Tag Archives: Bangkok

Bangkok dejá vu times two

Still playing catch-up…

I heeded the siren’s call of Bangkok twice this spring: both for medical reasons and just for fun. Many international teachers, including the Dents, visit Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok for their annual check-ups and other health concerns. In fact, Tony and I were just there in November. When I heard a group of friends were planning a medical weekend at the end of February, I jumped on board. I spent two weeks with this group in Washington, D.C., last May, waiting for our new Indian visas so we could return to Delhi. The experience was stressful but bonding. How could I resist a get-away to relive those memories and create new ones? There was plenty of street food, shopping and laughter. Three big reasons to visit Bangkok. And so, I did it again at the end of April. This time, a different group of ladies was celebrating the impending nuptials of of our friend, Kathryn. I arrived a day early to visit Bumrungrad. Three doctors, two ultrasounds, an X-ray and an MRI later, I found out some good news but also some bad news: I probably need foot surgery. Rats! When the rest of the ladies showed up, we crashed at a cute little guesthouse and ate our way through the city. A fun night of bachelorette party silliness and dancing was followed by two hours of pampering at the Health Land spa (oh, yeah, we did that the day before, too). Man, I love this city.

BKK Visit 1 – streetfood breakfast. I wanted to cry from joy.
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BKK Visit 1 – Karen catches a motorcycle taxi to the hospital.
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BKK Visit 2 – Ready to hit the town in our matching tank tops spray painted with Kathryn’s initials in English and Hindi.
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BKK Visit 2 – At the spa-aaaaah.
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Bangkok Weekend

This blogpost is about a month overdue, but here you go.

When Tony informed me he had registered for an education conference in Bangkok the first weekend in October, I said, “I’m tagging along.” We took advantage of the 4-day holiday at school to visit Bumrungrad International Hospital for our annual check-ups, and then Tony spent his days learning about technology integration while I got massages, shopped, walked around Bangkok and caught up with a friend. Here is a quick run-down of Bangkok moments that made me smile:

* We celebrated our 22nd anniversary with dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Soul Food.
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I’m embarrassed to admit our eagerness to visit this restaurant stemmed in part from knowing an excellent pet store is next door. Our babies needed some toys! Guess where we spent more money: the pet store or the restaurant? Here’s a hint.
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* While getting a facial at the Divana Spa, the music made me giggle. The instrumental mix included “Flight of the Bumblebees,” a marching band standard I couldn’t name, “Let Him Live” from Les Miserables, and a few Katy Perry songs..

* There’s something so alluring about a blank notebook, but like icing on the cake, Thai notebooks often feature gobbledy-gook English blurbs on the cover. Irresistible!
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* My friend and teaching mentor, Miriam, met me for lunch at Central Chidlom mall. This is no ordinary food court. The Food Loft features an open kitchen concept with a plethora of delicious options in a hipster setting. Perfect for hanging out for a long chat, which we did. Our “lunch” lasted for four hours!
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* Having a discussion about menopause feels awkward enough. Add to the mix an older Thai gynecologist with limited English. She dropped all her ending sounds and dragged out the long vowels in a high-pitched nasally drone – but with a lovely smile on her face. She discouraged the use of hormones and told me I could control the symptoms with some lifestyle changes. It sounded like this. “Heah in da Eee, we yoo naycha hawmohhh. We exa-sighhh. We ee vegtabohh rainbohhh. Seven cuh-law of vegtabohhh.” (Here in the East, we use natural hormones. We exercise. We eat vegetable rainbow. Seven colors of vegtables.) Fortunately, I saw a second doctor who said, “Yeah, I’m on this hormone, too. If you run out, write me an email and I’ll have the pharmacy send you some refills.” Whew.

Keeping it mellow in Bangkok

You know your life is getting weirder by the minute when you’re actually BORED at the prospect of blogging about Bangkok. Tony and I tried to figure out how many times we’ve been there, but we keep losing count. Still, I love it.

We skipped out of India for last weekend’s Diwali holiday, heading to Thailand for our annual medical check-ups. For a TMI version of a typical day at Bumrungrad Hospital, check out my post from 2009. Our most recent visit was very similar. Same hospital pajamas. Same checklist. Almost the same results. All good.

I had two shopping goals for this trip: a new camera and a bike trainer (a stand that converts a bicycle into a stationary bike). We spent a full day traipsing around to every major camera store in town with no luck. I just couldn’t find what I was looking for. We did, however, track down ProBike, a nice cycling store near Lumphini Park and, more importantly, near the relocated Crepes & Co. (We had sweated our way to the OLD Crepes & Co., only to find a sign saying it moved. Dang it.) Certain the bike shop would deliver my trainer to the hotel, I had envisioned making the purchase and then strolling around the neighborhood before enjoying dinner at Crepes & Co.

Good news: I found the trainer I wanted, and it was on sale!
Bad news: The store wouldn’t deliver it.
Good news: We found a taxi willing to drive around the block to the restaurant, where we had a delicious meal.
Bad news: It would have taken hours to get back to our hotel by taxi, so we had to haul the heavy trainer a few blocks and up a LOT of stairs to the Skytrain.
Good news: Tony did it!

As always in this city of 8 million people, we ran into a few friends – at Chatachuk Market, on the Skytrain AND at the hospital.

Chatachuk Market, one of my favorite places in the WORLD, was amazing, as usual, but it’s always discouraging when the shopkeepers give you the once-over and say, “Come in my shop! I have big size!”

Massages are another highlight of visits to Bangkok. We can get Thai massages in India for about $25, but in Bangkok a good hour-long massage will run you about $8. Such a great way to re-energize after a long hot day of exploring. Lek Massage was a little hole-in-the-wall place right next to our hotel. The ladies were friendly, but not TOO friendly, if you know what I mean. I got what was probably the best foot massage of my life one evening, and we decided to get full-body Thai massages the next day. For Thai massage, you dress in fisherman pants and a loose top, provided by the salon. Tony couldn’t figure out how to secure the huge waistband, so he called out to the massage therapist. He thought she would gesture the answer to his question, but instead she grabbed the top of his pants, whipped them right down to his ankles and THEN gestured that they were on backwards. Good thing he kept on his underpants!

Another funny moment made us feel really old. Vendors selling anything and everything set up along Sukhumvit Road, catering to the mobs of tourists who stay in this district. One night, we passed a stall selling “oral jelly.” We had no idea what it was.
“Isn’t ALL jelly oral?” Tony asked. “You eat jelly with your mouth.”
We speculated a lot about what it could be, and since the vendor selling it was also selling Viagra and sex toys, we figured it wasn’t strawberry jam.
Back at the hotel, we googled it. Turns out “oral jelly” is like Viagra in the form of Listerine strips. It comes in myriad flavors.
“Guess which flavor I want?” Tony asked.
“Chocolate,” I said.
“No.”
“Butterscotch,” I said.
“Yes!”
“Don’t you really just want butterscotch CANDY?” I asked.
“Yes.”

So, our whole weekend basically comprised eating, shopping, getting massages and lounging around. Our new favorite place to lounge: rooftop bars. We met some friends at Red Sky, a bar on the 55th floor of the Centara Grand Hotel (attached to Siam Paragon Mall). Getting there took forever, as we didn’t take the most direct route. We actually went up 23 floors on ESCALATORS before we found the elevator! Ridiculous.

We loved Above Eleven, on the 33rd floor of the Fraser Suites hotel.
Here’s Tony, enjoying the view. Remember, I don’t have a camera. These are phone snaps.
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Bangkok is so quiet and pretty from up high!
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This street-level converted VW Bus bar was also very cool.
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These stickers were in our taxi back to the airport on Sunday.
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As I wrote on FaceBook: Dang it, just when I was all ready for some post-coital durian fruit with a glass of whiskey and a smoke while petting my German shepherd and using a sword to whittle my initials in a big-horn sheep skull… How’s a girl supposed to have any fun in this town?

Just kidding, of course. We ALWAYS have fun in this town!

Killing Time in Bangkok

The busy-ness of a new semester at school and the reluctance of our internet provider to actually provide internet has left me with a backlog of blog posts to post. Let’s see if I can catch up a bit.

Back to Bangkok (cue Scooby Doo sound effects that imply stepping back in time) … The best part of being an obsessive-compulsive over-planner is that the myriad contingencies for which you plan can’t ALL happen, which often results in some free time. As we prepared to look for new teaching jobs at the international recruitment fairs in Bangkok last month, I had planned for three possible outcomes:
(A) attending two fairs and getting hired at the last minute,
(B) networking at the first fair and getting hired at the second fair, and
(C) getting hired at the first fair and not having to attend the second fair. Therefore, I registered for both the ISS and Search Associates fairs, paid in advance (with air miles) for the two hotels and booked flights that kept us in Bangkok for 12 days.

As you may know from my previous post, we were extremely fortunate to finish the recruitment process with scenario C and will move to New Delhi, India, at the end of July to start work at the American Embassy School. That left six days in Bangkok to NOT scour the internet for information about international schools, to NOT wander the back alleys near our hotel looking for a cheap but reliable drycleaner, to NOT stage mock interviews over dinner, and best of all to NOT panic about our future.

As this was our gajillionth visit to Bangkok, we felt no pressure to tromp through the tourist attractions (although we did spend one fun morning at Chatuchak Market, which I love!). Instead, we hopped on the Skytrain and got off here and there, walking, window shopping, people watching, snacking, and smiling.

I loved this sign in the Skytrain stations.

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Our first hotel was right next to the Skytrain stop at the river. To get back to our second hotel – the location of the second job fair, which we didn’t attend – we took the Skytrain to the river, where the hotel’s boat ferried us home. Isn’t there always something magical about being on the water?

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One morning we met up with our friend Tara, who teaches at the International School of Bangkok. You know she’s pretty special when she agrees to meet for breakfast despite having just flown in from the States at 2 a.m. that morning. Her beautiful daughter, Sojo, fell victim to jetlag and stayed home with her daddy. Although we were disappointed not to score time with the whole family, we treasured catching up with Tara.

Tara turned us on to Crepes & Co., a quiet little café with a shady garden and the most scrumptious mango lassi of my life. Tony and I went back there for lunch the next day; that’s how much we loved it.

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Wandering in Bangkok’s massive malls, I realized how much I used to love shopping! Since moving to a developing country in the tropics, I’m a bit out of the habit. Tony and I spent a full day exploring every corner of Central Shopping Center, not purchasing but gawking at the endless extravagance.

The mall sculptures amused us.
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Dizzy with anticipation, we arrived at the cinema in the mall desperate to see a movie, any movie. With no theaters in Vientiane, we often get TV shows and films on DVD, but it’s not the same. We bought VIP tickets to see “The Tourist” with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. Our tickets entitled us to an appetizer buffet and blue slushie mocktails, which we carried to our plush love-seat recliner in the viewing room. The cinema butler then covered us with blankets and brought popcorn and sodas. We had to stand for the Thai national anthem, but then we snuggled down into our comfy sofa for what turned out to be a mediocre movie.

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As we were leaving the mall, we spotted this kiosk – Cupcake Love. How could we resist? I scarfed down a red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting, while Tony devoured an Oreo cupcake. The pink color scheme, frilly pillows and cupcake waitresses made our treats even sweeter.

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From Central, we took the elevated walkway to Paragon Mall, where we ran into Whetu, a friend from Vientiane. We’re always amazed at how often we see people we know while strolling around this city of 9 million inhabitants. We later met Whetu for dinner at a Mexican restaurant.

One evening, we took a short ferry ride to the riverside Yok Yor Restaurant. As we often do when faced with overwhelmingly extensive menus, we asked the waiter to pick the best dishes for us. In Thailand, we often stick with the familiar curries, papaya salad and noodle dishes. This time, we were treated to mouth-watering stuffed crab and a variety of spicy side dishes.

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In the weeks before the job fairs, I visualized scenarios A, B and C, as well as the dreaded D – not getting hired at either fair and returning to Vientiane without jobs for 2011-12. It’s true that schools continue to hire well into the spring, but it would have been demoralizing nonetheless. What a relief to come home to Laos employed and rested.

Bangkok Smorgasbord

As we strolled around Bangkok yesterday afternoon, we decided to eat only street food for the rest of the day. Of course, when I say “we” decided to do this, I mean “I” decided that WE would do this.

Tony was a good sport, though, and cheated only marginally. Technically, this Lebanese shwarma stand was part of an adjoining restaurant, but I couldn’t deny that the slab of beef was turning on a streetside rotisserie.

Street Shwarma

He also bought a sausage, which we renamed “not dog” after a few bites. We never really figured out what it was – maybe dense fried noodles – but we know what it wasn’t, and it sure wasn’t a sausage.

The Not Dog Stand

I’m a sucker for tropical fruit, so I had to pick up some papaya and pineapple for a snack. Delish! When we used to travel to Bangkok from China, I would get goosebumps from the anticipation of eating fresh tropical fruit. Now that I eat this stuff every day in Laos, I’m a little too spoiled to get worked up about it. Sad, but true.

Tropical Fruit

Several times in the last couple days, Tony and I had walked past a street stall selling tiny taco-shaped shells with fillings of varying colors. We had no idea what they were, but we intended to find out. Today, we searched and searched for the taco lady to no avail. We had to settle for these little pancake sandwiches, which were quite tasty indeed! We both preferred the cream-filled sandwich, but the taro and red bean versions were also sweet and satisfying.

Sweet Pancake Sandwiches

Sorry, Tony, Dunkin Donuts doesn’t count as street food! I had to draw the line somewhere.

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Final street food purchase of the day: shrimp pad thai, made on the spot for about $1. Good stuff!

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Fish Feet

Strolling down Sukhumvit in Bangkok on the quest for a foot massage, I found something even better – a Fish Spa! You stick your feet in a tank, and tiny fish nibble on your dead crusty skin. They darted between my toes, fighting over the tasty morsels of street-baked cuticles. They latched on to my callouses and tickled my arches. They sucked their way right up my shins. I felt like the Little Mermaid getting a nautical pedicure and foot massage from my little piscine pals. After my Fish Spa, Tony and I indulged in real foot massages performed by humans.

Bangkok Fish Spa

Yummy Toe Jam

When I leaned down to get this photo, Tony muttered from his massage chair, “If you drop my camera in the fish tank, then your camera will become my camera.” He’s so funny.

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One Night in Bangkok

In the weeks leading up to the long winter break, children at school start getting excited. Their eyes glaze over during lessons, and when you toss a board marker at their heads to snap them back to reality, they often comment, “I was just thinking about our Christmas vacation!” Some will make the long journey back to their home countries for traditional family holidays; others will jet off to a tourist destination like a beach in Thailand or Hong Kong Disneyland.

It’s no different for the teachers. Shortly after school resumes in August, we begin the countdown to Christmas break. By October, most of us have already booked tickets and planned our get-aways. We share experiences from Christmases past, often following in the footsteps of our fellow travelers.

For many international teachers, long holidays kick off with a visit to Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok for a preventive care visit. Our insurance covers a comprehensive check-up, and Bumrungrad offers one-stop shopping for world-class healthcare.

Coincidentally, Tony and I are among a slew of teachers in Bangkok for our health checks this week. We were thrilled to meet up with friends from Shanghai American School – Jiff and Fay (whom you may recall from my posts about Lijiang, China – another serendipitous reunion!) and the Voges (Elaine, Dean, Callum and Owen). We rode the Skytrain to Ban Chiang Restaurant, a restored wooden house with quirky décor and tasty Thai food. Poor Owen left early with a bad headache (chaperoned by his dad), but the rest of us had a wonderful time catching up.

Here we are in front of the restaurant with Jiff and Fay.

Bangkok Reunion

We leave Thursday for some beach time in Krabi, where we’ll see the Voges again! Some other great friends – the Munnerlyns (who now teach in Abu Dhabi) and the Powers (SAS) – are vacationing in nearby Phuket, and they’ve promised to pop over to our neck of the woods on the 28th.

We would have loved to visit with friends who live here in Bangkok, but doctors and dentists ate up most of our free time, and the traffic here is so insane that we could actually fly back to Laos faster than we could catch a taxi across town. So, we’ll see you guys next time!

I suppose international teachers never really say “good-bye”; they just meet up again and again in Thailand.