Thursday, 26 January 2012
How not to do does Bangkok...
We sat in a silence; reaching for seatbelts that weren’t there, the beginnings of mild panic in the air both stamping on the invisible floor brake as we weaved in and out of traffic. Looking out the window I was sure I could see giant bats following us but we arrived at our hotel; alive and elated that we’d survived!
That wasn’t going to be the last time that I felt actual fear on these busy streets but a good night’s sleep helped sooth my flight frazzled nerves. With the morning came the sun and the world looked a lot brighter and a lot happier place.
We had four days to see Bangkok and it was time to be a tourist! First stop was the Grand Palace; its stunning beauty, architecture, and the incredible artifice gone into its construction really knocked me for six.
We started to head over to Wat Pho but a soldier we’d got directions from said it was a holy day so we should head there after lunch. He told us about a few other temples we should see and a factory sale that was happening that week that apparently only Thai people knew about.
Before long he’d hailed us a Tuk Tuk, barked orders at our smiling driver, and told us not to pay any more than 40 baht for the whole trip! Despite my immediate suspicions that we’d wake hours later in a bath of ice missing our kidneys I’d promised the lady I would stop being so paranoid so we jumped in and our enthusiastic driver took us on our tour.
A short and erratic drive later and we appeared at our first temple; I was pleased we weren’t embroiled in some organ harvesting scam and actually started to enjoy what was going on. This temple was somewhat more decrepit and down beat after the grandeur of the Grand Palace but the leafy calm, crumbling masonry, and stray cats had a charm of their own.
We were the only tourists here and a kindly monk told us about the different Buddha’s in the gardens and showed us which Buddha represented the days we were born on. He told us about the difference between monks and priests in the Buddhist faith and seemed very happy to have a chance to practise his frankly excellent English.
When we walked back to our Tuk Tuk the driver still smiling and went to our next stop. This time it was the apparently amazing factory shop we’d been told about; it was at this point some of the charm of our “tour” began to rub off.
We walked in and were immediately jumped on by the sales team, I don’t know about you but the last thing I want to do when I’m all hot and sticky is getting measured up for a new suit. We left; our driver still smiling said he’d take us to a better shop and we foolishly agreed, how could we not when he was so smiley and friendly?
To be fair the next place was a lot nicer, we were given drinks and talked through what they could do for us. In the end I got some shirts made as the fabrics were great and the price was perfect.
Our driver was ecstatic we’d bought something and ran back into the shop after we came out. He showed us a petrol voucher as his prize and everything clicked into place.
We said we wanted to go to the next temple but he wanted to take us to another shop. We politely refused and the sob stories started coming out; after five minutes of this he realised we weren’t budging and took us to our next agreed stop where as soon as we’d gone inside he promptly fucked off.
Not really an auspicious start to the first full day in this strange and beautiful city but we’d saved 40 baht! It took us a while to work out where we were but luckily we close enough to walk to Nang Loeng Market and our first taste of proper Thai street food.
It turns out that I’m not the savvy world traveller and international gourmand I first thought I was as when we got there I didn’t recognise a thing... Ordering consisted of pointing at food as the locals laughed at us.
My first plate of real Thai food was some chicken mince in a bland tomato sauce on lettuce and rice noodles. As the holiday progressed we got slightly more successful; lots of things on sticks were consumed.
We tried sweet pancakes that were so full of sugar it hurt your teeth just to look at them. Little bottles of delicious fresh squeezed lime and pomegranate juice were drunk; bowls of mystery noodles eaten, and I discovered rice porridge for the first time.
With its surprise guest of an egg yolk hidden in the depths this was amazing when pepped up with fresh ginger, soy, and chilli flakes. It might have been late and we might have been a little drunk but I really enjoyed this sloppy mess but I’m just not sure it needed the mystery meat balls as well though.
China Town was fantastic to see and so vibrant after dark. With its more recognisable food we feasted while we could; I loved the fresh steamed Bao cooked on the back of carts, though good the shredded pork here couldn’t compete with the amazing dumplings we’d had the week before at Goldenfields back in Australia.
After a while walking round we sat down at one fish stall and watched as the chef worked with two huge gas burners. He was deep frying from a wok one minute, steaming the next, and stir frying at the same time with the other burner.
We had one of the best plates of prawns I think I’ve ever eaten, with only their heads pulled off we crunched down on the tails and legs dipped in a fiery chilli vinegar sauce. As we sat and drank cold Changs; we feverishly dispatched our food with beads of chilli sweat pouring down our faces.
We stumbled into a little steamboat restaurant and had some clean fresh bowls of vegetables, noodles, and broth. The heat though from the steamboat was the last thing I needed as it just added to the humidity and as usual I got a bit cranky at this point.
There is so much to see in Bangkok but my favourite night was probably spent drinking down the Khao San road. It's the cultural equivalent of going to Blackpool but really good fun.
With so many tourists and backpackers mixing in with locals selling rubbish it is pretty chaotic but well worth a visit. Bar hopping and chatting to strangers whilst listening to badly played Beatles covers ranks pretty highly in my list of things to do on holiday so I was like a pig in muck.
Another highlight was going up to Sirocco and The Sky Bar on the 63rd floor of the Lebua Hotel. The guide book down plays just how amazing the views are; the drinks were painfully London priced but standing that high up with only a waist high sheet of glass stopping you dashing your brains out on the tarmac below is an experience worth paying for.
Probably one to avoid is the Patpong night market; we thought it would be fun going down and seeing what all the fuss was about in the supposed red light district but it turns out we were wrong.
Every two steps you are invited into a ping pong show while Gary Glitter types stalk the bars fawning over the young Thai girls and boys. In short it was horrible; we had a drink and quickly left to head back to the relative sanity of the Khao San road.
Spending four days in Bangkok was the perfect way to end our holiday; I loved the shopping, the sights, and just the sheer insanity of it all. My top tips for Bangkok? Drink lots, eat lots and just get lost and soak it all in.
I'll go back one day and hopefully next time I'll find some food that looks a little bit more like this... More photos here as well.