Posts Tagged ‘Thailand’

Coffee and Coffee Shops in Asia

August 27, 2010

While writing my feature film, I turn to my coffee cup and am reminded how far I’ve actually travelled. The coffee I made today comes Vietnam, some of the best damn coffee I’ve tasted on my travels. I spent a lot of time in coffee shops, usually alone. After reading through my notes of my trip, I realized that I make a lot of comments about coffee or coffee shops so I thought I’d write them up. I’ve even included pictures for my fans out there who requested them.

As a warning, I am a professional coffee taster. Fully certified by several countries since my graduate years. Every word in this article can be taken to be The Word On Coffee and backed by my caffeine-stained, yellow-toothed smile. Further, I drink my coffee “pure,” i.e. black, no milk, no sugar.

Laos:

The bag of coffee I bought here wasn’t fresh as the beans had already dried. But I think the greatest thing about having coffee in Laos is the utter tranquillity of the place. No rush here to get your move on, only freshly ground, brewed coffee and WIFI for all of us hardcore interneters. Not only that, Laos is still pretty cheap. It was in this country that I and my Polish travelling companion debated about my Ukrainian-ness and what heritage means. The beans for sale on the main streets were priced pretty high (30,000 Kip (~$3.75) for 250 g) while the markets offered larger bags for cheaper prices (maybe the robusta variety instead of arabica?). I bought my kilo for 50,000 Kip (~$6.25). Overall, either sitting on a balcony and watching the Mekong flow by or simply out on the street corner watching people (or debating Ukrainian-ness), Laos is one of the most peaceful places to sip a good cup of coffee.

My coffee beans from Laos.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Hard to find a decent cup of coffee in PP but, if you must, go to the Foreign Correspondent Club (FCC) along the Mekong river. Found in a renovated villa from the French colonial era, the place is both a boutique hotel and a cafe. Get the double since a single is something like $2 whereas a double is $2.50 and is a generous serving of caffeine. Again, atmosphere is pretty cool and the service is great. The cafe is located on the second floor, overlooking the Mekong River, and out of reach of the hawkers working the street below. Lots of foreigners inside, lots of hawkers selling weed outside.

Busan, South Korea:

Okay, not much to write about here since most coffee here is made by companies similar to Starbucks and Second Cup in Canada. That is, they’re chain stores. Notable mentions include Angel-in-Us for having the Jamaican Blue Mountain blend priced at a “holy shit” figure of 7,000 Won for a mug. It’s okay, but, given it’s hype are being one of the best coffees in the world, I didn’t write to my mother about it. There used to be a Turkish restaurant in the Kyungsung University area that served great Turkish coffee, but it has since closed down.

The gold star, however, goes to Cherami, the cafe and bakery outside of Goejeong subway station (exit #6). They gave me a free piece of cake with every espresso or coffee order. The espresso itself was very good, and served in a very generous double portion. This is the coffee shop that I practiced “copy chuseyo” the most. And every time, the girl who worked the counter giggled. Worth the admission folks. I can tell you that the most expensive coffee I tried was here during the Pusan International Film Festival, topping out at $12 for a single espresso at one of the fancy hotels near Haeundae Beach. Maybe I said something wrong to the waitress (or didn’t say), but I don’t think the espresso should’ve cost that much. Ouch.

Taipei, Taiwan:

Monument Coffee. I’ve written about it before so I’ll leave this description brief. Using the Chinese Siphon coffee making method, the coffee took a full five minutes to make and was worth the wait. Highly recommended.

Vietnam:

Despite my differences with the hawkers of this coastal country, I will hands down give Vietnam the title of having the best coffee I tried. I am saddened by the fact that I did not bring more of it home with me. I did bring home a small coffee maker, but it’s been banged up since I left Vietnam (pictured below). The brewed coffee tastes and smells a whole lot sweeter than any other coffee I’ve tried. Served either in ice or hot (they look at you funny when you order hot coffee on a hot day), the coffee is pretty much the same all over the country. Saigon, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, and Hanoi all offer small Mom-and-Pop coffee shops that serve the same, if not better, coffee than the chain store, Highland Coffee. If you’re on the hunt for great coffee, go to Vietnam. Just watch out for those ladies around the lake who pretend to be English students.

My coffee maker from Vietnam. Best damn coffee I had.

Chiang Mai, Thailand:

Fresh Arabica beans for you here! The coffee shop I most frequented while my travelling companion was out with the Dengue Fever was Momo’s. It was in this city that I was able to pen most of the script for my feature film, The Musician, energized by the caffeine I sucked down in Momo’s. Not only that, I managed to find a kilo of freshly roasted arabica beans to take back with me, costing only 400 Baht (~$12). If there is one place I’d like to go back to just to drink the coffee it would be Chiang Mai. As a side note, you can also order coffee from Doi Chang Coffee including the renowned “Doi Chaang Wild Civet (Kopi Luwak) Coffee” which has passed through the “digestive track of a wild civet”. Fascinating. I have never actually tried this coffee, but I will probably order a bag just to see what it tastes like. Hmmm, two civets, one cup?

And that about does it for my coffee experience in Asia. I’m thinking I may just order my coffee beans right from Thailand from now on. Why bother with Starbucks any longer?

In my earlier post I mentioned that the coffee is brewed the Chinese way, complete with a propane torch, glass bulb, and two-foot filtration system, making the coffee to have 1/3 more caffeine than if brewed the more modern filter method. That is what the lady told me and showed me in her menu. I neglected to take a picture of the machine, but managed to snag the image below from Google. In any event, the coffee was expensive but worth every dollar. I tried the Blue Mountain blend (yes, the same as the one from Busan) and here it was much better.

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Thailand Part 2: Chiang Mai and Kanchanabury: Coffee, zip lining and tigers oh my!

July 7, 2010

And this is part two of my travels through Thailand, particularly Chiang Mai and Kanchanabury.

Chiang Mai is a lovely little city, said to be the intellectual centre and former capital of the old kingdom. We stayed at a beautiful and cheap place called Namkhong Hotel which was just outside of the old city gates. 250 baht per night. Very helpful staff, including Noo who also arranged our day of zip-lining (thrilling! Got some good videos made here) and a tour to see the long-neck tribe – the women who wear heavy iron rings around their necks in order to extend their neck, making them “beautiful.” (Some cultures, to me, are odd.)

One of the best things about Chiang Mai is the, you guessed it, coffee! You know how some of those coffee bags we buy back in Canada say the beans came from “Asia-Pacific”? Yea, southeast Asia is in there, including northern Thailand. Fresh Arabica coffee here I go! So as my travelling companion is knocked out from the nasty dengue fever, I hang around only two places: the healthy breakfast shake place in the morning, and Momo’s coffee shop in the afternoon. I managed to get quite a bit of writing done on those two days (sorry babe!) and get the third draft of The Musician done. I also brought back a kilo of coffee from Thailand (in addition to the kilo from Laos. Can you imagine the looks of the pretty airline bag checkers who politely told me that my luggage was overweight when they saw the bags of coffee?)

Zip lining is an interesting experience. We zipped for two hours and after that, I was pretty zipped out. Every time I zipped from tree to tree I couldn’t help but think about how far it was to fall. The guides, however, were having a ball. All spoke pretty good English and acted like monkeys, seriously. These guys would zip upside down, side by side, laughing and howling all the way. Is it the Jungle Book that has the monkeys that are always laughing? I can’t remember, but these guides reminded me of cartoon monkeys.

After Chiang Mai it’s back to the bustle of Bangkok for a day before taking a bus to Kanchanabury. We leave our bags at our hotel in Bangkok (which I didn’t know you could do. You can check your bags for as long as you want and they’ll keep them under lock and key for you! In theory, you could move from, say, Korea, with a lot of junk, then check your bags in Bangkok, and travel around SE Asia for an extended period of time. 10 Baht per bag per day.) From Bangkok we go to Kanchanabury.

There isn’t much in Kanchanabury except relaxing and wondering how those non-flush toilets seem to always maintain the same level of water. Oh, and tigers! The visit to the tigers is quite expensive, $30 for a 45 minute visit including some free photos. But if you want to have that memorable tiger-on-your-lap photo, that’s another $30. 😦 So we settle for the free photos. There were tigers of all ages. The cutest were the 4 month olds. It is here, amongst the tigers, that I think about the headlines that report a child or tourist being mauled to death while on vacation and the powerless trainers watching in horror. It is because of those types of episodes that there is a code of colours to be worn: no orange, pink, or red. The trainers wear those colours and the park doesn’t want the tigers to think you’re a trainer. And neither do I. I choose to wear black, and the shirt shows the amount I sweat because there are salt rings all over. Yummy.

After Kanchanabury, it’s back to Bangkok. My friend books her ticket to Siem Reap and I put off booking my ticket back to Canada for another day.

Thailand, I can see myself returning… if only to see the ping pong show.

Thailand Part 1: Bangkok and Phuket: Excess and The Art of Eight Limbs

July 6, 2010

Thailand bracketed my entire south east Asian trip. I flew in from Korea in March and flew out to Taipei in June. I only visited 4 cities: Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai and Kanchanabury. The only way to capture Thailand’s awesomeness is two cut it up into two parts. Part one is about the craziness that is Bangkok and my attempts to fight in Phuket. Part two is about the much more laid back trip to Chiang Mai and Kanchanabury.

At first I wanted to move to Thailand to find work as an English teacher while I trained in the brutal martial art of Muay Thai. But it was not to be. About a week before I was to leave for Bangkok, a friend of mine suggested I go and see what it’s like before committing to anything. Well, once I saw Bangkok for myself I realized it wasn’t the place for me to live. Visit? Absolutely! But not to live. Dirty, polluted and full of noise, Bangkok is a Dionysiac playground (“See, Athenians, THAT’S how you do it! Look at them lady boys!”) The heat, lady boys, martial arts, cheap food, night life, and a dozen other things are all over the place, and these are the things that make Bangkok so remarkable.

The first night I was actually in Bangkok I stayed at a hostel where the owner was willing to organize a night out for the boys. Sparing you the mundane details, I will share with you the knowledge I acquired that evening: Gentlemen, in Thailand, you are not the hunter, you are the hunted.

Mr. Hostel Owner informed us that Thursday night was particularly good for us to go out: the working girls were looking for weekend boyfriends which could mean any number of things. It was at this point we, our group of 20-something men, learned about the four types of hunters you will find in a Bangkok night club:

  1. The high-class workers. These girls will laugh at all of your stupid jokes and make you feel like a big superstar. Anything more, and you’ll pay somewhere in the neighbourhood of $60 plus hotel expenses, etc. for their “company.”
  2. The not so good-looking but good enough women. Price negotiable, these girls are often looking for the weekend boyfriends. When you get traded up depends on how big your bank account is.
  3. The girls who will buy stuff for you. Good luck bedding these girls, they just want to be friends and probably are locals who want to watch the scene.
  4. Lady boys. Well, I never got a price for these folks.

Those are the four types you’ll probably run into in just about every club in Bangkok. As for the bars, once the legal bars shut down, don’t forget to ask to be taken to the Spicey Club. You shouldn’t have to pay for a cab ride there since they get commission for bringing you there. Once that’s done at 6 in the am, if you haven’t been sucked into a purchase already, you can join the fun in another club right across the street.

After that night of fun I spent the rest of the week unwinding and prepping myself for training in the art of the eight limbs: Muay Thai. (Eight limbs? Yes: shins, knees, elbows, and fists.)

I spent three weeks in Rawai, Phuket at a Muay Thai camp. From what I could tell by walking around and some research, Rawai is one of the better camps in Thailand, especially for foreigners. If you want harder training than they do here, you’d probably have to go to Bangkok and get your ass kicked there. The workouts were early in the morning (7:30-9) and early afternoon (3-4:30 or 4:30-6). Before each training session, you had the option to run 4kms. Training sessions consisted of stretching, 5 rounds on the punching bags, 5 rounds of pad work in the ring with a trainer, and then sparring or some lessons on technique. In between each round you were expected to do either 10 push ups or 10 sit ups. Once the session was over, 150 sit ups. Not going to lie, after 3 weeks I looked good. Even I’d pay myself for the privilege of being with me!

Once of the cool things about the Muay Thai camp were the people who were training. Some people trained to fight (including a mammoth American Muay Thai fighter who works in Antarctica for six months and then fights in Thailand for the rest of the year, and a whole bunch of Thai kids who could kick the shit out of me), but most were there for fitness (including a Canadian contingent of rugby players, a big-buxomed beauty from Down Under (who informed us that she had some enhancements made, which we all agreed looked great), and more folks from around the world. I also met a Canadian chick who gave me a picture of her dressed in some royal clothes. Hoping that she was a princess (from Canada?) and could foot the bill for all of my creative movie and music endeavours, I asked where she was from. Vancouver. The picture was Photoshopped 😦

After my three weeks were over I returned to Bangkok to catch a bus to Cambodia (see the first few posts of this blog, Day 0 to Day whatever). I only stayed for one night and paid for a bed to sleep in only to get chatting with this cute hair stylist who then took me out on the town. I seriously walked in there only for a hair cut, but Bangkok won’t ever let you do just what you want to do.

Thus my introduction to Bangkok, the city once known as the “brothel of the world”, and the martial art of Muay Thai. Part two will cover Chiang Mai and Kanachanbury.

Day 0: April 3rd, 2010 – Bangkok, Thailand

April 7, 2010

Nervous. Haven’t bought a video camera yet even though I saw a pretty good deal at the airport. Thinking about heading to Pantip Plaza to see what other deals there are.

Haven’t thought of a game for Monday yet when I’m supposed to start volunteering at the orphanage, but there are lots I can choose from. Nervous about volunteering. Haven’t done it before. Haven’t made a documentary before. For some reason I thought his was all a lot easier in the planning stages.

Need water. Would like a coffee.

Haven’t booked a hotel or a bus to Cambodia yet.

The ultimate question of “Why do I do this?” recurs in my head. Sometimes I long for the comfort and safety that “home” (Canada) means. Planning the trip is easy, executing the trip is the tough part.

My nerves aren’t that bad though. Despite the fact that some things haven’t been sorted out, I know they will be very shortly. I like travelling, I just don’t like making the arrangements.

Southeast Asia and the Great Documentary Project

April 4, 2010

Hello everyone,

I just set this account up and haven’t had much, or any time, to actually get things rolling. I did a bunch of writing on my iPod but can’t find a Wi-Fi place to use at the moment, so I’ll upload those later.

Anyway, just arrived in Phenom Penh, Cambodia. I’ll be here for 2 weeks, and travelling around Cambodia for a third week before moving on to Vietnam.

More later.


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