Chatuchak Chaos and the Splendor of Cheap Massages

Chatuchak weekend market, the mother of all markets, is a sight to behold. With more stalls than one could possibly see in one day, there is no way to not get lost. Nancy Chandlers map is your best bet for trying to figure out where you are, but even with that good luck! The market consists of 60 large sections, each with a specialty. There are silks, silver, animals, kitchenware, hippie clothes (yes my Boot Chicks, I bought two hippie outfits!), craft supplies, wedding gifts, toys, used clothing, beads, leather goods, books, home decor, aquarium, beachwear, ceramics, shoes, and much much more. Basically, if you can think of it, someone here probably sells it!

Chatuchak market

If you go, here are a few pointers: go early as it gets very hot and crowded (opens at 9am), take lots of water or buy it and drink often, bring an empty shopping bag or two, wear loose and breathable clothing (not pants). Also, do take a break and stop at one of the massage stands. I got a 45 minute foot and back massage that was divine (so nice to take a break, relax, and people watch) for about $8.

Lovely Foot Massage Woman - unknotted my travel kinks!

My favorite spots were sections 25 and 26 for lots of goods from Chiang Mai like silver and silks. I got 100% pashmina scarfs for 250 baht or less than $10. I also recommend stopping at Viva’s which is like an oasis in the midst of chaos. They serve beer, coffees, smoothies, and at times have live music in a funky setting. For lunch you should stop at one of the many food stalls. I had the most amazing fried chicken. Mind you, since I’m Southern I consider myself an authority on fried chicken!

Viva's - oasis in chaos

Chatuchak is right off the Kampaengphet Station on the Sukhumvit train line so it is a breeze to both get to and find. I didn’t last much more than 4 hours, the crowds and heat were just too much, but go and enjoy!

Boy of 3 or 4 Performing for Coins

After a much needed shower, I headed out to the Healthland Spa for a two hour traditional Thai massage. It is a busy place and not as relaxing as the spas I’m used to, but for $15, who’s complaining?

On the way back to the Hyatt I stopped at Bua, a great restaurant located at Saladaeng and Colony (between the Swiss Lodge and Molly Malone’s Irish Pub). I had the Thai beef salad that was tangy and fresh with bright herbs, tomato, onion, and something akin to cucumber. The beef was perfectly mid rare and I asked for a little spicy which was just enough to make my lips pleasantly burn. Paired with a large Singha beer, it was the perfect end to a long day.

Bua -Thai Beef Salad

Saochingcha Food Expedition

As always, I’m convinced that to get to know a culture and a people, you must experience the food as locals do. As such, I sought out an area widely considered by locals as Bangkok’s finest street food. For years Thai media have reported that Saochingcha produces the most perfectly prepared dishes in a sanitary and affordable setting. When I asked the hotel concierge about it, she agreed and even told me which spot was her favorite place to eat in all of Bangkok.

Armed with her advice, a map I found online, and my usual lack of hesitation when it comes to food, I set out on the greatest adventure I’ve had here so far! If you go, simply ask a cabbie to take you to the Giant Swing and take this map with you:

http://www.import food.com/saochingcha_guide.html

Saochingcha Streets

I wound up only eating at five spots, which was way more than I could hold. None of the stalls and most of the streets don’t have signs or English, so thank goodness I’m a researcher by trade. Despite my lack of reservation, I nonetheless began to feel very conspicious. There wasn’t another farang (westerner) anywhere in sight and people stared, though they tried not to. I simply responded by smiling, nodding, and after I was through eating, asked if I could take their picture. Miraculously, that broke the ice. They were clearly flattered I wanted to remember them and their food. They had smiles a mile wide and continuously thanked me, saying kraa (females) or krap (males) over and over again. Here’s a breakdown of where I went:

1. Gai Yang Boran
To find this one, look for the rotisserie stand outside and a wooden restaurant door next to it. The people here were extraordinarily nice and gave me pictures of meals so I could order. Known for their bbq chicken, I ordered just that. It came with two sauces, one very spicy and one sweet. The chicken was a little lemony with a very light, crunchy roasted skin. With a soda and blessed air conditioning, it was 122 baht, or about $4.

BBQ Chicken

Cooks at Gai Yang Boran

2. Udom Pochana
My concierge’s favorite place to eat, it was more difficult to find. On a side street where there was’t a lick of English, I resorted to looking for people eating noodle soup. This spot is known for that in addition to stews. Run by a father and his lovely daughter, she served me a beef stew over rice with peppers on the side (I couldn’t figure out how to say soup). Again, like the chicken, it had an aromatic and slightly lemony note. With a bottle of water, it cost 48 baht, about $1.50.

Udom Pochana

Udom Pochana - father and daughter

 

3. Samong Moo Shell Shuan Shim
This by far was my most adventurous meal. When I sat, I thought of the advice my Uncle Tim gave me when I left for North Carolina after college. He said don’t eat chitlins or anything that looks like parts! My palate is a bit more sophisticated now and I don’t mind ‘parts’ but this took it to a whole new level. Samong only offers one dish, pig brain stew. Served in a wonderful, light, slightly salty broth were pig brains, fish balls, fried fish parts, testicles, tripe, liver, and some other unidentifiable chunks. I was already full, but felt it would have been rude to not eat most of it. Surprisingly, the brain was the best part. Creamy and soft, with a delicate texture. Cost 75 baht, $2.50.

Pig Brain and Parts Soup

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Samong Moo Shell Shuan Shim

By now, the lunch crowd from area businesses were descending. People in ties, men in uniform, manual workers, and ladies were all out in force. It became so full, I was elbow to elbow with people. At Samong, I was next to an important looking man in a military uniform and his very nicely dressed wife.

4. Nattaporn Ice Cream
Known for their coconut ice cream, I stopped, even though I felt I couldn’t possibly choke down another bite. I did need a palate cleanser after the brain soup, though. I sat and they brought me a small bowl with peanuts on top. Not creamy like ice cream, it was more like sorbet but somehow even lighter than that. The coconut flavor wasn’t overpowering or too sweet and the peanuts gave it a perfect blend of salty and sweet. The military guy and his wife also showed up here and sat with me again. They turned out to be really nice people and I took their picture along with the woman who runs the stall. Then they wanted their picture with me! Cost 20 baht, about 60 cents.

Nattaporn Coconut Ice Cream

Nattaporn Coconut Ice Cream

 

5. Kor Panich
Finally I stopped for mango and sticky rice to go. Look for the ladies selling mangos on the sidewalk, in front of an open air shop. They were kind enough to give me my loot to go, as by now my belly was so distended from all the food I looked about 5 months pregnant! Later, back in my hotel room, I finally tried what turned out to be the most divine dessert in recent memory. The rice was definitely sticky and slightly sweet, the sliced mango amazingly fresh, sweet, and perfectly ripe. It comes with a coconut sauce that is slightly sweet which you drizzle on top. Oh, I will be dreaming about this one for a while.

Kor Panich

Kor Panich

Ultimately, this turned out to be a great way to spend a few hours. Afterwards, I felt I had a better grasp on Thai people and their food. I’m proud of venturing to a place where no others like me were and my heart was warmed by the generosity of the people. Getting home was surprisingly an ordeal – I got kicked out of 2 cabs because they didn’t want to cross town back to where all of ‘my kind’ were. All just part of the adventure!

PS
I was infinitely relieved when my heartburn turned out to be only that…I had visions of a night being spent hugging the bathroom floor. Apparently the stories about it being the most hygenic street food were right!

PPS

Bill Gates is a pain in my tuckus…why can’t he make his products work with the rest of the world?  Sorry this post is all screwy with pictures…ipad growing pains!

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Thai Temples – Must Visits in Bangkok

Like Notre Dame in Paris, Big Ben in London, you must visit the extraordinary temples while in Bangkok. I spent one day visiting three of the most popular one, The Grand Palace & Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Po, and Wat Arun (the temple of the dawn).

I can’t even begin to describe how enormous and opulent these holy places are. Similar to the scale of St. Peters in Rome, everything glittered with gold, glass, ceramic, and more gold.

Wat Phra Kaew

Sandstone model of Angkor Wat

These particular temples and palaces were home to former kings, are venues for royalty and visiting heads of state, temples for anointing kings, temples for lying in state, home of the Emerald Buddha (most revered Buddha image) as well as the reclining Buddha. The reclining Buddha is enormous in scale, in fact the picture below shoes the toes on the right side to give you some scale. Truly magnificent, these temples are not to be missed.

Reclining Buddha in Gold

Wat Po

Wat Pho

 

If you do go, make sure to wear long pants. My long capris were not sufficient. Funnily enough, they gave me a sarong to covered my sacrilegious ankles but it wasn’t made for 5’10 western women so it was actually shorter than my pants! Also, be sure to not fall for scams. I’d read about people seeming to be nice by giving you directions and then telling you the temples were closed for a couple hours, with subsequent advice to go on a river boat tour. Don’t fall for it!

I do suggest you go early, it is oppressively hot and crowded and I can’t imagine how much more so it would be in the steamier afternoon. Also, do walk along the river front between Phra Kaew and Po for stunning views of Wat Arun.

Location:Soi Mahatlek Luang 1,Lumphini,Thailand

Chinese New Years Fireworks With New Friends in Hong Kong

Fireworks - Hong Kong New Years!

Lucky girl that I am, I arrived in Hong Kong just in time for the Chinese New Year celebration. Welcoming the year of the Rabbit, the town produces an annual fireworks display that far outdid any I’ve ever seen. Rather than fight the masses on crowded streets, I went up to the Hyatt club lounge and watched them over Victoria Harbour from the 30th floor.

One of the benefits of being preferred with Hyatt is the use of club lounges and I took full advantage. For several hours I sipped champagne (which seems to be a theme for this trip so far), munched on salmon rolls, goose liver pate, stinky cheeses, Thai shrimp balls, katsu, and mango custard – all for free. I highly recommend becoming a frequent guest of Hyatt and enrolling in their Gold Passport program. Once again I reminded myself what a charmed life I lead.

Despite the smog, the fireworks were spectacular as was my company. I met a couple from outside Chicago who were also on holiday. They were absolutely delightful and offered to share their table with me as the lounge had filled up. I think everyone in Hong Kong was out celebrating! It turns out they are also travel junkies and Hyatt groupies so we exchanged tales from around the world. Their fav Hyatt lounge is Macau, mine Bali. They are the kind of guys you would want as friends…funny as all get out, witty, insightful, intriguing….thanks Bill and Dave for making it a great night!

For 23 minutes, the light was ablaze with fiery colors and Kowloon in the background. It was also timed to music, which made it all the more exciting. I can’t seem to get my video converted to Steve Jobs liking, but here’s a YouTube clip of it: http://www.youtube.com/watchv=kQgpUN2rl5o&feature=youtube_gdata_player

By now jet lag was setting in with full force so I resigned to not join the masses in celebration but rather soak in my lovely suite which had a gilded tub (okay, not really but it felt like it)! Just to end a day of decadence on the right note, I settled into the most comfortable bed, complete with a fluffy down comforter, super soft robe, and a box of chocolates the hotel had left for me. They looked like little oranges or apricots and reminded me of home in Florida. Life is good!

Bangkok, here I come!

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Location:Harbour Rd,,Hong Kong

Hong Kong to Bangkok

After waking early, too early to go out and about, I ordered a traditional Chinese breakfast. It cost about $30, which is more than I’d normally spend on breakfast and I try to always out locally rather than at hotels…But I’ve never had a meal like this (and it was 5am) so I splurged.

There was a lot of food – an assortment of 5 dim sum, wok fried noodles with bean sprouts and soya, chicken and black mushroom congee, and Chinese tea. The dim sum were delicate and lovely. In particular, the spicy pork bun was scrumptious. The fried noodles were made with the skinny version of noodles for which I have a special fondness. Finally, I had congee for the first time. It is an Asian version of porridge, made from rice boiled until it is super soft and forms a somewhat thick, soupy mixture. It was warm and satisfying and must have been cooked with a broth because it had a deep savory flavor.


Off to the airport via the Airport Express train (AEL), which I highly recommend. It is clean, safe, and an easy ride. I stopped at the IFC building en route where a colleague with Gallo suggested I try the soup dumplings. A few bites was all I could manage, but one word – YUM!


The Hong Kong airport is really rather spectacular and the set up with the AEL is so convenient. You check your luggage at the train station, before you get on the train and it is transferred to the airport for you at no additional charge. Once you get to the airport, there are truly good restaurants and high end shopping galore.

I went biz class on Thai Air, which is 10x’s better than any USAirways first class flight. Plus, on arrival you get to bypass the long visa line for an express lane…well worth it!

Arriving in Bangkok is an entirely different experience than Hong Kong, which is more organized and sophisticated. I’m a little behind on my posts, so stay tuned for a market experience, cheap massages, food finds during which I was the only farang around, and Soi Cowboy for some ping pong action!

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Travel tips for visiting Hong Kong

Here are a few useful tips for visiting Hong Kong:

1. Do take the Airport Express Train to your hotel. It is cheap, clean, modern, and an all around nice ride. In fact, take the metro everywhere.

2. Only change enough money at the airport to get you to your hotel. The exchange rates there are dreadful.

3. Go to Kowloon, the museums are good (so my friends Bill and Dave proclaimed), you’ll find great street food, shopping, and fantastic views of Hong Kong.

4. Have dinner at a waterfront restaurant in Kowloon and watch the light show across the water.

5. Unless you are at a nice restaurant, most eateries don’t provide napkins so keep a stash with you.

6. Do try a traditional Chinese breakfast of noodles, congee, and tea.

7. If you are in town during New Years or other major celebration, be prepared for many shops and restaurants to be closed.

8. Visit a local market like Wanchai, there’s no better place to experience local culture in action.

9. Always hand and receive items from locals with two hands, not one.

10. Tea is the customary beverage for all occasions. Your teacup will be refilled continually. Leave your cup full if you are finished or place the teapot lid upside down (or open if attached) to signal the waiter for more tea.

11. People in Hong Kong are smartly dressed, so a tshirt and shorts won’t cut it!

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Location:Harbour Rd,,Hong Kong

Hong Kong!

Garden in Hong Kong

I lead such a charmed life. It just happens to be Chinese New Years Day in Hong Kong. I booked this trip 9 months ago and had no idea. As usual, I’m at the Hyatt, right on the bay with a perfect view of the fireworks from my room and club lounge!

I arrived from Frankfurt rested and ready to go with a list of restaurants, food stalls, markets, and areas of interest to see. I was famished, so I chucked the list and stopped at the first hole in the wall I ran into. Clearly this was not a tourist spot…I can’t tell you the name of the place (somewhere along the overhead walkways between the Hyatt and Wanchai market) nor exactly what I ate – nothing was in English, but it was a extraordinary meal.

My waitress did not speak much English and I’m quite lacking in Cantonese (and I was the only non-Chinese person there). I pantomimed drinking tea and got a delicious, enormous pot. Then for food…it looked like everyone was eating dim sum so after much effort, I finally just held up four fingers. She figured out I wanted four dishes, and brought an assortment! I wound up with amazing roasted (or maybe fried?) duck. It was tender, moist, succulent and had the most perfect brown, crispy skin. Every bite was a delight, first the crunch of the skin, then the melting of the thin layer of fat in your mouth, and finally the savory meat. I could have eaten four plates of just this! I was also served something that looked like maybe pork leg in a spicy sauce with fresh peanuts, a spicy bbq pork bun, and a dumpling served in soup. I was in heaven, it was divine! I wish I’d taken pictures, but it seemed inappropriate. Oh well…

Wanchai Market

Wanchai Market - Various Pastes, Balls

After my appetite was sated I ventured out to Wanchai Market. I think it had everything Walmart buyers rejected last season, plus many streets of food stalls. Seafood in bins, produce bounty, hanging meats, mounds of clothes, stacks of shoes, and trinkets galore lined the market. I walked around, enjoying the sights, taking in the smells (good and bad), and people watched. As I mentioned in my last post, I try to blend in with locals, but given I was the only Caucasian for many blocks and about 6 inches taller than everyone else, I stood out like a sore thumb. But I loved every minute!

Meat stalls at Wanchai Market

Location:Fleming Rd,,Hong Kong

Lunch in Frankfurt, Mainz, or Somewhere!

My current adventure is taking me to Thailand via Frankfurt and Hong Kong. With a 7 hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany, I planned to take the train (Bahn) into the city for lunch. My neighbor en route, a German, convinced me to scrap my plans and take the train in the other direction to Mainz. Mainz was a Roman port city on the Rhine and is lovely.

To get to the train in the airport, ignore some of the TripAdvisor posts that tell you it will take an hour from gate to train and yet another hour to town. I arrived at 10am and was in Mainz sipping on a coffee at 11 (after having gotten turned around a few times). Just follow the signs for the Bahn train after clearing customs.

When I arrived at the station and walked up to buy tickets there was an attendant helping pitiful Americans. I always try to blend in when I travel and not come off as an obvious or obnoxious American. The attendant didn’t glance twice at me as I confidently strolled up to the kiosk. With not a lick of German in my vocabulary I managed to select what I was pretty sure the right ticket….but I wasn’t certain so begrudgingly, I asked for help. She chuckled and said, “You look so German, I didn’t even talk to you!” That made my day and started my trip out on the right foot!

Off to Mainz I went, without a proper coat. I knew that would be problematic, so I layered up but intentionally didn’t bring a coat that I would have to lug around SE Asia for two weeks. The train was heated and the scenery itself was worth the ride. Along the way, despite snow on the ground and heavy fog, there were lovely forests, vineyards, gingerbread looking houses, and a crossing of the Rhine River, as well as some factories and ramshackles. If you have a long layover, get on the train just for the ride!

Arriving in Mainz, it didn’t take long to become a Yankee Popscicle. I didn’t have good shoes, gloves, a scarf, or anything. I managed to make it to a coffee/pastry shop. I took refuge with a steaming cup of joe and a pastry that was flaky on the outside and creamy custard on the inside with sliced papaya (I think?) and almonds on top. So wonderfully delicious – it was just what I needed after a long flight.

I made an attempt to walk around, sightsee, and find a spot for lunch, but soon cried uncle and gave up. It was simply too cold (less than 0 degrees Celcius). I reluctantly went back to the train station. En route back to the airport I met the most interesting guy, though. A student at a nearby university, he studies chemistry and environmental science. I explained I have a degree in chemistry and we tried to chat, him with a little English, me with a little French, and lots of hand signals. From Morocco, his family saved for many years to send him to school here. It was a reminder I shouldn’t take for granted the things that we don’t think twice about. Anyways, I asked about the area vineyards and if he, as a Muslim, drank wine. He laughed and said of course! Then I asked if he ate pork – but I had no word for pork or pig, so I had to resort to saying ‘oink oink.’ His amusing response was to tell me how terrible ‘metal’ was…seeing my confusion, he drew out several complicated chemical reactions trying to indicate what happens in the stomach. Eventually I just pretended I got it and moved onto another subject. In retrospect I realize he was saying methane, not metal and must have been referring to what we animals produce out our arses! He doesn’t eat meat because it is environmentally harmful, quite progressive, right?

Anyways, back at the airport, I’m sipping Champagne and waiting for my next adventure to Hong Kong. My first stop may not have been a wild success, but was fun none-the-less. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

And, no, my darlings, I did not venture into cougardom again…though that would have made a good story. Is there an equivalent word for ‘mile high club’ that is used for trains????