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!

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!

Weekend in BKK

Got a reasonably early start on Saturday and headed north to the market. First stop: Or Tor Kor, a wet market, but of the “fancy” variety. Had a nice wander gazing at the exotic offerings as I peppered Ak with repeated inquiries of “What’s that? And what about that?”

But the highlight was obviously in the eating. At the prepared food side of the market, we had som tum, sai oua and mieng kum – all of them delicious per usual. Oh, and a bbq pork bao! Also excellent. Dessert was at an apparently well-known shop inside. We got a couple of custard and sticky rice treats which gave us ample strength before heading to the insanely huge Chatuchak Market.

I barely scratched the surface of this place despite spending a good two or three hours wending through narrow passages between stalls. Lots of cool local t-shirts and other clothes. I was also able to find pretty much exactly the shirt I had in mind for my bike trip in Cambodia – a long-sleeved, gauzy cotton top. Yes, it’s ridiculous and looks like I ought to be in a cult – but comfort is my only goal for this trip!

Finished up our visit with coconut ice cream, obviously. We needed strength for the long train ride home!

I had a quick swim back at the hotel and then freshened up for dinner. Ak was taking me to meet his German friends, Martin and Jill whom he’d met on Little Koh Chang last year. Like me, they’d enjoyed their visit to Thailand so much, they were back! Though Martin had an ulterior motive – he proposed to Jill while they were on Koh Chang. And she accepted. Love is in the air…

But before we could have dinner, we stopped in for our massage appointment at Siladon Spa – they were running a 2-for-1 deal and who doesn’t love a bargain? Given the good deal, I sprang for the “Indulgence” package – three hours of foot reflexology, massage and herbal ball massage (i.e. you are massaged with a heated herbal compress. Get your mind out of the gutter, pervs!). A very relaxing time and helped my effed up back feel rather better.

Dinner that evening was at Thip Samai, reputed to have Bangkok’s best pad thai. The verdict: pretty damn good! We all had pad thai superb, meaning the pad thai is served inside an omelet. “Superb” was pretty accurate.

Drinks atop the Sala Rattakosin, right next to Chao Phraya across from Wat Arun. I’d been here last visit and it was just as lovely this time – plus the Tom Yum-tini, despite the groan-inducing name, is still pretty delcious.

Martin and Jill stayed on for a bit, but given that I’m old, I had to call it a night by 11PM. Ak made sure I got back to my hotel and I had a good night’s sleep before Sunday’s adventures.

Our first order of business (well, after stopping for a delicious breakfast of crispy pork and wontons with noodles at a local hole-in-the-wall) was making our way up to Nonthanburi with Calvin. We went by boat on the Chao Phraya Express – something of a misnomer given the length of the trip, but we made it there eventually. After wishing Calvin well on his journey, we headed to Koh Kret, another market. Our various lunches were excellent – pork satay and dry tom yum for me – and we had coconut custards for dessert. Made our way to the very end of the market where Ak wanted to try the local brew served up at Chit Beer. We raised our glasses to Calvin as we sat along the riverside and all was right with the world.

Another long boat ride back to to Bangkok (and of course we got stuck on the side in the blazing sun – though Ak was kind enough to take the brunt of it, realizing my pale skin would never survive. He did worry though that he’d wind up with a two-tone face…) and we were faced with a difficult question: where should we have dinner?

Ak suggested Suppaniga Eating Room (and please don’t mix up those double consonants….). They had just opened their second location in Silom, not far from my hotel, so off we went. First stop was at the new House on Sathorn, a fancy bar and restaurant housed in the former Russian embassy next door to (and now owned by) the W Hotel. I’d been wanting to try it since reading about it during my last visit to BKK (and in spite of the annoying and distressingly common dress code that forbids shorts. Yes, I get it – without a dress code, stupid tourists of all genders will be showing up in tank tops and coochie cutters. However, when a local blog refers to the weather as “face-meltingly hot,” some leniency would be appreciated. But I digress…). Anyway, the place was super cool. We were going to belly up to the lively looking bar – until we realized it was lively with employees awaiting their first customers of the night. So we grabbed a table…

For me, The Garden, made with gin infused with chrysanthemum and thyme, blended with tea and rosemary and topped with fresh herbs. For Ak, the Diva (obv), a beautiful floral vodka drink topped with rose petals. The verdict? Sensational. We both declared our cocktails some of the best we’d ever had – and Zeus knows, we’ve had our share of cocktails! Drinks were far from inexpensive, but very much worth it, IMO. Just superb.

Dinner was also great. More miang kham, prawn curry with cubes of herbed omelet and grilled steak with spicy sauce. We really enjoyed the meal – and the restaurant is charming with a kind and helpful staff. Dessert was a Thai milk tea panna cotta – it was tasty, though a little heavy-handed with the gelatin. A small miss in an otherwise really nice meal.

A good night’s sleep before getting another early start Monday for some sightseeing.