Bangkok: To do list

21 08 2016

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It has been a while since I was in my favourite city and the list of new and interesting places I want to check out is growing ever longer, especially since I discovered the Thai magazine “aday”, which has lots of great tips like this cafe near the Hua Mak airport express stop in Ramkhamhaeng called Sunday.

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Or this pretty jogging track around the Ram Inthra stadium:

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Restaurant Harmonique with its courtyard under a banyan tree.

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Plus a secret drinking den in the city’s US military headquarters

The Skytrain jazz bar

The dining table inside a swimming pool at 3nvy.

The city’s riverside Protestant cemetery.

And the cluster of art workshops and galleries amid old European buildings on the Charoen Krung Soi 30, also known after an obscure historical figure as Soi Captain Bush.

Then there is the chic speakeasy cocktail bar J Boroski, hidden on a Thonglor sidestreet, with a plush interior featuring a wall of mounted beetles.

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Plus there is the new incarnation of the Thailand Design and Creativity Centre nearby in the vast old nineteen thirties main post office building, and the glittering ICON mall across the river promising a new art museum and Takashimaya department store, coming next year.

 





Hidden Bangkok

4 08 2016

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Thai magazine ‘aday’ has released a “100 secrets of hidden Bangkok” issue and it seems to be a hit; I asked a Thai friend to help me get hold of a copy but the magazine had sold out everywhere. These kind of “Secret City X” articles always tread a fine line, sometimes the tips are exceedingly basic and obvious, as in a recent “Travel+Leisure” magazine feature I read on Hong Kong which tipped Sheung Wan as an under-the-radar district the expat hordes had yet to discover, when of course, it is in fact firmly established.

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Oneday Wallflowers, the elegant floral workshop tucked into an alley on Chinatown’s Soi Nana, and one of the 100 secrets of Hidden Bangkok.

But in the case of “Hidden Bangkok” the editors seem to have made some interesting choices – and discoveries! Some of the places listed are obscure attractions which I have none the less visited and enjoyed, while many others IU had never heard of. I can’t wait to get back to the city to explore them.

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The public park in the old Tiajew Chinese cemetery near Surasak skytrain station, read more here.

Good luck getting your hands on a physical copy  of the magazine but there is a Google Map to the 100 secrets of hidden Bangkok here, although it is only in Thai – let google translate be your friend!

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Chula University’s little-visited zoology museum.

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The Islamic Center of Thailand in Ramkhamhaeng.





Suoi Tien

30 07 2016

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Suoi Tien is one of the highlights of – I would say – Southeast Asia. It is a vast and bizarre fantasyland of gaudy Buddhist sculptures, neon shrines and concrete oversized fruit, dancers in monkey suits, a water park with a wave machine, houses-of-horror and live crocodiles (which you can buy and take home!) and dolphins jumping through hoops of fire. It is also, inexplicably, not mentioned anywhere in the Vietnam Lonely Planet guide. Really? Someone should really get fired for that, as it is hands down one of the most bizarre, mind-boggling sights on the planet and an absolute “must-do.” Read more on my previous visit here.  To get there, just hop on the number 19 bus opposite the Ben Thanh market. It takes about an hour and drops you right at the door which is marked by a gigantic frog, and therefore unmissable. When the city’s subway is up and running it will get a stop nearby so it will be even easier.

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The aerial drone video below should provide some more inspiration to visit (if that could possibly be necessary) although ignore the misleading claim that the park is “abandoned”  – it was just filmed after closing time, I would say.





Mixed-up world

30 07 2016

District Three, a brief walk from the Reunification Palace, is a neighbourhood of local middle class shopping, street noodle vendors, raucous markets and a big hospital. It is also here, away from the gaze of tourists, that a small local hipster scene is starting to blossom. As well as as an ‘Analog cafe’ and some vintage stores set up in peoples’ living rooms, a small alley hosts one of the city’s prime hipster hangouts, Liem Barbershop.

Modelled after Chicano gangsters, in a craze itself imported from Thailand, the barbers here represent Saigon’s globalised counter culture spirit  – and the place is consistently packed out. Its the kind of place I didn’t know existed in Saigon and perhaps an interesting peek at where the city is heading?





Museum of History

30 07 2016

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The National Vietnamese History museum sits in a 1920s Orientalist fantasy at the entrance to Botanical Gardens. Ceiling fans whir above the high-faulted chambers and breezes blow through the corridors and courtyards, and birds coo outside in the branches of huge rainforest trees. The rather dusty collection contains agricultural tools, dioramas of Vietnamese military victories over the Chinese and the Mongols and the Mummy of District Five, the preserved body of an aristocratic woman who died in 1868 and was unearthed in the city in 1994, as well as memorabilia of the vanished Vietnamese royal houses.

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The highlight is probably the sensuous collection of Khmer and Champa stone scupture, but my favourite piece was this hauntingly elongated and androgynous two-metre figure of Buddha. Carved out of weathered wood and starting some two metres tall, the faceless figure stands serenely, looking for all the world like a member of some benevolent alien race, about to bestow his or her wisdom on our benighted planet – if only we would listen.

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Off to the islands again: Cheung Chau

20 07 2016

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Fresh from my rejuvenating trip to Lamma, I took an afternoon off to visit another outlying island, Cheung Chau. I had finished the morning session at the Catholic school where I was teaching some casual classes and, with nothing else planned after lunch, decided on the spur of the moment to hop on to the ferry.

I was surprised both by the length of the journey – on the “slow ferry” it takes just under an hour, and by the island when I arrived. Cheung Chau is much busier than Lamma. Unlike Yung Shue Wan, Cheung Chau’s main settlement is not a village, but a bustling Southern Chinese provincial town. It has a McDonalds, seedy karaoke bars,  lots of plain little local eateries, shoe shops, flower shops, kids clothes, the inevitable oceanfront seafood restaurants…The clatter of mahjong tiles rang down dingy stairs from upstairs apartments, the smell of salted fish hung in the air and people pinged past on bicycles down the narrow lanes. Of the Lamma-expat-organic-chai-latte set, there was no sign.

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After walking a few minutes through the main commercial district you come to a hill, lined with spacious old 1970s apartments, with green tiles and big balconies, and then to a shady, forested walk down to a calm sandy beach with beautiful views. There is a walk all the way around the island, stopping at various pirate caves and unspectacular rock formations, but it was a hot day and I decided to stick close to town.

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Here I found a petite hipster strip of touristy stores selling vintage clothes and cute postcards ( in Thai, probably bought wholesale at Chatuchak) as well as the bizarre Homeland Tearoom, a dusty little sitting room packed to the rafters with what looked like office folders and First Aid kits, as well as various pieces of Chinese and Japanese memorabilia such as papier mache masks and geisha dolls. Run by a Japanese couple, the eccentric outpost serves tea, sushi rolls and red bean cakes, and each guest is photographed and asked to sign a guest book.

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From here it was just a short walk back to the ferry again.

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Further adventures in Mongkok

2 07 2016

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Recently I made a couple of interesting discoveries on the upper floors of obscure buildings in Mongkok. The teeming district is famous for its bird, flower and goldfish markets, but who knew there was also an indie record store and a Thai amulet mall? Eager to continue exploring this week, I headed back to find more “Mongkok hidden treasures”.

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Lo Yi Faateng, meaning “little sibling dancefloor,” is a new cafe accessed via a hard-to-open door and a dingy staircase, in an old building opposite the McPherson sportsground on Shantung Street. The former apartment has been converted into a wackily-decorated cafe with a bizarre “dictator” theme, a fridge full of books and stacks of my favourite Chinese magazine, Outlook. It would probably be my new favourite place if the food wasn’t (to be frank) so resolutely disappointing. Go for the refreshing longan and lemongrass tea though.

Just around the corner is Knockbox, a cafe more serious about its food offerings and especially its coffees, with single origin and siphon brews.








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