Beautiful Pedestrian Bridge Opens on Sathorn

Last June I wrote about the opening of Bangkok’s Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, line.  This new bit of mass transit is basically a light rail line but without the infrastructure costs of adding rails.  In a bid to connect a growing corner of the city that has never had significant mass transit to the existing rail network, BRT extends from the Chong Nonsi Skytrain station to the south side of the city along Rama III Road.

Of course, for the system to effectively feed passengers onto the rail network, there had to be an easy connection, something that was missing at the half-way point of last year.  Pictures at the BRT stations promised, though, that a grand, shaded walkway would link the BRT’s terminus with the Skytrain station.


I’m glad to report that just a couple of weeks ago, the arched section of the pedestrian bridge opened.  There is still some additional work being done including the addition of additional, newer stairs to connect to the bridge from surrounding street corners.  This work is proceeding rapidly, though, so I think in just a few short weeks we’ll have a finished product.  Nice to see some bit of urban infrastructure actually come to fruition.


Looking from the BRT station side of the intersection north towards the Skytrain station.


While some finishing touches are being placed on the bridge, it is open and being used.


Lots of people were taking pictures of what is a dramatic addition to the skyline.


Great Eats in Bangkok Volume 1 – Guaytiaw

As Andy whirled into town for a three-day side trip from visiting his parents in Taipei, I had high hopes of producing this mega-video in which we would taste all the great things to eat in Bangkok.  Sure enough, during the course of two full days we ate a whole lot of things that would qualify for the “great eats” list.  But as I sat down to edit the video, I realized that I didn’t have enough footage to really address that many dishes.

Since I promised a video a few days ago, I’ve gone ahead and edited a first volume of what I expect will be at least a dozen (and probably more) videos that highlight various great eats in Bangkok.  Volume One focuses on guaytiaw – rice noodles – and particularly the pink-broth fish soup called yen ta fo.  It doesn’t provide as much depth on the various types of guaytiaw as I’d like, so I imagine a revisit of the subject will occur one of these days.

Before editing the next video, I’m going to shoot some more footage and do better advance planning so that I can make sure that future volumes provide you with the high level of quality that you deserve.  In the meantime, you can visit Andy’s blog to see some beautiful pictures of the other foods we ate and the places we went. 

Please share any feedback you have, let me know if there are any particular types of Thai food you would like me to address.

Thanks to Andy for taking the time and energy to visit.  We had lots of fun and look forward to seeing you again soon.

Food in Bangkok: Sweethound

Yes, several of you are eager to see the photos and video of the food adventures I’ve had while Andy is in town, but it will take a day or two to process the videos since we’ve been eating the whole time!  In the meantime, let me leave you with some food porn…

Last Friday evening we had dinner with some of Tawn’s university friends, followed by dessert at Sweethound, the dessert branch of popular local chain Greyhound.


It was a pleasant evening for sitting outdoors as Tawn, Bim, and Pat played with their smart phones.


A double-chocolate mousee with whipped cream.


Crepes Suzette.  Orange sauce.  No flambe, sorry.


Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.  Rich and moist.


Chocolate banana cake.


Waffle with peanut butter, chocolate, and chopped peanuts.  Unlikely dessert but tasty.


Lesson in Economics – Black Market Krispy Kreme Donuts

Is it a matter of the law of supply and demand or are Bangkok residents just too impatient to queue up for an hour to get donuts?  One thing is for certain: ever since Thailand’s first branch of Krispy Kreme, the popular North Carolina-based donut chain indulged in by former President Bill Clinton, opened last September there has been a black market for donuts in Siam Square.

The franchise is majority owned by Ausanee Mahagitsiri, the daughter of a wealthy family who owns one of Thailand’s largest conglomerates.  With the first location at Siam Paragon, one of the largest and busiest malls in the city, Khun Ausanee expects to build 20 locations in the country over the next few years.


Ever ready for a new trend, when the store first opened Bangkokians eagerly queued for hours to buy a few dozen of the donuts.  These days, the lines are shorter, although there are still limits placed on how many donuts you can purchase.  Also, if you want the specialty donuts (frosted, filled, sprinkles, etc.) you can only order a mixed dozen.  No picking and choosing allowed.

To fill the demand, there are “donut scalpers” at work.  Not unlike their brethren outside a sold out Rolling Stones concert (or the men selling pornographic DVDs along Silom Road or, for that matter, the taxi touts at Suvarnabhumi Airport), the scalpers discreetly flash laminated picture menus and mutter their pitch – “Donuts, donuts for sale” – in barely audible tones.


Can you spot the scalpers?  In addition to the woman holding the laminated card, the man behind her and the woman in the light blue shirt behind him were all working the crowd of shoppers, looking for an easy mark.  Security guards were present, too, although there seemed to be a loose understanding between all parties that so long as the scalpers were discreet, they could go about their business.  (Hey, that sounds like Silom Road and the airport, too!)


Across the street from Siam Paragon, on the sidewalks of Siam Square just a few meters from a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts shop, vendors offer Krispy Kreme donuts for sale either by the dozen or individually, in entrepreneurial plastic containers that certainly did not come from Krispy Kreme.  On the day I investigaed, prices were marked up about 25%, relatively modest.  Presumably the mark-up has decreased over time, considering that the wait at the shop is now no longer than you might expect when checking in for an international flight. 

I have to wonder how long this fad will last.  Many people around Bangkok recall the Rotiboy craze.  Rotiboy, a Malaysian chain that makes coffee flavored Mexican buns, opened here in 2006, setting off a sensation for the fad-conscious locals that included hours-long lines.  Six month later the fad was dead, most of the locations closed, and only a few rebranded (“Mr. Bun”) branches remain, their employees looking forelorn as the fickle masses pass by.

Will this happen with Krispy Kreme?  Thailand doesn’t lack for donut chains – Dunkin’ Donuts and Mister Donut are both large and at least three other chains are growing here – and according to the Bangkok Post, donuts are a billion baht business.  ($33 million)


On the whole, though, I suspect the craze will die.  Krispy Kreme donuts, which are really only special when you’re getting them freshly baked, aren’t yet available that way in Thailand.  To keep up with demand, thousands of donuts are made in advance, boxed, and stacked on rolling shelves in the back of the shop.  This is your guarantee that the donuts you see coming off the conveyer belt are not making it into the box about to be placed in your hands.

The bigger question that crosses my mind, though, is this: why are Thais so crazy for donuts?  I’ll take a freshly made khanom krug* any day of the week.

*More about those coming soon.


Could you help with the class assignment?

A friend in Houston has an assignment for his Food & Beverage Management class and could use your help as a potential diner.  He has created a dinner menu for a hypothetical restaurant called UBÉ Restauran.  It is a café featuring Filipino food that he would open in the Midtown area in Houston.  He has asked for your help in reviewing the menu and identifying what you would order if you went to the restaurant.

If you would like to help, could you please do the following?  Review the menu to see what is of interest.  I’ve numbered the dishes to make the process easier.  In the comments section, please place your order – feel free to copy and paste the following to make it easier to order.  You can have:

  • One selection from the Pulutan (appetizer) menu.
  • One Sabaw (soup) or Ensalada (salad) or one of each if you want.
  • One Ulam (entrée), Pancit (noodles), or one of each. Please designate which protein you would like and also if you would like bottomless rice to accompany the order.
  • Order one Gulay (vegetable) if you would like.
  • One Minatamis (dessert) if you would like.
  • One Inuman (drink) if you would like.

Also on your comment, could you please indicate the following?

  • Age range (decade is fine – 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, etc.)
  • Are you Asian, Filipino, or Other?

Thank you in advance for your help.  Colin needs the responses by Tuesday the 25th so I will share whatever results have been received by then.

Here’s the menu:








Chiang Mai Strawberries and Whipped Cream

To celebrate the completion of our bathroom re-tiling project, we celebrated with a special dessert: fresh strawberries from Chiang Mai (in the north of Thailand) and some hand-whipped cream.


Beautiful, aren’t they?  Unlike some of those mega-monster strawberries we get from California, which are all pale inside, these strawberries reminded me of the strawberries of my childhood – smaller and sweeter.  Of course, they still weren’t as nice as the strawberries we tried in Japan two Aprils ago.  (Video of that experience here.)

Shower Retiling Project

This past Monday we started a long overdue tiling project.  For the past three years, ever since our remodel was complete and we moved into our condo, the lowest point in our shower has not been the drain.  For a variety of reasons, the original contractor seemed unable to construct a well thought-out shower and his workers were unable to install marble tiles on the proper angles to ensure drainage.


In the old arrangement, there was a gap between the glass and the raised portion of tile outside the shower.  The rationale behind this is that a 1/2-inch diameter pipe connects the lower tiled area in the shower with the tiled area beneath the stacked washer and dryer, about five feet to the lower right of the picture.  The connection was designed so if the drain for the washer backed up, the overflowing water could flow to the shower.  Good concept, but the contractor didn’t make sure the shower was lower than the area where the washer is.

For three years, we’ve had to use a squeegee and a spare towel after every shower to clean up the water that accumulates in the corner of the shower and at the end of the gap, close to the door sill.  Not only was this annoying, but despite our best efforts there was seepage of the water into the concrete.  The brown stains in the marble tile come from seepage, where the moisture pulled the stain from the wood floor in the hallway.


Not only was the damage cosmetic, but the exterior wall of the unit, which backs up to the shower, started to show signs of moisture and the paint began to blister.  Finally, we were able to coordinate with Chang Dii (nickname meaning “Good Handyman”), the handyman who often works for Tawn’s father.  His reputation is very good and after being burned by our contractor three years ago, we wanted to work with someone reputable.


Monday seemed to be an auspicious day to begin our project, as it was the day the condo’s pool was reopened after a two-month re-tiling project.  I guess it was auspicious because the pool project finished on time, not because it took two months!


Precautions to keep the dust from the project safely confined to one area of the house were extensive.  All the cabinets in the bathroom were emptied.  Padded floor cover was laid on the wood.  Sheets of plastic tablecloth (bought off a roll at Carrefour) lined the doorway into the bedroom and covered the main cabinets and washer and dryer.  Additionally, towels stuffed the crack under the door.


From the main hallway (which is the location of the bathroom’s main entrance), we put up more plastic tablecloths as a dust curtain, and laid down heavy towels to clean our feet as we passed through the portal.  It made the space feel very compartmentalized.


The first morning, Chang Dii showed up with four young men to help him do the demolition work.  They completed it in less than three hours.  A complaint about the Thai education system is that creative thinking and problem solving is not encouraged.  After watching them swing the door around, trying to chip away tile underneath the door, I finally suggested they remove it from its hinges.  The look I received from the young men seemed like, “Oh… yeah, I guess we could do that, huh?”


Three hours later, the tile and previous cement was removed and neatly cleaned.  The pipe that connected to the washer area had been removed and the remaining bit to the left plugged.  We’ll take our chances that a washer drain overflow is relatively unlikely.  Another problem we had dealt with from the earlier contractor is that the edge between the tile and the raised wood area had never been finished.  The underside of the wood flooring was exposed.  Thankfully, Chang Dii fixed this in the end.


Late Tuesday morning, Chang Dii and part of his team returned to begin cutting and installing the marble tiles.  To save money (and get the best of both worlds) we bought ceramic tiles that have a thin layer of marble on top.  The beauty of marble but the structure of ceramic.  Chang Dii explained that the problem we were having with the water wasn’t just that the slope of the shower was wrong, but that the contractor had installed the tile in a “dry manner” – adhering the tiles on top of already dry cement, leaving gaps for the water.  He chose to instead use a “wet manner” – placing the tiles directly on the wet cement and carefully leveling them, to minimize the risk of any gaps under the tiles.


At the end of the first day, they had completed the wet area outside the shower.  The area is now slightly higher than it originally was.  Since the tiles were floating on wet cement, it was important not to step on them for several hours, so Chang Dii wrote a sign for us.


Now, I’ll let you know that his Thai spelling is as bad as mine.  But just in case I couldn’t understand Thai, he included the international graphic for “No Stepping”.


Which, upon closer inspection, I thought showed his attention to detail and clear understanding of the potential for mis-communication.  The original foot is floating above the floor, suggesting perhaps that no levitation is allowed.  So he amended the drawing to bring the (now huge) toe into contact with the floor. 


Halfway through Wednesday, the third day of Tawn and me having to take our showers and use the toilet next door in the second unit, which we call The Annex, careful progress was being made on the shower tiles.  His guarantee: every drop of water would go down the drain.


The workers actually did a very good job of keeping their workspace neat and swept the entry hallway thoroughly each evening before heading home.  By the time the project was finished, there was no noticeable dust in the living room or bedroom area.


By the end of Wednesday, all the tile was laid, except for the door sill.  We originally weren’t going to change this but it was stained brown from the nearby wood.  We called a local stone company and ordered a piece and one of the workers went out to fetch it.  At the end of the evening I noticed the marble, which Chang Dii had trimmed to fit better, appeared to be nearly a centimeter (about 3/4 of an inch) too short.  Tawn and I discussed this and decided it was worth spending $20 on another piece of marble to make sure the work was done correctly.

Thursday morning I shared my concerns with Chang Dii and he admitted, sheepishly, that his men had cut too much from the piece.  Mai pben rai, I said – no worries.  By lunchtime the replacement piece was on site and being carefully cut.


By Thursday evening we were able to use the shower and toilet again, enjoying a nicely finished tile job.  The gap along the glass is gone, the water drains wonderfully in the shower, and even the connection between the wood and the tile area has been neatly caulked.  All in all, an excellent job.  Hopefully, the moisture that has previously seeped into the walls and floor will quickly dissipate and cause no lasting damage.

As for the question that comes up often – “When are you going to connect the two units?” – the hassle involved with just changing the tile in a single bathroom serves to remind me how not eager I am to undertake a larger remodel and joining of the two units!


I Love My Mornings

P1130525Since as early as I can remember, I’ve been a morning person.  As a young child, I would get up while it was still dark outside and head to the kitchen, which always felt very cozy with its under-counter lighting, and would watch as my father prepared his breakfast before heading to work.  I’ve always associated mornings with peacefulness, stillness, and the potential of a new day.

Regardless of how late I go to bed – although late bedtimes are not my wont – I’m usually up by seven o’clock at the latest.  Most mornings, I’m up shortly after six, a good hour or more before Tawn begins to be stir-able.  And I cherish that quiet time.

I open the windows in the living room and enjoy the still cool weather.  I listen to the birds chirping, the sound of the building maids as they start sweeping the courtyard around the pool. 

It is a time for reading my Xanga subscriptions, reading the newspaper, making a list of what I want to focus on today.  While not meditation – something I’d like to try – it is meditative.

I love my mornings.

Food in Bangkok: Grand Shagarila Restaurant

In December, Tawn’s university friend Ko was married.  Tawn and several of their close friends helped with various aspects of the wedding.  For example, Tawn served as the emcee both in Thai and English, since the groom’s family are from Sweden.  As a thank-you, Ko’s mother took the friends (and me) out for a very nice dinner at the Grand Shangarila Restaurant, an old-school Chinese restaurant in the Silom area known for their seafood hot pot and lobster sashimi.

Let me share our banquet with you:


A choice of sauces and condiments: kimchee, soy sauce, wasabi, and Thai style dipping sauce.  Korean, Japanese, and Thai all in one row.


Look at the beautiful kimchee!


Newlyweds Per and Ko take pictures of the appetizer plate, while Ko’s mother looks on.


Can you name all the appetizers?  From the back, clockwise: fried daikon radish cake; fried small fish; fried deer tendon with ginkgo nuts, and – anyone want to guess what item four is?  Please see below…


If you guessed duck tongue, you would be correct.  There’s a little cartilage spine in them after you eat the meat.  Who knew?  Tasty, though.


A lovely roast duck was brought to the table and presented to us, then the staff carved the crispy sweet skin off and wrapped the skin in these delicate crepes with plum sauce and green onion inside.


Close-up view of the crispy goodness of roasted duck skin.


The main course: lobster sashimi.  Look at the size of it!  Everyone is in awe…


Creature from the black lagoon…


The sweet meat, which we could either boil briefly in a broth and eat, or simply eat raw after a brush of soy sauce.  In my opinion, raw was the better option as it was tastier.


My goofy husband pretending to be impaled on the lobster.


Also served was a boat of sashimi dragon fish, a firm white fish that was boiled in another broth.


There were two broths, one made from some of the lobster’s blood and Chinese cooking wine and another from the fish bones.  Don’t mix!


Also served with the lobster was a little bowl of – any guesses?  A gelatin made from the lobster’s blood, with Sprite poured over it.  Odd… didn’t understand the point of this.  It is meant to be a chased to the lobster and the gelatin was pleasantly salty.  But no idea why the Sprite was in it.


Shrimp balls served with a crab meat topping.  Rich…


Fried soft shell crab with black pepper and salt, garlic, scallions, and chilies.


The remaining roast duck meat made its way back to the table as a stir fry served on a bed of crunchy fried vermicelli noodles.


Fried wide rice noodles with lobster head.  Ultimately, the entire lobster that was first served as sashimi is consumed over several courses.


Dessert number one was a taro paste bar with ginkgo nuts wrapped in pumpkin seeds and fried.


Dessert number two is fresh young coconut meat and ginkgo nuts served in a light sugar syrup.

Needless to say, this was a pretty fancy – and filling! – meal.  We were really treated wonderfully by Ko’s mother and went home with several containers of leftovers per person.


Outside the front of the restaurant, which is located just off Soi Taniya, the adult nightlife street that caters to Japanese tourists and expats.