Posts Tagged ‘Bangkok’

Bangkok…Kingdom of Siam

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

Have you ever been at a place in your life where you’ve felt like you’ve had enough?  Things have been going along well, but you just need to stop, settle down, and not do for a while.  Well, I’ve been in SE Asia for a month now, and that’s how I’m feeling.  Not because it hasn’t been a wonderful adventure, but because each “short” bit of travel is in actuality a long trip, and I’m ready to stay still and not get on a bus for some time.  I made this decision on the 130 mile, yet 5 hour bus ride from Saigon to Mui Ne, a small, quiet surf resort on Vietnam’s southern coast.  I’m tired of bus rides, and ready to fly.  In saying that, I am preparing myself for two more bus rides in Vietnam.  I will spend a week here at the beach in Mui Ne, then Dore and I will part ways again, I take a “short” bus ride to Da Lat to explore jungle and waterfalls, and then a bus to Saigon to catch my flight, meeting up with Dore again in Phuket, Southern Thailand.

This decision came from the fact that I was starting to feel like I was rushing from place to place, and I never wanted to be the traveler who went just to say that I’ve been.  I know that when one has a year to travel, it seems like rushing wouldn’t be possible, but travel itself is not always quick and easy, and there is so much to see.  I’ve had a desire to travel throughout Vietnam, yet Hanoi, the main city in the north, is over 1000 miles away, and I realized that I will just have to come back to Vietnam.  I have my priorities, and right now Thailand happens to be one of them.  Thailand warrants the six weeks I have before flying from Bangkok to meet Matt in LA for 5 days at Thanksgiving.

Another thing which has had an influence is that I’ve been trying to figure out why India had such a profound effect on me, and while I’ve been struggling to find that feeling with everywhere I’ve been since.  For one, India is so itself.  It is not westernized, there is no “tourist circuit” created to make it easy for travelers to get from place to place.  One is forced to be a part of India, just as the Indians are.  You have to fight for your bus seat along with the throngs of people who have been doing it their whole lives.  Here in SE Asia, one could literally travel from city to city, and even country to country, without ever entering a bus station.  There are tourist buses which pick you up at your hotel or guest house and drop you in the town center at your destination.  It almost feels as if they want to protect tourists from experiencing the “real” thing.  The other thing is that I spent four months in India, and while it is a huge country, incredibly diverse from north to south in culture, language, and tradition, there is still an underlying thread that connects it all.  When in India, you know you are in India.  It gets into one in a way that can be felt.  For me, it entered my thoughts, my spirit, my soul.  So, I have to give Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Vietnam all a break.  Three weeks is just not enough time to get to know a place.

I arrived into Bangkok, from Sri Lanka, one month ago today.  Bangkok is a pulsing city; it is alive and energized, day and night.  It also offers so much of what great International cities offer; historic sites, interesting museums, eclectic and local cuisine, shopping, and live entertainment.  While there is the backpacker circuit found on Khao San Road, it is easy to avoid and immerse yourself with the local Bangkok culture.  The “must see” when visiting is the Grand Palace, the official residence of the Kings of Siam (now Thailand) from the late 1700’s til the early 1900’s.  It is still used for state business, but no longer the residence of the royal family.  The structures themselves are incredibly ornate, adorned in gold and lots of glittery glass mosaic.  Most famous for The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, carved from a single jade stone, it sits on a pedestal high above the ground, surrounded by all sorts of religious and decorative pieces.  The walls of this temple are a mural depicting Buddha’s life, his journey, his work; metaphorically representing honesty, faith, and devotion.  It is quite impressive.   There are several museums on the grounds and included in the ticket, such as the Armory and a textile museum.  The Queen, Queen Sirikit,  has long been a supporter of women’s independence in Thailand, and one of her projects is called Support.  She has helped underprivileged women all over Thailand to produce silk fabrics and textiles, and to tailor items.  Very noble.

I also visited Dusit Palace, which is home to 13 royal residences.  One of them, the Vimanmek Mansion, built in 1900, is assembled entirely of teak from a deconstructed palace from northern Thailand.  No nails or other hardware were used in the building of this Victorian structure which houses all sorts of family heirlooms. Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall now serves as a museum, which of courses displays several thrones, but more impressive to me were the screens carved from teak and woven from silk.  It is apparent that they were created by very skilled craftsmen as they are incredibly ornate and beautiful, depicting scenes of nature and creation.  The current king, Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) happens to be an accomplished musician and photographer.  One of the smaller museums exhibits photos he took of his family, as well as photos of him playing music with the likes of Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman. I really enjoyed viewing this because they indicate warmth and emotion within the family, and it’s cool that the King got to jam with Satchmo.

Read my last blog post, “Food,,,Glorious Food,” for more on Bangkok.

Link here for pictures of Bangkok.  Know that several of Bangkok’s sights do not allow for pictures to be taken inside, reason for no pictures of the Emerald Buddha, inside Vimanmek Mansion, and Throne Hall.

Cambodia blog coming soon…

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Posted in history, travel | 2 Comments »

Food…Glorious Food

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

I had started this blog as a travel log, like most of my past blog entries, but then I was inspired by my cousin Adam to write a blog just about the amazing food I experienced in Bangkok and Cambodia.  Adam, this blog is dedicated to you and Hector, and to all the other foodies in my life.

If you live your life scared of street food, change your attitude before visiting Bangkok, known to have the best street food in the world.  If you think you will never eat an insect on purpose, wait until you’re walking Khao San Rd at midnight with a beer buzz.  If you don’t like spicy, never tell anyone in SE Asia, seems that that’s when they spice it up.  If you like curry, know that here red and green and tom yum are just the beginning.

The streets of Bangkok are lined with food vendors, selling everything from fried dumplings and spring rolls, to curries and noodle soup, to all sorts of barbequed meat and seafood on sticks.  You can find papaya or mango salad, any type of Asian fruit you may desire, and even ice cream served in a sweet bun, in addition to lots of other sweet pastries.  Then, hit Cambodia and add into the mix fresh spring rolls, sticky buns, and Banh Mi, the baguette sandwich inspired by the French.   You can sit and eat at the makeshift cafés, a table or two and some plastic chairs set up on the sidewalk, or take to go.  Depending on the dish it will come in a to go container as we know, or in a plastic bag, or in a banana leaf.

My first night in Bangkok I was to be meeting up with some fellow travelers for dinner.  I had an hour to spare, and my appetite grew as I walked past the several food stalls lining the streets.  I had to sample some of the food before I met up with them.  My first stop was for some vegetarian noodle soup, which I tell you, is hard for them to understand here.  There is meat in almost everything, but I was successful, and the veggies were fresh and delicious, bean sprouts and greens, spring onion and carrots.  Then, I met up with Nico and Lara and we found a restaurant on Rambutri Street where mostly Thai people were eating in this tourist part of town, so we settled in there for many Chang beers and some food.  My first course was Som Tum, Spicy Papaya Salad, and they were not kidding.  In Thailand, everything is made spicy.  Do not make the mistake of asking for “not” spicy, because according to my friends, the request does not translate and things are made spicier.  I had made no request, and it made my eyes water and nose run, but the small red chili peppers have such great flavor, it was spicy in a good way.  This is one of my favorite dishes at home and I’m happy to say that Thai Life in Key West does it justice.  Fresh green papaya, juicy tomatoes, green beans, carrot, bean sprouts, peanuts, and baby prawns in a flavorful fish sauce.  The next course was Tom Yum soup with Prawns.  So flavorful and delicious with thick slices of fresh ginger and pieces of lemongrass, roasted chilies, lots of coconut flavor, beautiful prawns, and fresh baby corn and Thai basil.  Doing it right.

Afterwards, we wandered from Rambutri Street to the well-known tourist street Khao San.  This is the Bourbon or Duval Street of Bangkok.  Lined with bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, and tourists, Khao San is a site to be seen, yet not my cup of tea as a place to spend lots of time, still fun for the visit.  The most interesting thing to me was the cart selling all sorts of fried and sautéed insects…yes, like bugs.  I’m sure lots of you have seen footage of this sort of thing on the travel channel or the food network, but seeing it in real life, the variety is pretty impressive.   So, you’re in a foreign country, have had several beers, and the insect cart is rolling by…what do you do?  Well, sample some bugs, of course.  I did not go for the large and expensive grasshopper or scorpion (they were $3 each), but went for the more simple grub and some sort of smaller cricket.  The grub, not so good, but the cricket was actually tasty.  And these were about 30 cents each.  My friend Jenny had asked me if I was going to eat any weird foods, and I guess now I can say, “Yes, I am.”  It’s part of the adventure.

The following morning I was extremely pleased with the breakfast at my guest house.  They offered the traditional continental breakfast of Asian guesthouses for Westerners: eggs, toast and fruit, boring.  Much more exciting to me, they also offered Asian breakfast of rice, sautéed pork with ginger and veggies, and fresh salad, including the best lettuce since I left the states.   The following mornings featured something very similar.  A really great way to start the day, especially before heading out to walk, and walk, and walk around Bangkok.

So, the best food in Bangkok is on the street and in the markets, which makes it very easy to sample many things while wandering the city.  I sampled several dumplings while there, and my favorite came from a woman near the Amulet Market.  Most often there were three kinds of dumplings: bamboo, kale, and shrimp, very lightly fried.  Tradition here is to cut them up and put them in a plastic bag with a soy-chili-ginger sauce.   This is also tradition with fried spring rolls, which are served with lettuce and basil leaves, sweet & spicy sauce on the side.  I don’t know if it was tradition to wrap the roll in the lettuce with basil, but that’s what I did.  So good.   I also tried fish that was steamed with spices in a banana leaf.  The fish was so fresh and delicious, and just lightly cooked, so almost like sushi.   The spices gave it really nice flavor, and the texture reminded me of tartar.   For a meal, there is a woman who whips up Pad Thai, as well as other noodle dishes, on Rambutri Street, and it was the best Pad Thai I’ve ever had.  Another traditional dish that you will find anywhere is noodle soup.  There are lots of different versions made with a variety of noodles, as well as a variety of meat and fish.  I had one of these noodle soups my last night in Bangkok, at a stall down the street from my hotel.   Flavorful rice noodles (my favorite) loaded with fresh herbs, ginger and veggies.

On the sweeter side, there were grilled bananas served in a sweet coconut milk; ice cream in a sweet bun with or without fruit sauce; and then there are khanom bueang, thin mini crispy pancakes covered with a sweet cream and fresh spiced coconut.  These were a personal fav, especially at 10 bhat, about 30 cents each.

The one other meal I ate in a restaurant was on Nico and Lara’s last night.   We shared some prawn rolls to start, prawns in pastry and fried, served with a sweet and spicy chili sauce.  And then I had another of my favorites, Green Curry with veggies and tofu.  It was delectable.  They made it with a couple of types of eggplant, one of which was small, green, and round like a grape, but firm in texture.  Really flavorful and different than any eggplant I’d had before.

While there are some similarities, the food in Cambodia is very different.   For one, it is not spicy.  It can be, but on request.  Seafood is a staple here, as is the dish Amok, made with any type of meat or veggies, but fish amok is the very popular and traditional staple.   The fish is wrapped in a banana leaf with a coconut based curry paste, accented with fresh lemongrass, kaffir lime, galangal, turmeric, ginger, garlic, shallots, and dried red chilies.  If you eat it at the right place, it is absolutely delicious.

The best and the cheapest foods are found on the street here, too, or in food stalls found in the markets.  Again, noodle soup is a traditional dish, made similarly to in Bangkok.  Aside from Amok, the dishes which set Cambodia apart are sticky buns, a doughy bun stuffed with a pork and fermented cabbage, and Banh Mi, the traditional baguette sandwich inspired by the French colonization of the region.  Made slightly different depending where you get it, these are stuffed with cucumber, pate, spring onion, cilantro, and a cucumber-carrot sort of slaw, add chile paste, pork, or cheese, if you like.  These sandwiches are awesome, and cost anywhere from $.75-$1.25.  A solid meal for little money.

The beach in Sihanoukville is a constant barrage of people selling things, including lots of food, seafood especially.  The sellers will cook you fresh squid or octopus right at your table, they carry trays of crawfish (which they call lobster) lightly spiced, and all the restaurants serve fresh fish and prawns.  You can also find all types of tropical fruit, including durian, which is infamous for its odor.  You can smell it from quite a way off, even if not opened.  It definitely has an acquired taste, but not as bad as I thought it was going to be, since the smell is so off-putting.

One more new dish for me, and absolutely delicious, was Som Lo Machuyun soup.  A Cambodian version of egg drop soup, and perfect for those who do not like spicy.  Just slightly on the sweet side, made with pineapple and tamarind, it also contains tomato, bitter melon, egg, fresh basil, and possibly a squeeze of kefir lime, too.  This is the dish to try.

What else to do in Bangkok and Cambodia, besides eat, and according to what I have seen so far: get massaged, it’s cheap and good; The Golden Palace in Bangkok, and of course, Angkor Wat, the awe inspiring temples of the Khmer people near Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Link here for more pictures of food, including market photos.  The meat in the markets here can make even the biggest of meat eaters a little unsettled.

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Posted in Food, travel | 5 Comments »