Friday, June 17, 2005

Make Bangkok My Home

Chad and I having dinner at Buri Tara, a rather handsome looking restaurant on the Param/Rama III stretch of Chao Phraya. Posted by Hello

Just back from Bangkok a bit more than a week ago for a weekend trip that stretched into a 5-day trip. I’ve no idea how that happened; perhaps I might credit it to a great experience at Santika, a Thonglor institution. Chad brought me to that place for a night out on Saturday and it’s a great change from DJ Station, a total stampede on Fridays and Saturdays. In typical Thai style, we had Johnny Walker Blue Label with mixers, bopping along with the resident Thai bands that played a mix of rock, pop, R&B. I was glad to be introduced to Chad’s Thai friends like Goi, whom I met at SLIM/FLIX@RCA 2 months ago, and her brother, Gof, who plays in of the bands. As the night wore on, we chugged more mixes and slid to the sexy R&B sounds with our Thai neighbours. It was a memorable Thai moment: I felt like I could live a life in Bangkok.

Don’t get me wrong. I loathe live bands. Maybe it’s because coming from Singapore, I’ve had experience listening to live bands belt out cheesy pop hits and remixes and covers in English—it’s predictable and it’s at venues like Bar None/Marriott Hotel for instance. Thai bands are a different story: I like them when they sing my favourite Thai pop songs and soft rock tunes; familiar favourites (Body Slam, Nick, Armchair, Nologa gup Dome, Basheer, Breakfast in Bed), I always hear on Virgin Radio Thailand kao-sip-ha-jit-ha, FM95.5. One such band at Buri Tara, another spot-on recommendation by Chad, a restaurant where we had dinner on Friday evening by the Chao Phraya made it an excellent experience. The gaeng som (a mild and sour red soup resembling tom yam in some ways) tasted better as a result.

The increasingly-hip and –gentrified Chao Phraya should see many more establishments popping up on both banks soon. At the moment, Ibrik Resort (with just 3 rooms and 3 cafes) and Patravadi Theatre—both of which I’ve yet to visit; and will attempt to next visit—should spark off some development on the Thonburi bank. In due time, the likes of Shangri-la, Oriental, Peninsula and Marriott Resort would feel that they have made the right choice—positioning themselves at the once-ignored river way—all along.

Doing the local thing is always a highlight on such trips. With Chad leading the way, we headed out from his Sathorn condo to Thanon Linchi where we had a lunch of pad see yew (which is similar to horfun but sweeter and more charred; right up my alley baby!), popiah-esque rolls, fried rice spiked with shrimp paste (a delight!) and sipped strong Thai coffee. Seeing that I was in Bangkok aimless and without a plan, we popped into a supposed Alliance Francaise-run French café across the road and had more coffee while going through Nation and Bangkok Post. The lazy Saturday continued at Central Param/Rama III where we window-shopped and then went for massage for two hours.

Being the enthusiastic and intrepid host that Chad is, he has a specially-designed weekend tour that allows his guests to take in the country (side) as well. This time round, we headed north to Nakhon Pathom province where we visited a charming produce market. I can’t help but marvel at the remarkably gentrified market with enticing packaging of products like organic vegetables, cooked curries, fruits, sweets etc. I wish I could buy the whole market home; but seeing that this is impossible, I aim to return often to take in different sights and zoom in on different eats each time. That’s why I say living in Bangkok is the surest way to lap up the wonders of Bangkok’s environs. Positioned right next to the upstream Chao Phraya, this market also has riverside eateries. We settled at Chad’s eatery serving up some of the best duck noodles and duck wings. I’d take give this the thumbs up over this other pretty decent rendition we had at a pit stop en route to Hua Hin in January. The breeze, schools of fish and water hyacinths on the river were such Kodak moments—I wished I hadn’t sent my cranky Minolta for repair. Relegated to leaving foot prints in Nakhon Pathom, I did the next best thing: packed off half a dozen varieties of desserts and sweets so that I may have pictures taken of them when I return to Singapore (not to mention palate-pleasing moments too). Being the curious me, I have resisted the temptation to ask Chad for the name of the produce market for fear that it’d soon be over run by tourists. I like it the way it is: very local and very popular with prim and proper Bangkokians.

On the way back from Nakhon Pathom province, we passed by Ratchadamonen Klang Road and the Democracy Monument. That long road was filled with simple but old and dignified buildings. According to Chad, that road dates back to King Chulalongkorn’s era. Seeing it for the first time, I was very charmed; and for some inexplicable reason, I found the Democracy Monument quite a sight. Maybe it’s because it recalled the days of Thammasat students taking to the streets in protest and evoked in me a sense of pathos. Having stayed away from backpackers’ central (read: Khao San Road)—and for good reason—I was pleasantly surprised that there were graceful looking two-storey houses sitting on the roads that radiate from Khao San Road. The most beautiful house happens to be the one occupied by Starbucks (which I hate), says Chad. I shall take a rain check and come back next time. Finally, what took my breath away was the drive down the major, broad, boulevard—flanked by ministerial offices—that led all the way to former Parliament House and the much-revered statue of King Chulalongkorn. Stately, grand and beautiful without being pompous. I was seeing so much beauty in this previously-overlooked district of Bangkok that it has made it to the top of the list in my Little Black Book; it merits greater attention and further exploration.

On my last night in Bangkok, I was glad I managed to make a quick trip to Suan Lum Night Bazaar for the first time; and also do dinner and drinks with Claudie, a Bangkok-based English teacher of Canadian-French nationality. She and Chris were in Singapore three weeks ago and we had a ball at Velvet, heartlander-style beers at ABC market and a sun-worshipping session at Siloso Beach. Poor girl—she had to brave the storm to meet me at Suan Lum. As she relayed her Five Year Plans—which involves leaving Bangkok and spending time with her Nigerian boyfriend in Mumbai—I went about mine. The sober-me knew that there was no way I could cart all the fabulous homewares and furniture from Lopburi Zone home. I could work in Bangkok when I graduate next year and fill my homes with a Thai designer chair here and a CD rack there; from Suan Lum’s inspired Lopburi Zone or elsewhere.

Bangkok (and sometimes Thailand) has an uncanny ability to make my heart skip a beat every now and then. This is one of those moments. The dolce vita spirit is so alluring that, even at the risk of sounding Orientalist, I’d like to think of Thailand as my Italy of Asia.

I could live here.


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