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.

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

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.

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?