Friday, November 28, 2008

Bangkok - Siam Paragon

Siam Paragon is the poshest shopping mall in Bangkok. It is located along the famous Soi Sukhumvit, next to the Siam MRT Station. 

The exterior design is quite standard, essentially a square box building with a bit of decoration and nice landscaping to differentiate itself from the rest. The most striking feature of this shopping mall is the main entrance lobby - the walls and balconies are covered with verticle planted walls filled with exotic plants. There is a water feature right in the middle of the lobby, with a few planted archways providing a truly unique and beautiful interior.

The rest of the shopping centre is quite standard - predominently white design with polished floors and spacious shopping concourse. Besides shops, there is also a huge cineplex, and the Siam Ocean World, one of the biggest aquariums in Asia.

The beautiful entrance lobby.

The white interiors.

Huge crowds are a common sight at the plaza outside the shopping mall.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Bangkok - Protests

As I'm composing this blogpost, I can't stop thinking about what I have heard on the news. Thais have always been admired for their peace-loving nature, and I really hope that the protests will remain peaceful. 

It's been a wild ride for Thailand these past few years. The courage of the people to stand up for their rights - and to do it peacefully, is a rare quality among Asian cultures. Lets all hope that the differences can be worked out soon, and that things will return to normal. 

To those travellers stranded in the airport and all over Thailand - the whole world is with you, and we hope that you will be able to return home soon to be with your friends and loved ones. Have patience, and take heart that you are witnessing democracy at work, a country trying to grapple with it's growing pains. This will be a part of Thai history, and you are a part of it. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bangkok - Central World

Like most major Asian cities, Bangkok is a shopping paradise. There are countless shopping centres, from the most high-end to bargain-hunting grounds. In fact at night, whole streets are transformed into street markets selling t-shirts, souvenirs, dvds, fake watches, etc.

Central World is one of the latest shopping experience in Bangkok, reopening in 2006 after extensive renovations. It is now the biggest shopping complex in Southeast Asia, with over 550,000 sq. m. of floor space.

Once you enter the building, you could be anywhere in the world. Globalization has homogenized the shopping experience to the extent that most people in the world are going after the same branded stuff. This can get depressing when you are travelling, as your expectation for a unique experience is drowned out by multi-national corporations trying to make a buck. 

Architecturally the building is quite interesting, with a diamond-shaped curved glass skin covering over the old building facing Soi Sukhumvit - the main street. The extensive use of glass on the facade gives it an expensive modern look, but I kept thinking about the amount of tropical heat that must be getting into the building.

The interior of the shopping centre - you could be anywhere in the world.

There is a huge gourmet supermarket in Central World that must be a heaven sent for Bangkok foodies. I know if I live in Bangkok, this would be my second home !

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bangkok Streets

Unlike some modern cities which can be too clean and organized to the point of sterility, Bangkok is like a living and breathing organism. It's streets are like veins coursing though with life. Orderly and chaotic, ugly and beautiful, big and small, rich and poor, new and old all exist side by side without any conscious attempts to accommodate, yet everything seems to work well enough.

Though Bangkok traffic is notorious for it's jams, for the pedestrian it is quite friendly. The sidewalks tend to become open and crowded markets at night, but during the day they are quite free of obstructions. Getting around is certainly not a problem, but be sure to bring a map as it is easy to get lost among the maze of streets. If you stay on the main streets though it is not so bad, but the fun is in exploring the hidden corners.

Many of the streets look ordinary during the day, but are transformed into hedonistic playgrounds for tourists and locals alike at night. There are no attempts to hide the vices from view, but somehow you don't have to see them if you don't want to. That is part of the magic of Bangkok.

While moving around the city, you can't avoid these elevated MRT tracks which are everywhere.

The famous Bangkok traffic.

Streets which look ordinary by day can change into something else at night.

New and old, big and small exist side by side.

Bangkok - Suvarnabhumi International Airport

For those who have been to Bangkok before the new airport was completed, you will be in for a shock. The new airport was built to impress, and it does ! Designed by American Architect Murphy/Jahn, it is capable of handling over 45 million passengers per year.

The first thing which overwhelms you is the sheer size of it - the height of the spaces, the gigantic departure hall which can accommodate a few football fields, the length of the contact piers, and the endless number of people ! Architecturally, it is functional and modernist industrial chic with very little decorations or features to conceal the countless structures and mechanical services criss-crossing the building. Columns and ceilings are bare concrete, floors are of course tiled and marbled. 

On the whole the minimalist aesthetic works well, and highlights the Thai objet d'art which are placed at strategic locations. One of the most unique feature of this airport is the design of the contact piers. They are barrel-shaped tubes covered in a translucent plastic material which lets in light but rejects the heat. Full height glazing punches through at regular intervals to let in more light and allow views onto the runways. While totally modern in design, the architects have successfully incorporated certain elements which evoke traditional Thai culture, especially in the geometries.

Drop-off area at the terminal.

The spacious departure hall, which can still seem crowded due to the sheer number of people.

There are some nice lounges to kill time while waiting for your flight.

The large central courtyard enclosed by the terminal building.

The barrel-shaped contact piers covered in translucent plastic.

The departure lounge at the contact piers, bathed in ligth from the full height glazing.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Eating in Kuala Lumpur - Lunch at El Cerdo Take 2

This was my second visit to El Cerdo in 2 months, this time with a group of friends. We all decided to have the special lunch menu, which comes with an antipasto buffet, a choice of main course, and dessert. I must say that El Cerdo really know their pork. We all had pork dishes, and they were all good. 

I chose the Marinated Pork Shoulder which was served with mashed potato. The meat was really tender and full of flavour. The meat is said to have been marinated for 2 days, and I tend to believe it.

The Crispy Porkchop with Pasta was another successful dish. The porkchop is breaded and deepfried, giving it a crispy crust. It is topped with toasted cheese and served with pasta in tomato sauce.

The most interesting dish was the Grilled Pork Belly Strips served with Tomato Rice. The pork belly strips were really tender with just the right amount of fat. It was grilled to perfection. The balsamic reduction jazzed it up another notch.

Another friend had the Grilled Spareribs with BBQ sauce which I had during my last visit. To me the sauce is a bit overwhelming for this dish, and it proved to be the same this time around.

On the whole, another satisfying meal at El Cerdo. Proves that you can't go wrong when you leave it to the experts - in pork, that is !

Eating in Kuala Lumpur - Baba Nonya at Nilai Old Town

Nilai is one of those outer suburbs which crop up everywhere to ease the overcrowded KL City Centre. Being close to the KL International Airport, it has become an "Inland Port", a logistics hub for the trans-shipment of air-cargo. It is here that you will find one of the hidden treasures for spicy food. 

I wouldn't have known this place if I was not taken there by a friend. The restaurant itself is very simple - a typical Chinaman outlet, though the place is Halal. The food is another story !

We started off with a chicken and spinach soup. This traditional Chinese soup is always a great way to start a meal, it's light and tasty.

Though the name of the restaurant is Baba Nonya, the food is not exactly authentic Nonya cuisine. It is more like spicy Malaysian cooking, with a mix of different cooking styles. The most popular dish here is the Assam Fish. It is really good - the sauce with just the right balance of tanginess and heat, not overwhelming the sweet and delicate taste of the fish which is very fresh.

Another highlight is the Deep-Fried Squid. This is always a test of the chef's skill. In lesser hands the squid tend to be overcooked and chewy. Here it crunchy outside and still tender inside.

Most of the dishes here are cooked with a spicy sambal sauce, but not all the sauces are the same. Each dish has a slightly different flavour profile which suits the main ingredient, whether it's prawns, clams, etc.

These clams are called "lala" locally. There is not much meat, but has a natural sweetness which is very nice in sambal.

Sambal prawns. 

These are "petai", a kind of jungle bean cooked with onions and sambal, served with deep-fried "ikan bilis" or anchovies. Petai has a unique, slightly bitter taste. It is said to be addictive.

The meal was finished off with a nice cold drink - grass jelly with longan.

Baba Nonya is definitely one of the best "sambal" restaurants in Kuala Lumpur. Worth the drive from KL if you want to try it's tasty take on the popular Malaysian sambal cooking style.