Those Aren’t Mints – Siam Summer

There is a famous restaurant in Bangkok called Cabbages and Condoms. I have never been there but I have heard of it. It is a non-profit organization raising money for women’s health and hoping to increase the importance of this issue in southeast Asia. I have been told that the food is really good and it is worthy of the cause by going there. I was therefore surprised when the place I was staying at in Pattaya, the Birds and Bees, was associated with this organization and had another one of these restaurants in the establishment. I, of course, wanted to dine here, not only because the food was supposed to be good, but the money raised went to a good cause as well. There was the added bonus that I could continue my lazy start to this road trip by not having to leave the resort grounds by eating here.

The food is really good by the way. It boasts of a big menu with many items to choose from, most of which are Thai, but there are enough western selections there as well. I will admit that one of the meals I had here was a hamburger since it has been January since I have had one, but the other meals were from the Thai variety. And though I have had better Thai dishes, these were by far not bad at all and the presentation was always spectacular.

I enjoyed the pineapple fried rice for lunch and it came in a carved out pineapple husk. It is a common thing to see in Thailand, but it was the first time that I got to enjoy it this way, and I would say that it is the best way to eat pineapple fried rice. I also had the khao soi, another one of my favorite discoveries since I moved to Thailand. It was good and spicy and the curry boasted the peanut flavor that brings me back to it time and time again, but it still can’t beat the khao soi that is made in northern Thailand. I have no idea why the best khao soi comes from this region and the further south you get in Thailand the worse it gets, but that is the case for a lot of foods around the world. It was still a good representation of the dish, and I could not complain about the meals we had while dining there.

It did not come home that we were dining at a place called Cabbages and Condoms until we got the bill. It came with a little extra that I thought we strawberry mints, but true to the name of the restaurant, they weren’t mints. The fine people at this establishment always wish to leave you with a little extra for your evening to make sure it is a safe one, and it is a nice gesture.

It was then that I really started to recognize how much they played up to the theme of this restaurant. They had condoms under glass at the tables. They had a picture of the Mona Lisa holding a condom explaining that this was the reason for her smile. They had a condom tree. And my favorite, they had dummies with clothes made out of condoms. Finding this out at the end of the meal made the experience just that much better.

The bottom line is that Cabbages and Condoms is a great restaurant. They have good food in a friendly environment, and if you are at the one in Pattaya, you get to dine directly over the beach. The money they collect goes to a great cause especially in cities where the focus of women’s health really needs to happen such a Pattaya. So if you ever have a chance to enjoy a meal here, I highly recommend it because it will be an experience you will never forget.

A Little Road Trip – Siam Summer

Locals enjoying some fishing on a small beach in Pattaya, Thailand.

Summer has always been a time to travel a little and see friends, family and a little bit more of the world. Things are a little different this summer. People are stuck in their part of the world and because of that, the world has once again grown. We are not able to be the same small world community that we used to be by hopping on a plane and traveling to the various points in the world. We are now forced to explore the little corners of the world in which we live. Luckily, I have found myself in Thailand. First off, I have not explored much of this country and I am excited to see what it has to offer. Secondly, they have done a pretty good job of getting the Corona Virus situation under control and things are starting to open up again. The bars are still closed and the national parks start opening on the first of July, but the rest of the country has returned to back to a semblance of normal. Yes, there are more people wearing masks than normal, but it is a country that is trying hard to keep things under control so they can be prepared during the height of their tourist season and not let the economy slip anymore than it needs to.

The view from my hotel room at the Birds and Bees in Pattaya, Bangkok.

Considering it is summer and I have not traveled outside of Bangkok since the pandemic gridlocked the world, I thought this would be the perfect time to see more of this country I have found myself living in. There was only one thing that an American facing this situation can think of, road trip. There are many towns, islands and cities within driving range of the big city, and the roads are not hard to travel on as soon as you get out of the city center. Even though I do own a car, I thought it best to travel by hiring a driver this time out, and we made our way to the first city on our list, Pattaya.

The small beach on the edge of the Birds and Bees in Pattaya, Thailand

This city is one of the bigger tourist destinations because it is close to Bangkok, boasts some nice beaches, and has different levels of experiences depending on what you are looking for. We went thinking this would be a great place to meet up with other people we are traveling with, and get in some beach living before we make it to our final destination on this trip, Koh Samet. It would have been the first place we went to, but this island is a national park, and we had to wait until the first of next month before we could enjoy this spot.

The view of the Birds and Bees from the beach

Despite this, we were able to find a nice resort on the quiet side of town, Birds and Bees. It is a great hotel with comfortable villas looking out over a small beach with a pool and great restaurant attached to it. Our plans have not been anything more than hanging out at the pool while we are here, and enjoying some good food before moving on to our next destination, but it is nice to get out of the city and travel again. It reminds me why we made the jump overseas in the first place, and even though the first day was a little overcast, I have been able to unwind a bit and enjoy this summer. It just shows me that travel has changed for now, and if we are going to participate in this rewarding activity we need to think about learning more about our local terrain instead of exploring the various parts of the world. I’m sure that no matter where you are, there are those little corners that you have always meant to explore. Now is the perfect time to take advantage of it.

The Best Laid Plans – Siam Summer

Waiting for sandwiches outside of Holey Bakery

Yes, she is smiling.

How do I know?

She told me so.

She is smiling even though I made a mistake for lunch. There is an amazing bakery and sandwich shop in downtown Bangkok that is a little off the  beaten path, but during the year I have lived here, it has become one of my favorite places to visit. It is called Holey Bakery and they make maybe the best Cubano sandwich. It is kind of a pain in the butt to get to from our house in Samakorn, so I really only eat here while I am staying downtown. One of the things that I really wanted to do on this trip was having lunch there, and even though it still took a fifteen minutes cab ride to get there, I still made the effort to go there. Sadly, when we got there, their dining room was closed and they were only serving take out food. Considering there are no real locations around it that I know of to picnic, we were left no option but to order the food and head back to the little apartment we are renting. So we grabbed another cab, and returned back to where we started from. It made the trip feel like it was all for nothing.

Don’t get me wrong. We still got sandwiches and had a great lunch, but it was not the same experience as dining at Holey Bakery. I guess I should have expected such things during this age of Covid, and I should not be disappointed when things do not go the way I hope for. It is just life right now and at least I am allowed to go out on these expeditions in the hope for a great sandwich.

A more traditional version of pad thai

And for every thing that does not go my way, there is another experience that goes better than I expected. We have been going out to eat almost every night since we have been on this little vacation, and it has been nice to enjoy a meal delivered to you again. Yes, the restaurants are quiet because of the social distancing and they are still not allowed to serve a drink while you dine, but it is still great to have that option.

Most of the food we have gone out to eat has been from various parts of the world, sushi, Mexican, and Italian, but considering we are in Bangkok, it seemed only appropriate to go to a Thai restaurant. I know that many people would consider that counterproductive considering Thailand is known for its street food, and anything I could find in a Thai restaurant could also be found from a vendor. There is some truth to that. Many small carts will serve pad thai, curries, and grilled chicken strips, but it will never compete with the food and service we were able to get at a restaurant. And we found a great one, Soul Food, just off of Sukhimvit on Thong Lor. It is a tiny place on the right side of the street, but once you find it, it is really worth the journey.

A great northern Thai treat, khao soi

We enjoyed the tamarind ribs for an appetizer before diving deep into a pad thai platter, and some khao soi. The pad thai was better than anything that could be served at a street vendor. They wrapped the noodles and spices in an omelet that exploded with flavor with each bite.

But the real treat was the khao soi. This is a traditional northern dish which I am not aware if any place outside of Thailand actually prepares it. I was really excited to see it on the menu. Even better than that, my dish could easily compete with the recipes that they make in Chaing Mai. It was definitely the best version of this dish I have found in Bangkok, and should be one of the reason that people visiting Bangkok should hunt down this place.

It just proved that in this new time that the world is going through, we don’t always know what we are going to get when we leave the house. But we should not let that discourage us. It is just an adjustment that we will have to make. Sometimes we will be disappointed by what we find, and sometimes we will run into something that was unexpected. The point is to continue to live life and not let the small things drag us down. If everybody takes on this attitude as we wade back into the waters of society, it make it a happier place for everybody involved.

I Guess I’ll Go Shopping – Siam Summer

Even the stuffed animals have been given masks

Quarantine is and was hard.

It is a simple fact that many of us around the world had to face over the last couple of months. There is a certain amount of loneliness to it even though you may have the company of certain individuals. It becomes hard to have new conversations when nothing happens and you can escape to your screens, but even then, that becomes a chore. The four walls start to close in around you, and you wonder if you will ever escape your home.

It is hard, but there is one thing to keep in mind, you are not alone in this situation. Everybody has been locked inside their homes for the last couple of months, and they are feeling the same things that you are. It is a wonderful feeling when things open up again, and you want to rush out and experience everything again. You vow to yourself that you will never take anything for granted again, but even when you make it out of your house, the things you have hoped to see have changed.

Social distancing at a Thai restaurant in Central World

There is still a distance between people. Some of the services you had loved so much are still not available. Stores and restaurants are half filled, and are not open for the same amount of time as they were in the past. You might even struggle to find a day when the place you want to go is opened at all, and some of your favorite places have shut down altogether. But you can’t stay in your house anymore, and you must experience something in your life, so you probably did what I did. You put on your mask and head out to the only places that are starting up again, the malls.

A simulation of a shopping street in Terminal 21

I know a lot of people travel around the world to experience the various shopping places that can be found in the larger cities. It is one of the things that attracts them to travel in the first place. And there are some great experiences that can be had in markets, but the big malls are usually places I like to avoid. I do not believe that you can find the little things that are unique to each corner of the world, and it is just another location where the bigger corporations are able to push their wares. But in time of Covid, it is the only place that is open, and as I have already explained, I needed to get out and experience life a bit.

We will come together again some day

It ended up going to two of the larger malls in downtown Bangkok, Terminal 21 and Central World, and it might have been because it was a Wednesday, and there is still a lot of concern about gathering in places, both of them were relatively empty. It was still fun to walk around the places and watch what people were out and about on this cloudy day in Bangkok. It was also a great time to stretch my legs and see a couple of the corners of this city that I would probably never have gone to. I did get to experience some fun artwork and got a really good meal at Din Tai Fung out of it.

The Tokyo floor in Terminal 21

But most importantly, it gave me hope that there is more than four walls to my life. It is great to know that there is a world out there, and though people might be cautious about jumping into opening up with two feet, it is nice to know that things are safe enough to slowly bring us back to being the social beings that we know we are. As we move closer to a solution to this world-wide problem, I hope we can take those moments of sanity and venture out to enjoy the things that we all enjoy. I know that the parks, and pubs, and tourist attractions are scheduled to open again soon, but for now, I will take what is offered for me.

Even if that is shopping.

A Bite to Eat – Siam Summer

One of my favorite things about going back to Colorado over the summer is hitting my favorite Mexican restaurants and enjoying the food that is really hard to find anywhere else in the world. Yes, the world has come to embrace Mexican food, but they tend to put their own twist on it, and if I really want Mexican food, I have to find a place that has true inspiration from Mexico. It doesn’t get the Colorado twist on the food, in other words, I cannot find green chili, but I good Mexican restaurant beings me back to summertime in the United States. Last night, I discovered such a Mexican restaurant in Bangkok, The Missing Burro. It is a little off the beaten path and is situated in a backyard environment, but it was worth the search. The food has that traditional Mexican flavor and though restaurants still cannot serve drinks, and a margarita would have added so much to this experience, it was a great night out. We were the only people in the restaurant for the three servers who were working, and the food came out quick in this nice relaxing environment.

This dinner took me back to my server days and what I used to have to go through in order to make ends meet, and it made me think what people in the restaurant industry had to be going through right now as they tried to keep their businesses open and still make money for the people who work well below the minimum wage in the United States. It made me realize that people needed to rethink what they should do before they go out to eat right now.

First, they need to remember that these servers are trying to make ends meet, and it is your tip that is how they get paid. They are going to have less tables to serve right now because of social distancing, and because of that, they are going to become more reliant on your tip. Be generous with it. Twenty percent should be the minimum right now. You should consider it part of your bill because it is the only way these people are going to make a living.

Second, the way these people make money is by flipping a table. They should be giving you a relaxing and enjoyable experience, but do not expect to sit at the table all night long while sipping on a refill of water. If you wish to catch up with people you have not seen for awhile, sitting at a restaurant is not how you do it. When you are done, you need to free up the table so other people can come in and enjoy their meal.

Third, this is not a time to bring politics into the situation. Servers will be required to wear masks. They are handling food and they are also in contact with various strangers every night. They probably consider them just as uncomfortable as you do, and they want to keep their job, so they will deal with the situation and make the best out of it. You do not need to berate them or the restaurant for them doing this. That will just turn the evening in a miserable experience for them and for you and for the other guests, so why would you want to be that guy? Just let it go. Until there is a solution to the problem, you should feel happy that they are trying to make sure that they are giving you a safe and hygienic experience.

Lastly, go out to eat. It is a great opportunity to enjoy life again. Try a new restaurant, maybe not a big chain because it is the small guy that is hurting the most right now. And you will find that things will eventually return to the world that you knew before all of this began.

We Got a Pool – Siam Summer

As far as the crow flies, we are only about 12 to 15 kilometers away from our home. Given Bangkok traffic at the wrong time, that is an hour away when taking a taxi. Despite these simple facts, it feels like a whole different world we are experiencing right now. The adventures we have taken so far have been simple and not too complicated, but we have taken that step to venture out of the Air B+B we are staying at to wander around a mall, stroll through the downtown area, and go out to eat. They are simple steps that we have taken to rejoin society, and we will take bigger steps as the week progresses, but it is a good start.

Mostly, we have enjoyed the fact that we are no longer confined by the same four walls, and we have been taking in the views from our tiny little patio. It is nice to experience the big city that we have been living in and having the ability to walk out of our front door and be right in the heart of it. I do not know if I could enjoy it constantly, and the place we are in is extremely tiny, but it is close to great restaurants and shops, and we are hop, skip, or jump away from parks which have now opened in the city. It will make for a fun and exciting week.

But the most exciting thing is that we have a rooftop pool that we get access to. Considering we are staying in the top level of this apartment building, we can get there is less than thirty second, and that includes putting on our swimsuits. It is situated in a nice alcove of the building that offers a shady retreat from the heat of Bangkok, and it is ten stories off of the ground so a nice breeze blows making it the perfect place to spend an afternoon.

I am making some assumptions, but I believe that it gets a lot of use by the people who live here and it is probably one of the biggest selling points of renting out an apartment in this building. But Covid-19 has changed that for the time being. Only one group is given access to the pool at any time right now. We had to sign up to reserve the pool for an hour, but considering that we are downtown during the work week and things are starting to open up again, it was not hard to find a time to go out and enjoy this feature.

It is not the most dramatic of travel stories I know, but in these times, it is the simple things that we should hold on to. People will eventually find the courage to take the precautions to venture out in the world again. If the world plays it safe until a solution can be found, life can once again be an adventure. It will just need to be stripped down a bit which will cause us to really take in those simple moments in life and truly enjoy them, so when you discover a pool to yourself on top of a building you are staying at, take advantage of it. The experience has been a simple one, but has been one of the most memorable ones this late into 2020.

Travel During Covid19 – Siam Summer

Even the stuffed animals are fitted with face masks

Usually, during this time of the year, I will have already hopped on a plane and have taken a long plane ride back to the United States to visit with family and friends. I would be unwinding from a busy school year, and trying to get over jet lag while making the adjustment to the new time zone. It would be a time to cover a lot of ground that I have already been over before, but I would be looking forward to the familiar.

This year has been a little different with the emergence of this new virus that has stopped the world in its tracks. It is an extremely dangerous time to travel, and I had no idea if I would be allowed back into Thailand for my job if I decided to leave it. There were options, but the most logical one was to stay put for the summer and hope that I would not go crazy doing something different while still stuck in the rut that I had experienced at the end of the school year.

So I am here in Bangkok, trying to find ways to enjoy the summer as best as I can.

Luckily for me, Thailand has done a really good job of getting the pandemic under control in its country. It has basically banned anybody from entering the country for unimportant reasons, closed down all of the shops and public places to make sure that the spread of the virus did not happen, promoted a culture of social distancing and wearing face masks, and creating great programs to track people so if there is an outbreak they can quickly get it under control before it gets out of hand. Because of this, many places are starting to open up again, and it is starting to return back to normal.

Of course there are a couple of places that are not allowed to open up yet such as bars, sporting events, and certain kinds of massage parlors, but there is really only one of those that I partook in anyways, so I can patiently wait for the bars to open up again, and it is probably a good thing that they have not done this yet.

There are a couple of hot spots in the nation as well that have not opened up its doors to people inside of the country yet. The pandemic is getting under control in these spots, but it has not been long enough for the government to feel safe to open them up, but most of them are a long ways away from Bangkok and not something that I could get to easily, mainly Phuket, Chiang Mai, and the national parks. There is also talk that the parks will open up at the end of the month and the other will follow soon.

In other words, Thailand is taking their time to make sure that they are doing things right so by the time the dry season starts and tourists want to make it back to the country, they should be able to do it safely. It just means that Thailand will be a quiet country this summer, making it the perfect time to explore it. The plan is to make sure that we are not spending more than a week at home at a time, and spend the rest of the time exploring the different parts of the country. It is still a little too early to go crazy on the coast or the northern mountain regions, but it is a great time to head down to the downtown area and explore the places we haven’t seen there yet. We won’t be able to visit the big tourists sites, or enjoy the rooftop bars, but we are okay with this. It is just nice to be outside of the house, and get to look at four different walls. It is not the summer I would have planned a couple of months ago, but I am still going to be able to make the most of it, and have a great Siam Summer.

The Coming of Spring

The winter snow crunches under our feet,
Showing to all the path we have taken.
Over the hills, the morning sun does greet
The frosty breath that our mouth are makin’.
We made it to the muddy fields outside
The bird whose wings will fly us to our home.
Though the seeds on buds in the soil still hide,
In a short time, over the grass, they’ll roam.
We finally arrive in the sun’s land
And we shed the clothes we had worn this day.
The moon shines on the waves hitting the sand,
Licking the bare soles of our feet in play.
It just takes the rotation of the clock
To dismantle the winter’s icy stock.

Staying in the Hills – Khao Yai National Park, Thailand

The full moon rising over Sala’s parking lot

Very rarely, when we are traveling, do we ever splurge on a luxurious place to stay. We usually look for those small, comfortable places where we can find some down time after a long day of touring around the area where we are. We don’t go travelling for the hotel. We rather go out to experience the world, and see what different cultures have to offer to us. But we were not travelling just the two of us this time. We were off with Christine’s parents which caused us to make different decisions when it came to accommodations.

The view from my room when I opened the blinds

After a long day of riding around in a song tal (a covered pick up truck with two benches in the back to sit on) throughout Khao Yai National Park, we drove thirty minutes through the countryside, avoiding the big town, to find our really nice hotel, Sala. Very rarely do I talk about hotels during my adventures, but this one was exceptionally nice. It sat on top of hill that looked out over the valley that we had just travelled through, and was far away from the hustle and bustle that we had grown accustomed to by living in Bangkok.

The sunset over the pool on the back porch of Sala Hotel

We arrived just in time for the sunset, and as it sank below the horizon, it left a beautiful scene over the pool that sat on the edge of the deck. While we checking in, we were able to take a couple of pictures and make a reservation at the restaurant. We really didn’t need to make the reservation because there were only seven tables in the restaurant and there were only seven rooms in the whole place. People still came out from the city to dine here from time to time, but it was not a regular occurrence, and we were the only people at the restaurant for dinner. It was a great meal too with many options from both western and eastern cuisine.

The lived in look of the room at Sala Hotel

The room was even really comfortable. The bed was just soft enough to give the perfect night’s sleep. Sometimes in Asia the beds are a little too hard, but this was not the case at Sala. The room had two walls that were basically windows that when opened gave spectacular views of the valley down below, and because the hotel sat on top of a hill, there was a cool breeze that made me want to cozy into that warm bed.

It was a great way to end a great day, and Sala was the perfect place to stay when visiting Thailand’s oldest National Park. It is a little ways away and there are a couple of surprises along the way to get there, such as a golden wat on top of another hill and reproduction of an Italian village with its own leaning tower of Pisa, but it was worth the forty minute drive to make to this great accommodation.

Thank you, Sala.

The Big Mountain – Khao Yai National Park, Thailand

A swing at the gate to Khao Yai National Park

One of the bigger draws of Thailand lies outside of its bigger cities, and long white beaches. There is a whole ecological playground out there for people to enjoy, and the most popular spot is only a two to three hour drive away from Bangkok, and is the oldest National Park in the country, Khao Yai. The name basically translates to big mountain, and though it spreads itself over a very hilly terrain, it is more of a tropical forest out in the middle of the farmlands. It is a beautiful place with many varieties of animals all over the place, and you never know what you will find with every corner you take.

The view of the landscape, and as close as I got to the horn-billed birds

The most famous of the animals that live in the wild in this place are the elephants and the horn-billed birds. The elephants are in the wild and allowed to roam freely among the 300 square miles of the park, and during the dry season they are often seen taking mud baths, and heading to the many waterholes to get a drink of water. Unfortunately, I did not come across any of them during my time there, but they are doing well especially after the devastating news about them the previous year. There was an accident involving a baby elephant, and its parents as they went over a waterfall in the park, but measures have been taken to try to prevent this from happening again.

A stuffed horn-billed bird at the visitor’s center

I did get to witness the majesty of the horn-billed birds. There was a flock of them flying off towards the distance from the road we were on. They are huge birds whose wings span out to almost 180 centimeters, and their bright colors bounce off of the green landscape of the trees that populate the park.

People waiting to get their picture of the horn-billed family during their meal time

I was lucky enough to witness them from the road, but there is one spot where many photographers go to try to snap a shot of these birds. There is a nest in a hole in tree where one of the female birds was raising a couple younger birds until they were ready to fly out on their own. Basically the female bird will tear out her wing feathers to keep her young warm and feed. They eventually grow back, but during the time she has to wait until they return, she is completely reliant on the male horn-billed bird. The male goes out for food and returns to the nest to feed the young ones and the female bird. If anything happened to the male bird, it would be the end for the whole family as the female and the young ones cannot leave the nest to fend for themselves.

This is one of the problems that come with the park. Many people come and visit the park, and are looking for that perfect picture to bring back with them. Some of the more ambitious visitors will set up camp with their cameras waiting for the perfect time to get that picture. Sometimes they get a little too close to the nest which scares away the male horn-billed bird. Rangers visit this spot constantly to ensure the survival of these birds, and make sure the place remain amazing for other visitors who come back generations later.

Haew Suwat Waterfall, the one used in The Beach

Another popular spot in the park is the waterfall where they filmed the Leonardo DiCaprio movie based on Alex Garland book, The Beach. Even if the movie had not immortalized this location, it would still be the perfect place to hike down to. It is only a hundred meter down some strange stone steps, but there are many places to nestle among the stones down there to enjoy an afternoon next to the cool water.

The park is a must see for anybody coming out to Thailand. It really demonstrates how diverse this country actually is, but I would highly recommend hiring a tour guide to take you around. There are only a couple of roads through the park, and if you do not know what you are looking for, you will miss a lot of what this park has to offer.

Of course, you will still be able to see the occasional deer, and spot the elephants at some of the hotter spots. There is also many monkeys that come out of the forest looking for a free handout or something shiny to steal from unsuspecting travelers.

But our guide was able to show us the more hidden treasures like the vipers hanging from trees that we would have only found by accident.

And I don’t think I would have enjoyed the surprise we would have had when we came across one of these dangerous snakes.

She was also able to look into some of the pools in the river to show us the animals that lives under the rocks there.

And the craziest one that I would never have found in a million years. There is a spider on this tree that blends in perfectly because of its camouflage. If she was not there to point it out, I would have never seen it. I’m looking at the picture right now, and know where it is, and I still have a hard time seeing it.

The viewpoint half way up the mountain

It was a nice way to get out of the smog and heat of Bangkok for a couple of days. The clean air, the cool nights, the amazing views, and the fun of seeing all of the wildlife in the preserved spot in Thailand worth the trip.

I still wish I could have seen the elephants though.