Monday, November 1, 2010

Symmetrically snoozing cats at Wat Benchamabophit

Symmetrically snoozing cats in the heat of lunchtime at Wat Benchamabophit (The Marble Temple) in Bangkok.

And a close up:

Thai Connoisseur

Cat Breeds Originating in Thailand: Siamese, Burmese, Thai, Korat, Khao Manee

Friday, October 15, 2010

Holidays in Thailand 2011

Thai Festival blogs has published a very useful guide to Thai holidays next year. There seems to be something going on every month.

Check it out here:

Thai Connoisseur

PS. Link now fixed!!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Chilling by the Mekong

Nong Khai is an endearing little town lying on one side of the mighty Mekong River. For some people it is just a place to pass through to do a visa run into neighboring Laos across the friendship Bridge, but it is a popular tourist destination and a place well worth spending a little time in. Although it is a relatively small town, its status as a transit point for Laos means there are numerous guest houses and restaurants.

This is a riparian town so, like many riparian towns, one of the best things to do is to soak up the atmosphere alongside the riverbank. A long boardwalk, lined with timber decked restaurants and bars hugs the contours of the Mekong. The Tha Sadet market, accessible from the boardwalk, is pretty large and is a typical Thai market, with lots of imported goods from Laos. In the evening stroll along the river side and choose one of the numerous river side restaurants to eat in. Don't leave it too late to eat because they roll up the shutters relatively early here. After eating you can find a few bars in the vicinity. The Warm Up bar was one of my favorites, with its atmospheric lighting and peaceful vantage point looking over to the odd twinkling light on the Laos side of the river. It attracted a younger, mostly Thai clientele, but this middle aged farang was made to feel most welcome.

During the day there are a number of sights to see in, or around the town. I previously did a blog post on probably the best known attraction in Nong Khai, the Sala Kaew Ku (or Sala Keo Ku) sculpture park. In addition, there are a few temples to keep temple enthusiasts occuppied for a while. Wat Pho Chai on Thanon Phochai houses a large, impressive Buddha with a head of gold and a body of bronze. Wat Lam Duan has an immense Buddha on top of the bot gazing out placidly over the Mekong. Phra That Klang Nam is a Lao chedi smack bang in the middle of the Mekong. It is submerged for much of the year but can be seen during the dry season. There is also a small Nong Khai museum which I did not have time to visit so I cannot comment on it.

You can do a sunset river cruise along the Mekong, which leaves from 5 pm daily behind Wat Hai. If you want to explore the Mekong further any guest house will be able to arrange something for you.

My only visit to Nong Khai was in March, but late October is an exciting time to visit because of the annual boat races to celebrate the end of the Buddhist lent and the rainy season. Long naga-headed boats take part in the races along the Mekong, which is presumably much faster flowing and many meters higher than it is in March. This time also coincides with the mysterious naga fireballs!

Accommodation is plentiful in Nong Khai with enough to suit a wide range of budgets. We stayed at the Pantawee Hotel on Haisoke Road which has rooms in different price ranges. Ours ran at about 1000 baht a night for a comfortable, clean room with a desktop computer with free internet, DVD, fridge etc. That suited us but there are many far less expensive, and no doubt, more expensive places around town.

Getting there is easy. Most people will probably come via the main transportation hub for the region, Udon Thani. From there frequent buses run to Nong Khai in under one hour. However, buses do stop at a slightly inconvenient location, a short way out of town, but too far to walk with luggage. This leaves you at the mercy of the tuk tuk drivers. Negotiate a fixed price before the start of the journey. It is only a 5 or 10 minute drive but they will try and get 200 baht which is crazy money for such a short drive.

Enjoy, and be sure to let me know if you have any further tips, recommendations or reports about this cool little Mekong town.

Thai Connoisseur

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Essence of Thailand - Brussels Thai Festival

So, my summer hiatus is over. My lack of blogging is not due to lack of interest, but frustration with technical issues in Blogger which caused my attempted posts to be seriously 'malformed' with weird font sizes, html links not working and photos posting in the wrong order. Add to that the necessity of two trips back to the UK for family reasons and I have simply not being able to devote the time to find out what was causing these issues.

Now I am in Brussels and yesterday, Sunday September 12, I took the opportunity to attend the fifth 'Essence of Thailand' festival which has become an annual event here in the capital of Europe. The Thai community of Belgium was out in force along with a swirling mass of Belgians and expats. The festival takes place on a town square in a leafy suburb of eastern Brussels. Such is the popularity of this day I feel sure it will be forced to move to a larger venue at some point. The main square itself is quite large and houses the main stage, numerous stalls representing the major Thai restaurants in Belgium and tables and chairs for the consumption of the Thai food and the ubiquitous Singha beer. A narrower side street off the main square houses a much smaller stage and many arts and crafts and massage stalls. By midday this street is more crowded than Chinatown in Bangkok. If you do not mind being gawked at by hundreds of passers-by, you can get a head, foot, or limited body massage here. I prefer to wait till I am back in Thailand! The two stages were the setting for the usual Thai classical dancing, folk dances, nail dance and Thai boxing demonstrations. This year participants from the crowd were encouraged to join the dancers on stage! Errrrmm........I may be demonstrating a lack of sanuk here, and I sincerely hope all said participants enjoyed themselves, but middle aged Belgians attempting to mimic the graceful Thai dancers was, well, let's just say a bit painful to watch :-)

As usual it was a great day. To smell the aromas of Thai cooking from the 30+ Thai food stalls, to taste the spicy Thai food, to hear the Thai music and the excited chatter of the numerous Thais gathered together in this foreign land, and to see the elegant Thai dancers, singers and artists was indeed a feast for the senses.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Unusual signpost

Wandering around the Rattanakosin area of Bangkok I came across the fascinating signpost shown above.

Phra Mae Thorani Twisting Her Hair! What is that all about? Following the sign led me to a statue of a woman twisting her incredibly long hair. It occurred to me that I had seen many similar such representations of the same statue in my travels around Thailand but I had not paid too much attention.

Research led me to discover that Mae Thorani is a Thai and Laotian Buddhist Goddess. To paraphrase Wikipedia: She is recognized as The Goddess of the Earth who is often shown wringing the cool waters of detachment out of her hair. The water drowns the forces of temptation sent by the demon Mara to distract the Buddha as he meditated under the Bohdi tree.

Apparently this bodaciously evil dude sent his three daughters, whose Anglicized names translate into the delightfully named Thirst, Desire and Delight, to seduce the Buddha and stop him from attaining enlightenment. They failed and, rumour has it, all three are now working in the bars of Patpong.

Wikipedia goes on to say: ' A statue of Mae Thorani protecting Buddha will be found in every Thai and Lao temple, sometimes beside or in front of the main Buddha image on the altar, or outside the viharn.' I have certainly seen many such statues, but I do not recollect seeing them in every temple in Thailand and Laos and I have visited scores of them. However I am not always the most observant person when it comes to noticing the smaller details, so can anyone verify the veracity of that statement?

Thai Connoisseur

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Suan Luang King Rama IX Royal Park, Bangkok

In my blog post My Top 5 Green Spots in Bangkok, I briefly mentioned Suan Luang King Rama IX Royal Park, and felt it deserved a fuller blog post of its own. It rarely gets a mention in the better known guide books, whether that is because it is a bit outside the tourist area of Bangkok, or because it is not considered a tourist attraction, I do not know. Certainly it is a rather Thai-oriented place, but there is absolutely no reason why tourists or resident expats should not go there. I enjoyed my visit there, despite visiting on a brutally hot day in late March.

The park is divided into 6 main sections:
i) Homage to His Majesty
In my earlier post I referred to this section as the Commemoration Hall, which is technically incorrect as the Commemoration Hall is only the main structural edifice of the area referred to as ‘Homage to His Majesty’. The Commemoration Hall is a large nine-sided structure which is home to an exhibition detailing the life and projects of the King, such as his various economic and social infrastructure projects, and touching on such things as his musical and photographic prowess. Surrounding gardens also form part of this area.
ii) The Sanan Rasdra
This is a large open area ( a field really) where concerts, performances, sporting events and recreational activities are held. 

iii) The Botanical Garden
This is a really pleasant aspect of the park. There are numerous little areas representing gardens and flora from different areas of the world, including a very pleasant recreation of a British garden which provided a shady retreat from the steamy heat. We also came across a greenhouse housing spectacular looking Cacti plants, but it was so hot I could only last about two minutes there.

iv)   Rommaniya Garden
This is the section dedicated to Thailand’s regions and is landscaped accordingly, to reflect the mountains, waterfalls, forests and other landscapes of Thailand. Native plants  showcase the diversity of Thailand flora.

v) The Water Garden
The Water Garden is a charmingly lush area of shallow canals and semi forest abundant with aquatic plants, fish, ducks and other birds. 

vi) The Reservoir
This is an artificial lake also known as  Prapang Kaew Keb Nam. It serves more than a recreational purpose as it is also designed as a catchment area to hold water back before releasing it into the Chao  Phraya river. This helps to lessen the flood risks in Bangkok’s eastern suburbs. I did not investigate the recreational facilities on the lake when I was there, but, as far as I know, small boats and paddle boats can be rented.
Tip: I went on a weekday morning when the park was very quiet. For some that is ideal, but on my next visit I will go on the weekend in the late afternoon to catch more of the atmosphere of Thai families enjoying a day out and to experience the park as dusk falls.

Location: Sukhumvit Road 103 (Udomsuk) Nongbon Pravej, Bangkok, 10260.
To get there by public transport I would suggest a taxi, or, BTS to On Nut and a taxi from there. Buses do run there, but as I have conflicting information over specific bus routes, I will not post that info.
Have a good time there......

Thai Connoisseur

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Explore the Rattanakosin Era

A new high-tech, interactive museum called Nitas Rattanakosin has opened in Bangkok, according to  CNNgo

As the name implies, it explores the Rattanakosin period which lasted from 1782 to 1932. It looks like an interesting visit. 

Location: 100 Ratchadamnoen Klang Road, on Rattanakosin Island.

Thai Connoisseur

Sunday, July 11, 2010

My Top 5 Green spots in Bangkok

Amidst the madness, surrealism and chaos of teeming, steamy, exciting Bangkok, lie jewels of greenery, some small, some large, but all offer a place of peace, quiet, reflection and a chance to sit in the shade under a tree. I have listed my top 5 favourite spots. The first four are all conveniently reached on the BTS or metro, the 5th one requires a bus or taxi ride, but, believe me, it is worth the effort.

1. Lumphini Park

Despite recent events, which turned Lumphini Park into a battleground, this large green oasis is once more a haven of tranquility. It serves multiple roles; the lungs of Bangkok, a large inner-city refuge and a social meeting point for Bangkokians from all walks of life. Early morning and evening are the best times to go when the park is alive with joggers, walkers, mass aerobics classes, and groups of people gathering together to enjoy the open air and to do what groups of Thais do best, eat! Sometimes you can catch a free concert at the bandstand. I, by chance, came across a great classical music concert there last February which was well appreciated by the largely Thai audience. There is a large artificial lake where you can hire small paddle or row boats. Often you can catch a glimpse of the huge Water Monitor Lizards that call the park home. I love seeing those guys. The park is named after Buddha’s birthplace in Nepal, according to a plaque you can find at the northern end of the park.
Skytrain: Sala Daeng, subway: Lumphini

2. Benjasiri Park

This small, pleasant park lies right on Sukhumvit Road, next to the Emporium shopping center, and right by the Phrong Phom BTS station. It was built in the 1990’s to commemorate the 60th birthday of Queen Sirikit. There is an ornamental lake as the focal point of the park. For me, the main attraction of the park, apart from its convenient location on hustling Sukhumvit Road, are the Thai sculptures that dot the park. In front of the park there is a lively community of street food vendors.  

3. Chatuchak Park

Anyone who has ever been to the world famous Chatuchak weekend market will undoubtedly have seen, passed through, or spent a bit of time in the adjoining Chatuchak Park, next to the Mo Chit BTS 
station. After the steambath of the market, a respite in the park with an ice cold bottle of water is just what the doctor ordered. Having said that, depending on the time of the day, shady spots can be hard to come by. Nontheless, the park is very popular with families and groups of friends, who rent mats from the numerous mat vendors, sit on the grass and, surprise, surprise, eat!

4. Chuvit Park

This tiny little park has a rather controversial history connected with the sometimes murky world of Bangkok politics. It is located near Soi 8 Sukhumvit, close to Nana BTS station. I have only given this place a rather cursory inspection, attracted primarily by its convenient location. If you are in the vicinity it is a place to sit down, catch your breath and chill. I will have to give it a fuller inspection to discover if there is something more to the place than just a quiet spot to sit.

5. Suang Luang King Rama IX Park

This park is a little further outside the central area of Bangkok than the 4 mentioned above, and a taxi may be necessary if you don’t have your own transport. This is the only park of the 5 mentioned which charges an entrance fee, but this is very low, I think 20 bht for non-Thais and 10 bht for Thais. The park was built for the present King Rama IX upon his 60th birthday in 1987.   It is divided into 6 main areas: the Commemoration Hall, the Botanical Gardens, the Resevoir, Rommaniya Garden, the Sanan Rasdara and the Water Garden. This one probably deserves its own blog post so I will write more about this at a later date. RJZS2RUXW6PK

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bizarre Sculpture Park, Nong Khai

In March 2009, prior to crossing the border into Vientiane, Laos, a friend and I spent two nights in Nong Khai, a pleasant little town on the banks of the Mekong River. One of the attractions I wanted to visit there was Sala Keo Ku. This is one of many possible romanized spellings and seems to be more commonly spelled Sala Kaew Ku. However, I use the spelling written on the main pavilion complex of the park, a large, three storey building which houses the mummified remains of the chief architect of this mesmerizing  place, also known as Wat Khaek. The place is a surreal and bizarre statue or sculpture park a few kilometers outside the town itself.  

Although I am not Belgian, my European home base is Belgium, the land of the surrealists, Magritte, Delvaux and others. I enjoy surrealism and the Sala Keo Ku park is certainly a worthy contender for the Asian version of the top ten surreal  attractions. It is bizarre, and yet, enchanting, in a macabre, somewhat sinister way.       

The work was started by an interesting character called Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, a Lao national.  He was not a monk, but Luang Pu, a title traditionally reserved for monks, came to be applied to him.  He and his 'followers' (he seems to have been a bit of a cult leader) started building this park in 1978, having already built a similar park in neighboring Laos. The park consists of giant concrete sculptures of Buddhist and Hindu deities, towering up to 25 meters tall. My two favorites were the depiction of Buddha meditating under the protection of a seven-headed Naga snake, with each snake having an impressively long tongue, and a giant, unfinished brickwork sculpture of an enormous Buddha sculpture still missing his hands, which currently consist of steel wire supports around which the hands will, presumably, be built. Many of the sculptures are very amusing (look for the elephant wading through a pack of dogs).

Another fascinating part of the park is the Wheel of Life. This is an area surrounded by a  low, round wall, access to which is gained by going through the long, low-roofed 'mouth'.  Not easy for a middle aged European with bad knees, but easy for this young, short and supple Thai lady. 

The Wheel of Life consists of a group of sculptures representing the stages of life from the foetus, through childhood, adolescence, marriage, adultery(!), old age and death. The  Mut Mee guest house drew up this fascinating diagram of the  Wheel of Lifesculptures.
If you are in, or passing through Nong Khai, it would be a shame to miss this place because it is certainly worth an hour or two of your time.

Thai Connoisseur

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Longer Skytrains

This is good news: The BTS Skytrain is to take delivery of twelve new trains with, I gather, four carriages instead of three. I have often wondered why Skytrains only have three carriages when the platforms are clearly designed for much longer trains. The service really is full to capacity during peak hours, and, even in off peak it is often standing room only depending on where you get on.

I am a big fan of the Skytrain and use it as much as I can. I look forward to the day when all Skytrains will utilize all platform space.

Thai Connoisseur

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Your own Bangkok City Guide

A couple of days ago I read an article on TechCrunch about a newly released social travel planner described as a 'Killer domain for a Social Planner With Some Potential'.

As it says on their website:

  Of course, there are lots of websites and applications one can use to find out what to do when visiting a city, but admittedly makes things very easy and quite fun for the 50 cities it currently features on the site.
All you need to is enter your destination city, e.g. Brussels, and up pops a list of activites, like museums you can visit or restaurants where you can get some decent food.
At the tap of a button, you can get a downloadable guide (PDF) of activities and venues along with a map, photos, addresses, opening hours and more. You can also customize those guides with items you select from a pre-populated list of venues, hotels, restaurants and attractions, and share your personalized guide with the world via, Facebook and Twitter.
Likewise, you can discover custom guides for cities that other people have created before you. also handily integrates content from a range of travel information providers: TripAdvisor for ratings and reviews, and TopTable and OpenTable for easy restaurant reservations, just to name a few.
The startup promises much more is coming now that the service has launched in public beta form; on the roadmap we find user-added venues and places, third-party sharing widgets, full mobile integration, geo-location features, video guides and more. promises the site will remain ad-free as the site grows in terms of functionality; the money it makes from hotel bookings from the main website should be enough to build a business, they reckon.
 Bangkok is one of the included cities. It looks good and I plan to use it. Let me know if you find this a helpful tool.
Thai Connoisseur

Bangkok skyscrapers

I have always been a fan of tall buildings. I have been lucky enough to have seen, up close and personal,  the wonderful skylines of Manhattan, Vancouver, Toronto, San Francisco, Sydney and Singapore, which are among my favorite 'skyline cities' of the world. Hong Kong, and some of the up and coming cities of mainland China, would also be on that list, but I have only seen fascinating pictures and have not had the opportunity to visit.  

Thailand, Bangkok, Lad Phrao, monsoon clouds moving over office buildings

How about Bangkok? Well, I hope I do not offend anyone by saying the skyline is not in the same league as the aforementioned cities, but, nonetheless, I always get a great thrill when I take a taxi from Suvarnabhumi airport and see the  tall buildings, even the ugly ones, come into view on the horizon. I know I am 'home'. There are some attractive skyscrapers (some may be called tall buildings rather than skyscrapers) dotted around the city.   My problem, when walking around the city, has always been my inability to identify by name the tall buildings I see.  The Baiyoke Sky Tower is  about the only building I have always been able to identify straight away. I came across this website called, appropriately enough, Bangkok Skyscrapers . It lists and photographs all the major tall buildings, with, in part, information such as height, number of floors, and ranking in terms of height. 

On my frequent walks around Lumpini Park I have often admired this building but did not know what it was  called.


 Now I know it is Q-House Lumpini, a luxury office building.

 On some of the entries, crucial information is left out and no deeper information about the building other than the photo and standard statistics are provided, but for a general overview of Bangkok buildings this is a useful reference.

Thai Connoisseur    

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Fish Heads

In western Europe / North America, we are not so used to seeing our fish served at the table with the head still attached. In Thailand, and most of Asia, this is perfectly normal. I remember one of my first nights in Thailand, a few years back, I was at a riverside restaurant in Bangkok, and, naturally, fish was special of the day, which we ordered.  I do not remember what type of fish it was but it was served with the head still attached, small, wide, bulging eyes open. For just a minute or two I found this disconcerting, but then my Thai companion happily plucked a fork into the eye, pulled it out, and ate it. I laughed to myself, remembered I was in Thailand, and reasoned that if I had a problem seeing a fish head on my plate I should probably leave Thailand and never return. The fish itself was delicious.

A few years on I would now find it disconcerting if my fish was not served with head attached. Mind you, I still do not actually eat the fish head or the eyeballs, but the local soi cats are happy about that as they tend to be the beneficiaries.

This little fellow lives around the Sukhumvit Soi 6/8 passageway and was the happy recipient of my discarded fish head a few months ago.

Thai Connoisseur

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Chiang Mai - A lot of Thai cooking school

Cooking in Chiang Mai

On a warm, sunny Saturday in February 2008, my friend Tuk and I awoke early, and, mindful of the admonitions of our hosts-to-be for the day, skipped breakfast. We waited outside the entrance of our hotel, the Centara Duangtawan, and awaited our pick up. Soon, an old, funky, beat up looking, bright blue Volkswagen van, emblazoned with the logo 'A Lot of Thai', pulled into the hotel entrance. Yup, these were to be our hosts for the next 4 or 5 hours, Yui and Kwan of the 'A Lot of Thai' home cooking school.

A Lot of Thai Transport

We piled into the van, introduced ourselves to the three ladies already inside, and headed off to the home of Yui and Kwan, picking up a further two participants along the way. So, 6 females and one male (that would be me), representing 5 different nationalities between us (UK, Germany, Israel, US and Thailand) arrived at Yui and Kwan's unassuming, but pleasant home and workplace. This is not a gleaming, stainless steel, air conditioned, elaborately equipped kitchen, but the lack of those attributes adds to its charm and stamps upon it the authenticity of a true Thai cooking school. It is a semi-outdoor, roofed, but partially open kitchen area, adapted with individual work stations for eight people. It is clean and the work stations and cooking utensils are superb. The temperature was pleasant in February but I can imagine that the cooking area would get a tad uncomfortable in the much hotter months of March and April. However a well placed fan or two would cool things down.

Yui was a brilliant teacher, patient, clear, articulate, amusing and clearly knows her stuff. We made 6 dishes throughout the morning. What dishes you cook depend on the day of the week. This was Saturday so the first three dishes were the classic pad thai, tom yam kung (hot and sour prawn soup) and paw pia tawd (spring rolls). The latter I found difficult as I had trouble with the wrapping of the delicate spring roll wrapper and Yui had to show me again how to do it. As a consequence I was the last to get my spring rolls into the fryer for the quick one to two minutes frying.

After three dishes it was time for a bit of a break from the kitchen so we clambered back into the van for a trip to the local market. It was very much a Thai place with no other foreigners visible. Yui took us around and explained about the different types of food on sale there and what to look for when choosing produce. The sheer variety was mind boggling and to be honest I would not have been able to name most of the foodstuff on sale there, let again know what to actually do with it if I bought it! Eat it would be the logical answer, but how? My companion, Tuk, was not particularly excited by the market as she is Thai herself, and she has been around these places all her life. Now at this point you might think taking a Thai lady to cooking school is like taking snow to Canada. But she had told me she could not cook and, as she does not have a kitchen in her apartment (very common in Bangkok) and buys her food from street stalls I believed her. As it happened she seemed to be a natural on the course and was probably the best out of all of 7 of us. She was a little bit shy at being among 5 western ladies and, lacking confidence in her English skills (which really are quite good, though she does not recognize that), did not say much, but Yui made her feel very comfortable and the two had frequent exchanges in Thai and, on a few occasions, Yui did point to Tuk's work as a good example of how to do it (kudos to Tuk!)

After the market visit and a refreshing mango smoothie it was back to the house for part two. We cooked another three dishes, gang keow wan gai (green curry with chicken), gai pad med ma muang him ma paw (stir fried chicken with cashew nut) and kao nieuw ma muang (sweet sticky rice with mango).

In between each dish we would of course sit down and sample what we had cooked so by the final meal of sticky rice and mangoes we were all pretty full.

There are many cooking schools to choose from in Chiang Mai, but for a small, friendly, but professional place, this one is hard to beat. Great care was taken to explain the smaller elements which help to make up the essence of the meal, such as the correct tearing of the kaffir leaves and the pounding of the garlic and the correct use of spices which are such an integral part of Thai cooking.

We chose the half day course which ran from 9.30 to 1.30. If I recall we ran a bit over that time and Yui was happy to chat for a bit after that and young son, Sid, was a star attraction, drawing many oooohs and aaaahs from the ladies! Price was in 2008 (and still is, in 2010, according to the website) 900 baht for the half day and 1200 baht for the full day from 9.30 to 4.30. The price included a thin, but invaluable, cook book detailing all 29 dishes taught by the school, laid out in a colorful, picturesque style. Additional sections on ingredients, sauces, fruits, curry pastes and dips complete the book.

I am not one of life's natural cooks, but I really did enjoy this course and, more importantly, learnt things which have remained with me to this day. Sadly, my own pictures of that day and the dishes we cooked are lost (and I must credit for the VW picture)  but that, happily, means I will have to take this course again and update this post with fresh 2010 pictures.

If you do drop by
A Lot of Thai  cooking school in Chiang Mai, have fun and pass on regards and best wishes from Peter and Tuk.

Thai Connoisseur

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A return to normality?

Thailand's problems are by no means over, but there is a certain reassurance in seeing thousands of Bangkok residents getting together yesterday, in a spirit of mutual cooperation, to clean up the parts of Bangkok affected by the recent strife. Many gathered, some with their own brooms, to sweep the streets of the debris left in the aftermath of the chaos. Others wiped off, or painted over, graffiti left on brickwork. A few western faces were spotted assisting with the cleanup.

Further to my post of yesterday the  Bangkok Skytrain has announced it will return to normal operating hours as of May 25. I had thought the curfew had been extended for a few more days, so I am not sure if that can be right. The situation seems to be fluid at the moment.

In more good news, Siam Paragon announced its reopening on May 25. I must admit it is an impressive shopping mall and I have enjoyed the food court of Siam Paragon on a few occasions, and, occasionally made use of the internet center on the ground floor. I also got excellent service from the Kasikorn bank branch located on the ground floor, which is where I opened my first Thai bank account a couple of years ago. The staff there could not have been more polite or helpful. That said, I don't think I have ever bought anything other than food there, being more of a Chatuchak market person myself. Nonetheless, it is an important social center and meeting place for many Bangkokians and its reopening will be an important signal that life is returning to a semblance of  normality in the City of Angels.

Thai Connoisseur

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Bangkok Skytrain

Good news for all Bangkok residents and tourists. Both the BTS Skytrain and the MRT Subway have resumed service.

The BTS Skytrain runs today from 08:00 to 21:00.  On Monday May 24, 2010, the hours will be 06:00 to 21:00. Both Sukhumvit and Silom lines are running. Rajdamri station remains closed.

The MRT subway has the same hours. All stations appear to be open.

It really is a good reminder just how much Bangkok has come to rely on its two fast, efficient modes of transport over the last 10 years. I never knew Bangkok in the pre-Skytrain years, but can only imagine how much more difficult travel around the city must have been.

Thai Connoisseur

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sad Day for Bangkok

This is not a political blog in any way, shape or form. However it is likely that the events of yesterday, Wednesday May 19, 2010, will be burnt into the psyche of Thais for many years to come. It was an undeniably sad day. People were killed and injured, and many buildings were ravaged and burnt, including the gigantic Central World Mall, the second largest mall in Asia. Palls of smoke hang over Bangkok, soldiers and shadowy militiamen fight gun battles on the street. Many ordinary Bangkok residents have lost their jobs due to the  ongoing strife, with shops, banks and other businesses completely closed down. Many people are hurting: financially, physically and mentally.      

Hang in there Bangkok and Thailand.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

In a Bangkok Taxi

I decide I want to see Bangkok at night from up on high. I pick up my friend Tuk and tell her we are going to the Baiyoke Tower, the tallest building in Bangkok and somewhat of a landmark in the great Metropolis of Bangkok.

We jump into a taxi. 'The Baiyoke Tower please' I say to the driver. He looks at me in the rearview mirror, clearly uncomprehending. I repeat the destination and then add, for good measure, it is where the Sky Baiyoke Hotel is. Pause. 'What street?' he asks.

Ummmm.....I have no idea what street it is on, all I know is it is the tallest building in Bangkok!

So, I say: 'sorry I do not know which street it is on'.

Long pause..... distant stars exploded and new galaxies were born....this was a really long pause...


Driver: 'You have map?'
Me: 'No sorry, I have no map'.
Tuk: 'why you no have map honey?'
Me: 'Well honey', I say with a fixed smile over my by now gritted teeth, 'I thought a taxi driver in Bangkok would know where the Baiyoke Tower is, after all it is the tallest building in Bangkok.'

A light bulb magically appears above my head! Maybe that is the solution I think to myself. Instead of saying the Sky Baiyoke I should say 'I would like to go to the tallest building in Bangkok please' and that is precisely what I do.

More distant stars die and new galaxies form as this information is digested.........

There then follows a bit of back and forth in Thai between Tuk and the driver. Tuk again turns to me and says: 'Honey, where is it near?'.

Now Tuk, a dusky beauty from Issan, is a Bangkok resident of at least three years standing, and had professed to having been to that very same building once before and it was not unreasonable of me to think that between the two of them they could have figured out where it was I wanted to go, bearing in mind it is not only the tallest building in Bangkok, but the tallest building anywhere in the whole Kingdom!  But never mind, this is Thailand, and this is all part of the rich tapestry that makes Thailand such an exciting place. So, I needed to be a bit more creative. Where was it near? Well, the day before I remember walking past the Big C department store and observing that the 'tallest building in Bangkok' was very close by.

So, I said: 'Its near Big C'.
Driver: 'You want to go Big C?
Me: Yes, yes I do, thanks.
Driver: 'Big C closed now'.
Me: Ok, but can we drive past it anyway?

Ok, so off we go. A minute or two later I remembered reading in a guide book that the Pratunam market was right by the 'tallest building in Bangkok', so I say to the driver 'Pratunam market!'. Tuk turns to me and says 'you want go Pratunam market?' 'Yes, honey I do!' A minute later and I can see the 'tallest building in Bangkok'. 'Look T', I exclaim loudly and excitedly, 'see that big building? That is the tallest building in all of Thailand. That is where we are going'. She looks at me: 'I know, I go there before, but I thought we go market?'

Thailand, you gotta love it. 

Baiyoke Tower II

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Beginning

Hello, and welcome to my blog.

I have loved Thailand, its people, culture, food, architecture and scenery for some years now. After much procrastination I think it is time for me to get some of my memories, observations and thoughts about Thailand and the people I meet or places I visit, written down.

This will not be a daily blog but I hope you will become a regular visitor over time.

Thai Connoisseur.