Food in BKK – La Scala at the Sukhothai

It is Wednesday morning and I’m bubbling with excitement, or at least as much as I can bubble before my first latte of the day.  My friends the Clevelands are landing in a few short hours, here for their first visit.  I’ve known Brad since he and I met in three-year old preschool and I was a groomsman at Brad and Donna’s wedding.  Along with their children, 10-year old E and 8-year old C, they’ll be here for five days before they head to China.

It is just like having family visit and I’ve planned a series of activities for the children, all tied into an elaborate back-story about them being top secret agents, to make the trip memorable.  I’ll share more about their trip, the spy story, and activities over the next few days.

Meanwhile, I thought I’d share some pictures from the dinner we had last Saturday at La Scala restaurant at the beautiful Sukhothai Hotel here in Bangkok.  Paul and Nicha, Tawn’s cousin and wife whom we do not see nearly often enough, invited us out for dinner.  In Thai culture, when your elders invite you (and insist on paying!), who are you to refuse?

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A gorgeous spray of orchids against a glass block wall at the front of the restaurant.

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The dining area is an interesting blend of textures and styles.  Unfortunately, we weren’t at this table, but at one with less light.

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A large part of the kitchen is in the midst of the dining room, letting you see the action.  On the left are trays of homemade pasta.  On the right are the homegrown mushrooms used in various dishes.

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A closer look at some of the pastas!

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A big cured pig’s leg sitting next to the kitchen for slicing off prosciutto.  How would you like to have one of these laying about for snacking?

The lighting at the table was very dim, so the quality of these pictures is not great.  Hopefully, they will give you an idea of what the food looked like, though.

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Amuse bouche of potato puree with truffle oil.  Yummy.

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We ordered a pair of salads.  This one is the rocket salad with a balsamic dressing.  Very nice.

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The breads were quite nice, too.  The more I eat at hotels the more I realize if I want good European style breads, I probably need to buy them from the hotels.

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I had ravioli filled with a mixture of chicken meat and duck foie gras.  The sauce is a pumpkin puree with fried thyme leaves and candied walnuts.  The dish was very tasty with some of the thinnest pasta skins I have ever had, but it was just a little too sweet for my tastes.  To be fair, the waiter did make me aware that while it was a tasty dish, it was on the sweeter side.

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Tawn had a dish of pan fried cod served over greens and mashed potatoes with a reduction sauce made from the homegrown mushrooms.  It was beautifully done.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get pictures of the dishes Paul and Nicha had, both of which were pasta dishes with a slightly spicy tomato sauce, and both of which were extremely good.

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For dessert, I had fresh berries baked in a zabaglione sauce, topped with homemade vanilla ice cream.  Yummy! 

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Tawn had homemade gelato, including this scoop of espresso that was very rich.

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The restaurant also served complimentary petit-fours, a nice finish to the evening.

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Finally, a view of the beautiful reflecting pool outside the lobby, featuring brick chedis or stupas in a pool of water.  Beautiful, no?

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Me, Nicha, Tawn, and Paul.  There’s a significant back story that I’ve written about once before but can’t find the entry right now.  The short version of it is that Paul mother and Tawn’s father’s are siblings.  She and her husband raised Paul and his two brothers in the US and they were the first people in Tawn’s family we came out to as a couple.  They’ve been super-supportive over the years and we really appreciate it.

 

First Ride on the Bangkok Airport Link

Three years late, the rail line to the Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International Airport has finally started running, although on a limited, trial basis.  Last week I headed out for a look at this latest addition to Krungthep’s transit infrastructure.

The new airport, Suvarnabhumi, opened more than three years ago about 30 km east of the heart of the city.  The planned rail service, the so called “pink line,” suffered through interminable delays caused for any number of reasons, not the least of which might have to do with the State Railways of Thailand’s notorious inefficiency.  The SRT, which owns the right-of-way, built, and will eventually operate the pink line, has never turned a profit in its more than half-century of operations.

Nonetheless, I’m excited that another piece in the transit puzzle is nearly put into place as the line started limited trial service almost two weeks ago.

Airport Link Map

The pink line is actually two lines: the darker line is the city line, which will make multiple stops between the airport and Phaya Thai, which is currently the westernmost station.  As you can see in the above map, there were several planned but unbuilt stations, shown with station names in outlined font.  The second, light pink line is the airport link, which will run nonstop between the airport and the Makkasan station (at Asoke and Petchaburi Roads), where the in-city terminal will be located.

If all goes according to plan, passengers will be able to check in for their flights at Makkasan station, receive boarding passes and drop off their bags, then ride on the train to the airport.  Their bags will be carried in a secure storage area and, already ticketed, will go from the train directly into the airport’s baggage system.  It sounds like there will be some delay before that part is operational.

Additionally, the plan is that passengers on the pink line will be able to connect with the BTS Skytrain at Phaya Thai and with the MRT subway at Makkasan-Petchaburi.  Sadly, it appears that neither connection is currently built.

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I met up with Bill and Ken, two friends with an interest in things both transit and aviation related, at the Phaya Thai BTS station to give the pink line a try.  During this trial run, only the two end stations – Phaya Thai and Airport – are operational on the pink line.  The train service is running weekdays from 7-10 am and 4-10 pm nonstop between these stations, although some intermediate stops will be introduced next week.  This trial run is free and will last until August, when the full system is supposed to be in service.

Above, you can see the Phaya Thai station of the pink line, the big concrete behemoth on the right, and a ramp that is supposed to connect to the Phaya Thai BTS station on the left.  You’ll notice, though, that the ramp stops about 5 meters short of the BTS station.  I’m curious about this because passengers will have to walk down to the street level, along 100-200 meters of broken, dirty sidewalk, cross an active railway line, and then ascend into the second station, regardless of which way they are connecting.

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Above: Flagman at the active railroad tracks that passengers connecting between the pink line and BTS have to cross, directs cars off the track as a train approaches.

My theory for this is that the two systems didn’t communicate very well, even though the BTS has been running for more than ten years so certainly wasn’t an unknown entity.  The ramp would connect a paid area in the BTS station with a public area in the pink line station.  So someone is going to have to pay to build and maintain turnstiles and a BTS ticket booth somewhere at the connection point.  This is insane because the three rail systems in town are supposed to be moving to a common ticket platform – one ticket, all systems – so the ramp should lead from the paid area to another paid area, not pass through a public area of the pink line station.

Anyhow, we walked across the railroad tracks with no problems and took the elevators up several levels in the new pink line station, being directed by friendly guards the whole way.

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The trains (these are the city line trains being used for the test run, not the airport link trains) are from Siemens and they look nice enough.  The stations along the line are not very impressive, a collage of grey concrete and grey metal.  Only the Makkasan and Airport stations are air conditioned.

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The line was pretty well used when I took it about 4pm.  By the time the train left, the seats were full with many of the passengers looking like airport employees or people who live out in the eastern suburbs.  There were also many local tourists traveling just to see the new train and, surprisingly, a few people actually using the train to get to the airport with their bags. 

Once the line is fully operational, the city line will charge between about 10-40 baht (up to US$1.25) and the airport link will charge 150 baht (US$4.75).  I would assume that the seating arrangement on the airport link train will feature pairs of seats facing forwards and backwards along with storage space for carry-on baggage.

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Notice the wide gap between the train and the platform.  It looks like there is a ledge under the door that can be extended, but they were not doing that.

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The monitors in the station show a video of the route, alternating between Thai and English.  There is also a countdown clock until the next departure – shown in seconds!  I’ve never seen a train station that shows countdown time in seconds.  And, believe me, SRT isn’t the sort of prompt organization that runs things to the second.

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Looking east from Phaya Thai station towards the Ratchaprarop station, the two closest stations on the line.

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The ride itself was very smooth, with the exception of one station midway through the line where there is a passing lane.  We had to slow down significantly to change tracks, breaking our otherwise good speed of approximately 120 kmh or 75 mph.  We were going faster than all but the fastest taxis on the expressway that parallels the tracks most of the way to the airport.

Along the way, there was a nice view of the many new housing development springing up near the airport and the new stations on the pink line.  This line will probably become very useful, less for airport passengers and employees, but more for locals who live to the east of the city and need a fast way to commute into town to their offices.

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It took just about 20 minutes to go from Phaya Thai station to the airport.  I understand that the airport link service from Makkasan to the airport will be about 16.  The train pulls into the sub-basement of the car park structure, connecting directly into the terminal building.  A quick ride up the elevator or moving sidewalks and you are at the arrivals and departures levels.  Very convenient on this end of the line.  In the future, you will be able to walk through this station to the airport hotel, which you currently have to take a shuttle van to.  The station will also have various retail shops, although those are all located on the hotel side of the station, which doesn’t make much sense.

There are some potential cons to the system right now and I’ll have to wait and see how it works once the whole system is up and running, then I’ll talk more about the cons if they haven’t been addressed.  For the moment, I’ll simply say that I’m glad additional transit options are opening and I hope that we’ll see several more in the next few years.

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Speaking of which, one has to wonder where the pink line, which ends just to the west of the Phaya Thai station, will go in the future.  The master plan shows this line continuing, turning north and heading towards the old Don Meuang airport (and beyond) and also turning south and heading to the current Hualamphong train station and then underground, across the river, and southwest to Samut Sakhon province.  Ambitious!

The Power of Half

22210-review_jpg_full_600 This morning I listened to a podcast from the Diane Rehm show from National Public Radio.  In it, the host subbing for Diane interviewed Kevin Salwen and Hannah Salwen, the father-daughter authors of the book The Power of Half.  The book documents the path the Salwen family took when they decided to sell their house and move into one half its size, donating half of the sales price to charity.

Along the way, they also changed many of their consumer habits and starting making more time for their family and their community.  It is an interesting story and one that illustrates the idea that most of us could probably get by with less than we have, and probably could give more of our time, money, or talent than we currently give.

What amazed me, though, was the range of negative reactions callers to the show and commenters on the website had.  These negative reactions generally fell into two categories:

The first category was complaints that while they had given half of their stuff, the Salwens were so well-off (upper middle class, it seems) that they still have a very comfortable life afterwards.  They’ve never really known “need” so we shouldn’t see them as a good example.  Plus, Jesus taught that we should only do good works in private.  No need to make such a public splash about it.

The second category was complaints that the Salwens are out of touch with ordinary people and that in these tough economic times, there are many people who can’t afford to give half their stuff to charity (which Kevin Salwen specifically said at the start of the show they were not advocating that people do).  “Flippant,” “insensitive,” and “disconnected” were some of the words used to describe the Salwen family.

There was also a small category of people criticizing that the primary recipient of the family’s charity is an organization that fights hunger in Africa.  “There is great need in our own country!” some people complained.

Now, this really amazes me.  This family examined their own life, realized they enjoyed a cushier lifestyle than they needed, and acted on that realization.  In my mind, that’s a good thing.  Who are we to criticize that?  As near as I can tell from listening to them, it was done with the best intentions and the only reason they have publicized the story is to encourage others to think about what they could potentially do without in their own lives – a message that I think doesn’t hurt the vast majority of Americans, even ones who are in financial tough times, to hear.

What is it with this bitterness?  If you don’t think the family deserves praise, then don’t praise them.  But why do some people feel a need to attack them and tear them down?  Spend half of the time you would have otherwise spent attacking them and use it to do something that betters the world!

 

Construction Continues Unabated

This week I spent about six hours over the course of two days dealing with the Ministry of Labor, renewing my work permit.  That, about US$100, and the non-immigrant visa I received last summer while in the US, was enough to clear my way for another year of legal residency in Thailand. 

I guess in the big picture this is a small price to pay to live with my husband, but it seems to me that people shouldn’t have to jump through so many hoops on an ongoing basis in order to live with their spouses.  Jumping through hoops initially for immigration purposes, I can understand that.  But every year from now to eternity?  Rubbish.

Anyhow, at least I received a full year on the work permit instead of only ninety days at a time, which is usually the case.  However, with the type of visa I have, I still need to do a border run (leave the country) once every ninety days, despite having a full year visa.  Try to figure that one out.

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One sign that life is back to normal in the City of Angels is that construction continues unabated.  In the picture above, you are looking northwest at the Asoke Road / Sukhumvit Road intersection towards the new Terminal 21 mall.  I wrote about this construction project in November, when they were laying the ground floor after a year of work on the foundation and understories.  Six months later they are on the ninth floor, which is as high as the mall portion will go.

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Another view from the Asoke Road side.  Pretty soon the street will be shaded in the afternoon, once they add just a few more stories.  The back portion of the property will have highrise component which will include a service apartment complex and office space.  Do we need another mall in this city?  Probably not, but at least it is further east than most of the malls, which are in the Siam Square area.  This provides an option for those of us on the Sukhumvit corridor to avoid going all the way into the city.

I’m actually surprised by the amount of construction going on in this city, especially new condos.  A few weeks ago I drove from our house at Sukhumvit 53 to the Nissan dealership at Sukhumvit 101/1.  This is about six stations down the Skytrain line, only three of which are currently operational, the remaining ones scheduled for operation at the end of 2011.  Around every single station, both the current and future ones, there are three or four large construction sites where highrise condos are being built.

Can there be that much demand?  It must represent investors’ confidence in Thailand.

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From highrises to sidewalks, inane utility work continues in Bangkok like it does in much of the world.  Why is it that there never seems to be any coordination among respective agencies?  A new sidewalk is built and neatly paved and then as soon as that is finished, a utility department comes along and digs it up.

The same is true along Asoke at the entrance to Soi Cowboy, where there was a large backhoe parked on the sidewalk for several days (anyone want to walk in the gutter?) as about five meters of the sidewalk was dug up and water mains were repaired.

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I felt bad for these guys, the ones doing the actual work.  What a messy job.  As you can imagine, there’s not much rhyme or reason to the way utilities are laid out in this city.  Sometimes they don’t even bury them, but lay them on top of the existing sidewalk and just spread some asphalt over the top, a snake running along the sidewalk, waiting to trip you.

 

This is Your Brain on Computers

How many digital devices do you have?  How much time do you spend on the computer, either for work or for recreation?  I imagine I’m pretty much in the mainstream, relying heavily on the computer for most of my work and certainly spending a fair amount of time (although not as much as some people) checking emails, updating my blog, and reading articles on the internet. 

I already know that the sedentary lifestyle isn’t good for my body, but what effect is all this technology use having on my brain?

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An interesting article in the New York Times titled Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price caught my eye.  It is a pretty lengthy article but the core piece that caught my attention is this:

Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information.

These play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. The stimulation provokes excitement — a dopamine squirt — that researchers say can be addictive. In its absence, people feel bored.

The resulting distractions can have deadly consequences, as when cellphone-wielding drivers and train engineers cause wrecks. And for millions of people … these urges can inflict nicks and cuts on creativity and deep thought, interrupting work and family life.

While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress.

And scientists are discovering that even after the multitasking ends, fractured thinking and lack of focus persist. In other words, this is also your brain off computers.

Accompanying the article are two online interactive tests you can complete, one that measures your focus and the other that measures how quickly you juggle tasks.  Curious, I took both.  My results are below.  The two tests are very interesting and take only four or five minutes apiece.  Check them out and let me know how you did.

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Edit: Senlin just pointed out that my real skill is in misinterpreting test results.  It seems that I’m actually a very poor multitasker.  Maybe I should try the test again.  Or maybe I should just learn to love myself the way I am.  =(

For multitasking, I performed better than both low multitaskers and, to a lesser extent, high multitaskers.  As much as I am skeptical whether “multitasking” really exists (sometimes I think it just means to do multiple things without much focus, rather than focusing on multiple things at the same time), it looks like I am a pretty effective multitasker.

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With regards to my ability to focus, I scored better than both low and high multitaskers.  Generally, I have a low level of distractibility, as Tawn will attest anytime I’m in the midst of reading Xanga subscriptions and he wants my attention.

Seriously, though, as much as I’m a bit of a technology geek and know my way around computers reasonably well, I’m increasingly reaching the saturation point.  I haven’t jumped on the smart phone bandwagon, for example, and I’ve been consciously scaling back the time I spend on Facebook and other social media.  As for random browsing on the internet, following one link to the next, I’ve but the kibosh on that.

Instead, I’ve been reading more books lately, exercising more, and working on a project for my grandparents’ upcoming 90th birthdays. 

This is my brain, unplugged.

What about you?  How do you feel about your use of technology?  Too much?  Not enough?  Just about right?

 

Can I Drink the Water and Other Important Questions

In another week and a half, Tawn and I will have some very special guests.  My longest-time friend, whom I’ve known since we met in three-year old preschool, and his family are coming for a visit on their way to China.  Of course, I enjoy all the guests we have visit, but with Brad and Donna and their children, it feels like family coming to spend time with us.

In the course of preparing, they’ve been sending me emails with loads of questions.  What should we wear?  What will the weather be like?  Is it safe to drink the water?  What about when we brush our teeth?  Should we bring toilet paper?

I love these questions because they remind me of my early visits to Thailand.  Tawn and I met on my second trip to the kingdom and in the nearly six years between that first meeting and when I moved here, I must have made ten trips here, each time learning a bit more about the country and culture, and each time figuring out what it might be like to move here.

The water issue was one of my big fears.  Every hotel you go to in Bangkok provides a couple of bottles of complimentary drinking water, the implication being that drinking from the tap is not a good idea.  And it isn’t, kind of.  Tawn’s uncle used to run the water department and swears that the water coming out of the department is world-class.  And it is.

The problem is, that world-class water has to travel through all sorts of maybe not world-class pipes in order to arrive at your tap.  Every so often I have to unscrew our facet heads and clean out sand and grit from the screens inside, so there is definitely some organic matter that makes it through the system.

That said, we still drink tap water at home after it has been run through a three-part filter.  In the two and a half years we’ve been in this condo, we haven’t had any problems catching ill from water-borne bugs.  In our previous apartment we actually had a bottled water service, but when we moved into the condo I didn’t want to deal with large bottles of water sitting about.

In fact, when I first moved here and before we got the bottled water service, we used to buy 5-liter bottles of water from the store and cart them home.  For the longest time, I didn’t understand that there is an informal recycling system here (scavengers go through the trash and sell the recyclables) so on my first trip back to the US after moving here, I actually brought a suitcase filled with old bottles, cut in half and nested together to save space, so I could recycle them.  Once I learned about the informal recycling system, I realized how silly my action had been.

Also when I first moved here, I was worried about getting water in my mouth when taking a shower or brushing my teeth.  It wasn’t until I did some research and read expat forums like ThaiVisa.com that I realized I was being silly about that, too.  A little fall of rain can hardly hurt me now, as Eponine sings in Les Miserables.

But those questions are a good sign, I think.  A curiosity about the world and a desire to be prepared, things I value in myself and in others.

What questions have you asked in your travels that you later felt were a bit silly?

Bangkok Bus Rapid Transit

Months after I thought the project was fatally stalled, Bangkok’s new Bus Rapid Transit scheme started running this past week.  Finally, the City of Angels is making some more progress away from private automobiles and towards public transit.

The concept of Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, is somewhat akin to having a light rail system but substituting busses for the rail cars.  This way, you don’t have the significant infrastructure investment while still enjoying many of the benefits of light rail transit.  Cities as varied as Jakarta, São Paulo, Bogotá, Seattle, and Brisbane use various BRT systems to good effect.

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This first route (four more are planned in the years to come) is shown in green at the bottom of the map.  It begins near the Chong Nonsi BTS Skytrain station on Narathiwat Road between Silom and Sathorn Roads, running southeast along Narathiwat Road and then turning onto Rama III Road and heading west along the south side of the city, terminating on the Thonburi side of the river near the future Ratchadapisek BTS station on the western extension of the Silom Skytrain line.  Prolific blogger Richard Barrow has created a Google map showing the whole thing in detail. 

Based on questions I’ve asked, the new Ratchadapisek BTS station should be within easy connecting distance of the BRT terminus, but looking around once we reached the terminus, I could see the Skytrain tracks but no indication of construction of the new station.  Articles I’ve read in the newspaper say that BTS plans to have this extension opened by the end of 2012.  We’ll see…

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The first map left out one important part of the larger transit scheme here in Bangkok – the Airport Express.  The Airport Express (the dotted red line labeled “Airport Link” in the map above) just began trial runs for the public this week and I’ll take a ride next week and report on it, too. 

As you can see, we are starting to get a more comprehensive transit network in place.  If you are really curious, a reader of 2Bangkok.com created a very nice map that shows what our rail transit network would look like if every single proposed line and extension were built.  You can find that map here.

So let’s get on with a review of the BRT itself.  My friend Ken and I, after completing an errand at the US embassy, took the bus down to the Sathorn/Narathiwat intersection.  Last October I wrote an entry about the intersection and I’ve pulled some “before” pictures from that entry to contrast with current pictures.

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This is an artist’s rendering of what the intersection will look like (facing northwest looking up Narathiwat Road towards Sathorn) once the construction is complete.  The BRT station is at the bottom and the Chong Nonsi BTS station is at the top.  The area with the yellow arch is part of the pedestrian bridge that is being constructed over Sathorn Road, replacing two smaller pedestrian bridges that currently exist at the corners of the intersection.  A green-roofed walkway connects from the Chong Nonsi BTS station to the pedestrian bridge.  That walkway is pictured below, with the Chong Nonsi station in the distance.

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Current view of the walkway, above, and the way it looked in October 2009, below.

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A view from the Skytrain looking southeast towards the BRT station.  You can see the significant steel works that will form the pedestrian bridge crossing Sathorn Road.  This is the area where the yellow arches appear in the artist’s rendering a few pictures above. 

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A closer view of the walkway leading from the Sathorn intersection to the BRT station under construction in October 2009.

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And that same completed walkway now.  In the walkway, you pass through a ticketing area (which, I understand, will eventually use the same stored-value fare cards that the Skytrain, subway, and Airport Express will use) and descend escalators to an enclosed waiting room.

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The waiting room at the Sathorn station has glazed glass and air conditioners, making your wait for the bus more comfortable.  Interestingly, the rest of the stations along the line do not have air conditioning, only the two terminal stations.  But the other stations are in the middle of the road and, presumably, catch a decent breeze. 

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Busses, which look like Heimlich, the German caterpillar in the animated Pixar film A Bug’s Life,  run every ten minutes.  The operator’s compartment is separated from the passenger compartment, rather like on a train. 

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The layout of the floor includes bench seating in the front and lots of standing room.  Capacity is around 50 passengers.  An LCD monitor at the front shows a map of where the bus is on the route, updating in real time, kind of like the “air show” maps on airplanes.  Information on the monitor alternates between English and Thai.

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The back half of the bus has single seats, which seem to be a waste of the raised floor space.  They should change these to be benches as well, which would make better use of the space.  The two men in blue shirts and ties were from the BTS Skytrain organization, apparently conducting some corporate espionage.  Competition between transit systems must be fierce!  Ha ha…

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Near the end of the route, the bus crosses the Chao Phraya River on the Rama III Bridge.  Above is a view looking northwards towards the heart of the city.  You can see that many condos (and a few hotels) have sprung up along the river.  Supposedly, there has been a moratorium on further riverside development higher than eight stories, but I don’t know if that is actually true.  Off in the distance you can barely make out the gold-domed State Tower, which appears in the pictures from our stay last weekend at the Peninsula Hotel.

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Above is the view from the same bridge looking roughly southwards as the Chao Phraya River prepares to make a large turn to the east.  In April 2006, Tawn and I stopped by the temple you see on the right of the picture during Songkhran.  There was something like a summer school for young boys, all of whom had their heads shaved and had donned the saffron robes of novice monks.

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They were playing around – kung fu fighting, it looked like – on the roof of the temple in the heat of the early afternoon.  Not very monastic behavior, but it made for a good picture.  The rest of the story of that trip to Thonburi is here.

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Stations along the way are in the median of the road, requiring a climb up stairs or escalators and then across the road on a pedestrian bridge.  About 70% of the BRT’s route has a dedicated lane for the bus, set off from the rest of the traffic by green and white striped concrete barriers. 

The remaining 30% is on a section of road with only two lanes, one of which has been painted and signed as being only for BRT busses and vehicles with three or more occupants.  Needless to say, traffic on the remaining lane has become even more congested on that section of road, leading to a lot of complaints by car drivers that the BRT is worsening traffic, not improving it.  Hopefully, the policemen will actually enforce the law and keep drivers out of the BRT lanes.

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An interesting feature of the BRT system is that there are additional concrete curbs installed on both sides of the lane at the station.  The driver wants to get as close to the platform as possible to make boarding smooth and safe.  There are two small wheels sticking out from under the bus, parallel to the ground.  These sense the curb and alert the driver so he can properly position himself.  All boarding is through the single door in the center of the bus, which is at the same level as the platform.  There is one emergency exit (see the red handle?) at the back of the bus.

The trip took about thirty minutes one way and provided an interesting look at some corners of the city I don’t see very often.  The ride is smooth and comfortable, the stations seem well-located, and the directions and announcements were easy to understand.  All in all, I have to give a solid B+ to the Bangkok BRT system.  If they would bring the same sort of rationalization to the rest of the dozens of bus routes that ply this city, they wouldn’t need to build any more rail. 

Next week… the Airport Express is finally running.  Stay tuned.

 

Results of the Staycation

Wow, it has been six days since my last entry.  My longest break from Xanga in a long, long time, and one that was very much enjoyed.  So much of my work is done on the computer that when I combine it with recreational computer use, it seems like I’m plugged in online too much of my time.  The weekend completely unplugged and week mostly away from recreational computer use has reminded me of the importance of establishing some boundaries in terms of how much, and when, I use computers and the internet.

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As for the two-night staycation at the Peninsula Hotel on the west side of the river here in Bangkok, it was fantastic.  The hotel truly is world-class with wonderful service.  It is very easy to spend three days in a cocoon and not really feel like you’re in the heart of the city, although from the balcony of the room, you could see that we were.

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Upon check-in we were upgraded from the “Deluxe” room (funny how the lowest grade of room is usually given a fancy name) to a balcony room, which is two rungs up the ladder.  All the rooms in the hotel face the river, laid out along one side of a W-shaped floor plan.  Our room was very spacious, about 60 square meters or about 600 square feet.  There was a separate walk-in closet/dressing room and then a large bathroom beyond the bedroom, making it feel especially spacious.

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The Chao Phraya River runs past most of the nicest hotels in the city, including the Shangri-La (pictured here), Sheraton, Oriental, Hilton, Peninsula, and Marriott Resort.  For sightseeing, the location of these hotels is a little less convenient.  But if you’re staying at one of these places you can probably afford to hire a car and driver for the day, so convenience isn’t that much of a problem. 

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The hotel has a gorgeous swimming area, spa (the building behind the pool), and workout facility.  The first afternoon we headed down to the pool but a typical afternoon thunderstorm quickly blew in, with winds gusting in advance of the rain, causing umbrellas to overturn and towels and chair pads to go flying into the pool.  The remainder of the weekend had gorgeous weather, though, and we spent much of Saturday afternoon laying in the shade below one of these pavilions, sipping mango smoothies and reading.

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The hotel’s interior design is very beautiful.  Clean lines with an Asian theme but not in an overwhelming “Oriental” way.

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The main lobby, where we stopped for a pre-dinner drink the first night, is very comfortable.

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Even the public hallways, this one leading to the River Cafe and Terrace, are tastefully decorated with live orchids.

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Friday evening we ate outdoors alongside the river.  The full moon was rising just behind the tower at the Shangri-La Hotel.  I’m amazed by how busy the river is even well into the evening.

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Our room rate included a set dinner for two but since their occupancy is fairly low, they were serving a buffet.  It was actually a cleverly done buffet, offering a large range of prepared dishes that could be served at or near room temperature – salads, cold cuts, etc. – with soups, fresh seafood, a wide selection of breads, etc. to round it out.

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The main feature was their grill.  They offered a wide range of meats from seafood to satay to fine cuts of beef, lamb, and pork, grilled to order and served with a variety of sauces.  This is actually a very smart way to do a buffet as there is much less waste.

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My selections included a cut of snowfish grilled in a foil pouch with ginger and other seasonings, a very tender cut of Wagyu beef, and some foie gras.

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There was a large dessert bar in the center of the dining room featuring all sorts of desserts and fresh fruit.  There were three flavors of homemade ice cream including both raspberry and mango sorbets that were amped up with flavor.

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A selection of desserts: a raspberry mousse, a ginger creme brulee, green tea and chocolate-orange macarons, and an interesting twist on sticky rice and mango that included a mango mousse.

Both evenings we retired to the room to watch episodes from season two of True Blood, the southern vampire series based on the novels by Charlaine Harris.  Since we don’t have HBO here in Thailand, we haven’t been able to watch the series in real time.  And since I generally don’t want to support piracy, I’ve waited patiently until the episodes were released on iTunes Store instead of buying them on the street.

 

The breakfast buffet was also included, featuring just about everything you might want for both Asian and Western style breakfasts, including to-order egg dishes.

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The pastries were really nice.  Could I just have eaten one of everything and called it a day?

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The bread was amazing, perhaps the best European style bread I’ve found in Bangkok.  They also served raw honey fresh from the honeycomb, with the comb hanging on the table with the honey dripping down a trough and into a bowl.

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Enjoyinga healthy breakfast!  The service was very attentive and we got into a discussion with one of the restaurant managers about the silver tea service they use, a design that Tawn has had his eye on.  The manager took his name and number and called him a few days after the trip, connecting him with an unofficial resource to buy his own set.  Shhh!  Don’t tell anyone.

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The tropical fruits were the finishing touch, though.  I don’t know where they buy their fruits but the mangos were the tastiest, sweetest mangos I’ve eaten in Thailand and the dragonfruit, which I usually find quite bland, was actually full of flavor. 

By the time we checked out Sunday at noon, we had de-stressed quite a bit, promising ourselves that we would do more weekend getaways in the months to come.  What’s the point of living in a tropical paradise if you don’t get out to enjoy it?