So Long, Bangkok!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


And our boat trip back across the river:


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

Thailand: My Adventure Begins!

So, the flight over – it was really long. REALLY long. 10+ hours to Narita, 4+ hour layover, then 6+ hours to Bangkok. I left my apartment in SF at 9AM Thursday and arrived at my hotel in Bangkok just before midnight on Friday. That international dateline is cray…

Now, I could find a few things to complain about (I did fly United to Tokyo, after all) – but honestly? It was fine. Nothing went horribly wrong and I made it to my destination halfway around the world just 30 minutes behind schedule. Plus the United Club in NRT is pretty great (esp when compared to the shopworn, overcrowded dump that passes for a “lounge” in SFO) and there is an excellent sushi restaurant right in the airport.

Anyway, I’m staying at the Riva Surya Hotel in Bangkok. It’s quite nice – and I got a bargain! Can’t ask for more than that. Well, except for hoping I don’t run into the boorish Aussie woman again at breakfast. They have a pretty decent buffet spread, including Western-style breakfast foods like bacon, potatoes, sausage, baked beans, along with eggs prepared to order, plus yogurt, fruit, cereal, rice, noodles, salad, etc. Anyway, this dame was dissatisfied with the temperature of her sausage and potatoes. “These are cold. I’m not paying for this. They’re all cold. I’m not paying for this.” Now, mind you, she continued to eat her other selections (and the cold ones, for all I know) – and it was all I could do not to start quoting Judge Judy at her: “You ate the steak! You have to pay for it now.” Anyway, she was terrible to every one of the apologetic staff she spoke to – each time reiterating, “I’m not paying for this.” BUT YOU ATE THE BREAKFAST, LADY. Oh, also? The breakfast runs about US$10.

Decided to go for a bit of walk. It was still quite early – about 9AM – so the streets were all pretty quiet. I’m not far from Khao San Rd., so I checked it out. Let’s just say it’s not my cup of tea particularly… and I suspect that would go double in the evening. But like I always say, “à chacun son goût.”

But I did want to locate Pai Spa, a place not far from Khao San that seemed to be well-reputed (including a recommendation from my hotel). They didn’t open ‘til 10AM, but the receptionist was already there, so she signed me up for 30 minute foot reflexology and 2 hours (!) of Thai massage and told me it’d be a 15 minute wait. I strolled about a bit, then returned.

I’d never had a Thai massage, so wasn’t sure what to expect. But I explained my recent hamstring injury to my therapist, Jin, and indicated my preference for deep pressure. And let me tell you, she did not fool around. She was def of the school of thought, “no pain, no gain.” She probably spent 90 minutes just on my legs, which thanks to bike riding are always super-tense. Anyway, due to all the attention they required (from Jin’s hands, elbows and feet – which periodically elicited grunts and sharp intakes of breath – I figured either I’d be cured or crippled for life), Jin observed, “I haven’t even done your back yet. Do you want one more hour?” Well, yes, obviously! Oh, and Jin was also using heat therapy during my massage, once she discovered that my whole body is basically a clenched fist made of piano wire – she used a steam-heated ball of herbs to really go after my hamstring and parts of my back. I was also contorted repeatedly while she stretched and cracked various parts of me. And did I mention how nice she was? Thai massage – at least for me – wasn’t super-relaxing, due to the intensity of the pressure. So we chatted, during the time we spent together. She was funny and kind and asked me lots of questions about my visit and my home.

And the verdict? I am healed! Well, at least for the day – I honestly felt like a million bucks after 3 ½ hours (!) of treatment. As of this writing, my hamstring is still giving me twinges, but definitely improved.

After this, I wandered back to my hotel for a late lunch poolside – though more importantly, I saw many cats on the street on my way back!

Had a nap before my Nighttime Bike Tour with Grasshopper Adventures. And what an adventure it was! The group was semi-meh. Everyone was perfectly pleasant, but two pairs of parent friends with their two pairs of teenage boys – they were relatively well-behaved but still: teenagers! Also a friendly couple of Texans who currently work in Singapore, so they were just spending a long weekend in BKK – nice!. And our guide was super.

We started off wending our way through the alleys and side streets surrounding Khao San Rd., on our way to the river. Biked along the river walk for a bit, then hopped on a little ferry to get to the other side. Stopped at a Buddhist temple in time for evening chants, which was great. Also, a Catholic church from the Portugese days, where evening mass was being celebrated with song. Wound our way through more tiny alleys, now off from the tourist track and back across the river by bridge to the quite amazing flower market. Our guide also treated us to sticky rice and grilled pork from a couple of street vendors. Finally, we had a nice visit a Wat Pho – not only was it spectacular, but it was beautifully lit and nearly devoid of visitors.

Oh, and about the time we crossed the bridge, it started to rain – not pouring, but certainly not sprinkling. Anyway, it didn’t dampen (heh) my spirits and certainly made if feel like quite the adventure.

All in all, a pretty full day to start my time in Bangkok. I think I’m gonna like it here…

Why, Whole Foods?

My expression was the opposite of this...

With all the rain and gross weather over the last month or so, I haven’t been riding my bike – which also means I’ve been skipping my usual after-work visits to Whole Foods on 4th and Harrison.  But I’m back in the saddle and back to stopping off for groceries most evenings.

Now let me tell you, I generally like this particular location.  Granted, the male staff at the Franklin St. location is typically much hotter looking, but the market itself is cramped and filled with pushy, self-entitled d’bags who won’t get out of my goddamn way.  The 4th Street branch is definitely mellower and seems to serve a more diverse group of customers.  And the layout, while a bit quirky, is less prone to bottlenecks.

Be that as it may, there’ve been a couple of incidents this week and last.  I went last Wednesday evening, looking forward to a little sushi from the sushi bar – just some tekka maki, kappa maki and maybe California roll.  But all the boxes were nine piece servings, all of the same variety.  Where are the little four or six piece boxes?  Hmmm…  Annoying.  So, I just settled for a tamale and some enchilada from the hot bar – and of course my apples managed to smash through the box on bike ride home, so it was like eating an ax murder (visually that is – it tasted fine. Oh, and I certainly don’t blame Whole Foods for the apple/enchilada mash-up…  The perils of shopping by bike…)

At any rate, I returned on Friday, still intent on having sushi – and the same scene replayed.  All nine-piece boxes of a single variety.  What gives?  When I asked the gentleman behind the counter, he indicated, “We’re a new company” with no further explanation as to why they chose to package their sushi in such unworkable quantities.  Apparently this company hates us Mary-Ann-Singleton-types and thus only packages their sushi for the happily married rather than sad, cat-owning spinsters such as myself.

Then, last night, knowing I couldn’t get sushi, but not feeling like cooking, I decided I’d just get a sandwich – turkey with roasted peppers and pesto-mayo, my favorite!  I went right up to the deli counter (no line – yay!) and was submitting my order when I was advised that they were out of meat.  Not out of  turkey – they were out of every variety of meat.

I took the liberty of looking up “deli” – it is short for “delicatessen,”  an “operation offering foods intended for immediate consumption. The main product line is normally luncheon meats and cheeses.” (emphasis added by me)  So, Whole Foods, please hew a little more closely to the definition of deli – providing meat is really key to the deli experience. KTHXBYE.