Traveling Solo in BKK | Drink Like a Local

For a city like Bangkok where nightlife thrives as much as that in the day, visiting local bars is on the travel itinerary.

Before I made my way to Bangkok, a bartender friend in Hong Kong recommended me the charming Vesper Cocktail Bar & Restaurant in Silom area, close to Sala Daeng BTS. What’s good about this visit is that it’s new to myself and Book as well as his local friend, kind of a discovery for all of us.

We sat by the bar, ordered from bartenders Oil and Milk (who were just announced to be Diageo World Class Thailand Top 16 finalists, and Milk, later proceeded onto becoming one of Thailand’s Best Bartenders).

Secret Earl Grey (THB360) is a mix of earl grey-infused Tanqueray and lemon juice, topped with a frothy layer of egg white and a few dashes of grapefruit bitters. It’s presented with the dry ice fog effect that has the subtle scent of berry tea.

It’s lovely when we can involve in the making-of of our eating and drinking experience. Hemingway’s Sazerac (THB450), made of rye whisky, Hennessy VS, bitters and absinthe, is served in this medicine bottle that we poured out of onto the lemon zest air to watch it slowly melt into the drink.

 

Book and his friends brought me to several other places at night. Iron Fairies, though along the main road of Thonglor, can be hard to spot. It is a dark and moody jazz bar with iron machine parts, pipes, chains and cages, and tiny jars of “fairy dusts”.

We had two rounds of drinks, two of which The Iron Fairy (Red) (THB380), a heady drink of La Fée Bohemian absinthe, with hazelnut syrup, gin and hibiscus, and also Erin’s Fire & Sea (THB310) that has this amazing roasted, salted flavours of nori seaweed. What I remember most is that it was Monday, open mic night. I stood on the iron staircase, the centerpiece of the bar, and sang Fly Me To The Moon with the live band in front of like 60 people.

The reward? A shot of vodka that made me wanted to sing more.

 

We also went to —

Blues Bar (aka. Adhere The 13th) near Khao San Road, a small bar with an amazing ambiance thanks to the hippie decor and the different bands that play every night. I’d say half of the customers were young locals and the other half expats — all laid-back and chillaxing along with the beats.

 

BREW Beers & Ciders in Thonglor, offering a broad range of cold, fizzy beverages. It’s where I met Book’s coworkers and friends in the music industry, including the famous ukulele artist and singer Singto Numchok (!).

 

Mulligans Irish Bar on Khao San Road, again with a live band and singers, casual place for friends to gather, have some beer… and flaming Sambuca shots.

– Judith

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Traveling Solo in BKK | Eat Like a Local

“Most travel, and certainly the rewarding kind, involves depending on the kindness of strangers, putting yourself into the hands of people you don’t know and trusting them with your life. This risky suspension of disbelief is often an experience freighted with anxiety.”

While travel writer Paul Theroux put himself in the hands of a driver at the border of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan in 2006 (read Ghost Train to the Eastern Star), I was lucky to have met Book, my “personal foodie guide” who’d spent two days and nights with me exploring the city (and also cared to send me back to the hostel in the middle of the night).

 

Our first meal was a pleasant lunch at his go-to place for a relaxed meal — Khao Jao Bangkok in the hip and trendy Thonglor. As this is a district where most Japanese expats hang out at, not only that the menu is trilingual, but also the simple, home-like interior made use of the natural sunlight and is decorated with furnitures made of reclaimed wood as well as anime toys and figures. “Khao jao” means long grain rice.

 

Thai Papaya Salad, Stir-fried Salted Turnip with Eggs, Stir-fried Minced Pork with Black Olives; Khao Jao, Bangkok Starting with the smaller dishes, Thai Papaya Salad (THB80) was fresh and excitingly hot. Book says the spice generally defines Southern Thai cuisine.

Stir-fried Salted Turnip with Eggs (THB70-80?) was nice but quite ordinary to me in terms of the texture and the taste. I’d say it’s best to have a bowl of rice to with it, to tone down its excess saltiness.

Stir-fried Minced Pork with Black Olives (THB70-80?) too reminded me of a Chinese home-cooked dish that’s essentially the same. Salty and spicy, very flavorful, cooked with seasoned minced pork and chopped water spinach.

 

Green Curry Fried Rice with Fish (THB80) came with this pronounced flavors of fragrant Thai herbs and was slightly spicy, but after a few spoonful I felt that it’s a tad bit drying in the mouth. Rice with green curry on the side might have been a better option.

Pork Spare Ribs Spicy Soup (THB80) was a tasty clear soup, with the sour-spiciness of Tom Yum that whetted my appetite. But I couldn’t have more than one bowl because it’s too hot to bear!

 

On another day, Book brought me to Victory Monument. We walked along the skywalk upon exiting from the MRT, looking at the military monument on our left that stood in the middle of a roundabout.

It didn’t take long until we turned right into a canal bridge with street food stalls lined up on both sides, and saw Best Boat Noodles (orange uniform) and Ruathong Noodles (pink uniform), which I preferred better.

 

They stay true to the tradition of serving in small portions when this could avoid spilling when eating on the wobbly boats, and it actually makes the experience super fun because when your noodles are gone in two slurps, and you order more and can form a stack of bowls next to you in no time!

The splash of pig’s blood broth was savoury in Thai Noodles with Pork Meatballs (THB12) and Thai Noodles with Beef Meatballs (THB12). I thought a pinch of chilli flakes added excitement.

 

The bigger bowls were the delicious Stewed Beef Noodles topped with coriander and deep fried garlic that reminded me of famous ones from Taiwan, and the rich, sweet and creamy Khao Soi (Coconut Curry Noodle Soup with Chicken) with strands of fried egg toppings that gave me an idea of Northern Thai cuisine, a reverse of the piquant food down south.

 

Me finishing everything; Ruathong Noodles, Bangkok With local Thais around me, I knew I was at the right place. And as you can see, I had altogether 4 small ones and 2 big ones that were equivalent to… I guess 6 small ones?! That added up to a shocking 10 for a petite-sized like me. Book was in awe and so was myself.

– JD

Traveling Solo in BKK | Street Food

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I’d definitely spent my time wisely before starting my new job. Just one afternoon I decided to buy a return ticket to Bangkok, where the flight was the next morning.

Traveling with a friend is fun, but when it comes to my first time doing it solo, things became entirely different – I’m the kind of person who’s fine with staying in hostels, and would prefer down-to-earth street food that reflect the lives of locals over fancy restaurants in shopping arcades, though tasty. When on my own, I can follow my instincts, do whatever I want and go wherever I like.

I revisited a number of food spots that I love, including the street vendor near Sala Daeng BTS that sells this super comfort food: Banana Pancake (~THB30-40).

He hand-stretched and tossed the dough ball into a thin sheet, place it into the hot pan drizzled with oil, add and spread out the yolk before adding in banana slices. He then folded the four sides into the center, add a small chunk of butter, flipped to heat both sides until crispy and golden brown.

IMG_0631

“Condensed milk?” “YESSSSSSSS!”
“Sugar?” “YESSSSSSSS!”

He laughed while I was jumping up and down like a kid. I told him we don’t have this in Hong Kong, but it’s good or else I will turn into a fat girl in no time.

I also went back to Kaiton Pratunam Chicken Rice closest to Chitlom BTS. Their Khao Mun Gai (THB40) does not come in big portion, but enough for a person like me who’d like to save stomach space for other food.

Chicken meat is tender and promises freshness that’s rare to find in chicken in Hong Kong, given that most of the times they are frozen due to the avian flu that attack almost on a yearly basis. I mean fresh, safe ones are available but are limited and can be pricey.

The rice is cooked with chicken broth and oil, therefore amazingly fragrant on its own. A drizzle of the red-chilli-and-ginger-infused sweet soy sauce adds a unique Thai flavor. Chilled coconut water is a must-have after the meal.

That’s all for now!!

— Jude

Cravings in Bangkok! (2)

Continuing with the previous post, below are more cravings Samantha and I had in Bangkok, back in mid-December 2013!

12 DECEMBER, 2013

Basically we gave ourselves a spa break for each of the day in Bangkok, but on the fourth day we’d decided to put it on the very top of our itinerary to kick start the beautiful day 🙂

Don’t panic yet, it’s still a food blog! The reason why I’m mentioning the Center Point Massage in Silom is the cup of Matoom Tea served before and after its heavenly, exceptional spa treatment; and of course, it also happens to be one of the must-goes on my list.

Matoom is essentially bael fruit, and this herbal tea is known for cleansing and keeping your digestive system healthy. What the staff do is as simple as bringing the dried pieces up to a boil and adding sugar to taste. But since I only found powdered ones in Big C Supermarket, that’s what I got for myself 🙂 and I’m excited that it tastes equally good!

Afterwards we had lunch at Samai Seik Chicken Rice. It is not heavily promoted, but a low-profile place along the street with an old facade that has it’s name written in Thai that made it difficult for non-locals like us to find.

I think it deserves to be known by more people as its Chicken Rice is actually also very yummy. Boneless, silky smooth chicken meat and yellow-tinged rice to be eaten with red chili sauce different from that in Kaiton Pathumwan (check my last post for more info). It’s hard to tell which one is more superior for they have given the same dish different personalities. But one thing that I’m sure to tell is, the soup here is a whole lot better.

Later of the day, we walked into the neighborhood of Thonglor to hit up the widely-discussed Water Library (Thonglor) on Sukhumvit 55, one of the streets in Bangkok that is highly concentrated with quality, decent bars and restaurants.

It is urban and stylish; walking into the bar area we’re greeted by Mirko Gardelliano the corporate mixologist, who showed us the outdoor terrace, private dining room and wine cellar.

At the main bar area is a shelf of homemade infusion of which its bartenders use to make the drinks. Mirko brought us two cocktail drinks: Gummy Bear and WOW… Guava!

There are a number of drinks under the Gummy Bear category and for this particular one, drink only the upper part, the gin infusion, because the bottom part in blue was liquid nitrogen that released fog for an exciting visual impact (sadly though, didn’t last long). Remember to squeeze the Gummy Bear pipettes onto the palate first to later give the whole drink a wake-up, while chewing gummy bears in between the sips add a whimsical touch to the taste. It’s in general refreshing, with hints of mango, passion fruit and citrus.

WOW… Guava! is a bittersweet infused gin, where a few good drops of homemade Aphrodisiac Bitter helped enhance the already rich fruity flavor to bring a remarkable after taste.

Mirko says a lot of people visit and return to Water Library for it is a place created for real, decent cocktail appreciation. This is my ideal kind of bars too.

Soon after we left, we headed down to the middle of the street for diVino Food & Bar, where its much cosy and down-to-earth setting welcomes everyone like old friends at Roberto Ferin, the Italian restaurateur’s home.

It is comprised of an outdoor terrace, a dining room made to resemble a stone wine cellar with vaulted ceiling (where we were seated) and an adjacent two-storey building named as diVino Deli Shop for casual dinners and takeaways. Roberto kindly served us with aperitivo, a glass of red and white each, a Mini Artichoke, Ham and Cheese Pizza and also its signature Fresh Tuna Salad.

Offering a wide selection of Italian wines (plus some choices from the New World), Indulging food, great ambience and fantastic hospitality, it well deserves the Reader’s Choice Award under the Best Wine Bars category in Bangkok’s Best Dining 2013.
*Read more about diVino Food & Wine in Spirito diVino Asia #8 February/March 2014 issue*

13 DECEMBER, 2013

If you already know me, you’d agree with me that the last day was just lovely and purrrrrrfect to me. We didn’t have a lot of time so Purr Cat Café Club in the serene neighbourhood of Thonglor was the only place we went before heading to the airport.

There were several steps to follow: took off our shoes outside at the garden, put on slippers, wash our hands, get them sanitized with rubbing alcohol and at last, read the “PURR-RULES” that include “play with them nicely” and “please do not hold cats” (*they fine 1,000 Baht for breaking the rules*). All these are to ensure a nice environment for the beautiful felines to thrive. We don’t just come and go, but be responsible 🙂

The café is divided into three main parts: the reception, the cat-free outer lounge and the inner one that I’d call the “cat paradise” for housing more than 20 cats, with walls painted in pristine white to feel clean and spacious.

My thoughtful friend ordered food from the cake counter while I was busying taking photos and having fun with the 20 something cats. And she’s indeed more than thoughtful as the waitress brought the food over to our table, there’s a slice of cake with HBD to… Judith 2013 written on the plate with melted chocolate!

I must apologize that for shifting focus to the cats (who wouldn’t?) and therefore cannot write much about the food. But from what I recall ever so slightly, Lasagne was not exactly a good choice, Hot Latte was nice and foamy while Strawberry Cake was just ok with too generous amounts of cream.

But anyway, I’m very sure to revisit in my every coming trip to Bangkok 🙂 It’s such a delight spending time with these fluffy animals — the lazy Persians, playful American Shorthairs, gentle (and gigantic) Maine Coon and more — CUTENESS OVERLOAD!!!

/ / / / /
Samai Seik Chicken Rice
209 Silom Road, Bangkok, Thailand (BTS-Sala Daeng / MRT-Si Lom)

Water Library Thonglor
The Grass, Thonglor Soi 12, Sukhumvit 55, Bangkok, Thailand (BTS-Thong Lor)
+66 2 714 9292

diVino Food & Wine
Penny’s Balcony, Thonglor Soi 16, Sukhumvit 55, Bangkok, Thailand (BTS-Thong Lor)
+66 2 714 8723

Purr Cat Café Club
Thonglor Soi 53, Sukhumvit, Bangkok, Thailand (BTS-Thong Lor)
+66 2 108 3604

– Judith

Cravings in Bangkok! (1)

It was in mid-December 2013 I went on a 5-day Bangkok trip with my lovely friend Samantha. We have been talking about this for years (since we met in high school at the age of 16?) and finally we did it! ❤ It was such fabulous moments, and below are the first half of the recaps! 😀

9 DECEMBER, 2013

Grapefruit juice as welcome drink; Citrus Sukhumvit 22 Hotel, Bangkok

We arrived at Citrus Sukhumvit 22 Hotel, and at the check-in counter we were each greeted with a glass of welcome drink: icy cold grapefruit juice.

Mango Sticky Rice; Mae Varee, Bangkok
Afterwards, the first thing that we’d decided to do was to eat mango rice! Needless to go through again our handy travel books, we already knew Mae Varee, closest to Thonglor station, was the place to go.

We shared a pack of this Mango Sticky (Glutinous) Rice, where the rice fancily came in three shades. Topped with thick, creamy coconut milk and crispy mung beans, it looked attractive and delicious but I’m sorry to say that it was quite disappointing to taste. Though the shop’s highlight is on the tropical fruit, it cannot just ignore the quality of the rice: why name it sticky rice if it’s not at all sticky?

After a full body massage at Healthland Spa & Massage (which was less satisfying than my first experience) we went to Kaiton Pathumwan that is super famous among tourists for its Chicken Rice. In case you’re not sure if you have found the right place, the bright pink staff uniform would be the key to look for!

Smooth boneless chicken meat, rich-flavoured oily rice, together with that salty-spicy sauce of garlic, chilli and pounded ginger, it was simply superb and a place that I swear I would go to at least once in my every Bangkok trip.

10 DECEMBER, 2013

The next afternoon (yes, we had breakfast at the hotel), after some shopping here and there, we slowed down at MBK Food Island for late lunch. Different from food courts in Hong Kong is that you don’t pay at the respective food booths and wait for the food there, but pay at a counter, get a MBK card (with info of the food you wanted), then present it at the food booths.

I had a simple bowl of Fishball Rice Noodles while Samantha ordered Tom Yum Seafood Soup that is super hot, and because of that she gave excuse to herself buying another pack of Mango Sticky Rice.
Of course, we shared it!

Later of the day we took the train to Saphan Taksin station and down the footbridge to the free ferry to Asiatique the Riverfront, where after a few extra rounds of shopping we’d decided to dine at , among the many choices that the place has to offer.

Right underneath the breathtaking 60-meter high Sky Asiatique, we indulged in the live music and candle light, and started our dinner with Raw Shrimps in Fish Sauce that was sense-stimulating. Sliced red chili and garlic are always the best to complement fish sauce, which highlights the freshness in the seafood. What is so good about having this dish in Thailand is, it is always less costly than in Hong Kong while being higher in quality (most often, if not always).

Afterwards it was Thai Fried Rice with Mixed Seafood. We ordered just half of the amount since we wanted to order also Smoked Ham Pork Spare Ribs (which arrived very late…). It was a wise move since the rice was yummy but not at all impressive, while the ribs did not taste bad except having dried out a bit after cooking.

In all, the food wasn’t outstanding, but the ambiance and environment certainly did. A dining spot for romantic occasions.

11 DECEMBER, 2013

Day three of our trip was when we spent basically the entire day wandering around in Siam, eating. After a simple breakfast at the hotel, we went to Siam Square to check out two super well-known eateries: Som Tam Nua and Mango Tango, of which their names already suggested what kind of food you can find there.

“Som Tam” is Green Papaya while “Nua” means North, suggesting the dish was invented by Northern Thai. There, we devoured two Green Papaya Salads, one topped with deep-fried pork rind and the other with cherry tomatoes. Both were tossed and mixed with exciting, hot spices that tingled our tongues. Quite delicious, but the hygiene condition freaked us out for there were so many flies around… and in fact way too many!

P.S. a stall at Jomtien Thepprasit Night Market, Pattaya makes WAY better salads

After that, just a one-minute walk we crossed the road and arrived at Mango Tango! There we ordered for the third time Mango Sticky Rice (just couldn’t have enough of it!) and it was so far the most delicious. From that lively yellow colour you can already tell that the mangoes were so ripe and decadent; and we really appreciate the effort it places onto making the glutinous rice even though mangoes are the main focus.

The Mango Pudding was too to be crazy about — can’t miss.

Later, on the street, I randomly came across this hawker stall and decided to treat myself with something comforting and sweet: Banana Pandan Crepe with Chocolate Syrup! The banana reminded me of the Banana Pancake with Condensed Milk, that heavenly, ultimate indulgence that… I had sadly no chance to eat during this trip.

(watch this, the same stall I bought from at Pattaya: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOVQWtvL2eQ)

Nara Thai Cuisine was where we had our lunch afterwards, a place that made Thai food with promising quality and is no wonder awarded as one of Thailand’s Best Restaurants in 2013.

With a high ceiling and walls made of dark wood planks, it provides a spacious, comfy, slightly exotic setting for local dishes. First it was the Prawns Carpaccio in Fish Sauce Marinate (the same thing but named differently on menus) which were bigger in size, firmer in texture, sweeter and fresher in taste when compared to the ones at Top View, nothing but superb as an appetizer.

Then we had the Chicken Pandan, wrapped in pandan leaves to infuse their very unique flavour into the meat during the frying process. I’ve had the same dish in various Thai restaurants back in Hong Kong but it was never as moist and supple.

Moving on, we’d picked the Fried Rice with Thai Herbs as the photo on the menu looked really attractive with the purplish-blue rice. Expect a subtle, almost elegant herbal taste to the dish though the colour pops.

The phrase “time flies when you’re having fun” is just so true. Only a few rounds of shopping it already got quite late. Our original plan was to visit Manna on the ground floor of Siam Paragon, but we arrived too late and had to leave it for next time.
(Our travel book says it offers traditional Thai cuisine that locals used to cook and eat in the old times, nothing like Tom Yum or Raw Shrimps)

Therefore, we dragged our tired feet to the Food Loft on the same floor and chose a stall for some quick and easy dinner before heading to Red Sky Bar, where we had a bowl of Pork Noodles each, and Samantha had an extra Tom Yum Soup to kill hunger.

Red Sky Bar is, needless to doubt, one of the hottest rooftop bars in the city. Taking the lift to the 55th floor, a part of Centara Grand Hotel (which is also a part of the enormous CentralWorld mall), we got through the door to the open area, walked up the stairs to face the iconic multi-hued neon arch.

Under the urban and chic atmosphere complemented with mood-arousing / sensational live music, as well as the 360-degree panoramic night view of Bangkok, Samantha got herself a glass of White Sangria while I, after scanning through the cocktail descriptions, decided to go for the fancy Star Light, Amarula Fruit cream blended with Crème de cacao white, Butter scotch and light cream.

It’s indeed a great place to hang out at because you’re allowed in as long as dressed in smart casual attire. Who cares if you have your arms fully loaded with shopping bags? (Not TOO many of course, not to the point where you might cause disturbance, knock drinks off the table or fall off the stairs…)

/ / / / /
Mae Varee

1 Soi Thonglor, Sukhumvit 55 Road, Bangkok, Thailand (BTS-Thong Lo)
+66 2 392 4804

Kaiton Pathumwan
Petchaburi Soi 30 Road, Pathumwan, Makkasan, Bangkok, Thailand (BTS-Chidlom)
+66 2 252 6325

MBK Food Island
6/F, MBK Center (BTS-National Stadium)
+66 2 620 9000

Top View Seafood & Beer Garden
Asiatique the Riverfront, Bangkok, Thailand (Underneath Sky Asiatique the Ferris Wheel)

Som Tam Nua
Soi 5, Siam Square, Rama 1 Road, Pathumwan, Bangkok, Thailand (BTS-Siam)
+66 2 251 4880

Mango Tango
Soi 5, Siam Square, Rama 1 Road, Pathumwan, Bangkok, Thailand (BTS-Siam)
+66 2 250 0182

Nara Thai Cuisine
B702-703, Beacon Zone, CentralWorld, Bangkok, Thailand (BTS-Siam)
+66 2 613 1657

Food Loft
UG/F, Siam Paragon, Bangkok, Thailand (BTS-Siam)

Red Sky Bar
55/F Centara Grand @CentralWorld, 999/99 Rama 1 Road, Pathumwan, Bangkok, Thailand (BTS-Siam)
(Walk through CentralWorld, look for the lift in the cinema that leads to the hotel)
+66 2 100 1234

Cheers,
Judith