Friday, June 4, 2010

"The Rounds," Saturday, June 5, 2010

Remember you can leave comments below this edition --

 1. Taffy Raring to Go!
 2. Passings . . .
 3. When You Need Some Spectacles
 4. A New Website for Diners and Restaurant Owners Alike
 5. Airport Link Has Soft Opening
 6. Another First for Thailand: Solar-Powered Tuk-tuks!
 7. Moonshine in Queen's Park Plaza to Have 7th-Aniversary Party 
 Tonight from 7:00 P.M.
 8. Washington Square Offerings
 9. Thailand Offering Various Specials to Rebuild Tourism and Business Travel
10. Another Take on the Recent Troubles

Taffy Raring to Go!

Well, Taffy's new theme song is "Leaving on a Jet Plane" as he eagerly awaits his blast-off Saturday night about midnight on his flight to the great state of Minnesota, where the Minnesota Mob members are awaiting him, no doubt planning to lead him astray from the moment he DE-planes until he RE-planes.

Since "The Warden" hasn't had a proper holiday in several years, this is a well-deserved break for him to get away a week or so to spend with good friends. (It's also a well-deserved break for US, but that's a different story!)

Personally, I'm actually already looking forward to his return, as he's promised to bring me some smoked cheese to replace the block I brought back with me a few years ago and he promptly ATE. That was my own fault, really, since I left it in the cooler at the top of the stairs next to his living quarters. He told me about it the following day, saying he had been nosing around for a snack and spotted the cheese, but didn't remember it was mine -- UNTIL he was about to shove the last slice down his gullet, that is!

Anyway, it will be nice for him to get a chance to visit the U.S. for the first time and to spend his time with dear friends. We all hope he has a splendid time -- and manages to avoid getting eaten alive by Minnesota Mosquito Squadrons!

Bon voyage, Khun Taffy!

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Passings . . .

Khun Bear was in town earlier this week, and while it was great to see him, he had the sad tidings that Dave Miller -- I think I have the name right -- up in Korat passed away; Bear and Mam had been to his funeral, so Bear decided to come on down a day or two since he was halfway here anyway from the wilds of Surin, where he passes the time bagging cobras, chasing monkeys, wrestly pigs, and other fun cultural activities. .

He also told me that the Farang Connection in Surin is no more, as Martin, the personable British owner (owned it together with his Thai wife, whose name escapes me at the moment, that is), passed away awhile back. Mrs. Martin got out of the business, which is too bad -- great little bar with good food.

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When You Need Some Spectacles . . .

I don't mean the kind of spectacles in which YOU play the "starring" role, but when you need to help those aging eyes focus in a little better on YOUR favorite L'il Noi (or whatever her name is).

A really nice Thai gentleman, Khun Pirom Yoshmetha, owns a shop on Sukhumvit Road just west of Soi Asoke (between Soi Asoke and Soi 14) called "Modern Optical." He speaks excellent English, and offers services, lenses, and frames at competitive prices -- and, best of all, he can make you a new pair of glasses in under an hour, a real rarity around here. He's open from 9:00 A.M. until 7:00 P.M., I think Mondays through Saturdays. Here's the location information:

326/10 Sukhumvit Road
Khlong Toey
Bangkok 10110
Telephone: 02-229-4547, 02-229-4538

So if you find yourself here and in need of glasses, by all means pay a visit to Khun Pirom. He's been in business since 1972 -- so he does have a bit of experience!

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A New Website for Diners
and Restaurant Owners Alike

 Read about the website the other day and took a quick loom just now.

It's slick, easy to navigate, and currently claims to have 1,529 restaurants in its database.

What especially intrigued me is that you can become a fan of a restaurant and then write your own diner review of the place. You can also let your friends, family, and colleagues know about your review so they can read it.

One of Bangkok's outstanding features is its culinary scene. There are cities that rival it, but I bet none exceed it. You can get just about every imaginable cuisine here, at just about every price level as well, making the city's wide selection of food offerings accessible on just about any budget. That includes everything from the often-excellent food from street vendors right the way up to the very fanciest, classy restaurants.

Even Westerners who are afraid to try new foods (or just don't care for them) can eat here, and I don't mean just in fast-food chains such as McDonald's and KFC, as there are numerous restaurants offering varying Western foods. For example, on of my favorites is Bourbon Street in Washington Square, where the main specialty is Cajun food, though they offer a wide selection of other foods as well, including an all-you-can-eat Mexican buffet every Tuesday evening. It's highly popular, especially among Americans. I also like the Mexican food at the Silver Dollar, also in Washington Square. In both cases, the offerings are Tex-Mex.

The story I read said the people behind Restaurants of Bangkok plan on other city guides -- I think Singapore and Hong Kong were the two other cities mentioned, if I remember correctly.

I expect this site to grow. There's a lot of room for growth -- for instance, there's no tab for the Sukhumvit area, which surprised me a little. There are also tabs for some national cuisines, but not a great many, so that's another area that will undoubtedly expand. There's even a search function, with a variety of ways to conduct your search.

This is a website worth bookmarking for visitors and residents alike.

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Airport Rail Link Has Soft Opening

The delayed soft opening of the new, 28-kilometer link connecting Suvarnabhumi International Airport outside Bangkok with the city center finally took place earlier this week.

For now, it will run between the two ends, i.e., the Phayathai station and the airport. Later this month, stops will be added at Hua Mark and Ramkhamhaeng, then eventually the other four stations will be opened.

During this first phase, rides are free, but the operating hours are only 7:00-10:00 A.M. and 4:00-7:00 P.M. Also, the baggage check-in isn't operational yet.

The trip from one end to the other now will take about 22 minutes, with two trains per hour. Eventually, there will be trains that stop at all the stations, but there also will be express ones.

Fares will start at 15 baht, increasing 5 baht for each additional station, with a cap of 45 baht. The express trains will cost 150 baht. Later, the ticketing system will be integrated with the Skytrain's, subways, and municipal buses.

This link should be a real boost for travelers.

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Another First for
Thailand: Solar-Powered Tuk-tuks!

That's right. Saw a story in the Bangkok Post headlined "Sunny side up" (isn't that just too cute?), complete with a photo of one on a test run here in Bangkok.

I hadn't heard about this previously, though the story says there are some in various places around the Kingdom. The one in the story has a solar panel on the roof and a battery; when the battery is charged up (via plugging it in, I assume) 3-4 hours, it can operate a full day or night, at a recharge cost of only about 20 baht. So, though the purchase price is considerably higher for this electric version, the operating costs should be far less than the older ones are that use standard fossil fuels.

There actually are two sizes of tuk-tuks, the smaller being by far the more ubiquitous of the two. The one in the picture appears to be the smaller version, and frankly, I find them uncomfortable. They also are very loud and stink -- they're open-air, though you do have a roof and most tuk-tuks have tarp covers that can be rolled down and tied in place when it's raining. However, lots of people swear by them, especially those with few, if any, alternatives -- which is common outside Bangkok, even in the outskirts.

Also, when you're sitting behind the driver -- a tuk-tuk is basically a three-wheel motorcycle, though the passenger seat is a bench one -- the angle of the roof makes seeing ahead impossible unless you lean over low. (The larger version doesn't have that problem, and is much more comfortable anyway.)

One caution if you decide to take a ride in one: try to have a Thai person negotiate a price in advance -- and without telling the driver you're foreign, if you are. It's quite common for the drivers to name some exorbitant fare, far above what locals pay, and for any distance at all, more than a regular taxi. For example, the one time I took a tuk-tuk from my current home to Washington Square, the guy initially demanded 200 baht -- while a taxi costs me about 35-40 baht, depending on the traffic. (He eventually settled for 60 when some of the Silver Dollar employees came out and argued with him.)

Another caution is in order, too: since the sides are open and there are no seat belts, if you get some guy who thinks he's a Formula 1 race driver, a tuk-tuk can be downright dangerous, particularly when  cornering. I'd rather ride a regular motorcycle taxi in that case -- at least a driver of one of those has as much to lose as *you* do if he drives like a wild man!

Clearly, tuk-tuks aren't designed for long hauls, just for urban travel. In fact, they're barred from motorways. Oh, a couple of hardy souls have driven one long distances; one guy rode one all the way from Thailand to *England!* Or so some story I saw a few years ago claimed.

What tuk-tuks are quite good for is hauling stuff, when you have too much to carry on a bus or maybe even in a regular taxi. Most have platforms on the back; when I bought a refrigerator right after I moved here, I had a tuk-tuk deliver it from the store to my apartment; the driver had ropes and secured the refrigerator to the back, and got it here just fine.

Anyway, if you happen to spot a solar-powered one, it probably would be worth taking a short spin -- even I might do that, just for the novelty of it!

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Moonshine in Queen's Park
Plaza to Have 7th-Aniversary
Party Tonight from 7:00 P.M.

Mitch and Rattana are celebrating seven years of owning the Moonshine tonight, and will be offering free buffet food and live music.

The restaurant is near the front of the venue. Coming from the direction of Sukhumvit Road, you can turn into the first walkway and enter through the read, or go on to the next sidewalk and go through the front. Coming from the other direction, the front faces the third walkway while the back faces the fourth one.

I don't go into QPP very much, but when I do, the Moonshine is always one of my must-visit places -- nice owners, nice staff, comfortable booths and bar stools, very good food, and reasonable prices. Drop by tonight (or anytime).

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Washington Square Offerings

I've written about these before, but since it has been quite awhile since I last did, it's time to mention them again.

I already mentioned Bourbon Street's Tuesday-nights Mexican food buffet. I particularly recommend the chicken fajitas. They also have a Happy Hour, let's see, I think it's 5:00-7:00 P.M.. Monday through Friday. Open 7:00 A.M.-1:00 A.M.

Silver Dollar has a daily breakfast special and lunch-dinner special, and Happy Hour 4:00-7:00 P.M. every day Monday through Friday. On Monday nights starting at 6:00 P.M. they grill pork ribs outside on the grill, and serve until they run out or no one else orders. I'm not a huge fan of ribs, but I sure do like theirs, and the portions are very generous. I like all their menu items, too. Open 9:00 A.M.-1:00 A.M. daily.

The Texas Lone Staar has a lunch special every day Monday through Friday, and that's widely popular. Prices vary in the 100-120 baht range, depending on what's on offer. Most include a small tossed salad with either Thousand Island or Italian [oil] dressing and a soup -- and the mushroom and tomato soups are particularly excellent. Examples on entrees are pork chops (both breaded and unbreaded), tacos, fried chicken, baked chicken with stuffing, and sometimes hot sandwiches (pork or beef). On Saturdays, there is a free lunch starting about 3:00 P.M.; I *especially* love the beef brisket, which the cooks do a really good job cooking. Open about 6:30 A.M.-about midnight or 1:00 A.M.

There are other bars, of course, and I like them all, so you can find a place that suits your fancy and mood in the Square.

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Thailand Offering Various Specials
to Rebuild Tourism and Business Travel

I've been seeing a growing number of news reports that various folks involved in these sectors, both in the government and in the private sector, are making efforts to draw international vacationers and business travelers back to the country and to promote domestic tourism and business travel among both Thais and resident foreigners.

This isn't the time to skimp: use a good travel agent, since he or she almost certainly can find better deals than you can. That doesn't mean not to do any checking on your own -- sometimes specials pop up for just a few hours for hotels, tours, air tickets, etc. on individual business websites.

In a related development, AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes is here, partly to help rebuild air traffic -- AirAsia is now the second-largest carrier at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, behind national carrier THAI -- and to ask the Airport Authority of Thailand to lower the per=passenger fee airlines have to pay (or we do, in other words), currently set at 700 baht per person. I read a story headlined "AirAsia renews call for low-cost airport in Bangkok" on the website just this morning. He also is asking that Don Meuang Airport, the capital's former main one, be utlized as a low-cost terminal facility, similar to a comparable one in Kuala Lumpur.

I also saw a Bangkok Post story yesterday headlined "B21.5bn plan heads to cabinet" about government efforts to help. The various plans all sound attractive, and should help. You can see the story for details to decide if anything under discussion might benefit you.

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Another Take on the Recent Troubles

Had a chance the other day to sit with a Thai gentleman who's highly placed -- he's "retired" from the military but still serves in various capacities, including on a high-level security committee. Anyway, I asked him his take on the Red Shirt demonstrations, which ended badly, as anyone who follows news here knows, with upwards of 90 deaths, all told, and somewhere on the order of 2,500 wounded.

He basically confirmed what I and many other people had concluded: the protesters had some legitimate complaints, but in some cases got led astray by a few people of ill will. He also sees no easy solutions, particularly now, given the bitterness left all around, with the Red Shirts feeling their grievances still haven't been addressed, business owners who businesses got torched on the day of mayhem May 19th, and the residents of the area around the Ratchaprasong intersection whose daily lives were seriously disrupted during the two months of protests.

He also expressed the opinion that there's not much we resident foreigners of good will can do, other than to stand back and hope the Thais themselves can find a resolution -- in fact, he went as far as actually blaming various players for events, though he did essentially defend the government generally (while acknowledging some decisions that turned out in unexpected, and not always happy, ways) and the military in particular. He pointed out the obvious: the ordinary Thai troops were in a very, very difficult place to be, charged with establishing order but not wishing to harm their fellow countrymen.

I sure wouldn't want to be there, either. As I said, those folks do have some perfectly understandable gripes, so it's not easy to expect them just to be quiet and go home.

I was happy to hear that the back channels are lit up, with people of good will on all sides trying, quietly, to find a way forward.

Also on the plus side, though Thailand has come through a time of considerable danger, it also is a time offering real opportunity. I have a sense there's been a real sea change, though it remains to be seen just how that will unfold in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

Enough for one go --

Mekhong Kurt

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