Saturday, January 27, 2007


Mexican food is quite possibly my favorite cuisine in the whole world. I used to love going to the Mexicantown district in downtown Detroit and my favorite restaurant there was a place called Xochimilco. God, do I miss that place...

So it was only a matter of time before I started searching for a suitable replacement here in Bangkok. After asking around, two names came up the most: Senior Pico (located in the Rembrandt Hotel) and Charley Brown's (Sukhumvit Soi 11).

The first place we tried was Senior Pico.

The atmosphere was nice, but had a kind of "corporate Mexican" feel to it.

The staff was friendly and there was a band ("Los Lamas") on hand that played authentic Mexican tunes in Spanish. They were a bit loud, but I thought that was still a nice touch.

I ordered my standard favorite: a beef burrito. I realize that this is not the most adventurous choice on the menu, but when trying a new Mexican place, I always order one just to set the standard.

They did have fancier fare for order - like this meat on a skewer that my friend Greg ordered.

The food was OK, but a bit unspectacular. Maybe my expectations were too high. One thing odd about the place were the selections on the children's menu: Mickey Mouse Burger, Super Mario's Penne Pasta, Spaghetti Pinocchio, Road Runner Chicken, and Senior Pico's Pizza. You would think that they would have kid's versions of tacos, nachos, burritos or chimichangas, but no dice.

Next up was Charley Brown's.

The decor had a down-and-dirty "Route 66" kind of vibe, complete with a vintage gas pump, old cars jutting out of the walls, thousands of old beer cans, and banged up license plates.

I generally like this kind of style, but I have to admit that it usually fits a greasy burger joint more so than a Mexican restaurant.

The food was similar to Senior Picos - a bit commercial - but for some reason I liked it a bit better (and the kid's menu did have tacos, nachos, etc).

It was really a coin flip in regards to which restaurant I preferred. I would give Charley Brown's the slight edge in food (which I guess is the most important factor when deciding where to eat), but the atmosphere was a bit better at Senior Pico.

Neither one measured up to my beloved Xochimilco (at least in my eyes). Maybe that's a bit unfair, but that's how I feel. It should be noted that we did have some Mexican friends (you know, from Mexico) in Detroit and they thought Xochimilco was crap, so I guess it really comes down to what you're used to. If you've lived in Bangkok your entire life, then Senior Pico or Charley Brown's might just be the zenith of Mexican food for you, and that's perfectly OK.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


The Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya (or simply Ayutthaya) was the capital of Thailand for 417 years (1350-1767) and was once one of the most majestic cities in Southeast Asia. Located 86 km outside of Bangkok, today it is a historical site populated by crumbling buildings and headless Buddhas (the effects of both earthquakes and invasions). A visit there makes for a great day trip and a fascinating glimpse into Thailand's past.

Wat Phra Si Sanphet & the Grand Palace

During the height of the Ayutthaya Period, this site was the grandest palace complex in Asia, but it was eventually burnt down when the Kingdom was invaded.

Wat Mahatat

This temple is home to one of the most famous images in all of Thailand, the head of a Buddha image overgrown with the roots of a fig tree:

This city temple was the site of many royal rituals in the past and the structures reflect the changing architectural trends of the time.

Wat Chaiwatthanaram

Located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, this wat remains in good condition (compared to some of the others we visited). It was built in 1630 by King Prasat Thong in the style of Cambodia's famed Angkor Wat to celebrate the King's military victory of Thailand's neighboring country.

Wat Yai Chaimongkhon

The tourist bureau in Ayutthaya lists this as the most popular site in the old Kingdom. It his home to a white recling Buddha:

The temple has great significance for Thai people as it was built during the reign of King Naresuan the Great to commemorate an epic battle that saw him riding an elephant into battle to defeat an invading Burmese prince.

The main structure here is an octagonal-based, bell-shaped stupa that one can climb for some majestic views.

Wat Phananchoeng

Built 26 years before Ayutthaya was established (1325), this temple is home to Thailand's tallest gilded Buddha. Unfortunately, the statue was undergoing extensive renovations when we were there, so we were unable to take a picture of it.

Another thing that makes this monastary stand out is the fact that it is tended to by the local Chinese community. For this reason, the influence of Chinese symbols and architecture can be felt throughout the complex.

It's always interesting to find swastikas in ancient art, and this Chinese Buddha is no exception.

As you can see, we saw many things during our trip to Ayutthaya, but we really just scratched the surface. There is still a lot more to cover, and a trip back to the old Kingdom is definately in our plans.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


I love going to rock concerts and I was eagerly anticipating my first one here in the Land of Smiles. I got a little discourged when I noticed that the Rolling Stones never stopped here on their never-ending "Bigger Bang Tour" (which I saw in Detroit in August 2005 and has seemingly visited every city in the world EXCEPT Bangkok since). The Black Eyed Peas were here last summer, but they are not exactly my cup of tea (although my neighbors saw them and raved about the experience).

When I learned back in October that Eric Clapton was coming here, I knew I had to go. I saw Clapton once before, way back in 1988 at the Palace of Auburn Hills outside Detroit. That was a pretty memorable show as Marc Knopfler (from Dire Straits) was a part of his touring band that time around and the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan made a guest appearance for the last tune.

That time, the set consisted of Clapton and company plowing through a selection of songs littered with greatest hits. On Monday, it was a bit different. At first it seemed like a Derek & The Dominos revival with four of the first five songs coming from the classic album "Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs."

Tell The Truth
Key To The Highway
Got to Get Better in A Little While
Little Wing
Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?

After that, the whole band left Clapton alone and he sat down and brought out his acoustic guitar for one song. Then the band rejoined him for a few more tunes done in a laid back style:

Driftin' Blues (Clapton Solo Acoustic)
Outside Woman Blues
Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out
Running On Faith

Next, the band went back to rocking out. The rest of the set leaned heavily on the blues and it wasn't until the last four songs that EC decided to play some tunes that those familiar with his work only from listening to the radio would know:

Motherless Children
Little Queen of Spades
Wonderful Tonight



I didn't mind the set. I thought it was amazing and I was in a bit of a trance watching Clapton and the two other young guitarists in his band (Doyle Bramhall II and Derek Trucks) trade licks song after song. If you are a fan of extended guitar solos or just an air-guitar playing wannabe (like myself) then this night was for you. The rest of the band, which included bass player Steve Jordan, drummer Willie Weeks, and Chris Stainton and Tim Carmon on the keys were also given a chance to shine throughout the evening.

I did notice that the acoustics weren't that great at Bangkok's Impact Arena. This was a sentiment echoed on the front page of Tuesday's Bangkok Post:

I honestly expected this, so it didn't bother me too much. At least there were two big screens on both sides of the stage which showed a lot of closeups of the hands of EC and his cohorts blistering the fretboards.

One interesting thing (at least to me) about this show were the tickets. Instead of the standard paper tickets that I am used to, we got little plastic credit card tix with a nice picture of Clapton on the front. This made for a nice little souvenir. I wish all my old concert ticket stubs were like this.

One general note about concert etiquette here in Bangkok: When you go to a rock show and they say "Thank You - Good Night!" for the first time, it doesn't really mean "Thank You - Good Night!" The band usually comes out for at least one more song (in this case two) before the show is really over (this is called "The Encore").

I bring this up because when Clapton said "Thank You - Good Night!" right after "Layla," he and his band exited the stage. I guess this was a cue for the audience to exit their seats as well, and when the band came back, after only a few minutes, a bunch of them were standing right in front of us (we had 2nd row, upper level seat, right in front of the aisleway and railing). This meant that I had to get up and politely ask people to move about 20 times so I could enjoy the last two songs from the comfort of my own seat. Maybe the lack of quality rock shows coming through town hasn't given the fine folks of Bangkok enough training when it comes to attending them.

All in all it was a great night. I have been fortunate to see many legends of rock guitar on stage since I started going to concerts (Jimmy Page, Pete Townsend, Keith Richards, Eddie Van Halen, David Gilmour, Prince, Kurt Cobain, The Edge, Jack White, Ace Frehley, Angus Young, Dave Navarro, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Vernon Reid, etc.) and have enjoyed them all. But on this night, Clapton, proved that he's still the Guitar God and it was great to see him and his two young disciples delivering a slice of Rock Heaven to an adoring Bangkok crowd.

On the way home from Hua Hin we stopped in the Thai province of Phetchaburi (located about 120 km. from Bangkok). Although the main city is a combination of ancient and modern elements, the first thing you'll notice about the place is that it's overrun by wild monkeys.

In my previous entry I stated that it's I found it interesting to observe these monkeys in their natural setting (in that case, a National Park). It's also interesting to see them in an unnatural setting as well, at least at first. Then when you see how many of them there are and how aggressive they can be, it gets to be kind of unsettling. Right after I snapped this picture, the monkey started urinating off the roof of this building (missing me by about a foot). At that point, the creatures went from cute to annoying.

The main tourist trap here is the Khao Wang Palace, built by King Rama IV in 1859-60. Located high on a mountain, it is best reached by cable car.

When the short ride up the mountain is completed, you are immediately confronted with - surprise - more monkeys!

We literally had to carry sticks around to keep these things at a safe distance.

Once you get past the monkeys you can start to visit the complex of buildings which includes several palaces, temples, an astronomical observatory and a museum that is home to an impressive collection of ceramics and many other priceless antiques.

The buildings are spread out over three different mountain peaks. When you are at one peak, the others actually look like they are quite far away, but they can be easily reached by a series of paths.

The view of the Phetchaburi province from atop the mountain is also quite impressive.

Despite the historical buildings and spectacular views, the most memorable part of this trip occured at the very end. We took the cable car back down the mountain and exited into a building that had a gift shop, snack bar, etc. We bought our kids some ice cream and in a matter of seconds, a monkey came out of nowhere and snatched our daughter Julia's cone right out of her hand. The whole thing happened so quickly that I didn't get a chance to take a picture (although I could have gotten one of Julia screaming bloody murder if I had thought of it). The whole thing was actually pretty funny, but we were glad that she didn't get bitten or scratched (and we did have to splurge for another ice cream).