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Tim Foolery

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Nahm – Fine Dining in Bangkok

Our first real meal in Bangkok this trip was at Gaggan and was wonderful. The modern redefined Indian cuisine was a great kickoff to our brief time in Thailand, but now I was really in the mood for proper Thai food — and I don’t mean that standard Pad Thai or rolls that are ubiquitous in American Thai restaurants.  We had booked space for a later lunch on our day of departure – our 13h00 reservations would allow us plenty of time for a meal, then some relaxation time back at the St. Regis.  I still needed some time at the pool and a cocktail or two before we began the 24 hour trip back home.

Nahm was just 2.7 kilometers from the St. Regis, but we weren’t going to walk this route – again, this is Bangkok and it is hot and humid and this day, it was raining intermittently.  We hopped an Uber and were at Nahm in about 10 minutes.

Nahm is located in the Como Metropolitan Hotel, on the first floor.  We arrived about 15 minutes before our reservation – traffic in Bangkok is notoriously bad and unpredictable.  We were told that we couldn’t be seated until closer to the time we booked and the area for us to wait was actually in the hotel lobby.  We loitered in some comfortable chairs for about 20 minutes. As a side note, the employees working at the hotel were very attentive, they brought us water, then refills and different people kept coming up asking if we needed a taxi or anything else.  Just based on this limited interaction with the folks at the Como Metropolitan, I’d stay at this property in the future!

We were seated a few minutes after our scheduled reservation and were greeted by a lovely middle aged Thai woman.  She brought bottles of still and sparkling water and took our wine order. We each had a a crisp white wine – I chose a very dry Riesling, which would pair perfectly with the spice in the food.  Our server said she was from Southern Thailand, which can have some of the most notoriously hot food – but Thailand in general is known for their spicy cuisine.

The amuse bouche was the traditional betel leaf, which I love more than almost anything on the planet. A local restaurant in Chicago serves betel (my first time ever eating it was at Herb) and I just can’t get enough of it.  If you aren’t familiar with it, basically, it is toasted coconut (and I’m not a coconut fan), chilies, peanuts, lime and sometimes prawns or a prawn paste.  It is eaten in a single bite and is absolutely amazing.  I will say that the betel leaf we got at Nahm was almost identical to what we get at Herb (here in Chicago), which made me feel great about dining at Herb.  If you haven’t been, you must go.

Betel Leaf Amuse Bouche. Elegant, spicy, flavorful and my favorite way to start a Thai meal.

We decided to split a smaller salad as we knew we were going to be light on the vegetables for the next 24-hours.  Airplane food isn’t great when it comes to fresh garden work.  The salad was a big mix of different fruits and vegetables and everything was at the epitome of ripeness.  Sometimes I really regret living in a place (Chicago) where fresh fruits and vegetables aren’t available from your garden year round.

Thai Vegetable and Fruit Salad

For my entree, I decided on the Spicy Curry of Minced Prawns.  Our server asked if I like spicy food (which I do) and that was it.  She offered no other guidance…yeah, you know where this is going, don’t you?

The Spicy Curry of Minced Prawns with Yellow Eggplants and Holy Basil.

The mixed vegetables added a cooling effect on my wonderfully spicy lunch.

The mixed vegetables were delivered first and we were told those were designed to help reduce the heat that my lunch would be inflicting.  Not an uncommon thing to see, especially in Thai cooking.  Our entrees were delivered and they smelled amazing!  Mine was a big bowl of thin broth and just a ton of shrimp, vegetables and spices.  The first bite was heaven.  Then the spice started to kick in. WOW.  Then the fire continued to build.  I ate another bite, which cooled me off, then my mouth was turned into a three alarm fire again.  I downed the veggies, some water and wine – yes, I know that water and wine don’t really put out a spice fire like this, but I was desperate.  I made Mike take a bite of my curry.  I think he thinks I’m a wimp when it comes to spices, but I’m not. I love spice – I love flavor more though. You can often get a meal that is just so spicy you don’t get any flavor – I’ll steer clear of those.  This wasn’t like that, the flavor was intense and balanced…the spice level was extreme.  He had about three bites and agreed that it was very spicy and he went back to his milder fish curry.

I continued my journey. I drank water. I ate vegetables. I continued the curry. At a certain point, I decided that I’d just eat this curry and not try to put the fire out until I’m completely finished.  I ended up eating about 75% of the curry – I was actually pretty full…you know I had some betel leaf, a salad and about two gallons of water in my attempt to put the fire out.

The server comes back (my water was being refilled by a busboy) and laughed a bit at me.  Not in a mean way, or at least I didn’t take it that way.  She says “I told you it was spicy” – and well, she didn’t, but she implied that.  Her next sentence floored me.  She said that she loves spicy food, but this prawn curry is just too hot for her. You know, that’s a key piece of information that she should have shared with me when I ordered.  I may not have changed my mind on my order, but at least I would have known that a woman from an area of Thailand with traditionally spicy food, thinks this is just too hot.  C’mon!

Not even half way through my meal and I look like I’ve been through the gauntlet.

I didn’t get a choice for dessert, she brought me some dessert soup with mango and said that this would help with the heat.  It did.

Tropical Fruit in Scented Syrup – the Mangoes helped put out the fire.

Oh boy, this was a sweltering meal.  I really enjoyed Nahm.  The food was great although I can’t say if it should be on the list of Top 50 Restaurants in Asia (I haven’t eaten much in Asia).  I likely wouldn’t return to Nahm on my next trip to Bangkok – there are so many great restaurants and our visits are traditionally just a day or two.  I’ve got to get out and try new things when I’m there.

Some of you may be asking “Wait, weren’t you traveling for 24 hours shortly after this meal?  Did you have any, uh, um….issues, especially with a teeny tiny airplane bathroom?”  For those of you who thought that….gross.  For those who didn’t…sorry.  For all – no issues whatsoever!  It was was mouth burn, not anywhere else.  Now that that unpleasantness is behind us (ha)….

Have you eaten at Nahm?  Did you have the Spicy Prawn Curry?  How do you put out the mouth fire of Thai food?  Where do you recommend I visit during my next trip to Bangkok?

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Gaggan – Fine Dining in Bangkok

Our time in Bangkok was limited. We were using this time to relax from more than a week of schlepping through Myanmar and in addition to a wonderful luxury hotel, we wanted some phenomenal food. Thai cuisine is one of my favorites – and spending so much time in Myanmar, with their bland, forgettable food, we needed something amazing. The 50 Best Restaurants in the World list has lead us to some great places and the first thing that popped up when we looked in Bangkok was Gaggan (#7 at the time). While not Thai, but a modern take on Indian, we decided it was a must visit.

We booked reservations a few weeks before we left Chicago and were able to get seats at the chefs table doing the tasting menu. Gaggan, the restaurant, is captained by Gaggan Anand and has been open since 2010 and according to Wikipedia, his plan was to re-envision Indian food into a refined, fine dining experience — he truly succeeded. The interiors of the restaurant are muted, with lots of whites and beiges, it just helps to bring your focus to the food.

The old townhouse that has been turned into one of the 50 Best Restaurants in the World.

Our reservations were at 21h30 and we were fortunate enough (and quite by chance) that we could walk from the St. Regis to Gaggan. It was quite humid – it is Bangkok you know, but the walk was less than 10 minutes and it would have been utterly insane to take a taxi. We arrived shortly before 21h00 – I mistakenly thought we’d be able to grab a drink at the bar, but no such luck. We arrived early and waited about 10 minutes then were escorted upstairs to the large horseshoe bar area surrounding the kitchen.

Chefs and Assistants preparing for service at the common kitchen/bar table. 23 Courses do take some preparation.

We were the first to be seated. There were eight other people joining us upstairs for the amazing tasting menu.

The menu was delivered almost immediately when we sat down. There were no comments or directions, just the menu. Just Emojis. Just simple color printings on velum. Just emojis…A ton of them…25 to be exact. A 25 course tasting menu starting at 21h30 now seems like quite the daunting task. Remember, 15 hours ago we were hopping on a bus, heading to the airport in Heho, Myanmar for our two flight trip to Bangkok.

The menu was delivered on velum and only showed a single emoji for each course. no further guidance was given until the course was delivered.

Unfortunately there wasn’t an option for wine pairings with dinner. We could select bottles or by the glass if we wanted though. We asked the sommelier (who wasn’t a Master Sommelier) for guidance and this was by far the most disappointing part of our entire trip. His response: “Well, I’d suggest you get what you like.” Ok, I get it. With this many courses, we aren’t going to pair a new wine with each of the 25 courses, but with an emoji menu, we need some guidance. We didn’t get any. When we asked about a specific wine, we were told it was good and we should get it. When I asked if it made more sense to start with a glass of champagne first, then jump into a white or would the champagne do well for the first few courses, his response, was the same – “Do what you want.” If he would have said something about the first 16 courses are quite varied so a traditional pairing won’t work, but I’d recommend two to three glasses (even all at the same time) and then pairing them separately with the various courses, I’d have bitten and got three to four glasses of wine. As it was, we ended up with two glasses each. I was looking for the full experience here and the sommelier really did not deliver.

Chef came out and welcomed us all, asking us to introduce ourselves to our fellow diners and say where we were from. There were a couple Americans dining with us, but none who still lived in North America. We were surrounded by mostly people living in Bangkok. We were then told that the first 15 or so courses would be quick-fires (single bites that come out in rapid succession – which does lead back to the trouble with proper pairings), then we’d move into slightly larger courses, but nothing would be a full and proper meal course.

The first plate was set down in front of us at 21h28 and another course would be dropped every 2-5 minutes. It started to feel like a whirlwind. Everything was so tasty – great texture, great flavor combinations and a truly one of a kind delivery.

A (Spice) B (Citrus) = C (Cola)

Yogurt Explosion

Bombay Bhel

Eggplant Cookie

Chili Bonbon

Green Peas Mushroom Roll

Idly Sambar

Charcoal Prawn Amritsari

Aloo Gobi Caviar

Citrus Waffle Goat Brain

Closeup on Citrus Waffle

Amazaki Liver

Uni Ice Cream

Chu Toro (one of my favorites!)

The team prepping the Akami Tartar

Akami Tartar (a close second!)

Close Up on the Akami Tartar

Tomato Matcha

Pork Vindaloo Cutlet

Scallop Curry Cold

Quail Chettinad – Caged

Quail Chettinad – UnCaged

Chef prepares the fish course – I’d never expect the fish course to require a blow torch…

Post Torching Fish

Cedar Wood Paturi (sorry for the blurry pic!)

Lamb Kebob Hot Dog

Crab Curry Chuwanmushi – a bland picture but an amazing course.

Beetroot Blue Cheese (YES PLEASE!)

Basil Chocolate Butterfly

Strawberry Ghewar

The final course, the Strawberry Ghewar was delivered at 23h12. We were full. We were sleepy. We were pleased to have visited Gaggan. The restaurant will be closing in 2020, so if you have a plan to visit Bangkok, I highly recommend you stop by and pay Mr. Anand and his team a visit. After he shutters Gaggan in Bangkok he’s moving his restaurant to Japan — yes, it’ll be on my short list for sure.

Before we departed, we were given the full menu – and by full menu, I mean one with words. Not an elaborate menu, mind you, but one that provided much more detail than the emoji menu we encountered upon our arrival.

Our final menu, complete with emoji and description.

St. Regis Bangkok

Our final stop on our trip to Myanmar was the St. Regis Bangkok. We’ve stayed at this property at the end of our last two week trip through Southeast Asia (after we visited Vietnam and Cambodia).  Staying in luxury hotels is very easy in Bangkok – there are a ton of them and they are so much more reasonably priced in this market than anywhere else I have seen in the world.

We figured it would be utterly foolish to book the St. Regis on points, as it goes for 30,000 Starpoints each night or we could pay cash for only 150USD per night.  We opted for the latter and as an SPG Platinum member who stays 50+ nights annually, I am awarded 10-suite night upgrades, which I used two for our stay in Bangkok.  We were only going to be there a single night, but our flight home (via Munich) was scheduled to leave around 01h00 and we didn’t want to deal with luggage handling or vacating our room at 16h00 then finding something to do for four or five hours, especially at this price point.

After ditching those Oregonians who wanted to split a cab into the City, we pulled up to the main door at the St. Regis, around 16h00 and were greeted by several doormen, all smiling, bowing and graciously taking our luggage.  Reception is on the 12th floor of the hotel, while the first floor houses several seating areas, a chocolate retailer and a Concierge Desk and what appeared to be a Tour desk.  Our luggage was whisked away and we were escorted to the main elevator and walked directly to a young German man who was waiting to check us in.

We did not catch this German’s name (I know he told us, but we forgot).  We called him Rolf (from the Sound of Music…not because we thought he was a member of the National Socialist Party, but because he looked like the actor who played him in the film).  He was young and seemed a bit confused during most of our interactions.  He was clicking and typing away as he confirmed our stay details, scanned our passports and made small talk.  He had been in Bangkok for a six month rotation with SPG and he was very excited to get out.  He didn’t like the heat.  He was heading off to Madrid and would do a six month rotation at the Westin Palace, which we had stayed a year or two prior to this visit to Bangkok.

Rolf welcomed me as a Gold member and informed me that he had personally upgraded us to a standard room with a better view because of my loyalty and before I could correct him, he began telling me all about the benefits of being a Gold Member.  I let him finish.  I then told him I was a Platinum member and that we were confirmed into a Suite. He suggested that SPG had downgraded me to Gold for some reason (perish the thought).  It looks like the St. Regis wasn’t pulling all the current info on my record into their systems, but were just using the info from my most recent stay (Gold Status and old US address).  It took some convincing – and asking him to check with someone else on our status and our room.  He did and got it cleared up.  He graciously personally upgraded us to the room that we had been confirmed into five days prior.  We were happy with the result but the round about way to get there was frustrating.

Rolf escorted us to our room and showed us all the features.  We didn’t have much Thai Baht on us at that time and we wanted to make sure the more local folks would get that, so we tipped Rolf in Euros which he seemed to appreciate (he had less than a week left in Bangkok).

Our room was stunning.  The room was way too big for us, especially since we’d be spending little time in the room and only sleeping there one night, but it was very nice to have ample room to stretch out and enjoy the space.

As you open the main door you are greeted by a very long entry way, with an entry table and a beautiful orchid.

First sight as we entered our suite.

Better shot of the beautiful orchids on the entry table. Every entry needs an orchid, don’t you think?

To left is the living area, which included a dining area with seating for four, a couch paired with a couple of club chairs facing the TV and closest to the hallway was a bar.  The bar had a fancy Siemens Nespresso coffee machine, which was lost on us as we aren’t coffee drinkers. I did make a cup of tea though.

A view from the bar in our suite. Ample seating for relaxing and entertaining.

A view of our dining and sitting area with the bar off in the distance.

The bar was properly stocked and a coffee, some tea or a cocktail were at your finger tips…or just call the Butler to make one for you.

Our bar had wonderful Nespresso beverage station, which was almost totally lost on us non-coffee drinkers.

On the dining table the welcome amenity of fresh fruit was waiting our arrival.  The fruit was very tasty and the Butler replenished the items we ate when we stepped out.

 

Our welcome gift, waiting for us as upon arrival.

The room also include small half bath between the main hallway and the living space.  Not really a necessity for us, but it was very nice to have.

The suite had a half bath, they billed as for “guests”. While a total luxury, I really love the half bath in hotel rooms.

To the right of the main hallway was the bedroom, which had a TV, a small writing desk and a king sized bed.  I love the modern muted colors of the St. Regis.  The bed was very comfortable, but during turn down service we were given only milk chocolate, which is pretty standard, but something I’d rather skip.  Give me dark or nothing!

While not the most efficient use of space, the I really enjoy the colors and textures of the St. Regis Bangkok.

The bedroom in our suite was large, comfortable and perfect for our one overnight in Bangkok.

The closet in the master bedroom was stunning – although for a one night stay we didn’t unpack.

Who lines up paperclips like this? I do love a properly stocked desk when traveling. Interestingly enough, the room did NOT have St. Regis stationary.

The bathroom was large and beautiful.  The large shower with a view into the City was separated from the rest of the room and tucked away in the corner.  The separate bathtub did not get used this time – last time I had the Butler fill me a bubble bath where I enjoyed champagne and read magazines that I’d schlepped half way around the world.

The double vanity in the main bathroom was lacking a bit of counter space, but worked out well for us.

The bathtub was calling to me. Bubbles (both bubble bath and champagne) are a guilty pleasure that I didn’t partake in this trip.

The master toilet…and obligatory phone.

The water pressure and temperature were phenomenal.  The Elemis products (from the spa on site) were perfectly acceptable.  I wasn’t really digging the scent, but they did their job and each time we left the room the bathroom was reset with new products (old ones weren’t taken away, but anything that we had used, an additional one was brought in, so we had no fear of running out).

The Elemis products found in our bathroom were the same products used in the spa onsite, of the same name.

As a Platinum Member, we were welcomed each evening to the Bar on the 12th Floor where a special area was reserved for Platinum members – for a daily reception.  This was part of our welcome amenity.  Complimentary cocktails and snacks were offered, which I enjoyed both days I was there.  I lounged by myself on our second day, as Mike didn’t want to fill up because we had the Thai Royal First Ground Experience plus Royal First on a Thai 747 to Munich too.  I’m a glutton, so I had prosecco and snacks before we started our journey home.

The SPG Platinum Wine Appreciation Menu

The cocktail menu at the Platinum Reception.

The St. Regis Bangkok doesn’t have a lounge, so a portion of the bar was blocked off for a Platinum Reception.

I really enjoyed our stay at the St. Regis Bangkok – this stay ended on a much better note than the last time we stayed.  No drama with checkout or extremely stressed, panicking staff.  I would return to this property again in a heartbeat.  We do a poor job of exploring Bangkok when we are here, at this point of our trips, we are usually ready for some luxury and the St. Regis property and the wonderful team who staff her provide exactly what we are looking for.

Where do you stay when in Bangkok?  Do you jump in with both feet to the luxury hotels the city offers or do you prefer to save some travel money and visit the more normal hotels that go for as low as 50USD?  When in this city, we like to splurge, but love to hear about other properties too.  Where should we stay during our next visit to Bangkok?

Air Asia Economy (RGN-DMK)

Our last shorthaul flight on our trip to Myanmar had us leaving Yangon on Air Asia to Bangkok. I had never flown Air Asia before but I usually try to stear clear of low cost carriers because you can often get stuck paying a lot more in fees (carryon, checked bags, seat assignments, etc), than you initially plan. We really didn’t have an option for this trip as the flights to Bangkok on Thai (our preference) or Myanmar National Airlines all left dramatically later than we wanted. We wanted to spend the afternoon in Bangkok and a 15h30 departure from Yangon would help us out in that regard.

We decided on Air Asia because the flight times were the best we could find, plus the air fare was very reasonable. Air Asia wasn’t flying into BKK,  but DMK (Don Mueang International Airport) instead. It looked to be a bit closer to the St. Regis anyway and our goal was to enjoy Bangkok, so we booked it.

Our driver from Yangon, earlier in the trip, picked us up at the domestic terminal and drove us to the international terminal. It was very generous and included in the price we paid for the tour, but it really wasn’t necessary the distance between the terminals wasn’t long nor was it convoluted.

We had about two hours between the time our flight from Heho landed until we left for Bangkok. Yangon has a contract lounge and with your Priority Pass you can gain access. That is of course, unless you run into the people we did at the airport. The women working the lounge wouldn’t accept our Priority Pass. She said that we weren’t welcome (that’s a quote). I figured I could just pay for access then bring it up with Citi or Chase once we get back home. No deal. We saw another passenger enter by showing some sort of pass (not a printed lounge access card, but a credit card sized pass). He was a young man of European descent. No clue what the issue was, but she kept the lounge locked up like Fort Knox.

There was a lot of empty space and not a lot of seats in Yangon, and almost no power outlets. We found seats near the gate and sat for about 90 minutes. Interestingly enough, while we waited, we met an American couple from my home state…and the woman actually went to the same college as me (20 years prior, but I went to a small school and the only other Americans we ran into having this connection with us was quite exciting).

We boarded the plane and quickly found our seats near the last row. The retired Oregonian travelers were seated in the row behind me. The man in the middle seat next to me was a very tall African man. He had two large Fosters Beers, one of which was half consumed and the other was chugged between the time we were on our take off roll but before we hit cruising altitude. As we boarded we saw a tall European (could be North American) board with a rainbow clown wig, a big red nose and a big horn that he’d honk from time to time.

Pretty tight pitch on this Air Asia flight – awful uncomfortable.

Interior shot of a moderately packed A320.

Before we reached 3,000 meters the flight attendants began service. The flight to Bangkok was less than 50 minutes, but a small snack box was served to all 180 people on board their Airbus A320. The pitch was quite tight and the African dude chugging his Fosters (and silent burping and blowing his beer stink on me) was manspreading like a motherfucker. The seat width is tight on this plane, so it really felt like he was trying to play footsie. It was a rough 50 minutes.

We landed and the Oregonians were asking where we were staying and they lost their minds when we said the St. Regis.  They were staying at an Ibis because they got a rate of 70USD per night. The St. Regis was 140USD. Big percentage difference, but an even bigger quality difference. I love the cheap luxury hotels in Bangkok.  They wanted to split a cab with us, which was probably the last thing in our list at that point. Luckily their phones weren’t working, so we told them that our hotels were in opposite directions, then once off the plane, we ran like Olympic Sprinters to ensure we didn’t have to discuss cab sharing again.

We had forgotten how tight the cabs are in Bangkok too. There would have been no way our suitcases, their backpacks and ourselves would have fit into one of those cabs. Whew.

If I had a choice between Thai and Air Asia, I’d choose Thai. For such a short flight with reasonable airfare and departure time, Air Asia was perfectly acceptable. I would definitely fly them again, if the need arose.

What do you think of Air Asia? Is it worth the hassle to save a few bucks or a few hours of vacation?

Thai Airways Royal Silk Class TPE-BKK-RGN (TG 637 & 301)

After spending a couple hours in Taipei, relaxing in the EVA Lounge and showering, we headed off to our next flight – this one to Bangkok on Thai Airways then after a short connection, continuing on to Yangon, but first, I had to get a photo with Hello Kitty herself.  Who knew she was such an aviation aficionado?

I’m relaxing with Hello Kitty in Taipei. She’s quite the #AVGEEK

We were on Thai’s Airbus 330s for both legs on this portion of the journey – different planes, but the same configuration.  Since we flew in on EVA’s Royal Laurel Business Class, continuing on in Business was included in the price we paid, and it was a nice continuation.  Thai’s Royal Silk (Business Class) on these planes is a bit out dated, but still much nicer than flying in their coach seats.

Our Airbus 330 which took us from Bangkok to Yangon.

We boarded through Door 1L on each of these flights, while the majority of our fellow passengers boarded through 2L, right behind the business class cabin.  We were surprised at how quickly these planes were boarded and we pulled away from the gate.  The seats are angle flat seats – going to 131 degrees of recline.  Unlike the EVA flight, there is almost no privacy in these seats.  That being said these seats are perfectly fine for a couple hour day time flight.  We actually flew these seats a few years ago from Bangkok to Seoul and they did allow us to sleep a bit.

Royal Silk Class on Thai’s A330 between TPE-BKK and RGN.

The In-Flight-Entertainment on the A330.

After we sat down and the rest of the plane boarded, we were offered a pre-departure drink, which we chose champagne and orange juice.  On both of these flights, we were served Veuve Clicquot N.V – which is a perfectly fine selection – one that we often will give as host gifts back home.

Champagne and Orange Juice – Breakfast of Champions.

From Taipei to Bangkok, I decided not to have a full meal – I had eaten quite a bit on the flight to Taipei. I just had some more fruit and another couple glasses of Veuve.   From Bangkok to Yangon, I did decide to grab a bite to eat and it was really great.  I decided to try to Prawn Pad Thai and I have to say that was a wonderful decision – it was better than any restaurant Pad Thai I’ve had.

An Excellent Prawn Pad Thai en route to Yangon

These flights were easy, comfortable and above all, got us to where we were going in a timely and safe fashion.  Would I pay extra to fly Royal Silk on these routes?  It’s unlikely, but depending on the variance in prices, I could see it making sense for less than $100 premium – otherwise, I’d suggest staying in the back of the plane and using your money for great food wherever you are going.  If you do happen to have an opportunity to try the Pad Thai served on Thai Airways, I highly recommend it.

What do you think of the regional service offered by Thai on their A330 Aircraft?  Am I nuts for wanting so much champagne on these flights?