May 192012
 

Mike and I took the 9 hour overnight bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.  There are a lot of bus scams if you buy the tickets from travel agencies in the city, so we made the trip up to Mo Chit bus terminal to buy our tickets for the VIP 1st class government bus that is a bit nicer than the private company buses.  We figure if we want to sleep a little bit better on the bus, it’s worth the few extra bucks (around $30/person).

Getting Ready for the 9 Hour Overnight Ride

My whole body was still incredibly sore from yoga class, probably wasn’t the best idea before an overnight bus ride.  After you arrive in Chiang Mai, it’s pretty easy to take a red pick up truck to old city, where most of the hotels are.  We got there super early, so we had to wait a bit before reception opened.  Chiang Mai kind of feels like a much nicer, developed Pokhara.  It’s pretty laid back, not as much traffic, and a lot of people book trekking, zip lining, rafting, and biking tours from here.

Still really hot though so our plan is to sightsee in the mornings and evenings and hide out in our AC (!) room in the afternoons.

 May 19, 2012  Posted by at 9:54 am Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Thailand Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
May 172012
 

The Grand Palace is the main tourist attraction here in Bangkok and both Mike had been the last time we were both in Bangkok (Mike in 2007, me in 2006).  When we had dinner with the Chungs, they said if we’d been to Grand Palace already, we should skip it and see Ayutthaya instead.  Ayutthaya is an hour north of Bangkok, so we are going to leave it for the free day we have after we get back from Chiang Mai since we are leaving on the night bus tonight.

We had time this morning though, so we went to the Grand Palace anyway to have a look around.  The day was pretty gray which provided nice cover from the sun but we also got caught in a downpour with no umbrellas in our way out.

The Grand Palace is a huge complex and includes the Wat Phra Kaew, or the Emerald Buddha.  The palaces are incredibly ornate and intricate.  Here was where we ran into our first swarms of tour groups in Thailand.  Of course my Chinese tour group people did not let me down. =)  To get in, you have to be properly dressed and I didn’t know this last time so I had to rent clothes to get in.  This time I was better prepared!  No shorts or tank tops, which is tough in hot and humid weather.  This is the view right before the entrance:

 

Bangkok Grand Palace

Visiting the Grand Palace

Once you get into the complex and enter through the Wat Phra Kaew gate, it’s a breathtaking sight of gilded towers and tiled temples.

Bangkok Grand Palace

Entering Wat Phra Kaew

I loved the golden tiles on the stupa.  Reminded me of my mirror tile table I made for my old NY apartment!

Bangkok Grand Palace

Glimmering Gold Everywhere

There’s one particular golden spire that’s held up by demon-looking statues.  Each face is different and the colors just pop against the gold.

Bangkok Grand Palace

Demon Statues

All around the grounds are covered walkways with extremely detailed murals painted on the walls.  What’s to striking about the murals is the use of gold paint.  Under the covered walkways, it’s like the gold is almost glowing in the dark, contrasting against the other muted colors of the painting.

Bangkok Grand Palace

Detailed Murals

Bangkok Grand Palace

Ornate Roof Detail

After touring the Grand Palace, it started drizzling so we decided to duck into the brand new Queen Sirikit Textile Museum on the grounds.  This museum is probably one of the fanciest that I’ve been to!  Completely brand new and the staff came up to us multiple times to let us know we could ask them any questions while viewing the exhibits.  That’s never happened to us before in a museum!  Great service.  So textile museum sounds kind of boring, but it actually turned out to be really nice!

The museum covers how Queen Sirikit (the current queen who started her reign with the king in 1950) supported rural craftsmanship in textiles and weaving and created the modern Thai-style dress.  The dresses on display are gorgeous—detailed patterns on silk brocades and incredibly intricate beaded embroidery.  We were really impressed by the exhibit!  They didn’t allow photographs so unfortunately I don’t have any to share.  Here’s one I found online of Queen Sirikit from 1965 Vogue in one of the dresses that was on display.

 

By the time we got out it was pouring so we had to sucker up and buy an umbrella off the street and run to find a cab.  We didn’t get to go to Wat Pho (the reclining Buddha), maybe on one of our other layover days…

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 172012
 

Elements yoga studio deserves a special mention on the blog.  I’ve been looking for opportunities to practice yoga while traveling to keep in shape and also to check out the yoga scene internationally.  In Nepal, I was excited to take class, but I went to a hatha yoga class in Pokhara and I don’t think hatha is really my style.  It was very much focused on clearing your chakras and not very physically demanding.  I appreciate spirituality in my yoga classes (love the chanting and sutras as part of Jivamukti Yoga Studio, where I go in NYC) but I need it to physically kick my ass as well. =)

So I looked up yoga studios in Bangkok and Elements was highly rated.  The drop in class rate is a bit steep–$17 which is the same as a NYC class.  I guess yoga is at a premium here.  Elements is in an office like building called Vanissa behind Central Department Store (not to be confused with Central World—made that mistake and couldn’t find it the first time).  Studio is pretty nondescript—very basic.

Shane was my teacher for the “bliss” class (advanced) and my butt was thoroughly whupped.  It was more like a mix of Vinyasa and Iyengar.  I definitely was out of shape after not practicing yoga for so long.  Sure I lost weight and probably got in shape in Nepal, but after 2 weeks at the beach doing nothing that was shot!  It was also really hot and humid in the studio, so there were definitely points in the class where I thought I was either going to throw up or pass out—kind of how I felt the first time I ever did Bikram yoga (hot yoga).

Shane was a great teacher and even though I was a newcomer/visitor, she corrected me a few times which I appreciated.  Definitely go to Elements if you’re ever in Bangkok!  My whole body is sore today!

 May 17, 2012  Posted by at 11:22 am Bangkok, Thailand Tagged with: , , , , , ,  1 Response »
May 172012
 

After Ko Tao, we stopped over in Bangkok for two nights to break up our trip before we head up north to Chiang Mai.  Mike got a custom suit and some dress shirts from a famous tailor here called Rajawonse.  And we pretty much went back to our mecca, Central World, to revel in AC heaven after hot hot Ko Tao.

A couple of nights ago, Mike and I met up with one of my mom’s old college classmates who lives in Bangkok.  What’s funny is that she hasn’t seen him since college!  But they went to a small university in Taiwan where their class keeps in touch all the time and has reunions as well.  So she sent him a note mentioning that we were coming, and that’s how we met the Chungs for dinner!

The Chungs are from Taiwan but have been living in Bangkok for 27 years now for work.  27 years!  Both their kids live in the US.  I asked them how long it took them to learn Thai—it seems really hard.  They said about a year to start speaking and understanding Thai.  Only a year?  Wow.  I think if we moved here it would take a lot longer.

We were excited to have locals take us out to eat—they know best where to go.  We took the subway 15 minutes south of where we are, where Mr. Chung picked us up at drove another 15 minutes to their home.  Their home was really nice and we had green mango while he showed us a photo book that his daughter had given them.  It was photos from when their daughter and husband took time off to travel!  Except they went for A YEAR!!!  Boy, we were jealous.  Beautiful photos.

After that we went to dinner at a restaurant called Baan Rub Rong (8 Soi Mooban Seri Villa Srinakarin Rd).  Wow, can we say best food we’ve had in Thailand?!?!  Amazing.  Of course they took care of the ordering.  When they asked me what I wanted to drink, I said “Coke?” To which their reply was, “What? Don’t order Coke, we’ll get you a fresh coconut.”  Nice!  When it came out, it was humongous!

Bangkok Baan Rub Rong

Fresh Coconut Water

After that, it was course after course of deliciousness.  There was one dish where Mrs. Chung was like, hmm, I’m not sure if you’ll like it—it’s a bit strange.  I said, no problem, we’ll eat anything!  It turned out to be my favorite dish of the night.  It was fish paste with basil and lemongrass and chili steamed in a leaf.  Out of this world.

Bangkok Baan Rub Rong

Steamed Fish Paste in Leaf

Another favorite was the tom yum soup.  Not too exotic, but so well flavored at this restaurant.

Bangkok Baan Rub Rong

Delicious Tom Yum Soup

Mike’s favorite dish was the chicken grilled in a leaf that had a sweet flavor to it, a bit like teriyaki.

Bangkok Baan Rub Rong

Grilled Chicken in Leaf

Then came out the hugest prawn we’d ever seen!!  It was the size of a lobster.  Mrs. Chung explained that these were fresh river prawns.  They were grilled and you could taste the smokiness and it was super tender.

Bangkok Baan Rub Rong

HUGE River Prawn

We were stuffed by the time dinner was over.  The Chungs are the nicest couple and we were incredibly fortunate to have met up with them.  Thanks for the introduction Mom!

Apr 302012
 

In order to get to Ko Lanta, you can fly (which is not in our budget) or you can take the overnight bus.  We opted to go for the VIP A/C bus which is about a 12 hour journey from the Southern Bus Terminal in Bangkok.  The bus was actually not bad!  Mike is having some stomach trouble, so he wasn’t the most comfortable.  But the seats reclined well enough and there was good leg room.  We left at 7:30am and arrived in Krabi in southern Thailand around 7am.  From there we took a 2 hour minibus to Ko Lanta which dropped us off at our hotel.  Transport in Thailand is definitely more expensive than in China, but I guess it’s also been our most comfortable intra-country travel to date!

Apr 302012
 

Before we left for Ko Lanta, we had a few hours to kill, so we decided to walk around north of our hotel.  We wandered on the edge of Chinatown for a bit then went to see the Golden Buddha.

The Golden Buddha is about 700 years old and was transported here from the old capital of Sukhothai.  It used to be covered by plaster to protect it from vandalism and invaders.  And then when they were trying to transport it in 1955, the plaster cracked a little and only then did they discover the Buddha was made of solid gold!

9 ft. of Solid Gold

Offerings at Golden Buddha Temple

It was extremely hot so we didn’t stay long, but it was a nice attraction to contrast with our guilty pleasure A/C mall day. =)

 

 April 30, 2012  Posted by at 1:59 pm Attractions, Bangkok, Thailand Tagged with: , , , ,  No Responses »
Apr 302012
 

Saturday night in Bangkok, Mike and I felt like getting some seafood, so we looked up reviews on Tripadvisor and found Samboon Seafood, which has several branches in Bangkok.  We went to the one on Surawong since it was closest to our hotel.

We got there and it was packed with Thais!  Good sign number 1.  Only a 5 minute wait and then we sat on the second floor, this place was huge—3 stories!  Samboon Seafood is known for their fried curry crab, so we ordered a small portion of the crab and a sea bass steamed with chili, lime, and garlic.

Fried Curry Crab

The fried curry crab was delicious though not what we expected at all.  It was less of a curry and more of an extremely rich crab egg sauce, not spicy at all.  Mike was eating it by the spoonful but it was too rich for me!  The guy at the table next to us told our waiter to crack some shells for us after he saw us struggling with eating the crab, haha.

Remains of our Poor Sea Bass

The steamed fish was good, but pretty mild.  We struggled between eating the fish before it got too overcooked in the platter, or letting it soak in the sauce for more flavor.

Thai Iced Coffee

Mike finished with some Thai iced coffee which was delicious.  So, all in all, it was good, but I think we probably would order something other than the fish if we came back.  There was a prawns with glass noodles dish that we had our eye on that looked good.

 

 

 

 April 30, 2012  Posted by at 1:57 pm Bangkok, Food, Thailand Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Apr 292012
 

There’s street food all over Bangkok, so yesterday morning after we went to the post office, we got a quick snack from a street stand on Thanon Charoen Krung, the main street running alongside our hotel.  They have folding tables and plastic stools to sit on the sidewalk while you eat.

Bangkok Dollar Menu

We ordered a simple chicken fried rice and it cost us only 40 baht (a little over $1).  Delicious!

Chicken Fried Rice with Chinese Broccoli

The bowl of chilies in vinegar on the side was also really good drizzled over the top.  We will definitely be coming back for more.  Next on the list to try are the famous fried oyster omelettes in Chinatown.

Chili Vinegar Sauce

 

 

 

 April 29, 2012  Posted by at 4:34 am Bangkok, Food, Thailand Tagged with: , , , ,  No Responses »
Apr 292012
 

There are tons of food options at Central World, and Mike and I even treated ourselves to a Starbucks Frappucino.  Precious and delicious!  Ha!  It’s funny how at home we wouldn’t even give it a second thought to getting Starbucks, but here, the cost of two frappucinos equals the cost of a huge lunch.

There was a Din Tai Fung in the mall (we ate there in Shanghai and there’s one in LA) and we were tempted to try it to compare, but we settled on a Lao/Thai place with a lot of locals in it.  Always go by the rule of eat where the locals eat!

Kumpoon Central World

Kumpoon Restaurant at Central World

Kumpoon was delicious and we ordered Laotian-style papaya salad with crab and marinated fish as an appetizer.  It was good but pretty pungently fishy.  After seeing the other two dishes come up, we probably didn’t need to order an appetizer but at least everything was fresh and healthy!

Laotian-Style Papaya Salad with Crab and Marinated Fish

For mains, we ordered fried snakehead fish with herb salad and noodles with pork crackling and Chinese sausage.  I had read about snakehead fish while doing restaurant research and the chef of one of the top restaurants here said it was his favorite fish so we gave it a try.  It was white and flaky and really good!

Fried Snakehead Fish with Herb Salad

The noodles were very normal, nothing spectacular, but you know I love me some pork crackling. =)  All told, lunch cost us around $13.  Loving being back in a country with delicious food!

Fried Noodles with Pork Crackling and Chinese Sausage

 

 

 

 

 April 29, 2012  Posted by at 4:15 am Bangkok, Food, Thailand Tagged with: , , , , , ,  No Responses »