A Weekend in Bangkok

that are better than takeout.jpg

After an incredible weekend in Singapore and some wonderfully chilled-out days in Langkawi, I carried on northwards in my Southeast Asia adventure and headed for Bangkok in Thailand. A true city of contrasts, where haggard generations-old tuk tuks pull up in front of immense gleaming temples and opulent rooftop bars serving incredible cocktails compete with humble street stalls dishing out bowls of steaming hot noodles, Bangkok is a complete assault on the senses – in the best way possible.

Day 1
With just 48 hours in Bangkok, we just knew our days would be jam-packed. So to make the most of our time, we booked our food tour with Bangkok Food Tours in advance. I highly recommend planning ahead and reserving your spot before you go because the tours are pretty popular and fill up fast. There’s no guarantee you’ll get a spot if you wait until you’re in the city before trying to sign up.

IMG_4765.jpg

Our tour leader, Chaya, was super-friendly and not only told us all kinds of cool info about the delicious food we were eating, but also recounted stories about the history and culture of Thailand along the way. She navigated us through the streets of Bang Rak, known locally as “The Village of Love”. The name seemed so fitting to me, considering I love absolutely everything about Thailand – especially the food.

The first stop on our Bang Rak food tour a 500-year-old Thai-Chinese restaurant which served some of the very best Thai-style roasted duck in the city. This specialty dish was made up of super tender and juicy duck breast, served with sticky coconut rice and drizzled with a rich, flavorful stock. It tasted so good – it’s easy to see why it’s so popular in Asia!

I was really surprised when I noticed at the beginning that our foodie tour didn’t include any mango sticky rice. This wonderfully sweet dish is one of Thailand’s most popular desserts and I absolutely love it, so I was really quite disappointed at the idea of not having any. But when I asked Chaya if there was any chance we would be able to try it during the tour, she had a word with the chef and we got some at our first stop.

Coconut sticky rice mixed up with mango sticky rice is the perfect combination of sweet, tropical flavors that you’ll fall in love with at your first mouthful. Just be sure not to fill up on too much of it because there are 12 dishes to try in total throughout the tour!

IMG_4763.jpg

The papaya salad was another favorite dish I can’t stop thinking about. We got to watch the chefs do their magic, crunching chunks of un-ripened green papaya in a mortar and pestle along with fresh lime juice, fish sauce, palm sugar and chilies. All the amazing ingredients create a major flavor sensation in your mouth, as your taste buds are overwhelmed by sweetness, sourness, saltiness and spiciness all at the same time.

IMG_4769.jpg

A traditional Thai snack called Miang Kham was up next and it was something I’ll never forget. From the outside, it looks nothing more than a small green leaf stuffed with random bits and pieces. But when you bite into it, you discover that all the flavors are impeccably balanced and work together perfectly to create what is easily one of the most incredible snacks I’ve ever eaten.

I remember an amazing medley of coconut, lime, shallots, roasted peanuts, shrimp, chili and ginger, drizzled in the most wonderful sauce made of all kinds of yumminess, like fish paste, coconut and galangal. When tasting it, we learned that the dish’s name translates into “One Bite Wrap” which is the perfect way to describe it!

 A traditional Thai snack called Miang Kham . (Not the best Pic, but had to share)

A traditional Thai snack called Miang Kham . (Not the best Pic, but had to share)

You know how they say the simplest things are sometimes the best? Well that’s totally true when it comes to Thai fried bananas. This sweet snack is simply slices of banana dredged in rice flour, deep fried and sprinkled with sesame seeds. The combination of the sweetness of the banana, the crunch of the batter and the nuttiness of the sesame seeds was incredible and is something you can only truly appreciate it when you try it for yourself.

IMG_4759.jpg

Finally, the last dish that really blew me away was the green chicken curry served with a Thai-style roti. It had the perfect balance of sweetness and spiciness that meant it was packed with flavor without being overly hot. I loved how it was served with a roti instead of rice, too. A Thai roti is similar to an Indian paratha – it’s a super-thin type of flat bread made with wheat flour that’s awesome for soaking up yummy curry juices.

Thailand is famous for its amazing food and there are so many fabulous dishes out there that we didn’t get to try them all. But, fortunately, this wasn’t my first time in Thailand and during my previous trips, I’ve been lucky enough to try all sorts of deliciousness. If you’re ever in Thailand, you’ve absolutely got to try:

1.     Pad Thai – rice noodles stir-fried with peanuts, garlic, fish sauce, tamarind pulp, chilies and usually chicken or tofu

2.     Tom Yum – a hot and sour soup loaded with lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, chilies and shrimp

3.     Chicken Satay – a Thai kebab, with grilled chicken pieces marinated in a savory peanut butter sauce on a skewer

4.     Coconut Ice Cream – a super-rich and creamy ice cream made with coconut milk  

After filling up on the food tour, we thought it best to walk some of our big lunch off and headed for the Chatuchack Weekend Market. This place is the largest weekend market in the world, with more than 15,000 stalls selling absolutely everything you could possibly imagine. From homemade jewelry and retro cowboy boots to cute beach cover-ups and beautiful shoes – this is the best place in Bangkok to find gifts for friends and family back home, as well as a treat or two for yourself.

IMG_4795.jpg

The market was absolutely buzzing with a mix of locals and travelers, giving it a great international vibe. And the prices were beyond reasonable – I shopped until I dropped and definitely didn’t break the bank. There was also a great choice of food stalls with delish Thai dishes to try, but since we were still pretty stuffed after our food tour, we decided to wait a little longer before eating again.

IMG_5110.jpg

ADD solo piBecause we arrived in Bangkok so early (5am on Saturday morning) we’d pretty much hit a brick wall by Saturday afternoon. Thinking about all the delightful eats we’d tried earlier in the day got us hungry again and we decided to head over to Suan Bua in Central Grand Plaza, close to the Chatuchack Weekend Market, to grab a bite to eat. But since the restaurant didn’t open for another couple of hours, we relaxed by the pool for a while first.

Compared to our hearty lunch, dinner was much lighter. Suan Bua specializes in home-style Thai cuisine and Royal Thai specialty dishes and I opted for pork marinated in a peanut and pineapple sauce which was heavenly. We were so exhausted after dinner that we called it a night and headed back to our hotel. With only 48 hours in Bangkok, we knew we’d have another action-packed day ahead of us and needed to get a good night’s sleep in order to get the most out of it!

IMG_3641.JPG

Day 2

After catching up on some much-needed sleep, we headed to the Grand Palace. Some people say you haven’t been to Bangkok unless you’ve seen the Grand Palace – that’s how impressive, astonishing and mesmerising this place is. It’s Bangkok’s most famous landmark and, based on how busy the Chatuchack Weekend Market was, I knew there would be crowds and crowds of people, so we opted for an early start to our day.

IMG_4069.jpg

The Grand Palace was built in 1782, when King Rama I moved the capital of Thailand from Thonburi to Rattanakosin island on the eastern side of the Chao Phraya river. For 150 years it was the home of the King of Thailand, the Royal court and the administrative seat of government. Today it’s largely a tourist attraction, but there are still some parts sectioned off to the public which are used for official events, royal ceremonies and state functions.

IMG_6692.jpg

The Grand Palace is made up of several buildings, the most famous of which is Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). This temple contains the famous Emerald Buddha statue which dates back to the 14th century and is carved from a single piece of jade – not emerald as you might think.

The Buddha’s robes are changed each season by the King of Thailand in an important ceremony. And although you’re allowed to take cameras and video cameras inside the Grand Palace, they’re not allowed inside Wat Phra Kaew, so I wasn’t able to snap any pics.

There’s a strict dress code to enter the Grand Palace and if you’re not dressed exactly as the rules say, you won’t be allowed inside. Long pants/skirt/dress down to the ankles (no leggings or yoga pants) and long shirt/top that doesn’t expose the shoulders (wearing a tank top and a shawl isn’t acceptable). If you haven’t got the right clothing, you can borrow appropriate stuff at the entrance for 200-300 Baht ($6-$9) per person. I visited the Grand Palace last year and I definitely feel like the dress code is far stricter now than it was back then.

IMG_4785.jpg

Opening hours: every day 8.30am – 4.30pm, with the last ticket sale being at 3.30pm (Unless there’s a special ceremony on, then the opening hours are anyone’s guess!) Price: 500 Baht ($16).

The Grand Palace gets unbelievably busy and I 100% recommend arriving as soon as the place opens so you can beat the crowds and the heat. You’ll have a much better experience doing it this way.

IMG_4782.jpg

After exploring the Grand Palace, we headed for the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, which is just 10-15 minutes away on foot or 5 minutes away by tuk tuk. Because of the crazy high temperatures and our really tight schedule, we grabbed a tuk tuk.

IMG_4794.jpg

The Temple of the Reclining Buddha is one of the largest temple complexes in Bangkok and is famous for (you guessed it) its reclining Buddha! This immense statue is 46 metres tall and is covered in brilliant gold leaf. It really is one of those larger than life things you’ve got to see in person to understand how amazing it is.

A lot of people come just to see the Buddha statue, which means the rest of the grounds are really calm and peaceful to walk around – a much welcome experience after the bustling Grand Palace.

We didn’t spend very long at the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Maybe an hour at the most. But that was plenty of time to see what we wanted to see and get a feel for the place. After all, we only had a weekend in Bangkok and couldn’t afford to waste even a minute.

Not having totally recovered from the previous exhausting day, we opted for a nearby café for lunch because it was quick and convenient. After trying it and loving it so much the day before, I ordered another Thai green chicken curry with roti which was just as fabulous the second time around.

The only thing that let down the meal was the “fresh” juice. Sometimes when the menu says “fresh juice”, it actually comes out of a box. If you’re ever unsure, always ask to try a little bit of juice before you order, just to make sure you like it.

Next we visited Bangkok’s famous Sky Bar, well-known for its breath-taking views and for being featured in scenes from Hangover II. It’s a great rooftop spot where you can really relax and enjoy the sunset from 820 feet in the air. But be warned – there’s a strict dress code, so don’t wear casual attire or flip flops or you’ll be turned away.

IMG_4803.jpg

The reviews of this place are really mixed and I can totally see why. The staff will likely try to lead you to a couple of different bars when you first arrive, so be sure to kindly ask the staff for the other outdoor bar if you’re not taken to the right one. A tip is to look for the large outdoor staircase. Once you walk down all the stairs you arrive at the Sky Bar. We enjoyed catching up with friends who were visiting from Hong Kong and sampling some amazing Hangovertini cocktails while we were here.

IMG_4039.jpg

With just one night left in Bangkok, it was off to Rod Fai. This place is most commonly known as the Train Market and is named so because of its previous location – close to the train tracks. It was a long 45-minute taxi ride from the Sky Bar to the market, but I just had to see what all the hype was about. As well as getting there by taxi, you can also hop on the MRT and take it to the Thailand Cultural Center to visit the market.

Bangkok is brimming with amazing shopping opportunities, but Rod Fai truly is one of the best. The open-air bazaar looks magical from a distance, with hundreds and hundreds of stalls set up, each with their own bright fabric roof that adds a beautiful pop of color to the city’s night sky. Close-up, the market is every bit as exciting, with a swanky vibe created by stallholders playing retro music and groups of friends just hanging out with their children, pets, and icy cool Thai beers.

Rod Fai offers one of the most varied selection of goods you’ll find in any market in Bangkok. From gorgeous antique furniture, handcrafted leather goods and beautiful bohemian fashion to sparkling French chandeliers, huge displays of pop art and, the best part, loads of traditional Thai food – it sounds a bit cliché, but this market really does offer something for everyone.  

I love exploring markets during my travels because it gives me a chance to try all sorts of new, interesting foods and get a true feel for how the locals eat. We enjoyed navigating around all the stalls and knew we were in the right spot by all the amazing smells wafting in from the pop-up kitchens.

The food vendors at Rod Fai seem to be obsessed with cheese and for dinner we devoured wonderful fried balls stuffed with a delicious mix of cheese, salmon, and crab. We also gorged on fresh scallops and oysters served in a totally unique way – with cheese! You know I’ve got a major sweet tooth, so for dessert, I treated myself to a heavenly crepe generously crammed with Nutella, banana slices, and chocolate (hold the cheese, please!)

IMG_4007.jpg

Bangkok’s traffic is notorious and for good reason. You can easily get caught up in traffic jams that feel like they’re never going to end at any time of day or night, making seeing everything on your list a little tricky – especially if you’re strapped for time like I was. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to get around the city.

Since Bangkok has a lot of traffic, the BTS SkyTrain is a great way to zip around the city quickly. The BTS, along with the MRT (the local underground rail systems), connect all the main business, entertainment and shopping areas of the city, meaning you can use them to hop between pretty much anywhere and everywhere you’d ever want to go.

Taxis are in abundance throughout Bangkok, but you’ve got to be careful because the drivers almost always seriously bump up the price when trying to negotiate. If you ever get in a cab in Bangkok, be sure it has a meter and the driver actually turns it on, so you know exactly what you have to pay and you don’t get scammed.

We also used the app called Grab, which is similar to Uber and a great alternative to the local taxis. Most Grab cars are new, clean and driven by happy young locals who won’t try and negotiate the price with you, making it definitely an option to consider when you want to get somewhere quickly for a fair price.

Although they’re slowly dwindling away in favor of more comfortable modes of transportation, there are still plenty of tuk tuks zooming around Bangkok. These are one of the city’s most iconic forms of transportation and they allow you to really get right into the middle of all the hustle and bustle that defines Bangkok. They might not be the quickest, the comfiest or the most practical way to get around, but they’re definitely the most fun!

Thailand is world-famous for its floating markets, but there isn’t a single one within Bangkok. However, there are a few on the outskirts of the city that are just a taxi ride away. Last year I visited the Wat Sai Floating Market. It’s the closest floating market to Bangkok, but it still takes a few hours to get there and back. The best way to do this is to hire a taxi for half a day to take you to the market, wait for you while you shop, then take you back.

IMG_6812.jpg

If you’ve never been to a floating market before, the idea is you get into a long canoe-like wooden boat and your “captain” glides you by loads of stalls which are essentially boats just like the one you’re in, but laden with goodies instead of shoppers. Whenever you see something you like, you simply ask the person in charge of the boat to stop then haggle the best you can!

IMG_6830.jpg

There’s a great variety of items at the Wat Sai Floating Market, from teas and spices to clothing and artwork. But you’ll also find a lot of tacky stuff, like fake designer handbags and plastic souvenirs, so keep that in mind. Overall, it’s a pretty fun experience, but it does have the air of a tourist trap.

I don’t usually visit Bangkok for such a short period of time, so I’m already looking forward to my next visit. I’m planning on exploring more chaotic floating markets, treating myself to a relaxing river cruise, discovering the famous Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun), checking out the Jim Thompson House and taking part in a Thai cooking class.

Have you ever visited Bangkok? I’d love to hear your favorite things to do in the city. Let me know in the comments so I can take a look and maybe add them to my itinerary for next time!

xoxo-Lisa
Your SoulTravelFitnessCoach