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.