Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Eve

Signs, originally uploaded by Dianthus.

Today we decided to go explore Chinatown. On our bus ride to the floating market, our tour guide had told us that Bangkok’s Chinatown is the largest in the world. Coming from the Bay Area, we scoffed since we have heard that San Francisco’s is the largest (Were we in for a surprise!) D plotted our route out, starting at the China Gate and heading down one of the major (and picturesque according to our map) Sois. We walked a few blocks to the MRT, Bangkok’s underground subway. The MRT is just as nice as the Skytrain, clean and efficient! (Muni and BART could learn a few things from them!) We exited the train, climbed the stairs and were immediately approached by a woman who said she works with the Tourist Bureau, and could she help us and asked where we were going. We just smiled and said we were headed to Chinatown, and we were happy to walk. Now, she could have actually been with the Tourist Bureau and genuinely trying to help us. The unfortunate thing is that there are tons of scams with these sorts of things (especially being in a more tourist area) where people offer to help or tell you that the attraction you are going to is closed, and they would be happy to take you around the city stopping at places where they receive a kick-back. It happens with tuk tuks and taxis too. They will slow down or stop and ask if you need a ride. I’ve never been sharked by taxis so much in my life! Usually if they are doing it, you will pay dearly for it. (We had this happen on our way home from one of the malls recently. We climbed into a taxi, and didn’t notice that the driver didn’t turn on his meter. We were on our way before he started saying “ 150 baht.” At that point we were stuck and ended up paying 150 baht for a ride that should have been around 60 baht including tip.)

We headed out of the subway station, and began walking to the China Gate. The helpful “tour guide” and pointed in the general direction of where we wanted to go, and thanks to D’s excellent sense of direction we found it. It is a beautiful, ornate entry and an excellent portal to the lively chaos of Chinatown. We headed down Yaowarat into the heart of Chinatown. D had armed us with the extremely informative Nancy Chandler Map, were we had seen a street full of print shops for cards, calendars, etc… We zigzagged down the various sois and finally found the one we were looking for. All closed! Of course, we should have realized this seeing as how it was Sunday and New Years Eve to boot. It was interesting anyway. We weaved our way to one of the “picturesque” alleyways (called Troks). It was an experience! The trok was narrow, lined with shops (many were closed unfortunately) and rather empty. That is until we hit the area with the food. Tons of people crowded into this small little alley, stalls everywhere selling all kinds of stuff, and the odd motorcycle weaving through. We hit one of the major sois, and decided that we needed something to drink and a place to cool off. Chinatown was much bigger than we had expected! The crowds mixed with the heat can start to make a person a little grouchy. We found a 7-11 and grabbed some water. We kept wandering around until we found the Grand Princess hotel. We decided to check out their “rotating restaurant” atop the hotel. Everything was pretty pricy, so we settled on a few appetizers and a soda. The food was mediocre, but the view was spectacular. We could see most of Bangkok and the Chao Phraya River. Gorgeous!

During our lunch we discussed what our next move should be. We had talked about heading to Khao San Road (a popular backpacker area) for dinner and walking around, or heading back to the hotel to relax and then trying to find a place to go to celebrate the New Year. We had read about lots of high-end activities along the River, but not a lot of free or cheap things. We decided that Khao San Road sounded more fun, and we had been reading about an awesome and cheap vegetarian restaurant in the area. We headed towards the River, deciding to take a river taxi up to the Khao San area. Somehow we ended up on the tourist boat. I was like “of course, we’re on the tourist boat!” D just laughed. It was a very nice ride up the River, cool and a nice change from the hectic BKK traffic. The tourist boat has a guide talking about all the various sites along the River. She was talking so fast and so close to the microphone; I couldn’t understand most of it.
D had described Khao San Road to me as the “Haight of Bangkok.” This is a pretty fair approximation. The street was filled with lots of younger backpackers and travelers, some vaguely hippyish, with lots of bars and Pad Thai vendors along the street. We walked around, stopping a having a beer a one of the pubs to cool off. We found the vegetarian place, and decided that we were going to have dinner there a little later after checking out the menu. We visited one of the Wats nearby, and found another bar that had seating out on the sidewalk. D and I shared a jug of beer and watched all the colorful characters walk by. It was a lovely way to spend the early evening. We went and had a delicious meal at the vegetarian restaurant. We shared panang curry, a pumpkin dish, banana flower salad, and homemade tofu skewers (we were planning on leftovers). The restaurant isn’t much more than tables in an alley, and is very laid back. So much so that paying the bill was a little puzzling to us. Our server came over and said “60, 60, 60, 60” (for our 4 dishes) plus our 2 waters. Grand total was 270 baht. After dinner, we found a taxi and headed back to the hotel to watch episodes of ‘Lost’ and try to stay up to midnight.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Jim Thompson's

roof tops, originally uploaded by Dianthus.

After the Christmas holiday, the rest of the week kind of passed by in a blur. We went out with another real estate agent to look at some other places. We knew that we liked the townhouse that we had seen the previous week, but we wanted to make sure there wasn’t anything better out there. Our agent was very nice and gave us some great tips on restaurants and a Japanese market, but we didn’t see anything that we liked more than the townhouse. We contacted Nong and asked her to go ahead with negotiations on the townhouse. Renting here is almost like buying in the US, the price is always negotiated, as are any requests (like we asked to have the shower heads moved up). We are getting close, but everyone is on holiday now. We had some surprisingly good dinners at some of the malls. Good Vietnamese at the Food Loft at Central Chidlom (that left both of us hurting from the chili sauce), delicious Mediterranean at the Emporium, and tasty chicken katsu and noodles at the Siam Paragon. I rode the Skytrain to our (potentially) new station to time how long it takes from D’s office. Takes about 25 minutes, not bad, but longer than the 10-minute walk she has now. I stopped at Central World to pursue the bookstore and marveled at their excellent selection of art and design books.

Today we were planning a visit to the boys, hoping that we could give them a bath. Our last visit had been hot and stinky and the boys felt so gross (they are shedding like crazy). It had left me feeling a little depressed, and ready to spring them from the kennel. D had also expressed interest in going to Chinatown or Jim Thompson’s House. (Jim Thompson was an ex-CIA and architect who fell in love with Thailand, decided to stay, and single-handedly brought back the Thai silk industry. His house is several traditional Thai houses put together and now a museum. He went for a walk in the mountains in Malaysia and was never seen again.) We decided to save Chinatown for tomorrow and hit Jim Thompson’s on the way to see the boys, since we get a little dirty and covered in hair visiting them. It was a short walk from the Skytrain, and easy to find. Just follow the other tourists! I had read that it was a 100 baht entry fee. We were pleasantly surprised to find that we would walk around the grounds without paying, and it was the only area we were allowed to take photos. Both D and I decided that we weren’t up for touring the museum (knowing that we would be back with some of our out-of-town visitors), and decided to have lunch at the café there. The lunch was good and not overpriced. I had a delicious salad with Larb. Nice and spicy, with great flavors of lime and Thai basil. A Thai iced tea completed the meal. Yum!

We hopped back on Skytrain and headed to see the boys. We inquired about giving them a bath, which the staff agreed to (with only a few odd looks, I think they are getting used to the weird Americans). They provided us with soap, sponges and a few towels. The boys were brought out one at a time, and after some initial freak-out from both of them, they settled down and each took the bath rather well. We stayed and played and lavished them with attention after bath time. I think they felt better. They were both bouncing around and wrestling with each other, just being themselves. I felt a lot better after this visit, especially knowing that it won’t be much longer before we are all together again.

For dinner, we headed over to the Suan Lum Night Bazaar, but decided to avoid the main food area after our not-so-great experience of last time. We took a taxi over from our hotel, neither of us up for the mad dash across the road. D said that there were 3 food areas (this place is huge). We found one of the food areas that is on one of the edges and walked up and down the stalls checking out the assortment of offerings. We were obviously off the beaten track a little, since we were two of only a few farang there. We each got a stir-fried chicken and noodle dish (mine was “spicy”, D’s was “soy sauce”) with a little help from another customer since the people operating the stall did not understand English. Our meal was rounded out with a Chang beer for D and a Heineken for me. Meal grand total=160 baht (around $4.50) Add in the ambiance of sitting in parking lot with Thai rock music in the background and it was a nice end to the day.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Lunch

scary lobby, originally uploaded by Dianthus.

Christmas Day! We spent the morning chatting with family (with some technical issues). D had suggested that we have a Christmas lunch at one of the hotels in Bangkok, since we were away from family and without a real kitchen to make our own. There had been many, many articles in the newspapers about Christmas buffets and dinners. D had expressed in the Grand Hyatt, which was having a huge buffet with fresh oysters, sashimi, turkey, ham and all the fixings. Since I do enjoy fresh oysters, I agreed. We weren’t sure where the hotel was exactly, so we inquired at the front desk. They so generously took us in the hotel van (again!). It turned out that we had passed it on our walk the other evening. Whoops! We made our way into the hotel, and up some stairs to the buffet.

We have discovered that Christmas is a big deal here, so it was no surprise to see the place full of over-the-top decorations, people dressed up in animal suits and a huge spread of food. We both splurged a got a glass of wine (wine is crazy expensive here, I’ve seen glasses for the same price as our entire meal, we went for the cheapest that was still quite good), and went to check out the offerings. Our plan was to try one of each of the different things, since there was so much to choose from and so we wouldn’t over do it. We started at the oyster and sashimi table, and each had a little sample of oysters and sushi. The oysters were good for being shipped in from somewhere and the sushi was tasty as well. After our seafood starter, we checked out the assortment of antipasti/pupus and salads. There were flavors from all around the globe: salamis, hummus, grilled peppers, tomato salads, seared tuna, and so much more. We each sampled a few of the different items. I liked the hummus and pita (with some tomatoes) and seared ahi the best. Great flavors and so fresh! We chatted and sipped our wine, taking in the spectacle of it all. Up next was the carving station, and the turkey. D had been looking forward to the turkey and brussel sprouts, part of the reason she had liked this place to begin with. We had to jockey for space at the carving station and mistakenly stood in line for the foie gras. Once we got in the correct line, we each got a slice of turkey and some brussel sprouts. I also had a few potatoes, while D had some stuffing. We had to ask if there was any cranberry sauce (since I had been shut out at Thanksgiving =) ) and ended up with some that had a ketchup like consistency and tasted like it had been made with dried cranberries. It wasn’t bad, just different. It wouldn’t make me forget mom’s homemade cranberry sauce anytime soon, though.

While we were enjoying our turkey, it was time for some “entertainment.” The entertainment was a group of kids dressed up in various costumes singing Christmas carols (in English) and dancing around. It was kind of cute, in a bizarre way, since they didn’t know all the words and it seemed a little forced. The strangest part was the apparent “ring leader,” a young woman dressed in a black skirt, red t-shirt, strange boots, and (the oddest part) a black cape. She was singing loudly and bouncing around, encouraging the kids to sing. By the end of the performance, D and I were really wishing that the piano/violin/bass ensemble would start up again, and soon. We ordered some coffee, and went to check out the dessert offerings. Again, they had items from all over with a bit more focus on what I would consider European offerings. Lots of tart and cake-like things, some real fruitcake, a Buche de Noel, and lots of chocolate items. D was stoked, and had a small sampling of the chocolate desserts. I had a raspberry macaron and a piece of pecan pie/tart. Both were tasty and festive. We left with happy tummies and a bit more Christmas spirit.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Adventure Part II - Floating Market

IMG_3220.JPG, originally uploaded by Dianthus.

Our day started early. The tour group was picking us up at the hotel at 6:30. D and I were ready after scarfing down a quick breakfast at the hotel. They ended up picking us up 10 minutes late, as we lamented that we could have had another cup of coffee. Oh well… After switching to a large tour bus, we hit the road. The city was still waking up, the streets nearly empty as we approached the Chao Praya River. It was a pretty cool sight to have my first view of the river as the sun was rising. Beauty I couldn’t capture through our bus window. Our guide had informed us that our first stop would be at a palm sugar factory. I was immediately skeptical of our tour, since I had read in our various guidebooks about all these scams where drivers take you off to places where they receive commission. It ended up being pretty interesting. Apparently they cut the bottom off the blossoms and gather the nectar, then boil it down to make the sugar. It certainly appealed to the foodie part of me, and the skeptic faded a bit.

After another hour or so on the road, we arrived at the boat dock where we were picked up by a few longtail speedboats that would take us to the floating market. It was a fun (and tippy) ride through the canals, and an interesting look at peoples lives on the canals. The houses bump right onto the water, and people were out sitting and taking care of chores. A few waved at our boats as we cruised by. Finally we arrived at the floating market. Stalls line the canal selling fruit, veggies, noodles, soup, all sorts of handicrafts, and tons of other things. Within the canal are flat bottom canoes filled with vendors selling fruit and all sorts of food, and other crafts. It was pretty amazing to see the food being prepared, many on hot plates, or boiling big pots of water on these little canoes. So crazy! Some of the canoes (with driver, mainly women) are available for rent at 150 baht per 30 minutes. D and I watched other tourists climb in the boats and promptly paddle into a traffic jam of boats. We decided that it wasn’t worth the expense and were content to walk around the market instead. I had my first taste of mangosteen (which was delicious! Sweet and tangy) and we shared a classic Thai dessert of mango and sticky rice. After about an hour and a half at the market, it was time to head back to the bus. We were off to a teak furniture factory, where we watched craftsmen and woman make these amazing carvings. Another hour on the bus to our next stop, Thailand’s largest pagoda called Wat Phra Pathom Chedi in Nakhon Pathom. It was huge! D and I walked around for a little while, admiring the grounds and trying to be respectful of the worshippers. Back to the bus and on to a resort/park called the Rose Garden. After our buffet lunch (it was decent), D and I wandered around the grounds admiring the gardens and orchid plantings. The Rose Garden is along the Ta Chine River, and D and I found a spot to sit and look out across the river and marvel at the fact that we are in Thailand.

Our guide told us that the “cultural show” was at 2:45, and an “elephant show” was at 2:15. D is a huge fan of elephants and has been eager to see some live and in person, so we headed over to see them. It was amazing to see them up close. We were both very moved and saddened by seeing them in captivity. They really are beautiful and amazing creatures. You could pay 50 baht to ride them for about 5 minutes or 20 baht to feed them some bananas. 20 baht also enabled you to have your picture taken with them, and after some gentle prodding from me, D agreed and I snapped a few shots of her with one of the elephants. Her smile was so big! We headed over to the auditorium to watch the cultural show, which was interesting and a bit confusing. I think they tried to pack too much into one show. It was back to the bus and another hour before we were back in Bangkok. We headed to a Thai restaurant down the street for a delicious and spicy Christmas Eve dinner.

More pics from our trip here:
Floating Market

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Adventure Weekend - Part I

spotted dog, originally uploaded by Dianthus.

*Posting will be slow for a little while. The earthquake that hit Taiwan this week, damaged some of the regions communication lines (mainly internet). The internet has slowed to a crawl. It's like we're back in the days of dial-up.

This weekend we were both feeling that it was time to be a bit more adventurous. Both D and I were curious about the Floating Markets that we had heard so much about. We checked out our various travel books and looked at maps, but nothing seemed to be in Bangkok. Since we are in a hotel with a very nice and very helpful staff, D suggested we ask the desk about a guided tour. Neither one of us are particularly good “tourists”, we typically shun any sort of tour or tourist activity. We had decided on Friday that we would go on Saturday morning to visit the boys, since we hadn’t seen them all week. We were both missing them terribly. Prior to our departure to the kennel, we checked with the hotel desk regarding tours and they handed us a brochure chock full of different trips. Many of them looked interesting, but we settled on one that took us to the Damnern Saduak Floating Market & Rose Garden. The Floating Market is around 110 kilometers (70 or so miles) from Bangkok. Both D and I were excited at the prospect of getting out of the city for a bit, since I have never been anywhere else in Thailand and D has only been to Phuket. The trip started early in the morning, so the hotel staff arranged for us to do the trip on Sunday, Christmas Eve. That left us with plenty of time on Saturday to visit the boys. It was so nice to see them, and they were so excited to us too. The spotted dog seems to be getting over his coolness towards me, but still was letting us know how displeased he is with the situation. We spent the afternoon dorking around and tackling our mountain of laundry. In the spirit of adventure, we decided to check out a new development not too far from our hotel. It was unfortunately not near any of the Skytrain stations, so we asked the (so helpful!) front desk if they knew where it was and if they could get us a taxi. They ended up taking us in the hotel’s van, that usually runs people to the Skytrain and Underground stations! So nice! We walked around the development (which felt very Western) for a little while and browsed the bookstore. We settled on having dinner at this combination Vietnamese and Chinese restaurant. Both D and I had thought the Vietnamese sounded good. We decided to share a banana blossom & chicken salad, D ordered lemongrass chicken with rice and I had a Ban Hoi, which is rice noodles, fresh lettuce, Thai basil (or mint) and choice of meat (I settled on beef). You get to mix up all the ingredients with a delicious sweet/vinegary sauce. So fresh and tasty, I could probably eat it every day. I ended up eating the banana blossom salad, which they had neglected to add on the menu that it had shrimp in it! After dinner, we walked around for a bit and then hopped in a taxi, and back to the hotel for an early bedtime. We had our big adventure tomorrow!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Slow Day

bubbles, originally uploaded by Dianthus.

Friday! The end of our first official week in Bangkok! And what did I do to mark this milestone? I stayed in the hotel for most of the day doodling and dorking around on the computer. It was one of those days where I am struggling with this new “freedom” that I have. I know, I know, such a thing to complain about.
After D returned from work, we decided to head over the shiny new Central World. It is another over-the-top mega-mall (I believe it is called a ‘lifestyle center’). It is so weird to think how much time we’ve spent in malls since we’ve been here. It is usually something we avoid so much at home. When in Rome…right? We had passed by it on our walk the night before and I had been reading about it in the paper. We were curious, so we hopped on Skytrain and walked the rest of the way on the elevated platform. It was just as crazy as we had imagined. The place is huge, and it is probably only 1/3rd full of stores. There will be a movie theater and bowling alley when the place is complete. We did manage to find (what will probably become a favorite of mine) a store called ‘B2S’, a bookstore and art supplies in one! Hooray! I will undoubtedly while away some afternoons here. We wandered around, getting boardline lost, hunting for a place to have dinner. D had seen a Vietnamese place on the directory, which sounded good. Once we found it, after much searching, we were disappointed. Not much that sounded good and waaay too many dishes with shrimp in it (shrimp=death for D, not good). We ended up at a noodle house. I had soya chicken in soup that was pretty good and D had gotten house-made tofu with this crazy herb-y coating served with peanut sauce that was tasty. After dinner, we walked the mall a bit more, witnessing some truly outlandish Christmas celebrations. Dancing trees, snowmen, and presents all to blaring holiday tunes. D and I decided we couldn’t take much more holiday cheer and headed back.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

House Hunt Part 3

sundown, originally uploaded by Dianthus.

D went off to work this morning after playing hooky the day before (sort of…since we were looking at places to live and all). We had asked Nong to see if there where any places in the same area as our hotel for rent. She managed to find an additional 2 places, so we arranged to meet up with her at 1:30. I puttered around our room for the morning. I’ve been trying to draw a little everyday to get better, so I spend some time blogging and doodling. I had planned on meeting D at her office for lunch, and then walking back to our hotel to meet Nong. Our hotel was doing “pest control” that day, so I ended up leaving for D’s office early and taking the long way. I’m always fascinated with streets; the activity (or lack of), the colors and lines of signs and telephone poles, the people. Bangkok streets are filled with endless fascination for me, especially at lunchtime with all the street vendors and patrons. It is one of the things I am coming to love about this city. Nowhere else that I have been in the world has streets like this.
I had turned down the street that D’s office is on, and I was in my own little world, taking in all the vendors and people when I saw a sign “(something) Margarita Bar.” I kept walking, thinking my burrito-deprived mind was playing tricks on me. I passed by the brightly colored windows and I thought to myself “no way, there is not Mexican food in Bangkok.” When I got to D’s office and told her about what I had seen, she said “let’s check it out for lunch.” We were both excited at the prospect of burritos and tacos. Prior to our departure we had lamented the fact that the one food we would not be able to find would be Mexican, one of our “go-to” foods for busy nights. We stepped into the restaurant with high hopes. We sat down at a table and cracked our menus. Eureka! Burritos and tacos in Bangkok! I ordered a burrito and D had tacos and we shared chips and salsa. The chips weren’t bad; the salsa obviously from a bottle, and the food wasn’t half bad. Some things were slightly unorthodox to our California palettes…who puts refried beans in a taco? But it was nice to know if we ever had a real strong urge for tacos, we knew where to go.
We ended up taking half of it back to our hotel as take-away in order to meet Nong. We went with her and saw the 2 new places (which weren’t going to work, too far from any public transportation to be realistic) and she took us to our 2 favorites from the day before. Both D and I liked both places just as much, but really realized that the 15th floor apartment (no matter how cool) wasn’t practical. There is just no real place for the boys, and the Soi that it is on is really busy with no place to even walk them. The townhouse has some downsides, but it is our front-runner at this point. We decided to do some walking around after seeing the apartment. It was the first time since we’ve arrived that I’ve seen some of the “scene” that Bangkok is infamous for. Lots of guys hanging around in bars, looking for something…. I was admittedly relieved that I wouldn’t be trying to walk the boys past that everyday. We ended up walking quite a way (and seeing some mega-over-the-top Christmas decorations) searching for something for dinner, but ended up back at our hotel and enjoying our leftover lunch.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Night Bazaar

cars, originally uploaded by Dianthus.

This morning D had arranged a meeting with another real estate agent. Nong met us at our hotel, we hopped into her car and we were off. Where as last time we had only looked at houses, Nong had a list of 6 places that were a mixture of townhouses, apartments and condominiums. D and I were a little wary of the apartments and condominiums because of the dogs, and if there would be space for them to be outside. All of the places were off of Sukhumwit Road, which is where the majority of ex-pats live. D and I have had mixed feelings about living there. On one hand, we don’t want to miss out on the fact that we are in Thailand and want to really experience Thai life, but we also like the fact that we wouldn’t be the total outsiders in the neighborhood. We ended up liking the first and last places we saw for very different reasons. The first place that we saw was a townhouse in a “compound” (basically a little development that is enclosed and usually has a guard at the gate). It was quite large (5 stories!) with a small backyard patio area (with a wall as tall as me) that looked out onto the neighbor’s garden, along with the (not too bad) kitchen and maid’s quarters on the first level, the second level was all living room with a mini bar and sliding glass doors that looked out onto the common area/garden and pool. The rest of the floors were the bedrooms, each with their own bathroom. The last place we saw was an apartment in a brand new building. Sleek and modern, with an awesome kitchen! It is on the 15th floor, so the view was pretty spectacular. The building has a gym and pool and the entire building has wireless internet included in the rent. It was very hard not to be wooed by how cool everything was. Nong dropped us back at our hotel, and told us to call or email her with any questions. We were both hungry for lunch, so we headed over to an Irish pub near D’s office to discuss what we had just seen. After lunch we walked around a little bit, and then headed back to the hotel to cool off for a little while.
D had been eager to take me to the Suanlum Night Bazaar Market for dinner. We were both feeling up for it and we decided to walk over and check it out. Unfortunately, the Night Bazaar is across 2 major roads from our hotel. We made it across the first on a pedestrian bridge; we were not so lucky on the second. We found some other people who were trying the same thing (power in numbers!). We waited for the light to change and scooted across. The cars aren’t the scary part of Bangkok traffic; it is the motorcycles. They will go anywhere – into the oncoming traffic lanes, between the cars, next to the curb, even up on the sidewalk! They often seem to come out of nowhere.
The Night Bazaar is broken into two areas. There is the shopping area, with row after row after row of little stalls selling everything imaginable, and then there is the food area. It’s like being at a carnival or something. Food vendors line one side, and beverage vendors the other with tables and chairs in between. At one end there is a stage, where local music groups were performing. One odd thing is you have to buy these coupons for food and drink. We weren’t quite hungry yet, so we wandered up and down the rows of stalls (I picked up 2 t-shirts). D went to turn in some baht (later discovering that she had been totally shorted and ripped off by the person at the counter, it sucked) and got some coupons. We wandered up and down the food stalls, where you could find all sorts of things to eat. We settled on a gyro with chicken. All the fixin’s and some hot sauce too, so tasty! We took our food over to one of the tables and were quickly inundated with beverage choices. Beer is the big drink here (yay!) and almost all of the major beers were represented. We turned away Asahi, Paulaner, Tiger Beer, and several fruit smoothies. D was set on getting Beer Chang, a Thai beer. Sadly, we were unable to flag down the Beer Chang waitress. I ended up getting an Asahi and sharing it with D. After dinner, we walked around the stalls a bit more looking at all the different stuff for sale. We decided that once we have a place to live, it would be fun to come back and get some stuff for the house. We started to get tired, and decided to head back to the hotel. Neither one of us was particularly excited to play ‘Frogger’ to get back across the road, so D suggested taking a tuk tuk. I agreed, excited and nervous since the tuk tuk drivers are as crazy as the motorcycles. I knew it would be an adventure for sure. It was hilarious watching D negotiate with the driver. He threw out a pretty high number, and she said “I can take an air-conditioned taxi for that much!” He came down a little, but D stuck to her guns and ended up getting the price she wanted. We climbed in the seat and zoom! off we went. Tuk tuks have a pretty distinctive sound, like an old scooter with the muffler removed. We took every turn like we were in the Indy 500 and were back at our hotel in no time.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Lunch & the Park

lunch spot, originally uploaded by Dianthus.

Ah…another sunny day in Bangkok! D had asked me if I would come meet for lunch again, which I readily agreed to, envisioning another delicious (and spicy) meal in my future. I spent the morning around the hotel. Both D and I have developed a somewhat irritating cough, so I welcomed the chance to take it a bit easy. As noon approached, I headed out for her office determined to take the shortcut again. This time I found the blue tiles and the basketball hoop! I waited outside D’s building and watched the traffic and people go by. D asked me if I wanted to try the small shop-front lunch place that she had pointed out to me yesterday (co-workers have taken her on previous visits). I was excited to try, after hearing about these 75-cent lunches. We walked up to the case to check out the day’s offerings. One of the women working there came around and gave us the run down on what the different items were. We could choose two items. Both D and I settled on a spicy chicken dish and some kind of green vegetable combo (I recognized celery and that was about it) with a scoop of rice. We sat down at one of the sidewalk tables and other woman brought us over a small bowl of soup. Everything was delicious! The chicken wasn’t too spicy and the soup was so flavorful! It was some kind of chicken broth with potato-esque pieces floating in it. We finished up and D got up to pay the check (and a group was sharking for our seats). When she came back, she told me that the total was 50 baht….for the two of us…when I plug that into the currency converter that is about $1.40…for two lunches.
After our bargain lunch, we walked around for a bit. Lunchtime in Bangkok is pretty amazing. It’s a tapestry of street vendors selling a variety of food and drink, and impromptu sidewalk cafes filled with people.
I had decided earlier that I would satisfy my inner landscape nerd and head over to Lumphini Park after lunch. I picked up some water and set off. Lumphini Park (named after the birthplace of Buddha, my guidebooks tell me) is off one of the major roads in Bangkok. I had really hoped that there was a way over the road via a pedestrian walkway or something. No such luck. I was going to have to cross the 8+ lanes of insane Bangkok traffic. I waited at one of the crosswalks, and thankfully another couple came and waited too. Power in numbers! Finally it was our turn to cross and we made it without incident. The park is what I would consider a classic big-city park, with lots of lawn and trees, formal plantings, and pavilions (with some cool Thai architecture) scattered about. There are also two lakes inside the park, with the larger having paddleboat and canoe rentals. I walked the path along the larger lake, stopping once to sit and enjoy the views. Lots of people were lounging around and having picnics. I walked the remainder of the lake, and headed back to the hotel to cool off. When D returned from work, we were both feeling like a chill evening so we headed back to the Italian restaurant for dinner.

Pictures from the park are here:
Lumphini Park

Monday, December 18, 2006

Fire Eater

brown dog, originally uploaded by Dianthus.

Today was D’s first official day at the office, so we rose early and headed downstairs for breakfast. (Granted I think we were both up around 4, but managed to “sleep in” until 6…curse you jet lag!) The breakfast’s here at the hotel are great. Tons of choices. Do you want toast, cereal, miso soup, or noodles? Fresh fruit and juice everyday (guava juice….mmmmm…). The thing that makes it even better are the people who work here. They are so friendly and warm.
D had asked if I would come and meet her for lunch, so I spent the morning catching up on my blog entries, and some house related stuff. Soon it was time to walk over to D’s office. She had shown me a shortcut on Friday in my jet-lagged state, so I was hoping I would remember the way. The directions included markers such as, turn left after the blue tiles, turn left at the basketball hoop, and look for the school…well I found the blue tiles, and missed the basketball hoop. I ended up slightly lost, but discovered that the Soi I was on hit the road her office was on. I luckily chose the right direction in my fifty-fifty chance of left or right. Thank goodness for screaming children. D was outside waiting for me, and we decided to head back to Goodwill for lunch. D had the veggie Pad Thai and I had the Garlic Pepper Chicken. I’m not sure why but I was thinking pepper, like black pepper, on this chicken. So when our server put down this little bowl of a sweet vinegary sauce with pieces of chilies floating in it, my inner Homer Simpson came out “Doh!”. Chili pepper! I sampled a little on my first piece of chicken, and whoa man! another mouth-searing meal. My lips were burning, but the flavor was amazing. Lunch time here is at least an hour, so we walked around a little bit and picked up some pineapple and some green apple-like fruit from a vendor to snack on. The pineapple was delicious, but the green fruit was a bit to starchy for me.
During lunch D asked me if I would come back to her office and help her get her email set-up. Her new office tech person had left for vacation until after the New Year, so I agreed to come be mobile tech support. We got everything set up and I headed back to the hotel to chill while D finished some things up. She arrived about an hour and half later, changed clothes and we were off to see the boys! We made the trip with confidence after our Friday trip. The staff was happy to let us have some visit time with them and showed us how one of them had been chewing on their bed/pad from the kennel. It was another visit filled with wagging tails and lots of kisses. (The spotted dog is giving me the cold shoulder, showing D how much he loves her. He seems to blame me for the kennel ordeal...that dog!) After a sad goodbye, we hopped back on the Skytrain and stopped at the Siam Paragon food court for dinner. This time we ate at a place called ‘home work’ with the most mixed menu I’ve seen so far. It was an interesting blend of asian/Italian/traditional English meat pies. I debated between chicken with crunchy noodles and a chicken green curry pot pie, before settling on the noodles and D had a mixed green salad and French onion soup. I learned an important lesson with my meal; just because they look like red bell pepper, does not mean that they are red bell pepper. A few of the pieces were mildly spicy, but one had me in pain. I either will be eating fire by the time we come back or will have a huge hole in my stomach…

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Shopping - Extreme Sport

Siam Paragon, originally uploaded by Dianthus.

This morning D woke up feeling pretty crummy, so we decided to do what we thought would be more low-key – go to one of the many mega-malls in Bangkok to wander around and possibly see a movie. Shopping is a big deal here in Bangkok. We settled on the few malls that are adjacent to the Skytrain’s Siam station. (This is vaguely similar to the Powell Street station in SF) It is also the place to transfer to the other Skytrain line, which makes it one hectic place. Here there are 3 giant malls attached to one another, each crazier than the next. We had stopped and had dinner at the Siam Center (which seems to cater to the younger, teenager crowd) on Friday, but today we decided to go to the Siam Paragon, which is right next door. I’m not sure that words can even describe this place. It’s like the over-the-top of Vegas times 10. The Paragon is 5 stories with a 10-screen movie theater on the top floor and a huge food court and grocery store on the bottom. Each floor then seemed to have it’s own theme. Clothing, home furnishings, stereo/TV equipment. The floor we came in on was filled with high-end retailers – Burberry, Louis Vitton, etc… all way out of our price range and not things we would buy anyway, so headed down to the food court to see what the different offerings were. One of the amazing things about Bangkok I’m discovering is the vast array of food offerings. In this food court, you could find pretty much any kind of food you could imagine and then some. (My favorite quote from D when we passed by a Dairy Queen “I can’t get this at home, but I can get it in friggin Bangkok.”) Thai, Italian, Japanese, and French baked goods, and so many places offering sweets from all over the globe. (D has told me that the Thais have a huge sweet tooth.) It was so awesome and so overwhelming at the same time. We settled on falafel wraps for lunch, which were garlicky and delicious, and then I had a Japanese steam bun filled with BBQ pork as a snack. Yum! After fueling up, we ventured in to the grocery store. Both D and I were curious to see what it was like, since we will eventually be leaving the cushy-ness of the hotel. We were both pleasantly surprised. It was a cross between a nice Western grocery store and Uwajimaya (one of my favorite places on earth!) So many different kinds of things, tofu, noodles, and a meat counter that had 100s of different kinds of sausage (which I thought my brother would love). Lots of familiar brands from home too; Smuckers jam, La Victoria salsa and even Magic Shell! Granted, this is a fairly upscale mall, so it is catering to a certain crowd, but it was nice to know that if we were homesick for something we could go there and probably find it.
We wandered the mall a bit more, did some window-shopping, and checked out movie times, but nothing that we wanted to see was playing until later and D was feeling pretty lousy. We hopped back on the Skytrain to head back to our hotel. Dinner was leftover Italian from the night before, and another early bedtime.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

House Hunt

7-11, originally uploaded by Dianthus.

Oh the joys of jet lag! D was up at 4 and I was up at 5. Another episode of ‘No Reservations’ and it was time for breakfast.
D’s office had arranged for us to meet with a real estate agent so we could begin our search for a place to live. Henry met us in the lobby and off we went. Everyone here has decided that since we have the dogs, we need a house to live in. I had zero expectations for what a Thai house might be like; none of the various guidebooks that I’ve been reading have shed any light on the subject. The first house that we went to was HUGE! I think our entire house could have fit in the living room. I kept thinking that we could invite everyone we knew to come at the same time and everyone would have been comfortable. The plus was that it had a huge yard to go along with it. I knew the boys would have been happy with that. I think we saw a total of 8 houses, each quite large and at least 3 bedroom. They all had some redeeming qualities, great location, one had an amazing garden, several had nice layouts, one had the cutest landlady (with curlers in her hair!) but none felt like ‘home’ to me. Granted I was constantly comparing every one to our house, which is a completely unfair comparison, I know. It was an interesting insight into Thai culture though. One of the hardest things for me was the kitchen, or lack thereof. Most were sparse, and all had a connection to the ‘maid’s quarters’. This was the toughest part for my DIY/American/Western brain to absorb. Many of these accommodations were Spartan at best, bunker-like at their worst. From everything I’ve heard this is a part of the culture and just the way it is here, but for me will take some getting used to. *Sigh…I will miss my kitchen immensely…
Henry navigated us through the infamous Bangkok traffic and back to our hotel thankfully. I think D and I were toast at that point. D suggested that we grab lunch at a place called Goodwill, which she described as a “sort of natural food place”. It was cute and little and darn tasty. I had the pan fried Shanghai noodles with veggies. My mouth was burning, but it was so good. I also had what is quickly becoming a new favorite - guava juice. This is not the guava juice that I’m used to at home, pink and a little thick. This is an almost unnatural light green and not as sweet. We spent the remainder of the afternoon lying low, with D feeling pretty crummy. Dinner was from the Italian restaurant a few doors down and another chill evening.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Welcome to Bangkok

our view, originally uploaded by Dianthus.

We have officially arrived in Bangkok! After successfully rendezvousing with the (awesome) Dr. Metee at the airport and getting teary-eyed watching the boys wheel away, we made it to new home away from home. After some brief admiration of our new room and an email to the family to let them know we made it safely, it was time to crash. I can’t remember the last time I slept so hard. D had to be up for work and the office holiday party, so we rose at a reasonable time. After breakfast and a shower, all the while thinking, “I’m going to do some exploring!” I ended up succumbing to jet lag and unable to do much but lounge around our room and watch ‘No Reservations’ with Anthony Bourdain on iTunes. D arrived back from the holiday party, with plans to go see the boys at the pet hospital. Thankfully, it turned out that the pet hospital was a few blocks from one of the Skytrain stops. I was duly impressed with my first trip on the Skytrain. Super clean and super fast (not to mention super crowded), a train showed up right away and we were off. It is very cool to be up on the platforms and looking down on the chaotic Bangkok streets. Armed with a map faxed from the Vet, we exited the station and began walking in what we thought was the right direction. We were both anxiously looking around for any clue of the place. After a few blocks, we were getting worried that we had missed it. We stopped at a gas station and were helped by one of the attendants and a shopper who spoke English. Everyone here is so nice! Luckily, we were on the right track and only a few blocks away, just across a small street they told us. We found and crossed the small street, and according to our map the place should have been right there. The only signs we saw were completely in Thai. Mild panic was beginning to set in. We stumbled onto a gate with lots of pictures with dogs and cats. We tentatively stepped through the gate unsure if we were in the right place. It looked like a vet/kennel, but no signs, just pictures of dogs and cats with ‘Royal Canin’ underneath. We had just turned to leave when someone popped out of the door, saying “hello!” It turned out to be the same guy who had been at the airport with Dr. Metee and he even remembered the boys’ names! I felt such a rush of relief! What felt like the entire staff led us to the room where the boys were staying. (I’m not sure if it is their size, the fact that we’ve come from the US, or their breeds, but everyone is so curious about them…It felt like everyone was watching us…) It was a family reunion filled with lots of pets, kisses and wagging tails. The boys were very happy to see us, and I know we all felt better seeing each other. They too seemed to be suffering from jet lag and toward the end of our brief visit were lying down and falling asleep. After that, an early dinner (at the insane Siam Center, which is a whole other post) and early bedtime and our first day in Bangkok was complete.