Monday, January 07, 2008

Recipe Research Trip 2008

I have decided to open a new blog for these posts,
Follow along with us this year. We brought a lap top with and will stay fairly current throughout the trip.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Preparing for Thailand

We are nearly ready, well WE are all ready to go...Just a bunch of details that aren't falling into place yet. Phooey! We are using those wonderful stand by tickets on United that our friend Jeannie has graciously provided us and are working with Jack to get the earliest out-bound flight where we are likely to get business class seats. This has proven a little challenging and while Victor says, let's just go, business or no, I know how miserable he will be after the flight if we are in coach. It's such a long time in the air.

We start with three days in Hong Kong, then a night or two in Macau depending on how quickly we can get overseas. We then head out to Bangkok to arrive there on the 10th and stay for a week. Then we head north, perhaps on the train or maybe we will fly to Chiang Mai. From there we will take some cooking classes, head up to the Golden Triangle and into Laos. Perhaps from here we will travel along Laos to the south, then over to Cambodia. These countries also feature cooking schools that show great promise.

We will eventually find ourselves on a beach, hopefully for my birthday and will then finish with a few more days in Bangkok and back to Groveland in time for Valentine's Day dinner.

We really can't wait to get started!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Going to Thailand again!

Well, we consider our trip to Thailand one of the highlights of our 5 years together and have decided to return again on our next winter trip. We are looking at cooking schools now and will likely find ourselves exploring far more of the northern Thailand countryside than we did last winter. We are looking at exploring a bit of Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos. I am already excited about the excursions. Laos food is too hot for me!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Ah, done!

We have finished our last Thai Thursday for the season, but have assured those who followed us regularly since February that we will be back with more Thai menus after the summer season.

We held a lovely thank you dinner and invited those who joined us in for at least 4 of the Thursday nights over the course that we ran the special. Victor served all the best! Cucumber sauce with fish cakes a few currys, a beef salad, a shrimp soup, a tapioca pudding... Yum!

We will add a Thai special to our weekly menu and make it available Thursday-Sunday.

We hope you will join us next Thai around!

Lynn & Victor

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Thai Thursday Menu 5/3/2007

This week's Thai Thursday menu sees the return of my favorite appetizer dish!
- Starter: Fish Cakes with Cucumber Sauce
- Soup: Sour Prawn Soup
- Main: Stir Fried scallops with Asparagus
- Main: Thai Cashew Chicken
- Steamed Rice
- Dessert: Tapioca Pudding
- Thai Iced Tea

All of the above for just $19.95, tax and tip additional. We will also have our steaks, lamb, chicken Argentine and grilled fish available for non-Thai dining folks. We hope you will join us on this, our second to last Thai night this season. On May 17th we return to serving our full regular menu on Thursdays.

Mother's day dinner is just around the corner! Won't you plan on joining uson Sunday, May 13th as we serve up great 4-course dinner with choices from a1/4 chicken, rack of Lamb, Osso Buco, Filet, Fish or Lobster with a Champagnetoast and a little something special for the moms! (serving from 5:00pm)

Opening Night GALA with the Pine Cone Players as they perform the melodrama,Curse You Jack Dalton...has but a few more seats available, don't miss outon this first-of-its-kind event on Friday, May 25, doors open at 5:00. Groveland Art Stroll and the second Flea Market of the Year, sponsored bythe Yosemite Chamber of Commerce are on Sunday, May 27th.

Historic Cemetary Walk with Wally Anker, lunch to follow at the Hotel Charlotte on Saturday, May 26th.

Groveland Art Stroll (GAS) and Flea Market, Sunday, May 27th, Downtown Groveland and Mary Laveroni Community Park, Free to browse!

Thanks to all of you who joined us for Cabaret Charlotte this last month.This is such a special event for me and it just tickles to see folks singingalong and having so much fun. A special thanks must go to the team of SavvySingers who so generously donated their time and talents throughout the manyrehearsals and three performances this year and 3 shows last November so thatthe proceeds of the event could go to the Pine Cone Singers. Thanks Guys &Dames! We are working with Dennis Brown to develop two new shows, one along thelines of Ladies sing the Blues for the second half of August and a secondBroadway, More Favorites show to debut in early November.

For information or reservations on any of these events, please contact us at209-962-6455.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Thai Thursday Menu, 04/26

This week sounds simply delicious!
Beef Satay
Thai Green Salad
Mixed vegetables in coconut milk
Shrimp Pad Thai
Green Curry Chicken
Homemade Mango Ice-cream

All this for $19.95. Tax and Tip extra. We will also be serving all our grilled menu items including steak, lamb & chicken.

We look forward to serving you! Reservations: 209-962-6455
Lynn & Victor

PS: Mark your calendars, we have only a few This dinners left, May 3 and May 10......So if this is something you wanted to try, the next couple of weeks would be the time.

We have openings remaining for the Curse You, Jack Dalton melodrama Opening Night GALA. Give us a call to reserve a table for you and your friends. We start with a multi-course dinner at the Charlotte, the play and a post play dessert, coffee and champagne toast with the cast & crew back at the Charlotte. The event will have contests and prizes and oodles of Fun, Cheers & Jeers!

We have are also working with Dennis Brown to come up with two more Cabaret Charlotte shows, a Jazz-Blues review the second half of August and another set of all new Broadway Favorites in early November.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Thai Thursday Menu for 4/19/2007

This week, Thursdy, April 19th, Victor will be putting together some new Thai treats:

- Seafood Soup
- Cucumber Salad
- Salmon with Chu Chee Curry
- Thai BBQ Chicken
- Fried Rice with Basil
- Sticky Rice with Mango for Dessert.

The dinner includes all of the above, bread & spread, coffee or tea for just $19.95. Tax and Tip additional.

We look forward to welcoming you!
Lynn & Victor

The second half of April brings us into some big events around town! We hope you are participating in most of these too!

4/15, First of 3 Cabaret performances, 8 tickets remain.
4/22, second of three Cabaret shows (Sold out)
4/25, Residents Club, Victor is cooking Chicken Jerusalem
4/26, Yosemite Chamber of Commerce monthly Mixer at Big Creek Meadow Ranch
4/28, South Side Seniors Cindo De Mayo dinner, Victor is catering build your own tacos
4/28, Kiwanis Cinco de Mayo Dinner at the Community Center
4/29, Final Spring Cabaret performance, a few seats remain

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Thai Thursday Menu for 4/12/2007

This week Victor will be preparing some of our favorite Thai recipes!

Fish Cakes with Cucumber Sauce
Rice Noodle Soup
Sitr Fried Seafood with peppercorns
Massaman Curry Beef with potatoes
Sticky rice
Homemade Coconut ice-cream

These Thai Thursdays will continue through April 26th, so just 3 more to go! We hope to see you soon!

Right around the corner, April 15th is our first Cabaret performance of the season. Tickets are only $49 and include dinner, show, tax and tip. A great form of entertainment and a super value. Come support the Pine Cone Singers, only a few tickets remain for this show.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Thai Thursday Menu for 4/5

Thai Thursday, April 5th we are offering:
- Chicken Sticky Rice Balls
- Pomelo Salad
- Thick Beef Curry in Sweet Peanut Sauce
- Green Curry with Prawns- Crispy Rice Noodles
- Homemade Coconut Ice-cream
This multi-course meal is $19.95 and includes our homemade bread, coffee or iced-tea.
Tax and tip additional.

These Thai dinners have become very popular and this week we served more Thursday folks than Friday folks, kind of exciting in March! We are having fun with the Thai menu and hope folks visiting us at the Hotel Charlotte are too.

Coming events include:
Easter Dinner: we will be serving Sunday, April 8th from 5:30 pm. Our multi-course menu is online at

And don't forget the Cabaret! April 15th, 22nd and 29th with plenty of tickets available for the first and last show, and just a few for the 22nd. Reservations at 209-962-6455

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Hotel Charlotte: Thai Thursday menu for 3/29

For those planning ahead, on Thursday, March 29th, Victor returns to his Thai menu offerings and will be serving:
Golden Pouches (Thai won tons)
Chiang Mai Noodle Soup
Thai Baked Fish
Pork Ribs with Beans
Steamed Rice
Tapioca Coconut Pudding

This multi-course meal is $19.95 and includes our homemade bread, coffee orThai iced-tea. Tax and tip additional.

Also Available on Thursdays from our Grill:
Charlotte Steak with peppercorn sauce $14.95
Pampas Steak with a tangy garlic sauce $14.95
New York Steak with peppercorn sauce $19.95
Rack of Lamb with mint jelly $19.95
Filet Mignon with peppercorn sauce $22.95
Chicken Argentine with a tangy garlic sauce $13.95
Fresh Grilled Fish Market Price

We hope to welcome you!

Thursday Japanese Menu for 3/22

Mark Your Calendars! On Thursday, March 22th, Victor is doing a Japanese Menu with California Rolls, Miso Soup, a petite Teriyaki New York Steak, Tempura Shrimp & Vegetables, sticky rice and homemade green tea ice-cream for dessert. Wasabi, soy and pickled ginger will all be available as will chop sticks. Priced at $19.95 with bread, coffee or tea included. Tax and Tip additional.

As always, we will include items from our regular menu for those who prefer our traditional offerings. This includes all of our steaks, a chicken, rack of lamb and fresh fish.

We hope to see you at the Hotel Charlotte in Groveland for a bit of Asian-Japanese Fusion!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Thai one on!

This week we continue with our Thai Thursdays and offer the following fixed course menu:

  • Gaeng Som Pla Isan (Isan sour fish soup)
  • Prawns, Chili, Lime & Bitter Melon Salad
  • Om Nue Kuang (Vegetable curry with pork)
  • Suer Roong Hai Crying Tiger (Grilled beef with vegetables)
  • Cilantro Noodles
  • Sticky Coconut Rice with Mango

This multi-course meal is $19.95 and includes our homemade bread, coffee or Thai iced-tea. Tax and tip additional. Along with the Thai menu on Thursdays we also offer the grilled items from the regular menu including all of our steaks, chicken argentine, rack of lamb and the fish special. We hope you will join us.

Mark Your Calendars! On Thursday, March 22nd, Victor is going to do a Japanese Menu with California Rolls, Miso Soup, a petite Teriyaki New York Steak, Tempura Shrimp & Vegetables, sticky rice and homemade green tea ice-cream for dessert. Wasabi, soy and pickled ginger will all be available as will chop sticks. Priced at $19.95 with bread, coffee or tea included. Tax and Tip additional.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Thai Thursday Menu 2/22

So, I figure why not use this blog to post our menus for the Thai Thursdays that are the result of this research trip here...So for Thursday, 2/22 we will serve:

Tom Ka Gai (Chicken Coconut Soup)
Fish Cakes with Cucumber Sauce
Lamb Pad Karapao (Stir fried Lamb with holy basil)
Gaeng Panang Nue (Hot and spicy curry beef)
Saffron Rice
Coconut Custard dessert

$19.95 includes coffee or tea. Tax and tip additional.

On Thursdays we also serve grilled selections from our regular menu including the steaks, Argentine Chicken, Rack of Lamb and the fresh fish.

We hope to welcome you this coming week!

This week's event:
Love Letters, a two person play. Showing on Saturday, 2/24 at the community center at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $15 and are available from Mountain Sage. Join us first for dinner and make it a special dinner-theater evening! (Just like New York)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Thai Menu for Thursday, 2/15

We returned from Asian on Sunday and introduced our first Thai menu Thursday. Yum!

We will continue with Thai Thursdays at least through April. Along with a multi-course fixed Thai menu we always offer selections from our regular menu for those who enjoy going out with their Thai-dining friends, but are not inclined towards Asian foods.

Tom Yan Loong (sweet & sour shrimp soup)
Cabbage Salad
Cashew Chicken
Thai Meatballs in Peanut Sauce
Sticky Rice
Coconut Custard Dessert
This 6 course meal is $19.95 and includes our homemade bread. Tax and tip additional

We hope to welcome you soon.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Recipe Research Summary

All the post prior to this are in day/time order and I am glad to be done with that part of the blogging. It was all too diary like for me.

We found dozens of new recipe and service ideas to look at in the coming months. Some of them might get added, and some not.

  • Raspberry port sauce over our vanila bean ice-cream, creme brulee and cheese cake.
  • Homemade ice-cream desserts and after dinner espresso. This spring we will buy the equipment to offer both.
  • Chocolate fondu with lady fingers and strawberries for dipping
  • All the Thai menus learned from the school
  • Tapas menus and not just Spanish choices
  • Carpaccio and Carpeccio
  • Add Steak and Shrimps as additional topper options with any of the salads
  • Multi-Course fixed priced meals were very popular everywhere we went and may work here as well
  • A new sausage for the mixed grill plate
  • A little different lighting approach, white holiday lights inside the windows.
  • A new approach to the music
  • Some enhanced signage
  • White Chocolate, Pernon and Grand Marinier flavored Creme Brulee
  • Packaging and decorating ideas for the wine tasting & shop
  • Ooooodles more!

Thats it for now! I feel like I have written a book! Maybe someday when I retire from innkeeping I will become a travel writer or just a fiction writer. Victor says I embellish. I think I just have more dramatic experiences than he does.

We had a grand time and will return to Asia again.

Bangkok final moments

While on his chores this morning Victor's taxi driver spoke English and they discussed many important issues, including picking us up for the airport at 3:30 in the morning. The plan now set and being Transportation Minister, it is my job to stay awake after dinner so we don't miss the plane. I nap so that I can stay awake later.

Our last dinner and we again go to a favorite, Zanzifar on Soi 11. This is where Victor had the best steak ever and we enjoyed some hokey one man band live music and a bit too much wine. This time I ordered some Sushi appetizers for us and ended up getting the sushi ice-cream cone things. Not expecting this we found it difficult to share them but did try. I just wanted regular California rolls. So this is what I ordered for my dinner and it was perfect!

We get home and I watch some of the strangest late night TV ever produced. Dr. 90210? Ever hear of it?

I successfully don't fall asleep. We do catch our taxi. And we are selected by the United Airlines staff to both get on the plane as standby customers and to sit in Business Class for both of our flights. We are thrilled.

I unsuccessfully don't fall asleep the whole trip home which included a 4.5 hour flight Bangkok to Narita, a 4 hour layover and an 8.5 hour flight Narita to San Francisco. It is again morning when we land and I think I have now been up for two full days. With the time difference it is really only a day and a half. We were going to stop at the Asian Grocery and pick up our Thai fixings for this coming week and then drive home to Groveland, but I couldn't keep my eyes open. We get a hotel room and I crash for the afternoon and missed the Superbowl. It's good to be back home.

Bangkok, last minute shopping

Oh, we have put off so much and have a busy day scheduled. I send Victor one way to get his stuff done and go to the internet cafe and pound out a few more of the blogs. We meet again and have lunch at Tapas, another of our favorites on Soi 11.

The rest of the afternoon we spend actually shopping the very same markets we have now walked by dozens of times getting from the train to our Soi 11 stomping grounds. We have a well planned list of things to get for certain folks having talked it over several times, but can't find most of the items.

We take so much time getting through all the choices that I have to go to the bathroom. We try to use MacDonalds, but they don't have a bathroom inside the restaurant and we are sent to the grocery store. Too odd...I pass. We can have a beer somewhere instead. We pick the next spot called Country Bar and sit outside. This is actually a girly bar, but it is afternoon so we are mostly alone. We really aren't there but 2 minutes when a man comes up to us to sell his wares. He has a pocket full of watches and a pitch that could sell ice to Eskimos. We are all laughing as he pulls out watch after watch. Victor decides he can use a watch for one of the people on our list that we can't find the King's Shirt we had planned on. They negotiate and come to agreement. We buy the watch but the man has to fix Victors other watch that he broke the band on the day he bought it. This works out well. I give him a 1000 Baht bill and instead of giving me my 200 Baht change he gives me a ladies watch. I think this is a great price and take it, only to realize later that is is a plastic band and I am allergic to the metal of the watch. What sillies we are, but we are having fun!

We have successfully avoided two things in Bangkok, one being the street food vendors for reasons mentioned earlier, the other the motorcycle taxis. For just over a few pennies one can get a ride on a motorcycle. Not recommended for long distances. Instead of walking the block further to the train, we abandon all common sense and hop on two motorcycles waiting right at the bar to take weary workers home from the train station. We have not yet seen any Westerners attempt this mode of transportation. We love it and should have done this all the time. The cost is a non-issue and it takes but moments to get anywhere. The motorcycles are always at the front of every stop light weaving through the cars to get to the front. There are no traffic jams when you are on a motorcycle.

I wonder if they have insurance.

Khao San Road, Bang Lamphoo—Not!

Since we leave in two days, we have to get some of the touristy things done in Bangkok. We head down to the water and catch the tourist taxi boat to stop 8 where one can tour Wat Pho, the reclining gold budah and across the street see the Grand Palace.

The weather is far cooler than when we left and we are comforably not sweating today.

We get off the boat and I follow Victor as he walks forever down the street. I don't know why...but I do. Finally a Tuk-Tuk driver asks us if we want a ride to the temple, which is now far behind us.

I knew that.

Victor thought we were just going to walk around the complex. Hmmm, what fun is that, we should see the sleeping statue. We turn around and walk back to the complex entrance and we are peeking in the window and can see the mass of gold lying down. Wow! When we get to the gate, they want 50 Baht. We walk on figuring we have seen it through the window, and the fussy camera is sitting on the recharger at the condo.

We walk towards the Grand Palace that while located on the next block, it is a huge block. All this tourist activity makes us hungry and we decide to skip the palace and go find a restaurant instead. Wouldn't you know it, we end up back in Bang Lamphoo. I should have brought the guide book to sell back to the lady!

We think we are on Khao San Road, one of those world famous streets like Sunset Strip. In fact we are only a block away. We have a wonderful lunch sitting at a sidewalk cafe watching the very entertaining street life. We even have sellers come to our table with their trinkets and we do a little more shopping for the folks back home. This too is one of our best days. Very type B!

We are planning how to make our escape from Bangkok. Our flight leaves at 6:30 Sunday morning. Will we find a cab from the condo? We have to leave at 3:30 AM to get to the airport on time. Victor suggests we go to the airport after dinner and just hang out over night. I think we should move to a guest house in Bang Lamphoo. This place is open all night for a taxi.

We head back and I take a nap before we head off to dinner. We have chosen to visit V9 again, by far the best dining experience we have had this whole trip. We again love it! They have this wonderful small plate platter that is out of this world. We order the Spanish ensemble this time and enjoy every bite, even the muscles!

Chiang Mai: Bamboo-Elephant tour

We are up in time for the tour and do not need the scheduled wake-up knock. Today, the one day we probably need the nutrition and energy provided by a real breakfast, we have only coffee and a pastry.

Wouldn't you know it, the first hour of our tour is spent going from hotel to hotel picking up other tourists. We are harmonizing with our tour group, welcoming each new pick up and planning to spend a lovely day getting to know each other a little better. We are intrigued with meeting Francisco from Cancun, Mexico who is in Chiang Mai for a Tao retreat where he will have a three week spiritual experience silently ensconced in a closet. I am fascinated.

We welcome Gary from England who's doing the tour alone as his travel friend has previously enjoyed it. We finish our pickups with a final stop at the office where we meet many buses who have picked up other tour goers and we have a little Chinese fire drill as everyone gets off their bus and onto another bus. I wonder how many years it took to develop these logistics.

We now have a new travel group that includes us and Gary from England and we all seem too frustrated to go through the meeting process again and have a quiet ride out of town. Our first stop is to pick up three more travelers, all ladies from Australia. As the guide spends a minute telling us about the tour, it would appear that we have two different programs going on here. She keeps talking about the one day trek. I am absolutely positive that we have not signed up for a trek, which to me mean walk through the jungle. I am certain that in the jumble of folks getting on and off the bus we were supposed to go somewhere else and begin dreading a day of trekking. I have improper shoes!

Our first stop is a butterfly and orchid farm. The butterflies are not colorful or impressive, but the orchids are. Victor takes some really nice pictures and I am tempted to buy something souvenirish, but the prices aren't good. We share a coffee with Gary before the bus heads up the mountain.

When the bus gets to the little village, Victor and I along with Gary and the ladies from Australia are instructed to get off and with our tour guide we will go see the Elephants. I guess the other people on the bus are the ones trekking. I am thrilled.

The plan is to first see the elephants, not ride them. We will then go to a zoo and then walk over to where the riding elephants are. I am confused but we go along with the program figuring they have this ironed out and all will be fine.

All but one of the big elephants is out with riders and we meander over to where the babies are. Cameras come out and cooing begins. We feed them food they can reach on their own and feel good about ourselves. I reach out to one of the elephants that seems in distress and he swiftly swats me with his trunk. I am grateful not to have been any closer! A fellow rides over on an elephant who poses for pictures. This time I am not swatted and sit on an extended elephant knee.

Across the way is a patch with what looks to be frames of some sort drying in the sun. Elephant dung paper. Cool!

We wander the grounds, find the shops, look about, find bathrooms, use them, find beverages, have one and it is all very free form. I guess our guide had a handle on where we all were because when it was time to walk to the zoo, we were all together. Up the hill we head and the next stop is a little market place where the ladies are all in traditional village attire, very colorful. We find the prices here to be half of what they were down by the elephant camp and pick some nice things up to bring back home. Then we walk and walk and walk. Ugh. Up hill.

When we get where we are going, we see a bunch of the people who were on our bus earlier in the day. Cool. We sit for lunch, which is made edible by the addition of the sauces provided. Our group, now melded as one, is split up again as Victor and I are taken off to ride an elephant.

We have to climb a one story platform to board the beast. Once in, it seems okay...until the elephant moves. Victor and I are sitting in a little metal seat with a safety bar across the front. Victor is to my left. As the elephant takes a step first Victor takes a dip downward, then I do as Victor comes back up. Oh, My! This for an hour? I want to change places with the guide who is sitting behind the elephants head and not experiencing any of this dipping.

We head up a hill on a very narrow path and as transportation minister, I am of course on the cliff side of the hill high up on this huge animal who in picking his way on a foot wide path with no safety rail to keep us on the hill should the elephant have a miss-step. I am trying hard not to let this panic me. Victor is enjoying my fear and keeps telling me to take a picture of this and that and all I can do is hang on. As soon I gain confidence that we won't tumble off the hill, we reach the top. The views are beautiful with terraced fields of vegetables, homes in the distance....But also at the top is where we start going down. This is far worse than going up and I feel I just might tumble out of the little chair and land right on top of the guide. I am floundering. Then I think my movements are sure to unsettle the elephant and I will cause our fall. I sit very still through the rest of the ride and actually enjoy the second half on fairly flat ground.

When we alight from from the lumbering beast and reconnect with our tour guide and head off through the terraced fields to our waiting van. I fall off the terrace twice, but don't step on any poisonous snakes. Having abandoned all others, our group is now just three, Victor and myself and we have Francisco from Cancun Mexico back with us.

Next we get a water buffalo ride through the town and surrounding fields in what really looks like a cart that would have been around 2,000 years ago. The pegs holding it all together are wooden dowels. The water buffalo also look like they are from 2,000 years ago as does the town itself, with the exception of the half dozen Satellite dishes and occasional cell phone.

Done with our land adventures, we board a bamboo float, another relic from an earlier time. This is very peaceful and uneventful. We are enjoying the company of Francisco for the last hour, Victor far more that I because the are speaking Spanish most of the time, and I only catch a few bits. We are passed by another raft. I don' t think this is fair and offer or guides a big tip if we retake the lead. They don't really understand and we come in second. Victor tells me it is not a race and that we got more time on the river than those who passed us, a better value for our money. I am tired and want to go home.

We have all agreed that we do not need to take a walk through the jungle to a waterfall that has no water falling and head off to the vans for home. I hope that we have few stops this time, or are first off the bus.

We get back in time for dinner and a massage before we need to head to the airport for our return to Bangkok. We eat just down the street at Pum Pui, a fantastic Italian restaurant. The pizza was perfect, the salad wonderful. We both enjoyed our $4.5o Thai massage (Chiang Mai is even cheaper than Bangkok!)

Chiang Mai, A self-guided motorcycle tour

We have a fair breakfast next door followed up with a good cup of coffee down the street. I wish myself a happy birthday.

Having learned our lesson with Tokyo, if you only have a few days and want to see much, then use a tour to maximize your time. We stop in at the nearest travel agency which is of course in our Hotel Lobby. We look at the pictures and read the descriptions and finally narrow it down to the one that requires the least trekking through the untamed jungles. In one day we will visit a butterfly farm, elephant camp, mountain villages, ride a water buffalo pulled cart (circa sometime before Christ) ride the river on a bamboo raft and hike up to a waterfall, all transportation and lunch included for the grand price of $35. Okay, all very touristy, but on this trip to Chiang Mai, we are tourists!

We have managed to drag the morning out and head across the street to rent a motorcycle for the day. Can you believe it is only $6 USD for 24 hours. I wonder if insurance is included. We get a quick review, Victor takes off around the block and I get on. I think I might have been on a motorcycle once before and Victor used to have one, but doesn't say if he ever drove it. We circle a few blocks of the old city and venture out to the BUSY street. We are not immediately hit by any vehicles and this builds our confidence and we cross over to the other BUSIER street. We only have to go a block to get to the gas station, but also have to cross the four lanes of traffic. For some unfathomable reason, I am perfectly calm. I later learn that Victor was not.

From our earlier walk and map review, I have the vaguest idea where we are and where we are going and direct Victor on when to turn where to get over to the river so we can head south along the scenic shore. However, sometimes I give a turn direction just to save our lives from some threat ahead and eventually found myself confused as to which direction we were actually heading. Feigning confidence because I know I need it and assume Victor does too, I continue giving my best guess on directions and only have to occasionally remind him that he is on the wrong side of the street. (Like England, they drive on the opposite side from what we are used to.)

I am pleased with myself at finding the river and we cross over and head south. Victor seems to think he is on a bicycle and clings to the narrow edge of the gutter. Yes, where all the manholes and bumps are. I try to encourage him to take the lane. It is actually worse to be on the side and have the traffic passing us than to just take the lane and go with the flow. My bottom is bruising.

Those who drive this way every day have a certain expectation as to what the other drivers will do, which is generally to speed up and not grant right of way. They know that and sneak into the lanes until they just go. Victor is ceding right of way and driving both cautiously and politely and the other drivers don't respond as he expects... which is for them to go. They don't go because they don't anticipate his slowing down. In retrospect this is very funny, but did feel dangerous while we were on the street.

We hardly see much of the river and seem to quickly lose it. Eventually we are going past rice fields. This is very pleasant as there is no traffic at all. We talk about stopping for a beverage as motorcycling is very parching. I tell him that he can stop whenever he wants and that I am ready. We go on and on and on. I remind him that we were thinking of stopping and he soon stops at a gas station. This is a very American response, all of our gas stations have a little convenience store. Here, this isn't so. They have a refrigerator though and we take a cola and water. Now, being out of town we are not in Englishville and when I ask the price the gentleman holds up 6 fingers and then 10 fingers. I interpret this to mean 60 Baht, about $1.75. Very unreasonable. But I pull out my three 20 Baht bills and hand them to him. He takes one and brings me back four. I guess he meant 6 for the water and 10 for the cola, 16 Baht, about 45 cents total and very reasonable.

Getting off the bike is awful, because we have to get back on and our bottoms feel quite broken! We head out again and about a quarter mile down the road see a sign in English for Coffee Garden. We stop to either get a cup of coffee or see a coffee plantation. We aren't sure which we are going to, but it turns out we have a wonderful cup of coffee and are back in Englishville. The owner sits with us and our maps and shows us where we are. We are not in a bad spot, actually almost in the direction I had thought, only about 10 miles further than anticipated.

We lounge a bit and then head off again. The town we are in is called Baan Tawai and is a huge export center with oodles of neat looking furniture, pottery, carved animals and any number of unique items ready to ship. There are no restaurants that we can see and it is very lunch time.

We hit the diagonal road that will take us back past the Airport and right into the old town. Traffic is picking up, but by now we are old pros at this and just sail right in....and spend a difficult hour driving around old town looking for our hotel. We can't find the little alley entrance and are quickly so twisted about that we no longer know which side of town we are on, though we are clearly on the same streets several times. We almost stop to ask directions.

Since we have contracted the scooter for 24 hours, we don't really want to give it up yet. So we park and head to lunch followed by a great birthday massage. Returning to the scooter we decide to head up the mountain a bit out of town and see if we can't find some of the waterfalls. When we get to the BUSY street, it is rush hour and ugly. Victor takes us home again. I think this is a Grand Idea as my backside is complaining loudly with every little bump. I think we did something like 50 miles. We return the bike.

We decide to take a little walk and repeat our steps of yesterday when we were looking for a money exchange. We also want to find our alley way entrances from the main streets so we can confidently find our way home again, though we may never need this knowledge again.

We walk up to the Queen Vic, which is far further than we remember. We have a beer and check our email as they have a computer for guests such as we do at the Hotel Charlotte. While Victor is signing on to the computer, my eyes wander over to the newspaper counter where the owner has a brochure display and I couldn't believe what I was seeing...A Hotel Charlotte brochure. I am amazed and pleased and fire up the camera. I have Victor take my picture here with the brochure and quickly add quite a few more! I always travel with a handful in my bag, you never know where you will find your next guest!

We decide to eat at Tamarind and sit almost in the swimming pool. They have live music and a wonderful romantic setting. Once they lit the citronella candles and gave us an organic mosquito spray it was perfect. I ordered a duck curry with lychee which was one of the best meals I've had so far.

We walked back to the hotel and did not miss the entrance to our alley way. We finish our evening with another stop at the Karaoke place, which is very pleasant and we enjoy additional a beer and verbal camaraderie with Colin who has been here for9 months. He has picked up a great deal of Thai customs and shares some great stories and observations with us. We are fairly well hooked on Chiang Mai!

What a grand birthday!

Chiang Mai: no money and an impromptu Karaoke party

Funny, when we made the phone reservations I swear the lady said it was a 2:20 departure. So we head out to start our day right at our breakfast joint, grab a quick foot massage and stop in the internet cafe to catch up on emails. Good thing she sent me an email confirmation showing the right departure time. 2:20 is our arrival time, departure is 12:50.

Well, now we have to hustle! I don't know why we didn't jump in our standby Tuk-Tuk which would have gotten us back in minutes. Instead we walk the one-third mile (or so) to the train, wait for the next train and walk the one-third mile (or so) to the condo in about half an hour.

But it only takes us minutes to pack a bag and head out again to flag a taxi. We are a bit concerned that we might not find one quickly that will agree to go to the airport. We are sort of in the middle of town, but not in a high traffic area. But this turns out to not be a problem and the Doorman quickly hails us an airport bound ride.

Arriving in Chiang Mai we find ourselves in that strange position of finding out what to do next. Always stop at the bar or cafe for a coffee, there can be no rush...Check the scene out! A hastily made decision at this point is going to cost you money. We look around a bit for a bus stand into town, none is evident. We see lots of tour operators and a hotel reservation desk. For some reason, we don't want the services of these professionals. We finally eye the taxi stand and head in that direction.

Where you go?
To the old city
What hotel?
Just to the old city
(Hmmm, now we are stuck!)
Oh, anywhere is okay, we just want to walk around
(We must sound like idiots)
Taxi that way.
She points around the corner.

There are no metered taxi's just the cars that folks use. Generally a rip off. But we have already lost most of our confidence and need to get out of the airport and decide to go for it. We have a repeat of the same conversation with the English speaking fellow who says okay, we can get a ride for 120 Baht, (about $3.50 USD) This is only double what I had read that the price should be and we nod and get in. I am not the minister of negotiation, but Victor points out that this transaction clearly falls under the Ministries of transportation and finance and that I am indeed the negotiator. We laugh.

We find Chiang Mai to have more English speaking folks as a percentage of those you come across in your day to day events than anywhere else we have been this whole trip. We are blessed with an English speaking driver. We talk about the festival that is going on, actually tomorrow is the last day of the festival. He notes that the town is full so folks who had procrastinated from all over Thailand are visiting for the show. Hmmmmm.

We ask about lodging and what he might recommend. Oh, nothing madam, town is full. Ugh! Why didn't we make reservations? Actually, I tried to but everything I contacted WAS full! Oh dear!

So our friendly driver takes us to Old Town which is across the moat. You can still see many remnants of the old wall. He kindly drops us off at the one of the entrances that has every other building as a guest house. If we don't need anything special, he thinks we might find accommodation here.

Eye Candy! The street is more of a one lane alley way that twists and turns for the first 2 blocks then straightens out. Building are very close, no green space. Every other building is a guest houses and they all include a travel agency, restaurant, bar, laundry service, internet cafe and motorcycle rentals. We are a little bit dizzied by the visions and walk bit into the old city.

I think we should find lodging first. So as is usually the case with us, we inquire, look at the room and take it no matter what the conditions. This time it was okay, queen bedded room, private bath and a tiny little balcony for all of $9 USD, breakfast not included. We drop our bag (really just a purse with not much more than underwear and toothbrushes) and head out to look for a late lunch and to exchange some of our USD to Baht.

My experience with Old Towns, like San Diego, is that they are also small towns. Not the case here! We follow along some even more narrow alleys and finally find a main street. But this old town is really only about guest houses and the services they provide, stand alone restaurants, internet cafes, massage parlors an occasional motorcycle repair shop....Not much on banking!

We walk until I am more than a little concerned. We don't have many Baht left and have seen nowhere that takes credit cards and are scheduled to be here for two days. I am imagining thirst and hunger! We ask a fellow how far to an exchange place and are told it is just up the road, maybe a kilometer....Hmmmmm not really! It is quite a bit up the road, maybe a mile and a half. You actually have to leave the moated sanctuary and cross two BUSY streets and then continue walking forever until you find the first bank...which does not exchange money, but maybe someone else does up the road....Okay, now I am starting to feel the pains of starvation in advance of the reality.

We continue down the road and slip into a small bank that has an exchange sign and the nice fellow locks the door right after us, it is 3:30 pm. We are instructed to take a number and are #517. They are on #212. I can see why they close early. There are only a few people waiting, not the hundreds that the numbering system would indicate. They call all of the waiting numbers except ours. The tellers are closing up and we keep sitting. This is silly! Will they serve us dinner if we keep waiting? My stomach hopes so!

We are finally called. Apparently only one of the tellers can do exchanges and she was otherwise engaged. I am always so grateful when a perfectly acceptable answer to my having to wait has not been preceded by me fussing at someone about the system not meeting my expectations.

We get the money and run!

Having successfully recrossed the busy streets and moat we take a different street towards home and in the second block find a pub called the Queen Vic and with a credit card emblem on their window. This bodes well and we stop in. Cute Cute Cute! We have what started out in the plans as being lunch, but ended up as a very early supper. We meet the owner and enjoy his story. We share a brochure with him and tell him all about Yosemite and the Hotel Charlotte in Groveland.

We leave and it is still very daylight. We start walking back to our guest house and realize that we have no clue how to get there. Hmmmmm. Good thing the Transportation Minister took a business card with map on it from the hotel's front desk before we left. I don't think either of us knew the name of the place or the street we were on. We quickly negotiated a high price from a Tuk-Tuk driver and were soon back on our street. I started thinking it might have been funny to only be two blocks from the hotel and not know it...

Being too early to bed down, we walk over to one of the massage parlors and get a nice traditional Thai Massage. I will tell you about these in another post....Glorious! We wonder to the gals if we are close enough to walk to the night market. It being just across the BUSY street and moat they think we should walk. Off we go on our now revived feet to walk another mile or so...But the market was lovely, the people friendly and out going and we quickly found several exchange places. Turns out the exit we used in the afternoon isn't a tourist street and provided no real touristy services like money exchanges. Hmmm, and only minutes from our hotel there are half a dozen exchanges.

We finish our evening with a stop at the bar next to our hotel and have a beer and plan to go to bed as we are exhausted by todays (mis-) adventures. Our plans quickly changed when we hear John Lennon and the Beatles belting out their greatest hits and decide to find out what all the good music is about.

Just a block away is a tiny little restaurant seating no more that 12 people and they are having a Karaoke party. To expand the operation they have put a few tables on the other side of the street. Half off the pavement, half on. This takes up only a portion of the tiny alleyway and the smallest of cars can still get through.

We are invited to join John Lennon's table (he is really named Colin) and enjoy several hours of merry making, karaoke, a free buffet and good conversation. This is the funnest night of our trip. Victor "sings" three songs and we dance in the street.

Every half hour or so another person loaded with wares brings their merchandise to the table and gives us the pitch. I love this kind of shopping. Our new found friends help with the negotiations and we thoroughly enjoy watching the art of the deal handled by professionals on both sides of the negotiation. I feel good that we got a fair deal on the few items we buy.

We go to bed with our day completely redeemed!

Enotecha (Wine Library)

We like the name of this Italian restaurant and go about trying to find it at the end of Soi 27, which is hardly more than a back alley way. I am with the Safety Minister and have no concerns.
The restaurant is lovely, but not warm and welcoming. This is different from most of our Thai dining experiences and strikes me as odd. We order one of their lowest priced wines but when the wine steward comes to open the bottle he tells us we have made an excellent choice.

The bells start ringing!

We immediately know this is not going to be the bottle we ordered. It takes us several minutes to convince him that we did not in fact order an excellent wine and that there must be a mistake. We have to get a menu and show him which we ordered and he sulked off to get the proper bottle. He sent someone else to open the not so excellent bottle for us. To give you an idea, the bottle of cheap wine we ordered was just over $36 USD. The bottle he wanted to open for us was almost $90 USD and no doubt excellent, but not within our price range.

Victor ordered an interesting Lasagna, cooked fresh instead of baked and warmed as is the usual lasagna service. He thought it delicious.

We finished our evening with a walk back to Soi 11 to wish our friends at the British Pub a nice week as we were off for the next couple of days to Chiang Mai.

Sirroco, on top of the world Bangkok

Leaving the Blue Elephant we have been advised to check out Sirroco for views and ambiance. As we have nothing left on our itinerary for the day, we walk over. The building is impressive with huge pillars on the bottom going up many floors, pure white with a gold dome on top. We elevate to the 64th floor and find we are the only folks there, but it is the middle of the afternoon.

We order two glasses of their lowest priced wine, which is a crazy $15 per glass. We are certainly paying for these views over looking the river. It's a smoggy city and difficult to see far or crisply, and the pictures don't come out too well but the memories are vivid.

When we are ready to go we find a Tuk-Tuk driver and show him our map to the Condo. We agree on a price and off we put-put. Now fairly familiar with the city, the Transportation Minister considers his route choice quite odd, but we have prenegotiated a price, so I am not as concerned as we really do have all day.

Turns out he doesn't understand our map and is driving us to his English speaking friend to help him figure out the way. We find this charming and all have a well interpreted good laugh.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Bangkok private cooking class

The Blue Elephant has invited us to a private class to pick up some handy tips aimed at the restaurant chef rather than the hobby cook. We are given over to one of their top chefs who gives us a lesson in making our own chili paste and chili oil. I am the class photographer and chief asker of dumb questions. I am very competent at one of these.

We are treated to chili paste sandwiches, sort of like peanut butter but with a real zing! The color is gorgeous. The next thing we do is cook a fish dish. This is wonderful, but not something everyone will like. Using a small sea bass we fry the head, tail and a dozen bite sized pieces. While this is cooking we mix up a yummy chili & pineapple sauce. Putting everything together on the plate we rebuild the fish, ladle the sauce and add deep fried bay leaves to the top. Delicious, but the darn thing is staring at me.

This was really fun to have a private lesson and we are ready to head out when we get invited to tour their processing plant. All of the prep work for the 9 luxury restaurants is done in Thailand and shipped overnight. This includes the cleaning and packaging the vegetables, making batches of the sauces, oils and pastes. The farms in Thailand provide fresh and lovely vegetables year round, the labor is available and affordable and this process provides consistency from restaurant to restaurant to have the basics all provided from the same location.

This is a very sterile operation and we are required to don long lab coats, hair nets and rubber boots. The operation is spotless and very impressive!

The Blue Elephant has 9 locations of their Royal Thai Cuisine restaurants, several fast Thai service restaurants and provides prepackaged meals for sale in grocery stores. They have a good business plan and are now looking to expand into the USA. Perhaps we can help them with distribution introductions. We could be a first customer for them in the USA.

We have the best of tour guides today from the Chef that showed us the recipes to the our host for the 45 minute ride to the factory & back to the factory director who interrupted his busy day to show us around. A unique and wonderful experience.

Bangkok Spa Services

Today we follow our routine with a stop first at the pharmacy to pick up something for stomach ailments and travelers diarrhea. I am not feeling too well. The pharmacy is incredible, they have everything and it seems everything is available upon request except for narcotic drugs that can only be obtained through the hospital.

They have a Pepto Bismal like product for what ails me and it is even the familiar pink. I am fairly confident that foreign medications are okay...and well...I need it if I am to continue our research!

They said they take credit cards so we go to pay for the pink pills and low-and-behold, while they do take credit cards, they can't take them until after 10 am. Apparently the only person who knows how to do this doesn't start until then. We decide to come back after breakfast.

We have lunch in the area and are invited to enjoy a two hour massage, with a 15% discount because we ate at the restaurant. The price is about double what we have been paying to our friends a block away ($15 an hour vs $8), but this is a real upscale spa event and with nothing really on our list of things we have to do today, we succumb. What a pleasure this is! I am thinking we should host a Thai massage therapist to stay with us in Groveland so that we can enjoy and share this pleasure regularly!

We book our "get out of Bangkok, its Lynn's birthday trip" after a number of internet failures, by calling the airline directly. We are set to go on Tuesday to Chiang Mai in the northern region. Victor sees no reason to pre-book lodging, I consider this un-American, but go along.

Bangkok a day of curiosity and waiting

This day we decide to do something completely non-touristy and go to watch a pre-sale for a condo that hasn't broken ground yet. We found this listed first in the newspaper and it drew our curiosity. For the low price of $150, one can begin the process of owning a condo in central Bangkok. When we later found the advertisement boards near the dentist office for the event, we figured it was just something we would have to go see. The pre-sale is just a few blocks from where they drill our teeth, what are the odds of that? It seems like destiny!

While the event is scheduled from 10-4, we are in no real rush as we are only just intrigued and go to Soi 11 for breakfast and a morning foot massage.

When we get to the pre-sale we are given a number, handed a stack of papers written mostly in Thai to review and told that they will call us when it is our turn to talk to someone. We have #539. They are on #37. This doesn't look good. We wait about an hour and they are now on #48. We wait another hour and they are on #77. We go to lunch and linger. On the walk back I find myself searching the ground for discarded numbers, maybe someone got discouraged and we can move up the list.

When we return the counting computer is off and the projected images show that almost all of the units are marked as reserved. Victor asks what number they are on and the man asks Victor what his number is. Victor tells him and he picks up the microphone and calls number #539, imagine that! We consider this an interesting system, and go to find our English speaking helper to tell us about the next step in the system.

We have fun, but it is a long afternoon!

Bangkok Cheap Charlies

Another treasure in our adopted neighborhood, Soi 11. Off on a side street and outside, no more than 8 feet deep, and that includes the depth of the bar and the customer seating area, is Cheap Charlies and that it is. Written up in every guide book and online information resource for Bangkok for good reason. It is an eclectic meeting place for after work with odd signs, good prices and great cheer. We go here to recover from our dental debacle.

We have walked past this icon many times in the morning. To close up Charlie pulls a tarp down from the top of the bar and clips it to the bottom. This is closed. Open, he rolls up the tarp to expose natural teak and signage that is sure to impress visitors from around the world.

Keep inside the line on the floor when cars are passing.
Thank you for only pee. Don't shit

Here we meet a photographer from Timeout: Bangkok. We will have to follow this publication to see if we make the magazine or the cutting floor. We of course talk with her about Groveland and Yosemite. She has been here! We share our brochure and she thinks...yes, she has seen the Charlotte. What a small world. I am feeling better about my teeth.

Bangkok Dental hell

Victor has decided that since he needs so much dental work, it is only fair that I too get something more done. He suggests a whitening treatment. I am feeling some guilt that I got off so easily on the dental end of the trip that I agree. He has made an appointment for me today.

Ugh! I never should have signed up for this teeth whitening. First they have me sign a release that says I might not enjoy success and every patient has a different out come. Then we pull a color sample and the process begins.

It is painful.

I figure I can stand the pain if I know how much longer it is going to last. I can't talk and swallowing causes the laser to burn my lip. I point at my wrist and mime a watch...How much longer? Nobody understands the question. I am asked several times if I am okay. I am determined to make it through the hour and nod yes. But I have to keep swallowing and my lip is now in pain along with my teeth. I begin to quiver and can't make it stop. The next time I am asked if I am okay, I can't lie anymore, I am surely not okay, get this stuff out of my mouth. Tears have started rolling and I can't make them stop. They can't get it out fast enough. She makes me stay in the chair until I calm down. I pretend to, and am released. But as soon as I see Victor again the watershed flows.

I can't believe how painful this is. He says my teeth look great. Then comes the closer. I am given an instruction coffee, tea or cigarettes for a week. Well, that just isn't going to work. They should have given me these rules before the procedure. I would have waited until I was off coffee and had quit smoking before putting myself through this. Well, I hope I am one of the lucky ones that can smoke an occasional cigarette and enjoy a cup of coffee without restaining my teeth.

We head back to the condo and I crash for a few hours.

Bangkok I am invited to lunch

I have been invited to lunch with the Blue Elephant cooking school class for today, Victor's final day. This is exiting as he is so animated by his new knowledge when he gets home. I feel lucky to enjoy this small part of his program.

We start the with our breakfast routine and walk and split up to our respective school-internet. I am concerned as this is my last day to log some hours at the computer. After this we are together again and I don't want to spend our time at the computer. I am blogging swiftly but still only get through our Macau adventures.

I meet the class at the time Victor has said they are going to be done, but today there are some slower students and we must wait for everyone to finish one recipe, then we get a class on the last recipe and then prepare it. It was fascinating being there for the course program. Very well done. After everyone finished the recipe we were sat in the main dining room to enjoy all the courses for the day. Each student is served what they cooked for the morning. The only caveat being that Thai people enjoy their foods all together mixing the flavors of sweet and tangy with mellow and spicy and this often means every dish is no longer hot. This is not deemed a matter of any importance to the Thai people, but I sort of prefer hot soup and main courses.

Over lunch we enjoy talking to Victor's class mates and learning what brought them to the school and Thailand. I hand out Hotel Charlotte flyers to everyone. We have handed out so many flyers that I hope I don't run out before we have to go home! Everyone we meet is interested in the Hotel and Yosemite and takes a brochure. This is excellent!

A word about this fine restaurant. The people at the Blue Elephant could not have been more kind and accommodating and it wasn't just business, it was a way of life. We met many of the team and enjoyed their hospitality to no end. On our way out, Nooror one of the founding owners asked if the two of us would like a private class on Monday or Tuesday. We were planning to run away to Chiang Mai for my Birthday on Wednesday, so we sign up for the class for Monday.

And off we run to the dentist.

Bangkok & Trivia Masters

Now regulars at the British Pub, we head over for a rousing game of Trivia. This is a small game, held internally only as compared to the internet game where pubs across the world vie for the title of world domination in all things trivial.

We are a tad bit late, but they haven't started the game questions yet. They are on the random, first-one-to-answer-right-and-loudly-wins-a-prize questions. We aren't getting it yet, but after the fist round of this quickly catch on.

We are given our papers and asked for a team name. We are "Bob-tha-dog." The first round of 20 questions goes rather poorly. I think we got three right. They take a break and we all get fresh Ale. The second round starts with another answer quickly and loudly question, get prize. Wouldn't you know, the question is: What is January's birthstone? Well being January born, and less than a week to my birthday I am both quick and loud and win the prize. This bodes well for us and provides a bit of confidence as we prepare for the next round of questions. A real boost comes when another couple asks to join our team. we will surely step out of a dismal last place. We do slightly better this second round, but so does everyone else. We are still behind.

We have oodles of fun, but end up flat last.

We walk over to our regular breakfast diner for a bit of dinner. The wine, while a more affordable than most is awful, but the dinner is enhanced by the appearance of a small elephant being escorted down the street by his handler and a number of police. We gawk. I of course do not have the camera ready, which in retrospect is a good thing. We later learn when we next see the little elephant that there is a photo fee.

Bangkok Chinatown

Are we running out of things to do yet, no. Today we follow our breakfast routine, and split up for school-internet and I meet Victor at the waterfront. If you are ever there, the best deal in town is the little tiny cafe stand between the two piers. For just 25Baht (75cents) you can enjoy a beer and a great people watching spot. This is also a good meeting spot as you will surely find your meeting person!

We head off to Chinatown which is in Old Bangkok, along the river and halfway from the last stop. We are old hands at this tourist boat and jump off at the right place. We are following the guide book for a walking tour of Chinatown. We quickly realize one does not need a book to find the highlights here. The market street is the biggest mass of people in the smallest space all moving in opposite directions. The Chaos is screaming. I can't believe that this place exists! Hair clips, Valentine's Day trinkets, Budah icons, "little kitty" stuffed animals, food vendors, shoes, shoes, shoes and masses of people successfully maneuvering around each other, all spending money. Then comes the delivery people who block the whole aisle and the motorcycles who seemingly are allowed to go everywhere. This is such a trip! I work hard not to lose sight of the Safety Minister who always seems to be 5 feet ahead of me. I can't shop because I can't stop! This is pure manic!

The oddest sensation of Chinatown and the market is that while it is outdoors, the air conditioning spills out of the open air booths of the market cooling this mass of humanity. I found this fascinating and very wise!

Bangkok Saxophone

Today is Wednesday and I am halfway through my free time for the internet. I don't want to be on the web when Victor is not in school. How boring for him to wait for me. And I am only up to Hong Kong....I have to write faster! Readers will notice that in my haste I am lacking in spell check. I shall edit later!

We repeat our morning ritual of Soi 11, breakfast, a walk and then go our separate ways. We plan to meet again late in the day as Victor has another dentist appointment after school. I blog and dine. This time I venture back to Silom, near the Sofitel for sushi. It isn't nearly as good as when Victor and I had it earlier in the week.

Returning home I research again for a new restaurant and find something called Saxophone over near Victory Monument. This is listed as nightlife, entertainment, not food. Before dinner we head over to the British Pub that we found yesterday and meet Scott, the owner. He confirms that Saxophone is a great place to hear good music and suggests we eat there (perhaps as a convenience, certainly not for the quality of the dining experience!)

We successfully train over and find the right place, sit for dinner. It is so dark that the waitresses hold little flashlights so you can read the menu. I am a great browser of menus and am given my own flashlight for the evening. We enjoyed the starters. Victor ordered a steak, which we have learned is not a good thing to do if it is priced under $20 US. The Thai beef comes from cows that were previously working beasts, not field fed all their lives...a bit tough to say the least. Thai cooking of meats is generally Medium Well to Well, which does nothing to enhance the tenderness of a steak.

The evening was not a waste, the music was fabulous. Victor is an old hand at the Saxophone and the band had 3 sax players and another 5 musicians. We very much enjoyed this evening, but with school and dentist, it was not a late night.

Bangkok building a pattern

A few days ago we discovered the Soi 11 area, a 4 square block bit of the city that we feel very at home with. We have a restaurant that we now go to for breakfast and then split up for our school-blog days. We often return to the Soi 11 later for dinner, the market or a cocktail before we head home for the day. We even have our own Tuk-Tuk driver here that for the huge price of $3 takes us home every night. Since this rate is about 4x the going rate, he looks for us. We appreciate this as it is worth the price not to have to explain where we are going. The condo is centrally located, but somewhat off the beaten path as it is a 24-story building set in the middle of a 1/2/3 story neighborhood filled with Thai residents, not visitors, ergo...many taxi drivers don't know this corner of Bangkok.

Today I secure a phone card and we take up the habit of calling the hotel every day or two.

When we meet up again, we go back to the Bang Lamphoo area, the backpackers haven with the books published in English. We actually comparison shop and buy the Bangkok Lonely Planet, circa 2004. I would have liked to get the whole Thailand book, but it was too fat to carry in my bag and the other was not. The final selling negotiation point was that I would be able to return the book and get half of my money back. A deal I am now certain she makes with everyone...who has time to return when you still need or want the book with you through your final day? So, I have an older edition Bangkok Lonely Planet book that I will let go at a very good price!

A note on a choosing the right guide book: a 2004 publication is too old when it is 2007 and the content likely went to press in 2003! It was a useful tool for maps but several of the suggestions were no longer in operation and the politics of the country had changed a bit, what with a coup in May of 2006 and the opening of the airport in September....Get a current guide. This is a lesson I should have learned in my many years with Karen Brown's Guides where they diligently update every year for this exact reason.

Bangkok Blue Elephant Cooking School

Monday is a glorious day to have a first train trip in Bangkok (this wasn't our first, but if you go and can time it for a Monday, do!) The Thai people have a great deal of respect for their royal family and every Monday is King's day. It would seem that all the Thai people wear a yellow polo shirt with the royal emblem on the left pocket. Imagine the vision of a train crowded with folks on their way to work in a sea of yellow shirts. This was an amazing piece of choreography that is seldom experienced in the US. Perhaps seen only near stadiums on game days. But in Bangkok, this is a whole city of millions all in yellow. We were awe-struck

I escort Victor to School quite certain that on his own he will be lost. I am the minister of money and transportation, so this is not a strain for me, but my calling. I know right where the place is having viewed it from the train. Getting there is no problem, but the registration is surprised to see two of us as we have only reserved for one. This is quickly resolved and we head out for coffee as we have a half hour wait.

We review the map and I am tasked with exploring the Chit Lom area to see if this is worthy of a visit.

We separate—for the first time this whole trip. I experience both elation at my new freedom and some trepidation. While I am the minister of transportation, Victor is in charge of my security...and here I am, heading off on my own amidst this sea of yellow!

So, with chin up, I head back to the train, purchase my ticket and board. At the transfer station I remember to get off and get on the other train line. Good thing they have signs posted in English at each stop. It didn't take too many stops for me to read one and realize that I was going the wrong way. Quickly rectified by an exit, walk down all 49 steps, cross over and back up the 49 steps. There is never an escalator when you have erred on directions!

When I do get to Chit Lom, I find myself in the a wash in a superb down-pour. I give it 5 minutes to clear. It doesn't. In spite of the daunting 49 steps, I head back to the train. My internet cafe is just a few stops away and I can spend the morning catching up on this blog.

Since Victor has another dental appointment after school, I find myself with the full day to myself and after internetting for 4 hours, I decide that it is time for lunch. Being the voyager that I am, I walk around a bit and find several Indian restaurants in the area, which Victor isn't a fan of. Narrowing the choices down was a matter of lighting and I picked the one I could see into so as not to be kidnapped and whisked off to a waiting ship to spend the rest of my life trying to get home. Well, isn't that creative thinking? It just felt safer if I could see into the restaurant. Either the seasonings were so strange to my taste buds that it was difficult to like or it just wasn't that great. Perhaps this is why Victor isn't a fan of Indian dining.

I head back to the condo for some R&R and a nice cooling shower. Today it is 100% humidity and this does nothing to halt the discomfort of the extreme heat.

Victor is back by 6 and we go out to eat at a restaurant that is both open on Mondays and open.

Bangkok: A lazy afternoon

We return to the condo from Bang Lamphoo via taxi. The total is an amazing $3 for a half hour ride. Transportation is very affordable here. I wonder how they afford to buy the taxi at these rates, and gas to keep them going! But there are seemingly millions of cabs in all the colors of lifesavers, red, green, pink, yellow, blue, purple...eye candy!

We spend the afternoon researching restaurants on the internet. The first one we pick is closed on Mondays, but this is okay, its Sunday. We nap and head out. After what feels like a multi-mile trek from the train station, we finally know we are in the right area and since it is sort of early for dinner, we stop off for an hour massage. This time Victor's Massage is far better than mine. None-the-less, I wish we could do this massage bit every day in Groveland!

After totally relaxing we head out to where the restaurant should be. Alas, after all we have done to get here, it is closed. But, that is okay, we head back towards the train and choose one of the many Thai restaurants that is on our way and enjoy a perfectly nice dinner. We have ordered in courses and enjoy our calamari appetizer, but get confused as the main courses are deliver. While we are sharing our food, we think that Lynn's dish is great and keep waiting for Victor's, but what arrives next is Lynn's. So I got to eat much more of Victor's sea bass in pepper sauce than I should have, but this is okay as it was far better than what I ordered, a shrimp dish!

One thing about Thailand for those who love wine it is very expensive. Wine is considered a luxury item and is slapped with a 300% import tax. This doesn't suit us at all!

Cooking School starts tomorrow so it is early to bed!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Bangkok, Bang Lamphoo

We are headed for the river. Again, this is an area where you get off the train and everything you thought you knew about getting around disappears. There are several piers, many boats, and few signs in English. We find a tiny cafe between two piers and take a seat for a bit and refuel with a cold beverage. This allows us to get our bearings and figure the system out.

We take the tourist boat, while it sounds over priced and not quite what we want, it turns out to be just right. You pay 18Baht, about $0.52 cents and get on a boat with a tour guide telling you about each stop. You can stay on the boat and return to the starting point or get off at any station. There is even a special price of 100Baht for an all day on-off pass. Our first boat trip we get off at Bang Lamphoo, the backpackers area. This is a whole subculture of travelers who are traveling on a serious budget. Lots of dreadlocks and Westerners here. I also notice this is the first place with books in English. We are missing our Lonely Planet support guide that we had for Hong Kong and Macau.

We are enjoying this shaded area and find a guest house to sit and watch some of the world go by. Guest houses are all-in-one places with rooms, restaurant, bar, laundry, internet, travel services and probably even more that I wasn't looking for. The place we were at had rooms from $5 to $15 a night. The higher price included a private bath and an air conditioner. We think this is a good value!

We head out again, walking any where our feet take us. Up and down odd streets, past a Budah, around a temple with no real goal..... We are now looking for somewhere inside that is air conditioned for lunch. We are not having success. We are in the middle of a huge outdoor market again. It is hot and we are tired and hungry. We have to get out of the market, we turn and more stuff for sale, we walk, turn, walk...turn. Getting warmer and warmer and very dehydrated. We finally find a Chinese restaurant with inside seating and the menu pictures don't look too bad. I order dim sum, victor orders Italian. We cool down!

Funny thing about dim sum, you think there are hundreds of different items, and maybe there are, but the staples are all the same, about 6 of them on every menu with only a few different items. I like dim sum far more than Victor and notice that I am doing more ordering of new foods than he.

Bangkok, Chatuchak Weekend Market

This market is enormous and very hot. We are here early. We are almost always up early. Today is no exception! We see stall after stall, all with seemingly the same goods. Then every once in a while, I see something that will catch my eye, but if we aren't actually shopping, then I just keep walking as Victor is usually ahead of me by several yards and we will lose each other if I stop. I figure if we see it once, we will see it again. (I hope!)

We stop for a breakfast, but I order Thai food, Victor gets eggs. I order a lemon juice, but it comes with ice and I wonder if I should drink it. We are staying away from drinking tap water and we don't know where the ice came from. We both decide to go for it. Victor drinks his very quickly so that too much of the ice won't have melted. I fret all day about this and am sure I am going to get ill. We are vigilant about not eating at the food carts. They often smell and look so good, but seem to lack any sanitariness (is there such a word?)

We continue our non-shopping walk through the market looking here and there and then down this row and where are the fish? We get hot again and need beverages and find ourselves back at the same place we had breakfast. We have a beer.

We are done and can't find the exit. We have to ask someone who proceeds to give us directions that were seemingly easy as they were being delivered, but became confusing when we followed them. We did finally get out of the market and found the Sky Train. This is nicer than the subway as it is above ground, providing for some views along the way.

Bangkok, Dentist follow up visit

We succeed in getting to the dentist on time, using the train. Only to find that this to is very like the US, we wait and wait before they see us. The good news is they don't have to do as much for our teeth as the consultation indicated. I had my 6 fillings and was released.

We train back to Sukhumvit, the main street closest to our condo and walk around a bit locating the different places noted on our research and maps. We discover an area that we end up returning to every day, Soi 11 and 11.1. Nice people, easy to find stuff, internet, good coffee, great massages... We have our first Thai Massage. It is definitely a push-me, pull-you full participation process using stretching and pressure points, we like most of the bits.

We find this very hidden alley who's name we don't know and off of it are a dozen restaurants and a few bars, we have tapas for lunch and this is great, we will likely come back here again.
Good ambiance, food and pricing. We found an interesting Tapas book and some cool magazines here. We will need to find the distributor and sign up for subscriptions. One included a regular listing of the Sothebys wine auctions which could be a great way to accumulate good wines at a fair price...if there aren't other bidders for the same.

We even found a regular grocery store, Villa Market, and picked up some bread, cheese, coffee....We ended up in bed early and awoke refreshed to take on a new challenge!

Bangkok Dentist

Ugh, today we have the dentist. We decided to do this after reading in our online research that the do a lot of international clients and our friend Robin just did this down in Costa Rica. How risky could it be?

We have our phone in taxi pick us up and take us to the dentist. Very interesting bit about maps, they aren't all to scale. We actually thought we would be able to walk from our condo to the office and were congratulating ourselves on such a convenient location selection. Alas, it is many miles away and described by our driver as "only Thai people over here"...

But, it is near the train station and we use this "opportunity" to give it a go for our way home. But that comes later!

The dentist takes a look and signs us each up for thousands of dollars of work. This is maddening, but we know it would be nearly $10k if done in the US. Between us we need 3 root canals and 5 caps, 8 fillings, 2 cleanings, x-rays and 3 veneers. We get the x-rays and cleanings done on this first visit and make an appointment for tomorrow (Saturday) for root canals and fillings. Bangkok isn't looking very fun today!

We stroll down the street, full of big big big massage parlors until we get to the Emerald Hotel where we sit for lunch. We think menu, but they have this huge buffet going on that looks just delicious. I convince Victor this is what we should do. Guess what...the same holds true with an Asian in buffet, they get old. We did find some tasty treats, but decide the discomfort one feels afterward in searching for the most delicious morsel is not worth it. We are too full.

We are also just a block or two from the train station and decide to give it a go. We tack on another success!

Bangkok, Sofitel & V9

We are picked up and whisked off by our new English speaking taxi driver to V9, the wine bar-restaurant that we tried to go to for lunch. This time it is open, but do we have a reservation? Hmmmm....why didn't I think of that. Oh....we did, but guess what....we can't figure out the phone system here either...

It didn't matter, they had a lovely table for us. We are on the 37th floor overlooking all of the tall buildings in Bangkok. Perhaps not all of them, but a good view for sure!

The wines are well priced and Victor picks a Viognier which we enjoy. The menu is pricey, but we are on the 37th floor! We order an appetizer that comes with 6 different plates. It is listed as a taster but could have been the full meal. We love this and consider something similar for HC. We follow this up with a sea bass and a steak and each share bites. Most excellent and a beautiful presentation all around. The following week they have scheduled a Michelin Starred guest chef, we plan to come back.

We gather a slew of ideas for our coming wine bar. Presentation, retail sales, bottle sales & dinner, pricing, packaging, hours, diluting the value of our non-tasting wines, do we have non-tasting wines? Quite a bit of thinking to do!

The Sofitel helps us with our taxi, we show the map and he describes the location in Thai to the driver. Not very sophisticated, but it works.

Bangkok in the heat of the noon sun

Did I mention that Bangkok is hot?

So after we leave the computer market we decide to go to a wine bar in the Sofitel for lunch. This was in a guide that Victor found. We have no idea where it is, so we decide that a taxi is the best approach.
"Sofitel Hotel"
"The one with V9, Sofitel"
This goes on for a bit. I wonder how hard it could be to find the Sofitel and am thinking we should head back to Hong Kong or something. Well, this driver decides it is best for him not to take us. So we head back inside the Pantip Plaza, computer market to find out the full address for the Sofitel. As luck would have it there ARE several Sofitels here in Bangkok! Silly Us. But now we are properly prepared and do find a taxi that takes us directly to the door. A lovely hotel, but the V9 doesn't open until the evening. We are not batting well today.

We are on Silom Street, a busy one too! Walking towards the river we pass several restaurants and choose the one with outdoor seating. Was this necessary at 90+ degrees and without raining humidity at seemingly 100%? Well, yes! This is an incredible people watching town and you have to sit near the street to watch people. Traffic is a show in itself!

We have a fantastic Japanese lunch, sushi, teriyaki salmon, miso soup, gyoso and more! And at a great price too. We are encouraged by our success!

We take another taxi back to the Condo, this driver speaks good English and we exchange phone numbers. We call him several times for special pickups. He is going to come and get us for dinner so we can go back to the Sofitel when they are open.

Our goal this afternoon is to try to get the computer work. We fuss and plug and unplug and restart and all the rest. When we hook back up, we now have a Thai keyboard. This isn't good. We are sure that we have done something irreparable and will have to buy a new computer for the condo. This process of tweaking, plugging and trying bits takes hours, and we fail. Can't log into any website, some security feature. Hmmmmm. Can't print either. Just a total communication failure.

I decide to do something dramatic, try to get our laundry done. Oddly we are able to communicate well with the support lady who speaks not a whit of English, far more success with her than either the trains or computer. So, we are getting our laundry done. Yippee!

Well I think we got our laundry dry cleaned. It cost triple what any other sign we saw throughout the area, but was beautifully pressed upon return. Even the bras, underwear and socks were nicely pressed and folded.

Victor finally figures out how to charge the camera! Another success, we are feeling very confident now

We are such newbies!