Thailand

Life’s a Beach in Jomtien

I never expected much from Jomtien Beach or Pattaya. I knew from travel guides and the internet that the bar scene was more memorable than the beach. It’s another destination that was never in my bucket list but somehow got there due to my travelling companions who figured spending a few days for some vitamen sea before plunging onto the convention which we came for in Bangkok.

Took the airport bus to Pattaya as soon as we arrived from our Manila flight last Tuesday. Of course, the taxi driver ripped-us off with his 100 baht/person fare from the Jomtien bus stop to our hotel. We checked-in at the 60s sounding McCoy Beach Jomtien Hotel just a short walk to the beach. I really liked the spacious and modern rooms with its luxurious double beds. I could have turned the entire 2 days into a staycation.

It was off-season so there weren’t too many people on the streets or on the beach. I was pleasantly surprised to see how clean the shore and the water was. Made me wish I brought swimming gear.

One thing I noticed was the pharmacies that seemed to be present every 200 meters, much more than 7-11.

Even more surprising was how much I eased into the slow pace of Jomtien— simply enjoying the street food in the evenings, having pad thai, drinking tonic water and hanging-out at the Chinese seafood resto-bar while listening to a Chinese pop songs sung by a Thai singer, and getting a foot massage. I was almost sorry to leave. Perhaps, because we were on the quieter section of Jomtien and it was off-season but somehow, 2 nights in Jomtien was just the rest I needed.

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Just another Bangkok day

I had barely unpacked my clothes last Saturday after my trip in HongKong and there I was flying to Bangkok last Tuesday. I was arriving ahead of everyone else for the Southeast Asia Music Education Exchange (SEAMEX) 2018 at the Thailand Cultural Center. With about 30 people in the delegation I’m heading from my university, I just need that one day of solitary mindfulness. Always good to have a little me time.

Having been to Bangkok so many times, there’s nothing to do anymore but just head to After You, my favorite spot for shibuya toast.

I arrived at opening time (11am) which meant a choice of seats and no lines. Ordered the honey toast. Big size as always.

It has been five days already as I write this and so far everything has been going great inspite of walking around the city with such a large group. We even managed to survive rush hour at Sukuhmvit MTR.

A colleague and I have been staying in this wonderful hostel at the back of Grand Mercure near the Phra Ram 9 MTR station. LITA Bangkok just opened about 3 weeks ago and it has been the best budget place I’ve ever stayed at in all my Bangkok trips. It’s a little more expensive than the others but the place is clean, modernist, and spacious.

The staff is very welcoming and friendly. It’s the kind of place where you wouldn’t mind getting stuck due to the rain or the heat. It was a joy to be coming home to such a nice place after an entire day of walking. The students and my other colleague were staying at X9 Hostel just 300m away which made it convenient to meet and organize things.

In spite of being in this vibrant and busy city so many times, there’s still something in Bangkok that makes it enjoyable. The street food, the gentle manners of the Thai, the organized chaos that seem to underlie the city, all these come together to put some sense of why I still don’t mind coming here.

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Bangkok Day

So I did what a hundreds of other tourists do on a Sunday, head to Chatuchak Market.  

Went early at around 9 with the goal of eating my favorite Thai street food, particularly (barbecued pork) and Thai sausage.  Found the area where all the food stalls are and found my pork barbecue.  Soft and tender, it’s still the stuff of my dreams whenever I head to Thailand.  Had a plate of pad thai so I could get a seat at one of the tables lorded over by ladyboys.

Took a stroll at the perimeters of the market and got a couple of stuff I needed such as coconut water scoop and a small wooden massager.  Passed a stall of grilled sausages and got a stick.  The sausages are the next best thing to the pork barbecue.  

After all the hype, I finally got to try the “original” coconut ice-cream, the one with the crowds and the green umbrellas and….sadly, it didn’t taste like coconut ice-cream.  It was bland.  Perhaps I should have bought the one served on a half coconut shell with coconut meat and two toppings.  I purposely chose the B40 version (2 scoops in a cup) so I could really taste the ice-cream.  Disappointed.

I knew I have had enough of Chatuchak when I sat down for a crispy pork rice at one of the eateries by the road out to the BTS that was utterly bad.  The rice was cold and the pork looked more like bits.  It’s the kind of horrible meal that makes you want to go to the kitchen and scold the cook.  

So I finally left the market and headed to Siam for some air-con.  First stop was Afters at Siam Center Mall.  I was in luck this time as there weren’t too many people and I got a table right away.  The Shibuya Honey Toast came with two scoops of ice-cream and a generous amount of cream.  It was heavenly! If I had another day in Bangkok, I would have returned for the Sticky Toffee Toast.  This cafe gets plus points for the refillable unsweetened iced tea!

Checked out the food court at Siam Paragon and was once again tempted wirh the barbecue and sausages.  I love this food court as it has all stuff of street food.  Was thinking of taking some back to the hotel for dinner but then I remembered the street food at Sala Daeng.  Back to the hotel then to put up my feet and forget about the barbecue and sausages.
Went  out in the late afternoon to verify the hotel ‘s claim that it was just a few minutes walk to the Pratunam market.  They were right!  I ended-up checking out Platinum Mall and walking all the way to the Chitlom station where I caught the train to Sala Daeng.  

The soi around Sala Daeng were my former haunts back in those days when Bangkok was THE destination for me.  I had fond memories of Th Convent where some of Bangkok’s street food were.  Unfortunately, the stewed pork leg stall run by two sisters was no longer there. 

 I finally got my crispy pork rice plus some shrimp spring rolls with the sweet syrupy sauce it comes with. It was only 8pm or maybe being a Sunday, the area was a little lethargic. 

Bye Bangkok!  It was good seeing you again after a year.

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Back in Bangkok

Touchdown Bangkok for a 2 night “recovery” stay (hahaha!) before flying back home on Monday.  As the Thai Airways flight touched down at Suvarnabhumi, an elderly Japanese guy at the center column of seats looks across the plane windows and ask the guy seated across him, “This Bangkok?”  The guy answers in the affirmative.  If he had asked me, I probably would have said, “Bangkok?  No!  This Kathmandu.  Plane landed in Bangkok already.  You did not get off?  Plane now return to Kathmandu!”  Hahaha!  Some cheapskate stole the Eau de Toilete at the toilet.  It was there when I used the toilet twice.  It was gone when I returned a third time.

Deposited my luggage at the left luggage counter then took the Airlink to Rachadaprop station for the minute walk to GX Luxury Hostel.  I really like this place.  It’s clean, has very comfortable beds and pillows and the charcoal body wash is tops.  Unfortunately, it’s cramped so it’s good only for a few nights stay.

Had dinner at 

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Joy Ride at the Chao Phraya

I never fail to get in one if those express boats that ply the Chao Phraya whenever I’m in Bangkok.


It’s not the sights but just the feel of being in a commuter boat—people getting on and off, the bump when the boat steers on to the pier, and the voice of the female ticket seller.  Plus of course, the splash of river water on the side of the boat occassionally spraying passengers at “window” side and the general feel of being on water rather than on land.


So this afternoon after resting a bit at the hotel coming back from Chatuchak, I caught an orange flag express boat to Nonthanburi, its terminus.  The thing is, when we reached Pra Athit, the driver announced that it was the last stop and we were turning back.  I guess because everyone got off the boat except a middle-aged couple and a white guy who looked kinda pissed when told it was not proceeding further.  Like the couple, I told the driver I was going back and would just pay the TH 14 again.  Not many people got on the boat so it was kinda empty.


The boat quickly filled at Tha Chang as that’s the pier for the Grand Palace which is filled with so many people these days;  not just tourists but Thais in black paying respect to the departed king.  See this pic taken yesterday at the palace’s entrance.


Back at Sathorn pier, I just decided to head to the BTS and spend the rest of the day in Siam.

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Chatuchak Saturday

Khao San Road yesterday, revisited another Bangkok haunt–Chatuchak.  Never knew Chatuchak was open even on Saturdays (got the tip from the hostel owner).  I always assumed it was a Sunday only market.

Not too many people yet at 10am.


Found myself in Sections 25 and 26 which is the place for northern Thai stuff. If you ddon’t ever get to Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai, you can get all yoir stuff here for that hill people look.

​Saw many of the same clothes, accessories, and souvenirs sold in Chiang Mai though with less variety. The earrings I bought for my sis near Warorot market in Chiang Mai for TH 100 was at TH 120 at Chatuchak.  Not bad considering you  can bargain it down to TH 100. Bought 5 pairs at Chiang Mai and got them at TH 90 a piece.


Was primarily looking for music instruments and found some.  Bought a small gong for TH 1000 at a shop that had much brass crafts including rain drums.  Asked if they were original, the elderly shop keeper (owner?) replied, “new antique.”  Just as I thought.  After all, if they were real, the National Museum would have had their necks.

Bought a small percussion instrument (TH 200) at this shop selling African instruments similar to the ones being sold at KL’s Central Market and at the markets in Bali. 


Djembe all lined up in a row at another shop.

As written in Lonely  Planet Bangkok, I went in search and found Stall 464 at Section 8, Soi 5 which sells Thai music instruments among others including djembe (again!)


Lots and lots of music instruments in this store   In fact, a Thai lady was buying a quim when I was there.


How about some khlui ?


The owner, a kind round man was very jolly and was delighted to find out I was Filipino as he used to have a Filipino boss in Dallas.  I bought 2 drums and 2 jaw’s harps.  His sister-in-law who runs the shop gave me a free rattle that costs TH 150 aside from the discounts.  Good deal!

That ended my Chatuchak sojourn as I had to head home and pack the instruments. 

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Morning at the Museum

Been to Bangkok so many times but never made it to its national museum.  I always make it a point to visit a country’s cultural repository and now I can’t remember any reason why I overlooked Thailand’s.  Perhaps, because after seeing all the glorious architecture and images at Bangkok’s temples and palaces, visiting its museum may seem anti-climactic.


Granted, Bangkok’s National Museum pales in comparison to the national museum’s of its ASEAN counterparts, it still merits a look. Hopefully, the continuing renovations improve it considerably.  Formerly the National Palace, the museum is spread out in different buildings in the complex some of which are inaccessible due to the ongoing renovations.

This red building was once the residence of a former queen.  It was dismantled from its original location and brought to its current location.


Most impressive of the open galleries is that of Thai History.with its collection of antique religious sculptures some spaning different historical eras from the Dvarvati to Ayyuthaya to Bangkok. Highly recommended to watch the short video on Thailand’s different historical periods  first to better appreciate the figures.


An impressive towering bronze figure


This giant Buddha head is massive.


A bronze drum. Thailand’s link to Vietnam’s Dong Son culture.


Very impressive are the gold figurines in a gallery housing the museum’s most important collections including royal palanquins, howdas  and  thrones.


Most poignant however is an airconditioned tent that had been set-up near the entrance showcasing photographs taken during the king’s funeral rites.


I admit being a bit teary-eyed seeing how much the Thais love their king.  The photographs are magnificent and you get a free postcard reproduction of one of the photos.

The museum was quite underwhelming considering Thailand’s heritage but hopefully the renovations will one day give it the merit it deserves.

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First Night in Bangkok: A Tasteless Fried Rice and a Killer View

Unbelievable but I just had the most in tasteless fried rice in Bangkok at an outdoor restaurant called Steak Chef Noi.  To a cuisine that prides itself with the use of herbs and seasonings, it comes a surprise.  Besides, how can you go wrong with fried rice, the global dish if every foreign traveler in Asia?  Perhaps I should have ordered any of the Western food they have in their menu.  After all, the chicken nuggets came perfectly fried.  After all the delicious meals I have had in Chiang Mai, this dinner in Bangkok was such a disappointment.  At least, the resto was just across the Bangkok Hub Hostel, a nice enough place just 2 minutes walk from the Saphan Taksin BTS station and Central Pier.  Very convenient. Friendly English-speaking owner, too.  The only downside is my room is on the 5th floor up some narrow flights of stairs.  Sizeable clean room with a killer view.


The Sathorn Tower otherwise known as the ghost tower.  This building was supposed to be a Bangkok landmark but was never completed due to what people say is a string of bad luck.  Perhaps being built on an ancient burial ground (unverified) could be the root cause?  The stuff of urban legends.  It attracts many adventurers who scale it for its marvelous views.

So I’m parking my self  for 3 nights  in this Thai capital before flying back home to Manila on Sunday morning.  

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Eating in Chiang Mai

The cuisine in the north is more aromatic and has a stronger taste than that of central Thailand, which visitors like me are more familiar with.  Spent 10 nights in Chiang Mai and tried to eat as much variety as possible aside from all the food I cooked in my 3-day Thai cookery class.

My favorite is the northern sausage which is chockful of herbs.


Tastes really nice grilled rather than fried.  Talking of grills, many times, a simple stall grilling meat on skewers satiated my hunger pangs in the evening.


Yup, even sticky rice is grilled.


For something more substantial, I headed to restaurants.  Took my chance and headed to popular and always packed Kajana   at the old town for lunch and lo and behold!  Found empty tables.


The pork sausage with eggs and glass noodles was soooo good I immediately wrote down the recipe the way I understood it based on taste and look.


The roast pork in curry is a little sweetish but oh so tender you can pick it with just a fork.  Warning:  if eating alone, don’t order another dish like what I did coz the portion is big. 

On the two times I lunched at Aroon Rai  the food was always delicious. 

Portions are generous and the staff friendly. Because I was always hungry whenever I came, I always headed straight to the pre-cooked food counter rather than ordering a la carte.  

A surprise discovery was Yummy E-San which I always ignored due to its cirny name.  Too touristy so maybe the taste is touristy too.  Hunger and convenience drove me there one night so I took a table.  The Tom Yum with coconut milk was really delicious with just the right amount of sourness balanced by the coconut milk.  


However, it was the Fried Tofu in Tamarind Sauce that won me over.  Melt in your mouth soft tofu so perfectly fried it was delicate to the tongue.  Dipped in tangily sweet tamarind sauce, it was heavenly.


Good Taste  kitchen just as its name suggests has really good taste both in interiors—cute wooden tables for a homey feel— and food.

Seriously good Green Curry Fried Rice.


Wat Phan On with its spacious grounds that hosts a few food stalls was also my go to place if I needed something simple and hot such as a bowl of noodle soup.  I just added the pork cracklings on the soup.

Speaking of pork, the Thai make crispy pork so perfectly.  Just the right thickness and fried to a crisp.  Not too salty.


Wat Phra Singh was also hosting a small market where I had some som tam, the ubiquitious Thai papaya salad.

I guesss wats not only provide spiritual nourishment but physical too.

Off Rachadamnoen Rd at the old town was this Mango with Sticky Rice. The blue rice is naturally tinted with butterfly pea flowers.


Of course, I had to have my  khao soi,  Chiang Mai’s signature noodle dish.  This  was courtesy of a stall at the Sunday Night Market at the old town.

In case, you need some Western food, there are burger places and lots of Italian restos.  Had a pizza with smoked ham and smoked cheese at La Fontana.  Good value at TH 200.  

I didn’t eat too much breakfast  as   I had a stash of fruits.  Was thinking of going to Fueng Fah for their TH 289 breakfast buffet was too lazy to get up early.  I did get to try the eggs benedict at  Art Cafe just across Thapae Gate in the morning I arrived by plane from Bangkok.  Looked pretty on my plate but it had the most tasteless Hollandaise sauce ever.  A better breakfast was at The Garden where I had a tasty breakfast sausage, some really good wheat toast with jelly, and pan-fried potatoes.

Breakfast fare is  mostly Western perhaps as a break from all the local food.  Besides, the farang may not take to noodle soup or rice porridge in the morning.
The quiet soi in the old town and even the night bazaar area where my hotel wad is home to small quaint cafes that beckon the weary temple-hopper to take a break and just watch the world go by.  At Nam’s, I could have sat on my wooden chair forever.


A cool leafy spot at Coffee Corner Kitchen.


Rachadamnern Cafe near the Chiang Mai police station has good coffee and pastries.  Went to Angel’s Secrets for the famous carrot cake but the place was packed and no cake in sight.  

So skip the big chains like Starbucks, Black Canyon, and Wawee and look for these hidden gems. You also get to support local independent businesses.
Surprisingly, I didn’t hav much desserts. My sweet tooth was asleep perhaps.  I did have a cup of white chocolate gelato at   Gelato World   but only just because I was too embarassed not  to buy after looking at the display far too long.  I did buy some traditional Thai desserts.


Many places to eat but not enough time to try.  The bane of solo travel also is you can’t order much. I guess I should just have to make a return trip.

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Solo in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is a place that grows on you.  Spent 10 nights here and I could have stayed for more.  For a solo traveller who is not very sociable nor into group tours, that’s saying a lot. After all, what can you do alone?

Plenty.

I took a 3-day cooking course (just 5 of us in a class) at   Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School  and had a great time with my classmates while discovering the secrets of Thai cuisine with a fun instructor named Pon. 


Visited beautiful temples and enjoyed some quiet moments,

colorful sights,


religion,

​and local culture.


I did book a taxi for a day to see the usual elephant shows (big mistake) and hill tribe people (enjoyable).  


I even got to listen to a sample of traditional Lahu music.


Though I did not get to experience the Flight of the Gibbons, I got to pet one.


I spent most of my time at the old town where there were loads of things to do perfect for a solitary traveler.  Like learning about Lanna culture at the Lanna Folk Life Museum and taking my sweet time moving from gallery to gallery.


Resting my feet while getting some quiet time at nice quaint cafes where servers are always smiling.


Spent a morning with  a musician in his shop and tried to play the pinpia.  

Speaking of music, caught this performance at Thapae gate on the last night of a travel and wellness expo.  Entertained me for an hour or so.


I took plenty of long walks and in doing so unearthed Chiang Mai’s hidden charms.


Temples oblivious to the tourist crowd.


Hidden cafes.


Leafy lanes.

and snippets of local life.


New Year’s Eve was spent with the monks (and hundreds of other people).  Magical and solemn.  Unlike anything I have ever experienced.

Spent a couple of hours shopping at night market and the Warorot Market.

My favorite indulgence — 2-hour massages at a spa.  Went 4 times. 

Of course, I ate and ate my favorite Chiang Mai sausages.

Lots of sausages and other delicious bits off street stalls.


Chiang Mai has many experiences to offer.  For solo travellers, particularly those looking for quiet moments, Chiang Mai has lots to give.

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