Usually for a short city visit, SOTG who once a desert dweller never taken it lightly – but having living in Lion City, the kind of short Asian city like Bangkok with perception of old, rustic, hustle-bustle, and the country’s dishonourable sex-industry didn’t sound as most attracting. SOTG’s Thailand exposure is limited to childhood memories when visited southern part of the country 30 years more ago crossing from Malaysia north border by car, and somehow the scene from Nicole Kidman’s Bangkok Hilton TV series (yes this shows my age) sprang to mind. And then the thought of most people whom SOTG came across have visited Bangkok – as hopping spot to visit the famous beaches and also for shopping spree, so why not now?.
Despite of the hesitant and being a Bangkok virgin, with open mind of a traveller and strong admiration of Thai cuisine, the weekend suitcase was packed to wanderlust yet another city. No studies in advance of where and what to do. Not even googling ‘Bangkok’ once prior to arrival, this trip was to experience the flow of the place with arms wide open. Not even in hurried to tick off all the touristy places.
WHERE TO BEGIN
Picked up few local insight from the concierge, and equipped with a piece of map, I began few hours of local walk around hotel areas which happened to be in the central business district. Also for first time Lonely Travel App being downloaded in my iPhone 6 – found it to be very useful to logistically plan the itinerary in quick manner. On the second night, great conversation with a German couple at the hotel lounge added more touristy insights about Bangkok as they were regulars to this city.
Almost all modes of transportation have been explored because each of them are fascinating to soak up Bangkok’s atmosphere. Although I opted for the pleasure of pottering around most of time (yes it is a safe city), there were moments and purposes that best for certain mean of transportation, other than common BTS Sky Train, MRT and the colourful taxis.
- Good old tuk-tuk (three-wheeled) is the most recognisable and must do for experience. Economical for more than one or two travellers and can be quicker than cab. Agreed price beforehand after bartering, avoid the tourist scam that promised to bring to a touristy place, and avoid peak hours to avoid stuck in traffic. Great to explore the city night light and when the temperature a bit colder.
- Solo tourist and if you don’t mind taking some risk in the middle of Bangkok traffic, why not hitch a ride on the back of a motorycle or scooter with drivers wearing orange vest. This service also being added by recently launched in Bangkok by Uber (in last February) and GrabTaxi (in 2015). The country apparently has the highest percentage of households that own a motorcycle or scooter compared to all other countries worldwide. Just remember to wear helmet.
- Must do waterway experience of the main Chao Praya Rivers, The Khlong or Canals (Khlong Saen Saeb and Khlongs of Thonburi) are the most fascinating ways to appreciate the land, its people way of living and its main attraction. Not sure what colour of the river taxi (there were 5 types), I rode along Cha Praya river that passed by many piers with interesting attractions, hotel buildings, shopping centers, restaurants, historical buildings and also local houses. Stopped at Pier number 8 (Tha Tien) just after sunset overlooking Wat Arun. This river ride reminisced the Nile cruise during winter visit to Cairo few years back. The freedom feeling on the boat when the breeze brushed off the face and gently swept away all worries of the world.
More on Bangkok’s transportation here.
- Street food – Pictorial guide on interesting Thai street foods scene near Pratunam area, MBK shopping centre, and Chatuchak Weekend Market.Click on each picture to get more details. Street foods referring to not only served by hawker stalls type but traditional food carts, wheeled carts and push carts. Feast on the eye and brave the taste-bud when in Bangkok. Minus the fried insects at Khao San Road – not my cup of tea at all. Also shopping malls in business district (such as Paragon Sam Centre and Central World) offer good quality amazing array of food – from Western to other Asian foods.
- Regional cuisine – just how each country cuisine varies from one state to another, or from a region to another; Thai food is the same. Each region has its own distinct ethnic peoples, speaking their own dialect, and practicing their own customs.
- History of Thai cuisine – Thai cuisine which SOTG taken pleasure in actually developed over stages across the Kingdom era: from Sukhotai (where the capital was in North), the great Ayutthaya (when country prosper), the turbulent Thonburi and then finally the Rattanakosin era till today. Surprisingly, despite knowing Thai never been colonised by Western power, many innovations have transformed Thai cuisine through interaction and influences from Portugese, India, China, method of cooking, and cooking equipments. As example, Portugese introduced the chillis and steaming techniques; Indian introduced the use of coconut milk; Chinese introduced the noodles, fish sauce, shrimp paste, and wok.
- Myth of Royal Thai cuisine – made famous by big restaurants alike. Apparently, no such Royal Thai cuisine in term of menu that distinctive except for a dish called khao chae – ”rice in cold jasmine and candle-scented water”. That’s mean the Royal pretty much enjoys the same food as the rest of Thai people. The major differences comes from the preparation and serving of the food. In term of preparation, aside of the finest and freshest ingredients used, there should not be extremes in flavors which means not too hot, not too salty, not too sour and not too spicy. Furthermore, the fruits and vegetables never served with pits, stone, or peel. And fruits never served in one big size – come in great presentation that requires attention to details. This goes the same with meat, fish and poultry – no bones in Royal Thai cuisine. Then finally, the serving style has to be service à la russe (courses being brought to the table sequentially) not the usual family-style way of sharing dishes.
- Thai dessert – dishes usually are coconut, coconut by-products and rice or sticky rice flour based. Basic techniques require boiling and steaming. With Portugese reached Siam in late 1500s (the first European who made contact with Thailand), thanks to Marie Guimar (she was mixed of Japanese, Portugese and Bengali ancestry) the introduction of firstly egg, then wheat flour were incorporated in Thai dessert. The egg desserts includes golden threads (foy tong) and golden drops (tong yod) – basically made from sugar syrup and egg yolk but shaped differently. Usage of wheat flour brought baking in Thai dessert to produce dish such as pumpkin custard (sankaya fuk thong).
- Healthy fresh juices – Love the rainbow options such as sweet corn, aloe vera, gotu kola, passion fruit, sweet rice milk and beetroot.
- Never leave without tasting the fresh seasonal tropical fruit (not too much as some contain high sugar)and sip from fresh young coconut water. And please, do not even try the mass produced pad Thai at Khao San Road – it’s just too touristy not reflecting what is authentic about Thai cuisine.
- Cooking class – there are plenty to choose from. Not tried and tested but came recommended is Blue Elephant Cooking School. And for Halal requirement, check out Silom Thai Cooking School.
- Food Tour – Look no further than Bangkok Food Tours, a multiple award winning and fans rave very much in Trip Advisor.
- Shopping – Equally impressed with glitz and glam of Bangkok mega mall (yes Central Embassy definitely up to the standard of Dubai) and also the open market in Bangkok that always famous for bargain hunters. Good strolled along night market around MBK and in Pratunam area. A definitely must visit if happen to be in the weekend is Chatuchak Market (open both Saturday and Sunday) also known as JJ Market – world biggest and be amazed at the sheer of varieties of goods (and animals too for you pet lovers). The map given at entrance was really handy to guide where to go.
- Muay Thai Martial Art – Went for live shows and glad I did as it is a national sport of Thailand. Plus it’s free every Wednesday night at MBK Centre. Great stage setting and attentive crowd. Compare and contrast with Tae-kwondo (something SOTG familiar with and a student of once upon a time), Muay Thai fighters enjoy kicking below waist level, the throws and clinch game technique allowed and less strict overall.
- Skywalk – part of Bangkok pedestarian appeal, the elevated footpath built under the skytrain. It is safe and quick for pedestrians.Even better – high above the motor vehicles’ fume.
- Jim Thompson House – The ‘Talk of The Town’ they said, a serene charming place once built, designed, decorated and resided by an ex-CIA. The property was looked after very well. After his sad disappearance in Malaysia it was open for tourist. He also preserved and developed the traditional Thai silk making techniques (please refer to SOTG’s Instagram account here for video on wooden spinning technique). For this contribution he was awarded the Order of the White Elephant, bestowed upon foreigners for having rendered exceptional service to Thailand. Apart from the house, there’s a restaurant, silk shop and a exhibition room on top of the shop. The silk shops can be found around Bangkok and entire country – also available Internationally.
- Grand Palace and varuous Temple or Wat – Pottered around the landmarks, SOTG admired the grandeur and intricate architecture of Wat Pho. Blamed on few late nights, a morning run to visit Wat Saket on Golden Mount has been abandoned instead for few late breakfast at the hotel (more on this later) – otherwise a good panoramic view of Bangkok is expected.
- Stayed at Swissotel Nai Lert Park on the Executive Club floor. All 336 elegant room comes with balcony and view. The eight acre tropical garden simply lush with serene surrounding – where the yoga session and Health Centre located. A convenient stay not far from shopping areas and CBD.
- The name Nai Lert took honour from a ‘beloved millionaire’, a title given to him by the Siam King, King Rama VI. He was a real estate developer who owned many plots of land including this hotel. The Park Heritage Home beside the hotel once a private property of Nai Lert family, now is open to public on Thursday and Friday. It was Bangkok’s first Western style park – a hidden secret must say. Nai Lert principles of life is proudly shown in the logo and also can be experienced everywhere in the hotel by the staff: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathy, and freedom. The Ma Maison restaurant boasted many home-cooked recipes created by Nai Lert’s wife – shame SOTG didn’t managed to check out.
- Immensely enjoyed the healthy options.Tried all eggs on breakfast menu made to order: poached (on sour dough toast with salsa verde), Florentine (with spinach and hollandaise sauce), scrambled (with Scottish smoked salmon red label and Avruga caviar made from herring roe – which apparently a good ethical and economical substitute to sturgeon caviar) and omelet or Khai Jiaw (multiple soft inner layers with crispy edges served with white rice and sriracha sauce). Confirmed by Executive Chef, the eggs in Executive Lounge are organic eggs supplied by Hilltribe Organics that does amazing social enterprise for Chiang Rai hill tribe community. Washed down well with juices from guava, mandarin and beetroot vitality shot with lime and ginger. What not to like when a 5 star hotel served quinoa cooked in coconut milk too?
WHEN TO VISIT
All year around will be hot above 30 degrees Celcius, not always sunny though (not MIddle East of course). Avoid rainy season from July to October. The Best Time to Visit Bangkok is without doubt during the cooler season months, between November and February. It was humid when I was there in March but bearable. Muay Thai lover wants to plan in March during the international competition. If you fancy festivity, visit in April for Songkran (Thailand’s New Year) when the excessive celebration taken place with water sprinkling and throwing are norm all over city. April also is the month of khao chae (mentioned above), which means the dish available all over Thailand.
Absolutely, SOTG has been bitten by Bangkok bugs. Could not wait to return. Bangkok is my new Beirut – could relate so much especially the glamour mega-malls among the ancient and religious monuments, and when old and new clashed on. The city can be enjoyed well across both spectrum of budget – SOTG kind of city. And will learn few basic Thai too (my brown complexion caused some stares by street vendors when English came out of me and even the European tourist at the hotel thought I was local).
ON BUCKET LIST:
- Spoil over a Thai massage, learn Muay Thai, visit flower market, fresh market (like Or Tor Gor ranked 4th best fresh market in the world), floating market, Chinatown. Be noisy at some of the top vantage points (Banyan Tree’ Vertigo + Moon Bar an Lebua’s Sky Bar).
- Would consider staying along the Chao Praya River to further appreciate the riverside good old days. And to peek into the Oriental – a legendary ‘Old Lady’ and the amazing view
- There are plenty more to explore on Thai cuisine. Aside long been a word class, SOTG would love to peek into healthy Thai food given high dose of MSG and sugar laden in the cuisine.
- Additionally, Bangkok is increasingly at speed in fine dining scene from International flair (plenty of French and Italian) to modern Asian twist. Eat At Gaggan won Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant in 2016 and there are 3 more in the list for Bangkok. More talks on Michelin-starred guest chefs arriving on the shores than ever before, and then stayed on to open up shop. Check out L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon by ‘chef of the century’ Joël Robuchon and J’aime by Chef Jean-Michel Lorain who was the youngest chef to ever be awarded three Michelin stars back in 1986.
- So looking forward to completion of new tallest building in Bangkok (and in South East Asia) – Super Tower. In meantime, Baiyoke Tower will do for now to check out the view.
Flew with Jetstar from Changi Airport to Suvarnabhumi International Airport – duration flight of 2 hours 30 minutes. The 32kg allowance seems to be more than sufficient for items that I brought back.
If you fancy a good Thai in Dubai, SOTG recommends Benjarong in Dusit Thani where you can also be entertained by the live performances, shame Blue Rain at Ritz Carlton DIFC is no longer there, which then leave the usual suspect – Lemongrass in a bit out location in Oud Metha.
In the Lion City, not yet in exploring mode for Thai fix so could not honestly recommend any. Though found out about ThaiMart which is handy to stock up on anything Thai related – visit here.
What is your favourite city getaway? Any other Bangkok must do and must eat for SOTG next visit?
Any real authentic Thai joint to suggest in your Singapore?
That’s it for now – got to lace up my running shoes #followSOTGtothisrace.
Live to Thrive.
— SliceOfTorchGinger (@SO_TorchGinger) April 5, 2016