Our first taste of Asia, Bangkok was all about re-setting ourselves for a brand new adventure, and we did this through SOME cultural exploration, but mostly food. So much food.
After so long in South America, our taste buds had started to nod off a bit, so when we had our first foray into Thailand’s food – a selection of spicy curries and mouth-watering steamed buns in the Food Court at MBK Mall – it was such a dizzyingly glorious experience, that we fell in love with the country at first sight. Well, at first taste. And it only got better from there.
We hungrily scoured the city for new and different flavours, and despite taking in a fair whack of culture in our many palace and temple visits, food was the dominant factor.
We went to Chatuchak market – an insanely big, sprawling weekend market in Bangkok where you can buy anything from ornaments to novelty soap to traveller garbs and silk scarves, but we mainly went there to try new eats – like deep-fried bananas in crunchy sesame seeds, dim sum, Pad Thai, fiery pork curry, and thick condensed-milk filled ice coffee.
We travelled on the river ferry uptown to Chinatown, where we scavenged the narrow alleyways of shoe warehouses, gold shops and illegal-looking lobster tanks, in search of the perfect Tom Yum soup, which we found with fresh pork and prawns and ALL the flavours, for just 70p.
We sought out places we’d read about that served traditional Thai sweets like cream-filled buns; we walked through terrifying markets full of live snakes, eels and frogs trying to jump out of their tanks; we ate 30p plates piled high with noodles and curries and rice and stir-fries from street-side stalls.
We avoided the crazy mark-up of restaurants (especially tourist-oriented ones) and got over barriers like needing an English menu, and instead practiced lots of basic food vocab, and the trusty point-and-serve. We vowed to only eat on markets. We experienced the much-hyped Thai hospitality and found everyone incredibly hospitable, even when Sam explained in his broken Thai about his peanut allergy. It was great.
Ok, probably time to mention the non-food related activities now. We did the tourist classic of shopping in a big mall for cheap electronics (Go Pro for our diving, which took an AGE to choose given how many there are, also considering underwater digitals. Gah!); we also got me some cheap old-lady sandals to replace my Tevas that got broken white-water rafting in Colombia!
We visited the obligatory temples and palaces, which were pretty impressive. The Grand Palace with its statue of the Emerald Buddha was pretty cool – our first close-up look at the architecture of the temples had real wow factor, from the amount of ornate gold involved, to the bright hues of green, blues and reds; not to mention the intricate detail and the stories behind the symbolism.
We were joined by Michael, a new friend we met on the ferry, an American/Irish guy in BK on business, who we explored with all day and dragged into dirty old China Town (despite his obvious expense account!)
We also visited Wat Pho – the huge golden reclining buddha – very early the next day, which, at 46m, is jaw-dropping! There were also tons of other buddha images and monks wandering around the temple which was exciting (monk novelty not having yet worn off!)
Being the cheapskates that we are, we also squeezed in Dusit Park to see the two sites for which you get free entry as part of the Grand Palace. The first – the ornate and totally OTT Exhibition Hall – featuring boat sculptures made of gold, and tapestries made of iridescent beetle’s wing (the Royal Family are a PRETTY big deal out here), which we lolled our way around (the audio guide was hilariously dry).
And finally, still jet lagged, we stomped through a rain shower (fairly frequent in October!) to Vivanmek mansion – the oldest teak building in the world (whatever that means!) which was basically some creepy old rich dude’s country manor, now staffed by militant ladies who shout at kids for walking too fast. With absolutely no explanation in English, the whole thing was a bit bizarre and reminded me of the kind of castle or stately home you’d go to in England for a bank holiday, but in Thailand (with rain to match!)
We stayed in the South of the city near China Town (away from the horrors of the Ko San Road) so this meant we also got to travel on the amazing, air conditioned Sky Train and the scenic river ferry a lot, which was fun. Sunset on the ferry and weekend people-watching on the Sky Train were particular favourites.
All-in-all, although we’re not particularly city lovers, Bangkok was a fun place to spend a few days. The markets, the districts, the food and the culture summed up to quite a nice package. But after a few days we were ready to face transport again, and headed up North to traveller favourite, Chang Mai…