Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pausing At Post #100 - And A Thank You

Because of some personal business I may not be able to post for the next handful of days. You should be seeing regular posting by Tuesday, July 6th - and if time and internet connectivity cooperate I'll try before that.

The previous post (The Roadside Barber 2) was the 100th entry since I started this on March 22.

To date there have been 286-some-odd images posted, counting the one above - and readers have been kind enough to swap 70 comments with me. So far there has only been one comment I've needed to reject as inappropriate.

Thank you to all of you who stop in to read my stuff. As I was just commenting recently the pleasure of this for me is twofold: I get to share these pictures, memories and thoughts with people and I get to be reminded of my many times in the Land of Smiles. Hopefully this will remain a win-win situation and you'll continue to check in regularly. There are still another 30,000+ images on my hard drive(s), so I expect we have a lot more to cover.

Thanks again for riding along.

The Roadside Barber (2)

I found another image of the roadside barber shop from last week. It was taken a few nights before the images of the kid getting his hair clipped, and although the flash didn't work all that well I managed to salvage enough of the dark image to (hopefully) make it worth posting today.

Food: Chili Culture in Bangkok

The old saying goes that religion and politics are usually topics best avoided if you don’t want to start a debate, but restaurants and food recommendations can be dicey, too. There have been quite a number of places in Thailand where I’ve had delicious meals, but I’ve been taken there by Thai friends via taxi, bus or their own car – and can’t read the signs in Thai, anyway.

Add to that the frequency of changes in ownership and titles and you’re better off putting on your asbestos suit and diving into one of the online forums to ask for a suggestion and directions.

That said - there are places where the food, staff, pricing or location made them spots I’d gladly return to, so I’ll try to remember to mention some as we go along. Civil suggestions and comments are always welcome – and appreciated!

One such place is the Chili Culture, at the “T” split on Sukhumvit Soi 11.

Exiting the Nana BTS station and heading about 600 yards down Soi 11 (you’ll pass the Ambassador Hotel on your right) you’ll see Chaidee Mansion at what looks like the end of the street. When you get there you’ll only be able to go left or right. If you go right and down another 40 yards or so you see Soi 11 continue to your left, but if you go to the right about 40 yards or so you’ll see Soi 11 continue to your right , also (my guess is the streets were named by a committee)! When you get to that “T” intersection you’ll see Chili Culture just to the left of Chaidee Mansion.

I was there at about 2pm one afternoon so I have no idea how busy it is at lunchtime or dinnertime proper, but there’s plenty of seating in a cool, comfortable atmosphere and it was a welcome break for lunch before walking further along for a stroll along the canal for photos and an afternoon massage.

Not feeling all that adventurous I fell back on the basic dish of Pad Thai; bean sprouts, rice noodles, dried shrimp, chili pepper, tamarind, shallots, fish sauce and garlic – usually garnished with a wedge of lime, ground peanuts and sugar on the side. It came wrapped in a thin egg crepe, as some places serve it. There are many variations. It may have been the day, my mood and the restaurant that added to it, but it was wonderful.

Arriving before the entrĂ©e was the fruit shake I’d also ordered. The Thai pronounce “watermelon” as tangmo – but I’d translate tangmo as “divine”. A tall, blended glass of tangmo and ice is one of the best things I’ve ever sipped on, and with fresh tropical watermelon it’s ethereal.

As an addendum (although we’ll cover this again later): the fruit in Thailand – as it often is in a tropical country – is much fuller in flavor than the picked-green-to-ship-well fruit available in non-tropical places. Be adventurous and try as much of it as you can there - it’s cheap and readily available on the street. To be cautious, wash it in potable water or peel it yourself – but don’t miss out.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Thai Smiles, Part 10: More Random Smiles

Not a enough time to write a proper post today, so I'm going to share another few pictures from the on-going Thai Smiles series. The man above was selling shirts on a street corner in Udonthani. I admired both his looks and his beautiful hair.

This couple was waiting for a bus, and much like it is in the West the young man was pleased to strike a proud "she's with me" pose with his girlfriend.

The image quality isn't very good here, but these two workers at an outdoor eatery in Nong Nooch Gardens near Pattaya were happy doing what they do.

The final image (below) is another of my favorites. Such an impish smile, and such a pleasant young man.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Om Yim, Again - I Forgot One

Here's one more photo from the Om Yim post on Friday that I neglected to include (I told you I had too many) and since I'd already retouched and re-sized it there doesn't seem a good reason not to go ahead and use it.

My memory fails me for the name of the man on the left, but it's difficult to forget a smile like Note has, and this is him again on the right.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Bangkok "Pride" - 2003 (2)

Bangkok Pride in 2003 was a well-intentioned but somewhat messy affair. Whoever thought it would be OK to hold the parade during commute hours on a heavily traveled road wasn't thinking. I had no idea it was taking place, so my friend and I were caught off guard while trying to get back to my room after dinner.

The sidewalk along the route were normally lined with stalls as part of the night market and already making them a challenge for pedestrians, but the added sightseers caused a total jam-up.

People also stood along the road's center divider for a view. The parade's contingents were interspersed between buses, taxis, autos, trucks, motorcycles, scooters and the odd bicycle here and there. It was chaos, albeit chaos in slow motion.

Sois 2 and 4 were full several hours earlier than normal, with not a seat to be had anywhere along either of them.

Nevertheless, the parade did (slowly) make its way along Silom, in fits and starts. My friend had never seen such a thing in his homeland, and it was an enjoyable surprise on what ended up being a very long walk home.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Bangkok "Pride" - 2003

Costumed participants in Bangkok, November 2003

June is home to most Pride celebrations in the USA, and in places like San Francisco it's become Pride month (big surprise). This weekend is the highlight, featuring the huge outdoor festival and the 40th Pride parade tomorrow.

The parade normally draws somewhere between 350,000 and 500,000 people (depending on which guesstimate source you choose to believe) along the mile and three quarters of Market Street the parade moves through. Over 200 registered contingents will participate, and if you have the stamina to stand and watch the entire thing you'll be on your feet for at least three hours before the last one passes by.

Other parts of the world observe it in different ways - but diversity is what it's all about, anyway. Bangkok holds a parade late in the Fall that I've only seen once, in 2003. I'll share more about that tomorrow, but today I'm off to the festivities. Here are a couple of images from that evening in Silom.

More Bangkok revelers, 2003

Friday, June 25, 2010

Accommodations, Part 5: Om Yim Lodge

From the West side of the Chong Nonsi BTS station

Accommodation-wise there's something for everyone in the Land of Smiles; from Big Fancy Hotel folks to Khao San Road back packers. It all comes down to your sense of adventure and comfort level while exploring different places, really. While I enjoy the pamperings of a full-scale luxury hotel I always feel a little out of place, but a simple fan-only room with a shared bathroom along the hall is just a little too close to camping - even if it they can be found for 300 baht per night (or less). There's an introductory post about accommodations in Thailand here.

My personal preference is somewhere comfortable, but cozy; a place where I feel more like I'm visiting people I know when I come straggling in the door after a long day of being out in the heat and humidity. We've already covered two places that fill that bill - PJ's Place in Chiang Mai, and Baan Dok Mai in Pattaya.

This post is long overdue, but as I went through photos of past trips I let myself be distracted fooling with other images and didn't get enough pictures gathered together. Now I see I've got too many, but so it goes.

Om Yim Lodge (Om Yim means little smile) sits nestled in a row of businesses along Naratiwat Road, right below the Chong Nonsi BTS station. It's right about in the middle of the block between Silom and Sathorn Roads, making it a comfortable 10 to 15 minute stroll from the Patpong Night Market and the other assorted nightlife in the area. Being right at the Chong Nonsi station it's even quicker to take the BTS and go the one stop up the line to Sala Daeng.

Part of the dining room - with Note at the coffee cart out front

There are a couple of photos of Naratiwat Road in front of Om Yim in April 5th 's "Now THERE’S Something You Don’t See Every Day" post, and to get to the Silom area you'd be walking in the direction of the movie shoot I mentioned. If you went to the left at that intersection and up the stairs into the first complex you'd find Arena Massage. HIS Massage used to be there, but it's long gone - leaving only the lettering on the window. There's a March 27th post about my visit to HIS here.

So... now that we've established the desirable location for Om Yim - close enough to be convenient but far enough away to be quiet - let's talk about the Home Away From Home itself. The lodge consists of 13 rooms above the ground level dining area, a small internet set-up and a reading area - all in one large open area. The front windows face East, so it's warmly lit in the morning for breakfast and the morning papers. In the panorama above you can see Bert Gerbrands, the resident curmudgeon (a title I think he'd accept, being able to take it as well as dish it out with good humor) reading the paper, with Ying on the left, heading back behind the counter and who I believe is Ya at the lodge's reservation computer to the right.

Bert is a long-time friend of Om Yim owner Aek (below), and keeps busy helping oversee reservations, communication and day to day operations on a somewhat flexible schedule while he maintains his own business: the "Oh..Ho..." restaurant that we'll cover in a future post. For now suffice it to say it's worth your time to visit, also.

Aek, owner of Om Yim

A continental breakfast is included, but a more substantial one is only a bit more. Good lunches and dinners are also available, but why would you fly thousands of miles to sit in a hotel?

The kitchen (above) is kept neat and clean - something meaningful to anyone with an unpredictable digestive system while traveling - and the food has always been tasty as well as reasonable for breakfast, lunch or dinner. There's a large flat panel TV high on the end wall that they'll turn on if it isn't already so you can catch up with news of the real world while on vacation, if you really must. One nice feature is the coffee stand, normally doing business right out front but evenings serving from the check-in counter-slash-bar inside. An iced mocha is a welcome sight coming in from the late afternoon heat.

In addition to Bert and Aek there are a number of others you're liable to run into, and seeing familiar smiles is also nice each time I come back to Om Yim. There's Ya (now off at school, but may return - we can hope)...

... a very pregnant Koong (she's since had the baby) standing next to Note...

...and Ying, that I have usable photos of. Bank also runs many of the night shifts, but I don't have a picture of him (as well as a few others, sorry to say).

The rooms are simple, comfortable and kept clean and tidy on a reasonable schedule. There are a couple of examples below, with a photo of the second floor landing (remember when booking that the "first floor" is the one right above the ground level) and rooms I've stayed in. There is no elevator - or lift, to some of you - so while I had friends staying in what they said was a very nice room on the
fourth floor, I never went up to see it! There are also plenty of photos and info on their web site.

There's always good water pressure in the shower and the refrigerator has always been clean (and
quiet , for you lighter sleepers). Speaking of light sleepers it should be noted that the bright, sunny rooms on the front side of the lodge have double-paned windows and black-out curtains, so neither the morning sun or the BTS trains running above nearby are ever a bother.

Sitting area on the first floor landing (above the lobby)

Each room has an electronic safe, extra pillows, a hot water pot (and ingredients for coffee and tea), cable TV, wireless internet connectivity and good water pressure. Laundry service is also available at a reasonable rate. All this and two 7-11 stores just across the street. Go figure.

For a relaxed, casual place to stay you can't go wrong... unless you wait too long to make a reservation - it's popular and tends to fill in advance, so I'd advise against hoping for a last-minute booking (although it's worth a try before going somewhere else)!

Full night shot of the lodge from the BTS station (detail near top)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Siam Center - Night Panorama

In lieu of the Om Yim review I'd planned to finish up and post today here's a panorama of a very small portion of the Siam mall area, consisting of several shopping malls (Siam Discovery, Siam Center and Siam Paragon) lined up along Thanon Rama 1 in the area of the May street demonstrations. On the map image below you can see them all, and further past them a still-undamaged Central World Mall.

The photo was taken from a window table in the Outback Steakhouse in Siam Discovery, looking across the courtyard to Siam Center. It's actually four photos "stitched" together, and they never seem to come out quite as neat and tidy as I'd like - probably because I don't lug a tripod around with me and hand-held photos are more problematic, especially longer night exposures.

Outback is on what most of us in the West would consider to be the second floor, although many places there refer to our "first floor" as the ground level (and it still throws me sometimes when making a hotel reservation at a more traditional place such as the Om Yim). Just to be consistent, I'll try to refer to floor levels as we would in the West.

It probably goes without saying, but clicking on a photo here will enlarge it. Some people have shared they right-click on a post photo to open it up in another window while they read the post itself.

At the far right of the photo you can see (through the reflection of a waiter) a portion of the BTS tracks near the Siam station area. Also visible are a Haagen-Daz ice cream shop, a mall entrance, an Adidas shop, a Fuji Japanese restaurant, what I'm remembering as an Asia Books (but maybe someone will correct me if I have that wrong). Next to that is another restaurant.

On the fourth floor is a Sizzler restaurant. I've walked past (and dined in) several Sizzler steakhouses in Thailand, and the only time there isn't a knot of Thai waiting out front for a table is near closing time. It's sometimes a treat for Thai friends, and comfort food for me as well - having a full salad bar where I never worry about "can I eat this and not regret it in a few hours", if you know what I mean. For those that don't, make sure you pack some Immodium.

Having Outback, Haagen-Daz, Fuji and Sizzler all in one picture qualifies the post for the "Same Same" label, wouldn't you agree? About the only thing missing is a 7-11 store on the corner!

Tomorrow: the Om Yim review... jing jing (vernacular: for sure).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Night Photos, Part 3: The BTS

The Bangkok Transit System (or BTS) starts around dawn and ends at 11:00pm (23:00). Late in the evening the stations are pretty quiet places where you can steal some comparatively quiet moments if you time it right. The header photo today was taken near closing time at Sala Daeng where I'd just come from a welcome end-of-the-day foot massage.

I love to stop and gaze down from the passenger loading platform to the streets, parks, shopping malls and residential areas - and have, frequently. The station guards are more relaxed when they don't have people bunched up at the loading and unloading points and no one to blast a short whistle trill at when they stray over the yellow safety line. The 7-11 above is one of two right near the Chong Nonsi station.

The folks inside the trains are (understandably) usually tired and quiet at that hour, too: making the final push toward home, family and maybe a late snack before showering and bedtime. The train was rounding a curve in the shot above, giving you a slightly different view into the car ahead of us.

Above is a view down Naratiwat Road, showing the East side of the Chong Nonsi station and the same 7-11 store down below. On the other side of the station and down the street just a few dozen steps is one of my favorite places to stay in Bangkok: the Om Yim Lodge - a place long overdue for a review. With luck I can make that happen tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Roadside Barber

While walking a back street on the way back to my hotel one night I noticed what I thought were three storage sheds by the side of the road. They were nothing more than small, unlit, corrugated metal walls held up with natural tree branches and bamboo, with windows protected by barbed wire. They squatted silently in the bare dirt and scrub bushes around them.

The barking of a dog in the darkness nearby discouraged me from taking a closer look, but they were interesting enough that I tried taking a couple of flash pictures from a respectful distance. Since I hadn't learned anything about night photography yet the images were blotchy messes I won't waste anyone's time with here.

By coincidence I happened to be walking back along the same road a few days later and was surprised to see one of the buildings with the side facing the road now uncovered, revealing it to be a business. Walking closer I could see a barber, cutting the hair of a young boy. It was an interesting juxtaposition: a more or less modern barber chair in what I'd consider to be a fairly rustic setting.

Neither of them noticed me approaching. The boy was squirming around in the chair as boys will do when they'd rather be most anywhere else, and the barber was conversing with the person I assume had brought the boy in for a trim. Using the zoom I took a candid shot of the two of them, but I was spotted and greeted immediately afterward.

As I walked up to the shop we exchanged basic pleasantries and I asked if I could take another picture of the barber at work. The barber smiled and nodded his head, and I took the final picture below. The boy wiggled around, giddy with excitement while the barber - still trying to finish the haircut - probably regretted agreeing to my request. I took the picture, thanked them both and moved along.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Placeholder, Of Sorts

I hope everyone (all four or five of you who actually read this fluff) had a good weekend. I'm still on the road and don't have the luxury of time to do any more of a post than I managed yesterday, so here's a photo of Wat Arun, the temple of dawn. It'll be a future topic so let's call this a preview and make it sound more worthwhile than it may be!

I'll do my best to be back with a proper post tomorrow. Have a great day... unless you've made other plans.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Same Same, But Different! Part 4: Teen Fashion

In honor of Father's Day in the USA - here's an example that may be reassuring to some: given the chance, teenagers world wide can find a way to express their individuality and - at the same time - displease or outrage their parents. While the all black "Goth" style of dressing isn't quite as prolific in the US as it once was, there has always been a way for teenagers to push limits, much as the self-proclaimed Thailand Street Punk above is doing - and he's got the T-shirt to prove it.

In the 1950's there was the Marlon Brando "Wild Bunch" or "Blackboard Jungle" look - the white T-shirt, Levis and longer hair greased back into a DA (duck's ass) , the 60's brought in the longer hair inspired by the Beatles and what the US media called the British Invasion groups, and then there was the whole hippie movement.

Every generation has had its extremes, and I'm grateful on this Father's Day that I don't have kids approaching their teen years. To all the fathers out there who do, though: Happy Father's Day. This, too shall pass!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Thai Smiles, Part 9: Random Smiles

The young - and I mean young - family above were standing streetside when I came along one afternoon in Udonthani. They were so sweet and patient, waiting a few minutes while I took several shots of them. Their look of innocence was endearing, and it's one of my favorite Thailand images.

Now that the unpleasantness in the streets has taken a break I feel better about pictures of people in uniform. The two young guys above and I were all waiting for the same bus one morning.

This couple was set up and ready for business near Victory Monument on a Monday morning a while back - when wearing the yellow "King" shirts was a show of affection for him and not such a political statement.

I hope people are enjoying seeing these images for the first time as much as I enjoy re-visiting them. Comments are always welcome.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The "MBK" Intersection

Taken facing down Phaya Thai; MBK to my right

A question was raised on a forum I occasionally participate on asking about member’s recollections of their first trip to Thailand. There were a few that came to mind when I read the question, but one of the more striking ones was from our first morning after a late-night arrival at Don Muang, the “old” airport to the North of Bangkok’s downtown.

Awake after a precious few hours of sleep and excited with anticipation about this entirely foreign place we were chomping at the bit to get out of the hotel when our friend arrived (on “Thai time”) to take us out for our first walk around the area near our hotel. Down Rama 1 we walked, stopping on the bridge to watch the morning commuters leap quickly on and off the long-tail water taxis as they made their brief stops at the Saphan Hua Chang pier station on the fragrant klong below.

The intersection of Rama 1 and Phaya Thai – known by some as the MBK intersection – was a multi-level wonder to me. Although we had no idea yet what any of it was, from our vantage point on an elevated walkway we could see four BTS Skytrain tracks (both directions of the Silom and Sukhumvit lines), two very busy three lane roads with elevated walkways linked for crossing over them and, of course, the mammoth mirrored corner face of the Mah Book Krong mall complex itself.

The low rumbling of the trains above mixed with the sounds of traffic reverberating under and around the huge spans of concrete were impressive enough, but added to the humidity and new scents. It was an overwhelming experience we stood and watched for several minutes before being led off again by our “guide” Voy.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Streetside Sodas

I just today finally found the photo missing from the "Same same, But Different" post two days ago. This is how sodas are served many times to keep the glass bottle in the shop for recycling. Sorry I couldn't find it to include in the original post.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Thai Smiles, Part 8: Boon The Greek

One afternoon while out wandering around in Isaan I saw someone working in an open-fronted shop that (a) I wanted a closer look at and (b) was a good candidate for a picture - so I slowed down, got the camera out and turned on (saves the clumsiness when asking for a pose) and approached this guy I'll call Boon, since I can't find his real name in my old notes, sorry to say.

As usual, it was a warm afternoon and there was a light sheen of perspiration on his skin as he moved things around inside the front of the shop. I was already getting a little sunburned and sweaty myself since I'd been out walking for a couple of hours, people watching and taking photos. In fact, the picture of the machete-wielding kids "hunting" in the drainage canal were from that same walk, as were a number of others.

"Sawatdee! (hello)" I said, flashing the most disarming smile possible. "Sabai dee ru (how are you)?" He looked up and replied "Hey! How're YOU doin'?!" in English that would've sounded at home back home. Luckily no flies flew into my mouth as my jaw hung open for a few seconds. He laughed and said "I'm not a native Thai. My mother's Thai, my father's Greek. I was born here, but I was raised in Greece." "If you hadn't said anything I'd have never known," I said, still a little surprised.

It turns out he was on a school break and had come back to visit the family for the first time in more than a year. He didn't read Thai and only spoke a little bit of it. We chatted for a few minutes, both of us pleased to be speaking English, I think.

"Actually, I'd stopped to ask if I could take a picture of you... do you mind?" I asked, somewhat sheepishly. "Nah, not at all," he said "snap away." I took three or four quick pictures and then thanked him, wished him luck in school and a safe journey back to Greece.
"Sawatdee," I said, waving goodbye as I turned to leave. "See ya later!" he replied, going back to his stock work. "Take it easy!"

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Same Same, But Different! Part 3: Sodas

Seeing familiar sodas and drinks in Thailand in Thai is comforting and quirky at the same time. It's probably safe to assume that Coke is labeled in 90% of the languages of the world, but it still catches me off-guard each time. Here are two examples - a can that was served to me in a pizza chain restaurant and bottles at a rural roadside eatery.

The Lipton iced tea was close to the original, also. Canned tea isn't my favorite, but the familiar taste was a comfort one hot afternoon.

Bottled sodas are still fairly common in Thailand, and as you can see by the well-worn bottles that they're recycled far past the point they would be many other places. It's interesting to see the wide variety of types not quite as popular any more in my regular neck of the US, such as Sprite, Mello and things like whatever that blue Fanta is. Blueberry? Bubble gum?

Bottled sodas are poured into a plastic bag of shaved ice with a straw for you when you purchase them at a sidewalk or roadside place, rather than have the bottles leave the stand. I have photos of this that I'll post when I find them.

Sometimes it's completely foreign, like Calpico, a yogurt-flavored soda that sounded pretty awful to begin with but ended up becoming something I looked for again afterward. It's also made in a non-carbonated form that I haven't tried.