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For those of you who aren’t aware, on April 12 the Royal Thai Government declared a State of Emergency in Bangkok and the surrounding areas. I thought I’d take this opportunity to fill you in on what has been going on, seeing as Asia is the beat I was “assigned” at work. (I use assigned loosely because I don’t actually get to travel anywhere. I’m thrown press releases from Asia’s tourism boards and get to write them up under the guise of an Asia reporter. I’ll take the bone I’ve been thrown, but I’m not bitter or anything.)
Anyway, back to a real problem. Thailand.
The state of emergency was declared following demonstrations by protestors from the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (or the “red-shirts”). On Saturday, April 10, the red-shirts and the Royal Thai Government met head to head in the Phanfa Bridge area, which resulted in 21 deaths and over 800 wounded victims. And the demonstrations continue.
If you really want to look for a silver lining, it is important to note that the violence has been contained to the Bangkok region. Travel outside of Bangkok seems to be safe.
But tourism officials, while trying to remain upbeat, are concerned about what this means for Thailand for the rest of 2010.
“Our concerns are two-fold,” says Mark Siegel, CEO of Golfasian Co. Ltd., a Bangkok-based golf tour operator. “While 99 percent of the country’s hotels and golf courses and restaurants are operating as normal, the more important concern is that we continue to have dozens of clients in country. We have to look out for their welfare and assure them that their safety isn’t an issue because, in my view, it isn’t.”
Still, Russia, South Korea and China have warned their citizens to postpone their trips to Bangkok. It is predicted that tourism numbers could drop 20 percent this year and some analysts are even predicting that up to $500 million could be lost from the economy.
But economy and tourism aside, the number one concern is citizens, visitors and tourists. Siegel says, “It’s disrespectful and simply untrue to assert that things are going forward as normal, and will go forward as normal. This is the worst political violence in 20 years.”
Thailand is the #2 place in the world that I want to visit (a very, very close second behind Bali). My thoughts go out to the people in Bangkok. I hope I can get there some day.
A few years ago “hidden” New York City watering holes became trendy. The return of the speak-easy, if you will. I’ll admit that at first I was skeptical. I mean, is it really that much cooler to go to a bar whose door is hidden underneath the second trash can, five paces from the entrance of the Whole Foods, where you have to ring a door bell and climb down a ladder two rungs at a time? No thanks. I’ll just walk into any bar where I can get what I came for – a beer.
Or at least that is how I first approached the subject. But it turns out after visiting a few of these secret spots (which are becoming increasingly more well-known), that they are actually pretty cool and can be impressive places to take your out-of-town friends.
1. PDT. Okay, for all you New Yorkers-in-the-know, you could sense this one was coming. By far the most popular of hidden New York spots, PDT (short for Please Don’t Tell) is located behind the popular hot dog joint, Crif Dogs at 113 Saint Marks Place.
How to get in: Walk down the four steps into Crif Dogs and look for the wooden phone booth. Enter the booth, pick up the phone and press a button. Obey the rules of etiquette posted nearby. I’m telling you. They mean business. This speakeasy is at the bottom of my list. Why? I didn’t get in. Probably because I didn’t obey the rules. But hey, maybe you’ll have better luck.
2. Dutch Kills. I rarely venture off of Manhattan. If I do it’s probably because I’m visiting some friends who have made the move to Astoria in Queens. On one particular visit they led me to Dutch Kills in Long Island City, Queens. On an industrial street with practically no signage, this bar stands unassuming at 27-24 Jackson Avenue. Pay no attention to the surroundings. Knock on the door and be prepared to take a time warp back to the 1920s. Waiters dressed in full flapper garb (spats included!) prepare specialty cocktails while a scratchy jazz plays on what sounds like a phonograph. I love this bar.
3. Cabin Down Below. Besides beer one of my other great loves in life is pizza. So when I heard that there was an underground lounge under a pizza joint, I had to check it out. Head to 110 Avenue A. Here you will find The Pizza Shop. Wednesday nights through Saturday nights from 10 p.m. on, the men behind the counter will let you through a dingy door. Head down some stairs and emerge in an ultra-swanky underground lounge. Keep in mind that drinks are kind of pricey, but I think it’s worth it. This little gem is really off the radar, so it pains me a little to share its location, but I think you’ll get a kick out of it.
4. Sakagura. Okay, let’s throw a restaurant in for good measure. That’s right. A secret restaurant. If you’re in Midtown and in dire need of some Japanese food, I wouldn’t point you any further than Sakagura, located on the basement level of an office building at 211 E 43rd Street. Head down the service stairs and open the door. It opens up into a Japanese garden, decked out in wood and bamboo. This is some of the most authentic Japanese food I have ever had (and their sake list goes on forever).
It was the 11th hour and I was en route to the airport when I realized that I had come to Texas and missed out on one of the grandest traditions, good ol’ Texas Bbq. I had to make a pit stop in San Antonio before I got to Austin, my departure city, and luckily for me there was no shortage of barbecue joints along the highway.
We pulled into Rudy’s off of route 35 North (Rudy’s happens to be a chain so if you aren’t traveling on this particular route, just check their other locations).
This was exactly what I was looking for. No frills barbecue. Just a piece of wax paper, a pile of meat, some extra fattening sides and an icy cold beer.
I recommend getting the baby back ribs, which run for about $13 per pound. I added to it some of the sloppiest potato salad I have ever seen and pickles. The whole mess comes with a stack of white Wonder Bread. Take your tray outside to sit at wooden picnic tables with picturesque views of the gas station and highway. Napkins are rendered essentially useless because every bite leaves a giant smear of smokey sauce across your cheek. And don’t forget the beer. My beverage of choice? Shiner Bock, a local brew made in Shiner, Texas.
Alright, so now I did the Texas thing. Time to head home, y’all.