ak found this unamusing. So humorless!

Made it through immigration quickly and immediately spied one of my favorite sights at any airport – a driver holding a sign with my name on it, waiting to whisk me away. And soon enough we were climbing out of the cab at my usual home in Bangkok, Le Méridien. As we’ve come to expect, the staff recognized us as soon as we got out of our car and welcomed us back – despite our last visit being six months ago. I could honestly quibble with some aspects of the hotel – mostly related to the room decor feeling like it could be refreshed despite it being as comfortable as ever – but the staff here are delightful, delivering service that is excellent, genuine and effortless. It’s absolutely my favorite hotel in SE Asia for this very reason.

We were quickly settled in and then grabbed a bite to eat before it was time to take care of the first glamorous order of business: schlepping a couple of bags of dirty drawers and stanky t-shirts to the laundry. It was exhausting! So much so that we dragged ourselves to Dahra Spa for a couple of hours of massage therapy…

Feeling much revived, it was nearly time for dinner. First stop was at Above Eleven, a rooftop bar with a nice view of Bangkok by night. Then downstairs for dinner at Charcoal, an Indian place that specializes in tandoori – and amazing cocktails.

I had the Muffety Mai – described as “a whimsically floral and refreshing combination of Bombay Sapphire gin, fresh cucumber, tarragon, lemon, jasmine, and chat Masala.” It was sensational – some of my absolutely favorite flavors all in one cocktail! Plus it was gorgeous, with a lattice of decorative spice adorning the glass.

As for dinner, it was great! Seekh kebab were pretty good, though perhaps a bit softer than I care for – but the flavors were great. Tandoori prawns were meaty and delicious. But the two standouts were the chicken biriyani – tender and fragrant – and the special dal. This was the best dal I’ve ever had – our server explained that it’s cooked for 14 hours to bring out all the richness of the ingredients. The spices made the dish complex and so tasty. Even Ak, who’s not a big fan of legumes declared it fantastic!

Monday we headed first to Nightingale Olympic, a store that’s been on my list of places to see in Bangkok since my first visit. It’s an old department store housed in a cool, somewhat brutalist looking structure. Once you walk inside, it’s a literal time capsule of products from 60s and 70s: faded hairdo accessories, rusting “vibrating belt” weight loss machines, weirdly out-of-date clothing, wooden tennis racquets. The place is theoretically an actual business, with plenty of sales clerks there despite the dearth of customers. I actually wanted to buy something displayed in one of the dusty showcases – but the clerk could not be bothered to interrupt her phone call. The place is weird and amazing and I hope it’s around for another hundred years.

Spent the rest of the afternoon wandering Chinatown and the Sampheng Market – which literally sells everything: phone accessories, fake flowers, toys, notions, designer knock-offs. It goes on for what seems forever and it’s kind of a madhouse and it’s pretty fun.

Also in Chinatown are tons of shops selling car parts and various metal rods, slats and other fabrication materials. It was hard to winnow down all the photos I took of them – the colors and shapes at each place seemed more amazing then the last. Same could be said for all the shops selling LED lights.

This was all very exhausting of course, so we also needed to break for lunch, stopping for dry tom yum noodles and fried wontons at Tock Long Moo Noodles, one of Ak’s favorite places. It was delicious – of course! We also managed to find time to pop into Siam Center and have a bit of dessert.

As I write this, I realized that I’ve visited Bangkok enough times (this was my fifth visit!) that, while there is still plenty for me to see and do, I spend a great deal of time doing my absolute favorite thing: eating! I really do think Thailand has the best food in the world and I’m lucky that my friend Ak is there to take me to places I’d never know about as a farang.

Anyway, that evening, we ate a little neighborhood place specializing in Isaan style food called Larp 3. Dinner was great – we had larb (natch) and som tom tai and moo krob – plus they were playing one of the many fascinating Thai soap operas on the TV inside.

Walking home afterwards, we got caught in a crazy downpour – so we had no choice but to duck into Eat Me down the street and wait out the rain with some drinks: a couple of very good cocktails for me and some excellent craft beer for Ak.

A fine way to wrap up our evening. The rain had let up after a couple of rounds, so off we toddled back to the hotel. Tomorrow: more food!

I’m in Bangkok Again!

The trip from Koh Lipe and Pak Bara back to Hat Yai airport passed rather slowly, but uneventfully. Had some decent moo dang noodles at the airport while we waited for our flight to Bangkok – and then followed it up with some Dairy Queen. I try to keep things real and local, so I got a Matcha Blizzard…

Upon landing at Don Mueang International, we had important business to address once we’d collected our luggage: locating the airport’s branch of Cha Tra Mue, purveyors of Thailand’s most famous tea and one of only two locations serving their newly-introduced Thai iced tea soft serve ice cream! The other location is at Terminal 21 shopping mall in Bangkok – and is apparently so busy, the ice cream machine regularly conks out – so sampling this rare new delicacy in the uncrowded DMK location was quite a treat!

Soon on our way to the Hansar Guest House, across from Wat Pho. I’d gotten an email about this little guest house after staying at the fancy Hansar Hotel last year and I really liked the idea of spending my first few days in the old part of Bangkok, near the river and Grand Palace. The Hansar Guest House was not easy to find – it seemed to have three different names and also no sign, plus the entrance was through a coffee shop. A little exasperating.

As for the place? WELL. It was actually fine – for an inexpensive guest house. However, as it turns out, inexpensive guest houses are not really my thing… The place was very clean and the beds comfortable – but it was simply a room with two beds. No closet, no dresser, no fancy soap. The bathroom was OK, though small and basic. So, there was not a single thing wrong with the place, especially for less than US$40 per night – but I learned that I prefer a bit more in the way of both space and furnishings than was on offer here.

The location was great though. On Monday, I walked to the Grand Palace and visited the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles. I’d been here once before on my first visit to Thailand – and it was just as impressive a second time, showing a different cross-section of the Queen’s lovely wardrobe. As beautiful as the evening gowns were, I was most fascinated by the day wear – simply cut suits and dresses that were perfectly constructed from gorgeous fabrics, many designed by Pierre Balmain just for the Queen. It’s so fascinating to see work like this up close. No photos allowed – so make sure to stop by when you’re in Bangkok!

The other place in Old Town I was looking forward to re-visiting was Pai Spa, home of my first ever Thai massage. I was able to make an appointment with Jin, my therapist from my first visit – and she remains as skilled I remembered. This remains one of my favorite spas in Bangkok – and price-to-value ratio is unbelievably good.

Dinner with Ak that night at Inn-A-Day, another old favorite and just as tasty as always.

I wasn’t sure what to do with myself on Tuesday, but I found an interesting sounding walking tour of Chinatown with Co Van Kessel. Sadly, no one else had signed up for the tour that day – but they had a bike tour instead. So, off I went!

It was an OK tour. The ride through Chinatown’s maze of tiny streets was a lot of fun – though it was also a bit frustrating that we didn’t get to stop and look more often (one of the nice things about walking tours!). We crossed Chao Phraya on a boat and toured one of the city’s many wats – and I saw plenty of temple kitties, which was obviously a highlight!

Probably my main complaint about the tour was its size – any more than six to eight people starts to feel a bit much and I think we had 14? There were also three young men on the tour whose behavior served to remind me that straight white male privilege is not a uniquely American attribute. But I digress…

I enjoyed a wander back through Chinatown and Little India after the ride And I even managed to squeeze in two hours of massage at Wat Pho before heading back to the guest house and having shower.

Drinks that evening with Ak at Bamboo Bar at The Oriental, followed by a very yummy dinner at a starkly-lit neighborhood place near Chinatown. I also managed to impress Ak with my ability to discern exactly what was happening in the scene of Thai soap opera playing on the TV in the restaurant. Every time I’d make some observation about a character’s motives or background, he’d ask, “How on earth did you know that? You can’t understand what they’re saying!” Soap operas – the international language, apparently.

Our last night in Old Town. We were both looking forward to returning the next morning to Le Meridien, my home-away-from-home in Bangkok.

Singapore Sightseeing

Up and at ‘em early on Saturday morning to beat the crowds at Red Star for dim sum. Happily they open at 8, so we were there before 9 and had no problems getting a table. It’s a pretty old school Chinese restaurant in terms of both decor and service, which for dim sum was push carts just like back home at Yank Sing. Food was tasty, though not out of this world – my favorite was the wonton soup, a Saturday-only offering according to our server.

Next up was ArtScience Center in Marina Bay. I was a little confused by the whole thing, since I thought it was science museum, but really it’s just a kind of kid-friendly tech show-off space. We visited the Future World exhibit and took lots of really cool photos in the wave room and then acted like gleeful 6-year-olds when we discovered the interactive video display wall, where tapping floating shapes would reveal mountains, elephants, cows and the like.

Next, we went off in search of The Panic Room, a groovy barber shop I’d stumbled across online. Mostly we went to check out their large selection of beard grooming products and were not disappointed. We also discovered we were not far from the Old Airport Road hawker center, which shows up with regularity on every list of best food in Singapore. I had a more char siu (because duh) Ah Yee Hong Kong and this was the best char siu I had during my visit. Ak had congee from another stall which he declared OK. We also shared a plate of stir-fried noodles, veg and seafood which I wanted solely because of the long line to get it – and it was pretty darn good! There was also another char siu place which looked great and also had a long line – but by the time I decided I could eat more, they’d sold out! So, lesson learned: if you see food you want, get in right away.

Back to our neighborhood of Tiong Bahru, where Ak got to meet my feline friend I’d met on my first day. We took an amble around and checked out all the adorable little cafes and bakeries, taking note of where we’d get breakfast the next morning.

Dinner that night was also in the ‘hood, just around the corner from our hotel at House of Peranakan Petit. We didn’t have a reservation – which meant sitting out on the quiet street on a warm night. It was wonderful – and we loved the food. Peranakan food definitely had some similarities with Indonesian food – we ate beef rendang, long beans, crab served with broth and a really yummy variation on tapioca for dessert.

Sunday morning breakfast at 40 Hands, one of Tiong Bahru’s many darling little cafes. Then, off to the National Gallery to look at some art. We explored a bit of a quite fascinating exhibition of SE Asian art from 19th century to the present. I especially liked seeing the adaptations of Western style paintings that were made by self-taught local artists.

We also took the guided tour of the buildings that house the collection, the former Supreme Court and City Hall built in the early 20th century. They’ve done a rather amazing job of repurposing the buildings and joining them as one cohesive structure without completely sacrificing the most historic components of both.

Next up was obviously food – it had been over four hours since our last meal! Given that it was Sunday and we were near the Central Business District, no nearby hawker centers were open – so we hit up the next best choice for food in just about any Asian city, the mall! We headed over to Raffles City Shopping Center and, after a brief flirtation with a noodle place, we decided on more dim sum at Din Tai Fung. It was all pretty tasty, including their apparently world-famous xiao long bao, a.k.a. soup dumplings and some nice dan dan noodles.

Did a bit more exploring, including a stop at The Arts House to look at an installation by a local artist. We were underwhelmed.

Speaking of underwhelmed, after resting up at bit back at our hotel, we had dinner at Tandoor. I’d looked online for a nice Indian place and this one seemed to fit the bill and was well reviewed. The food was pretty good – though nothing to write home, especially given the high prices. Service was tentative and on the slow side. And something about the whole ambience seemed off – like they were trying to be fancy, but just not hitting the right notes, with clumsily matched plates and poorly executed cocktails. They only had one Indian beer on the menu – and were out of it!

Of course, the weirdest part was the clientele, which I can’t really blame the restaurant for. One family sat around chatting obliviously while their toddler wandered the restaurant on her own – which would’ve been merely irksome, save for the fact that she was emitting high-pitched and sustained shriek the entire time. Then there was the guy a few tables down from us who got into an argument with the waiter about tandoori chicken. Now, there were several preparations of chicken from tandoor – though they had different names and presentations, which apparently threw this diner for a loop. “This is an Indian restaurant! You have to have tandoori chicken and that’s what I want! Tandoori chicken! Why is this so difficult?” It was very strange…

Anyway, we decided not to stay for dessert and wandered around looking for something to wrap up the evening – and found something even better: Tokyu Hands! My favorite Japanese store that I didn’t even know existed in Singapore! Granted, it was a mere shadow of the giant Shinjuku location that I first visited eight years ago, with this branch showing all their wares on one floor and no weird cos-play section – but it was still pretty great, with lots of strange beauty treatments and cute toys. It was a fine way to wrap up our day, especially after a disappointing dinner. Tomorrow: Gardens by the Bay!

Some fun at ArtScience:

Last Days in BKK

A quick taxi ride from DMK airport and I arrived at my home for my last few days in Bangkok, the Hansar. WELL. This place is pretty deluxe! A spacious and lovely suite and a huge bathroom and dressing area. I could get used to this…

Anyway, had a low-key evening and then was up at a reasonable hour on Sunday and headed out for lunch at May Kaidee, reputed to be one of BKK’s best vegetarian restaurants. Now, I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “Why on earth would you go to a vegetarian place when there are hundreds of places serving up delicious meat, fish and seafood mere steps from your hotel?” Well, in one of those “small world” type deals, my friend and former colleague Amanda and her b.f. just happened to be in BKK at the same as I was. They are in the middle of a rather long trip that started in South America and then brought them to Australia and parts of Asia. Oh, and she and her b.f. are both vegetarian, hence my magnanimous gesture in foregoing meat for a single meal during my visit to Thailand.

And the food was quite tasty! Plus it was really fun to catch up and hear about their adventures thus far. Ak and I gave them the 4-1-1 on our trip to Siem Reap, which was their next stop (our recommendation of Chanrey Tree was a big success, according to Amanda’s email a few days later). I had such an enjoyable time that I neglected to get out my phone for even one group selfie. Christ, what an asshole!

Back to the Hansar for some r&r by the pool, then out to dinner at what was listed on my itinerary as “Ak’s secret” – meaning Ak had chosen where we were eating and it was a surprise. It was a place called Hot Rod and they specialized in “Asian tapas” – which sounds a little suspect, but we were sitting at the bar and got to see all of our food (and cocktails, obv) prepared to order. Everything was pretty delicious, especially the grilled beef – not to mention my “Panda & Buffalo” cocktail. We had a great time here.

Next stop was J.boroski Mixology. Yeah, I know, it already sounds kind of insufferable – and I’ll cop to it being a bit precious. It’s located at the end of a non-descript alley in Thonglor. There’s no sign out front, though there is a discreet door guy who’ll let you know you’re in the right place. Inside it’s small and very dark (TBH, a bit too dark – but what’re you gonna do?). Ak and I were shown to a couple of seats in back and the fellow taking orders explained how things work: we tell him what kind of spirit we like, along with some ingredients or flavor profiles and he’ll tell the bartender who’ll create something for us. I mentioned gin and watermelon… Like I said, a bit presh – but you know what? The cocktails were fantastic and delicious. And the speakeasy vibe was pretty cool too – we def felt like we were someplace special, only open to those in the know. I really loved this place!

Then on to Sing Sing, voted one of BKK’s best bars. It’s done up in 1930s Shanghai-style glam and the photos I’d seen looked amazing. The reality was a bit different. It was pretty cool looking inside, but the music was lousy and painfully loud. And the few patrons there during my visit were all kinda bro types – I found the atmosphere rather uninviting. With that being said, our cocktail waitress was very nice – though the cocktails themselves were disappointing. All in all, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that I much preferred the low-key vibe of J.boroski to the OTT atmosphere of Sing Sing.

Back in Silom, we stopped in Soi 4  for another couple of drinks (because why not?) and then found ourselves feeling a bit peckish ‘round about midnight, as one does. Luckily, there was a Japanese place around the corner where we had ramen and gyoza before calling it a night.

Monday we planned to visit one of the residences of the royal family, the Queen Savang Vadhana Museum. It is only open for visits by the public during certain times of the year and I was lucky enough to be in Bangkok during that time. Conveniently located right next to Siam Paragon, we showed up there before lunch and we’re promptly told we needed to call to book an appointment in order to visit. Once again, I was very fortunate to have Ak with me – he got on the phone and was able to make arrangements for us to visit that afternoon.

So,  Ak and I headed off in search of a shop that sold home fragrance, only to discover that its location had been demolished. Happily, though, we were just a short walk from Terminal 21, one of BKK’s many cool malls, this one with each floor representing a different city. My favorite was “London,” filled with small shops selling mostly local designs. I was even able to find a couple of t-shirts that I was able to squeeze my lumpy farang body into!

Back to the Sra Prathum Palace at the appointed hour and had a very enjoyable visit. It’s a lovely place, a large and lovely house on 17 acres in the heart of Bangkok. It’s quite astonishing to walk through the beautiful and quiet grounds and realize you’re barely a stone’s throw from the teeming throngs at Siam Paragon and its surroundings.

No cameras allowed, which is always a nice respite and a chance to really take in one’s surroundings. The tour guide was Thai (duh, obviously) and her discussion of the grounds and palace were in Thai (again, duh). But in typically gracious fashion, a separate guide was assigned to me, the lone farang, to provide me a tour in English.

The museum portion was very interesting. I spent quite a great deal of time in front of the royal family tree, trying to figure out how successions had worked. I was relieved to be advised that even Thai people find it very confusing.

The palace itself is a grand old place. It’s large of course, but not overwhelmingly so. It feels quite homey – and I can understand why Queen Savang Vadhana spent such a large portion of her life living in this lovely place.

After a quick visit to Siam Paragon (because of course), we headed back to the Hansar – but with a stop first at the St. Regis for an afternoon cocktail. They have a great bar/lounge up on the 7th floor and I was dying to try the Siam Mary, a Bloody Mary re-interpreted with Thai flavorings like lemongrass. It did it’s job and revived me sufficiently to decide on where to have dinner.

After a bit of downtime, we returned to Suppaniga Eating Room – and since we were in the neighborhood, we also popped back in for a round of drinks at the bar at The House on Sathorn. This time we sat at the bar and got to chat up the bartenders while they made our drinks. I tried some kind of fancy margarita, which was very good – though not nearly as good as The Garden I’d had last time. Luckily, we had time for a second round, so….

Dinner at Suppaniga was great. Food was again excellent (esp sai oua and grilled pork!) and I think we had a better table. Mango sticky rice for dessert…

Tuesday was my last full day in Bangkok! Needless to say, this meant starting the day off with my favorite bhang mee moo dang hang – bbq pork with noodles (with extra pork, DUH). I miss all of the food in Thailand, but this really was my favorite breakfast and I can’t wait to have it again.

Next stop: the National Museum! Sadly, we did not check the hours and discovered they are closed both Mondays and Tuesdays. UGH. Well, what’re you gonna do? In our case, we decided to have a snack and then cross the river to visit Wat Arun.

I’d been through here once before while on a bike tour, but it was in the evening. I was happy to see it again in daylight. We had a nice wander around and then decided to explore one of the little alleys adjacent to the temple. WELL. This was a wise decision, since the alley was filled with friendly cats and both Ak and I got our fill of “aww-ing” and petting all these adorable little felines

Headed back to Wat Pho so we could have the extreme stress of finding the museum closed worked out by their fine massage therapists. Then a tasty lunch across the street at Inn A Day, a place I’d eaten at on my last visit. I was quite pleased and relieved when Ak pronounced the food delicious and sufficiently authentic.

Now, my sense of direction is still rather challenged in Bangkok – I definitely don’t have a good feel for where things are in relationship to one another. But I had a sense that we were not too terribly far from Nuttaporn ice cream. OK, it wasn’t exactly right around the corner but we walked off our lunch to revisit this amazing little shop. I’d wanted to try the Thai tea flavor and we also wanted to taste the coconut cream (a slightly different version of the regular coconut ice cream we had last time). They were both pretty tasty! But neither of them compared to the mango and coffee flavors we’d had last visit – so, this being my last day and all, time for a second dessert. Ak had the extremely smart idea to get sticky rice on our mango ice cream. SO GOOD!

Later that evening, we headed up to the rooftop of the Centara Grand Hotel. We’d wanted to get here for sunset, but after such an exhausting day, that proved to be a little ambitious to fit in after a nap. But it was a great view from up there – and Ak is always a font of information, pointing out buildings and sights, as well as making recommendations about what part of town I should live in, just in case I decide to abandon the US.

Dinner that night at Bo.lan, one of the many places I’d wanted to try on my previous visit but ran out of time. I must confess, I was slightly hesitant – only because the other two restaurants we’d tried from the “Best in Asia” list were both among the more disappointing meals of the trip. But what the hell? We gave it a try.

And it was great! The place itself is absolutely charming. Located at the end of a little alley, it feels like one is entering an old style Thai home, though with modern furnishings. Service was lovely and friendly. Even before the first bite, I was loving this place.

The dinner options are two tasting menus – one large and one small. We chose the smaller, because we are fucking dainty. And we loved it. Now, I must confess, I’m writing this update more than two months after the fact, so the specifics of what we had escape me. Plus  Ak and I enjoyed our evening so much, I wasn’t exactly in reporter mode. But it was great fun and a fine way to wind up my visit to Bangkok.

On the way out we chatted briefly with Chef Bo. She’s something of a celebrity in Thailand, so Ak was a bit starstruck. But she very kind and we both told her what an excellent meal we’d had.

Back to the Hansar to finish packing. Then to sleep – though only for a bit. I left for Suvarnabhumi Airport at 5:30AM for an 8:00AM flight home. As always, sad to be leaving Bangkok and saying goodbye to my friend Ak. Happily, though, I’ll be back in again in October!

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!

 

 

 

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.