31.03.2013 – 31.03.2013
So we left Chiang Mai, with the added excitement of our taxi driver reversing into a bus outside Margaret and Don’s hotel. Luckily it didn’t delay us, just baffle us, and the days travelling went really smoothly. We flew to Bangkok then was met by a driver with a mini van who then drove us the few hours south to Hua Hin. It was really a great way to travel. Cost effective when there’s 4 of you, probably not so much if there’s only 2. Would definitely recommend Oriental Escape for anyone who’s nervous about travel in Bangkok or who wants a simple and safe way to get from a to b.
We returned to Hua Hin as we were trying to find a beach resort so Margaret and Don could enjoy that side of Thailand. Most of the other beach resorts that we could reach were either on the seedy side or really awkward to get to. Hua Hin is a couple of hours by car from Bangkok and is a popular resort with the Thais and having been there before, we had more of an idea of what we were getting.
It’s definitely a pretty place down by the sea with the various piers you can sit on to drink and eat. It’s got an old side to part of it which are quite characterful. Though of course it has modern and cheesy parts like anywhere – burger king and girlie bars. But in Hua Hin you can easily avoid that side.
We stayed right in middle of town, whilst Margaret and Don were out at a resort further out of town. We realised that actually being in town was not that ideal as food was more expensive and generally not as good. It’s a funny place Hua Hin. Most of the seafront is taken up by hotels and apartments so although it has a beautiful white sandy beach, you can’t really use it unless you’re staying somewhere with access. The small patches of private beach have so many loungers on it you’d be practically cuddling the person next to you. Seeing as that would likely be a lobster red, half naked, rotund old german guy – not ideal.
Our guest house was german or swiss run, wasn’t sure which and was ok but a bit odd. The guy who runs it just sits around all day as does his grumpy Thai wife. There’s a large young lady with a moustache who cleans the rooms and who I managed to bond with a little over our time there by giving her big smiles whenever I saw her which she reciprocated enthusiastically. They were all so miserable there and I figured she needed a bit of niceness.
Now our room was big and (must be the german efficiency thing) had everything we needed – lots of plug sockets in convenient places – you have no idea how rare this is! But we didn’t have a top sheet and when we asked they gave us a blanket. Ok. Bit odd when it’s over 30 degrees C out there. But the thing that was really terrible was that after cleaning the room sweet moustache lady would stand in the doorway and spray air freshener into it for a good 20 seconds. I have witnessed her do this on another room. The result being, when you return to your room you open the door to a chemical bio-hazard. I’d have to sit out on the steps outside the room for 10 minutes while it de-toxified (thank god we could open the windows there).
We were lucky to catch some of the Chinese New Year celebrations which had fire-crackers going off quite terrifyingly and then lots of lights and cheesy singing. Unfortunately we literally did stumble on it on the way home and Margaret and Don had already gone on their shuttle bus home so missed it,
Eating or drinking at one of the pier restaurants was always nice as it would be cool and really atmospheric.
After a couple of nights eating down by the pier, we tried up by the night market, which had a totally different vibe to it and was a great people watching spot. The food was pretty expensive so generally just drooled over the amazing lobsters on offer.
It was Margaret’s birthday while we were there so they invited us up to their hotel for dinner which, her birthday being Valentines day, had a special menu and was all dressed up. We went early to enjoy their access to the sea and their swimming pool which was a real treat having spent much of our time holed up in our guesthouse. The sea was lovely as was the pool area. The hotel were very sweet and delivered her a cake. Rained on our parade as we had brought a little incy one with us – it looked like the cake’s poor cousin. But we did have everlasting candles which is ALWAYS funny and we did have to laugh as the cake they made said to ‘Mr Hatter’ on it.
We had a fun meal with some good music and even dancing by the sea.
Our absolute saving grace in Hua Hin was a little cafe we discovered called Homestyle Hua Hin which had been opened by a lovely lady who had quit the rat-race of Bangkok to open her cafe by the sea. In a place full of mediocre, overpriced and bad-attituded (I know that’s not english) restaurants in Hua Hin, this really was a diamond in the rough. She gave us a few things to try as well and we learned about a great Thai desert to take the edge off after a hot curry. She also does the most amazing wholemeal roti which we had every single time. Her Khau Soi, Mark’s favourite Chiang Mai speciality, was incredible. She’d apparently studied (chemistry I think) at Chiang Mai which is why this was part of her repertoire. This, without doubt, was the best one I’d ever tasted.
If you’re ever in Hua Hin, find this place, it’s a treat.
Bangkok is great and annoying at the same time. There’s so much available there – but it’s hot and a bugger to get about.
The traffic is just mental. I don’t know how anyone every got anywhere before they built the sky train. I’m a big fan of the skytrain – it doesn’t cover a great distance and certainly isn’t a proper public transport system for the city but it does get you further afield cheaply, quickly and in amazing air conditioning.
We stayed in the main shopping area of Bangkok, mainly because we’d stayed nearby before and don’t really know any other areas. It’s pretty full on staying here – it’s crazy busy. The main downside I would say is that there isn’t a great deal of cheap decent eats about the place and certainly no where to have a quick cheap drink. Now that I’ve spent a bit of time in Bangkok I definitely know better areas to stay for next time where you’re close to things but yet get some peace and quiet.
Lizards in Lumpini
Lumpini park is a short walk away from where we were staying. However in the heat of Bangkok, a short walk like that is very hard going. Luckily it was worth it as not only is it a lovely park in the middle of the craziness, it is cooler there than on the streets and best of all it’s full of massive monitor lizards.
We’d gone in search of them and hoped just to spot one so were surprised to find one almost immediately – there are quite a lot there so you can’t really miss them. They can be quite camouflaged, I nearly stepped on one that was blended into the lake edge.
There’s always something going on in Bangkok and something to look at. There were amazing decorations and lights setup for chinese new year.
There are also lots of mini shrines setup in the main shopping thoroughfares.
When we left a massive street art festival was going on – we were gutted to not see the finished results – it’s the amazing street paintings which create 3d like effects and they had some of the best artists in the world there for it.
I wanted to find a Vietnamese restaurant in Bangkok as, it being on of our favourite places, I wanted to share just a tiny bit of this with Margaret and Don as we weren’t able to take them to the country itself. Siagon Recipe restaurant is really good and a lot of food for good prices too. It’s not in the thick of things, you have to make an effort to get to, but it is in a pretty afluent neighbourhood so it’s cool walking round there – you can find it off Soi Sukhumvit49. The bun cha was amazing.
Flying Chicken Restaurant
Now I had to drag everybody a bit further out of central Bangkok for this one and we had a hairy moment when we got off the skytrain to realise there was no where to get a taxi and we were in the middle of nowhere. Luckily we were on a busy dual carriageway so, slightly ropey as it was for him to stop a taxi did come over to get us. We then had to try to explain to him where it was. We had assumed that there would be local taxis and everyone would know about this place but I think this guy was passing through. We kept saying chicken (later realising that Mark knows Thai for chicken but hadn’t thought to use it). I’d come prepared with telephone numbers etc so he phoned them up and as he dropped us off outside with the huge statue of a cockerill outside, the taxi driver just laughed and was like “ahh CHICKEN!!!”.
So, the Flying Chicken restaurant (Ka-tron) does what it says on the tin and then some. If you order the flying chicken then you will get a whole chicken, but only after it has been lit on fire, fired out of a catapult and caught (if they are successful) on a spike on the head of a unicyclist. Yep, you read that correct. Fantastic eh? It was honestly such a blast, one of most fun things have done in Thailand.
Mark had a go at catching a bake potato on his head, with the spiked helmet on, I might add, and without the unicycle. He was rubbish!
They had the perfect setup for a photo – this unicycle is on a pole which they stick into the ground and so you can sit on it perfectly balanced for your photo shoot – genius!
The pictures don’t really do it justice – check it out on Mark’s youtube video which also has other crazy Thai footage from our last weeks.
I particularly like the bit where they’re throwing potatoes at Mark’s head and I can be heard shouting “I hope it hits him in the face” and “Man-up”. Aren’t I the BEST girlfriend?
So, as we bade farewell to Margaret and Don, we welcomed our friend Elena from Singapore. She had met us in Phuket in our first week in Thailand so it seems fitting she’d meet us for our last.
She was staying in a serviced apartment about 15 minutes walk from us and from the moment she arrived we basically bummed around her flat having lazy fun. We were knackered from all the running around we’d been doing and she was just back from travelling half way round the world so we were all happy to be sloth like. Well Mark and I were sloth like, it’s impossible for Elena to be, or if she was she’d do it in heels!!
We discovered the freezer worked a little bit too well in that when we took a bottle out of the freezer and put it in the icebucket, the ice set on the bottle and didn’t defrost for ages. Was quite fascinating.
We took the opportunity to use the apartment and it’s proximity to some good supermarkets to have a couple of great feasts with much non asian contraband involved – mucho meat and cheese.
There was a great view from the apartment and we spotted that there was a tennis court on one of the buildings roofs.
We did venture out, but not far up the road to the most amazing restaurant that Elena and friends had stumbled upon a while back.
Gaggan’s was setup by a chef who used to work at El Bulli so when Elena asked if I’d like to go I confirmed by jumping up and down excitedly. I love travel eating and discovering food that way but I have always loved a good restaurant and have really missed that part of my old life.
So the setting was divine in a colonial style oasis down a side street, all beautifully lit with a lovely atmosphere.
The food is described as ‘Indian progressive’ – using indian flavours with various fine dining and moleculary techniques. We went for the 10 course taster menu. Who wouldn’t?
The first thing that really blew my mind was the lamb burger. Take a look at the picture below. The pink thing which looks like a macaron? That was the lamb burger. The outside melted in your mouth and although your brain was telling you that it should be something sweet, the flavour engulfs you and you can kind of taste seaside type lamb burger – ketchup and mustard. Tastebud-tabulous!
Other course included oysters with foam, mussels, a soft souffle in an egg shell, soup, tempura style chillies, a chick and egg combo with an egg somehow poached in a sauce – another mind blower.
We also ordered a coriander tandoori chicken which was an amazing mix of Indian and Thai flavours.
The main course was a curry with various style naan breads. Never had anything like it. Also, having not had a decent Indian curry since we’ve been away, it was a most welcome flavour of home. Our dessert was an ice-cream type thing (I think they might have used the old liquid nitrogen for this. It was a little hard so the quite mad and delightful maitre’d broke it up and started to spoon feed us. Sounds odd but was very funny (and we’d have a very few at this point).
My absolute ‘clap hands like a child’ moment came with the course which had a glass dome containing smoke, the aroma of which adds to you detectible delights. Always wanted to try one. Comes from watching too much Heston.
Our second best bit of fun, after the meal, was the amazing ‘lobby cam’. One of the channels on the TV showed live footage from the reception, I guess so you can see who’s coming to visit you etc. In our fragile states and for lack of any other entertainment, we ended up quite addicted to watching this. Most of the time nothing happened. It got exciting when someone came in to look at the cakes. Nothing would happen for ages then suddenly you’d get 3 checkins at once. Oh the excitement. And the guess the nationality game was fun too. Forget Big Brother – Lobby Cam is the way forward.
So after sending Elena on her way and a bit of last minute shopping, so ended our time (almost a year) in South East Asia.