Bella Rocca Emquartier: high quality, vegetarian-friendly restaurant

We were working at home since early morning on Saturday, and with the evening slowly approaching I couldn’t bare having stayed indoors all day. Auste on the other hand didn’t mind, but I convinced her to go to town and checkout the Kinokunya bookshop in Emquartier. It’s been a while since we owned, or actually even read proper books. By the way the bookshop is huge, with thousands upon thousands of English publications of all genres, including hundreds of magazines. Most books cost 400-700 baht, which is really good for over-taxed imports!

We weren’t supposed to eat, but let’s just say somebody (the missus) didn’t eat her fruit before leaving home… (Sorry luv!) We took a stroll up to the Vertical Food Street, just one level above the pretty gardens. Some years ago we used to feel a bit awkward looking at the menus at restaurant entrances and walking away. Nowadays we just flip through the pages scanning for anything vegetarian, and go to the next one. It’s hard work when you’re hungry. We had already had an Asian meal and coffee that day, so we wanted something different.

Bella Rocca-3070

The food street goes in a spiral, so we scanned literally every non-Asian menu and ended up right at the top. Total possible eateries: 4. Our choice was very much influenced by the number of vegetarian options on the menu, not even considering “possible” ones where we would ask for certain ingredients to be replaced.

Our experience:

The atmosphere was definitely sophisticated, with a modern-vintage décor. The spacious layout with a spiral staircase, large glass carboys strapped in wooden frames, and wooden wine racks with hundreds of bottles on display. High-ceiling with dimmed lights resembled of an outdoor space which allowed to experience an element of privacy.

Bella Rocca-3087Bella Rocca-3092

We were seated right under a bright light which made it impractical to take photos of the gorgeous food, but it didn’t affect the eating experience. The wine menu was perhaps 5 pages long, with around 9 wines available by the glass. We went for Shiraz and Chianti, both of which were full-bodied, came in big beautiful glasses, and cost around 250-280 each. Bottled wines were at around the 1,200-1,900 mark. Bottled water was only 30 baht!The menu had lots of dishes to choose from, like pastas, pizzas, ravioli and risottos which all ranged from 280 to 480 baht. Main courses (all non-veg) ranged from 480 to 2,000+ so it definitely covers variety of budgets. You can download the menu from their website here (opens in new tab). The prices indicated do not include a 10 % service charge and a 7 % govt. tax, which will be applied to your bill, as advised on the menu.

Bella Rocca-3097

Right after we ordered our food, the waiters delivered complimentary bread with tomatoes, and tomato sauce. It was so fresh and moreish, it even felt like a healthy snack. The potato gratin wasn’t available, so we were offered potato skins, which were basically oven-baked wedges. Auste enjoyed them, but for me they lacked just a tiny bit of taste.

The dishes came at the same time, and they both were delightful. The spinach and ricotta ravioli in truffle cream sauce were just as we imagined – creamy, yet not too heavy, with melting-in-the-mouth truffle goodness. Very tasty. The pizza Margherita was of a decent size, with tons of mozzarella and an appetising tomato sauce covering a slightly charred crust. There was a lot of cheese, but it didn’t overtake the flavour of the gorgeous thin-base.

Overall we had a very good experience with everything: interior, staff, and prices. Simply fresh, tasty and high-quality food. We loved it and we can’t wait to go there again!

Khao Yai National Park

Early morning*, trip to the train station, coffee at Mr Bun’s. This time we were travelling to Khao Yai National Park. 

*As always, leaving home later than we had planned.

Upon boarding the 3rd class train to Pak Chong we got slightly irritated by being asked to sit in allocated seats squeezed next to somebody, even though the rest of the train was almost empty. Believing it was common sense to sit wherever we pleased on a rusty empty train, we ignored the order. We felt a bit childish and pretended to be sleeping whenever we saw the conductor coming our way – things you have to do to make common sense common…

Landscape started changing past Ayutthaya. We noticed most train and bus staff take extra care of tourists, and always advise of stops and connections. Many backpackers don’t research enough I guess.

Khao Yai Thailand

Once at Pak Chong train station, 500bht van/tuktuk rides were on offer to Khaoyai National Park, but we had read we can get there by songhtaew (open-end truck). We had a quick meal at 7-11 on the main road, and within 3 minutes we found the big truck. We hopped on, and in 50 minutes we took off (GPS in hand just to track our location).

It was only a quick ride of no more than 20 minutes. The gloomy weather, local shops and surroundings reminded me of Lithuanian scenery during autumn. We pressed the buzzer around the area where we had to get off, and paid 40 baht each (Thais before us paid 30, but no biggie).

The market on the main road was very local, a big 7-11 and bars were also just there. I thought Khao Yai was a tranquil retreat, but that’s just in the actual National Park, the surroundings are mostly residential areas, shops and hotels.

Khao Yai

Just after we had checked-in, the friendly owner arranged for us to join the evening tour for observation of millions of bats leaving a cave. We were late so we missed the swimming part, but we were taken to a cave to see some giant insects and bats (which was pretty cool), and then to some potato/corn field to watch the bats, which turned out to be nothing exciting. It was dark, and we could hardly see the bats, let alone take pictures/videos. The most exciting part was seeing the insects! And of course, 7-11 sandwiches. And bed.

Khao Yai Thailand insectsKhao Yai Thailand insects

The morning was spectacular due to the sun shining on the huge garden with rocky peaks surrounding the hotel area. Promptly at 8.30 we were picked up by the tour company (Green Leaf Guesthouse and Tour) and were driven to the park. We saw deers, watched gibbons for a bit (that was fun) and stopped at the information centre for a coffee. We found out that campsites cost 60-90 baht per night, 230 if you don’t have your own tent. The park opens at 6am, and closes at 6pm. Bungalows were offered from 800 baht per night for two. Check out the DNP website for prices and accommodation reservations in Thailand’s national parks.

Khao Yai deer

The ride in the truck was fun with great views. We stopped at one of the peaks and were given ‘leech socks’. Luckily we didn’t see any, but we brought a mite back to Bangkok, so be sure to check yourself  once you’re back!

Khao Yai snake

Now the 4km trek to the waterfalls included a snake crossing our path (scared us), spotting of a Siamese crocodile, a glimpse at a roaming elephant family, and a scorpion “show” at 2pm – we were basically walking through the jungle and the guide took us to a spot where it felt the scorpion was just placed there! But he knew his stuff and the poor little creature “entertained” us for a good 10 minutes, probably thinking “If I follow the script, they won’t fry me on Khao San Road”.

Khao Yai Thailand scorpion

On the day of check-out we had good continental breakfast again, and chilled-out in the garden. We took the truck back to Pakchong and there was only a 3rd class train available – it was packed! So if you do want to travel with air-con get your tickets in advance. The view from the window was nice. At 12pm all the Thais started eating. I even saw some people who had brought their own travel containers for rice and they just ate everything with it – meat, fish, fruit…

Khao Yai Thailand elephants

 On the whole:

The experience was pleasant because of the educated and fun guide(s). Even though we generally don’t like organised tours we’re happy we booked one as otherwise we would have never stepped into the jungle – it’s just not our thing. Forests were just like in the UK but with lots of creatures. We don’t really enjoy constantly focusing on insects and stuff, we much prefer European forests and nature, perhaps just because we know it better.

The downside is that the tour guides only give you a little time to see the waterfalls (pretty typical for tours), which are beautiful! So if you want to chill out or take photos, you’re better off going by yourself and taking your time. We only had one day though, and we were staying outside of the national park, so getting the tour was the most reasonable option for us. 

Khao Yai waterfalls

I’d say the best thing is to rent a motorbike in Pak Chong, drive (straight down the road) to the national park, pay the entry fee and either camp properly for 200 baht, or stay in a fan room for 800, which in our opinion may have more bugs and stuff coming in through holes, whereas a tent would hopefully be seamless. The whole park is very modern with roads nicer than in many parts of Bangkok with easy access to waterfalls, viewpoints and wildlife watching towers.

Khao Yai butterflies