I didn’t post for a couple of days because we didn’t really do much of interest, and then when we did do some stuff – Hedgehog Cafe! Kayaking! Walking tour through a local market! – there was no time to post! We’ll try and do a couple of posts when we’re stationary in a couple of days. I really loved the market tour and want to get it ‘on paper’ before I forget what I did and ate.
Meanwhile … we caught a luxury bus to Chiang Rai on Tuesday, spent a night there and then caught another bus to Huay Xai in Laos yesterday. That can be a very confusing experience, so I’ll fill in more detail about how we did that later too.
And now we’re in Laos! We stayed at the Sabaydee Guest House last night – comfortable room and a very helpful owner who is organising our boat tickets for us. This morning we’re doing Day 1 of the 2-day ‘Slow Boat’ trip down the Mekong to Luang Prabang. It’s been pouring with rain here all night, so this might be interesting. And wet. Very wet!
We had some time before our afternoon flight to Chiang Mai on Tuesday, so we had another crack at visiting Wat Saket, theTemple of the Golden Mount. We checked out of our hotel and took our bags with us – one of the nice things about travelling light is that we can just take everything with us not leave it in hotels and have to collect it later. We hopped on another canal boat down to the Wat, but I wasn’t feeling very energetic so stayed with the bags while Greg walked to the top. He said it was ‘good’, but wasn’t enthusiastic enough to make me feel like I should do it. Back on another canal boat to the Skytrain line that connects with the Airport rail line. There’s a quirky restaurant called Hungry Nerds near Ratchathewi station. They serve salads, grilled meats, chips and all the wait-staff wear over-sized glasses. That confused me for a while because I kept thinking every waitress was ‘ours’ until I realised they were all bespectacled!
The airport train was very easy and it took far less time and cost a fraction of the taxi we caught when we arrived in Bkk. Lesson learnt – next time catch the train! We had allowed ourselves several hours, which meant a long wait at the airport, but rather that than miss a plane! The VietJet flight was fine and we used Grab again to get us to our apartment.
We’re staying in a 1-bedroom apartment in the Astra Condo complex, a very modern 2-building, 16-floor, 589 unit project that only opened last year. There are at least 3 floors of car parking and 2 of them are still being completed. We’re on the 6th floor and there’s a pool, gym, sauna and steam room on the 16th floor. The Shangri-La Hotel is next door. We found this place on Airbnb and you can see photos and more about it here
The apartment has a kitchen and washing machine, but while I may have had intentions of cooking here, the most I’ve done is pour yoghurt over my morning muesli! There are so many great food choices here that struggling with a small saucepan, tiny frypan and very few utensils seems pointless. The washing machine is handy though.
We haven’t done anything super-exciting in the 3 days we’ve been here. Walked a lot, eaten a lot, swum in the pool. There’s a (push)bike sharing scheme here and Greg took one for a spin a couple of days ago. Sam & Brianna gave us some recommendations – we couldn’t find the original Roti stall on Wednesday evening, but found one in the night bazaar. Yesterday we walked a 7km round trip to SP Chicken in Old Chiang Mai for rotisserie chicken, green papaya salad, stir fried vegies & rice and it was delicious. Last night we went back to the Night Bazaar to an outdoor food court full of stands offering what I think of as ‘the next generation of street food’ – Greg had a burger and ‘handcut fries’ which were slices rather than chips … so they could be shallow-fried in a wok rather than deep-fried. I had steamed prawn dumplings and a steamed bun filled with marinated chicken, with a coconut drink made of young coconut flesh, coconut water, coconut milk and ice. It was all delicious and I’m sure we’ll go back there again and try something different next time.
I like to follow fashion – not clothes, makeup, jewellery or interior design – and probably maybe more accurately termed ‘food fads’. In the Western world, it’s all about fermenting at the moment … sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, sourdough breads, yoghurt and other fermented dairy products and fermented drinks including kefir and kombucha. It’s not a ‘thing’ in Thailand at all – here they are putting ‘fibre’ and ‘collagen’ in everything from drinks to foods to skincare products. But wait! Yesterday on our walk back from SP Chicken, we detoured to have a look at the An Teak Hotel, where Sam and Brianna like to stay when they’re in Chiang Mai. And what did we see advertised at the hotel’s cafe but Kombucha! Unfortunately the cafe was closed so we couldn’t try some, but the truly delicious irony here is that Sam works for Mojo, a Willunga-based company that makes Kombucha!
Let’s catch up on our last few days in Bkk. We flew to Chiang Mai yesterday afternoon, so I’d better write down the Bkk stuff before I forget what we did.
When we were staying at the Sawasdee on Soi 8, we walked a minimum of 3kms a day – the hotel is 700 metres from Sukhumvit Rd and we walked up and down that stretch at least twice a day. I’m probably just trying to rationalise our decision to have 2 desserts each instead of dinner on Monday night … more on that later.
We took the MRT (different train system to the Skytrain) to Chinatown on Sunday, but a lot of it was closed because it was a national holiday to mark the 86th birthday of Queen Sirikit. Mother’s Day is also celebrated on August 12. We visited Wat Traimit Wittayaram Voraviharn Traimit Royal Temple to see the Golden Buddha, which sits 3 metres tall and weighs 5.5 tonnes. Wikipedia estimates it to be worth USD$250 million! Very interesting history including being covered in stucco for a couple of centuries and stored in a shed with a tin roof for a while.
I’d brought a pashmina with me to Thailand, but of course forgot to take it to the Wat that day. Women aren’t allowed to wear shorts in temples, but it’s okay for men. When we were at the entrance to the temple taking our shoes off, a flower seller told me I’d be okay in my almost knee-length shorts, but came over and tugged them down a bit, just to make sure! The Golden Buddha was very impressive, and the temple he’s in is gorgeous – hand-painted walls, beautiful floral arrangements.
We had lunch at Texas Suki in Chinatown – very large restaurant that specialises in steamboat cooking. Full of local families and a few farang white people. We didn’t do the steamboat thing, but just picked out a few things from the menu – dumplings, wonton soup, fried rice and black sesame dumplings in ginger soup for dessert. I’d seen them in a video and was keen to try them. They tasted a bit like a sesame seed version of peanut butter in a soft dumpling pastry and the ginger soup was very tasty.
We keep going back to Terminal 21 because there are so many food choices. Dinner on Sunday night was at a Thai place on the 4th floor, can’t remember what it was called, can’t remember what we ate. I probably had noodles, Greg probably had rice.
On Monday we went to Ikea! Caught the Skytrain to Samrong which is at the end of the Sukhumvit line, then got a Grab car to Ikea in the Mega Bangna Shopping Mall. The Ikea is incorporated into the shopping mall, and it was possible to just walk in and out of different areas without having to walk through the entire store … unlike every other Ikea we’ve ever visited. We had lunch there – Swedish meatballs, steamed salmon, Swedish apple cake. The shopping mall is huge and it was full of people shopping and eating.
I still wanted to try street food from either the omelet stall or the mushroom stall on Soi 8, but they were both closed when I went looking at around 4.30, so I got myself some Pad Thai (Thai noodles) and corn on the cob for Greg. Total cost 40 + 20 baht = AUD$ 1.70. Then later in the evening we went back to Terminal 21 to After You, a busy dessert restaurant. We had to wait for a table, and they only had 2 menus for the whole place, but we enjoyed what we had – I had affogato (ice cream with a shot of espresso to pour over it) and a Lavender-Lychee soda to drink, Greg had a warm just-baked choc-chip cookie thing topped with ice cream, chocolate sauce and more choc chips. On our way back to the hotel we found a food stall selling Thai roti – a thin layer of dough stretched out and cooked on a hotplate, then folded over either a banana (him) or an egg (me) and cut into bite-sized squares. The seller offered a variety of sweet toppings including chocolate sauce, condensed milk, something pink and some other kind of chocolate but we just had ours plain and they were delicious & cost less than $1 each.
Every morning we have breakfast at the hotel’s ground floor cafe. It is open to the street and my favourite table is by the low window boxes that line the edge of the cafe by the road. There’s a Thai eggplant growing there, and I like to check the progress of the fruit. The first morning we ate there, it had one fruit on it. Now there are 5 and they are growing fast!
There are at least 2 dozen street food stalls in our street, mostly up the Sukhumvit end. We haven’t tried any of them yet, but I’ve picked out a couple that I want to eat at … sometime when I’m not so full of all the other food we’ve been eating. There’s the Thai omelet on rice stall and the mushroom soup stall. The omelet stall doesn’t seem to keep long hours, but the mushroom soup lady works hard. We see her in the mornings, and one night she was wheeling her cart home when we were walking back to the hotel at around 8.30pm.
Yesterday we took Liam’s advice and caught an Orange flag ferry up the river to Nothaburi. We got a Grab car to take us to Saphan Taksin Pier. The Skytrain also goes there, but we wanted to see what it was like driving there. The roads were crowded and mostly slow, but our driver was excellent. When we got to the pier, a man tried to send us to the tourist boats, a reasonable assumption I guess, then pointed us in the right direction when Greg told him we just wanted to catch the ferry. There’s a huge assortment of river craft, ranging from very upmarket tourist cruise boats, hop-on-hop-off tourist boats, passenger ferries and ferries that just go across the river. The one we took went between Saphan Taksin Pier and Nonthaburi and it was packed full of locals and tourists but by the time we reached Nonthaburi it was just about empty. Most tourists got off at the Grand Palace or one of the temples along the way.
When we got off the ferry, we saw lots of stalls selling brightly coloured versions of the packing beads we call ‘ghost poo’, which we use when we pack boxes to send to customers. I bought the smallest pack just before we caught the ferry back to Bkk, it cost about 40c and after I’d handed my money over I said to the seller ‘Now, tell me what it is’. His reply – ‘Fish food’. Ha! It was worth the 40c for the laugh and the photo. We took a photo of it when we were sitting on the ferry and I watched a Thai guy looking at me. I’m sure he was waiting for me to start eating it! I left it on the ferry.
Nonthaburi has a large food market, lots of shops and lots of street stalls lining the footpaths. And lots of places to eat, of course. We found a little cafe that sold 6 different dishes – Greg had pork with rice, I had noodle soup, total cost $3. We wandered through the food market and found more things to eat – rice crispy biscuit things with caramel on top, little bananas on skewers cooked on a char-grill and multi-coloured dumplings – orange / carrot, yellow / pumpkin, green / spinach, purple / taro. I ate them so quickly I forgot to get a photo! The ferry back was less crowded & we got seats on what turned out to be the splashy side of the boat, but we dried quickly. The ferry trip took about an hour each way. We caught the Skytrain back to the stop near the hotel and rested up before dinner.
There’s a Korean shopping mall on the corner of Sukhumvit and Soi 12. Lots of BBQ and other restaurants, bars, shops and a dessert cafe. We had Korean barbecue at Jang Won, a 4-storey place that had private rooms on a couple of floors, but as there were only 2 of us we just got a table on the 4th floor. What feast! We ordered pork slices and beef bulgogi, which came with about a dozen little dishes of kim chi, pickled onions, sauces and other things. The pork slices came first, on a hotplate on a gas stove. The wait-staff were very attentive and at one point took the tongs away from me because apparently I wasn’t cooking the meat properly, or something. When we’d finished the pork, they took that hotplate and stove away and brought the bulgogi on different kind of hotplate on a stove. And then just left us to it, but this time we didn’t know what to do! We waited for someone to come back, but no one did, and eventually the Korean guy at the next table told us to stir it up and eat it before it burnt!
It was all delicious and cost a total of about $30. And then even though we really had eaten enough, we went to the dessert place and ordered 2 desserts which were huge! We should have shared one, and realised that that is what most people do after we’d sat down and looked at what people at other tables were doing. There was a group of 5 girls next to us sharing one dessert and when Greg went to collect ours, the young woman at the counter asked ‘how many people?’. We did manage to eat them both, though.
Toast is a ‘thing’ here – there are street food stalls that sell savoury and sweet fillings on thick pieces of toasted bread. The 2 desserts we had were both toast-based. 3 thick slices of toasted bread which are then assembled in a tower, covered or sprinkled with toppings and then cut into small squares. I commented to Greg that those desserts would have to be about as far away as possible from the sourdough bread I bake at home.
Before I launch into a food-filled monologue, I want to do a bit of cross-promotion for an Australian travel blog that we’re really enjoying.
My cousin Brodie and her family – husband Grant, 10 yr old son Sidney and 7 yr old daughter Meg – are doing a camping trip through outback Australia. They left Sydney a few weeks ago, drove across to Adelaide and caught up with us and my family, then headed north. While they’re away Sid is writing a blog and adding some really lovely photos of the places they visit. They were at Uluru a bit over a week ago when it rained , and saw The Rock with water flowing down it, something that very few people ever get to see.
On Thursday we visited Pantip Plaza, which used to be The Place for geeks to go and look at all the latest computer whizzery, buy software and computer games and generally just soak up the atmosphere in the multi-level Temple of Geekdom. Now, it’s all very quiet with many stalls and shops closed and not many people around. There was a very ‘girly’ shop on the first floor selling makeup and cosmetics and I figured that the girlfriends went there while their boyfriends shopped at the computer places.
Then we went to Victory Monument to find ‘boat noodles’ which are sold on a nearby canal. Another excellent tip from Sam and Brianna. There’s a little stretch along the canal known as ‘Boat Noodle Alley’ and we found Rua Thong, “Golden Boat” Noodle Shop. It was packed with locals slurping their way through assorted bowls of noodles, so we took a number and waited for a table. We really didn’t know how to order, so just picked out a couple of different bowls from the menu which offered a choice of 12 variation of dry noodles or noodles in soup. And then we had a couple more after that. I asked a waitress how the other tables had so many bowls and she waved her hand over the whole menu, so it seems like the proper way to order is to just get one of everything on the menu. Large groups would order multiples of the set of 12. So now we know for next time. At the end of the meal, they just count up the number of bowls stacked up – 12 baht / 50c each. We were the only Westerners in the place, which always makes me feel like we’re doing it right.
We had dinner at our old favourite Cabbages and Condoms in Soi 12, just a couple of streets from our hotel. We have visited every time we’ve been in Bangkok and went to one in Chiang Rai too. My mum recommended it as she and her friend had visited when they did a trip to Thailand in the late 90s. It was set up by a philanthropist to promote the Safe Sex message, and some of the profits are directed towards development programmes initiated by the Population and Community Development Association. At the end of the meal, they give out condoms instead of after-dinner mints, and there’s a gift shop that sells a range of condom-themed stuff in addition to some lovely things made by local craftsmen. Mum still has a drinking glass decorated with condoms!
Lovely atmosphere and good food – Greg always has the pineapple fried rice, I always have the Mee Krob fried noodles with prawns, and we had a few other things too – Miang Kham betel leaves topped with shallots, ginger, dried shrimp, toasted shredded coconut, lime and chillies, plus a stir-fried pork dish and banana fritters.
Greg has reconnected with a friend from Uni. Thanks to Facebook they are back in touch after 40 years! Liam and his partner spend quite a lot of time in Bkk, and he recommended a restaurant on the other side of the Chao Phraya river. So we decided to go there for lunch yesterday. We took 2 Skytrains, a Grab ride (the local version of Uber) then a bit of a walk down tiny lanes, got lost and misdirected a couple of times and finally found Bahn Phleon Dee restaurant on a canal. If we’d known what we were doing, it might have been easier to get there by canal boat … but maybe not with our non-existent Thai.
Wow, what a gem of a place to eat! Best food we’ve had here. Prawn cakes, fried rice with chicken and stir-fried prawns. But here’s the best bit – Greg put a photo of me sitting at a table near the water on Facebook, Liam saw it and used Facebook messaging to phone Greg from Bulgaria, and they had a long chat for the first time in 40 years! How cool is that?!
Liam gave Greg lots of good advice on places to go and things to do, so after lunch we visited the Royal Barge Museum which has a lovely display of current barges and fragments old barges, many of which were destroyed during WW2. It cost extra to take photos, so we didn’t. Here’s a Wiki article instead https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Museum_of_Royal_Barges
Next on the list was a visit to Wat Saket, the Temple of the Golden Mount. Built on a hill, it offers a great view of Bkk. We walked on a bridge back across the Chao Phraya river, then along a couple of canals, but by the time we got to the temple it was after 5pm, so we’ll have to go back another day. We took a canal boat from Phan Fa Lilat pier part of the way back to the hotel and the difference between catching a boat and catching a Skytrain was incredible, especially at peak hour. The canal boat was almost empty, and it was a great trip, where we got to see a part of Bkk that is only visible from the water. We got off at Prutnam Pier and joined the throng of people walking along Ratchadamri Rd to Chit Lom Skytrain station. Caught an absolutely packed skytrain – so full that at the next station the platform conductor wouldn’t allow anyone else onto the train!
We just walked down the road to one of the many restaurants for dinner. Det 5 – busy, noisy, entertaining and good food. I had prawn pad thai noodles, because there is no such thing as ‘too many prawns’. Greg had a burger and chips. It was a good end to a good day.
Now that we’ve been here for a day and a half, I really can’t think why it’s taken us 15 years to come back. Well, I guess we keep finding other places to visit and other things to take up our time, but it’s so nice to be here again.
We’re spending our week in Bangkok staying at the Sawasdee Hotel on Soi 8, Sukhumvit Rd. Sam and Brianna recommended it to us and it’s perfect. Quiet but not too far from all the action on Sukhumvit, nice room on the 6th floor with views down a tree-lined street, breakfast in the open-sided ground floor cafe. And cheap. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that we take the German view when it comes to accommodation – don’t pay a lot of money to sleep somewhere!
On our previous visits to Bkk, we stayed at the Somerset Hotel on Soi 15. It had originally been recommended to us by the travel agent we used to use, back in the day before booking everything online became the norm. The Somerset had been very popular in the 60s and 70s with soldiers on R&R during The American War as it’s called in Viet Nam, and while it did show some signs of ageing (don’t we all?!), we loved it all – the rooms, the breakfast, the huge luggage room where we could store excess stuff while we went off to other places, and the proximity to Sukhumvit Rd and the Skytrain. Unfortunately the hotel was demolished a decade or so ago and a new ‘concept hotel’ has been built in its place with rooms starting at AUD$120 per night. We don’t pay that much unless we have no choice.
The ‘soi’ roads I keep mentioning are side-streets off Sukhumvit Road. Even numbers on one side of the street, odd numbers on the other. It’s a good system and makes it easy to work out where things are.
We caught the Skytrain to Tesco on Sukhumvit Soi 50 yesterday morning. Only taking carry-on bags meant we needed to get a few things we couldn’t pack – some razors for Greg, for example, and a few other things including morning tea. It has taken us no time at all to get into the Thai mindset of wondering what we’re going to eat next … about an hour after we’ve last eaten!
We took our goodies back to the hotel, then went for a walk up Sukhumvit to see the places we remembered from previous visits – the Times Square shopping centre near the Somerset used to have a good internet cafe, but that has gone now that everyone has a smartphone, and the shopping centre has been renovated and spiffed up. A bit further up Sukhumvit is Terminal 21, which is about 9 floors of shops selling mostly clothes and food. We hadn’t been there before as it opened in 2011. Greg wanted to get a local SIM card from a phone shop on the top floor of T21, so we caught escalators all the way up and then all the way back down.
I was a bit excited to find Hawker Chan, whose original Singapore stall won the first Michelin star for a street food stall in 2016, and offers the cheapest Michelin-starred food in the world. We had lunch there – 3 dishes plus a can of soft drink cost a total of $11. Chicken & rice, chicken & noodles and crisp fried tofu. The food came quickly and tasted good, not huge serves but that was a good thing because we’d just eaten Hokkaido cheese tarts, kinda like little cheesecakes, and then probably went looking for something else shortly after lunch anyway, I just can’t remember what.
We wandered along Sukhumvit and down Soi 15 to where the Somerset Hotel used to be. The same cafe is on the corner of Sukhumvit, with the same framed pictures and certificates on the walls as when we wandered past and occasionally dropped in all those years ago. Georges, the tailor and luggage shop a bit down Soi 15 is still there. Greg finally got some shirts made there, after the guy out the front had pestered him dozens of times over our strolls along that street. He still has the shirts so they have worn well. Some are still in their original bags, so he probably doesn’t need to have any more made this time.
The Dream Hotel which replaced the Somerset is a lot more upmarket than its predecessor. We remembered that the Somerset had a hair salon on the ground floor, and that we never ever saw any customers there, the women just seemed to spend all their time doing each other’s hair. There’s a Hooters restaurant and a Sheraton Hotel on Soi 15, a bit closer towards Sukhumvit and they definitely weren’t there 15 years ago.
Then we walked along the other side of the road, back towards where we’re staying now. More fancy hotels where there had been vacant lots and street stalls, but some shops are still the same.
We wanted to visit one more place on this trip down memory lane. The last time we were here, I broke my arm a few days before the end of our holiday. I tripped up an unlit step in a cinema and fell onto my outstretched hand. My arm felt a bit sore, but I sat through the movie, and then through dinner. While I was sitting in the cinema I kept holding my wrist up to the light to see if there was the classic dinner-fork deformity of a Colles fracture, but it all looked okay. When we got back to the hotel, I thought maybe I should get it checked out, so Greg and I walked the 1.5kms from the Somerset to Bumrungrad Private Hospital on Soi 3. Even back then, it was fancy, but now it’s incredible! Much more like a 5-star hotel, with concierges, cafes & shops in the foyer and at least 3 multi-storey buildings full of clinics, wards and special medical departments.
As it turned out, I had broken my arm, but up near the elbow, not near the wrist. I had a plaster cast put on and we went back to the hotel in a taxi ‘cos the cast was very heavy! The next day I went back to the hospital and saw an orthopedic surgeon who took the cast off, gave me a sling and told me to see someone when I got home. The break healed well and I’ve never had any more problems with it.
Well, we’re not in Africa … yet. Greg has spent most of this year, and some of last year, building a camper on the back of a Toyota Landcruiser ute. We’re going to ship it to South Africa and plan to travel in it up the western side of Africa to Morocco. It’s a very long-term plan, we’ll travel for 6 – 8 weeks at a time, leave the camper somewhere while we come back home, then take up where we left off.
A couple of weeks ago we took the camper up to Burra for a few days to test it out and see what worked, what didn’t, what needed to be added and what needed to be fixed. We had a lovely time living in and out of it – there’s a small living section with bench seats on either side of a long table which folds down to become our bed. Lots of storage space beneath and above the seats, with a large separate storage area at the back of the vehicle which houses the fridge, jerry cans, tools, spare parts and other must-have items for an overland trip. We were able to drive it on unsealed roads, and had it set up in very windy and wet weather and it all worked well.
We had hoped to put the camper on a ship by the end of this month, but the end of November is looking like a more realistic departure date, which means that we won’t be meeting it in Sth Africa until late January/ early February
Seems like we can’t stay home for too long at a time, so we made a close-to-last-minute decision to come to Thailand and Laos for a few weeks. 10 days later, we’re back in Bangkok after a 15-year gap.
We’ve travelled in Thailand twice before – the first time, in 2003 I think, we brought a folding double kayak and did some paddling around the islands Koh Chang and Koh Wai, on the eastern side of the Gulf of Thailand. We also travelled north to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Sai on the Myanmar border, and spent a few days in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
The second time, at the end of 2004, we brought our kids and travelled again to Koh Chang, Koh Wai, Mae Sai and did a side trip to Ha Noi and Sapa in Vietnam.
This time we are travelling super-light – no kayaks, no camping gear and our kids don’t travel with us any more – nothing but carry-on bags and a couple of laptops. My bag weighs 5.5kg plus a ‘handbag’ (daypack) that weighed 1.5kg. Greg’s bag weighed 7kg and he’s got the laptop bag that weighs another 5kg. I kept on thinking I’d forgotten stuff, but we’ve been here 2 days and I haven’t missed anything yet. Plus, as I keep reminding myself, there are shops here. So many shops! And markets! And street sellers! The challenge will be to not buy stuff.
We mapped out a rough itinerary which looks a bit like this – a week in Bkk, a week in Chiang Mai, travel north east to the Thai-Laos border and catch a slow boat to Luang Prabang – that’s a 2-day trip, then a couple of days in Luang Prabang, the old Laos capital, then a couple of days in Vientiane, the new Laos capital, then home at the end of the month.
Come along with us for the ride if you want to. If yesterday, our first full day in Bkk is anything to go by, it’s going to involve a lot of eating and a lot of walking!