Bicycle Riding in Phra Pradaeng

Since our guests are adventurous, outdoorsy sorts, I arranged for a half-day bicycle tour of the “Bangkok Jungle” through Spiceroads.  Located just across the river from the Khlong Toei district (which includes the part of Sukhumvit Road that I live in), this jungle is just that – an isolated and undeveloped section of the larger metropolitan area.  Joining us were a pair of expats, one American and the other British, who I know.

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The reason that Phra Pradaeng, the green patch nearly encircled by the Chao Phraya River, has avoided development is that it is actually part of Samut Prakan province instead of Bangkok.  Zoning laws were enacted to limit development in this section of the province.  The area is often referred to as the “lungs of Bangkok” and includes a large public park.

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Our starting point for the tour was a restaurant near the Thong Lo BTS Skytrain station.  We rode through a little bit of city traffic, although mostly on back sois (alleys), and then through the slum area of Khlong Toei down near the port.  Finally, we boarded a long-tail boat and left the city behind.

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On the other side of the river, any sign of the hustle and bustle of the nation’s capital quickly melted away as we rode along small roads and elevated concrete paths through banana, coconut, and lychee plantations.  Except for the occasional view of a skyscraper peeking over the horizon, you could easily forget where you were.

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We had time for several breaks, seeing some of the local sites (which are limited), feeding the fish in the park, and trying a Thai snack of sticky rice and starchy bananas steamed in banana leaf.

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Back at the pier as we waited for our boat, some local children swam in the edge of the river, showing off for us by performing ever more daring stunts.  Here, a double flip into murky waters.

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Back near our starting point, I peeked in the front gate of a complex that is usually closed.  I don’t know what it is, but it looks almost like a shinto temple.  Very beautiful.

Wat Po After Hours

More than halfway through our seven different modes of transportation, Matt, Craig, and I ended up arriving at the Grand Palace just as it was closing, so instead we walked down the block to Wat Po, also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.  This temple, which tourists usually see after sweltering in the hot sun over at the Grand Palace, rarely gets as thorough a viewing as it deserves.

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Predating the founding of Bangkok, the temple houses a 15 meter (46 foot) high, 46 meter (140 foot) long statue of the Buddha in a reclining pose, covered in gold plating with mother of pearl inlays on the soles of its feet.

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That the soles of the feet are so prominent seems appropriate, because Wat Po is also the home of traditional Thai medicine, a large portion of which is massage.  Thai massage uses a combination of stretching and deep tissue work and can be very therapeutic.  In fact, a well-regarded school is located on the temple grounds and my visitors stopped in for an hour-long foot massage.

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The temple is in the final stages of extensive renovations, and the entire place seems alive with color and light.  Here are a trio of chedis, which contain the remains of various members of the Chakri dynasty.  The current king is the ninth member of this dynasty.

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New roof tiles and paint seem to almost pulsate with color.

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And mirrored tiles catch the sun from every angle.

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While there, we came across a group of university students who are studying tourism.  They had to film themselves giving a speech (in both Thai and English – the Thai version is on the other side of the cue card) about the temple.  I watched for a few minutes and then asked some questions, thoroughly embarrassing the young ladies.

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The upside of my guests getting massages was that we were at the temple well after the time that tourists normally leave.  The temple’s website still lists the closing time as 5:00 pm but almost half a year ago they extended it to 9:00 pm every night.  The temple is beautifully illuminated as the sun goes down and is all the more enjoyable and inspiring when it is almost completely devoid of tourists.

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With the sun going down early now that we are heading into winter, the sky quickly went through various shades of blue to pink to purple, making for some amazing contrasts with the vivid hues of the chedis and temple buildings.

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There are many spotlights to bring out the details of the structures, including these decorations made from shards of broken Chinese pottery.  Almost looks like the decorations on a cake, doesn’t it?

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I’ve made up my mind that in the future, I am taking guests to Wat Po around sunset, a perfect time to see the real beauty of the temple without the crowds.  Plus, there is a really nice restaurant called The Deck that is just across the street along the banks of the Chao Praya River.  It is a nice place for an evening meal as another temple, Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn), is right across the river and is also lit up at night making a pretty backdrop.  Ironically, it looks better at dusk than it does at dawn!  (Here’s a picture of Tawn and me dining there a few years back.)

 

Seven Modes of Transport Around Bangkok

Last week I took two of my visiting guests (the third is Thai and was visiting his family instead) around Bangkok to see the sights.  Instead of doing the usual things, we spent a good portion of the day exploring the city using different, and often less-touristy, modes of transportation. 

The idea occurred to me a few weeks ago.  One of the guests is an aviation enthusiast, so I extrapolated that he might also be interested in other forms of transportation.  When I’ve previously used other ways to get around the city, I find myself seeing Bangkok through an entirely different light.

The modes of transport used could be varied and there were at least three – bus, taxi, and motorcycle taxi – that we did not try.  In the future, I will have to refine this itinerary, but here are the notes from this time.

Seven Modes

Mode 1: MRT Subway from Sukhumvit Station to Hualamphong Station

Walking from their hotel to the nearby Asoke-Sukhumvit intersection, my guests and I descended into Bangkok’s five-year old subway for a ten-minute ride to the Hualamphong train station.  The subway is clean and modern and the insides of the trains as well as the platform areas are surprisingly free of advertising.  A short walk through an underground passage took us to the front entrance of the Hualamphong Railway Station.  Trip price, approximately 20 baht each.

 

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Mode 2: State Railways of Thailand from Hualamphong Station to Lat Krabang Station

Our timing was perfect as there was just enough time to buy our 8-baht tickets and get to the platform before the four-car diesel locomotive pulled out of this 1930’s-era station and began the thirty-minute ride to the eastern suburbs of the city.  We could have disembarked at an earlier station and shaved some time off our route, but these open-window, unairconditioned carriages (which are older than me) and their passengers provide interesting people watching.  My entry about the steam engines the State Railways pulls out for special occasions.

 

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Mode 3: Airport City Line from Lat Krabang Station to Makkasan Station

Also operated by the State Railways, this elevated electric train runs along the same right-of-way as the diesel train, so we retraced our steps.  The City Line and the Airport Express share the same track and we disembarked at the brand-new “in-city terminal” where one day passengers will be able to check in for flights, deposit their baggage, and take the 15-minute express train to Suvarnabhumi Airport.  15 baht each but will increase after January 1 to a distance-based pricing scheme.  Link to my review of the Airport Express.

 

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A dog taking a nap outside the Petchaburi MRT Station, near the Asoke Pier.

Mode 4: San Saeb Canal Boat from Asoke Pier to Golden Mount

A short walk from Makkasan Station is the San Saeb Canal, a major east-west aquatic artery in this “Venice of the East” and the only one that has regular boat service.  The water is murky and the boat engines are very loud, but it is an adventure and provides a view of yet another, much poorer, facet of life in the Big Mango.  The end of the line is at the foot of the Golden Mount, the only hill in the city.  11 baht each.

Some pictures from the canal boat:

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Craig and Matt and a few dozen other passengers enjoy their ride on the murky waters of the San Saeb Canal.

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The boats whiz under various bridges, some so low that the canopied top of the boat must be lowered.

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Which explains why the conductors/deck hands wear helmets and are very alert of their surroundings.

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Not my guests.

Mode 5: Tuk-tuk from Golden Mount to Tammasat University

We negotiated with a tuk-tuk driver to take us to a riverside restaurant located just outside the gates of Tammasat University.  Tuk-tuks are three-wheeled auto-rickshaws that serve as transportation in many parts of town, so named because of the sound of their engines.  These are actually pretty dangerous and for the price you pay, a taxi offers greater comfort (air conditioning!) and safety (seatbelts!).  We could have taken the tuk-tuk all the way to the Grand Palace but I was hungry so lunch first.  60 baht total, so 20 baht each.

 

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Previous guests (not Craig and Matt) after disembarking from the Chao Phraya River Taxi.

Mode 6: Chao Praya River Taxi from Tha Tian Pier to Sathorn Pier

After lunch we were too late to see the Grand Palace (it closes at 3:30 – don’t believe anyone who tells you it is closed before that time) so we walked to Wat Po, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.  I’ll write about that in another entry but once we were finished, a bit after rush hour, we caught a river taxi service from the Thai Tian Pier right near the temple back to Sathorn Pier underneath the Taksin Bridge.  Also 11 baht each.

 

Skytrain Departure

Mode 7: BTS Skytrain from Taksin Station to Asoke Station

We concluded our journey by walking to the nearby BTS Skytrain station.  The 10-year old BTS Skytrain is convenient and overcrowded.  Thankfully, new four-car trains are entering the system soon and additional cars have been ordered for the three-car trains.  From what I’ve read, BTS is also the hold-up in the efforts to create a common ticketing platform (a la Hong Kong’s Octopus card) between the three electric rail systems.  Nonetheless, for about 30 baht we made our way back to the Asoke-Sukhumvit junction.

Thanksgiving Recap

Oh, I hate to admit this, but I don’t have many food pictures.  I started out with good intentions but as I proceeded through the cooking, stopped taking photos.  And then when the evening of the party came, I was too busy attending to twenty-two guests that I didn’t have time to snap any photos of the food.

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Things started out good, with lovely pictures of ingredients before I started cooking.  But then I got caught up in the process of preparing dishes like this cranberry-walnut relish from the New York Times, and left the camera sitting in its bag.

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The opposite happened with this maple and rosemary candied pecans.  I got the end result but nothing along the way.

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We set up in the cafe downstairs about 4 pm.  The sun was low enough and the breeze was blowing so the outdoor seating was pleasant.

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Eventually, the sun set, dinner was served, and we had quite a good sized crowd, enough to fill all the available seats with a few people left standing.

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The set-up worked well as they have a small kitchen with an oven and two induction burners in the back, so I was able to keep dishes warm in advance of serving.  The two staff members were helpful but took little initiative.  If you wanted something done, you really had to explain step by step what you wanted them to do.  I asked them to slice some bread and so they sliced it and put it on a plate, but never brought it out.  I hadn’t said, “slice, put it on a plate, and set it out with the other food” you see.

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Our Kansas City visitors, Jack, Craig, and Matt.  They head off to Chiang Mai on Sunday and we’ll meet up with them in Phuket later in the week.

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The only food shot I have at the party – Tod snaps a photo of the desserts.

 

Juggling Guests and Prep Work

A trio of guests from Kansas City as well as a guest from New York City are in town.  We haven’t had a chance to see the NYC guest yet (hopefully Sunday) but have been showing the KC guests around.  We did an interesting little trip in which we tried seven different modes of transportation (subway, railway, airport express, canal taxi, tuk tuk, river taxi, and Skytrain) on our way to the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.

I’ll write more about that trip and share some pictures in the next few days, but I just have to say that it was a really interesting way to see many different sides of Bangkok.  Also, today we did a half-day bicycle ride that went from the heart of the busy Sukhumvit district through the slums of Khlongtoey across the river to the urban jungle of Phra Pradaeng.  My guests are sure getting their money’s worth!

At the same time, I’m trying to wrap up a few work projects and also get the prep work done for Saturday’s Thanksgiving dinner.  I’ve cooked the turkey breasts already, sliced them, and they are sitting in some broth in the fridge.  The cranberry-walnut relish is cooking right now.  Gravy is made but needs to be thinned and seasoned.  Bread cubes cut and toasted for the stuffing, although I won’t cook it until Saturday morning.

Whew!   A whole lot going on.  For those of you in the US, I hope you had an enjoyable Thanksgiving with your loved ones.

Prep Work

As I mentioned in a previous post, Tawn and I are hosting a potluck Thanksgiving party on Saturday.  While it is a “potluck” in name, in reality I am still doing quite a bit of cooking.

Originally, I offered to make the turkey and gravy.  These are kind of difficult to bring to a party so it is easier to make it myself.  Plus, as host, I like the idea of making the main dish.  I asked guests to volunteer for other dishes, providing a list. 

Cranberry sauce was given wide berth – everyone seems to like eating it but nobody wants to make it.  Okay, fair enough.  It is easy to make and I can make it a few days in advance so I’ll do that.

Then it came to the stuffing.  One friend did volunteer to do that, but he doesn’t have an oven so there isn’t really any way to do that.  So this morning I’m toasting bread cubes and tomorrow will make stuffing.

Maybe I need to re-read the book, “When I Say No, I Feel Guilty.”

Ha ha…

In all fairness, I have guests preparing mashed potatoes, vegetable side dishes, salad, fruit, and many desserts, so everyone is pitching in.  I just thought it was funny that with some 26 guests coming, I’m still making stuffing and cranberry salad.

Home Fried Chicken and Mashed Potatoes

Frying foods at home is one of those “beyond my comfort zone” aspects of frying.  It tends to make a mess and smells up the house.  More than a year ago I tried a cold oil method to fry French fries, and that turned out pretty well.  But I haven’t done much frying since.  Last week my attention was caught by a Cooks Illustrated recipe for fried chicken that uses less oil.

The long and the short of it is that they decided on a method that uses frying in a shallow amount of oil to help form a nice crust on the exterior, followed by oven baking to finish cooking it through. The results is supposed to be a evenly cooked chicken with nice exterior crunch without as much oil and without as much hassle from deep frying.

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You start by placing the chicken pieces – I used boneless breasts – in a buttermilk and salt brine, combined with cayenne pepper and other spices for several hours.  Would you believe I cannot buy bone-in chicken breasts at the store?  I have to get a whole chicken for that.  Obviously they aren’t butchering their own chickens.

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While waiting, I prepped some long bean.  These two-foot long beans look like green beans and are just a little less crispy.  Good alternative, though.  I stir-fried these with a splash of balsamic vinegar, a sprinkle of salt, and some slivered almonds.

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Next, prepare a coating of flour, baking powder, a little salt, and more spices.  The trick here is that you add just a bit of buttermilk and start stirring it, so you form little clumps that make the chicken’s crust more substantial.

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Take the chicken out of the brine and dredge it in the flour mixture, being sure to pat on a nice thick coating.  Easier said than done!

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While waiting for the oil to heat, I finished the mashed potatoes.  These keep nicely covered at a very low heat with a bit of butter on top.

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Time to fry!  Temperature control is a pain.  My thermometer doesn’t reach to the bottom of the pan so when there isn’t much oil, I don’t get an accurate read.  I ended up scorching the bottoms of the chicken just a little.  D’oh…  After about five minutes in the oil (turning half way through the time) I transferred the chicken to a rack placed in a baking tray and finished for about twenty minutes in the oven.

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Despite the slightly burned exterior, the end result looked pretty nice.  Tasted good, too!

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Inside was nice and juice, thanks to the brining.  Yum.