Things to do in Bangkok: My best of 2012

Rama 9 Park, Bangkok

I found these questions on another site and I thought it would be a great (and easy) way to round-up the roller-coaster that was last year and offer my tips and favourites from 2012.

Why do you love Bangkok?

I love Bangkok because it really is a city that never sleeps. At any time of the day or night you can find food, drink, shopping and something to do. I also love living somewhere that’s so toasty and warm all the time!

What do you miss most when you are not there?

The food! I never thought I would get into all those spices and strange looking fruit and vegetables. I have been unwell recently and the doctor advised that I should give up spicy food for a while. It’s a nightmare, I miss som tam and curry!

Where’s the best place to stay?

In Sukhumvit I would recommend The Eugenia. It’s beautiful, vintage glamour and colonial style, with only a handful of rooms and the most amazing green tiled swimming pool. They also have a fleet of classic cars so you can negotiate the traffic jams in style. Even if you don’t get the chance to stay here, try their afternoon tea. The other hotel I really love is Sofitel So – four different room concepts (they will even swap your rooms  for you if you book a long stay so you can experience them all) including a modernistic silver and white suite and a tribal inspire Klein blue room. On the roof is an amazing bar that looks over Lumpini Park and the Executive Club was designed by Christian Lacroix. I am staying at the Tree House Hotel soon, very excited about that!

Where would you meet friends for a drink?

WTF on Sukhumvit Soi 51 is a firm favourite, they do some unusual mixes and it is really easy to spend an evening here. It definitely has a more European vibe – but the drinks have a thai twist – try the Muay Thai punch – the best way to experience Sangsom, a famous Thai whisky. I also love Bar 23 on Sukhumvit 16, they play the coolest music and the guys that run the place are great fun. It’s not easy to find though, and always looks closed! Look out for the oval sign on the right hand side, just after Balee Thai restaurant. A new opening that I loved in 2013 was The Alchemist on Sukhumvit Soi 11. Just a chilled out vibe, and so easy to spend longer than you expect there!

Where are your favourite places for a meal?

For Thai food either Supanniga or Soul Food on Thong Lor. Soul Food is a favourite of many, and does the best tamarind ribs I have ever tasted. Supanniga is the new kid on the block but serves some unusual Thai food from Issan and the coast. For something fancy I adore La Table de Tee near Silom,  a tiny restaurant tucked down an dirty alleyway, which serves fine-dining style food at great prices.

Where would you send a first-time visitor?

Start early morning at Chatuchak Weekend Market for shopping, followed by an afternoon admiring the reclining buddha and getting a great Thai massage at Wat Pho, evening cocktails at Sofitel So overlooking Lumpini Park and dinner at La Table de Tee round the corner. If you come during the week Chatuchak is closed, but try the newly opened Asiatique, a night bazaar / evening entertainment spot with Ladyboy cabaret and a big wheel.

What would you tell them to avoid?

The Ping Pong Shows!

Public transport or taxi?

Both! During rush hour you would be mad to take a cab, either jump on the Sky Train or enjoy the exhilarating ride on a motorbike taxi. But coming home from a bar or club late there is no problem taking a taxi.

What should I take home?

Thai curry pastes, silk scarves and a made-to-measure dress/suit from one of the great value tailors along Sukhumvit Road.

And if I’ve only time for one shop?

Not a shop but a market/fair – the monthly Thai Craft Fair. Fair trade goods from around the country at decent prices. They have everything: jewellery, pottery, silk,  even great Thai coffee beans. It’s the perfect place to stock up on gifts.

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Bangkok Food in a month (Dec 2012)

Ten things I love in Bangkok right now (Nov 2012)

There are so many great things in Bangkok, but sometimes all it takes is a song, a picture, a smell, something that triggers a memory deep inside and reminds you how far you are from family and the things that hold a lifetime of familiarity. All I can think of at the moment are those cold crisp days in London, I blame the stupid John Lewis Snowman advert. We’ve just had friends visit, which makes the memories of the UK come back into focus,  things at a distance do tend to blur and smudge after two years away.

It’s on days like these that I need reminding about why I love Bangkok so much. It’s not quite toppled the big smoke as my number one city, but it is doing its best to catch up.

  1. Christmas is coming fast, and usually it’s a time where people want to be with their families. Screw that, come to Bangkok – to them it’s the huge trees, bigger buffets and the perfect excuse to spend money, not recreating childhood memories. Who doesn’t want to giggle at all the ladies of the night wearing sexy Santa outfits?!
  2. Rediscovering Siam Square. When I first arrived I wasn’t sure how to navigate this area, with so many shops it was hard to work out where to go, and I usually ended up down bad quality alley with purchasing fake goods my only chance of escape. But since writing this article I have totally fallen in love with the place, especially the quirky upstairs gallery at Siam Vintage.
  3. Twitter. I love the English speaking  community on Bangkok twitter and although I still haven’t quite got my head around tweeting, hearing about other people and their journeys in the city is both entertaining and reassuring.
  4. Visitors. Okay, it can be stressful when people expect you to know everything about a place, but they do allow you to rediscover the city beyond your commute to work. I always try and save the touristy things till people come and stay, so I don’t have to do it twice so it’s nice to see some of the more famous parts of Bangkok, including the Sky Bar at Lebua.
  5. Tom Kha Gai (coconut chicken soup) and mango sticky rice are my Bangkok comfort foods, the Thai equivalent of a hug in a bowl – I could eat them every day.
  6. Cheap manicures. I now alternate between two nail salons on Sukhumvit. My favourite Nailista, only has three seats and recently they just haven’t been able to fit me in. So I’ve headed to Ten Ten near Phrom Pong BTS, more room, great YSL inspired French manicure in green and purple and free ginger tea.
  7. The cool weather. I am ecstatic when I wake up and it’s cloudy. It means I can wear jeans AND not have to worry about getting sunburnt or dehydrated.
  8. How cheap and easy it is to escape from Bangkok. I’ve just spent a week on the Islands, fallen in love with Koh Tao and plan to return to attempt some Grand Bleu style free diving whilst holding my breath for three minutes.
  9. BKK Bagel Bakery. I’ve started going here at least once a week, who ever thought you could stuff so much goodness into a ring of dough? (518/3 Maneeya Center, Ploenchit Road, Bangkok 10330)
  10. Thailand Creative & Design Center (TCDC) at Emporium (BTS Phrom Pong), a great library to get your head down and get some work done, or procrastinate with photography and design books.

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market – Is it worth it?

Floating markets near Bangkok are the most popular half-day tours out of the city. In a morning you get whizzed to the countryside by mini-van and get a taste of life on the river, but when you decide where you want to go, it’s important to think about how genuine you want your time to be.

The first floating market I ever went to was Amphawa Floating Market almost 18 months ago, accompanied by my Thai teacher. It was great to experience the market with someone who could speak the language and help me explore in a way that no-one else did, but it wasn’t very picturesque. Everyone coming to Thailand has seen the images of the famous floating market at Damnoen Saduak, and those are the same snaps people want to show their friends to make them jealous, pretty boats selling bananas and coconuts, ladies in straw hats – basically a huge photo opportunity. There is no doubting that this is exactly what Damnoen Saduak delivers. My trip there in late October was great for my companion, a keen photographer who spent at least half an hour standing on a bridge, camera focussed on the small canals below. Her pictures are amazing.

But when you are walking around, the atmosphere is lacking charm. Apart from the occasional boat selling food, most of what is on offer is tacky touristy items – t-shirts and plenty of elephant themed trinkets that you can find in Central Bangkok. Once I had got my half a dozen shots of the floating market, I was bored. I didn’t like being hassled by people trying to sell me Tiger Balm for my mother, I didn’t want to hold a big scary snake and whilst I was happy to taste a coconut pancake (they are really good), I didn’t want to take 50 home to my family. During my visit to Amphawa I was able to buy plenty of bags of fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs and nuts, not so great for tourists, but fantastic for someone based here. I also got an amazing tour of the temples nearby, where my teacher and her colleagues went to make merit. You don’t get a better introduction to Buddhism and Thai food than I got during my trip there, but I realise that not everyone is lucky enough to have their own personal guide. For most tourists Damnoen Saduak is handy, being open every morning, whereas Amphawa can only be visited at weekends.

Damnoen Saduak may be the floating market that everyone talks about, but it  feels disappointing. Like Christmas, the build up was far more exciting. I really enjoyed my trip to the coconut sugar factory, even though it was really just a shack by the side of the road.  The smell and taste was fantastic and it was interesting the centuries old method of extraction. The ride through the canals was great fun, shooting through the water on a long-tail boat seeing the people who live on and around the area, but sadly going so fast that my photos didn’t come out very well. It’s once I got there that my bubble burst. Below are some other snapshots from the morning to give you an idea of what it looks like.

I think that as long as you manage your expectations and have enough time on your hands it is worth experiencing Damnoen Saduak, but if I had to go back to one of the two floating markets I have visited (there are more!) then I would pick authenticity over photogenicity and go to Amphawa.

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Being an Ex-pat: 2 years in Bangkok!

Being a long-term expat in Bangkok was never going to be easy. In some ways it feels like only yesterday that we stepped off our long flight from London, unused to the heat, smells and bugs of Bangkok. These days it feels so much like home that I can’t imagine being anywhere else right now, even if I sometimes wish I could apparate Harry Potter style to spend time with family and friends, or even partake in a proper cream tea. The Bangkok balance, which for a long time was swaying this way and that has finally reached an even keel, and I feel extremely positive about most aspects of my life (I won’t run through the ones I need to work on!).

We have finally found a new flat, and with this being our third move in 2 years we are keeping it simple and going 10 floors down to a very cute one bed in the same building. I am glad to be putting down tiny roots. If only I could convince Dan to let me get Elvis, my dream Thai kitten with blue eyes and grey fur… Signing a lease means another year here, and I am glad to have that in ink.

After giving up Thai lessons early this year I am probably getting my head around one new word a month. At this rate I will never be fluent, but with such a busy end of year I just can’t find the energy to dedicate myself to something I am not very good at. So instead I have signed up for a great deal on Ensogo for 20 pilates lessons for 2000 baht (around 40 GBP – 2 quid a lesson, bargain). I am so far failing to meet any of my exercise targets, but I still have a few months to work on this, and also to stop looking so pathetic when I try to do a sit-up using my core. I also plan to take a photography class so I can express myself better with images, I am currently struggling far too much with aperture and angles.

With the cooler, sunnier weather finally here, it’s a great time to remember all the brilliant things about Bangkok and start planning my explorations to discover even more.

Finding a new job in Bangkok

I am now almost two months into my job and so far it’s been pretty much all fun. It can still be hard sometimes to find the words to express what I want to say, especially when describing food. I have been reading up on food reviews to get some inspiration and so far my favourite (by far) is Jay Rayner. Whilst I am nowhere near his level I know that reading, reading and more reading will help me improve. I still can’t believe I have suddenly had so much work luck. There has not been a second where I have missed my old job – I just don’t think about it. Every week I look forward to going into the office, I am learning so much about photography, websites and Bangkok as well as writing. My first overseas assignment is in a few weeks, five days pounding the streets of Singapore. I am both nervous and excited! Here is a link to some of the cool things the team has been exploring in Bangkok.

Life outside work has been hectic too, and it finally all caught up with my last week and I caught a very bad cold and cough. I hate being sick, it feels like such a waste of time, but my body was not letting me go to work, so I spend the day in bed napping. There is nothing more odd than having a cold in Thailand. Runny noses go with scarves, falling leaves and lemsip – none of which are currently available here. I was feeling so sad and pathetic about the lack of lemsip that my lovely grandmother rushed to post office and sent some out. It will be rationed, so if everyone around me could try and limit germs in my direction that would be great.

We’re fast approaching our two year anniversary in Thailand, and the the longer I am here, the less sentimental I am getting about objects.  In the UK my family are considering a move, so I went through my boxes with my dad via Skype.  We store all these mementos that will sit for years in boxes and when we finally pull them out we feel nostalgic for about ten minutes then forget about them again. I don’t really need the vase I was given during my first job after graduation, or the books I studied at University. Only a few things made the cut, my set of ‘Little House in the Prairie’ books and my glitter globe collection were selected, but all the classics and old birthday cards got chucked out.

Off to visit the floating market tomorrow, need to be and out by 6:30. Getting up at the crack of dawn isn’t fun, but a morning getting paid to be a tourist sounds perfect!

Keane, Bangkok 4th October 2012

The first time I heard of Keane I was sitting in my flat in Toulouse where I was spending a year as a teaching assistant. From the description in my copy of Heat Magazine they sounded like the kind of band I would love, so as soon as I returned to England I purchased ‘Hope and Fears’. Their single ‘Everybody’s Changing’ was playing on music channels that blared out of our sitting room, one of the things all of us could agree to watching.

I did not know that Keane’s first album would become the sound of my summer. It was 2004 and I was about to turn 21, I was saving up for a ticket to New York by working two jobs, weekdays in an insipid high street jewellers and serving drinks every Friday and Saturday at The Fire Station, best nightclub in town (there were only two). Keane played Glastonbury in the rain, and I was there in the front row with one of my best friends, both of us looking like drowned rats, appearing on  BBC 2 doing an embarrassing dance which everyone I knew saw, and can still be found during the first five minutes of this YouTube video.

The most significant thing about this summer was the number of us living under one roof. My father had remarried and for one reason or another, all five children from this blended family (seriously, is there no nicer way of saying this?!) were under the same roof for three months. For any of you who have had the pleasure of watching ‘7th Heaven’, it was about as far removed from the Camden’s as you can get. Five young adults under one roof does not make for peaceful living, but I remember nights out with my sisters, awkward but entertaining family meals where we wound each other up something silly and many childish pranks that we probably wouldn’t want to own up to.

Those links between music, memories and emotion has been researched and as someone who still listens to a song I really like on repeat, I reinforce this more than most. When I found out Keane were going to play in Bangkok, emotions from the summer of 2004 came rushing back to me. My favourite thing about our minds is that the bad times really do fade, so I can only remember the positive things about those few months, especially as it was one of the last times I spent so much time with my UK family.

Keane in Bangkok was a fantastic experience. They were so British and I was lucky enough to be standing behind possibly the most enthusiastic, wave your hands in the air, sing a long to every song, all the way from Hastings fan in Bangkok. This made the experience feel so much more like a gig should, and the rest of the crowd, predominantly Thais, were just as vocal. Moonstar studios is a pain to find, especially in the rainy season, but I would trek there again to hear British music and be reminded of times gone by.

On their new album my favourite track is Sovereign Light Café, such a cheerful melody with lyrics that lead me to look back to the end of my school days. It’s nice to spend a short while reminiscing, but life is non-stop at the moment: I am preparing for a trip to Singapore at the end of the month and my girls holiday in November with always, always more to look forward to.

Trying to bond with the Khao San Road

I’ve been in Bangkok for almost two years now but I have so far failed to form an attachment to the KSR (apparently this is what the cool kids call it. I would not know. I am not this kind of cool).  When I go there I feel old and grumpy. I don’t want to spend my time surrounded by burnt and bitten teenagers in their beer label vests. Even the flash-packers drive me mad. I don’t care that you have enough time and money to spend three months ‘exploring Asia’, although that could be a teensy bit of jealousy talking. So far the best solution has been to avoid the area completely. That was, until my boss told me that I would be writing about it this week.

So off I trudged on a Wednesday morning, with only my Nancy Chandler Map as company. It’s a good time to visit the Khao San – pronounced like Cow not Koh, this isn’t an island people – even though I fantasize about all these dreadful people being trapped on one, Lost style… At 11am most of the drunks are still asleep, which takes away at least one layer of what turns me off this famous street. It did not stop the hawkers though. In my first half an hour there a beggar touched my arse and a tuk tuk driver gave me a Chinese burn. To be fair to the tuk tuk driver, he was also trying to pull me out of the moving traffic, but it still bloody hurt!

I walked around for an hour and a half before my first appointment (part of my job is reviewing hotels). I spent a lot of time worried about not being in the shade because it happened to be that magical time of the day during rainy season where the sun burns through the clouds and my skin. I couldn’t tell which restaurants looked better than others (all same same according to any Thai you ask) and I was getting rather depressed by the whole thing.

Then I stumbled across Wat Chana Songkhram, a temple at the end of the Khao San. It’s so different from the other wats I have visited, the monks were meditating in the windows of their lodgings, studying together in the classroom and speaking with the children at the compound school. It’s all rather magical, and so peaceful. What I liked more than anything was that there were no other westerners there. If you head down into the old town that never happens.

Thankfully I was not just saved by a temple discovery.  I have also found the following on/near the Khao San that go someway to improve my relations with the street:

  1. The coffee shop/bar called Fabulous. Yes, it lives up to its name. Delicious crepe cakes and honey toast. It’s just off Khao San in a really quiet courtyard. Inside is a bit like being on Friends.
  2. My friend Alex took me to Roof Bar. It includes one thing that people love about KSR, cover bands playing Oasis. However the drinks are slightly more expensive meaning the crowds are slightly less annoying. I had a fab time here, even though it’s bang in the middle of the street.
  3. Rambutree! How can such a street exist so close to the KSR?! I plan to go back and check out some of the great restaurants and bars on this horse-shoe shaped road.
  4. The street food. Step away from the Pad Thai people, and find the lady making fresh spring rolls in front of you, or the grilled chicken man. YUM.

So, despite the fact that I am not yet in love with this place, I can see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. There is so much more to this area than the neon Burger King sign and the wooden frog sellers. I shall be back soon, I’ve been recommended Bombay Blues as an evening hangout. Maybe it can be number six on my list. If I go back again, maybe I can even make a KSR top ten. You’ve gotta have hope.