Showing posts with label Thailand. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thailand. Show all posts

22 August 2016

2. - 22 August: From Bangkok to Paro, Bhutan

Early checlout and transfer to BKK airport, where we leave our bags intended for our subsequent trip to China at the left luggage. It is a bit of a nuisance because they only accept local cash, Thai Baht, a bit complicated. The x-ray everything and tag it. They also ask to see our electronics first, possibly to ensure they are genuine gadgets and not explosives.

We land at Paro airport after a smooth flight from Bangkok which includes a stopover in the Indian city of Kolkata (the new name for Calcutta). Very few airlines fly to Bhutan, so the flight from Bangkok always stops in an Indian city to pick up passengers.

Many Indians go to Bhutan because they are the only foreigners (together with Sri Lankans I believe) who are allowed into the country without visa or currency exchange requirements. We would find out why in the course of our trip: Bhutan wants Indian labor to do its construction and soldiers to guard its frontiers.

Paro hosts the only international airport of Bhutan. They will explain us that the king decided to build the airport here because he did not want to create noise pollution in the valley of the capital, Thimphu.

I try to get window seat but no luck, yet when we board there are plenty window seats free, which is great to be able to watch the amazing landscapes of the Himalaya. Spectacular landing after a few tight turns by our plane as it finds its way among the mountains and into the narrow valley of Paro. Landing here takes special skills!

On the plane we met our group. Diverse mix of nationalities, age, and cultural backgrounds. It was always part of the fun in taking these photo tours: you not only get to know the country you visit, you also learn more about your own country, or anyway about fellow Western middle-class internationally curious photographers. This time we have quite a few nationalities represented: German, French, Chinese, Italian, American, Australian and British, both for and against Brexit!

Easy border formalities. Our electronic visa has been arranged in advance and we go through passport control quite smoothly indeed. At my request the lady officer agrees to enrich my passport with an unnecessary but cute rubber stamp. She even asks on what page I'd like to have it stamped on.

Bags are quickly delivered to one of two luggage carousels in the cosy arrivals hall. Ours is the only plane on the tarmac in this balmy late morning.

After a quick and relaxed x-ray check we are out into the tiny parking area where we meet Matt, an Australian photographer who has organized this trip as a roving photo tour of Bhutan. We also meet Tshering, our local Bhutanese guide, who will turn out to be very knowledgeable and speaks excellent English. 

We all go for lunch at a scenic restaurant near the airport. From the terrace of the restaurant you can see the runway. Not that it is a very busy, only a handful of planes land at Paro every day... if the weather is good enough, that is. Our first encounter with Bhutanese momo and other specialties.

In the afternoon we visit the Paro Rimpung Dzong (17th century fortress) and arguably the most interesting sight in town. Lots of local and foreign visitors. One young lady was breastfeeding on  the steps of a prayer room. I was happy people left her alone, I read many times recently how in the US and in Europe it was considered socially unacceptable for women to breastfeed in public. How silly.

Produce sellers on Paro's main street
Afterwards we walked back down from the Dzong to town in a little less than one hour and went for some shopping for basic necessities along the main (only?) shopping street of Paro, a small town that sported rather heavy traffic of cars and motorcycles. A few ladies were selling fresh produce on the pavement.

In the evening we dined at the Sonam Trophel Restaurant, a traditional local eatery in Paro. It is run by a friendly couple and their daughter, they make local as well as Indian and Chinese food. He is a local but she comes from India. We would see how both India and China have, or have had, great influence over small Bhutan over the centuries. We went for local fare and were quite happy with it.

Final task of the day is transferring to our accommodation, the Olathang, a 3 Star Hotel. Our first night in the supposedly happiest country on earth, we'll see, I am always skeptical of broad-sweep claims like that but the first impression is quite positive: a serene place.



Sonam's momos

21 August 2016

1. - 21 Aug: Arrival in Bangkok

Land at Bangkok in the early morning after a relaxing flight.

It is a bit of a nuisance to get through passport control because we need to get a visa on arrival for Lifang. To get a visa we need to get her photos. To get her photos we need to get some local currency 1000 Baht in cash. To get the cash we need an ATM. Luckily one is available in the transit area of the airport. All of this takes time and we are tired and jet lagged but hey it's part of travel. Other than that Bangkok airport is quite efficient and clean.

I booked a room at a hotel near the airport, the Ammata Lanta resort. The hotel pick-up is late, they had forgotten us and I had to call them, but eventually they do come and take us to the resort, 5 minutes away. Very convenient to rest for a day before starting out to Bhutan tomorrow. The resort is huge, we are driven around in open electric vehicles. Rooms are really small villas spread out over a large green area.

Staff at Ammata Lanta is friendly and always available. Our room was large and comfortable if a bit dark. Restaurant offered good Thai food and excellent value. Also a good breakfast a la carte is included in the room price. Our masseuses are OK, but not great, Thailand can do better. Free wifi fast and free.

A large jacuzzi in our villa's terrace is a nice touch. You can sit in the hot water under the rain and watch planes land at the airport!

Nice Thai dinner, a 8pm we're the only patrons in restaurant, which is decorated with sculptures and paintings from all over the world. Apparently the owner is a collector. Baroque bordering on kitsch, I like it.

In the evening it is raining hard so we climb up an observation tower and watch the scene of the hotel grounds under heavy downpour while more and more planes keep landing at the busy international airport. A Chinese family also on the tower is a bit too noisy and spoils the atmosphere a bit, but luckily they soon leave and ...leave us alone!



12 October 2013

Book review: Bangkok, the story of a city (1970), by Alec Waugh, ***

Royal Thai Dynasty
Synopsis

In Bangkok, Alec Waugh has created a most fluent, truthful and affectionate portrait of the dynasty and culture which created it. Cutting through confusion and veiled mystery, he unravels the plots, coups, wars, assassinations, invasions and counter-coups of three hundred years of history as if it were this evening's street gossip. This loving description of the genius, fascination and enduring vitality of Thailand is told with Waugh's customary delight in life and sensual appreciation. The story is brought up-to-date with an afterword by Bruce Palling, former "Times" correspondent in Thailand.


Review

King Rama V Chulalongkorn (1853-1910)
This is a book mostly about the ruling dynasty of Thailand. I was a bit disappointed because I expected a history of the city of Bangkok, which this book is not, even though of course the dinasty resides in the capital. Waugh relies more on anecdotal stories and personal experience than on methodical historical research. He does infuse his narrative with a full flavor and unbound passion however, and just for this it is worth reading this volume. The reader will understand much about intrigue at the court. I would have liked to know about the people of Bangkok, their economic and social issues and the problem they have faced in their everyday life throughout history.





05 October 2013

Bangkok Thai food cooking class


Food is an essential part of any culture, and when I travel I always make sure I taste local delicacies so as to be able to better appreciate the country that's hosting me. If you can learn a bit on how to prepare that food, instead of just eating it, all the better!

My Chinese girlfriend is usually not so keen on cooking, so she was a bit perplexed when I proposed to spend a half day with an apron around our waist, learning hot to cook Thai food. But she was game, I love her curiosity for new things.

After an internet search I opted for a half-day class at the Baipai Thai Cooking School. They promised to "introduce you to the wonderful world of Thai flavors allowing you to take your knowledge home with you so you can make authentic Thai dishes back home in your own kitchen." And they warned that their menu does not cater to vegetarians, which was fine by me.

Thai food, of course, is renown worldwide for its complexity, its lively taste and the careful blend of Indian and Chinese influences. This is not called Indochina for nothing. It can be quite spicy, but does not need to be soo spicy to be good.

I had had limited experience of eating in Thailand before. While I did try many Thai restaurants around the world, I am also aware that these usually cater to the local clientele of wherever they happen to be, often at the expense of the original recipes. This in not just true of Thai restaurants: I have tasted quite a number of inedible "Italian" dishes in many countries, until the day when I decided never again to eat Italian food outside Italy. (There have been a few exceptions to this rule and they are described in this blog!)

Our class was held at The Baipai Thai Cooking School. In their words, which I found to be accurate, it is "an ideal home-style learning environment that aims at cooking a style of Thai food that is different from most of the hotels and restaurants in Thailand".

We spent the morning learning to prepare 4 authentic Thai dishes: veggies, fish and chicken. First of all we visited their vegetable garden and learned about the spices and herbs we were about to use.

We later learned how to grate coconut meat from a nut, the fluffy white stuff that the Thais use in so many recipes.

We then moved to to their open space cooking area, where we had plenty of space and lots of equipment to implement the instructions that were imparted by the chef and her assistants.

At the end of it all, we ate the fruits of our labor together with the other course participants and were quite satisfied with the results. I am not sure I will ever even try to reproduce the results at home, but this was fun and I would do it again in a heartbeat when I am back in Thailand.




30 August 2002

23. - 30 AUG: Bangkok, end of the trip.

I have a couple of days in Bangkok before heading out of Indochina. The name means the “city of angels” and it is twinned, guess what, with Los Angeles in California!