Friday, September 30, 2011

Cabbages and Condoms

I usually just put all the foodie photos from my travel in one post but this restaurant deserves a special space as you can see in the title.

I was already templed-out on my fourth day in Bangkok so I decided it was time to visit one of the most popular attractions in the modern parts of the city. In Bangkok, being a such a lustful city, the rate of STD is quite high among the population. Cabbages and Condoms in Sukhumvit is a unique restaurant that promotes great sex along with safe food.

I mean, safe sex along with great food.

Mieng Khum. Traditional Thai appetizer. Dried coconuts, cashew, chili pepper, lime, honey sauce, etc rolled into some kind of leaf.

They have a nice souvenir shop too. All I bought was some key chains (with condoms in it).

When to use a condom. Educational and efficient.

 Although the theme is whimsical, the ambiance is classy. The waiters were quite attentive too.

 Cabbages and Condoms steak. I love the spicy sauce.

Papaya salad which comes with the steak. It was really worth the price. 

They have no mints so they give condoms instead.

 Mona Lisa holds a condom (filled with stuff). Now I know why she's smiling like that.

Condom people greeting you by the door.

The way to restaurant.

Food in Bangkok

One more thing to love about Bangkok aside from its ultra-cool Asian culture is that almost everything there is cheap. I have to say, sometimes even cheaper than in Manila.

And then of course, there's the food. THE food.

My favorite place to eat was Sampeng Lane, which is a narrow, noisy and bustling street with lots stalls and merchants walking by hawking their goods. Since it was just a short walk from the hotel I get to hang out there every morning, grabbing every interesting-looking food that I see, gobbling it up while walking along and joining in the hustle and bustle of the market filled with the incessant calls of "sawadee kha!". "Sawadee kha", I swear, is much nicer-sounding and inviting than the "yes ser, yes mam, bili na po kayo" of Divisoria.

Welcome to Thailand, where even street food is gourmet.

The legendary hotness of Tom Yum Goong. My tears, sweat and snot must have gotten mixed in to that soup. I'm a disgrace to Bicolanos.

I swear that sauce must got some heroin in it.

A nice way to cool off after visiting a museum of human corpses and disemboweled organs.

Thonburi area. The street outside looks somewhat like Recto. But in Recto you wouldn't be able to find something like this.

Dining in the red light district of Patpong. Green Curry and beer.

Dragonfruit shake, dalandan shake, tomato shake, balimbing shake. This is way better than any of those fruitshake stands in our malls.

KFC spicy chicken and egg tart and some salad thing.

Black rice with cashews, and sauteed mutton.

Grilled saba. Perfect energy food for street trekkers.

Pomegranate juice. Can't have enough of it.

Peking duck on green noodles. At Chinatown.

Pad Thai at the airport. The street variety is much better.

I usually don't like PAL's food but it seems they were making up for the delay. That chocolate pudding from Bizu was unexpected. I swear to have one when I get back at Makati.

Sawadee krap!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Touchdown Thailand

I was going to Bangkok with a mix of excitement and apprehension. Thailand was actually one of my favorite places on earth I've never been to. However I knew that traveling there alone would be a lot different from traveling alone to the safe and sanitized streets of Singapore. Bangkok strikes me as a dark and gritty city from what I’ve seen in movies like The Beach, Street Fighter and The Hangover. But then, I grew up and live in Caloocan so why should I be hoity-toity?

Sunday morning in Sampeng Lane, Chinatown

Coffee by the Chao Phraya River, with a view of glorious Wat Arun

Bangkok's rail station is speedy and efficient. Although it doesn't travel along the older areas where the touristy temples are abound.

The hotel which is to be my home for five days was located in the rugged, bustling and often-filmed Yaowarat Road, Chinatown. I’d be mostly travelling by foot because the best temples to visit are far from the convenience of the mass transit trains. Also I was deliberately avoiding tuk-tuks and taxis as much as I could as I learned from my Googling that plenty of those are involved in some sort of scam.

The routes to my destinations were pretty straight-forward but with some street signs written only in Thai it was pain-in-the-ass difficult to street-trek at times. Thankfully the friendly locals are always happy to give you directions. I arrived late in the afternoon in Thailand because of an insane flight delay, so I just spent my first day eating out in the red light district and woke up early the next morning to visit some of the most popular places in the city.

Wat Pho
Being my first time to see a Thai temple up close I was utterly wowed as soon as I entered the grounds, which welcomed me with a view of a dozen towering chedis and golden roofs gleaming in the morning sun. Just as I was about to remove my shoe to get inside the temple however, I discovered that I stepped on dog manure. Ew. I normally have some kind of psychic shit-radar but apparently it doesn’t work on these parts.

By the feet of the reclining Buddha

Placing coins on 108 metal pots.

Dozens of chedis gleam in the morning sun at the Wat Po temple complex.

I wasn’t so much wowed by the reclining Buddha as I was by the chedi’s outside, maybe because I’ve already seen hundreds of its photo in my friends’ Facebooks. I was actually more fascinated with the intricate murals of the temple – with their vibrant yet muted colors reminding me of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. There were constant sounds of chinking metal inside the temple, and I see later that they come from the coins being dropped onto a long row of alms bowl by exiting visitors.

Before leaving the temple complex I bought my own little reclining Buddha and a ganesh murti at the souvenir shop which I were able to haggle to 250 baht each. It was a rip-off price but it’s still much, much cheaper than those being sold at Ongpin. By noon students and tourists began pouring in so it was time to leave ‘Wat Poo’ and walk my way to my next destination.

The Royal Grand Palace
There were lots of tourists around the palace walls which makes it an ideal feeding ground for scammers. While I was waiting to cross a street for example a nearby tuk-tuk driver saw me bungling with my map. “You look like Thai people. Where you from?”. I was thinking about faking an Asian-American accent and tell him I just came back from the states but I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off. “Oooo, Philippine? I like Manny Pacquiao (while punching in the air). Want to see nice place? Come, I show you map.” Using his map he pointed to several tourists spots where he could take me to for just 50 baht. Of course he didn’t mention that he might bring me as well to a jewelry shop or to God-knows-what place else where he could earn himself some commission. He was nice and friendly eventhough he was trying to scam me so I declined with a smile.

The demon guardians of the temple

Five headed naga

Buddhist amulets on sale on the streets surrounding the royal palace.

A devotee gilds an image of the Buddha

Palace guards on their routine march.


The royal palace complex is like an Asian-themed Disneyland and is just jaw-droppingly beautiful. Being also a place of worship there were lots of locals doing their religious duties, although I couldn’t imagine how they are able to pray so serenely with all the tourists walking and chattering  all over the place.

Among all the beautiful buildings in the palace grounds, the Wat Phra Kaew temple is king. It holds the legendary Emerald Buddha which is one of Thailand’s most sacred relics. Inside the atmosphere was serene and different from the hustle-and-bustle outside, and photography is not allowed so I just concentrated on admiring the sacred Buddha relic and sucking in the “I’m-in-Thailand” experience.

I must have spent two hours walking around the complex despite the scorching sun. Thankfully there is a refreshment area just before the exit where I had myself some coconut and an odd-tasting popsicle.

Khao San Road
I rested my feet inside a not-so-famous little temple where I came upon a chatty local named Mariwan, a nurse who’s vacationing from Chiang Mai. We had a hearty and noisy chit-chat, laughing at our inability to understand each other, much to the annoyance of the monk who was manning the temple.

A heavy rain pours over Khao San road. An hour later this street will be flooded and the sidewalks infested by hundreds of cockroaches. It was kind of funny to seeing tourists hoppity hop around trying to run away from them.

Just before sunset I headed towards the famous Khao San road to experience some party vibe, but when I came there I realized it wasn’t really my type of environment. There were loud music and beer and boisterous tourists all over, which reminded me of the seedy areas around Jupiter Street in Makati. There was then a long and heavy rain which flooded the street and which had me trapped in the place until late in the evening. I just amused myself watching the other tourists wondering which country they might have come from. By midnight I grew tired of it all, and because of the rain and flood, I had to pay an exorbitant fare to a rip-off tuktuk driver to take me back to my hotel. It was a perilous and scary drive: we were probably hitting 80 on the wet and slippery street while the driver kept on insisting to take me to the red light district to see the “ping pong pussy exhibition”. I was beyond words with my happiness and relief when I arrived at the front door of my hotel.

 Tom Yum Ghoom and Mexican Coffee. And iced water for putting out the fire in my mouth.

View from the long-tail boat.

Patpong at night.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Temple-Hunting in Bangkok

The religion of Thailand, which is Theravada Buddhism with an obvious influence of Hinduism is really quite something to see in practice. Watching a devotee in prayer is at times almost like watching a dramatic performance art: prayers involve graceful and measured movements, often using lotus flowers, incenses, thick garlands, goldleafs, giant candles, and colorful ribbons. Large elements of animistic thinking is also retained. Spirit houses dot almost every corner of the city, always containing fresh offerings of flowers and fruit, and around significant temples there are rows and rows of vendors selling Buddhist amulets, which apparently are quite a serious business here. The beauty of this religion is reflected into the numerous exotic temples that define Thailand’s landscape. Though I can’t help but wonder what the Buddha, who of all things promotes detachment from mundane desires, have to do with all those golden statues and luxurious temple complexes.

Wat Ratchabophit
I was caught by surprise when I arrived in this little-known temple in the Old City. This must be the most beautiful of all the temples I have visited in Thailand. The building structure is unique in that it is circular and the decorations look more Western than Thai. The outer walls are in-laid with ornate tiles rather than plainly painted white as with most other temples. The design, although elaborate, feels quaint and homey. It’s a bit off the tourist-track and I came in early morning, so I was fortunate to suck in all its glorious beauty all by myself.

Wat Suthat
Also known as the temple of immeasurable charm.  There are lots of big stuff in here: the vast marble-floored temple grounds, the huge main temple, ginormous Buddha inside, and then there’s the Giant Swing structure towering just in front of the temple complex. The ticket stub says that it is “the only temple in Thailand where you can enjoy your visit happily in a nice peaceful atmosphere”. True enough, even though there were a couple of other people there when I came in, the place was as quiet as a library.

The Golden Mount
A steep conical hill with spiraling stairs. It took me a lot of guts (thanks to my fear of heights) and lots of bottled water to reach the top, once the highest point in the city. Thankfully there is a canteen halfway the climb where I could replenish my water supply and get some needed calories. My efforts were well-paid with a spectacular albeit knee-shivering view of the city. At the very top is a huge golden chedi beside which hangs strings of paper money and an altar to which pilgrims pray. There is also an indoor shrine and a souvenir shop where I bought a couple of Buddhist string bracelets for folks at home.

A replica of the Golden Mount at the first steps of the stairway

The seemingly endless climb

A quaint canteen half-way thought the climb
A view of Bangkok

Loha Prasat
The defining feature of this temple is its metal spires, hence the name (which is Tibetan for “metal temple”). The floor plan is designed in the form of concentric squares evoking the shape of a mandala. It is acoustically efficient too. Despite the building construction going on outside, the temple interiors were quite silent. Many visitors go directly to the rooftop to get up close and personal with the metal spires, but it is worthwhile to explore each of the maze-like floors too, which can be meditative. I love this place. It’s just so relaxing and calming.

 The metal spires of Loha Prasat

The serene interiors of the temple

Wat Arun
The temple I was most excited to see. I went to Wat Arun the wrong way. Normally it can be easily reached via a ferry crossing from Rattanakosin, but I went there by foot instead in the Thonburi area (the other side of the river). It was quite a long and boring walk under the arid tropical sun, but it was kind of surreal seeing exotic-looking prangs towering over modern, suburban streets. The wat is a spectacular sight to behold whether from afar or looked closely. The prangs are decorated with bits and pieces of Chinese porcelain which were recovered from the Chao Phraya river from sunken barges, and what an unbelievable piece of work it is. It is said that the temple looks more stunning at sunset, but I unfortunately didn’t get to see that since I was busy frolicking in the downtown area during those times.

Approaching Wat Arun from Thonburi area

Wat Arun decorations made from broken porcelain

Wat Traimit
Here in Chinatown can be found the world’s largest solid gold Buddha. I could almost imagine the dollar-signs over my eyes when I saw it. It also has a very interesting story. The relic dates back to the 13th century and was once covered with plaster to hide its value from Burmese conquerors. After a few centuries the camouflage had been forgotten. Its true nature was only discovered fairly recently (1957) when the statue fell and some of the plaster chipped off.

The solid gold Buddha

The bird and the bell

Wat Chakrawat
Tucked in the middle of Chinatown, the red, white and gold temple is remarkable to look at. But there is just something eerie and mysterious about this temple. Among the things I found here are a monkey skull, a spider effigy and a pair of huge crocodiles in the temple grounds. The place was silent except for the occasional flapping of a bird’s wings which just adds to the creepy-vibe. I had the place on my own when I came so I was able to have my little me-time with the Buddha.

The prang looms over the mysterious temple


Skull and spider

Monks' robes flutter on the wind

A garland for the Buddha

A resident of the temple

Basbasan Nawa!

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