Getting a dress made in Bangkok – Tailors for Women

For a while I have been eying up a dress in the window of a shop near Asoke. Given that one of the things on ‘my to do before I am 30 list’ is to have a dress made, I decided this was reason enough to explore my options.

Let me tell you shopping has never been more fun. Getting a dress made in Bangkok means you can chose the colours, the fabric, and the best thing is that they take the measurements in Thai and despite learning numbers in last weeks lessons I didn’t catch a word, so I have no idea how fat I am!

I went to Atelier Azzurro (http://www.azzurrotailor.com/), and they were fantastic. The best thing is that instead of being run by men who have no idea about women’s fashion, I was greeted by a young woman who had been trained in Milan and had designed some of the dresses in the window.

I picked a navy dress with a silver sash, that she had designed based on some of the clothes she saw on the TV show Mad Men. The fact that she watches Mad Men was exciting enough!

I had barely been measured for my first dress when I was planning my next dress, a slightly modified version from the Louis Vuitton AW10 campaign…

After a week I went back for my first fitting. They tend to make things slightly too big and then pin you in on the first fitting. I took a picture in the changing room, which doesn’t look that impressive, I just wanted a before pic:

I went back a week later for my final  fitting and it fitted perfectly. Now I need to plan afternoon tea at the Mandarin Oriental and cocktails at the Sky Bar to show it off. And save my pennies for dress number two!!!

I loved the extra detailing: little poppers under the top to keep your bra straps in place, and the face you can order more coloured sashes to

 

This week, I also purchased a slightly cheaper dress from an amazing stall near the underground. The stall owner seems to hunt down the best vintage dresses from around Bangkok and I always want to stop and have a look first thing before all the good things go (which would make me late for work). On my way home the other night I found an amazing spotty dress, a bargain at roughly £7. And it fits! However it was long enough for two of me, so I decided to try out my local sewing machine lady.

This is not MY sewing machine lady!

Dotted all over the city are ladies and their Singer sewing machines. On Sukhumvit Soi 18 we have a double act who work in the shade of a large tree near the Rembrandt Hotel: the sewing lady and the shoe repair man. I dropped my dress off (communicating mainly with nods and sign language) and then 24 hours later I picked it up. She had done a great job of taking it up and it only cost £2.

When I moved here I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to fit into anything, and my experience with the XXL sport shorts only made it worse. But on my last trip to the weekend market (JJ) I found some cool t shirts and interesting clothes stalls run by independent Thai designers (no Chang t shirt for me!) and now with the dress making and the vintage shop I have found my new shopping heaven!

10 ways you can tell you are a Bangkok Expat

Grand Palace Bangkok

1. You check how much change you have before you get in a taxi, because you can’t bear another run to the cash point in the rain whilst an angry driver harrumphs at you, revving his engine.

2. When setting the table for dinner, you put down a fork and spoon rather than a knife.

3. Time is no longer a precise measurement, but a vague promise of when you may be somewhere.

4. Over the year, you get more public holidays than leave days.

5. The concept of walking anywhere has become alien to you.

6. When someone smiles and says yes, you no longer take this as an affirmation. You desperately run through your Thai smile repertoire – is this a confused smile? Angry smile? Couldn’t give a toss smile?

7. There is a secret to squeeeeeeeeeeezing yourself on a full sky train at 8:20 every morning. You learnt this after months of waiting politely whilst smartly dressed ladies with poufy hair slinked on in front of you.

8. You’ve worked out that every stall at Chatuchak Weekend Market (JJ to the locals) also has a branch in an air-conditioned shopping mall in the city, so you no longer spend your shopping Saturdays hot, lost and feeling alone in the crowd.

9. A special walk and look means that tailors, scammers, prostitutes and beggars leave you alone, even in Nana.

10. You know the friendly food stall sellers in your neighbourhood so well that they now prepare your order as you approach, remembering to put the sauce on the side and only include one chilli.

Bangkok Sunset

This post was inspired by a post I found on the blog Between Worlds.

Seven Spoons – The Best Restaurant in Bangkok?

P1140342

For me, Seven Spoons is easily one of the best restaurants in Bangkok. In fact, if I was a betting girl I would say that it could even be considered the best. It’s not just me who thinks so, check out the Seven Spoons listing on TripAdvisor and you will see plenty of glowing reviews about this tiny Mediterranean restaurant.

I am both lucky and unlucky that I get to eat a lot of fantastic food. Lucky because I get plenty of free dinners, and most of them are excellent. I also get to taste many dishes that would have had me running in the opposite direction a few years ago. Unlucky because my waist is slowly expanding and I am becoming increasingly fussy and hard to please. I know you are all really feeling my pain right now…

Anyway Seven Spoons is a bit of a hassle to get to, but the quickest way is to take a train to Rachathewi BTS and take a cab from there, depending on the traffic it could take as little as 15 minutes. Seven Spoons is near the crossroads of Lan Luang Road and Chakkrapatipong Road.

You need to book ahead, because there are only four tables. Seems a bit of a pain, but having attempted (and failed) to book restaurants in London 4 weeks in advance, Seven Spoons’ three day wait time is nothing.

The wood lined shop house is friendly and welcoming. At the back is a barman furiously mixing some brilliant cocktails and mocktails and if you ask nicely, he’ll even let you try one of his latest concoctions.  If all juices tasted as good as his passion fruit and basil mix it would be easy to give up booze…

The food here is like a big hug. It’s not only delicious, it has real soul, and you can really feel the love for the ingredients and flavours. The menu is short, but we still manage to pick three starters: Mexican quesidalla with the most perfect portion of fresh tomato salsa, deep fried mushrooms with a masala sauce and lime, and the quiona salad, one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. One mouthful of this blend of mango, avocado and crispy mushrooms and I am almost ready to turn vegetarian as well as teetotal.

Despite the fact that I was advised by a blood ‘specialist’ recently that type A should give up meat, I still can’t resist the duck with a juniper sauce and caramelised persimmon, a fruit that looks a bit like peach and tastes like one too, although that may be because I actually thought it was a peach…

By the time dessert is offered I am full, but we still order the lime tart to share, which turns out to be the perfect palette cleanser. Sharp, clean and served with a dollop of cream, there is no better way to end your meal here.

With full bellies and a bill that came to less than 1,500 baht, it’s no surprise that we are already booking our next meal at Seven Spoons.

P1140353 P1140359 P1140367 Seven Spoons, great value! Best Bangkok restaurant Seven Spoons Seven Spoons Bangkok Seven Spoons

Opening Hours: Daily from 18:00 – Midnight, except Mondays
Address: 211 Chakkrapatipong Road, Intersection of Lan Luang Road
Tel: +66 (0)2 6284588 or +66 (0)84 5391819 
 
 

Why I won’t go to a go-go bar

Go go Bar Thailand

Top of many people’s to-do lists when they visit Bangkok is a trip to a go-go bar or sex show. If you walk along Khao San Road or head to the Pat Pong district in Silom then the roads are lined with men touting different ping pong extravaganzas and special deals.

Bangkok is sadly famous for its sex industry and it is very much out in the open. Because of this, there are times when Bangkok feels like the Disneyland version of prostitution, with fake happy faces and flashing neon bulbs. Just take a walk down Soi Cowboy and see what I mean, it is astonishing to see how well packaged the experience is.

But it doesn’t come as a surprise that behind the bright lights and polyester costumes  there is a much darker world.

I have met plenty of visitors and ex-pats who don’t see anything wrong with go-go bars in Bangkok. In fact at least once a month someone will try and convince me how much fun they are, or call me a prude for not wanting to visit them.

To them it is somewhere to have fun. “The girls are friendly” they’ll say, “it’s harmless fun”.  You can find plenty of blog posts about young female backpackers visiting these venues and talking about they have braved the world behind the velour curtains and notched it up to a typical Thai holiday experience.

My reason has nothing to do with being brave, and I am not a prude. I just can’t see the fun of watching some poor women demean themselves for my entertainment, smoking a cigarette with their nether regions or shooting a ping pong ball across the room, not because they enjoy it, but because they need the money.

I spoke to a good friend of mine, who has been to these clubs with friends. He said that there are times he feels that the situation is a little dodgy, but more often than not, like in many other layers of society in Thailand, there is a smiley welcome and a relaxed vibe that hides the truth.

For all its gloss, go go bars in Bangkok are still very dangerous places for  the women working there. Just because it is more out in the open than in many countries in the west doesn’t mean that the women are offered any protection or have any rights. The last time my colleagues mentioned visiting go go bars I decided to do a little research.

What I found was worse that I could have imagined. I was expecting that many of the women who work in the sex industry had ended up there because of poverty and abuse, that they were treated terribly by the owners of the bars. But upon discovering these articles from the Pulitzer Centre, published in 2010, I couldn’t quite believe that Thailand turns such a blind eye to what is happening on the streets of Bangkok and Pattaya.

It’s a sad fact of life that because many women in Thailand don’t have the education needed for decent paying jobs that they turn to the sex trade out of desperation, to provide for their families and loved ones.

Many of the women working in the bars are from farming communities in the north of Thailand or migrants from Laos and Myanmar. Taking advantage of another person’s desperation is against most people’s moral code, but for some reason that doesn’t extend to the world of prostitution. It seems to be a case of if they need the money, why not pay them for it?

Bangkok has so many more redeeming qualities than the go go bars in Patpong and Nana. But the shiny dollars of the rich westerners are all that can be seen by those who run these establishments and the authorities who ignore what they do. But pouring foreign money into the sex trade should not be seen as a good investment for Thailand, or a long-term tourism strategy.

I know that watching one of these shows would leave me feeling grubby and a little angry with myself, and I hate the idea of looking into a young woman’s eyes knowing how awful her life could be. My baht will go on projects like the one I used to volunteer for, teaching English to enhance the employment chances of those at risk, or with outreach workers who help these go go bar workers with no other choice.

Soi Cowboy Bangkok

 

A Walk in Chinatown Bangkok – Things to see in Bangkok’s Chinatown

Temple Bangkok Chinatown

You may get lost whilst in Bangkok’s Chinatown, but you’ll never have any doubt about where you are.

The rows of shophouses sell coffins and traditional medicine side by side (are they trying to tell you something?), restaurants display glistening cooked ducks on hooks in the window and scarlet paper lanterns sway in the breeze above your head.

Chinatown Bangkok Street

Every tourist who visits Bangkok wants to check out Chinatown, the chance to visit two countries in one. Despite its riot of colours and smells, I find it a frustrating place to visit. There are plenty of gems to see here of course, but they are scattered, hidden down small alleyways or up a flight of suspicious looking stairs.

If you are looking for a great map of Chinatown, I recommend Nancy Chandler, whose beautiful hand sketched creations bring the best of Bangkok  to your fingertips.

Armed with this, you can track down the temple crocodile pond, negotiate your way down Sampang Lane dodging motorbikes and men with carts filled with fresh rambutans and try out some of the tastiest Dim Sum at a local restaurant that last looks like it was renovated in 1973.

For the latest updates check out nancychandler.net – the map is only released every few years, but the team keep their eyes open and their ears to the ground. If you stumble across something awesome, you can be pretty sure that Nancy has been there first.

Market Bangkok Chinatown

Food Bangkok Chinatown

Shopping is a little hit and miss in Chinatown. I love the traditional tea sets that are sold by the dozen and picking up some roasted chestnuts from the carts that line Yarrowat Road. Unsurprisingly it’s also a great place to buy fake goods, direct from the factories in China.

If you are in the market for some gold bling, Bangkok’s Chinatown is considered one of the top spots in the world to pick up high quality precious metal. Many of the ornate pieces that you will see on display are destined to make up the dowry at traditional Thai and Chinese weddings.

Market Bangkok Chinatown Chinatown Bangkok

I tend not to visit Chinatown very often, unless I am with visitors. In the past few weeks I have been there twice, but until the underground extension opens in 2016 it isn’t particularly easy to get to, and whether I take a taxi, boat or train it often takes an hour and half to get there from my house.

It does seem like such a waste though! I am lucky enough to have such an interesting neighbourhood so close, but too lazy to get out there and explore it in-depth. Zebra Bangkok

Spire of Loha Prasat – Wat Ratchanadda

Loha Prasat

Sometimes you are lucky enough to see the world from an angle that not many others have viewed it from. Earlier this week I visited Loha Prasat, part of the temple complex of Wat Ratchanadda. Looking up through the imposing blackened copper turrets, I cursed the fact that I had not come here earlier.

The entire top level of the building was covered in a green veil, where Loha Prasat was undergoing some vital repairs. Although a little disappointed, I still joined the PR tour to visit the rest of the building.

 

Our guide was a friendly chap with broken English, so I quickly raced up the tower to get a couple of shots of the vista. After being trapped in a small space near the Buddha relics (I didn’t want to push past the two young people who were praying), I was about to make my way back down the spiral staircase when I met the guide again.

He pointed up to the scaffolding and asked me if I wanted to go up there. Unsure whether he was joking, I mumbled a confusing yes and no answer. But when he told me he was the engineer overseeing the renovations, I knew I would be a fool to pass up this opportunity.

Scaffolding Loha Prasat 2013

I am not afraid of heights in general, but I felt extremely wobbly making my way up the narrow steps, trying to cling on to the scaffolding poles, occasionally grabbing a power wire out of desperation.

Although the view from the top was impressive, I was far more excited at the chance to watch the two craftsmen at work. They quickly picked up their tools as we appeared, snipping the pieces of copper into shape and polishing the layers that had already been welded to the roof.

Spire of Loha Prasat

I can’t imagine there are many people who have touched the Naga (snake with many heads) mouldings that decorate the roof of Loha Prasat. Definitely a moment for the memory book, one that makes me grateful for all the opportunities I have been given and amazing things I have witnessed.

Wat Ratchanadda

Evening in Lumpini Park

Lumpini Park Dusk

I love Lumpini Park in the evenings, when the joggers are puffing around the track, the homeless cats are settling in under park benches for the night and you can hardly hear the rush-hour traffic speeding along Wireless Road.

The rainy season has been making life tough over the past few days, purple clouds loom over the horizon just before the end of our work day and it makes exploring and taking photos for my job almost impossible.

On the plus side though, it really cools down, meaning I can enjoy a walk through the park just after the rains has stopped.

Lumpini Park Rain

Carrying my camera around sometimes feels like a pain, especially if I want to make the most of the amazing handbag collection I seem to have acquired since moving to Bangkok. But if you don’t practice you’re never going to get better, and I do love it when a picture comes together and gives people an insight into my life here.

Need to work on the technique below though!

Bangkok Bike Rain

Hamblepie Rucksacks and Bags at Chatuchak Weekend Market

Rucksack Bangkok This weekend I had the unenviable task of exploring Chatuchak Weekend Market. When I first moved to Bangkok I loved the shopping heaven locals refer to as JJ, but I have since realised that most shops that sell goods here also have other branches in town, usually in air-conditioned spaces.

Hamblepie is sadly not one of these! Their only other stall is at the railway market, but even with its new location it’s about as handy as Chatuchak Weekend Market (they are pretty much neighbours).

Anyway I was there to research an article for work, but with 15,000 stalls it’s impossible not to get tempted by something. After trying on a beautiful lace top that didn’t make me look as delicate and girly as I had imagined I stumbled upon Hamplepie’s Chatuchak stall.

They sell a range of beautiful handmade rucksacks and messenger bags in colourful canvas and fabrics: stripes, spots, anchor patterns and vintage florals.

Useful, cute and an unbelievable bargain.

Chatuchak Stall I’ve been looking for a new bag that fits everything I need on a day to day basis, camera, notebook, sometimes another camera,  and plenty of rubbish I take everywhere but never use… I spotted the one below, and the fabric reminded me a little of Provence in the south of France, so I was sold. It was also a bargain at 650 baht (13 pounds and 50 pence).

If you want to check out the bag shop in Chatuchak Weekend Market you will find it in Section 23, soi 2, shop number 31831. The numbers are displayed all over the place, and you can pick up a vaguely helpful map at the main entrances to the market.

They also have a Facebook Page here, so you can check out their other bags.

Camera Bag Bangkok

 
Chatuchak Weekend Market or JJ is open all day Saturday and Sunday. To get there take the BTS to Mo Chit or the MRT to Chatuchak Park. 

Newsflash: All Western women are U.G.L.Y

I went to the pub a few weeks ago with some friends, and at the table next to us was another Brit. He was in his 50s and we happily chatted about the craft beer craze that is taking over Bangkok. Then out of the blue he asked me if it was hard to be a woman in Thailand.

Thinking that he meant it was difficult because although women are often the dominant forces in families and communities, and despite the fact that Thailand currently has a female prime minister, women still get a rougher deal here than they do back in the UK. So I launched into a discussion about women’s position in society only to be shot down with a laugh and a bold statement ” no, no. no – because Thai women are so attractive”.

Now this chap was accompanied by a pretty Thai lady who spoke excellent English and seemed to be enjoying his company. But I didn’t sit there worrying that I was in some way inferior because I was western, although I admit I was a teensy bit jealous of her amazing coral pink killer heels.

Who you find attractive is a matter of taste and of course he is entitled to date whoever he wishes. But there was no need to assume that I should be depressed about the way I look. I brush my hair and I occasionally paint my nails. Whilst my eyebrows sometimes look a little mad scientist in the early morning, I always wet them down with a bit of water. Such. A. Catch.

I can only assume he was badly heartbroken by a western woman, leaving him incapable of finding love again with a fair skinned lady. The same thing happened to a senior member of staff at my old office. He announced in a meeting that marrying a British woman changed a man for the worse, and that’s why he moved to Asia. He must have thought I was American or something. But let’s get back to the shallow end rather than get bogged down in emotional detail.

Of course, there are many beautiful women in Thailand. There are plenty of very pretty ladies in London (where I used to live) too – but I never walk the streets feeling like an outcast because I do not fit with his (and we all know he’s one of many) version of attractiveness. I do stand out a little in Bangkok. Sometimes on the sky train I am head and shoulders above most people, and I feel sorry for those stuck in my armpits. My blonde hair makes me recognisable in a crowd, great for when I wander off like a small child.

The definition of beauty is an interesting one and very much down to an individual perspective. But I believe it is the whole package, rather than simply the wrapping. It still annoys me that people like this chap feel that they can go around making sweeping statements about the looks of an entire hemisphere in this way. He was not my type, but I would never ask him if his girlfriend was only with him for his money…

Sadly you don’t have to go far in Bangkok to stumble across a couple in which the woman is with a man for the security he provides rather than for love. I’m not looking to be arm candy, and I am lucky enough to be able to look after myself, although I am perfectly happy for anyone, from princesses to toads, to deal with the cockroach under the sink.

I’m cool in my world, but not so cool about to views he’s broadcasting from his. Because what IS depressing is that women are always being compared and judged against each other in the looks department above anything else.

Being all repulsive and British
Scaring some strawberry tarts with my western looks.