Saturday, October 4, 2008

TBA Day 22: Moving on to Bangkok

This was by far the best travel day I’ve had yet. We caught an early (but not too early) flight out of Ko Samui to arrive in Bangkok at around 11am. We got checked in at our hotel and discovered that it’s in a pretty cool neighborhood in terms of activity. We are clearly in Backpacker Central. In the cab we started to see some lightning and hear some serious thunder, followed by a torrential downpour for the next hour or so (did I mention that this is the monsoon season?). “Every day…” said the cab driver. Good stuff.

While driving to the hotel we’d seen a restaurant a couple doors down that looked pretty cool and was full of backpackers. I guess it’s the Sawasdee restaurant, attached to a hotel by the same name. We wandered in for a pretty decent lunch. I ordered Massaman Curry Pork and Stanley ordered Chicken with Basil, Garlic, and Chilies. Both were really quite good.
I was surprised in Stanley’s dish that it actually had a nice heat to it. My curry was brilliant, in that they replaced the peanuts you typically find in Massaman curries with cashews and, as anyone who has talked to me about such things knows, I feel that the cashew nut is the greatest of all nuts. Brilliant. That is an idea I will definitely be employing in the future. After lunch we sat around drinking mojitos until the storm subsided, then went to check out the surrounding areas a bit. We’re right next to Khao San road (where tons of street vendors hang out) and it was fun after the semi-isolation of our resort in Samui to be surrounded by so many people. I even picked up some sweet mini iPod speakers for a great price (which I’m using to blast Wake Me Up Before You Go Go with as I type this, in hopes of making Stanley finally get out of bed), so now I have my souvenir from Bangkok.

For dinner we headed just around the corner from our hotel to a place called Hemlock, which I’d read good things about on Our experience there went something like “Wow! Hmmm… Eh. Mmmm….”
The “Wow!” was the appetizer we ordered (Miang Kam). I wasn’t sure what to expect from the menu description instructing us to “mix with your fingers until touching your mouth,” but it looked intriguing so we decided to order it anyway. It turned out to be (going clockwise around the plate in the picture below, starting at the top, ending in the center) piper leaves served with Thai bird chilies, shallots, lime, dried shrimp, peanuts, ginger, and toasted coconut. This all went together with a sauce that seemed to be hoisin with minced peanuts. You basically load up a leaf with the other stuff and a bit of sauce, then take a bite and say “Wow! That is GOOD!” This dish was seriously delicious, and fairly unique. The way that all of these strong flavors combined to create a perfectly balanced bite was pretty damn cool.
The “Hmmm…” was the Jungle Curry Beef. It was OK, and they tied the snake beans in little knots, which was pretty adorable, but neither of us were particularly impressed. Not bad, but not something we would order again. I don’t think this dish was helped by the fact that the fantastic appetizer had really raised our expectations.
The “Eh” was the Pork with Holy Basil. It tasted good, but wasn’t particularly special. I make a similar dish at home (which I like a lot better) using Thai basil. I feel like the basil they used here wasn’t particularly flavorful and in the end the dish ended up being fairly boring.
We got back to “Mmmm…” with the delicious spicy salad Stanley had selected from the menu. Scallions, shredded chicken, hearts of palm, ginger, snake beans, and green papaya were combined with a spicy peanuty dressing. This was really flavorful and refreshing and had a good amount of heat from the sauce. Definitely cheered us up after the two mediocre dishes that preceded it.
After dinner it was already getting to be late, so that was pretty much the end of our first day in Bangkok. Still, it was nice to arrive early enough to really start enjoying the city on our first day. We only have 2 more full days here before heading off to Dubai, so we’ll have to make the most of our time. I should add that all the people whining about how dirty Bangkok is are obviously more sensitive to such things than Stanley and I are. So far Bangkok doesn’t seem any dirtier to me than any other big city (other than Singapore). I’m sure we’ll see more of the city in the next couple days and some of that will be dirtier, but so far it certainly doesn’t seem like the hell-hole that so many travelers described it as. Oh, and no wi-fi in the hotel room here, but there’s a 24-hour internet café (two, actually) in the lobby so we should still be able to stream the Bucs-Broncos at midnight tonight… in case you were worrying about that. ;-)

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