Thursday, January 17, 2008


I wanted exotic … I got exotic. We arrived in Bangkok right on time and were greeted by Jim no later than 9:30. He negotiated with a cab driver and off we were into the Bangkok night. We are staying at the Hilton on “the other side” of the Chao Phraya River. Our room has a spectacularly romantic view of the city. The river is used as a commuting highway and takes you from your hotel to the Skyway (the above ground public transport). At night the lights that outline the shapes of the traditional boats look like little floats gracing the surface of the water. Since there was a six hour time difference from Auckland, we were feeling a little jet-lagged and fell into bed at midnight.

Next morning, after a splendid breakfast in the executive lounge ( I had smoked salmon and sushi as a first followed by my all time favorite, egg over medium on toast with bacon) we headed off to get our Visas for Laos. We took water transport down to the Skyway and found ourselves well treated by a vendor who had the passports back in our hotel room by mid-afternoon. (Anytime I am asked to surrender my passport, I am thrown into the character of Natalie Jastrow in Winds of War – “Don’t let them take your American passport, Natalie …” I pleaded with her as I read the book - )

Next we were off to see the amazing traditional Thai house of silk entrepreneur, Jim Thompson. I am learning fast that everything in Thailand comes with a story … and this story ends tragically when Thompson disappears mysteriously while on a trip to Malaysia. The dark wooden walls and windows open to the outside made me wonder what it would be like to be hunkered down in such a house during the long rainy season. We ate lunch at the café there and it was a taste delight. I had what are called Morning Glory blossoms that were fried in a tempura batter and then you spooned a pork and shrimp sauce over it … O boy it was good!

Then last evening we dined at a marvelous place called Face. (the food theme will be front and center here in Thailand) After we exited the Skyway at the Thong Lo stop we passed through a tiny street of street food vendors. I was too distracted by the food variety hanging from the stalls to notice the elephant wandering through the streets. (Yes, an elephant). When we made our way into the courtyard of Face, the transition from busy street food vendors to peaceful, Thai courtyard was breathtaking. All the candles and wood carvings had me feeling like I was headed to Tribal Council again.

yes, an elephant

Our plan today was to visit the Grand Palace, but the recent death and funeral proceedings for the late princess got in the way and instead we visited Wat Po, home of the reclining golden Buddha. The colors are breathtaking. It is also the home of the best known school for Thai massage. There are slate engravings on the walls outlining the various pressure points on the body. These were used for teaching. Even today, the gold standard for studying Thai massage is the school at Wat Po.

Then we wandered idly toward the amulet market. As we strolled we tasted coconut milk from a coconut, fried banana, and grilled pork all served up by street vendors.

Coconut milk on the street

I think I saw a billion amulets today. I kept thinking Miraculous Medal, and it all made sense … sort of. One of the rules of amulets is you cannot but one for yourself, so if you see one you like, you urge a friend to buy it for you. Nothing really grabbed me, but Jim found just the right thing for Mary Beth.

you can get your palm read on the street

Then it was off to Chote Chitr for lunch. This five table restaurant is a real gem. The proprietor and cook is named Tim Krachoichuli and since there is not a word of English posted anywhere, she tells you what you ought to order if this is your first visit. There is this wonderful sticky noodle concoction called mee krob. Then there is banana flower salad. And the simple looking kaotang nahtang is deceivingly complex and delicious rice cake with Thai salsa. But the dish that really had our eyes rolling in our heads was the salad with salmon. The salmon was a steak and it was crispy and perfectly done on a bed of salad vegetables that were seasoned with a contrasting piquant sauce.

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