Wednesday, January 26, 2011

48 Hours in Bangkok - Part 2

25 - 48 Hours

0900, Sunday: We rose up a bit late to this windier morning, and we decided to check out early and head straight for some shopping action after a light(er) breakfast. There are no lack of shops in the Siam/Chit Lom area with several mega malls sprawling in the area with the major ones being Siam Paragon and Central World (near BTS-Siam Centre station). While most Hong Kong tourists flocked to the fashion boutiques, designer-label shops and the lingerie section of department stores, we had the best time wandering in the basement supermarket at Siam Paragon, and picked up quite a bit of Thai spices there - the likes of lemongrass or kaffir lime powders, for example. I figure they will come handy for the occasional cooking of hearty tom yam goong or Thai curry at home in one of the cooler nights, or when I want to try out exotic-flavored ice cream.

1300, Sunday: We had our quick late lunch at one of the many restaurants inside Siam Paragon, Manna Thai Restaurant. This casual restaurant serves "classic" Thai cuisine, at least compared to the un-classic Sra Bua that we had the evening before. We ordered some familiar dishes and mixed with some un-familiar ones - I particularly like the crispy tumeric flour wrap with dried shrimps and coconut as appetizer. Other dishes such as stir-fried morning glory, grilled pork neck and tom kha kai soup are delicious, better than what we expected for normal shopping mall food.

1615, Sunday: Having just 2 carry-on luggages, we decided to give the new Airport Rail Link a try for our return trip back to the airport. It's only a 30-minute journey between Phaya Thai (reachable via BTS/skytrain) and Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport on City Line which made 8 stops along the way, or twice as fast (and 3 times more expensive) if you chose the Express Line service instead. Either options will get you straight to the airport terminal building without much hassle. And for only 45 Baht per person (less than HK$12/US$1.50), this is easily the cheapest and fastest way to the airport, and I highly recommend that especially for those who happened to carry little luggage and live close to a skytrain or underground station.

0000, Monday: Home. Without much fanfare on the return flight we were home by midnight, just in time to catch up with some football on TV before bed. It's depressing realising the trip's too short (it always is!) and we have to go straight to work the next day morning, but at least our next journey's just round the corner - that gave us something to look forward to in these 2 tough weeks leading to Chinese New Year. Hasta la vista, baby!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

48 Hours in Bangkok - Part 1

Two words essentially summed up our quick weekend getaway to Bangkok - "did nothing", and we loved it! Well, we didn't do nothing per se, but you got the idea - no guided tour, no sightseeing, no walking around, no nothing. But even that, 48 hours did really went by in a snap...

0 - 24 Hours

0000, Saturday: We slipped out of town on the last flight out to BKK Friday, landed at exactly midnight the next day. One good thing about landing at night is we were spared from the heavy traffic in Bangkok - within less than an hour we already passed immigration, custom and comfortably arrived at our hotel (courtesy of the expedited immigration line and hotel airport pick-uo!). Lebua at State Tower may not be the top hotel in Bangkok standard these days, despite being named one of the hottest new hotel by Conde Nast Traveler when it first opened in 2005, its location's more than decent. Tugged right behind Shangri-la Hotel on the Chao Phraya river bank, it's only a 10 minute walk to either skytrain or underground stations, giving us plenty of options as far as public transportation is concerned . All rooms are suites with balconies - ours have a perfect view of both sides of the river. It's great value too - the promotional package included breakfasts for two plus one-way airport transfer - saved us quite a bit of hassle trying to hail a cab to downtown in the middle of the night.

0800, Saturday: Breakfast at poolside. The hotel's famous for its restaurants offering al-fresco dining options on top of the second tallest building in Bangkok, but their breakfast was served in the rather unceremonious location on the mezzanine floor next to the swimming pool. Nonetheless, it's not a bad place to start our day and chill by the poolside lounge table with plenty of hot and cold dishes available. We found ourselves lucky to come down early (at 9am) cuz when we finished, there were a long line of guests waiting to get in.

1230, Saturday: After breakfast, we took our time wandering around the hotel and chill in our room before setting foot out looking for more food. We picked this bistro which came highly recommended by CNNGo (which named them the best French restaurant in Bangkok) - and deservedly so, as we soon found out. With its location in a quiet neighborhood (10 minute from Asok skytrain station) on the ground floor of a serviced apartment building, Chef Herve of Le Beaulieu stuck with the tradition and delivers classic French bistro fares with a bit of Mediterranean flair. Simple decor, blue walls, open kitchen and animal-themed paintings added to the relaxed, vacation mood. The bouillabaisse that I picked as my entree choice for the Executive Lunch menu can easily be one of the best I have had for a long time. The dessert of Strawberry cappuccino with coconut sorbet has a nice Thai touch and is the perfect choice for this tropical weather.

1530, Saturday: We always ended in some sort of spa one way or the other whenever we are in Thailand, whether that be a simple massage or more elaborate, pampering treatment. And after a short walk from Le Beaulieu after lunch, we found ourselves at the door of Divana Spa which we have tried, with time to spare for our scheduled spa appointment. It's a popular choice especially among Asian tourists with many options to choose from from the spa menu, whether you prefer a la carte or half-day/full-day set treatment. After 2.5 hours of scrub, mud, steam and massage, I came out all refreshed and rejuventated. If even that's not enough, they have a shop selling beauty and spa products that people can bring home with.

1930, Saturday: It would have been a shame not getting a taste of Thai food being in the capital of Thailand, but we picked one that's perhaps the most unusual of all. Sra Bua, located in the new Siam Kempinski hotel behind Siam Paragon shopping centre, can be best described as a fine-dining restaurant serving progressive Thai cuisine. Serving from only one degustation menu, you can never tell what you will be having merely by looking at the description of courses. For example, their signature dish is the "Lobster with frozen red curry" - which is a piece of perfectly-poached lobster served with red curry-flavored icecream and lychee foam. I also have to give credit to the spectacular display of the dish called "The Harvest" - baby carrots sit on a bed of green curry mousse and cookie crumbs, all served on a terra cotta "flower pot".

My favorite of the evening is the quartet of bite-size dishes called "The Street Cooking", essentially a re-interpretation of some common Thai street foods, brought to the table on a "cloud" of charcoal smoke ("a reminder of the smell coming from the street food stall" - as we were told). Absolutely clever touch. We went along the spirit of adventure by matching our menu with a local wine from Asoke Valley, some 2 hours drive away northeast of Bangkok. One always said it's best to match local food with local wine, and this simple yet refreshing Chenin Blanc from GranMonte Vineyard, one of the two major wineries in the region, certainly washed down well with the heat from chili and curry spices typical of Thai cuisine. This is definitely one of our more memorable meals we have had in Bangkok, ever.