Posts from the “Asia” Category

A handful of Hanoi Restaurants

Review:

So, we went to Hanoi for a quick getaway with some guests last weekend. Apart from the irritation of having to fly out of the ridiculous Gate 500 hub in the middle of what feels like Hong Kong Airport’s runway, the Dragonair flights leaving at 18:00 on a Friday and returning at 19:50 on Sunday were perfectly timed.

We arrived at our hotel in Hoan Kiem just after 20:00; well in time for dinner and a night out. We therefore were able to fit in two dinners and two lunches before jumping back on the plane to Hong Kong on Sunday evening.

Hanoi

Here were our meals:

The Spices Garden, Sofitel Metropole

Rapacious prices, mediocre food, dreadful service.

I don’t understand how the best and most expensive hotel in Hanoi is happy to run a restaurant this dismal.

I usually get my restaurant advice from the boards on Chowhound, but there is precious little on the Vietnamese capital, so I relied on a website called Rusty Compass that described the joint as “for those wanting to gently ease into local cuisine off the street in a 5 star space…a very nice upscale Vietnamese cuisine experience.”

Sounded perfect for our guests who weren’t yet comfortable to sit on plastic stools on a pavement to eat food delivered from a hole in the wall, or a bunsen burner in the gutter. How wrong that decision turned out to be.

Beef was tough as boots, everything that was fried was oily, the waiter kept jabbing his fingers into the food to tell us what to dip into what, and completely failed  to mention that many of the items in the traditional platter were repeated in some of the other starters we ordered.

Green Tangerine - Caustic Candy

Green Tangerine - a quiet courtyard oasis

Please don’t waste your money on dinner here. Have a drink at the lovely Bamboo Bar, but sidestep the monstrous Spices Garden. We spent US$240 for four people eating only starters and mains with one reasonably priced bottle of wine.

Ngon (Quan An Ngon), 18 Phan Boi Chau, Tel: +84 4 3942 8162

Fun, great service, good food. The safe-bet.

It’s loud, it’s packed, but at least it’s packed with tourists and Hanoians alike. Service was very good. It was efficient despite there being about 300 diners there at any one time. They suggested dishes when they thought you’d made the meal unbalanced, and no one has offered to peel my prawns at the table for a very long time. The food was good and the cost very reasonable.

Green Tangerine, 48 Hang Be, Tel: +84 4 3825 1286

I’m a bit sentimental about the Green Tangerine. I’ve been going since it opened in 2003. Its quirky French/Vietnamese fusion works pretty well, the presentation is interesting and I’ve never taken anyone there who hasn’t enjoyed their food and the styling of the restaurant. It’s expensive for a restaurant in Hanoi, but nowhere near Metropole pricing. Sitting inside or out, it’s a great little oasis, especially at lunch time.

Thanh Chuong Palace

One of the houses in Thanh Chuong Palace

Thanh Chuong Palace, Hien Ninh Commune, Day Dieu, Keo Ca Dam, Soc Son Town, Tel: +84 043 793 0667

We had lunch in the restaurant here after looking around the palace. It’s a quirky oddity of a place, and you wouldn’t expect the restaurant of a tourist attraction to serve great food, but our lunch was very tasty, with really generous portions. We enjoyed it sitting out on the terrace overlooking one of the many ponds.

I highly recommend visiting the palace as part of a half-day trip out of town. Exotissimo teamed it with a visit to the Giong Temple which was also beautiful. I rate these guys highly having had their guides in Thailand a couple of weeks ago during a trip on the Anantara Dream in Bangkok, and had friends use them to great success in Laos.

It’s safe to say that we ate well within our comfort zone in Hanoi. We were considering the sensitivities of our guests so were eating only upscale and super-safe.

That said though, apart from The Spices Garden we really did enjoy our food, and I’m looking forward to going back to Hanoi again soon and getting lowdown and local on the pavement.

Nahm Bangkok – food to get on a plane for

Review:

I don’t need much of an excuse to bob down to Bangkok for a weekend from Hong Kong. Who does when you have great shopping, awesome food and cheap massages just 2.5 hrs away?

However, the excuse I’ve been using most for the past couple of years, is that when a movie I particularly want to see opens there before Hong Kong it is permissible for me to go to my favourite cinema to watch it – the wonderful Enigma Shadow Lounge in Siam Paragon.

Now though, I have a new excuse: I have to go to Bangkok because I need to satisfy my addiction to David Thompson’s food.

I ate in Nahm at the Halkin in London a few year’s ago and enjoyed it, but wasn’t blown away. However, having found out more about David Thompson since then and on discovering he’d be opening a restaurant in Bangkok, I had an inkling that with access to the full range of fresh indigenous ingredients, he might do wonders.

After an abortive attempt to go to Nahm in early 2011, twice this year I’ve been to Bangkok, and twice I’ve flown earlier in the day so that I can get to Nahm for dinner. Yes, it’s one of the most expensive restaurants in Thailand, and yes it’s in a hotel (the Metropolitan), and yes, the chef is a farang, but by crikey he puts together some mouthwatering food! This guy has really nailed it.

Now, we all know that the delight of eating in Thailand is that you can get the most wonderful food from the most humble of restaurants and food-stalls. But for a long time it’s been exasperating that there hasn’t been a really exciting restaurant in the capital pushing the envelope of Thai cuisine. The only difference between a good cheap restaurant and a good expensive restaurant was the decor, the wine list, and the lighting.

The chef and the magic:

Thompson is an Aussie who first visited Thailand some 20 years ago and moved there a year later after being utterly seduced by the place. He was very lucky to meet a lady called Sombat Janphetchara whose family worked in the palace, and who had somehow been taught the intricacies of palace cuisine.

The basis of Thai cuisine is its pastes – the marrying together of the vast array of herbs, spices and aromatics in ideal proportions to produce the taste you want, is an art not a science. This is why you will see many of the same dishes on the menu in the north of Thailand as down in the south, but the flavours are very different because they use different ingredients in different proportions in their pastes.

David Thompson seems to possess an extraordinary gift for creating wonderfully complex flavour profiles in his dishes that reveal themselves in stages through each mouthful, and it’s all because of Sombat Janphetchara teaching him how to use herbs and aromatics with extreme care, presence of mind and unending patience.

And that’s it really. That’s what makes eating his food a startling pleasure. I don’t think I’ve eaten a meal where I’ve wanted to concentrate on each mouthful as much as I have at Nahm.

The best chefs in the world almost universally place a number of different elements on a plate that together create a balanced flavour profile for the dish. You pick a little of this, with a little of that and a bit of another to put on your fork to eat, or you have to eat the different elements in turn in a suggested order to experience the flavour that the chef wants to impart.

Not so with David Thompson’s food. The most you will have is a dip, the rest of that flavour profile is just sitting there in the bowl or the plate, innate in the curry, the salad or the parcel before you. That’s the clever part. That’s the magic.

The decor and ambience:

There’s not much point in going into details about the restaurant’s styling. You come here for the food not for the very standard, could-be-anywhere-hotel-breakfast-room decoration.  The ambience can often be rowdy. There are many people who dine here for celebrations and it can get rather noisy on weekend nights, so ideally I’d suggest going on a weekday.

Service:

The initial front of house service can be maddening. Once the food starts arriving it’s been absolutely fine, but to begin with you can easily be forgotten. Stay on the waiters if you feel you have been overlooked just once, and persevere as the food is worth it.

Having said that, the service the last time I went was impeccable, but that might be because I noticed the note “Take Care!” by my name in the reservations book. Why that’s there is another story, but one with ultimately a happy ending…

Choosing your food:

There are some intense flavours in the menu and to get the best out of the meal make sure that you choose dishes that will balance each other.

We were so excited the first time we ate at Nahm that we ordered a lot of the more unusual, pungent and rampantly hot items, and ended up a little overwhelmed by the flavour punches, (there is no manipulation of heat here; if a dish should be fierce with chilli, then fierce it shall be). The second time we went we chose more carefully and created a more satisfying overall meal, rather than just opting to try as many new things as possible.

There is one starter that absolutely no one should go without and sets the tone for the rest of the meal, and that’s the grilled mussel skewers.

Drinks:

There’s a good list of interesting cocktails and a very adequate wine list. I’m used to just plumping for beer with most Asian cuisine, but the sommelier was informed and helpful and we ended up with a Thai wine from Monsoon Valley, which was very decent.

Price:

You can eat à la carte or opt for a menu that gives you the option of choosing one dish from each of the sections – a relish, a salad, a soup, a curry and a stir fry along with a taster of every one of the starters. This menu costs 1700THB++ (US$55) per person which is a complete bargain in my book, but drinks prices are up there with every other 5* hotel in Bangkok, so it can add up. Overall I think Nahm is great value given the quality of the food.

Location:

Ground Floor, The Metropolitan Hotel, Sathorn Tai, Bangkok. Tel: 02-625 3333. It’s next to the Banyan Tree, so if it’s your first time in Bangkok go to Vertigo before or after for drinks.

Summary:

Ignore the service and the decor, insist on a table in a quiet corner when booking and concentrate on the food.

I have no hesitation in saying that Nahm, without doubt, serves the best food in Bangkok at this point in time, and it’s because of David Thompson’s intense passion and deep respect for his adopted home’s food and culture.

Sukhumvit/Ploenchit – Where to sleep, shop, spa and sup in Bangkok

I never tire of Thailand. I don’t think it’s possible to have a bad holiday there, unless you are a muppet and go around smoking drugs and letting coconuts fall on your head.

I never tire of Bangkok either, even though I’ve been there countless times.  It’s just a great city, but – and this is important – it’s only great as long as you know how to get around and don’t sit in traffic jams for hours on end.

causticcandy_bangkok

If you only have a long weekend or just a couple of days in Bangkok then I would heartily suggest staying somewhere along the Sukhumvit Road or the beginning of Ploenchit (they lead into each other).

As the traffic is still atrocious you do need to base yourself close to a Skytrain station preferably, or an underground.

Any bars/restaurants etc outside this immediate vicinity mainly have their own posts elsewhere on the blog (eg, if it’s your first time in Bangkok you really do have to go for sundowners at Vertigo at the Banyan Tree but it’s a way away from Sukhumvit in Silom).

Stay:

The Eugenia on Sukhumvit Soi 31 for small, chic and sophisticated.

Hyatt Erawan or Conrad, for big 5* chains that are both very close to Gaysorn and Siam Paragon for shopping/cinemas/Skytrain junctions/on-site spas.

Do not stay anywhere near the Grand Palace unless you are only going to be doing siteseeing/eating in that area or along the river. The traffic is enough to try the patience of the Buddha.

Eat:

Around Sukhumvit:

Vendome is good (if French and formal), next to the Eugenia. Nice setting in a house with a sweet garden and terrace. Big wine list, and a couple of private rooms up stairs.

Cabbages and Condoms – standard Thai fare, and is always worth a meal if you have time as the service is laughably haphazard – but it’s all for a good charitable cause.

Kuppa at 39 Sukhumvit Soi 16, lovely for lunch, huge, airy and industrial. Tel: 02663-0495

DB Bradley Room in the Eugenia. Now I haven’t eaten here, I was thwarted by the traffic last time I was in BKK when I was trying out a hotel in another part of town. It gets good reviews, and it is the most stunning room – hand painted wallpaper with gold leaf, and only about 8 tables in toto. Super romantic.

It’s fusion, but apparently very good. Someone please go and let me know what it’s like as I’ve been dying to go here for months!

Avoid: Lan Na Thai (great venue, poor food), Spring & Summer (again great venue, poor food).

Bed Supperclub -If you haven’t been to BKK before and you are under 25, then this venue is still something fun and different to go to, but bear in mind you eat lounging around on beds, so it’s not for everyone’s digestive system (must bring ID with you for age-verification even if you are 90), and it’s still style over substance.

I’m putting non-Sukhumvit restaurants in other posts. It is worth heading out and braving the traffic only in the evenings, and it’s certainly easier to get across town starting here, way out west than it is, starting off round the Palace or River areas.

causticcandy_bangkoktaxi

I know I haven’t mentioned many Thai restaurants here, but I’d suggest that your hotel concierge knows where the best ones are in your district, or where their favourite ones are.

Thai’s think that all farang are pussies and can’t possibly take their food as hot as the locals do. If you like it hot, do impress upon your waiters/concierge that you want it proper spicy. I sometimes feel like I have to down a bottle of Tabasco to get them to believe me.

Sup:

Face: Although the Thai restaurant here (Lan Na Thai), is nothing to write home about, Face, the bar, is great. Serves good cocktails and is in a stunning teak housing complex.

Bed Supperclub: Again, one for the kids, but it’s still quite fun.

Q Bar: still fun here too, but better if you are in a bigger group as at least it’s easier for the boys to avoid the hookers (if they want to…).

BKK has lost it’s party really, after the crackdown. If you hang out in some of the bigger clubs though it’s easy to meet people and there is a big scene in underground after-parties (in fact most of them seem to be on roofs).

Soi Nana and Soi Cowboy. As long as you’re not with your parents, or clients, then having a drink in both these Sois can be fun if you haven’t been to BKK before and you’re undecided on the moral dilemma of it all. It’s certainly the better end of the prostitution business, if there is a better end. I have no issue with girls (or boys, or lady boys) dancing round with next to nothing on, or shooting ping pong balls out of their more private orifices, but the take-it-home side of things does make me wince.

For a good overview of prostitution in Asia, that actually gives you some decent context read Louise Brown’s Sex Slaves - the trafficking of women in Asia. The content is useful and enlightening, even if the delivery is heavy-handed.

Day spas:

Ah, one of my favourite pursuits in Thailand.

Lavana Spa: I love this spa, it’s on Soi 12

I am a massive herbal ball massage fan, and they have five different varieties here, made up of different herbs for different purposes (you can even watch the ladies making them, and buy them in the shop, all their products are made in-house).

This is a big spa, they have nearly 50 rooms and it’s a bit of a labyrinth. Rooms are crisp and clean, and their therapists are superb. It’s actually quite an art to perform a herbal ball massage correctly and this is the best I’ve encountered. It’s not as plush as a 5* hotel, but it’s still stylish, at least half the price and it’s really very good. BHT850 (less than HK$200) for 90 minutes of massage is staggeringly reasonable. You’d be hard pressed to wait more than 10mins for a therapist if you walked off the street (although booking is advisable at busy times), and it’s open until 2am. Perfect.

Mulberry: I also love this spa, but mainly for foot massages. Soi 23.

I am a complete reflexology glutton – an addict even. The two best foot massages I’ve ever had have been here, and then at Dragonfly in Beijing.

The surroundings are very sweet and homely here – it’s set in a big wooden house with gardens, so it’s a very enjoyable place to spend some quality time. I’d go to Lavana which is very close by for other massages and treatments though. I had a facial here which wasn’t brilliant, and their herbal massage didn’t stack up against Lavana either. Again open late, so great for a spot of relexology on the way home from the pub, or if you are suffering from jet lag. Blissful.

Shopping:

Malls:

Siam Paragon and Gaysorn are the top end malls and where most of your designer shops are. I have found that for men especially, the designers here don’t carry many sizes, and it’s difficult to find anything in manly, European sizes, let alone US sizes. I’ve also found that prices are higher than in HK, so I’ve never bought anything top end in BKK.

Siam Discovery Centre is a bit more furniture, nicknacks focussed (even has a Habitat, dontyerknow), some nice shops in here.

Central World (the newest in this strip), Siam Center, MBK, Siam Square and Siam Discovery have all the rest of the things you might be interested in really – its a great conglomeration of shopping, just a very useful place to go and get your acquisition fever out of the way in one fell swoop. Really don’t bother going anywhere else if you only have a short period of time.

Siam Centre is one of my favourites even though it’s a bit old and cramped, as it has a Boots (for all you Brits out there), as well as Jaspal and a slew of funky Thai designer shops (like Fly Now), as well as a couple of great shoe shops in the form of Lyn (cheap and cheerful), and one which stocks shoes by Obsession (I’m not sure the whole shop is called Obsession, I’ll update that later but it’s almost opposite one of the exits of Jaspal). Anyway, suffice to say that especially on the level where Boots is, which is the skytrain level, there are loads of interesting shops.

Soi 23:

There are some very nice homeware type shops up around the Mulberry Spa, on the walk from the Asoke skytrain station to the Eugenia hotel.

Almeta Silk: Beautiful made to order fabrics, choose the thread count and the pantone colour.  You walk in and after 5 minutes wonder how on earth people choose, as you decide all you really want to do is deck your house out in the entire rainbow of colours they have on offer. Great for design freaks who know exactly what shade they need. These guys are used to handling overseas orders. Lots of pre-made merch on sale too. 20/3 Soi Prasarnmitr, Sukhumvit Soi 23. Tel:662 2041413.

Incredible & Eligible: These two furniture/nicknack shops are run by the same guy who is a designer. Incredible is stuffed with the antiques and oddities that inspire him, and Eligible houses the new designs bourne out of these inspirations.

Think old telescopes, hurricane lamps, ancient mirrors, stuffed birds, overstuffed sofas. It’s difficult to explain and I don’t have a photo. Just take a look at the Eugenia Hotel interiors on their website and this is the style of things you’ll find in these two shops. Eligible is at 116/2 Soi 23 (tel: 662 662 8053) and Incredible is at 116/4 (tel 662 260 9690). Really lovely staff too, and you can also commission bespoke pieces which is good news!

Pic from the Eugenia website: don't you want to stay there?!
Pic from the Eugenia website: don’t you want to stay there?!

These are my standout stores on this Soi, but take a wander as there are all sorts. For a thorough source I can highly recommend the Luxe Guide to BKK.  I’m not so bowled over by their restaurant recommendations – (to be fair this may well be more a matter of personal taste rather than bad suggestions), but for shopping they are very useful guides if you don’t have a lot of time (and being proper pocket sized, you can avoid looking too much like a tourist).

Cinema.

Quite possibly Bangkok has the best cinema in the world. It’s in the Siam Paragon mall and is called the Enigma Shadow Lounge. The cinema consists of a bar where you can sit and have drinks before the film, and the cinema itself.

There are around 17 booths which are basically 6ft by 6ft beds for two people. There are stacks of silken cushions and pillows as well as silk duvets for you to lie back in and relax. Totally sumptuous. To finish off this experience there is waitress service where you just raise your hand and they come scurrying down to bring you your next beer/G&T/plate of nachos. The screen is huge and you are totally private in your own high sided booth. Bloody marvellous. I have to admit that my recent weekend trips to Bangkok have all been worked around me being able to see the biggest films of the year at Enigma.

This has now become a members’ only cinema, but my hotel concierges have never had a problem getting tickets for us, so that’s probably the best way to sort it out.

One thing to note: Whenever you go to the cinema in Thailand, they play the national anthem before the film and you need to show your respect and stand up.

Places worth making a dash to away from Sukhumvit:

I love Jim Thompson’s house (and it’s on a skytrain line). I must have been there 5 times, and never stop enjoying it. I love the garden, I love the styling, I love the colours, and I actually really love the shop.  The handbags and scarves are particular favourites, (there are good branches of the shop in lots of the top malls in BBK including the ones mentioned above).

Vertigo at the Banyan Tree. Bar literally on the roof, nestled amongst the air-conditioning units 61 stories up. Spectacular. Well worth a visit at sundown, and best to arrive at that time to get a good spot. It is a bitch to get to unless you are staying in Silom, so I suggest leaving an hour to get there if you are in and around Siam Square, longer if you are at the Eugenia.

smashing photo from their website
smashing photo from their website

Cafe de Laos (in Silom like the Banyan Tree, so good idea to go here for supper after your aperitif at Vertigo for some really good Laotian/Isaan food), and Suan Thip, a fantastic half day river trip with lunch or dinner.

Tips and notes:

Thai’s like tips as much as the rest of us. Try and take pink/orange taxis as they are newer. Avoid tuk-tuks unless you are going somewhere close by and the traffic is awful as at least the tuk-tuks can squeeze down the sides. Keep your handbags out of sight, and expect to smell of exhaust fumes and kerosene afterwards. I admit to taking a motocycle taxi once, as I was shopping and would have missed my flight home if I hadn’t. I wouldn’t make a habit of it.
causticcandy_bangkoktuktuk

Use your concierge to the max. The Luxe guide is good for shops, not so hot for restaurants. Nancy Chandler’s Map of Bangkok is also incredibly useful. So useful, that even I, who hates looking like a tourist, will get it out on a street corner to consult. I don’t bother with any other guides than these. Pick up restaurant/events/bar recommendations from the listings mags like BK Mag and Metro amongst others. You can pick the guides up easily around BKK, but best is at the Asia Books store next to the ATMs outside Siam Skytrain station as it’s always a good place to start a weekend in BKK.

Remember to tell your waiters how hot you want your food, and if you don’t ask or tell them, it will come to you almost bland because of all the years of bloody package tourists who can’t take their heat.

Danang – Easily doable for a long weekend from HK

Getting to Danang in Vietnam is surprisingly smooth from Hong Kong.

If you travel with hand luggage only, you can leave HK early morning on a Friday and get to your resort in Danang or to Hoi An in time for lunch (the transfer is a bit of a squeeze in Hanoi but we made it no problem – you arrive at 9:40 and your next flight is 10:05, but if you miss that you can get the 14:30 which gets you in at 15:45pm). On Sunday you can catch a 16:35 flight back to Hanoi that connects to the HK flight that finds you back there at 22:50pm. So, very doable for a quick weekend away somewhere a bit different.

Danang Nam Hai Caustic Candy

Of the Danang resorts I would choose a villa at the Nam Hai (review here), although I do still have a soft spot for the Furama Resort as it was the first decent hotel in the area, cheap in comparison to the Nam Hai and very adequate. (The latest property someone tried to flog me was the Hyatt Regency Residences which look horrid.  Can’t believe the government have allowed 12 storey high buildings in this area. Very sad).

Nam Hai Caustic Candy

If you want to stay in Hoi An instead then I highly recommend the Vinh Hung 1 right in the centre of the old town. It’s an old teak Chinese merchant’s house and is really sweet, it’s very reasonable, staff are welcoming and the service is good.

Vinh hung1.jpg

In terms of things to do, you can either just chill out in your villa or on the beach, go into Hoi An which is very much worth a snoop around, take river trips, play at various watersports in the sea, visit the ancient Cham ruins, or in fact go into Danang, which I think is a thoroughly pleasant town and has some great street restaurants and some hilarious bars and clubs.

Restaurants.

The restaurants that I have been to and enjoyed (apart from the ones in the Nam Hai which are really very good), are thus:

Hoi An: Brother’s Cafe. Venue is lovely. If you go for supper and sit in the garden which is by the river, do load up with mozzie repellent and get them to light coils. This is the most expensive restaurant in Hoi An, but is not leaps and bounds ahead of the competition in terms of food.

Cargo Club – run by expats, good food, lively. Has a balcony that overlooks the river, went for supper.

Saigon Times Club – run by some guys from Saigon, has a large roof terrace and interesting interior. Food is good. Gives Brothers a run for it’s money.

Cafe des Amis and Tam Tam Cafe – tended to go to these for lunch and for daytime drinks – Cafe des Amis, hasn’t had great reviews for dinner.

All these restaurants (apart from Brothers which is a bit of a walk) are within about 150yards of each other and the Vinh Hung 1 Hotel in the two roads that run parallel to the river.

Danang:  There are loads of little street restaurants in Danang that open up at night. Just pick one that’s busy and sit down.  Even if the waiters don’t speak English or French, then fellow diners will always help out.

Apsara: Lonely Planet recommends this as the best restaurant to go to in Danang, but it was nothing special in terms of venue, ambience or food especially after dining in Hoi An, and was overpriced for what it was. Really don’t bother – I’d just as soon eat on a plastic stool on the street.

Camel Club: We also stopped by here for a drink as it had been touted as the best club in town by Lonely Planet again (they really didn’t get things right in Danang…) and it was absolutely hilarious. Riotous techno, seizure inducing strobes, sleazy old expats rubbing themselves up against young ladies of negotiable affection, and to our eternal but rather politically incorrect delight, a group of Little People who got really drunk and aggressive with one another on the dance floor.

All in all, for a weekend away from HK it’s very easy to find things to do around Danang, it’s incredibly photogenic, and of course you are in Vietnam so the food is bloody lovely.

Resotel – Super chilled hideaway on the River Kwai

Review:

The Resotel is hidden away on the River Kwai about 40min past Kanchanaburi.  I love this part of Thailand, so jungly and quiet.

So jungly you can barely see the bungalows

The hotel is a mish-mash of little bungalows in the jungle with a great swimming pool, restaurant, spa, lovely gardens and a river deck you can hang out on and while away the time reading a book.

resotel river kwai caustic candy deck

The usual (and fun) way to get to it is by boat which you pick up 1km down the river where there is a car park. You can drive round the long way though fording the river further up, but unless you have mobility problems then I wouldn’t bother.

We aren’t talking 5* here, but it’s clean and charming and a lot better than the other hotels I’ve stayed at in the area including the Royal River Kwai and the Oriental Kwai (both were fine, just didn’t have a patch on the Resotel, and their locations aren’t as good). There are around 90 bungalows in total, but as they are spread out through the gardens you don’t realise there are so many.  There is also a cultural centre with meeting facilities and a mini-mart, but these are at the back of the plot behind the main building, so you don’t need to even see them unless you go looking for them.

Now, I don’t know what they do to the food here, but it is just delicious. It’s very typical Thai food, all the old favourites, nothing fancy, but it’s executed perfectly. I love it.

They have fantastic masseuses and a sala for the purpose up in the eaves of the main building which is open to the river (Go for the Herbal Massage, which mixes traditional Thai massage with the use of a big ball of herbs to gently knead your body, it is unbeatable).  The main building is a huge teak edifice which is open to the elements – it’s lovely to sit in the evenings on the terraces and listen to all the wildlife.

The concierge is very helpful and they will organise trips for you, and private cars to take you to and from Bangkok if you want.

This hotel is part of a group that has some other interesting looking accommodation in the area, including staying on river rafts with no electricity, and staying in posh tents near Hell Fire Pass.  I’m intending on trying both of these next time I’m up.

Price: Varies by season and who you book through, but it’s about US$100 a night for a double bungalow, or US$130 for the best bungalow which has a river view and a jacuzzi. Do book ahead as it’s a popular place, especially now the Russians have found it.

Note for the feeble pansies:  You are in the jungle so you will get big spiders, plenty of mozzies, geckos of all sizes, snakes and the odd monitor lizard. If you’re scared of wildlife, just suck it up and get on with it.  This is a great place to stay.

Suan Thip – great way to spend a few hours in Bangkok

Review:

Follow these instructions carefully and you will have a great half day in Bangkok, and one of the best Thai meals in the capital.

suan thip caustic candy

1) Get your lifestyle manager (I have mine through my Vertu mobile phone ) or your hotel concierge to organise a longtail boat for half a day’s river trip.  We paid Bht5000 for 5 hours (no doubt you can get it cheaper, but I like to spread my money into the economy).

2) Set off around 10:30am and go on an explore around the Klongs for an hour or so.  Well worth it to see the wildlife, the temples and businesses along the canals.

3) After an hour or so head upriver to Suan Thip, it takes around 60mins and it’s just fascinating seeing all the action on the river.  The barges, the military installations, the temples, the timber yards, the houses etc.  It’s a lovely way to spend an hour relaxing whilst watching the world go by.

suan thip river bangkok caustic candy

4) Stuff face at Suan Thip which is a lovely old complex comprising a restaurant/cooking school/banquet hall and a beautiful garden. (If you are there in the daytime then ask to sit in a sala by the river.  At night I’m not sure how horrific the mozzies might be, so consider carefully whether you want inside or out for dinner).

5) Roll back in your boat and digest the huge amount of food you are likely to have eaten whilst you whizz back to BKK, in time for a shopping spree and a massage before dinner.

Suan Thip is very popular at night, and I’m sure it would be all sorts of romantik in the garden but you would miss seeing all the life along the river if you went in the dark. Lunch wasn’t very busy so it was super relaxing.

Food: Surprisingly it’s Thai… They have a huge menu, and they do pride themselves on showcasing the country’s cuisine, and it’s really very good.  We particularly like the more jungle style soups and curries, whose flavours were incredibly delicate yet still lovely and hot, certainly not your bog standard fare.

If you like your Thai food proper Thai-hot then do impress this on your waiter as they automatically tone it down for foreigners.  The other great thing is that all the dishes come in small or large portions, so if you are a couple you can let rip and order lots of different things – very smart thinking that restauranteur.

Ambience: Just lovely in the salas in the garden. Insects chirupping, the occasional roar of boat engines, surrounded by palms and pot-plants. There was a massive tour group in the main restaurant when we went and I was glad to be out in the garden.  As I say – if you go for dinner make sure you have the mozzie repellant.

Service:  Very good service.  Staff are very friendly and knowledgeable about the food.

Price: Incredibly reasonably priced for the quality of the food and the venue.  Delightful meal, around US$20-30 a head – good value.

Location: 17 Soknai,Wat Koo Road, Pakkret. Tel: +66-2583-3748

You can also get here by going to Mo Chit Skytrain station and then it’s a 10km taxi ride – but why would you bother when the river trip is so much part of the experience.

Open: Daily from 11am to 11pm, with last orders at 10pm.

Note: If you’re not a regular to BKK then take the advice and make sure you send a lunch-box down to your boatman at the restaurant and if you buy food and drinks on the canals then share with him too. Sometimes when you are enjoying yourself these things slip your mind.

Code Sharing Disaster – Worst Airline Meal?

Now I have to make plain from the outset that this post is not about a recent airplane meal.  It was over a year ago that this occurred, but as I was going through some photos this made me howl with laughter again, so thought I’d share.

The pictures were taken on a Cathay Pacific code-share flight with Vietnam Airlines, and this was my and my friend’s lunches:

Worst airline meal?

Worst airline meal?

How do you embed carrots into the flesh of meat?

How do you embed carrots into the flesh of meat?

These appetising hunks of flesh were served to us covered in gravy but fortunately I spotted the strange sight of carrots embedded in one piece of meat and, like archaeologists, we went on to discover artefacts of breathtaking fascination.

Note the masses of congealed blood as well as the multi-various tubing and great insulations of fat and connective tissue – not what you expect on any international airline, and certainly not a partner of CX.

The best thing about this meal was that it kept myself and my friend in almost pant-wetting hilarity throughout the flight, not least when my friend pressed down on a piece of meat with her fork and gravy spurted out one of the tubes, slapping her wetly in the face.

Happy Days.

p.s. If anyone has better photos of a bad airline meal, I would love to see them – please let me know!

Cafe de Laos, Bangkok – Bring me my sossidge.

Review:

If you haven’t been to Laos, then you really should.  It is a beautiful, simple, spiritual place with awesomely hot food, and one particular dish that I will kill for – Laos sausage (the very good ones in Thai Hut in Wanchai, still pale in comparison to the real thing).

Laos

If you need some more convincing then the next time you’re in Bangkok go try the food.  There are a few Laotian/Isaan restaurants in BKK, the most well known one being Vientiane Kitchen.  We were put off this one by the concierge and the fact that they have a band and dancing, which isn’t really my bag, so instead we went for Cafe de Laos.

Cafe de Laos

Food: Very tasty food.  Laos sausage-tastic.  These are rustic, garlicky slightly fermented sausages served with fresh coriander leaves, slices of chili and peanuts.  Bloody love them.  The beer marinated pork neck and  jungle curry were also really good. Quite a lot of interesting dishes with more of a bent towards river fish and shellfish rather than seafood as Laos is landlocked, so flavours are quite delicate.  DO tell them that you eat food hot like they do, otherwise they will tone down on the chillis for sure, thinking that you are a useless nancy farang.

Drinks: They serve Beer Lao which is always a bonus.  They even have a wine list, although I’m not really up for pairing Laos food with wine yet.  Beer is perfect for me!

Ambience: Restaurant is in an old colonial house, and it’s pleasant enough, but the main ground floor room where we ate was rather bright and lacked any vibe at all, which is a shame because the food is very good.  There is also a lot of wood and tiles, so very little material that damps down noise.  You do feel a bit like you are in a National Trust tea-room in the UK.

Service: Service was a little slow, and fortunately for us they actually forgot one dish which was fine as we were stuffed.

Price: Very reasonable, can’t remember exactly, but it was very good value for the quality of food.

Location: In Silom, 16 Silom Road Soi 19. Tel +662 6352 3389

There are a few more Laos and Isaan restaurants in Bangkok which I would try over going back to this restaurant, simply because I believe there must be somewhere with better ambience.  Can’t fault the food though.

Where is the truly original, Modern Thai restaurant in Bangkok?

As you’ll know I can be a bit agressive when it comes to reviewing restaurants. Mahanaga was getting rave reviews last year and was meant to be the next big thing in modern Thai cuisine.

We spoke to a concierge at the Peninsula, and a couple of Thai friends in Bangkok, and the resounding opinion was – nice decor, food ain’t much.  More Asian-confusion than modern Thai, so we swerved.

Come on Bangkok – we need a Demon Chef down in your city!  I love, love, love Thai food, especially Isaan.  Be bold, be creative, be focussed and create somewhere to blow my mind.

Lan Na Thai and Face, Bangkok – too farang by far

Review:

Disappointing juxtaposition here.  Great bar, crap restaurant.

The venue that houses Face, Lan Na Thai and Hazara it stunning.  Beautiful teak housing complex, fishponds, palms, soaring ceilings, nooks, crannies and separate buildings.  It’s well hidden behind big gates and a high white wall, so it’s a lovely feeling to discover it and leave bustling Bangkok behind.

Face Bangkok

If you haven’t been to BKK before then you really have to go and have a few drinks at Face, it is really lovely – good cocktails, great surroundings, good service etc.

I haven’t tried their Indian food (Hazara), but the Thai food (Lan Na Thai) is very disappointing and expensive for what it is.  Far too farang friendly, the heat is completely toned down and just dull, dull dull – don’t bother if you like it fiery.

Location: 29 Sukhumvit Road, Soi 38, Bangkok. Tel: 662 713 6048. Very Close to Skytrain station Thong Lo, couple of mins walk.