Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Chinatown in Bangkok

Chinatown Street Scene

Friday, October 22:

We're enroute to Chiang Mai as I write this. This is the way to travel, this first class bus way. There are only  21 passengers on the entire bus and each of us is seated in a very comfortable recliner seat equipped with back massage vibrators. They're power operated and very comfy, sort of like the 1st class seats  on an airplane but  more spacious. The bathroom is clean and convenient. There are video screens for each passenger and although the movie offerings are all in Thai the music is good, mostly American pop. And there is a pretty, sharply dressed attendant who periodically brings us snacks and water. We've had one light meal so far on this 9-hour journey and although plain by Thai street-side standards it was fairly good; rice and chicken strips, fresh cucumber slices and a tiny tomato. Our tickets cost 800 baht apiece, about $20.

We arrived in Chiangmai after a comfortable trip. The pace was slow but steady. I gave up trying to write more on the rest of the trip because the Thai roads aren't as smooth as ours so even though the ride itself was fine there was too much jiggling to type. Let's get back to Bangkok and Chinatown.

I wanted to write a bit about our visits to Chinatown but a few pictures will pretty much tell the story. Because the food and service were so damn good we ate at the same street-side restaurant twice, the first time it was just Nut and me. We went to buy a smoked, dried duck for Nut's best friend Kaew who lives in Chiangmai but of course while we were there we had to eat, right? The second time we went with one of her best friends, Pai, and her falang boyfriend Pierre, a Frenchman. This couple met on the Internet, which was convenient, because Pierre cannot speak. It isn't just that he can't speak Thai, he cannot speak at all. His hearing is normal though and he understands French of course but Pai doesn't speak French, only Thai and a bit of English. Their communication problems make ours seem trivial by comparison.

Anyway, Chinatown, like much of Bangkok, is jammed with food sellers, snack stands, and sidewalk restaurants. We were trying to walk by this one particular eatery situated on a main street corner but the waiters hammered us trying to convince us to have a seat and eat with them. Usually we resist this sort of hard sell but the food we could see on the tables nearby looked fantastic so we relented and took a seat. Our guy, the one who was so pushy on the street was the best waitperson I've had in all of Thailand. Attentive to the point of supplying us with fresh napkins as soon as ours were soiled, topping off my beer glass constantly, and bringing us a container of water awash with lime slices to clean our hands, in essence, the perfect waiter. And the food! I had a garlic encrusted deep fried sea bass with chilies and fresh basil that was so good I ordered another when we had the first one almost eaten. This place was fairly expensive by Thailand standards: the meal plus two beers came to about 500 baht, about 7 bucks and change.

We bought durian from this woman. This stuff has a awful smell but the fruit inside is quite nice. When fully ripe it's tasty, sweet and has a consistency something like firm custard, but the smell puts many people off to the point that they don't even give it a chance. It's Nut's favorite fruit by far. I have all I can do to keep her away from the durian sellers because whenever we buy it she sits down and eats the whole bagful, every time. She's an addict. What you see in the photo is the hard shell of the whole fruit which must be cut through to get to the edible fruit inside. When handling this stuff you need to wear leather gloves as those knobby spines will otherwise abrade your skin badly.

The shop where we bought the dried duck for Kaew - ducks are shown in the inset at left

And below are photos from the night we went with Pai and Pierre. I had the garlic fried fish again (bottom center) while Pierre ordered a poached fish (center) which is served boiling on a small brazier or chafing dish. Also shown are an order of grilled prawns and a seafood vegetable stir-fry that Nut ordered. We also had a scallop vegetable dish that was splendid. The Thai basil in that one is one of my favorite seasonings -- it brings to mind the flavor of fennel, or anise. I simply love it! I've said it before and no doubt I'll say it again, IF YOU LIKE TO EAT, COME TO THAILAND:

 After dinner we were destroying the durian Nut just had to have and I asked Pierre to take this shot. It's a bit shaky but you get the idea. Her buddy Pai is in the picture along with us.

Tuesday, October 27, Chiangmai:

Back to the current situation: So far I'm loving Chiangmai. I was here twice last spring so it was a foregone conclusion that I'd like it again, especially considering that I'm traveling with Nut. I rented a Honda Phantom again but this one is from Tony's Big Bikes  and it's practically brand new with only 5,000 km on the speedo, unlike the beater I rented  in Udon last spring. I had a great chat with Tony, a Brit expat who's lived in Thailand for 20 some years. He takes very good care of his bikes and so far Nut and I have made a couple of day trips to test the waters, so to speak, for the our trip to Udon to meet up with my Alaska buddies-- it's a solid ride. At a whopping 200 cc  displacement these Phantoms are a bit underpowered compared to the superbikes running around in the rest of the world but it's a practical and simple touring bike for Thailand. I was worried that riding two-up on such a small-bore machine would be impractical but considering that Nut weighs in at about 100 lb soaking wet, I think it will get us to Udon alright.

I'll post an article about our first motorcycle trips in the next day or so. Talk to you later.