Monday, February 24, 2014

Quiet streets in NPT & Bangkok

Andrew did a brief trip up to Nay Pyi Taw for some more meetings.  There has not been a population increase in NPT since the last time we were there.  It is always such a contrast to see the empty streets.

npt empty

With his work finished, we met up in Bangkok. In Bangkok, the streets were also uncharacteristically empty.  Since December political protesters have been disrupting the flow of the city in an attempt to force political system changes.  We have been keeping an eye on what has been happening. 

The protesters want change, but can't explain how to achieve the outcomes and they will not engage in dialogue.  Instead they have set up camps on the streets of the city to stop traffic.  'Walking streets' lined with vendors have replaced grid-lock traffic and they have rally stages where people congregate with a psuedo-party atmosphere.  They have been marching each day to various target buildings, but have just announced they are stopping doing this as they are getting tired from all the walking and will instead drive to the target spots.  All the while they are being funded by unnamed sources. It takes a lot of money to provide tents to live in, water, showers, generators, free tickets on the BTS...the list goes on

While the process appears farcical, the sad reality is that people are being injured and killed and it is having an affect on the economic stability of the country.  Two days after we returned to Laos 5 people were killed at one of the protest sites when grenades were thrown into the crowd.  And this week there has been a steady escalation in violence – a Thai Navy general suggested foreigners must have orchestrated one of the attacks because 'Thai people wouldn’t do this to each other'.  There are obvious problems and corruption in the Thai political system, but this non-democratic method of forcing change is painful to watch.  Political ranting over as we don’t fully understand the situation.

protest tents
A tent city, one of many near all the main protest sites.

However keeping away from the actual protest sites, Bangkok proceeds as normal and you wouldn't know anything was going on.

As semi-frequent visitors to the city, and with only a limited interest in spending all our time shopping or doing nothing, each visit we try to find somewhere new to explore and to have some new food experiences. 

This trip it was a visit to the Museum of Floral Culture.  Located in a suburban neighbourhood in Dusit, it was a 40 minute trip on the Chao Praya ferry to get there, followed by an easy 10 minute walk to the house.  There are not masses of displays of floral art, instead it is more about the history and importance of floral art in Thai and South East Asian culture.  The museum director, Sakul Intakul, has been involved in international floral installations such as on the red carpet at the Rome Film Festival and floral design for the Bulgari Resorts as well as royal commissions in Thailand.  It was a tranquil location and the compulsory guided tour was actually good.  It is a low key experience, but it was worth the journey.

museum floral culture

Back on the eating front we had a superb lunch at Din Tai Fung primarily for the xiao long bao – soup dumplings.  Not cheap, but so good!

xlb

But we had cheap and chirpy when we finally visited the night food market on Soi 38.  People rave about it, but while we had a a good series of dishes, it wasn’t the best street food we had ever had.  It is a relatively small section of the street just below the Thong Lor BTS station, where the cars drive up and down and there is a mix of locals and tourists.  The Pad Thai man was raved about, we got there and there were so many people waiting for a plate - we were looking forward to it so much.  It was the. worst. pad. thai. EVER.  We ate a bit and left it, it was as if he had forgotten to put the flavouring ingredients in – there was no taste at all.  Putting that experience to the side, other food was good and cheap. 

But the highlight of the night was without a doubt, the simple mango and sticky rice.This stall also had some major hype – but it lived up to it.  The mango was so sweet, and it isn’t prime mango season.  Cut up in front of you it was doing a roaring business.  There were also a steady stream of locals just going there to purchase the whole mangoes to take home.  Since being back in Vientiane we have been inspired to produce our own Mango and sticky rice – while not Soi 38 super-stellar, it is VERY good!

soi 38

And I am not allowed to finish without mentioning the pop-up cocktail bars down Suk 11.  We had a tequila sunrise a couple of weeks ago in Vientiane before dinner at one of our non-regular spots.  It nearly made Andrew cry.  It was weak and the best thing about it was the frangipani decoration.  Since then he has been salivating (and there has been some minor whinging) thinking of the 5 star, $4 street cocktails we have had in past.  And the experience did not disappoint and with at least different 20 VW combis to choose from, he has no shortage of choice - although we always return to the same one.  I can not see us ever visiting the area in the evening and him not indulging.

cocktails 4
Not fit for consumption cocktail on the left, vs street atmosphere on the right.