Seven Spoons – The Best Restaurant in Bangkok?

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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

 

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

Visiting the Karen Tribe in Chiang Rai – Hill Tribes in Northern Thailand

Hill Tribe ShrineI have been resisting visits to the Northern tribes of Thailand since we arrived because I was worried about exploitation and staring at people as if they were part of a zoo or freak show. A few months ago I took a trip to Chiang Rai and the opportunity to pay the hill tribes a visit once again came up. In the spur of the moment, I ended up doing something that I really wasn’t sure about or keen on. I have to say that my trip lived up to my fears and expectations. I came away feeling like I had done something wrong, and with more questions than answers.

I had not actually done any research into visits to the tribes, so we followed the advice of the driver we had hired for the day. When we arrived we had to pay for entrance from a sullen young Thai man, who pointed down a dirt path that led into the jungle. Nailed to the trees were wooden signposts leading the way, but already I felt like an imposter. We were not on an exploratory walk; we were basically going to gawp. As a child who was reprimanded when I stared at those who were different it felt so wrong and I was extremely uncomfortable during the hour or so we spent there.

Young Girls - Hilltribe Chiang Rai

The villages look exactly how you expect them to: small wooden huts on stilts made from bamboo and banana leaves. But a permanent home is unusual for these hill tribes, as traditionally they migrated from place to place, clearing forests to farm the land and moving on when the grounds became unsustainable. When Thailand introduced stricter rules about forest protection and slash and burn agriculture, and move the tribes from the highlands to lower less fertile land the Red Karen, Akha and Lahu people were forced to find new ways of providing for their loved ones. Many of the hill tribes first moved to Thailand from Burma, China and Tibet either as refugees because of civil war or persecution. Over half the tribes are not registered as Thai citizens, leaving them with hardly any rights and often nowhere else to go.

Hill Tribe VillageI am not comfortable taking pictures of people under normal circumstances, because it always feels like such an invasion of their privacy, but I did take my camera out during my visit, the photographer in me unable to resist the beautiful and fragile tableaux that were being played out. There were plenty of barefoot children running around the village and even the youngest ones were well-trained in the art of posing. I tried to only take shots of them going around their daily business, but even then I had to wonder how natural this life was to them. My favourite picture of the day was that of a woman chatting on her mobile phone. I think it was the closest I got to the reality of their lives, a clash between old traditions and new technology.

Now these families have turned their front porches into shops, selling products scarves that they have weaved themselves. Although I can understand the need to make a living, it highlights the fact that this is a tourist experience. I found it much easier to slip some money into the donations boxes that were displayed in the village with handwritten School Fund and Karen Development signs tacked to them.

Whilst provisions have been made for children to be educated under the Thai system this isn’t always enforced and often the villagers often have only a basic understanding of the local language and are limited in what they can do to make a wage. If money can be made from inviting visitors into their homes and selling handmade products then am I supporting them? What about my entry fee? Does it really go to help the tribes or is it simply taken by those who own the land, who get rich from allowing these displaced families to reside there? It’s certainly an easy way for a proprietor to make money. There will always be those, like me, who are willing to pay to add local colour to their holiday snaps.

Hill Tribe Girls

The first ‘village’ (the communities live on the same patch of land but each tribe lives in their own hamlet) belonged to the Akha people, who first migrated to Thailand at the beginning of the 20th century from China, with another wave arriving due to civil wars in Myanmar and Laos. Their numbers in the north Thailand are currently around 80,000. No welcome party greeted us. I guess people trampling through your fields to come and take pictures of you in traditional dress for probably the 31st time that week can make you feel a little weary. When they finally appear, we were led us up to a large wooden hut that serves as their meeting point and they performed a half-hearted musical performance. Feeling guilty for disturbing their Sunday afternoon, we slipped some small notes into the tin marked Donations and moved on.

We quickly wandered through the Lahu village, another group originating from China, which seemed almost deserted, and towards the largest settlement, in which big eared (Kayor) and long neck (Red Karen or Kayah) people live. At the edge of the village we found a group of half a dozen children under the age of five playing. So used to visitors, they barely look up from their games. As we walked past stands filled with colourful scarves and women weaving we were greeted with smiles. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a teenager surreptitiously open a compact and powder her face, preparing for her moment in front of the camera.

This village had a real feeling of community, with a small school and meeting hall with an ongoing construction project to add an extra row of huts in the northern corner. But they still heavily rely on the presence of tourists to provide necessary funding. I thought long and hard about what would be the best way to support these communities without forcing them to put their lives on show this way, but with limited resources and a specific set of skills, it seems tricky to help them sustain their traditional way of life, allowing them to work with nature whilst the rest of the world tries so hard to control it, ensuring that they have the same rights and care as all of Thailand’s residents when their ideals clash with those of modern Thais and politicians.

Despite many of the young girls having the first few golden rings around their neck that lead to the slow and painful lengthening process, their futures usually don’t involve staying in the mountains amongst their community, and their lack of education means that even if they head into the city they are more likely to end up working in the sex trade than anywhere else. One in three women working in the go go bars in Chiang Mai originally came from a hill tribe. It makes being a tourist attraction seem like an attractive option. There are NGOs working in the north, attempting and draw attention to the issues that these people are facing, but unfortunately their good work is not headline-grabbing enough, or perhaps just doesn’t get heard over the rustle of tourist dollars.

Young Girl HillTribe

I will not be returning to a hill tribe village in any rush. It was certainly an eye-opening afternoon, but it left a bad taste in my mouth. Travelling and exploring should be done with utmost courtesy for the places and people you are visiting, not invading personal spaces or turning their lives into a theatre show, but observing them at a respectful distance, learning and sharing the experience with others.

Bangkok’s Rainy Season

Gateway Ekkamai RainIt has been so hot here in Bangkok that I had become desperate for the rain. I was even contemplating a rain dance of some sort. Usually by the end of April the thundery storms have returned but this year it’s been hotter than hot. As I rushed from appointment to meeting, damp hair plastered to my face after only a brief walk outside my small talk centred around the weather: “It’s so hot at the moment … I am sure it wasn’t this bad last year”, and “I have been here almost three years and I thought I was getting used to it!”. My Thai counterparts did their best to reassure me that, yes, it was indeed very hot, hotter than usual.

I have even started using an umbrella to shade me, in the way that many locals do. It does work, but trying to circumnavigate a busy Thai pavement, with all its tripwires and low hanging objects, is hard enough without skipping along like you are Mary Poppins. Although my umbrella is UV protective and so protects my skin, I sometimes get the same stuffy feeling that would wake me up in my tent at festivals. It’s pretty uncomfortable…

For the first time in what feels like months, we woke up to a grey sky and dark clouds in the distance. Leaving the house this morning I could wear jeans again. The old shophouses that line the pavement dripped rainwater on us as we made our way along the street. I have mucky streaks up the back of my trousers. At the start of the rainy season it’s exciting to hear the thunder, but in six months time I’ll be glad for the cool, dry weather.

Bangkok’s Countryside and the Tree House Hotel

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If you want to escape the mad mad city that is Bangkok then there is no better place to go than the Bangkok Tree House in Phra Pradeang, which is a little like the London bump in the river where the Millennium Dome is, but has a jungle and a floating market on it instead of an entertainment centre. It also has cute puppies as well as the Bangkok Tree House, so it is the perfect place for a stay-cation.

To make it feel more like an adventure, we decided to walk from BTS at Bang Na to the pier, which is only about 1.5 km, but we got a bit lost and ended up in a temple complex with cows… If you take a taxi it’s about five minutes to Bang Na pier, where you can jump on the boat with a bunch of motorbikes and head away from grim industrial land to green jungle.

To make matters more adventurous we also took a wrong turning when we were trying to find the tree house, as the island is covered in a maze of small raised concrete walkways and no signs.  The Treehouse Hotel is right on the banks of the river, so you have to take a left as soon as you get off the boat, just near the gold Buddha.

I really enjoyed my stay there, and I would recommend it to friends who want to experience something different. It’s very cool. You have to climb some pretty steep stairs to reach your nest / room, they are decorated in large metal ants or butterflies, the shower is outdoors and rooms come with a fab movie collection that includes The Notebook and An Inconvenient Truth (The Bangkok Tree House is all about being green).

We had dinner and breakfast here and the food was delicious, all sourced locally, there is also a fridge full of free ice-cream for when you are feel peckish. The staff were friendly and you could loan a bike to tour the area, in fact we were even offered a free one hour tour. I am really impressed with their policies of employing local staff and using renewable energy. Despite all this, I didn’t feel that the hotel really had the wow factor.

There is a lot of hype about the Bangkok Tree House and perhaps for this reason it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Even though they were removing rubbish for the river (at a rate of a kilo per booking) there was still a lot of detritus around the property and at times the place felt grubby rather than rustic. In my mind I had pictured a rural idyll but the hotel is still in Bangkok, not in the rolling countryside, so it wasn’t quite the getting back to nature I was hoping for.

After our impressive five course breakfast we went exploring. The highlight for me was the puppies we got to play with, but if you haven’t stuffed your face with waffles then there is also what just about passes as a floating market with plenty of food and the occasional monk blessing.