Bangkok: food heaven, traffic hell

Grand Palace, Bangkok

Using Bangkok purely as an entry-exit point to SE Asia, we ended up with three nights and only one day in the city. It was our final day, and we were relaxed at the fact that we would do little more than scratch the surface of this giant city. We have so many plans to visit this part of the world again soon that we were sure we would be back soon enough.

We met up with Surin, a friend from business school, who is born and bred in Bangkok. He had carefully planned out an itinerary for us, and we were soon on our way to the Grand Palace. This is a most impressive sight, with so many beautiful monuments and buildings squeezed into a an area surrounded by a 1.9km wall. It is also home to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, one of the most sacred sites in Thailand. The complex was crowded with visitors, both Thai and foreign, and each doorway to a building was a constant flow of human traffic.

The complex was built during the reign of King Rama I (the current king is Rama IX) in 1782, but many of the buildings within the site were built and renovated by subsequent rulers. We spent a couple of hours admiring the ornate carvings, decorated walls and the magnificent statues on display, before heading out of the Palace and towards the university grounds, where Surin showed us the places he had spent his student years.

Chinatown in Bangkok

We had lunch in a modest canteen at the back of a market, and left the ordering to our trusted Thai friend! It was a delicious meal; nothing fancy, rice, egg and a noodle dish that will probably mean we never order Pad Thai again, to avoid the disappointment when we remember this one! We even had a river view at no extra cost.

Our next stop was Bangkok’s Chinatown. We picked up some durian fruit, which I was determined to try, and some mango with chilli sauce. I was a bit disappointed with the durian. I was expecting something that stunk worse than a rotting corpse (although thankfully I wouldn’t be able to make a direct comparison). Instead I found it was actually not an unpleasant smell, and the taste was ok (not great; just ok). The mango with chilli was better, and I had never imagined the two would go so well.

Gold Buddha, Wat Traimit

We wandered through Chinatown, past the countless number of gold merchants, and visited Wat Traimit, housing the world’s largest solid gold Buddha statue. The Wat is a new building, and it seems that they hadn’t yet got round to welcoming tourists properly, as entry was free. It is an impressive statue, and is housed at the top floor of the Wat. Clearly they have a solid floor under the statue!

After milling around the markets of Chinatown for a while and passing through stalls that sold literally anything and everything, we took a ride to Siam Square, the shopping and entertainment district of Bangkok. It was a long slow ride, as by this time the worst of the rush hour was upon us and we crawled at snail’s pace through the gridlock. We were more than ready for our giant ice-creams in the food court of the mall.

The shops in the mall were remarkably familiar with the same high end boutique names you can find in London, although maybe more exclusive. They even had a Lamborghini showroom on the 3rd floor! I hate shopping, but was entertained by the sights that we enjoyed wandering through the many floors of the mall. Surin had promised us a lot of food, and he certainly kept his promise, as we stopped for yet another favourite snack, mango and sticky rice.

It was remarkable that we managed to eat dinner that evening, but somehow we squeezed in a very tasty meal at Nara, an upscale Thai restaurant in the Central World Plaza. We ate so much more than I had an appetite for, but by that time fatigue and an all-day culinary workout had dulled my sense of being full. The diners seemed to be a mix of mainly middle-class Bangkok residents with a few westerners.

The greatest entertainment of visiting the malls was without doubt seeing the young people posing for photos at every opportunity. Whether it was next to statues, posters, Christmas trees, you would find several girls (and even the occasional guy) striking a pose in all seriousness while their photographer/partner was invariably armed with a large, flashy camera. The first time we saw this we were sure we had stumbled upon a model shoot, such was the professional demeanour of the photographer and their subject.

We enjoyed Bangkok, and having a local friend to show us around made it a better experience. We missed many sites that we will have to leave till next time, we didn’t see much of the seedy part of Bangkok that we know exists, and we never made it to the fabled Khao San Rd. But we saw enough to know that next time we are heading east, we will look forward to visiting this vibrant, modern city again.

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11 Responses to “Bangkok: food heaven, traffic hell”

  1. Thanks a LOT for the post! We are visiting bangkok next week and this was very helpful:) We will be there for 2 days, any must see/do that you recommend? Also any particular food that you suggest? I am a big foodie, and am looking forward to try some exotic dishes!

    January 14, 2010 at 2:37 pm
  2. Surin #

    Hi! I’m Surin, the Thai friend of Andy. ๐Ÿ™‚ Definitely, I recommend you visit the Grand Palace. And if you are a big fan of massage, let’s try the traditional Thai massage at Wat Pho (close to the Grand Palace). For food, Pad thai (fired noodle), Som Tam (spicy papaya salad), and Tom Yum (spicy soup) are very delicious and well-known among Thais and foreigners. Anyway, if you would like to try a typical Thai dish, let try Kaew Kra Paw Kai (spicy fired rice with basil). In addtion to sticky rice with mango (as Andy mentioned), cantaloupe sago or coconut sago will be very nice for your dessert as well.

    Lots of tourists have complainted about getting a taxi at the airport. To avoid the first bad impression, please look for the taxi stand and get a taxi from there. Those taxis will turn on the meter and will not overcharge you.

    I hope you have a good time, and go back safely with the good impression about my country. ๐Ÿ™‚

    January 14, 2010 at 4:53 pm
  3. Oh my gosh! Only three days in Bangkok? I could stay there for months and never see it all. One of my favorite places in the world; I’ve been there 4 times. As you say, the food is awesome. Bt next time, take the Sky Train to Siam Square and bypass all the traffic. If you’re not in an area where the train or the subway runs, catch a boat on the Chao Phraya Riiveer boat to the Sky Train stop.

    January 14, 2010 at 7:54 pm
  4. Yikes – just went back and re-read. Three nights, but only one day. Aaagghhh! I’d have to commit hari kari.

    January 14, 2010 at 7:55 pm
  5. Thanks for visiting the blog Suhel. I’m glad I waited until Surin replied, as his answer is much more useful than anything I would be able to give. Have a great time there. Thanks again Surin!
    Hi Barbara, you’re right, it’s hardly anytime at all but like I say we’re pretty sure we’ll be back to see Bangkok, and much more of Thailand, properly. We loved the Sky Train! It’s so clean, reliable, cheap, everything a public transport system should be!

    January 14, 2010 at 8:25 pm
  6. I can’t agree with you more, to be honest, 1 of the HUGE reasons I live here in BKK is because of the food, and now I think not able to live anywhere else, definitly the best food in the world that I’ve ever seen!!!

    April 20, 2010 at 10:12 pm
  7. I’ve been home for four months and really miss BKK and SE Asia in general – would happily go back tomorrow just to taste the great food again! Thanks

    April 21, 2010 at 6:59 pm
  8. Andy, what are your favorite Thai dishes? I’d love to see if any of yours and mine matchup, I’m sure they will since I love about 90% of them haha

    April 21, 2010 at 7:13 pm
  9. Well, over here in the UK I enjoy a massuman curry, but in BKK I really enjoyed the papaya salads and the ‘proper’ pad thai (nothing like what we get in the UK). But to be honest, I’ve spent little time in Thailand and so have probably never ordered the same dish more than once there!
    We had more Khmer and Lao food, which was also delicious.

    April 21, 2010 at 7:23 pm
  10. Oh man, masaman gai (chicken) is 1 of my absolute favorites too!!! I just went to Carrefour cafeteria the other day, to the place that always has it but it’s gone now ๐Ÿ™ i had to get other stuff, i was CRAVING it!!!

    1 more you may like then, try pe-nang moo (pork), it’s a brown curry with pork, spicy, and it’s also VERY delicious, actually it’s my #1 favorite in Thai

    April 21, 2010 at 7:27 pm
  11. The penang moo sounds great Zach. I’ll have to just get back to Bangkok asap! Thanks for the tips. Now I’m hungry ๐Ÿ™‚

    April 21, 2010 at 7:38 pm