Elephant’s Leg


SIX OF THE BEST: BANGKOK RESTAURANTS

Continuing my “Six of the best” series marking my six years in Thailand, I present my pick of restaurants in the Bangkok region (in no particular order).

1. GOLD BAY LEAF (upper Sukhumvit)

Hidden gem

The power of word of mouth is evidenced in this excellent eatery which, if you didn’t know it’s reputation, you’d probably walk straight past, thinking it just another of the thousands of shophouse diners found all over the country.

Folding tables, check. Plastic chairs, check. Barely decorated walls, check. So far, so unremarkable. But tiny, open kitchen capable of whipping up miracles from a menu of more than 100 items, both Thai and international? Check, absolutely.

Chef Chai Boonlert is classically trained and has worked at several top-notch hotels, but the pride he takes in his work dictates that he no longer wishes to cook someone else’s recipes, or follow someone else’s menu. Consequently, he set up the Gold Bay Leaf – a modest affair, for sure, but one that he has absolute quality control over.

With no advertising budget and no big-name print reviews, Gold Bay Leaf succeeds on personal recommendations and social media buzz. In other words, the kind of reputation you can only earn with results. Try it for yourself.

Gold Bay Leaf, Sukhumvit Soi 101/1, Bang Na, Bangkok

Nearest public transport: Punnawhitthi or Udom Suk BTS Map: click here

Open: 5pm-3am daily, except public holidays

Tel: 02 747 6381 Web: https://goldbayleaf.wordpress.com/

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2. TRAJAI STEAK HOUSE (Sathorn)

Bucking the trend

Bucking the trend

You may have read in a previous post how I think steak is one of the foreign foods that Thailand does very badly. Of course, such claims usually carry disclaimers, and there are indeed exceptions to the rule. And while places in Bangkok that do good steak tend to be pricey, Trajai boasts both good quality western meals and prices closer to Thai costs.

Steak of all denominations can be found here, from beef classics to chicken and fish and even more exotic offerings such as crocodile and ostrich. You can try them individually or in combos. My favourite item, though, strays from the western path and into Thailand’s northeast. Yes, Thai steak disappoints more often than not, but Trajai’s Isan steak is a satisfying plate of tangy comfort food.

The poor quality of the average Thai steak is not in the meat itself, but rather the amateurish cut selection. But Trajai knows its meat, and the grilled tenderloin is cooked just right and dished up with fiery jim jaew sauce and sticky rice.

If the oddities of crocodile and ostrich pique your interest, they’re also well worth an order.

Trajai Steak House, 3 Soi Sribamphen, Thung Mahamek,Bangkok

Nearest public transport: Lumpini MRT Map: click here

Open: 11am-11pm daily

Tel:  02 679 7889 Web: Facebook page

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3. NAMUSKAAR (Lower Sukhumvit)

Hot stuff

Hot stuff

Similarly to my Thai steak rant, I have also bemoaned the poor standard of Indian curry often found in Thailand. But, again, there are exceptions, and the best of these is Namuskaar, off Sukhumvit Soi 8.

Housed in a low-key place tucked down a tiny, nondescript alley, no fanfare is made of Namuskaar, unlike its brightly lit yet invariably inferior counterparts in the main tourist strips. The menu is not extensive, but it doesn’t need to be, as quality over quantity is the key here.

For anyone already au fait with Indian food, none of the menu items will be new to you, but they are all very well done and, importantly, the spicier offerings deliver the kick that is missing elsewhere.

My personal favourites are the chilli chicken, the madras or vindaloo. Deboning the meat costs more, but it is recommended to save yourself the hassle and to get more meat. The garlic mixed naan is a perfect accompaniment to a curry, and the salted lime juice or lassis are more refreshing than they sound.

If you’re tired of the bland, disappointing Indian fare that is so typical of Bangkok, head to Namuskaar.

Namuskar, 9 Sukhumvit Soi 8, Khlong Toei Neua, Bangkok

Nearest public transport: Nana BTS Map: click here

Open: 11am-11pm daily

Tel:  02 255 1869 Web: Facebook page

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4. BAIYOKE SKY (Ratchathewi)

Sky-scraping

Sky-scraping

Dining (almost) atop Thailand’s tallest building is a must-do experience. No, the food is not hi-faluten, but it’s perfectly acceptable, and the international buffet boasts enough variety to hold the interest. Yes, there are plenty of other sky-high dining establishments in the city, but again, this is the very highest, and importantly, it’s very affordable.

720 baht will grant you a window-side table on the 83rd floor, two hours of all-you-can-eat fare (but no drinks) and access to the revolving viewing platform at the very top of the 304-metre-tall skyscraper. The food on offer includes Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Western, salad, fruit, ice cream, a grilling station and a personal table-top nabe hotpot stove. But the main course is the feast for the eyes that accompanies your meal, be it lunch on a sunny day or at night with the full scale of the city evident as its illumination stretches to infinity.

After the meal, head to the viewing deck and watch Bangkok revolve beneath you, spot landmarks and be amazed at how small the other buildings look; even those which look enormous from the ground.

If you don’t want a full meal, you can also buy a ticket for the observation deck only for 300 baht, which includes one drink at the bar on the 83rd floor.

Baiyoke Sky is an ideal date location for those familiar with Bangkok, and a striking visitor attraction for tourists.

Baiyoke Sky, 222 Ratchaprarop Road, Ratchathewi, Bangkok

Nearest public transport: Ratchaprarop ARL Map: click here

Open: 11am-11pm daily

Tel:  02 656 3000 Web: http://baiyokesky.baiyokehotel.com/

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5. SALA RATTANAKOSIN (Rattanakosin)

Wat Arun from Sala

Wat Arun from Sala

A list of best restaurants is perhaps incomplete without something a bit more high-end, and while there are glut of such establishments in Bangkok, few of them boast enough character to separate themselves from the crowd. Sala Rattanakosin, though, stands out for the several reasons, and for one reason most of all – the view.

Executive chef Tony Wrigley reckons his restaurant boasts the best view in Bangkok, and he might be right. While there are myriad sky-high eateries around town, Sala sits right at ground level, riverside on the Chao Phraya, and so close that the water almost laps at your feet. And slap-bang across the water looms the magnificent Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), one of Thailand’s most iconic buildings. After dark, the temple lights up in all its glory, while silhouetted boats float by in front of it. It’s a location and a sight that can’t be beat.

The food, too, is well recommended. The menu offers a balance of Thai, western and fusion, and Thai diners who’ve eaten at Sala will attest that, indeed, a farang can rustle up local fare just as good as the natives can make. The prices are below average for the standard of food and style of restaurant,  making it an ideal spot for dates or special occasions without breaking the bank. Or, if you just want drinks, the upstairs bar offers the same grandiose view. Sala is also a boutique hotel, and situated as it is in the heart of the old city and all its tourist attractions, it would make for a great starting point for any newly arrived holidaymakers.

Sala Rattanakosin, 39 Maharat Road, Rattanakosin Island, Bangkok

Nearest public transport:  Tha Tien Pier Map: click here

Open: Noon-11pm daily

Tel:  02 622 1388 Web: http://www.salaresorts.com/rattanakosin/

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6. JAREUNG (Rangsit)

Fried crocodile

And now for something completely different.

Jareung is the only restaurant in the Bangkok area that offers aharn pa, or, literally, wild food. While its produce actually comes from farms, Jareung aims to replicate the fare you might find in the deepest jungles of southern Thailand. Such communities live off whatever they can catch in the forests and rivers, and the food is usually highly spiced so that it keeps longer where electricity – and thus refrigeration – is not available. So expect oddities such as crocodile, frog, eel, wild boar, wild chicken, rabbit, deer, goat and the restaurant’s showpiece, cobra, cooked up in curries, stir-fries and broths using herbs and spices you might not find in standard Thai fare. Less adventurous diners can try the recipes with ordinary chicken, pork, fish, and so on.

The “wild” experience is enhanced by Jareung being a little out of town, in a leafy suburb, tucked away from the noise and traffic, and quite hard to find. Jareung is situated in Phathum Thani – Bangkok’s neighbouring northern province – down a side road off Phahon Yothin Road, a major artery out of the capital that stretches all the way to Burma. The nearest point of reference is Future Park Rangsit, a huge mall. Your best bet if unfamiliar with the area and/or if you can’t speak Thai is to go with a local friend or take a taxi and ask the driver to call the restaurant for directions.

Jareung, 39/14 Moo 3, Khlong 1, Phahon Yothin Road, Khlong Luang, Phathum Thani

Nearest public transport: Don Muang SRT Map: none

See also

Tel: 02 516 9274 Web: none

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See also: SIX OF THE BEST: THAI MOVIES

SIX OF THE BEST: BOXING EVENTS



ANOTHER YEAR IN PARADISE

Sorry to use a cliché, but the past 12 months have continued to be spent in tropical Thailand, and while Bangkok lacks the beaches and tranquility that most would associate with an earthly Eden, it has, for the most part, been a year that was good to me.

What a shame that the country’s political scene is once again threatening to spoil 2014 almost as soon as it starts, but for now my focus is on what did happen, rather than what might, as I sum up 2013.

FAMILY

Grandma taking a break from one of our treks

Grandma taking a break from one of our treks

Thankfully, all my loved ones remained fit and well last year, including my three 80-something grandparents. Most importantly, my Scottish Grandma, who has always been full of vigour, has remained so since the death of Grandpa in 2012. If anything, she has thrived, having now been freed from the duties of caring for him virtually full time in the decade or so before he passed away. She has travelled, met her great-grandchildren and been busier than ever in her community. On top of this, when I visited her in June, we enjoyed some brisk walks amid the glorious Highland scenery and she set a pace that would put many people half her age to shame. Long may this continue!

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5 FOREIGN FOODS THAT THAILAND DOES VERY BADLY
Yuck!

Yuck!

Thailand justifiably has a reputation for producing some of the world’s best food, and as with any national cuisine, the best Thai food can be found in the country itself. Thais who travel will often bemoan the inferior quality of Thai food overseas, while foreigners who have visited here will never look at another country’s green curry in quite the same way again. Hell, I once had the misfortune of ordering a plate of pad Thai in Manchester and finding they substituted tamarind sauce for tomato ketchup!

Yet exactly the same logic can be applied in Thailand – if you’re looking for good foreign food, you might be best off going to the country in question. Just because the local food in Thailand can be mind-blowing, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the kitchens of the Land of Smiles can perform similar culinary feats with dishes from abroad.

People who grow up with a certain type of food know it best. Add in the scarcity of certain ingredients in certain countries, plus how relatively new some foreign food is to Thailand, and stir in some peculiar local twists, tastes and takes on foreign dishes, and you have…

5 FOREIGN FOODS THAT THAILAND DOES VERY BADLY

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BALI HAIS AND LOWS – 5 DAYS IN INDONESIA’S TOURIST HAVEN
Balinese Hindu architecture

Balinese Hindu architecture

Last month I travelled to Bali, Indonesia, in what was primarily a social visit, as I have a friend who lives and works there. It hadn’t really occurred to me to visit Bali before, being that is an uber-touristy destination, but I figured that I would see more than beaches and bars with the combination of a local friend and my own inquisitive style of travelling. And so it was. As expected, the main tourist area of Kuta didn’t hold my attention, but some other parts of the island – unfortunately time constraints limited me to the south – were charming.

My thoughts on what I saw of Bali are as follows. It is not a chronological travelogue; more like a scrapbook of impressions and recommendations. Continue reading



RUNGSAN AND THE REWARD FOR HONESTY

Rungsan and Jamie

“Hey, where you go?” “How much you pay?” “Meter not work.” Phrases that are all-too familiar for anybody who has been to  Bangkok, beginning as soon as you leave the arrivals area of the airport and following you all along downtown,  around the visitor attractions and surrounding your hotel.  Yes, it’s the hawking call of the notorious Bangkok taxi driver.

There are an estimated 60,000 of them in the city, and to be fair, the majority of them are reasonable enough. It’s just the majority of them do not congregate at the airport, the tourist traps, the nightspots, the malls and the big hotels. It is the unscrupulous few who dominate these places, who can spot a freshly arrived holidaymaker at a hundred paces, who can speak enough English to negotiate a con, and who foster the negative image many visitors take home of the corrupt cabbie.

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THE THAI SMILE: LOST IN BANGKOK, FOUND IN KO SICHANG

Ko Sichang offers Thai countryside atmosphere and attitudes by the sea

Thailand’s image needs all the help it can get right now. Last month’s dramatic footage of bomb sites and gun fights across Bangkok played out internationally and many countries have yet to lift their travel warnings to the erstwhile Land of Smiles.

For sure, confidence has been rocked, and even beyond the photos of war on the streets, the reputation of Thai people as gentle, benevolent Buddhists has been tarnished by displays of downright ugly behaviour during such fractious times.

Whether the protesters promising – and almost succeeding – to turn Bangkok into a “sea of fire”, or their opponents cheering and swearing as the death toll neared a hundred, there was precious little positive humanity on display.

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THE AFTERMATH OF ANARCHY
Downtown Bangkok goes up in flames, May 19. (Photo by http://www.benowenbrowne.com)

As Bangkok burned, I made good my escape. Evacuated from my workplace as Red Shirts descended on the road to my office, with their brothers bombing and torching dozens of important and iconic buildings around the city, I met my girlfriend Waew and together we headed for Hua Hin, a seaside retreat a couple of hours’ drive south.

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BANGKOK ON THE BRINK OF CIVIL WAR?

Red Shirts on Silom Road

War zone. The brink of anarchy. Bangkok burning.

Front-page headlines from the past few days in the Bangkok Post which are in no way an exaggeration.

The anti-government protests by the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), or “Red Shirts”, have been going on for two months now, and friends and family back home who’ve seen dramatic news footage have enquired about my safety, to which I had always replied that “it looks much worse than it is”, and that I was completely safe so long as I stayed away from the demonstration zones.

Not anymore. Continue reading



BANG SARAY: 30 MINUTES AND A WORLD AWAY FROM PATTAYA

 

Pattaya’s skyscrapers loom in the background, but it’s easy to forget the city while lounging in Bang Saray’s clear waters

Talk to any old-timer expat here in Thailand and chances are that, before long, they’ll regale you with tales of when places such as Pattaya and Phuket were quiet fishing villages, and then lament that if only they’d bought land or property back then, they’d be stinking rich now.

Which raises the question of where tomorrow’s Pattaya or Phuket might be, or whether there even remains such potential in a country which is vastly more ensconsced on the tourist map than it was in the 1970s or 80s. Surely anywhere of commercial opportunity will already be long-discovered?

Maybe not. Continue reading



RIDING RICKSHAWS IN DAVID CARRADINE’S FOOTSTEPS, CHILD BRIDES IN TOW

Journalism 101: Never let the facts get in the way of a good story

As I work in the press, I’m always quick to defend journalists, especially against the stereotype that they “make things up”.

It is true, though, that facts can be shaped to fit an agenda, and also that whenever there are two or more sides to a story, a journalist can take whichever side best fits his remit. But they can’t simply make things up.

For a start, it’s against the law. If a newspaper prints a story about a person or event, and cannot prove that it is true if required to do so, then it will face penalties.

Take, for example, the 2004 case of the Daily Mirror‘s publication of photos which apparently showed British soldiers abusing an Iraqi captive. Desperate for a sensational scoop, The Mirror didn’t check the authenticity of the pictures, which were later proven to be fake. The result – editor Piers Morgan was fired.

So, a publication really can’t “make things up” without risking personal, political or financial repercussions. However, that’s not to say it never happens. While I may be quick to defend the press against this stereotype, at the same time I am quick to criticise journalists who do contribute to it.

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