Shanghai Page Built

Ever since moving from Xanga a year ago, I’ve been slowly working on building my WordPress site into a proper website instead of just a blog.

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I made another step in that direction today by creating a page for all my entries on Shanghai, based on a trip I took there a year and a half ago. It looks like I’ll be back to China (and to Beijing) this summer on business, so hopefully can add some new entries.

 

Songkhran Splashing

As mentioned in my previous entry, last weekend was the Songkhran holiday or Thai new year’s. This actually isn’t an exclusively Thai event; it is celebrated under different names across of swath of countries in Southeast Asia.

Every year there is an outpouring of nostalgia for the “traditional” forms of celebration – bathing the Buddha statues and gently pouring water on the hands of others as a new year’s blessing. The Bangkok Post disabused readers of these sentimental longings by printing a selection of archival pictures, showing rough-and-tumble water play dating back to the 1950s at least.

This picture, taken just in front of my condominium complex, shows a fairly typical Songkhran scene:

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People set up small outposts in front of their houses with buckets of water, hoses, water guns, or a combination thereof. There is usually music blaring loudly, snacks, and alcohol. People dance around and splash each other and other passers by.

There are also pickup trucks loaded with revelers, usually with a large bucket of water in the back. Sometimes large blocks of ice float in the water, adding a special thrill to the experience. There is usually most loud music and, frequently, alcohol. The trucks drive around the neighborhoods so the passengers can engage in water wars with the people partying in front of their houses.

This is all done in the spirit of good fun, although sometimes it isn’t as fun for those who want to pass by without a soaking. Many revelers take aim at passing motorbikes, leading to accidents as the drivers try to avoid a soaking and lose control, crashing. In some areas of town or on some smaller roads, the caravan of pickup trucks brings traffic to a crawl. And of course with the alcohol, the water, and the number of people dancing about in the back of a pickup truck, there are unfortunate falls.

I won’t be the grumpy farang who complains about the Songkhran celebrations, though. They are what they are. Hopefully, over time, greater awareness will be paid to safer ways to celebrate and the high rate of accidents and deaths over this period will diminish. In the meantime, though, this is undeniably a part of the Thailand experience.

 

Anantara Riverside Resort

The middle of April marks the arrival of the year’s hottest days in Thailand. It also marks the start of the Thai new year, a festival known as Songkhran. A few million of Bangkok’s residents escape the city, leaving either for a holiday out of town or returning to their home province to spend time with family. Many of us Bangkok residents stay in town to enjoy our city at half its normal capacity. I took the opportunity for a one-night “staycation” on the Thonburi side of the river at the Anantara Riverside Resort.

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The Anantara, owned and operated by Minor International, a Thai based multinational, is not the newest riverfront property, but it is well-maintained and just far enough downstream from the heart of the city, to truly feel like an escape from the hustle and bustle. At the heart of the complex is a large pool, which was quite busy with sunbathers and water-splashers of all ages.

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The hotel’s lush gardens are very tranquil. One of the nice aspects of it being an older resort is that the landscaping has a volume that cannot be easily achieved by newer properties. Everywhere you look, both inside and outside the buildings, you see greenery.

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As the resort’s name implies, it is located directly on the river. There is a restaurant and a bar that lie adjacent to the water and the hotel’s private pier offers ferry service to the pier upriver that is near the BTS Skytrain station. The ferry also runs across the river to Asiatique, the two-year old outdoor night market and entertainment center.

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The rooms are nicely furnished in a contemporary but slightly tropical style. We upgraded to a riverfront room that was very comfortable. There isn’t that much to see on the river besides barges slowly making their way up- and downstream, but it is a nice setting.

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Public places in the hotel are tasteful and contemporary, with lots of natural light. There are several “mini lobbies” where you can find a nice place to sit with a book or just absorb the atmosphere.

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We ate a sumptuous Sunday brunch at Trader Vic’s, the “tiki tiki” themed restaurant that features just about every type of food imaginable, including a wide variety of fresh seafood.

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We also had a nice breakfast the following morning at the Marketplace restaurant, which spills outdoors onto a patio overlooking the river. All the food was good and the staff was very friendly.

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Most of our day was spent by the pool, although we hid beneath umbrellas and in the shade of a large tree. As evening came, a cultural program was presented poolside with young ladies in traditional Thai costumes dancing and lighting the torches around the pool.

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A man dressed as Hanuman, the mythical white monkey in the Ramakien, the Thai version of the classic Hindu epic called the Ramayana, performed around the pool to the beat of a drummer. He attracted many young followers who tried to catch his tail and also copied his poses.

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In the evening, there is another classical performance held by torch light for the diners as the Marketplace restaurant. While I suppose you could quibble over whether guests really learn much from this minimal amount of exposure to culture, it surely creates a memorable impression for them.

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The resort also offers cruises aboard converted teak rice barges. These cruises, one of which I did several years ago, can be just a daytime excursion, a dinner cruise, or a two-night trip to the ancient capital of Ayutthaya and back.

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All in all, the Anantara Riverside Resort proved to be an ideal place for us to get away from the city for a night. If we had children, it would be even more well-suited for us as there are many activities geared to families.

 

Casa Lapin

Today is the start of a four-day weekend for the Songkhran holiday (aka Thai New Year). Tawn took me to a cute little place he had been wanting to try, the Sukhumvit Soi 49 branch of Casa Lapin.

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This chic coffee chain (some might say “hip”) is tucked away behind Paste, a currently trendy restaurant across from Samitivej Hospital.

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Owned by architect and coffee lover Surapan Tanta, Casa Lapin (“rabbit house”) also has branches on Soi Thong Lor and Soi Ari. The fact that the place is owned by an architect isn’t surprising, as the interior is inviting and thoughtfully designed.

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The spacious setting makes effective use of the narrow footprint of the shophouse it occupies. It has a warm feeling that encourages you to hang out.

2014-04-11 02Coffee is offered in a variety of ways – drip, French press, espresso, siphon – and is tasty. A limited selection of foods is available – I had a container of cornflakes with dried fruits and cashew nuts added, kind of a cornflake muesli.

2014-04-11 03The selection of pastries was nice, too, and make for a tasty treat. The ham and cheese roll was flakey and delicate, a great pleasure to eat. The almond croissant was also nice.

2014-04-11 04While it would be nice if they added some more food selections – quiche and salads, maybe? – Casa Lapin x49 is a pleasant place to hang out. One more sophisticated but affordable brunch option in a city in which such places have long been a rarity.

 

First Trip to Pattaya

After having lived in Bangkok more than eight years, I am greeted by expressions of surprise when I tell people that I have never been to Pattaya, the famous beach resort town just a two hour drive southeast of the Thai capital city. Well, I can no longer truthfully earn those expressions of surprise because I finally made my first trip to Pattaya last month.

Why didn’t I ever visit Pattaya? Well, there was an image I held in my head of a city that was a sleazy and crowded tourist trap with a nice beach, questionable water quality, and even more questionable businesses operating until the wee hours of the night.

It turns out, that image was pretty accurate. Sure, there might be corners of Pattaya that are reasonably nice (someone told me Jomtien Beach), but the main section of town where I was staying for work was exactly as I had expected it.

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The hotel I stayed in, the Hilton, was gorgeous, with an infinity pool and lounge that offers a breathtaking view of the sunset. But even up on the 29th floor with very heavy balcony doors with thick triple-pane glass, I could hear the music amplified from the surrounding entertainment venues and it didn’t take long until I had reached my fill of seeing bright red rotund foreigners accompanied by barely legal (or maybe not legal at all) tiny brown girls or boys a quarter of their age and a fifth of their size.

The work experience was lovely – a two-day leadership development workshop for a multinational company – but I am comfortable that I can check Pattaya off the “to-visit” list and add it to the “no need to return” list instead.

 

Office of Snacks

One of the things that has been a bit of a challenge working in a Thai office for my first time, is to get used to the sheer volume of snack foods that are around. Yes, I know that all offices have their share of snack foods, but it seems to reach new extremes here in Thailand.

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Conference tables are for snacks, not people.

Each business unit, department, or cluster of desks has a stash of snack foods, not including the fresh fruit and perishable snack items bought daily by my colleagues. And what makes it even worse is that most of these people are skinny to the point of looking malnourished.

After the first few weeks, I started to buck the trend and avoid the snacks. My trick is to eat a bit extra at lunch so that the munchies don’t come calling in the middle of the afternoon. But then my colleagues look at my lunch tray with two dishes on it and express dismay that I’m eating so much food!