Alive and well in Chinatown
We arrived in Bangkok yesterday morning, and checked into our hotel on Yaowarat Road, smack dab in the middle of Bankok's ancient Chinatown. Dismissed by snooty travelers as dirty, crowded and chaotic, Chinatown is the place to be if you're a food lover in need of a few days' R and R.
We're staying in a cool old hotel that feels like I'd imagine 1920s Shanghai, minus the opium and gangsters. Poorly lit, musty and fabulously evocative, I wouldn't want to live here, but it's great for a break.
Yaowarat Road is the main drag, and it looks exactly like you'd expect -- lots of signs in Chinese, tea shops, duck vendors and purveyors of watches and sunglasses of dubious provenance. It's best first thing in the morning and just after dusk.
As the lights go down, the street kitchens roll out. Carts, card tables and umbrellas crowd the sidewalks and spill out into the road. Tuk tuks, taxis and buses speed by as diners slurp down noodles and sip beer at restaurants whose appearances belie the world class cuisine served therein.
Anyone who knows me knows that that I'm in heaven around here, right? Unfortunately, the cold I was getting in Chiang Mai hit me full force last night, and sapped me of all energy and appetite. Kori assures me that last night's dinner was delicious, but I could only finish a couple of bites. I dragged myself back to the hotel -- Pak had to carry my bag, as I was too tired to do so -- and was in bed by 7:30. I slept until about 8:30 and decided that I was going to feel better, even if it killed me.
I took our clothes to a back-alley laundry (saving about $50 -- hotel laundry services are the biggest ripoffs in the hospitality industry), grabbed a bag of cooked rice, a few steamed buns and a styrofoam carton of crispy pork belly and returned to our room. We ate our breakfast on the floor of our hotel room (saving about $30 -- hotel restaurants are the second biggest ripoffs in the hospitality industry) and decided that I felt well enough to take the family out shopping.
We took a taxi to the impressive and bewildering Central Plaza mall. We don't really need anything, so we just wandered until lunch time. We selected Din Tai Fung, a dim sum restaurant widely reputed as having the world's best xiao long bao (soup dumplings). I don't have enough experience to confirm the dumplings' status as world's finest, but they were certainly the best I've ever had. Rolled and stuffed by hand, these are the real deal, and are a far sight better than the ones served in Columbus at Helen's Asian Kitchen.
We returned the hotel, and the kids stayed in their room doing homework while Kori and I walked down the street for a foot massage. By the end of the massage, my energy had almost completely returned. Thank God! And thank all of you for praying.
Around dinner time, we headed out and enjoyed the fine dining and people-watching I'd missed out on during last night's malaise. We walked around for about an hour before settling down at a folding table right on the street, and we enjoyed noodles with duck broth, crispy duck breast and pork wontons. It was a perfect meal, and cost about a buck a bowl. Not so bad.
Afterwards, we stopped for tea and cookies. So nice. Everyone is happy, and we are all getting along. And I'm feeling much better. About 75%. I'm hoping for 100% tomorrow morning. We'll visit the Royal Palace and something billed as "the thieves market." Sounds cool.
We have one more day in Bangkok, and then we head to Delhi. After a couple of days in Delhi and Agra, we'll be in Kalimpong to visit the kids and staff of Asia's Hope.