Feb 132019

Five friends will be joining me on their first trip to Thailand this afternoon. I don’t think I’ve learned enough Thai to function as a tour guide, but I have apps for translation, mapping, and reviews, so I’m hoping it will all work out. This morning, I have time for one more massage before checking out of the Salil and moving across town.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Salil’s breakfast buffet was quiet this morning, and I had time to chat with fellow travelers who also had a couple extra days in town about our respective activities. We will miss Kasma’s insights and the convenience of having our own drivers, but we’ll be free to make our own mistakes, which is something.

I headed around the corner to Wadee massage and there was a delay in opening up, perhaps due to insufficient staffing. The day shift definitely seemed less experienced in the arts of foot massage than the afternoon and evening shift, so I called time early and rushed back to pack up. Unlike other years when I was heading directly to the airport, it wasn’t critical to pack efficiently; a number of items could be thrown in a large storage bag and sorted out later. That said, I did not demonstrate grace or agility muscling two rolling bags and a large storage bag down to the lobby, while wearing a backpack. Fortunately, check-out was smooth.

A taxi, on the other hand, was going to take some time. While I waited, I installed the Grab app, a ride- and taxi-hailing app popular in Southeast Asia. (Uber doesn’t operate in Thailand, in deference to Grab, an affiliated company.) Meanwhile, my four friends who flew together had breezed through immigration and were heading for their pre-booked SUV. Ultimately, they got to the Royal Orchid Sheraton a few minutes before I did. Oddly, though, my room was the only one ready, so we had all the bags delivered there and those who wished to do so could change before lunch.

My room on the 18th floor had a view of the river, and of the Millennium Hilton on the opposite shore, overshadowed by two new 50+ story luxury condo towers dubbed the Residences at Mandarin Oriental (even though the Mandarin Oriental hotel is on the other side of the river) and Magnolias Waterfront Residences. Just down the opposite bank, but not visible from my room, was our next destination: the glitzy new ICONSIAM mall. It has a huge Thai street food section on its ground floor called Sook Siam, where I thought we could grab a clean, safe, air-conditioned lunch. The Sheraton conveniently runs a boat every half hour across the river to ICONSIAM, so once we found the pier, we were whisked efficiently across the murky waters to a dock at the mall. Bypassing designer shops, we headed into the food zone to consider options.

Ultimately, we ended up at a sit-down Thai restaurant on the sixth floor. As it said its specialty is massaman chicken curry, of course we had to order that, along with Pad Thai and several other dishes that I somehow failed to photograph. Probably we were too hungry. On the way back, we caught the ICONSIAM shuttle boat to the pier next to our hotel, which was an easy walk back to the lobby. There, I introduced everyone to my college friend Geneva, who rounded out our group of six. Her room wasn’t ready yet (what is up with this hotel?), but everyone else got their keys and picked up their bags from my room.

For dinner, we had hoped to eat at Sorn, a fancy Southern-style restaurant which earned a star from the Guide Michelin. Months earlier, they had said they were fully booked, and even with frequent follow-ups, including enlisting the Sheraton’s concierge in the effort to get a table, there was no way in. As a consolation prize, I had reserved a table at Khua Kling Pad Sod, a Southern-style restaurant with a “Bib Gourmand” designation. While everyone else was settling into their rooms, I scoured the menu and circulated my suggestions by email. We gathered in the lobby, where elephant art was prominently displayed.

We got into two taxis for what the maps app said was a short drive, but Bangkok traffic does not obey algorithms. Our 7:00 reservation time soon passed; at 7:30 we were still stuck; at 7:50 one of the taxis took a wrong turn. But eventually we arrived, and our table was still waiting with a Reserved sign on top. I guess anyone who might have claimed it during the hour was also stuck in traffic.

To speed up ordering, I opened my menu suggestion message on my phone and pointed the waiter to the dishes I wanted, copied verbatim from the menu. We added an order of mixed vegetables, which was a good idea because the portions were not huge. Naturally, we had to order the restaurant’s namesake dish, kua kling, a spicy dry curry of ground pork featuring the flavors of turmeric and kaffir lime. As a cooling counterpoint, we had rainforest greens (bai liang) boiled in coconut milk. Perhaps the hottest dish was a Southern-style green curry of sadtaw beans (“stinky beans”) and shrimp. A deep fried fish flavored with garlic and tumeric, deep fried chunks of pork belly with green beans in a prik king curry, and a yellow curry crab with wild pepper (bai chaplu) leaves and skeins of thin rice noodles rounded out the set. Everyone handled the spiciness well, so I think we are ready for more culinary adventures.

Since there was no taxi stand near the restaurant as far as we could tell, I tried the Grab app, summoning a van taxi to pick us up. Our driver, of course, got stuck in traffic and what was promised to be a seven minute wait was closer to twenty. But we all made it back to the hotel safely; I didn’t lose anyone.

Tomorrow will be a long day, starting with a tour of the city’s more traditional neighborhoods, and ending with a private dinner in a chef’s home in one of its more exclusive neighborhoods. Bangkok is a city of contrasts and contradictions, which we intend to experience as fully as we can.

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