Monday, 25 December 2017

Thailand | Foodies in Chiang Mai

The second leg of our Thailand tour saw us head north to Chiang Mai. Our main reason for visiting was the elephant sanctuaries, but there is so much more to Chiang Mai and we fell in love with the city. It's much smaller and far less built up than Bangkok and has a totally different, more authentic vibe - it's also a hell of a lot cheaper! There was a lot we would have liked to do in the area but didn't have time. Two of our four days were taken up by amazing day trips and we could probably have filled a whole week, seeing the likes of Doi Suthep and exploring nearby towns like Pai or Chiang Rai.

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Arriving fairly late on a Tuesday evening after a delayed flight from Bangkok, we were met by a driver from our hotel (300THB) and whisked away to the beautiful Hyde Park Residence - literally 10 minutes away! It's worth bearing this in mind when booking your accommodation in Chiang Mai. While it didn't bother me in the slightest, a light sleeper might not appreciate the planes taking off and landing so nearby. To be honest though, the city is so small that I don't think it'd matter where you stay.

The service at Hyde Park was spot on and they even offer a free shuttle service to the Nimman area. We arrived to a typical honeymoon setup and cake waiting for us in the fridge - then the same again a couple of days later for Gordon's birthday! On the Tuesday night there was a small pop up food market round the corner, where we ate amongst locals and spent just 100THB (£2.50) on 4-5 dishes from different stalls! It's one of my favourite foodie memories of the trip, and where I had my first taste of Pandan custard, which I'm now obsessed with.

Our room had a beautiful view of the mountains and a little balcony to enjoy it from. We ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant one day, and made full use of the gorgeous pool on our final morning. Hyde Park was stunning and felt very upmarket - we paid roughly £55 a night which is probably quite expensive for the area but it was our honeymoon so we treated ourselves!

Make sure you visit the Nimman area when you're in Chiang Mai. Nimmanhaemin Road and all the little sois leading off of it are packed with cool coffee shops and trendy eateries. We enjoyed an amazing "handgrown & artisan" brunch at Rustic & Blue on Soi 7. Think avocado toast and matcha lattes, although matcha is kinda the norm in Thailand to be fair! Outside was a gorgeous seating area but we were a full on air con appreciation society, despite November being a "colder" month in Chiang Mai.

As much as I'd recommend the Nimman area through the day, I'd stay clear at night. We returned one evening thinking we'd be bound to find somewhere awesome to eat. Unfortunately all the coffee shops were closed and by the time we'd wondered around not finding anywhere we fancied, even Rustic & Blue had closed for the night. This is why Gordon should always let me pick where to eat and plan ahead! For late night eating, definitely head to the other side of town.

Temples are easy to stumble across in Chiang Mai. We walked from our hotel to the Old City and easily found our way to Wat Phra Singh. You might feel "templed out" after a while in Thailand, but don't let the chaotic experience of Bangkok put you off! I found the temples here to be much more laidback, rustic looking and tourist friendly - we wondered into the grounds without even realising! There's no entry fee at Wat Phra Singh unless you want to enter the main temple building, and even then it's only like 20THB (approx. 50p).

Wat Chedi Luang was the second temple we went to. We saw plenty smaller Wats along the way but decided to limit ourselves to the two main ones. I loved the older, authentic style of the main Chedi, with it's stone elephants and golden Buddha statues. It was possibly my favourite of all the temples we visited in Thailand.

As always, it's important to respect the Thai culture and dress appropriately - shoulders and knees covered - and always remove your shoes before entering an actual temple. There are signs but the rows of sandals adorning the steps should remind you.

Heading East, towards Tha Phae Gate, we stopped for a few drinks (and air con) here and there, before continuing onto the Night Bazaar. This is an absolute must visit in Chaing Mai. A km long street packed with vendors selling literally everything, from clothes and jewellery, to toys and souvenirs. Prices in Chiang Mai are already much less than Bangkok, but remember and barter for a bargain still!

There are two main food markets in the area. The first - Night Street Food by Pavillion Night Bazaar - is fairly small, a bit cheaper, and much quieter. We ate some epic chicken gyoza for 50THB (£1.15) and banana spring rolls for 40THB (90p) that Gordon's been dreaming of ever since. Make sure you try Khao Soi when in Chiang Mai - a local Northern Thai dish with crispy noodles in a curry sauce that tastes delicious! 

Ploen Ruedee was the biggest and best foodie market we found! It was on a whole other level - cool trucks and converted VW's serving up all sorts, and live music to go with it. It attracts a younger crowd and has more of a laidback party vibe. Think North Hop, outside, in 30 degree heat, every night! Of course it was more expensive than the other street food we'd eaten but it was well worth it.

We ate here 2 nights of our stay so you can imagine we made our way around a fair few of the traders. After trying various types of bao buns, the teriyaki chicken version (90THB) from Mao Bao were the best we found in Thailand! Other highlights were the Khao Soi (100THB), chicken satay served with garlic bread (80THB), a gloriously cheesy toastie from the Melty Box (100THB) and my very first taste of mango sticky rice (60THB)! Thai pancakes with Nutella were a treat for dessert, washed down with a cold Chang, a glass of sangria from the Vino Box or a Long island iced tea from On the Rocks VW bar!

Chiang Mai was unreal and we had the ultimate street food experience! When we weren't filling our faces we were off bathing with elephants at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and ziplining through the rainforest with Flight of the Gibbon - two incredible days that I promise to share soon!

Monday, 18 December 2017

Gin-gle Bells at Grape & Grain, Aberdeen

I hope by now you've got most of your Christmas shopping done? My only weekend off was right at the start of December so I took the chance to head into town and get most of mine out of the way. It didn't quite go to plan - we found a few bits but I've had another few shopping trips since. What I did find that weekend however, was a new watering hole in the Granite City!

Opened just a couple of months ago on Thistle Street, in Aberdeen's West End (a little further up than Foodstory!), Grape & Grain is a brand new wine bar. The interiors are a dream - all teal, grey and gold with the most stunning bathrooms you'll ever see. It really is a beautiful setting and a welcome addition to Aberdeen's thriving bar scene.

You'll gather from the name that wine is a focus point (the "Grape") so I sampled a little vino to start. A rich Norton Porteno Malbec - let's not pretend I'm any kind of wine connoisseur, it tasted lush and went down a treat. Christmas shopping is thirsty work!  

And of course I had to try a little "Grain" too! It'd be rude not to in my GINgle Bells attire - shout out to New Look for inventing my ideal Christmas jumper! A satisfyingly Scottish selection of beers, whisky, vodka and gin features on the menu, including locals Esker and Porter's. A double is a standard serve at G&G and comes with tonic included.

December's gin of the month is a brand new Aberdonian spirit - Granite North! It was served with Fever Tree's Mediterranean tonic and a slice of grapefruit. I'm not sure this is what I'd of picked. I felt the choice of tonic overpowered the subtle flavours of the gin itself but enjoyed it all the same. Definitely one to watch and maybe add to the drinks shelf at home!

Gordon's choice of grain was a fresh, citrusy Sunshine on Keith from Spey Valley Brewery. I'm a big fan of that play on words - not so much the play it's based on! That's a topic for another day but Grape & Grain definitely helped me on my way from misery to happiness that day...

For the cheese lovers amongst us, the slate menu will tick all the boxes, especially when paired with a good wine. I might make a monthly cheese and wine night my New Year's Resolution. Definitely taking the girls here soon anyway!

Find Grape & Grain at 31 Thistle Street or online here.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Thailand | How Long Should You Spend in Bangkok?

Before we left for Thailand, we heard all sorts of stories about Bangkok. The general consensus seems to be not to spend much time there. I wasn't sure how we'd feel in the chaotic city. We loved our first day in Bangkok, but were worn out by all the hassle at the tourist spots the next day. On our second trip to the capital, at the end of our 2 week trip, we'd gotten really sick in Ao Nang and were too ill to get out of the hotel. On the one hand I wish we'd only booked one night either end of the trip, but on the other hand, it worked out just right. I'd of been gutted if we'd been ill anywhere else, but we'd already done Bangkok at the start so didn't feel like we were missing out on anything.

This post contains an affiliate link. This means that I will earn a small commission from any booking/sale made through the link, at no extra cost to you.

Expect to be harassed around the temples by people trying to sell you things or even just send you in the wrong direction for no apparent reason. We had one incident where a taxi driver took us to a random pier and we were almost forced to spend 1000THB each on a boat trip we didn't want to do. Instead we refused and walked away but it took us an hour to get our bearings. I probably wouldn't of been brave enough to wonder around on my own without Gordon. It made me suddenly aware of how easy it is to get conned and I was really wary of everybody after that, even the ones who seemed genuinely helpful! Just make sure you tell the taxi driver where you want to go, don't let anyone tell them in Thai for you.

It wasn't all bad though! Like I said our first day was really fun and we did enjoy the temples once we eventually found our way into them. If it's your first time in Thailand, I'd definitely say give Bangkok a chance and spend at least one day exploring the city. If anything you'll appreciate how laidback everywhere else is afterwards!

Things To Do

Shop at the markets - This was my favourite thing about Bangkok! We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and headed straight for Chatuchak Weekend Market. It's one of the biggest and busiest in the city, you could literally get lost. We stopped at an eatery in the market and tucked into gigantic plates of chicken satay and phad thai, and I had my first taste of Thai iced green tea. 

We saw loads of stuff we'd of liked to buy but as we didn't want to trail it about for 2 weeks, we thought we'd come back when we returned to Bangkok at the end of the trip. Obviously we hadn't planned on being sick so that didn't work out! I never got to bring home any matcha tea or coconut bowls! It's my biggest regret - just buy things when you see them guys, and don't forget to haggle for a decent price.

Visit the Temples - It is worth it. We decided to visit the the 3 main attractions in one day as they're all so close to each other. Wat Pho houses the famous reclining Buddha, and The Grand Palace (not a temple as such, but the previous home of the Thai King) is where you'll find the Emerald Buddha - which was a lot smaller than I expected! It's also packed with Chinese tourists. We could barely move due to the amount of people visiting at the same time, which took away from the experience and we left pretty quickly.

Wat Arun was my favourite. You have to get a boat across the river to reach it, which is probably why it's quieter than the others. It was far more peaceful which I feel a temple should be! We had a delicious lunch of chicken & cashew nuts with rice for just 100THB (£2.30) at a small café by the pier. Expect to pay to enter the temples in Bangkok, and go through a separate tourist entrance at some. You should also dress respectfully, making sure your knees and shoulders are covered, and remember you will have to remove your shoes!

Drink at a Rooftop Bar - There are loads of these in Bangkok, with the most famous one probably being the Sky Bar from the Hangover. We visited Above Eleven, which was just round the corner from our hotel on Sukhumvit 11. The views were fantastic and we enjoyed the experience - our cocktails were top notch but the food was average in my opinion. You can get much tastier dishes for a lot less money elsewhere. There is a dress code so do make an effort, but they didn't seem too strict about it!

The Siam Center - This was the only place we ventured out to on our final day! A huge shopping centre with an awesome food court, next to the Siam Paragon (where you'll find Chanel, Dior etc.) We didn't get to enjoy it properly but I could easily have spent a couple of hours here had I been feeling better. The Moomin Café for a cup of Moomin Mamma's hot tea was about as far as we got! Avoid taxis and catch the BTS Skytrain to get there.

Find a Secret Cocktail Bar - Speakeasy's are a big deal in Bangkok right now. We happened to be staying right around the corner from Havana Social, which is next to Above Eleven rooftop bar so make a night of it like we did. You enter the laidback Cuban style bar through a "phone box" by entering a secret code! Just phone ahead to get the number, or ask your concierge to do it for you. Expect rum based cocktails, live latin music and good vibes!  

Where to Stay

Aloft Sukhumvit 11 - A few people recommended this hotel and we went ahead and booked it after reading Kristy's review. The hotel is brightly decorated with subtle Thai touches in amongst the modern design. Other than the location - right next to some cool bars and plenty restaurants, and round the corner from Nana BTS station - the pool was my favourite thing. Watching the sunset over the city with a cocktail in hand was pure bliss. Free wifi and complimentary bottled water were also a bonus.

Avani Atrium - If I had to be ill in any hotel I'm glad it was this one! It was slightly further out of the city centre but still had a metro station within walking distance. The staff were lovely and helpful, and brought us toast and chips to nibble on when we couldn't stomach anything else! Within the hotel you'll find the Japanese steakhouse Benihana, which also specialises in sashimi and sushi, all prepared right at your table. Something I definitely would have liked to check out under normal circumstances. 

Getting Around

Taxis - All taxis in Bangkok should be metered. Make sure the meter is on before you start your journey! You can arrange a set price with the driver instead but we learned the hard way that this will cost a lot more. When we first arrived in Bangkok a taxi to our hotel cost us 1000THB (roughly £23). The second time we got a metered taxi to the hotel which cost just over 300THB (approx £7). Granted these were from different airports to different hotels but it's a hell of a difference. Grab your taxi ticket and wait in the queue.

Water Taxis - While you can get around by taxi or tuktuk, you'll likely spend more money and more time in traffic than you'd like to. I recommend figuring out the water taxis on the canal. It's easy enough, the locals will help you and it cost us just 13THB (30p!) to get from one end of the city to the other. A huge difference than the 500THB (£11.50) taxi we got in the morning, that didn't even drop us off where we wanted!

Trains - We used both the MRT (metro) and the BTS Skytrain to get about. The skytrain took us from our hotel (Nana station) to the Chatuchak weekend market (Mo Chit) for just 40THB (92p). From the Avani hotel we were able to walk to the Phetchaburi station and catch the MRT to Sukhumvit where we switched to the Skytrain for Siam. It's really easy to figure out - if you can handle the London underground or Paris metro, you've got this.

How long would you recommend staying in Bangkok?
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