Monday, 31 January 2011

Bangkok January 2011

The past month in Bangkok has been extremely enjoyable and educational. After my South East Asia tour ended, I had to quickly find myself a place to stay and, upon my friend Philip's recommendation, I booked a room at SK Tower. 

Building next to mine
on Sukhumvit Road
The building is spitting distance from UNESCO on Sukhumvit Road and the room, which was pretty much like any basic hotel room (double bed with en suite bathroom, balcony, TV, fridge, AC, dressing table and wardrobe), cost me 700B for the first night. I spent that evening frantically walking up and down Sukhumvit Road trying to get to the addresses I had looked up for the cheaper and better accommodation I was hoping to have in Bangkok. A couple of the addresses were so far down on Soi 63 that I never reached them and another one on Soi 71 was on such a suspect small, dark alley that I didn't bother checking it out. The next morning, I continued with the motions and searched for an address on Soi 55, but after walking for 90 odd minutes and having lost my way thoroughly with no luck, I decided to go with what fate was trying to tell me and asked for the monthly rate at SK Tower.

My room
After slight negotiations we settled on 7,800B on rent, with an additional 500B for a fridge, 750B for unlimited wifi access and additional charges for electricity and water usage. This brings it up to roughly £185 of fixed charges with a suspected £10 for bills - a bargain in London, but considering that the room does not come with a kitchenette, it's not the cheapest place in Bangkok.

View from my balcony

Nevertheless its crazy proximity to the UNESCO office and a BTS Skytrain station (2 minutes walk in either direction) and the fact that it's bang on the high-flying Sukhumvit Road, makes this a very cheap option. I have the famous new Major Cineplex 5 minutes away from my doorstep and there's little else I need! And the view's pretty cool!

I joined UNESCO Bangkok in the HIV, Adolescent Reproductive and School Health (HARSH) Unit as an intern on 10th January and have been working mainly on a website (editing, updating and copywriting) and on marketing plans. The work's simple but the office environment is to die for. For 8 weeks, I get to spend time with Philip, my former teacher, and friend of 19 years, which is an opportunity I never suspected possible after I left Turkey in 1992. Also, I have made friends with two very bright and frankly quite amazing Thai girls, who've taken it upon themselves to not only educate me in Thai traditions, teach me pointless random phrases and generally take care of my well-being, but have also made the effort to take me out to experience the city of Bangkok. They bring me something different to eat almost every day, explain local etiquette and have included me in their lives in a way I did not dream of. It's only been 3 weeks since I have known them and they felt like family from the end of the very 1st week. I'm amazed, humbled and very grateful for their attention and affection.

The Thai Ronald
With the UNESCO crew (interns, past and present, along with Philip), I have been to Los Cabos, a Mexican restaurant with good food and an electric atmosphere; with my new Thai friends (Poon and Yu), I have been to Shabushi, a remarkable Thai-Japanese all-you-can-eat buffet at Siam Square, which is a packed entertainment and shopping area that reminds me of Khadda Market in Karachi or Lahore's Liberty Market; I have also had lunch at the fantastically organised Food Loft at Central Chit Lom, where we were given an entry card as we walked in and we could walk around pointing at the food and drinks we wanted, have it entered electronically on the card, and pay for it all as we walked out by submitting our cards at the till - the most well-stocked and yet simplest food hall I have ever seen!
Sukhumvit's Soi 38
On my own, I've sampled Soi 38's Night Food Street and various cafes, including Au Bon Pain in J Avenue Mall (good coffee and sandwiches) and The Cheesecake House at the Major Cineplex complex (to-die-for cheesecakes). Also, I have discovered, through a fellow intern, a fantastic 'cupcakery' called Sparkles, where the cakes not only look heavenly, they taste absolutely out of this world. The owner, Sophie, makes sure she reminds her customers as often as possible that her cakes are not made with any sort of artificial products, that she does not mess around with gelatines etc and in fact uses the true baking techniques (which means 'no artificial flavours, no preservatives, and no's only pure butter' for her!!). After having consumed some extraordinary chocolate cupcakes, I tried the lavender one recently and it melted in my mouth. Yum!
Long Live Sophie!
One of the most fun things I have done in Bangkok is walking around. I keep hearing how Bangkok is not a 'walking city' and it's quite true considering how most pavements have bikes, food stalls, stray animals and all manner of madness thriving despite the loose concrete tiles, which will inevitably move as you walk over them and some strange, dirty fluid will squirt at you from underneath. And yet, I love walking around, looking at the pleasantly dressed shop windows, the fairly artistic building design and the general languid attitude of the pavement dwellers.
An artistic staircase on a
perfectly ordinary building

A shop window with piano and keys
A bar I haven't seen the inside of just yet... 

The Emporium
I have been to a few malls and department stores that I have enjoyed as well. The Emporium is slowly becoming one of my favourite weekend haunts. It has 7 floors, full of the usual designer stores and the international brands that every large metropolis seems to have (Zara, Espirit and all their cousins), but along with a vibrant food hall and the requisite cineplex, it also has an excellent grocery store with French cheese counters, a salad bar, deli and the works. Food looks good, just by being there!

Dasa, 1st Floor
One of my other cravings that is being wholly satisfied here, in terms of the prices and the fact that I have a lot of free time, is reading. I have found a perfect second-hand bookstore, which accepts books back for store-credit and they don't cost too much to start off with. So, after having finished Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (bought for 120B or £2.50), and having returned a couple of books, I paid only 50B (£1) for The Girl Who Played with Fire, which is in almost mint condition! Dasa Bookstore is my dream come true!

The adventure continues...

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