Wednesday, June 26, 2013

D.O.M.A. Is Dead, And Congratulations From Bangkok Prompt A Follow-up

Coming clean on a minor white lie: these were the actual subjects. Although I had their permission to post it, I didn't want to identify them, so I'd altered a couple of details 

Nearly two years ago I posted a story about a young motorcycle taxi driver and his boyfriend. It was really more about taking a walk in the area of the (then) new BTS stations, but seeing a firsthand example of how being gay is accepted by so many there made my short interaction with the two guys above the highlight of the afternoon. 

Normally I wouldn't comment here on a news story that didn't have some sort of tie to Thailand, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruling today giving great hope for equal rights to those who happen to fall in love with someone of their own sex provided a tie-in, and in a most unexpected way.

I almost always give my email address to people I meet and visit with in Thailand; new friends and interviewees, of course, but also folks who seem at all interested in photos I take of them. If I hear from them, I'm happy to send their images along.  Less than ten per cent of the time do I hear from anyone - probably more because of a language barrier than anything else - so it's always a nice surprise.

About 15 minutes ago I happened to check the account I use for these contacts, and there was a new item in my "in" box: a short email from the motocy guys, using one of their accounts. It was the same account the picture request had come from, so I was wondering why I was hearing from them past that initial exchange when I'd sent them the picture and asked if it was OK to post on the blog here. That got a quick "OK", but nothing past that since.

It appears as though some news travels through channels we wouldn't expect. I don't know how, but they had heard of today's news regarding equal rights in marriage. Their email message - probably mangled by an online translator - was very short. There was a tiny bit about them and where they were currently living, but the key part was this:

"Happy day gay news america! Gay marry good happy!! Happy You?"

They'd attached another photo of the two of them, this time with one kissing the other on the cheek... something they would not have done on the street when the first one was taken. This shot looked like it could have been taken in their room or the room of a friend, by the background. They both looked happy, too, and it made me feel good to think they were still together, and also to think that good news can travel fast, too... to people and places you'd think less likely to hear it.

As overjoyed as I was to see the news broadcasts this morning, I was even more pleased to receive the email from E & M.  Yes, guys... Happy Me.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Accommodation, Pt. 22: The Rose Hotel, Bangkok

From the Rose Hotel, looking down the sub-soi (and Le Meridian's side driveway) to Suriwong Road

Down a narrow sub-soi off of Suriwong Road, past a line of food carts, storage bins (and the occasional worker napping on top of them) lies the entrance to the Rose Hotel, tucked quietly in behind the Northeast corner of the enormous Le Meridian Hotel that faces Suriwong itself.

Although nearby areas are bustling until the wee small hours of the morning, being where it is the hotel is a blissfully quiet spot.

Google street map view - The Rose beneath the green arrow

It's what I'd call a medium-sized hotel: 72 rooms and suites, in a variety of sizes and within a reasonable range of prices - from $50USD for a corner room double to $53-58USD for a standard (with breakast) up to $90USD for a junior suite during the current low season (prices from Agoda, which don't include taxes).

Standard room bed, double occupancy

The rooms may seem small to those who are used to enough room to swing one of the area's feral cats, but I don't spend a hell of a lot of time in my room on vacation, anyway, so I've been fine with them. Some rooms - such as some of the corner rooms - don't allow much more space than the bed itself takes up, but their standard rooms are more than adequate. I've never stayed in a suite there, but you can see the hotel's photos for them here.

Standard room desk, TV, refrigerator and mini-bar

I've stayed there a few times and, other than once when the aircon unit drain stopped working and made a small puddle on the floor beneath it I can't think of anything I've ever been unhappy with, save one thing: the wi-fi isn't free. I hope they remedy that soon, as it seems a needless charge for a place that size and at those rates.

The Rose Hip restaurant is a very pleasant place for breakfast or lunch, and there's always the lovely teakwood Ruen Urai restaurant with its formal (but not stuffy) atmosphere for dinner. The restaurant is just to the side of the front of the restaurant, next to the pool area. While they don't require reservations I'd suggest making one to avoid being told "sorry, all full for tonight" at the reception desk - something four of us had happen once at 19:00 on a weeknight. You can reach them for a reservation via the link above, and look at or download the PDF of their menu here.

I've always had good water pressure and plenty of hot water in the bathrooms

For those who thrive on - or at least dive into the deep end of - the  colorful night life in the Big Mango the central tourist hub is within an easy walk, for breeders and non-breeders alike. I've added some numbers to this satellite shot, and there's an explanation just below the image. You may find it helpful to open the image in a new window.

Another Rose hong nam view
1 is the Rose Hotel - as a point of reference. 2 is the Sala Daeng BTS station on Silom Road, 3 is the main street of the Patpong Night Market (stories about the daily afternoon setting up are here and here - with a video clip here). 4 is Soi 4, home to several nice places to eat and some gay clubs.

5 is Soi Thaniva, known to myself and a few friends as Soi Yipun - yipun being Thai for Japanese - because it's lined with a wide variety of restaurants and clubs (think "ping pong show") aimed more at the Japanese tourist than the farang, but still an interesting walk, even during the daytime. I ran into a tout there who wanted me to have a beer with him once, and had a somewhat testy exchange with a man offering children another time.

6 is Soi Pratuchai, aka Soi Twilight, where the highest concentration of gay clubs are. There are also several comfortable places to sit, have a drink and watch the parade of tourists and club people; especially delightful if there's any sort of breeze and you're not in a hurry to do anything but relax.

Finally, 7 is the general area below and near the Sala Daeng BTS station. In that single block you'll find the Bug and Bee, Coffee Society (a great spot for coffee and free wifi), two worthwhile massage shops  (Thai Thai [formerly Siam Sawasdee] and Green Tea to the left of it - both nice for foot massages, manicures and pedicures), a Burger King for those who need a little reminder of Western junk food and a few other places.

The unusual "inner core" of The Rose is above the lobby and cafe

There's hotel parking if you or a guest have an auto, and for those who find a good swimming pool an added bonus there's one of those, too; yet another good place to relax after a day of running around or just to rest before going out for dinner, drinks, clubbing or some combination thereof... whatever floats your boat.

Some interesting angles to one of the hotel's stairways

Although standard check in is 14:00 and check out is 12:00 noon they've (so far) always been as flexible as possible with those times. I don't recall specifics on the laundry fees, but I felt they were reasonable.  There's 24-hour room service available, and no - for those who are wondering - there is no additional fee for guests you might invite back to your room. It's not a "short time" hotel by any means, but other than asking for (and holding) your guest's identification they didn't bat an eye at anyone I saw coming through with a "rented admirer" while sitting and writing in the lobby late one evening, just to see.

The Rose plays with several of the booking services, and different sites get different blocks of rooms at different rates, sometimes, so check a few in addition to the hotel's site - which is The Rose Hotel. I'd suggest looking a ways in advance for high season bookings, as it's a popular place.

We're closing in on a couple of dozen hotel reviews so far, and there are still a lot of them to come. I hope at least a couple of them are a help to you while planning your stay. Drop me a line or leave a comment, if you would - whichever you're most comfortable with.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

IKEA In Thailand: 1st Store Lands In Mega Mall Bangna

Most of the front of the Bangna Mall location on the outskirts of Bangkok

IKEA began as the brainchild of Ingvar Kamprad (a Swedish man) back in 1943, but has grown into a huge corporation now operating over 340 stores in at least 39 countries. They specialize in furniture and other housewares, the furniture often sold as "assemble yourself" kits. In years past they were known to be challenging to assemble, even if all of the parts were in the box when you got it home. Thankfully they've made great improvements over the years and their products are far more dependably manufactured and packaged.

When I read they were to open their first store in Thailand I was intrigued: how would their style and selection be received? It turns out they were both accepted and very popular. Part of that popularity most likely came from their TV ads, which have always been entertaining...

Quick and to the point, often clever and, some might say, borderline suggestive ads - one featured a child giggling over a personal vibrator - have been rolled out to regional audiences, such as this one of a Thai husband and wife who find some new spark for their relationship in this one:

One of their more recent ads (below) showed a man with his ladyboy partner and drew some criticism from the transgendered community, but still... it's clever:

The first Thailand location is in the Bangna district, just to the East of Samut Prakan. I was staying within a few kilometers from the Bangna Mega Mall IKEA anchors and, having some free time during the day while the friend I was visiting was off at work I decided to take a run out to see this blue and yellow giant.

If you're taking highway 3 to Chonburi you're likely to see the Mega Mall on your right as you're approaching highway 9... that distinctive IKEA sign sticking up into the sky is hard to miss, haze permitting.

There are precious few examples of differences between the Thai store and the ones I've visited here in the U.S., other than the English/Thai signage for items, but there are of course items in stock that might be more popular to a regional clientele.

Past the check-out area at IKEA Bangna

We'll see the new-ish, and quite modern Bangna Mega Mall in another post, but here's an image of one of the interior display islands that line the main aisles, featuring IKEA items:

There had recently been a recall of the Swedish meatballs that are somewhat of a staple of the store's cafeterias most places - something to do with bacteria in the beef they used - so I couldn't sit and have my usual "comfort food" there, but they did have a black pepper pork steak plate that was spicy enough for most locals, I'd guess.

Oddly enough (or not) the longer lines were at the snack bar outside the check-out area on the main floor, which featured a Thai version of hot dogs, fries and soft-serve ice cream cones.

One evening after my friend returned from work we took a run out to the Mega Mall to have dinner and catch a movie and since he'd never heard of IKEA I walked him through it. He saw several things he said he'd come back to pick up for his new room. I'm waiting to see how well his patience holds out while assembling them!

Map of the area of the Bangna IKEA, from their web site

Monday, June 3, 2013

Another View Of Takraw - Acrobats In Action In An Open Lot

Thai takraw in a casual setting, as is often the case

The game of takraw is a popular pastime with young and old alike in Thailand, but the rough-and-tumble nature of the game make it better suited to those who are able to land on the ground without breaking like a bag of glass - i.e. those under 40.

Back in May of 2010 I offered a post called Takraw: "volleyball" for the feet. In it you'll find some basics about the game, but someone was kind enough to send me a link to the site Traditional Games in Malaysia that provides more information by someone who knows more about the game, along with some photos. I liked it more than the Wikipedia page, so I'm including the link to it, with thanks to reader Ray in Washington state. I could just re-word from the page and post it here, but there are already enough folks who do that to pad out their blog and forum posts, and we don't need to add to that, do we? Didn't think so.

Briefly, it's played a bit like volleyball. You can use most any part of your body to keep the ball in play back and forth over the net except your hands. A traditional ball is rattan, but plastic ones like the example in the photo here that I found on the internet last longer and I've seen more of those lately.

The initial kick of the serve - the only time the hands are used

The opening clip today was taken recently in the Bang Na district, adjoining Bangkok. I was spending some time there visiting a friend and had a few relatively free days on my own to explore the area. It was unusually hot for so early in the year, and by the middle of the afternoon I was often back in my room, resting, reading and re-hydrating. There was some sort of training or trade school below my balcony, and late one afternoon I noticed a couple of the guys down there setting up the lines and net for what I assumed would probably be takraw, and that's what it turned out to be a short while later.

Spikers at the net sometimes collide, as these two did at least once.

For those of you who haven't seen an "official" match this is again a glimpse of how it's played. You can do a quick search for sepak takraw on YouTube and see league matches, which are really something to see - precision agility and athleticism in action.

The serve
They're well worth the time to watch, and if you're somewhere in Asia where the game is commonly played (Laos, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, etc.) and see it scheduled on TV there I'd suggest giving it a look, if your time permits.

All I've seen in person are casual pick-up games, rather like a casual game of basketball might happen in a public park here in the U.S., but even these have unexpected moments of high-kicking and friendly laughter as the players poke fun at failed attempts.

You're likely to come across casual games like the one shown today wherever a net and court can be put out. I've watched them in  Udonthani, in Bangkok's Benjasiri park mentioned in the May 2010 post, here in Bang Na and in several other villages in the Northeast and Northwest. Naturally, they're more popular in the late afternoon, after school or work, when it's a little cooler - and into the evening until it's too dark to play.

Nice try, but no cigar. This guy landed rather hard.

There was seemed to be to be a healthy level of competitiveness between the guys, but they also cheered and applauded successful attempts, like the one above, and laughed a lot at their own mistakes - always a good sign, I think.

The sun was setting here, but at least it was cooler...
I watched longer than I'd planned to. It was getting dark and the shots were becoming too blurred (I was about a dozen floors up, using the zoom) by the time my friend arrived home from his office and I hadn't even noticed that two hours had passed. I looked down the next afternoon, hoping there'd be another round, but it didn't happen.

I'll add a few more photos and clips in another post. If you happen upon a game somewhere, stop and watch for a bit. It's a hoot.