CURATED. In the last several years everything has become curated. It used to be that museums curated collections of say early Renaissance art or sculptures from early Etruscan times but now a days everything from the toiletries at the Courtyard by Marriott to the ice cubes at the latest trendy bar are “curated”. It’s time to stop misusing this word, give it back to the people it belongs to; museum curators, and use plain old English words to describe what we do in bathrooms and bars.
BUZZY. Last time I checked, the word “buzzy” might refer to the sounds of an insect flying around your head at night. But for some reason in the latest travel magazine parlance it means something like an “in place to be”. Now everything from a certain neighborhood in Bogota to a bar in Barcelona is “buzzy”! Please editors, get out the red pen and slash it from your upcoming articles.
BRINING IS OUT! Good cooking techniques are never out, unless of course someone at “The New York Times” decides they are. Will roasting or braising be “out” next year? I hope not. It’s time for Americans to stop following trends and recognize authenticity.
BOUTIQUE HOTEL. Can someone please find a new way to describe a small hotel with few services and quirky art stuck on the wall?! A boutique used to be a shop that sold unique women’s apparel. How and why did this simple word get stretched and mangled to include awful hotels all over the world? I think it’s time to think up some new adjectives to describe these institutions….maybe just use the star system of yore?
HIPSTER. While this group is not technically a food or travel trend, they seem so ubiquitous in the hospitality business that these folks actually a food trend! Perhaps I’m dating myself but when I was a kid, hippies were cool and unique: they wore their hair in all different ways, thought in odd ways and experimented in all sorts of things that made most of society very suspicious. But most of all they were politically active and cared about society and its ills. Contrary to this, hipsters all seem to look alike (how many dudes can wear the exact same beard), wear the same clothes ( if I see another plaid shirt I might freak out) and are studiously “trendy” from their bracelets to when they get married. In other words they are in no way “counterculture” and many of them seem less concerned with the world than in conforming to the latest style. Time for a re-think on this folks.
FERMENTING. Here we go again...The great Redzeppi, Emperor of gastronomy and Lord High Bishop of uber local has a new book on fermenting. Suddenly this ancient art, I think the Assyrians made beer at the dawn of civilization, is ultra cool. Why? Because the usual cavalcade of breathless food press is presently deeming it so. Okay, fermenting is great! I like beer, just like Judge Kavanaugh, I like pickles too and sauerkraut with my dogs. But please, just for once, let’s not make this into the “latest trend”!
CRAFT BEER. You know you’re really in trouble when things start being adopted by the corporate world. Craft beer is the ultimate marquis child of this phenomenon. Ask yourself, isn’t every beer made with some sort of “craft”? Even the most mainstream of beers are “created” by knowledgeable “craftspeople” to taste good. Or does adding eggnog or pumpkin spice to some weird concoction give it a higher level of class? I don’t think so. And what defines “craft” in the public’s mind? Corporate hype typically. Look no further than Sam Adams, perhaps one of the earliest “craft beers”. Is it no longer “crafty” since it long ago moved its massive breweries far from Boston or because it is now a major player in the beer market? I’ve got an idea, let’s just call it beer.
KITCHEN. Suddenly in the last couple of years I’ve noticed corporate chain restaurants incorporating the word “kitchen” into the name of their restaurants. One only has to spend a few days driving through the interstate suburban wasteland to see this hip new variety of marketing. Do the whiz kids of Madison Avenue really think they are hoodwinking the American public into believing there hundreds of outlets are really embracing “real” cooking in a real kitchen? Well maybe I shouldn’t ask this question, but to most folks it probably sounds kind of hip and cool while crunchy and authentic at the same time. The problem is, I can almost guarantee you that said “kitchen” is a bank of microwaves where one or two white boys oversees a flock of brown people defrosting processed food of the highest order created and shipped to the “kitchen” from a central “factory” commissary. Perhaps, they could rename these new joints something like “Factory and Bar” or Processed Food Defrosting Center and Craft Beer Lounge! Okay, maybe I’ll never get hired on Madison Avenue.
THE SWOOSH. For a number of years now the “swoosh” of some sort of usually vegetable purée, has become ubiquitous in restaurants and cafes trying hard to be hip and trendy. Some sort of fish or meat is frequently placed atop said swooosh and then this is often finished of with a minuscule drizzle of some sort of paste or oil. This paste or oil seems to always have an obscure name, that ninety five percent of the dining public has never heard of: but then, of course isn’t that the point? In most cases the protein perched on the swoosh is soft and when pushed into the swoosh the result is mushy combined with mushy and since there is no real sauce, result is a monochromatic mush pile! Please fellow Chefs, let’s start making sauces again that people like to eat and get rid of the swoosh!
DECONSTRUCTING Over the last decade we have witnessed the deconstruction of virtually every classic and well known dish in the international lexicon. We’ve sat through meals that showcased the ingredients of famous curries dried and resurrected before our eyes, desserts that were freeze dried, crumbled and carefully strewn across plates, even a gazpacho soup in which each ingredient was either dried or jello and one had the sublime pleasure of mixing it back together yourself! Enough with the cleverness; let’s just make a great curry, pavlova or soup and allow everyone to eat the food without pretense and theater.
Okay, it’s a long way to Thailand and its capital Bangkok from the continent of North America. Is it worth it if your time is limited? In our book definitely yes! Even if you don’t have a ton of days, with good planning, you can have a blast in The City of Angels in a week. And if you have another week or so you can easily add a visit to the beach and say the ruins of Angkor in Cambodia or the city of Chiang Mai in the north of the country.
Think of it this way, the region is a lot like New England...once you get there, everything is very close together. And unlike New England, South East Asia is linked by a plethora of low cost carriers. Now, unless you’re a college student or on a strict budget, we recommend springing for business class tickets. Yes, the difference in price is substantial on any carrier but if you spend the trip in misery and the first three days of a twelve day trip upside down in jet lag Hell, why bother taking the trip? We always ask what is your time and health worth? Remember, door to door from the east coast to Asia is probably going to take about thirty two hours in transport and waiting. You will cross four time zones and spend at least sixteen hours in actual flight time. Also if you are in frequent flyer programs you can look into free tickets or the potential of upgrades. Remember you can contact the various members of an alliance as different members, other than your primary carrier, often have different deals. in the end, do you really want to be crammed in coach? Yes, we did it time and again when we were kids and it wasn’t even pretty then!
Just about all the major carriers fly to Bangkok. From the east coast of the U.S. it’s just about the same to fly through Europe as it is to fly west over Alaska and Siberia. Sometimes it’s fun to break your trip, in say Hamburg flying via the Star Alliance member Lufthansa. Explore the city for the few days and then take your second leg to Bangkok which is a direct nine hour flight. The only problem with flights from Europe to Bangkok is they normally arrive in the morning, and then you have the challenge of staying up all day to avoid terrible jet lag. There is also the issue that some rapacious hotels that will charge you for a room for the previous night if you want to move in in the morning. Flights on say United, to Bangkok going the other way typically go through Tokyo where you will have a layover but will not need to go through customs. Flights from Tokyo normally arrive in Bangkok around midnight, which isn’t too bad as the traffic will be light and you’ll be able to be ensconced in a comfortable bed before 2:00 am. Of course you can also break the flight in Tokyo as well and explore another of Asia’s most vibrant cities.
STAYING IN BANGKOK
Yes, Bangkok is a daunting city, but there are many, many things about it that make it well worth the visit. First off, the hotel scene is one of the best in the world hands down. There is so much competition that even the most famous and luxurious places are very reasonable compared to other major metropolitan destinations and the service level in most of these places is impressive. Any quick look at the usual booking engines like Booking.com, Expedia, etc. will reveal that just about every major chain has a stake in the city, but here our a few of our favorites.
Set in the embassy district this low rise smaller hotel in the land of high rises, is surrounded by six acres of restful quiet gardens which are truly an oasis in this crazy city. The rooms are spacious, well kept but slightly dated. For example it’s a bit difficult to find a plug in the room to charge your cell phone. But this being said, the hotel is obviously undergoing a thorough renovation and the huge state of the art gym, a blessing for fitness fanatics and the newly renovated pool area are fantastic. Breakfast is impressive and the bar, though sleepy, is one of the best places in the city to get an actual, properly made cocktail rapidly.
This is the most famous joint in town, set along the Chao Phraya river it really is one of the jewels of the Orient. Kings, queens, authors and movie stars have all stayed here and happily on a number of occasions so have we. This place never rests on its laurels. The flowers alone in the spectacular lobby, where the Thai glitterati are to be constantly observed, will blow you away. The service level is some of the best in the region and with butlers on every floor, your room will be beautifully refreshed every time you step out. Deluxe rooms are not vast, but are elegantly appointed and up to date. Lunch and breakfast are served outside alongside the river and it is a pleasure to watch the activity of the river as well as the beautifully clad and efficient staff move about the crowd. The fitness center is a quick (and fun) boat ride across the river and it’s staff will happily give you a vigorous work out if you are up to it. Just don’t leave anything lying about: my cool new sandals disappeared in minutes from the locker room when I stupidly left them unattended! Now, if you’re looking for a fast young crowd to hang out with, this is not the place! The clientele tends to be fairly stuffy wealthy Europeans and Americans. But, if your’re feeling like a trip to an age of almost forgotten elegance, pack your new suit and tie and the cool Italian shoes and dine with the rich folk at the hotel’s and the cities best French restaurant Le Normandie.
Now, if you are looking for hip, head directly to the So. Prices over the last few years at this trendy place overlooking Lumpini park have gone up and up, but if you want to party with the pretty people this is the place. We recommend staying on the club floor, as it actually, will add a lot of comfort and value to your visit. The club itself has a great balcony area overlooking the city where you can enjoy a complimentary glass of Champagne or a pretty decent cocktail served by a charming and gorgeous staff. The food in the club is the best in the building so don’t bother with the other food venues. The standard rooms here are a bit cramped, so we’d suggest opting for their So club studio rooms. But, conversely the suites, though huge are divided awkwardly and unless you plan on throwing a party are hardly worth it. The pool is set spectacularly located overlooking Lumpini park. Be forewarned or get excited depending how you look at it, they hold a Las Vegas style pool party most Saturdays and the area is wall to wall fashionista wannabes, beautiful people and drunk hipsters. The fitness area joins the pool and though small is adequately equipped.
The Banyan Tree
Literally next door to the Sukhothai, The Banyan Tree is one of the strangest buildings in this land of odd high rises. When viewed from outside, the building looks like it’s ten feet wide and one hundred stories tall. But then this is Bangkok, and kooky is in! When booking a room here be sure to book on a high floor as lower floors not unlike high rises in New York, can look on the back of another building rather than at the spectacular view you had expected. The rooms here are all large, in fact most are small suites and are very reasonably priced! The decor is comfortable and luxurious but some rooms are a bit faded if well kept. Unlike the So, the club floor is not worth it as it is large and frequently overcrowded. The pool is pleasantly located on about the twentieth story above the city and is a great place to cool down after a day out sightseeing. The gym is fairly large and adequately fitted out. The highlight of this hotel is the rooftop bar, Vertigo , which affords panoramic views of the city. Even if you’re not staying at the Banyan Tree, be sure to grab a sunset beverage at the bar. A few words of caution though, it can get crowded and drinks can take a long time to get. Do not waste your time and money eating there as the food is poor,radically expensive and there are tons of places within walking distance that are far better!
At the next door Metropolitan hotel is the Michelin starred Nam, which the former Chef and cookbook author, David Thompson, put on the world culinary map. He has left the restaurant now but the tradition of phenomenal cooking is continued by Pim Techamuanvivit. On our three visits there under Thompson's reign, the food was always interesting. Be sure to book months in advance as being a guest at the hotel does not in any way guarantee you a seat at Nam. We found though, on one occasion, that the customer count was not quite in keeping with the hype, and we were easily able to walk in without reservations even after we were told they were fully committed! Now, about the hotel! If you are slinky and frequent uber cool places in Brooklyn and black is is your favorite color, then this is the place for you. The thuggish doormen set the tone at this ode to sixties modern edifice, making you feel as if your’re entering a $1,000.00 dollar a bottle nightclub in Miami, rather than a hotel. The rooms are clean and minimalist modern and the actual bar is equally cold and dark. The pool though beautiful is frequently in the shadows. In general our feeling about this place is that it’s trying too hard and just “too cool for school”. But then, the rates are lower and lower for a hip hotel in a great location.
The Shangri La,
Balanced somewhere between the ultra hip of the So and Metropolitan and the old world snobbery of the Oriental, is the Shangri La, is just a sweaty walk down the winding allies along the river from the Oriental. This large, stylish hotel is a great place to locate on a first visit to the city, as its setting is pleasant and one can easily walk to the Sky Train (more on this later), which gives a visitor speedy access to much of the city. On our first visit to Bangkok we stayed at the Shangri La and one of my favorite memories is sipping gin and tonics, at the hotel’s riverside bar watching the boats go by while listening to a terrific Filipino band. The fitness center here is large, well equipped and happily not in the basement; in fact it also has a stunning view of the river. The neighborhood surrounding the hotel was pretty much a wasteland decade or so ago, but happily this has begun to change with fun coffee shops and trendy boutiques popping up all over.
EATING IN BANGKOK
One of the best reasons to go to this part of the world is the food and Bangkok is one of the jewels in the crown of the region. It is fair to say however, that “restaurant culture” as we know it in the west is a fairly recent phenomenon here. Up until twenty years or so ago, fine dining restaurants, as we think of them, did not really exist outside of hotel’s in the capital. Of course there were cafes, noodle houses and the ubiquitous street food, but free standing trendy restaurants no. Happily this has changed with young Chefs and restaurateurs opening new places on every corner.
Okay, everyone talks about the street food of Bangkok, even the government, which made a short lived bid to shut it down ar at least sanitize it recently. Happily people quickly rejected the government’s foolishness, and the haphazard way of serving food in glorious randomness continues. So here is the good advice about eating on the streets a Bangkok: plunge in and try it, but remember to only eat things that you see being cooked; ie. boiled, fried or grilled in front of you. Also look for places that are busy, and are “turning” the food rapidly. Take a look at the “look” of the stall too, is it neat and tidy the glass washed, the herbs and vegetables fresh?
The markets of Chinatown are a great place to sample a variety of street food, especially rice dumplings, but every neighborhood has a plethora of stalls. Check out the Pad Thai and roast pork in Soi (alley) 38 of of Sukhumvit Road Another local favorite is KOR MARKET on Kamphaeng Road for its curries and spicy sausage. Don’t be squeamish! You are going to sit on little plastic stools and you will breath in car exhaust, it will be hot and there will be odd smells and food you can’t quite identify, but I guarantee you’ll have a fun, exhilarating experience for almost no money.
A great alternative to street food, that is not quite as sexy and might not sound quite as adventurous when you get home, are food courts at the many major shopping malls dotted about the city. Yes, you read correctly, shopping mall food courts! They’re not what we think of at home. The food courts in the malls of Bangkok have some of the best food in the city, served in blissful air conditioning. Don’t take our word for it, when you’re there, look around and see all the Thai people enjoying a vast variety of not only Thai food from all parts of the country, but also cooking from throughout Asia. And, although you may not wish to shop for Zegna and Gucci items in the City of Angels, you will find the people watching at the food courts is some of the best anywhere!
The restaurant scene in Bangkok is dynamic and ever expanding. It’s important to bare in mind however, when booking a table here, that Bangkok is a huge metropolis and that “great little place” that you read about in a travel magazine might just be an hour away in a taxi from where you are staying. It’s good to plan strategically for the evening. If you want to start at a sky bar, then have dinner and then do a bar crawl after, it’s good to stick to the same general area. We’ve messed up in the past and spent much of the evening sitting in traffic hoping that “the latest, hottest, bee’s knees place” is worth three hours of pain!
So here are some of our favorite places in town. Remember though, that this is a ever changing market so take a look at the “Thai Tattler” when you get to town and ask about as to what the latest and greatest is at the moment!
Nam is Michelin starred and considered by many to be one of the best restaurants in the world. Now that David Thompson, the former Chef and founder of the restaurant has left after eight years, the jury is still out on whether Pim Techanuanvivit can fill his shoes. The restaurant has a pleasant if slightly unexciting dining room set in the aggressively mod Metropolitan hotel. Service tends to be friendly, correct and well informed. Booking a table is usually a pain in the neck, so if you want to go plan ahead.
This folks is a real locals place. If it were Paris in 1890, Khao Sa-Ard would be a bistro in the wrong part of town. The restaurant is set in a working class neighborhood and if you’re not Thai, you’ll probably be the only Farang (foreigner) there. Don’t let this or the giant T.V. playing “the game” or the stares from the other diners deter you. This place has been serving up some mighty fine family style Thai food since 1983. The founder has passed away now, but his son who might just take your order is omnipresent. Not only will the taste of the food thrill you, but it will undoubtedly be cheaper than a round of drinks at your hotel bar.
Namsaah Bottling Trust
Everything that you won’t find at the above mentioned neighborhood joint,you will find at this stylish bar and self proclaimed “gastro pub”. Something about this description doesn’t quite fit in our minds, as the place, set in an elegant turn of the century villa on a quiet soi (alley) near Silom, has food that is as sophisticated as many more formal places. There is a small patio set in a garden and a cozy bar on the first level. One feels as if you’ve entered the home of a fashionista or perhaps just a very cool bordello. Chef Ian Kittichai heads the kitchen and the super creative drinks are the brainchild of his nightlife guru partners Justin Dunne and Federico Meyer. Be sure to sample the one that is made with pea blossoms, as it is as pretty as it is tasty.
Another favorite of ours almost next door to the bottling trust, is Le Du. Contrary to the sound of the name, it’s not a French restaurant, (Le Du means “Seasons in Thai) but an Elegant and upscale temple to refined Thai cuisine. The decor is simple and comfortable with an open kitchen and low ceilings. This is a place to go and relax for a romantic evening away from the cacophony of the surrounding neighborhood. Chef owner Ton is an alum of some of our go to places in the U.S. including 11 Madison and the Modern. His skill and background are apparent in the four course tasting menu as well as in the ala carte. Despite the refinement and soothing setting the price compared to similar establishments elsewhere is very reasonable.
Now this place is definitely on the culinary map, and smack dab in the epicenter of the expat ghetto of Sukhumvit. In fact it’s being so well received that the Chef owners moved it from its original diminutive setting, down a rather notorious and racy soi (alley) to its present enlarged setting on soi 53 in 2014. Happily, little of the intimate quality of the original setting was lost, and it still has the feel of a traditional Thai garden home. Now a days, however, one needs to book ahead, and this is no quick bite place; the highly recommended six course menu will take you on a leisurely stroll through some refined and fun Thai cuisine.
La Table De Tee
Okay, it happens to even the most stalwart of serious eaters; occasionally one wants a break from the cuisine of the region and perhaps a bit of an escape. In this case, while in Bangkok, La Table De Tee is just the ticket. Set in an easy to find soi (alley) of Saledang road, it’s French cuisine won’t blow you away perhaps, but the cozy contemporary setting and the well prepared food is a nice antidote to the heat, both picante and calor! The wine list is very limited, so stop at one of the numerous wine shops in the nearby mall (adjacent to the Saledang Sky Train BTS station) and pick up a bottle of good wine: they will be happy to serve it to you for a small corkage fee.
For many years now Soul Food, located in Thanglor (one of the cities high end areas) and a short walk from the BTS Sky Train station, has been one of our favorites. The food is consistently delicious, brilliantly seasoned Thai food served in an unpretentious place that makes one feel like they’re in Soho, (only the foods better!). Scandalous as it may seem, the place is owned by an affable American former food writer named Jarrett Wrisley. But most folks are compelled with us to agree, that the food here is top notch and the clever cocktails match the quality of the delicious dishes. If you go in a larger group, We recommend booking ahead as it isn’t a huge place, and trying as many things on the menu as you can!
Making a big splash recently in the formerly gritty now trendy area of Talad Noi is Chef Napol Jantraget. His very reasonably priced food has been getting raves from locals and visitors alike. Pair this place with a visit to OUTLAW CREATIVE CUISINE and sample their charcuterie before dinner at 80/20.
EXPLORING THE CITY
It’s notorious for being confusing, it’s true; but with a little bit of prior planning and orientation, Bangkok can be navigable. Bangkok is not laid out on a grid and it’s buildings are typically covered with a myriad of signs. In addition sidewalks are a rare commodity, and where they exist they are normally covered with street vendors , cars, motorcycles etc. land here, is sold in long strips so much of what you may be seeking will be found in long allies called sois that are even more jumbled and confusing!
With the advent of the sky train and underground, however, it’s far easier to move about than years ago, and there is the added bonus that its cleaner with fewer cars and fewer pollutant spewing tuk tuks (motorcycles pulling a bench seat for hire). We recommend buying an actual old fashioned map of the city before going as it will give you a good idea of how the city is laid out. The typical tourist map passed out by hotels here, as everywhere, are designed (perhaps not intentionally) to confuse a visitor.
Taxis are ubiquitous and colorful coming in a wide variety of eye popping colors. Just like any city some drivers are great and honest, but there are always those that see the foreigner as a “mark” or may be high as a kite. Taxis all have meters and insist politely, that they use it unless you decide on a flat rate ahead. From the airport, the driver may ask you if you want to take surface roads or toll roads. Toll roads are faster but you will have to pay the toll in addition to the metered fare unless you have negotiated a flat rate ahead of time, about B400 to downtown. If it’s rush hour this can be a deal. Traffic can be horrendous and stoplights are endless, so plan accordingly and channel that inner monk spirit...if you can! Be aware that many cabbies don’t speak much English so plan ahead and have your concierge or a helpful friend write your destinations out in Thai. Yes, you can tip although locals typically don’t.
Don’t. Once plentiful and common these noise and pollution spewing items are dwindling in number quickly. We’ve found that most are on the lookout, especially near popular tourist areas, for greenies. The amount they demand will most likely be sky high and the ride fairly uncomfortable.
The first time we went to Bangkok we couldn’t understand why there were frequently gangs of tough looking dudes hanging out by motorcycles on every other corner dressed in a colorful vest of pink or yellow or green. A few enquiries, enlightened us, and it turns out, this is one of the most fun and not to mention convenient ways to make short hops around the city: that is if you’re a little brave! On one occasion when the traffic was at a standstill in our neighborhood and cabs impossible to get even if you wanted one, Mark and I took two motorcycles to dinner. Our guys may have driven down sidewalks and inches from huge trucks but they got us to our destination intact and on time; and I think it was the most fun we’ve ever had getting from point a to point b!
THE SKY TRAIN
One of the most enjoyable and pleasant ways to get around this crazy city is the BTS SkyTrain. These very modern and very air conditioned trains will whisk you around the city. Many if not all of the popular places for visitors are easily accessed by the Sky Train. Because the train is elevated it’s also a great way to see and get acquainted with this confusing metropolis. Buying tickets and figuring out stations and transfers is simple even for folks like ourselves who seldom use rapid transit. Most importantly, when the roads are at a standstill the SkyTrain will take you near to your destination in comfort. Six more lines are planned throughout the city, which will make getting around even easier in the near future.
There are regular commuter boats that ply the Chao Phraya River that have the livery of a crispy cream doughnut! Ask your concierge where to get on and off these boats. You can also hire a long tail boat to take you to destinations along the river. Just be forewarned that they are noisy and you may get sprayed by the foul water of the river. This being said, a boat ride is a fun way to see another aspect of the city and is sometimes the best way to get to more out of the way destinations such as the Museum of Royal barges.
A quick Google search of Bangkok attractions immediately make one realize that there is a lot to see in this burg! Below are just a few of our personal favorites. Sightseeing and shopping in this city can be daunting as it’s always HOT and humid. Moreover this is no small town and getting around unless you plan well, can find one wasting hours just getting to one place. If you’re going to one part of the city plan to cluster your visits. For example if you want to go to the Chatuchack Weekend Market, take the SkyTrain and on your way back to the center of town stop at Siam Paragon and the Jim Thompson House, which are all on the same line.
In the last few years, with the rise of Chinese tourism around the world, Bangkok’s more famous attractions have become inundated. Because of this we recommend going to places like the Grand Palace early in the morning and on weekdays. And an aside, while visiting places such as temples and palaces it is important to remember that the Thai people respect a certain level of decorum. So dress in light clothing but leave the shorts and tank tops for the beach. Yes, I know you’ll see plenty of hairy armpits around the city, but if one takes a second look you’ll see that most Thai people wear appropriate clothing.
THE GRAND PALACE
Built in 1782 when the City of the Angels was established, and the seat of government until 1925, The Grand Palace is a must see for the first time visitor to the city. The stunning conglomeration of temples, audience halls and private residences is simply amazing. Much of the traditional Thai architecture is spectacular and the later edifices some which incorporated a wild hodge podge of western elements, are in themselves a fascinating comment of the changes that came to this ancient land in the 19th and 20th centuries. Be sure to see the Wat Phra Kaew, also in the palace grounds which houses the sacred Emerald Buddha.
VIMANMEK MANSION-DUSIT PALACE
Built in 1900 at the behest of King Rama V, this neo Victorian structure is constructed entirely of teak wood. In fact it is the largest teak wood structure anywhere. But what makes this a must see is the romantic atmosphere that helps one see the personal changes and “modernization” of the monarchy and hence Thai society at this crucial time.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF ROYAL BARGES
Tucked away on a klong (canal) off the Chao Phraya River, this seldom visited spot is one our favorite places. The Royal barges are taken out only for special occasions of state and are simply amazing. Getting to the museum is half the fun. Have your concierge assist you in arranging transportation by boat and your visit to the museum will open a window on this rarely seen part of the city.
Also on the other side of the river from the Grand Palace, but further south in the Thonburi district is the impressive Wat Arun. The temple complex is the oldest wat (temple) in Bangkok. The central stupa is clad entirely in gold and surrounded by a beautiful array of out buildings made more compelling because of its placement along the river.
CHATUCHACK WEEKEND MARKET
As the name implies, this humongous market is only open on the weekends. So if you’re lucky enough to be in town over the weekend be sure to go. You won’t be alone, over 200,000 people visit each day! But then, there are over 8000 stalls to visit spread out over many many acres of land. Here you’ll find everything from antiques to modern art to boutiques displaying handmade clothes and specialty soaps. Oh and there are plenty of food stalls and cafes too!
SIAM PARAGON-CENTRAL WORLD
In this city of mega malls this one is the best. So if you’re still up for shopping after the market, stop here and stock up on Gucci and Armani! There is more to it though than foreign designer labels though; many Thai designers and brands are
represented here and the prices, relative to home, are pretty amazing. People watching here is also fun, as this is where the Thai upper and upper middle class shops. There are elegant matrons and young guys and girls in trendy clothes doing what kids do around the world in malls: flirt and strut their stuff! This is also a great place to catch a quick meal in one the several and extensive food courts.
THE JIM THOMPSON HOUSE
Down a pleasant residential soi (alley) near Siam Paragon, is the Jim Thompson House. This charming collection of traditional teakwood houses was created by the mysterious Bon Vivant-designer- CIA agent Thompson. The beautiful enclave that he created to be his home in 1959, gives the visitor a very special insight into the elegant lifestyle of this famed expatriate. The collection of Asian art is impressive and the tasteful melding of the modern and the antique to create this home, is a pleasure to see. Don’t skip the clothing museum which explains how Thompson help to revive the traditional Thai craftsmanship and showcases many gowns and dresses in his silk. The shop is fun too! If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by Bangkok, this is a good place to have a peaceful lunch overlooking the homes gardens and lily ponds. The food is serviceable but the beer is cold! Be forewarned though, this destination is definitely on the tourist trail and seems a bit overwhelmed at times
M.R. KUKRIT’S HERITAGE HOME
For an antidote to the hordes of people at the Thompson House, head to the almost forgotten Kukrit home. Near Lumpini Park and an easy walk from the BTS Sky Train Chongnansi Station, this home is well worth a visit. Kukrit was briefly a Prime Minister in the early sixties, highly educated, an art collector and a member of Thailand’s elite. His home, not unlike Thompson’s, is a collection of traditional Thai structures, elegantly modernized set in a lovely garden complete with a discreet swimming pool and boat like outdoor bar! This is an intimate window into a learned man’s life and into a forgotten era and lifestyle.
After all the mad urban crush of Bangkok, peaceful Lumpini park surrounded by the cities most expensive Real Estate, is a welcome respite. Here you’ll find on early mornings the locals practicing Tai Chi and athletes jogging. Frequently there are also colorful fairs setup here to promote Thai culture. After a walk in the park, stroll across the street and enjoy a cool beverage in the Dusit Thani Hotel which, when built in the early sixties, was the city's tallest structure. Dwarfed today by the surrounding high rises, it is also a window into the rapidly modernizing Thai world of the 1960s.
BANG RAK AND TALAD NOI
In the last few years, the districts of Bang Rak and Talad NOI, have emerged as some hippest areas of the city. Much of what makes up these districts is still pretty grubby with lots of chop shops and auto repair places. But the low rents have lured a new crop of chefs, designers, artists and musicians and they in turn have created a new crop of cool places to visit. THAILAND CREATIVE & DESIGN CENTER which opened in the former Grand Post Office building has a gallery and multi level design library. SPEEDY GRANDMA, is partially a gallery and frequently turns into a party pad.
Obviously Bangkok is famous and notorious for its nightlife. Being out on the town in this city is well worth the plunge. If you’re a bit squeamish about going out for your first time and don't know the city well, have your hotel arrange a car and driver for you. Your driver will wait for you at every venue and assist you in finding some of the out of the way bars and nightclubs that maybe hard to find.
We recommend starting a night out with sunset drinks at one of Bangkok's many sky bars. Three of our favorites are: VERTIGO on top of the Banyan Tree Hotel which gives you a spectacular view from the center of the city, SKY BAR AT LUBEA STATE TOWER, a catastrophe of architecture that overlooks the river and was featured in a vodka ad for years and PARK SOCIETY at the So Hotel which overlooks Lumpini Park. These Sky bars really give you a great sense of the vibrancy of this sprawling metropolis. Prices also tend to be sky high and service numbingly slow in these establishments but the view will still make up for that!
This cool 1930s style bar opened in 2013 and continues to bring in the crowds. The entrance is behind thick curtains and you first have to walk through a noodle joint to get there. Don’t miss the private booths that are set in the old East India company’s bank vaults
THE IRON FAIRIES
Despite its name this is not a gay biker bar, rather it’s the epitome of young and hip in trendy Thang Lor area of the city. The atmosphere is rustic and sexy.
THE BAMBOO BAR
Some things just get better with age and the Bamboo Bar at the Mandarin Oriental is one of them. Remodeled in 2015 the classy colonial vibe is great and so is the jazz. This is a great place to end the night in style.
Located on Convent road just a short walk from the BTS Sala Daeng station, this quiet sophisticated bar is a classy place to start an evening sipping James Bond’s favorite martini
The huge club is popular with the young and well dressed college students and “Tupies’. There isn’t much of a dance floor but if you go with a group and buy a bottle you’ll enjoy a real Thai style experience of clubbing.
Ranked by “DJ Magazine as one of the best clubs in the world, this is an immense place with room for over 2000 people. The dance floor is huge and the LED screen is pretty cool too. There are lots of dressed up locals here and it’s just a great scene.
Bangkok’s gay nightlife centers around the Silom District, with most bars in two tiny sois (allies), Silom soi 2 and 4
Start...or finish the evening at this long time favorite. The bar spills out into the alley and is a great place to watch all the wild and wonderful walk, strut and glide by.
Another old favorite along soi 4, this is a casual and pleasant place for an inexpensive cocktail or beer. Check out their cabaret nights which are pretty cute.
This place is still the best gay dance bar in town. Set on three levels that overlook the dance floor the place is always crowded and always fun with a great mix of foreigners and local folks
FORK AND CORK
This place, which was formerly known as Sphinx, and is a great place to get serviceable Thai food in a very comfortable atmosphere on soi 4. It’s definitely a good place to relax before plunging into the club scene
GAY NIGHTS AT MAINSTREAM BARS
Many of Bangkok’s hippest clubs have “gay nights”. Top of this list are MAGGIE CHOO’S on Sunday’s and CE LA VI on thursdays.
To check out some of Bangkok’s hottest new venues, head to Soi Nana in the south of Chinatown. The bars are all pretty gritty and have an edge...but isn’t that part of the fun?! Some of the top places are,TEENS OF THAILAND, TEP BAR , PROJECT 189,and 23 BAR & GALLERY. Also, in “The Creative District” check out SOUL BAR AND SPEEDY GRANDMOTHER.
THOUGHTS AND ADVICE ON A NIGHT OUT IN BANGKOK
On a side note about drinking in Thailand in general, despite The menu choices, and despite the new crop of trendy hipster bars, the actual concept of “cocktails” remains a bit of a challenge. If you want a typical American strength drink we’d recommend asking for a double. Your server might be shocked, but you’ll get a real drink. Martinis also present a special problem, with the request for a “dry” martini frequently leading to more “Dry Vermouth” being added. We suggest asking for Gin or Vodka on the rocks. You will often see Thai people with a bottle of Johnny Walker Black and mixers on a side table. You will also frequently notice that a group of guys ostensibly out to”party” will nurse said Scotch for hours and then return it to the bar where it is kept under their name for the next visit. Many locals also order their beer with ice in it. As it’s always blasting hot in Bangkok, try it this way, you may like it and anyway, “when in Rome”.....
You don’t need to be afraid to go out in Bangkok. It is a safe city by and large. This being said as with any city and perhaps because it’s even more confusing in physical layout than many, it is important to keep your wits about you. Use your common sense and stay with your group of friends.
Standing in the Louvre Abu Dhabi, I looked down and got a shock. Placed in the glittering white floor of the first exhibition hall set in silver were the names of places throughout the world in all different forms of writing. The shock for me was to see that the obscure fjord Hardanger in Norway where my ancestors lived for literally a thousand years, was placed directly next to the characters for Beijing where I lived and studied for a year. Okay, it was weird, but it brought home to me, like a lightning bolt the very mission statement of this incredible museum.
Abu Dhabi is an island city set just below the strategic Straits of Hormuz, has been for two millennium at the crossroads of the world. The Louvre Abu Dhabi, far from being a slavish reproduction of its Paris sister, is actually a fascinating paean to the intertwined nature of our world society. This museum’s spectacular architecture is just the outside wrapping of what is delivered to you as a tour de force journey from Neolithic times to modern, shining a beacon on how our cultures have continually influenced, changed and interacted with each other. One feels as if one is walking through a brilliantly told story of world history through art. And it is is a story that begins with a floor that made it feel deeply personal to me.
And that’s just the beginning of what makes Abu Dhabi a fascinating place to visit. First off, let’s get one thing clear: many of us in the West are a bit confused about Dubai vis a vis Abu Dhabi. They are NOT the same place, although they are each one of the seven members of the United Arab Emerites (U.A.E.) and Dubai, though the richest emirate (and that’s really saying something), is not the capital of this federation, Abu Dhabi is. Abu Dhabi is NOT “the one with the palm tree island and the world’s largest indoor skiing hall, though it does have its share of monumental environmental debacles and fabulously garish building projects! It’s Emir, an absolute monarch, as are all the leaders of the UAE, is traditionally the leader of this hugely rich federation.
Now that we’ve gotten the facts down we can focus on what makes this an amazing place to visit. Well, first off, any visitor will realize where our gas money has gone for the last sixty years and it’s not in a small part to these tiny countries! Abu Dhabi is a city of glitz and glamour, elegant avenues and sleek skyscrapers. Visiting this city is a bit like going to that fabulous French restaurant and really throwing caution to the wind, ordering everything from foie gras to the Gran Mariner soufflé….did I forget the cheese course?
Start with the Louvre. As I’ve already waxed eloquently on this subject, I’ll just say if you see nothing else in this place see this museum; enough said. Afterwords, jump into a cab. They are plentiful, cheap and blissfully air conditioned. The driver, who will most likely be a guest worker from India or Pakistan, will be a introduction to the dynamics of this opulent society. Natives here certainly don’t drive cabs or for that matter do any menial work, foreigners do. A drive along the Corniche is in itself is a “site to visit” in this town. As one glides along this elegant boulevard which is lined with parks and flowers it is hard the square it with photos of the area a few decades ago, which show a desolate hardscrabble town set in a bleak dessert. The beaches along the boulevard are immaculate and segregated into families, male and female and general. I guess it’s “take your pick”!
A visit to the Emerates Palace, a spectacularly over the top hotel along the Corniche, is another must here. Just driving up to the Arabia meets Baroque meets Hollywood meets Las Vegas porte cochere is a kick. Here you will find a cavalcade of young local guys dashing about and alighting from there Lambos, Bentley’s and assorted other cars that cost more that most Americans homes. And yes, they they are wearing Abaya and yes there is something about Arab guys that’s pretty romantic. A walk inside introces one to more gilt and marble than a Roman Emperor ever dreamed of. After passing through what seems like acres and acres of grand halls, that would make Cecil B. Demill a happy camper, we finally emerged at the back gardens where we found the lovely Mezlai restaurant. This place is an oasis of old fashioned Arab style comfort and Emirati cuisine. A great selection of meze and delicious fruit drinks (yes there is no alcohol served here) was followed by perfectly prepared sautéed local fish. For desert though, we returned to the grand cafe of the hotel where one can have one of the”must do” Abu Dhabi things, which is of course a gold encrusted cappuccino for $25.00 dollars: with all this gold about why not drink it too!
After treating oneself to one Emirati destination, cross the street to another, The Etihad Towers and take the elevator to the 74th floor observation deck 300. From here one has the most magnificent view of the entire metropolis. Spread out below you is a amazing city created with the wealth a petroleum the engenuity of the few and the backs of guest workers! If one feels up to it descend to the street and take another cab to the dazzling Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It is an amazing place of glittering white marble that was built to rival all the other glittering grand mosques in the region. For one, it can be a good place to contemplate the role of religion and money in the region.
Of course there is much more to see and do in Abu Dhabi, the AD History Museum and Aquarium, Qasr Al Hosn Fort a World Heritage Site and the Mangrove National Park to name but a few. But, the above sites gives one a tremendous, heady insight into an important world that most of us hardly know. So even if you only have a day in this amazing city, as we did, you can have quite the experience and help yourself to big helping of new insights into this influential and fascinating part of the world.
If you live in New England or Maine, as Mark and I do, one of the best possible getaway trips available is a jaunt to the historic city of Quebec. Within a few hours you can be out of the U.S.and in a land that though familiar in all the best ways is also romantic and a touch exotic. The style is different, the language different, the look of the buildings, the things one discovers in shops and even the look of the people is different. All this in a road trip, without getting near the hassles of the modern airport!
Okay, you can fly to Quebec, but for many of us, why bother? If you live in the Boston or Portland area you can easily take the plane to Montreal and transfer to for a short hop to Quebec. But even if you live near these flight hubs, you’ll still have to get there early, go through security etc, etc. for us it was a blast to jump in the car (preferably something fun to drive) and take interstate 93 through New Hampshire and Vermont. This great smooth highway takes you to 91 which is also a pleasant freeway and it takes one right to Quebec City. The scenery on the way is gorgeous and the traffic is reasonably light. On our return to Maine we returned via Jackman on route 202, which is equally as pretty but I wouldn’t recommend it in a sports car. The road is so jarring for the first 20 miles over the border, that you begin to wonder if our government has completely forgotten about our country’s roads!
Now, one other word of advise, you do need to bring your passport! The Canadian border crossing was pretty easy, but our overly officious U.S. border control guard couldn’t figure us out and really put us through the third degree. Why had we gone to Oman? Did we work in Syria? What were we doing in Jordan? She opened our trunks and went through all our luggage. It was almost comical except it took some time! Nothing was slipping by this guard!
Quebec is a terrific walking City with great shopping, great historical sites at every turn and of course there is great food galore. There are plenty of little trips outside of the city if you want to get into the car out again, but for us there is plenty to do and see in two days here that we never needed to bother the valet.
On our arrival night we strolled down Rue St. Paul which is lined with charming galleries and antique shops to a hip new restaurant called Rioux Pettigrew. The feel of the place is Soho meets the northland and the cuisine with twists featured fun interpretations of French Canadian fare. Our waitress who turned out to be from Normandy and was touring the world over a two year period with her girlfriend, instantly switched to English and guided us through the menu and wine list. First night, and already we were on a roll.
We’ve visited Quebec a number times and by far our favorite place to stay is the Auberge St. Antoine. Nestled along the waterfront in the lower city, this Relais au Chateau property is pretty close to perfect. Although set in the oldest part of the city (and that’s pretty old!), its rooms are warm and modern complete with sumptuous bathrooms, private terraces and small fireplaces. Ask for a room on a high floor with views of the Chateau Frontenac. There is a small well equipped gym (which is a bit dark and gloomy unfortunately and comes complete with a set of totally unnecessary birch trees, leaving one wondering why hotel designers are always trying to make their fitness centers look like nightclubs). This aside however, the rest of the common areas are great. There is a pleasant and well stocked bar which is a nice place to start your night with some champagne and oysters and the dining room is quite pleasant as well. But what really makes this an amazing experience is the expert concierge staff that will go above and beyond to make your stay a really fun adventure.
On our first day. We retraced our steps down Rue St. Paul, stopping at the farmer’s Market on the way to the trendy shopping street of St. Joseph est. the great thing about the shopping on this street is you won’t encounter the usual retail stores that you find in the U.S. Most of the stores here are unique to the city with a few exceptions such as the Vancouver shoe designer Fluevog. A real special treat on this avenue is Lucie Cote Cuisine which is a first rate kitchen store featuring handmade Japanese knives beautiful china and pottery and an array of other dining room and kitchen stuff that has a contemporary European style not often seen south of the border. I won’t go into details as we got a bit of a bum steer with a recommendation for a new place that had all the problems of most new places. The one saving grace at lunch was the super friendly staff. In fact we only encountered the most friendly of people throughout our visit. The Québécois could definitely give some of our countrymen classes in manners.
After lunch we headed up the hill through the bohemian part of town on Rue St. Claire. Everywhere in this area are colorfully painted homes, funkily decorated doorways and cool views. The top of this street brings one to St. Jean street which is another fun, if slightly less refined shopping area. If there is a gay area in town this seems to be it. The Hobbit restaurant appears to be a pleasant local and mixed cafe and further down the street Le Drague, the local big gay bar has decks opening onto an ancient church, park and boneyard. One wonders if there is some spinning in graves when the drag shows go off!
We headed back through the ancient gates of the upper city and meandered about in its winding streets. One feels like they are in an outdoor museum, as at every turn there is another amazing edifice from seventeenth century homes to Baroque banks and even deco skyscrapers! We also encountered increasing large groups of Canadian school children out on field trips and Chinese tourists. This area isn’t quite ground zero for tourists but it’s pretty close! We encountered the actual ground zero as we headed down the hill to the lower town. Here Rue Du Petit Champlain is to be found,with its shops bars and cafes overwhelmed by tourists from every nation on earth! Actually it’s kind of fun, at least for a short while, to watch these throngs, and one certainly doesn’t need to worry about speaking French properly! Escaping from the “gulch” we headed back to our hotel. After a fun day, the deep,hot tub and a little champagne were perfect to cure for sore feet.
Okay, I looked up the place where we had dinner that night and it sounded pretty weird. In fact I skipped over it because the name, L’ Affair est Ketchup sounded like a burger place to me….But everyone we spoke to said it was the “bee’s knees” and one of the hottest tickets in town...small and bohemian with a young ardent Chef and staff. Really? Okay, it sounded good to us! We Ubered over, and had a great great conversation with our Algerian driver. Quebec is definitely not a backwater anymore! Well L’ Affair estKetchup is not a burger place and it is bohemian complete with an itsy bitsy dining room chipped paint and a live hip local crowd having a blast. The menu is listed on the black board and our charming super efficient waiter carefully explained all of it. Sweetbreads cooked to perfection I’m in! Terrine of foie gras sounds good to me, octopus, why not? Pan roasted cod in a delicate sauce, followed by, slowly braised pork crisped to order was amazing and we couldn’t refuse a cheese course followed by a perfect pound cake. Guests here are free to choose their wine from the sideboard where it is displayed or the servers are happy to recommend wines by the glass to compliment every course. This is classic French food updated perfectly and served with skill. This is the sort of rare place where one feels like they are part of the cool kid set witnessing the beginning of a talented young chefs career!
On our last day we set out to explore another cool neighborhood of the city that centers around Avenue Cartier. This trendy strip is demarcated with what appear to be giant lamp shades that arc over the road and are decorated by various artists mainly with humorous or provocative themes. There are great housewares stores here as well as good food shops and gasp, even a Starbucks, but the real draw is the array of cafes, bars and restaurants that line the avenue. Many of these places have outdoor decks and are obviously good places to see and be seen. But the jewel in the crown of gastronomy in this neighborhood is Bistro B. This warmly modern restaurant with its glistening open kitchen that most chefs would give their eye teeth for (whatever eye teeth are) turns out consistently delicious and creative food. We can vouch for this as on our last visit to Quebec we had dinner here and it was excellent and so was lunch five years later. We recommend sitting at the kitchen. It’s fun to watch and the cooks are happy to suggest and prepare for you what’s best on the menu that day.
On our slow return to the old city from Cartier street, we strolled through the vast Parc des Champs-de-Bataille. Here one begins to really get a sense of the strategic position that Quebec commands and why the British and the French both struggled to control it. Scattered along the perimeter of this plain now tricked out with pretty flowers and sculpture are stout forts that remind one of this struggle. Half way along this sprawl we came to the hulking cement 1970s structure that looms over the city. At the top of this desecration of the city, posing as a hotel, sits a revolving restaurant no less! And yes believe it or not loads of people had recommended the restaurant (if a bit sheepishly). So we had to check it out and yes the restaurant called Ciel looks gorgeous and the views are amazing.
Heading further along through the park one reaches the battlements of the citadel. We walked along this impressive fort until we reached the Promenade des Gouveneurs which is a very fancy name for a terrific boardwalk which runs along the sheer cliffs just below the citadel. It is hard to even imagine how the English managed to climb these frightening cliffs in their attack on the city. Nowadays it’s a beautiful walk that brings one to the famed Chateau Frontenac Hotel. This is a great place to have a drink. The Hotel is meticulously maintained and thronged with conference goers and Chinese tourists. We enjoyed our drinks and congratulated ourselves on staying at the Auberge St. Antoine.