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Return to SE Asia: A Solo Traveler in Bangkok, Luang Prabang and Vietnam, 1/08

Return to SE Asia: A Solo Traveler in Bangkok, Luang Prabang and Vietnam, 1/08

Old Mar 3rd, 2008, 10:26 AM
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She IS very funny! I think 6:30 would be a great time to leave the city..
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Old Mar 3rd, 2008, 10:34 AM
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Thanks Liz. I just checked the Peninsula website and they start serving the breakfast buffet at 6am so that is perfect to get a quick bite before we start our day!!
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Old Mar 3rd, 2008, 10:48 AM
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We do not wield bamboo poles, we eat them. We wield the written word (a visual alliteration, if not spoken). One risks incurring the wrath of the Fodorites when one ridcules the penalty process. Remember, we have no other lives.
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Old Mar 3rd, 2008, 12:43 PM
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Well that shows how silly the black-and-whites that I "saw" were!! They looked hungry and now I know why!

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Old Mar 3rd, 2008, 12:58 PM
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I woke up on Tuesday morning feeling a little sorry for myself, because not only was I now feeling the effects of the dreaded jet lag, but I was unable to read (horrendous for me) and therefore partially blind, but I was lame as well. The sole of my foot has sprouted little red bumps partially encircled by a darker red arc. It itched like crazy and putting weight on was uncomfortable. I wanted to investigate and take a stab at it; perhaps I could find a stinger, or a shard of glass. So I asked the reception person if they could scare up a tweezer.

The story came out and the reception person decided that I needed a nurse. Less than 10 minutes later, Miss Peninsula Nurse, all decked out in a white uniform with perky cap escorted me to my room and proceeded to open her black bag, revealing a scary assortment of large needles, a row of glass ampules and stacks of pills, gauzes and goodness knows what else. After poking around on the sole of my foot for a good 15 minutes, apparently more nervous than I, she declared that there was nothing stuck inside and decided that I had an infection. Antibiotics were prescribed, Betadyne was applied, and pain pills were given. All free, I might add. I did not believe there was any infection but I had visions of red ines running up my leg and blood poisoning setting in. I took the pills!

After that interlude, I hobbled down to the buffet. Nothing would keep me away from that spread! And soon after, I met my Tong replacement, Charlie, in the lobby and we set out by boat and taxi for the Grand Palace.

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Old Mar 4th, 2008, 10:32 AM
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I will not go into detail about the Grand Palace and Wat Po; both are glorious and essential for any visitor to the city. Many of you suggested that having a guide would be unnecessary and after my visit, I came to agree. Charlie knows his facts and history but after awhile I became more interested just being in the moment and absorbing the grandeur before me than in hearing the details about the royal lineage and dates of the various kingly reigns. My interest lies more in the architecture and decoration of the structures; perhaps I should have concentrated on hiring a guide who focused on those subjects.

From Wat Po we tuk tuked to the alley where an extended family crafts the alms bowls carried by Thai monks. “Monk’s Bowl Alley” is a worthwhile detour. I particularly liked the large bowls with the exposed bras rivets but ultimately decided that I lacked the display space back home. The first price for a large bowl of this type (streel and brass) was about $40USD and I doubt if bargaining would yield a much lower price. (The simple black bowls are less expensive but not as attractive).

Another tuk tuk brought us to the bustling maze that is Bangkok’s Chinatown, where my first mission was to find a pair of reading glasses to replace my now one-armed pair. Charlie knows Chinatown well and he immediately led me to a side street lined with wholesalers selling cheap reading glasses by the dozens.
After much trying on and gazing in the mirrors, I found a nice pair for about 130TB; unfortunately I must have paid so much attention to the appearance of the glasses on my face and not enough to the magnification because when I got them back to the hotel I realized that somehow instead of buying +1.25 I had purchased -1.25. Very disappointing. How could I have been so lame???!! (The next day at MBK, I finally found a fairly cool red pair that actually allowed me to read)

We wandered--or rather Charlie wandered and I limped behind--through Chinatown for an hour or so. I had been looking for red coral since my visit to Beijing and I found some good-sized chunks in a jewelery/bead shop for 90 TB per strand.

And then it was time for my eagerly anticipated lunch at the famous Chote Chitr restaurant!!! Lunch will be served soon!!

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Old Mar 4th, 2008, 01:11 PM
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ekscrunchy -

i see you used gregg at innovasian travel to book your hotels and intra-asian flights. my husband and I are planning our first trip to asia (2 weeks) and we are considering using Gregg. we are also flying from JFK (probably via Cathay Pacific). Are you happy with arrangements made by Gregg? Why did you not use him to arrange your guides in Asia?
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Old Mar 4th, 2008, 01:26 PM
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Laurie: Gregg was good. One thing I appreciated was that when I had a minor problem, he responded immediately by e-mail. And in Saigon, even though I had pre-paid the Sheraton Hotel through Innovasian, their local operator, Exotissimo, was very helpful in assisting after I decided to change hotels after one night.

I booked my own guides in Bangkok and in Luang Prabang because I had recommendations here for Tong in Bkk and for Ta in LP. But I did use guides arranged through Gregg and Exotissimo in both Hanoi and Hue. Most days I did not want a guide, as I like to wander around on my own a lot..

I would have no hesitation to use him again.
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Old Mar 4th, 2008, 01:35 PM
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We've used Gregg twice. he will book everything or just a few things. he's very flexible and very responsive. I highly recommend him.
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Old Mar 7th, 2008, 06:16 AM
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My lunch at Chote Chitr was one of the two best meals I had in 25 days in Asia (the other as I Saigon). Stellar food!!! Guide Charlie and I shared three dishes:
Mee grob, the crispy fried noodles; banana flower salad; and a smokey eggplant salad that just might be the best eggplant dish I have ever eaten. The mix of salty, sour, sweet had a complexity of flavors that is truly astounding. There is no décor to speak of here and the proprietress can be less than welcoming. She actually yelled at me when I attempted to wash my hands in the sink in the bathroom!!! NO No No!! No hand washing in the bathroom sink. Hand washing in the kitchen area! The size of that kitchen area certainly puts to shame those of us who are continually fretting about lack of kitchen space in our own homes! The place was filled; there was one table of foreigners at the time of my visit. One of the wonders of Bangkok!!

After lunch I wanted to sample one more dish: The Pad Khee Mao that RW Apple rhapsodized in his now classic article on Bangkok eating. So we tuk tuked to Raan Jay Fai, the no frills eatery open to the street on two sides a short ride away from Chote Chitr. I had a look around and attempted a translated conversation with the owner, but they do not open for service until 3pm and it was too early. Alas! I never did make it back here and it is now #1 on my list for next time..
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Old Mar 7th, 2008, 09:33 AM
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We had those exact dishes at Chote Chitr. They were sublime. I agree, the eggplant dish was the best eggplant I have ever tasted. Rhapsody does not capture the quality of this food. Perfection.
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Old Mar 7th, 2008, 10:45 AM
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Panda I still lust after that food! Truly wonderful. Not sure why I did not just order the entire menu!

I am sorry I am writing this in dribbles..will try to get a move on soon!!
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Old Mar 7th, 2008, 11:47 AM
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Chote Chitr is fabulous! It's now on our every time we're in Bangkok list. I agree about the eggplant dish. We love eggplants, and have favorite eggplant dishes at lots of places. The mee krob is a revelation. I used to think of it as Thai junk food, overly sweet fried noodles, but the mee krob there is complex and interesting as well as very tasty. I look forward to making my way through the menu... all 400 items... over the years.
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Old Mar 10th, 2008, 06:45 AM
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..now for the continuation of this slow-as-molasses report. Kathie, I could not agree more regarding Chote Chitr. Worth a trip to Bangkok. I only regret that my last dinner in the city was not even worth the trip from my hotel room to the table...details to follow soon:





Unfortunately I just lost the entire report covering the next two days. Just gone at the strike of a key. So I will do my best to re-write:

I returned to the hotel after lunch and relaxed at the pool. My foot was bothering me and it was uncomfortable to walk. I now had a large red area filled with little bumps and encircled by a darker red line. So early to bed for this long-suffering traveler.

The next day, my last full day in the city, I was off to the malls. After wandering around the Siam Paragon's top floor and its upscale Thai boutiques, where I purchased a few gifts at Anita Silk and a black-and- white silk ikat jacket at another shop (equivalent of $150 US which I knew was too high; there was little bargaining in these shops) I had a quick look through the Siam Discovery mall where I used the internet, and made my way to MBK.

Here a warren of small stalls occupies several floors. The place was thronged with shoppers, both locals and tourists. I found a pair of red reading glasses in one of the shops, (199 TB). Still lame but no longer partially blind!! The wares at MBK did not hold my interest too long: Lots of tacky souveniers, equally tacky designer knock-offs (not my thing), electronics,
cheap clothing, etc.

I would have liked to find an area of the city where I could wander along streets lined with interesting small boutiques rather than huge shopping malls that did not differ too much from those in other countries. (Where would I find this..on Sukhumvit Road??)

After my less-than-interesting shopping foray, it was back by Skytrain and hotel boat to the Peninsula for some quality time around the pool. And because I did not want to face the boat/skytrain or even a taxi journey, I decided to stay put for my last dinner in Bangkok. This proved to be a mistake! If chote chitr marked the highpoint, the dinner at the Peninsula's thai restaurant, Thiptara, marked the low. The place is even more beautiful at night than it looks here:



http://bangkok.peninsula.com/pbk/dining_07.html



It was only by promising to vacate the table after 90 minutes that I as able to snag a seat at Thiptara.

Details to follow shortly..again, I apologize for the slowness of this report. I am posting as I write to be certain the text does not vanish, again..


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Old Mar 10th, 2008, 08:14 AM
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Old Mar 10th, 2008, 12:50 PM
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As I wrote above, the Peninsula’s Thai restaurant, Thiptara, enjoys a handsome setting with Thai style houses set within an open-air dining area on the river. There was live entertainment in the form of a woman in traditional dress playing music on a string instrument. The scene is romantic at night, especially at several tables along the river. (Make sure to request one of these if you do decide to dine here)

I began with a caipirinha made with vodka which was excellent. The fried morning glory and prawn salad was good but the main course, soft shell crab which was fried and served in pieces, disappointed. Overall, I felt that the food was a diluted attempt at Thai food for non-spice-loving non-Thais and the prices were extremely high relative to the quality of the food.
My bill with the one alcoholic drink, one bottle of water (90 TB for the same water provided free of charge in the hotel rooms!!) and the two dishes totaled 1377 Baht, or a shocking $43 US dollars!

The next morning, after a brief stop at a photo place between the hotel and the bridge, where I had a second snap taken for my Laotian visa (this turned out not to be necessary because only one photo was required at the Lp airport) I was on my way to the beautiful new airport and my 1:30pm flight to Luang Prabang. My transfer "guide," wanting to make amends for the mixup with the arrival transfers, presented me with a few small gifts and a bouquet of carnations. Those carnations, which I re-gifted to one of the female airport security screeners, were a huge hit with the entire group at security that day. Carnations, which we think of in the US as rather ordinary flowers, are evidently quite the showstopper in Bangkok which makes me laugh…perhaps orchids are so common as to be thought mundane in Thailand!

The BankokAir flight to Luang Prabang was excellent and on time......more soon






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Old Mar 10th, 2008, 01:03 PM
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ekscrunchy, the Thai restaurant at the Pen gets such mixed reviews here. A few people have reported an excellent experience, but most reports are similar to yours. It seems a shame for the Pen to have a mediocre Thai restaurant.
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Old Mar 10th, 2008, 01:08 PM
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Kathie it was my own fault for being lazy and not venturing out of the hotel. One drawback of the Peninsula (maybe I wrote this already) is that there does not seem to be any great restaurant within walking distance. That said, what excuse do they have for having a place that is less than wonderful?

I think that my time in Bangkok suffered for being the first stop when I had horrid jet lag. I just could not summon up the energy to foray out at night as per my usual.... I must get back there someday soon!
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Old Mar 10th, 2008, 01:40 PM
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Amused by the carnations - I actually prefer carnations to the usual roses, as I find they last longer!

I'm worried about your foot... (But I know that was back in January!)
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Old Mar 10th, 2008, 02:09 PM
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One of the problems with the Penn, in my opinion,is the fact that the restaurants are mediocre and expensive. And sometimes it's nice to be able to just stay at your hotel for a fabulous meal.
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