The Magic of Coconut Oil – Saving Face

Coconut Oil Bangkok

The weather in Bangkok has changed recently, with more rain and plenty of hot steamy days which means I mainly hide out in air-conditioning. All these crazy fluctuations in temperature have confused my skin: my forehead is all dry and if I try and layer the cream on I just get tons of spots.

I was about to invest in yet another pot of expensive cream (I’m careering towards my 30th birthday so I needed some heavy duty stuff) when I remembered a good friend telling me about the wonders of coconut oil, so I popped a bottle of it in my basket instead. It’s a hell of a lot cheaper, at 250 baht (around 5 GBP) and at the rate I am currently using it, will probably last quite a long time.

There are many uses for coconut oil. On your face as a moisturiser (although only a little or you look like a grease bomb), mixed up with sugar as a scrub, instead of a shaving gel, and even as an intensive hair conditioner. Some folk even eat it, and although my bottle is 100% virgin oil it looks a little too bathroom-esque for me to take into the kitchen.

Pretty much all the writing on this bottle was in Thai, and seeing as even if I could remember the three letters I had learnt last year I probably still couldn’t understand the actual words, I asked Google. It had a lot of answers and many advices, including the fact that coconut oil is anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti something else… Pretty cool for a tropical fruit.

I’ve been using  virgin coconut oil  on my face both in the morning and before bed and my skin feels so soft. I don’t have any more scales and I smell like a biscuit. Some people online say it makes them look like a teenager again. I am not sure this is quite the effect I am after though…

Given all the chemicals that are already in the air and water in Bangkok, it’s nice to use something without additives or preservatives and I am a complete convert to coconut oil – there is nothing better than a great value, Bounty chocolate bar smelling product that makes your skin feel fabulous.

Best New Rooftop Bar in Bangkok – Octave Sukhumvit

Sukhumvit Road from Ocatve Rooftop

The people who say Bangkok doesn’t need a new rooftop bar haven’t visited Octave on Sukhumvit 57. Opened in late April 2013, it is easily my favourite rooftop in the city, and not just because it’s less that ten blocks from my house. Split over three levels and starting on the 45th floor, they have really let the view do the talking. Cocktails start at 350 baht, beers start at 170 baht and there is a decent selection of wines by the glass. For me, Octave is the best rooftop bar in Bangkok, and as someone who’s visited them all, I don’t make this statement lightly.

Octave Rooftop is only a few minutes walk from Thong Lor Sky Train inside the Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit. Head through the lobby and the lifts are towards the back, just past the Chocolate Cake Company (note to self – return to sample goods).

The bar is cool and funky but not totally pretentious. On the first floor is the lounge area, comfortable seats and booths, a great place to hang if you are coming with a group friends and enjoy Octave Rooftop Bar’s amazing views at the same time. When planning their seating arrangements they have done their best to ensure that most visitors get an uninterrupted view of Bangkok. The DJ on the 45th floor plays chilled out music, and for those with families, children over 12 are welcome on this level until 20:00. I’m convinced plenty of teenagers would be very impressed with the view, although I am less sure how ecstatic those here on a romantic date would be to share their space with kids (thankfully they are banned from the upper floors).

Head up one level and you reach a long bar that glows blue. There are a handful of tables here, but it does feel more like a pit-stop on your way to the main event than a stand alone space. Octave Rooftop have really made the most of Bangkok’s vista, and on the first two floors it wraps around the building, giving you 180 degree views. Whilst the bar area is edgy, the walls are panelled in blonde wood adding a softness that makes the space seem much more welcoming.

Up another flight of stairs you head to the best bit of this Bangkok rooftop, an amazing 360 degree space that makes you feel like you are on top of the world.

360 Bar Bangkok

There is definitely more of a party vibe on the 47th floor, with a DJ booth and space to mingle. Music here could been anything between mash ups of Oasis / Green Day and the latest chart hits. But for me, the best part of this rooftop was that on every floor there was nothing but a thin pane of glass between me and Bangkok. The view from up here is rather marvellous.  I recommend you head on up to Octave Rooftop Bar now before the rest of Bangkok discover it.

Rooftop Bangkok

Closure of Rod Fai Market – Bangkok Train Market

Night Market Bangkok

Update August 2013: Talat Rot Fai is now located in Srinakarin Soi 51, behind Seacon Square. No close transport links – probably best to take a taxi – or a sky train to Punnawithi station then a cab. Most taxis drivers will recognise the name Seacon Square.

Late one night this week, JCBs rolled into Bangkok Train Market (Rod Fai) and started demolishing the structures there. Although the developers and stall owners had been in discussions for a while about the market’s future, no-one who works at one of Bangkok’s most popular night markets was expecting things to take such a dramatic turn. Nothing stands in the way of Thailand’s relentless march for development.

Rod Fai Market was easily one of my favourite late night shopping spots. It opened Friday to Sunday evening and sold a quirky, crazy mix of vintage clothing, Batman statues and cheap, hot, tasty food. Located near Chatuchak Weekend Market, it had become extremely popular for those looking for somewhere alternative to shop.

The extension of the the new Sky Train line is going to go straight through the market’s site, and despite promises to give them six months to find a new home, the Train Market in Bangkok now looks like a pile of rubble. 

For now, Rod Fair is moving to a short-term home behind Insquare Mall JJ before they make a more permanent night market on Srinakarin Road Soi 15. Let’s hope that their new abode retains the charm and romance of the old one.

Where were you Iron Man?

Duck T Shirts – The Best gift for Everyone

When you are contemplating gifts to take home to friends and family, I have a recommendation. Don’t take the usual Bangkok souvenirs back (Tuk Tuk made from a Coca Cola can, incense that doesn’t smell of anything, Chang vest to name a few), head to Terminal 21 and check out A Pick Me Up, where you can pick up (ha!) some amazing t-shirts decorated in rubber ducks.

Okay, they don’t exactly scream “I’ve been to Thailand” but they are certainly original, and although I can’t think of any logical reason why I love them so much and I haven’t actually got round to purchasing one of my own, every time I walk around Terminal 21 I can’t help but pop in to flick through the rails of duck t shirts.

Duck T Shirts

The ducks emblazoned on these shirts and not your usual yellow rubber ducky. Oh no, A Pick Me Up have taken their designs to new heights. This quacker comes in different shapes and sizes. If you’re that keen on finding something that prolongs your memory of Thailand then there is a funky tee of a Duck on a Tuk Tuk. I can already see the keen faces of my siblings as I hand this gem of a gift over!

Whether you are into classic movies, video games, the ukulele or even just rubber ducks themselves, you are guaranteed to find something at A Pick Me Up. If you are looking for a more subtle design, then they have embroidered polo shirts for men and women with a tiny duck on the breast pocket.

Pick Me Up Duck T ShirtsLocation: Direct access from MRT at Sukhumvit and BTS at Asoke. A Pick Me Up is on the London Floor
Open: 10:00 – 22:00 Daily

Bangkok Cat Cafe – Play with cats in Thong Lor!

Cat Cafe Bangkok

Just when I thought I had seen it all, Bangkok opened a Cat Cafe! Yes, an actual cafe where you can go an play with big furry cats and eat biscuits and brownies in the shape of felines. What more could you want?!

Cafe Cafe Bangkok

Getting there is easy, it’s only around ten minutes walk from the sky train at Thong Lor on Sukhumvit Soi 53, Purr Cat Cafe is located on a sleepy residential road  watch out for the sign on the left hand side of the street as you walk along. Open from 11:00am daily except Monday it easy to spend a few of hours in Kitty Land, stroking the cats and sampling the sweet treats.

Cat Cafe BangkokI think the cat below has the best idea: hide and nap. It’s tough at the top of the Cat Cafe in Bangkok, and these guys get tired. Most of the Persian cats here spend their time asleep, but that’s okay, getting to pet them is a great way to reduce stress, much easier to do when they are asleep, and you need that in a city like Bangkok, especially when most apartments are too small to own a kitty all of your own. Cat Cafe to the rescue!

Cat Cafe Bangkok

The best thing about the menu here is that it was mostly cat shaped. Let’s be honest, I’ve had better scones and biscuits elsewhere, but I really appreciated the effort and thought that had gone into the food. The staff at Cat Cafe are really friendly but service is slow. We didn’t mind so much as we wanted to spend time playing with the cats.

Cat Cafe

I enjoyed my trip to the Purr Cat Cafe, but I haven’t felt the need to go back since. It really is one of these mad things that needs to be seen to be believed! Bangkok is one of the cities where trends come and go really fast, and I worry that the Cat Cafe might be one of those. It’s easy to look after 14 cats when people are regularly coming to visit them, but what happens when the crowds and the money goes? I hope that the cats will still be looked after.

Bangkok Cat Cafe

Opening Hours: Tuesday-Friday: 11:00-22:00 and Saturday & Sunday 11:00-23:00
Address: Soi Sukhumvit 53 Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok, Thailand 10110
Tel: +66 2 108 3604

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.

Mandopop Chinese Restaurant Review – Bangkok

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Mandopop is a modern Chinese restaurant on Wireless Road, just next to the Dutch Embassy. As soon as I read about it (and saw the pictures of the neon dining room) I knew I had to go there. It opened in 2012 so it has taken me a while to get around to it, and as you can imagine my excitement at getting invited there for dinner one evening was palpable. The restaurant is walking distance from Ploen Chit BTS station and opens at 17:00, with Sunday brunch at the weekend.

The restaurant is on the grounds of the Oriental Residence, a beautifully chic hotel that envelops you in a perfumed world decked out in so much white and cream that I felt like a two year old with sticky fingers. Mandopop has a completely different vibe, more like a swish discothèque. In fact, from 19:00 they even have a DJ, but despite the restaurant’s name he doesn’t seem to actually play any Chinese pop music. Or if he does it sounds a lot less cheesy than K-pop and J pop…

Upstairs there is a long blue lit corridor that leads onto the private dining rooms, set up for the more traditional Chinese sharing meals around a circular table. Downstairs is a combination of high bar stools and some funky cow hide covered chairs. It feels more like a modern bistro than a Chinese restaurant.

The chef is extremely enthusiastic and I really admired his idea to present Chinese food in a different way using healthy ingredients.  We ordered the set menu, which comes in small portions and gives you a taste of all the different specialities on the menu, which is a great idea for those who want to try new things.

Sadly for me, the food was beautiful to look out, but the flavours just weren’t that wow. It was such a disappointment! Perhaps without all the greasy goodness Chinese food just doesn’t taste as amazing?

Set menu one starts with a Dim Sum platter and four individual portions. The spinach dumpling looks like a jewel on the plate, but the flavour of the prawn inside was nothing special. My favourite was easily the radish cake, a thick comforting slab with bacon bites inside. It’s sad when beautifully prepared food like this leaves you wanting a BBQ pork steamed bun from the 7 11.

Next up was the appetizers, three choices and definitely more flavour. This pretty trio included a lamb roll, crispy pork and cod fish. The pork was mainly fat, admittedly a tasty morsel, but that left you feeling a little like Jack Sprat’s wife.

They seemed to have a knack with fish though, with both portions of cod (why have cod twice on a set menu?) moist and flaky. The main course was served with a portion of fried vegetables and scallop noodles, personally I loved the slightly fishy chewiness of them, dipped in a hot stock, but my companion was non-plussed.

Dessert, a mango pudding with slices of beautiful but flavourless dragon fruit is hardly worth mentioning. I left feeling hungry and I won’t be returning to Mandopop. If you are going to risk it, I recommend the all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch, which at 1,200 is a bargain, especially considering a single plate of pan seared foie gras comes in at 459 baht.

Ground Floor Oriental Residence, 110 Wireless Road Bangkok
Sunday lunch : 11.30 – 14.30 hrs and Dinner daily : 17.00 – 24.00 hrs
02 125 9000 or 02 252 8001-5

I love taking a bath in the tropics

A few days ago I visited a hotel for a work review and when I was looking at the rooms I noticed that they all had baths. This is unusual, so I pointed it out to the hotel representative “Oh!” he exclaimed “Of course we have a bathtub in every room, we have many many Japanese guests. Japanese guests like to take a bath”.

If this is indeed an actual fact, rather than hotel myth, then hurrah for Japan! Despite living in a country where the thermometer frequently hits the high 30s, there is nothing I love more than a hot bath when I’m feeling unwell or stressed. Sure, I sometimes feel a little faint from all the heat, but when I eventually cool down, I always feel much better. Obviously somewhere in my fuzzy brain there is a association between baths and comfort, a little slice of cosy that is impossible to find in Bangkok’s air-conditioned interiors.

Of course bubbles are great fun, but the reason that baths are so exciting is because here in Thailand, having your own tub is a HUGE deal. Many flats in Bangkok don’t have  them, so when we were looking for somewhere to live last November I was excited to find a one bed with a proper bath. In fact it may have swayed my decision to pick this flat, despite what I tell people about the extra window in the living room… Who cares about light, if I keep the blinds open during  the day it’s like a greenhouse and I have close them again at night to prevent any weirdos/neighbours looking in.

What I need in Bangkok is a bath!

It’s a bit of a pain in the mornings as the shower is over the bath and the boy has stubbed (well, he claimed it was broken…) his toe clambering over the edge to have a shower. Some people think it’s mad, and can’t appreciate the joys of fancy bubble bath, and others think it’s a bit gross to hang around in your own dirt for half an hour. I just tell them about grandfather used to bathe in disinfectant – although I am not sure if this helps me look sane or just makes people think that craziness runs in the family.

As my bath is not very beautiful, I will share a picture of one in Hotel Muse in Bangkok:

I hope that one day I will also have an Adams Family inspired bathroom like this.

I think a lot of expatriates bring a habit, or item from home that does not quite fit into their new surroundings. I’ve seen men on the sky train in tweed jackets and watched people countdown to their PG tips delivery. I packed so many things that I never used, tried and failed to keep up with British soaps and like to pretend that Bangkok is as easy to walk around as London, even when I am dripping in sweat and jumping over soi dogs. Sometimes a little taste of where you come from, however mad it may seem to other people is enough to keep homesickness at bay.