Sunday, May 20, 2007


One of my ongoing quests here in the Land of Smiles is the Pursuit of the Perfect Patty (aka: finding Bangkok's Best Burger). I mentioned this challenge to my friend Dennis, a transplanted Canadian who has lived here for over ten years. He told me I needed to go to Nana Burger – a simple food cart located on the street right in front of Nana Plaza. He even told me that he has ridden on the back of a motorcycle clear across town just to get one of these burgers. That was a good enough endorsement for me, so I decided that a trip to Nana Burger now topped my list of priorities.

I never eat from the food carts for a couple of reasons. First of all, I don’t really care for Thai food and secondly, I am concerned about hygiene at those places. I’m sure most of them OK, since one cannot walk down a single sidewalk in Bangkok without having to avoid numerous food carts and the throngs of customers who patronize them, but I just don’t feel like taking chances with food I don’t really care much for in the first place. But the opportunity to consume the best burger in Bangkok was too tempting, so I was willing to take a chance.

I went there a few times for lunch, but could not find the Nana Burger food cart. I called Dennis back and he informed me that it was only open at night. I thought that this made perfect sense, considering that Nana Plaza is one of Bangkok’s notorious “night spots.” Unfortunately for me, I don’t really get out much in the evening, especially to places like Nana Plaza, so this was going to put a serious damper on my quest for Bangkok’s Best Burger.

Finally, I made some time one night and found the Nana Burger cart. It was a pretty simple set up with a sign listing prices and toppings (bacon, egg, etc.) and there was a small line of customers. This helped put my mind at ease and made me think that since it was at least popular, it was probably a safe place to eat as well.

I decided to get a bacon cheeseburger, but I was a bit disappointed when I noticed that the patties were just pre-packaged ones from the grocery store. Even the buns were just a standard brand that I could buy myself at grocery stores like Tops or Tesco. I’m not sure what I expected, but I kind of secretly hoped that these burgers would be made from some highly classified recipe that would send me to beef-nirvana, but it didn’t really work out that way. Instead, I got something I could pretty much whip up myself at home. Still, the burger was pretty good for what it was, and they did top it with fresh lettuce, onion and tomato. With that being said, I don’t think that it will change anyone’s perception about the type of meat market that Nana Plaza really is

Thursday, May 10, 2007


One thing I've always wanted to do is scuba dive. Despite all of the lakes in Michigan (where I grew up), I just never got around to it, but when we made this move I promised myself that I would make this dream a reality. Now, nearly 11 months later, I have finally started the process.

Of course, my main goal is dive in the open water and the amazing coral reefs of Thailand (and other parts of the Asia Pacific region) should offer me some great opportunities to do just that. But when I found out about a unique program right here in downtown Bangkok, it just seemed too cool to pass up.

"Dive with the Sharks" is sponsored by Planet Scuba and takes place at Siam Ocean World, the world class aquarium located in the basement of the Siam Paragon mall. This program promises to put you face to face with sea creatures like the Leopard Shark (seen here with several silver fishes known as Bigeye Trevally)...

And the Grey Nurse Shark (as it is known in Australia)...

This predator is also known as the Sand Tiger Shark in the U.S. and the Spotted Ragged Tooth Shark in Africa.

The aquarium is also home to many other fish including this Spotted Eagle Ray.

What is interesting about this program is that anyone can do it, even if they've never dived before. Planet Scuba offers an introductory course geared toward first time divers and they provide all of the training and equipment. For me, this was the perfect situation because I got to sample the diving experience for less than half the cost of what it would be for me to take a full-blown certification course.

The training session took place at a local pool with my instructor Pam, whose 11 years of diving experience is evident in the clear, relaxed way she teaches her students. Personally, I wasn't too nervous about diving for the first time, but for those who are, an instructor with a style like Pam's would help to calm anyone's nerves.

The introductory program covered basic diving concepts like breathing underwater, buoyancy, mask de-fogging, ear and mask equalization, underwater swimming, regulator recovery, hand signal recognition, the use of the air gauge and a few other things. This may seem like a lot to comprehend at once, but I didn't find it too overwhelming.

The training session took about an hour and a half and when it was finished I felt I had enough information for my first dive.

I met Pam at Siam Ocean World two days later. After a brief re-cap of the basics, we put on our equipment and wet suits and got in the tank. It only took me a minute or two to get the hang of it, which is good because before too long I was swimming side by side with sharks that were as big as me (and some were bigger)...

When I told people that I was going to do this, most asked if I was crazy or afraid. The answer to both questions was "no", or else I wouldn't have even attempted the dive. Some of my wife's co-workers even wondered why a guy that is married to a lawyer would want to swim with some sharks on his free time (haha). Honestly, I was more worried about letting my kids hang out with a bunch of full grown tigers (seem my blog entry from March 8).

It seems to me that ever since "Jaws" sharks have gotten a bit of a bad rap (c'mon people, that movie came out 32 years ago). Of course I wouldn't want to swim with a Great White, but the ones that reside in the aquarium didn't frighten me a bit. I have learned enough over the years that despite their fearsome appearance, shark species like the Grey Nurse are relatively placid unless provoked. I was told not to touch the sharks and to keep out of their way, and I was only too happy to follow this simple, yet obvious rule.

My shark dive took place on a Sunday, which was also a holiday weekend in Thailand, and for that reason Siam Ocean World was packed that day. The Thai patrons on hand seemed pretty excited to watch my dive, but for me it was cool to see my family and some friends waving at me from the other side of the glass.

Honestly, the experience was a lot of fun, but it really left me yearning to take a full-blown class and dive in the open water. I think it was a good idea to scuba dive in a tank for my first time because it was a contained environment and for some reason that made me feel safer and more at ease if something were to go wrong (despite the fact that I was constantly surrounded by about 30-40 sharks). Thankfully everything was OK, although I did have some brief buoyancy issues a few times.

Overall, I had a great time and was glad I got the chance to have this thrilling adventure. The dive was supposed to last about half an hour, but I think we were in the tank for about 45 minutes. To me, the time went quickly and I would do the whole thing all over again if given the chance.

I have no idea if there are aquariums in the U.S. that offer a chance to swim with sharks in a public aquarium, but I'm sure there has to be somewhere in the world where you can have an opportunity like this one. But to me, this seemed like an "Only in Bangkok" type of situation and given my curiosity about scuba-diving, I would have been foolish not to try it at least once.

For more information about this program, please visit

Special thanks to my friend Anselm and to the staff at Planet Scuba for the pictures.