Even though Bangkok was our first stop in SE Asia, we visited twice and had very different experiences each time. We wanted to capture both visits in one post, our first go-around being more touristy.
Round One: 9.24.16 – 9.30.16
We arrived in Bangkok at 7:00AM after two long flights from Athens a quick layover in Abu Dhabi and no sleep. Thankfully, getting through immigration was a quick and painless process. After getting our bags we hopped an Uber (which is super cheap in Bangkok) only to realize we were driving on the left side of the road – very different. We arrived at our comfy Airbnb apartment in the Aree area of the city fit with a pool and gym. Jet lagged and delirious we fell asleep immediately and woke up that evening refreshed, hungry and excited to have our first dinner in Thailand which ended up being at the chic Rock Restaurant and Bar. It was just what we needed after a long trip. The cocktails were amazing, food equally as good and the pork bun appetizer was a standout. It was at Rock that we experienced our first taste of genuine Thai hospitality. The service throughout our dinner was exceptional and what made it even better was the umbrella that we were encouraged to take with us since it had started to rain pretty hard. As first-timers in Bangkok, we spent our first full day in pants and covered shoulders (a requirement when visiting these holy places) exploring The Grand Palace and The Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho). The beauty of both temples was extraordinary and we agreed that Wat Pho was our favorite – the experience was just much more intimate and less packed with tourists. We could feel the sense of respect and devotion throughout both places which was enhanced by the many Monks we walked by and others we observed in prayer.
(click on pictures to enlarge)
We also visited the Jim Thompson House early on to check out the expansive museum that was once the home of the American Army veteran turned businessman back in the 60’s. His interest in art and Thai Culture paved the way for his success in reviving the Thai silk industry to where it remains today. Since his disappearance almost fifty years ago, the house was turned over to the Thai government and has been a museum ever since. Surrounded by beautiful gardens and a koi pond, it was hard to believe we were in the center of the city. Lunch was at Jin Chieng Seng by In A Day, this adorable restaurant and hostel where we had the best green curry of the trip and a really delicious chicken laab! After visiting the house and lunch, we decided to check out the popular backpacker street – Khao San Road. Instead of taking an Uber or train, we decided to give the Chao Phraya River boat a try at around $.25/person which got us there in no time and was a pretty cool experience. Khao San Road is a short street full of hostels, bars and restaurants with sidewalks completely covered with vendors selling cheap clothes, food and… dried insects (no, we didn’t partake). There’s a lot going on there and everyone is a tourist. Arriving late afternoon, we grabbed a few beers at one of the many bars and enjoyed people watching for a bit. Once the sun set, the music started to get louder and the vibe around us seemed to pick up pace. After drinks we did a little shopping and then decided it was an appropriate time to get a pair of arm tattoos!!… OK, we didn’t go the permanent route, we got henna tattoos that were supposed to last for two weeks but wore off after a week or so.
Shopping at the markets in Bangkok is a way of life and our first experience was complete sensory overload. Our negotiating skills were put to the test and by the time we left Chatuchak Weekend Market also called JJ Market, our backpack was full to the brim and we walked home excited about our purchases and satisfied with the items we bargained for. Before heading to JJ, a massive indoor/outdoor weekend market with over 8000(!) stalls, we did our homework and wrote down the area numbers that were must-see’s namely the vintage clothing sections for Jenn and the shirts and sportswear for Jesse. In the vintage section the abundance of denim was insane with floor to ceiling stalls covered in all shades of blue. Jenn snagged a pair of real CoH cutoff shorts for $1.72 – the steal of the day! We spent a few hours walking down the maze of aisles and got to see a good amount but there was plenty more we didn’t. Before leaving we got our first foot massage and enjoyed every minute of it. It was truly one of the most unique shopping experiences and definitely a recommendation to anyone in Bangkok! We also recommend giving the coconut ice cream with fresh fruit a try. Another market we checked out was Or Tor Kor (or OTK), which contains an abundance of fresh produce and is one of the cleanest and most expensive due to the quality of products sold. We spent some time roaming the stalls of fresh seafood and perfectly placed vegetables and tropical fruit before trying a few bites from some of the food stalls at one end of the market. Working backward with dessert first (and last), we tried a delicious piece of buttery, warm rolled roti that had been lightly drizzled with condensed milk – wow. We are still talking about that one. From there, we tried some lovely noodle soup with fish and pork that was really light and super flavorful, some savory chicken satay sticks, and Nutella toast to cap off the afternoon. Bellies full, we left with some fresh fruit and a nap in sight.
Locals and tourists eat street food daily and for good reason. Options are everywhere and it’s cheap, really fresh and absolutely delicious. We learned that most locals don’t cook at home and instead take advantage of the inexpensive take away options available on every street. Also, the system the food vendors have in place is exceptionally fast and efficient. Hot soups are fastened tightly with rubber bands in clear plastic bags strong enough to withstand the scalding broth along with meat, noodles, rice, sauces and separate mix-in’s in their own respective bags or containers. Jenn is appreciative of the separation of noodles and rice so they stay al dente. Everything is quickly put into another compact bag with chopsticks and napkins and you’re on your way! We had our fill of street food starting from our fruit guy, corner pad thai guy, and sock coffee lady who looked at us like we were aliens after asking for iced black coffee, no condensed milk or sugar which is the way most Thai’s drink the stuff. It’s more like a shot of coffee mixed in with ice, sugar and sweetened condensed milk – no thanks. The Tom Yum Goong (Jenn’s favorite) from the place across from our apartment was insanely good and so, so, so, so spicy – tears and sweat flowing the entire meal and totally worth the pain. Our favorite street food experience was stall hopping in Yaowarat, the huge Chinatown of Bangkok which makes the Chinatown in NYC seem tiny. It was there that we had a few memorable first-time food experiences. We immediately started walking to take in our surroundings as the sun started to go down and the smells coming from everywhere enveloped our senses. The first stop was a lady selling fresh durian. This was a must on our list and the experience was pleasantly unexpected. After watching enough Anthony Zimmern, the man who eats and likes most everything and knowing his hatred for the tropical fruit, we were surprised that we actually thought it was pretty tasty. Its smell is unique, texture soft and custard-like while the flavor is best described as tropical fruity funk. Check out this video of our first taste. We washed down the durian with the freshest pomegranate juice that was nothing like what we get in the States, much lighter in color with the perfect tartness. Deciding on where to stop was hard with the hundreds of food stalls lining the main road and side streets but our plan was to hit up the ones that had the most foot traffic. A woman and her daughter (we assumed) were grilling small, skewered chicken satay and selling them in quantities of ten for around $3. We ordered our ten, grabbed one of the only available plastic tables and indulged in the perfect appetizer with the best satay sauce and we’ve ever had. It had a slow cooked depth to it, similar to an all-day simmering Sunday gravy. Pure deliciousness. Moving along, our next stop was at a really small stall that only served roasted duck noodle soup which was spicy and delicious until Jesse got some of the broth in his eye. Luckily we had bottled water with us that he used to flush it out. When eating street food in Thailand we definitely recommend bringing water, hand wipes, and napkins with you. Most stalls only offer food and don’t have napkins but thankfully there are 7-11’s on pretty much every street corner to stock up on the essentials. After our soup it started to rain so we decided to have our last bite inside at a small, family owned Chinese restaurant where we indulged on some spicy and very tangy Tom Yum Goong and perfectly wok fried morning glory, a delicious Thai vegetable staple. Its texture is similar to broccoli rabe stems with a very mild flavor.
On our last night of round one we decided to check out a roof top bar (which we highly recommend) and ended up at Sky Bar where a scene in the movie The Hangover 2 was filmed. Though the drinks were pricey, the view of the huge illuminated city with the river running through it was fantastic – we were in awe. From there we had another good Thai dinner at Tealicious and then headed to a show, another first for us, a “Ladyboy show” called Calypso Cabaret! The show was fun, but the singing and dancing was certainly not the best we’ve seen. After the show Jesse got a picture with some of the performers!
Round Two: 10.13.16 – 10.18.16
We loved Bangkok so much that we decided to head back and spend another few days exploring the city while also celebrating our one year anniversary. The afternoon that we arrived from Laos, it was announced that the King, who ruled for seventy years and was beloved by the Thai people had passed away. The country and city would be entering into a state of mourning with all civil servants directed to wear black for one year and celebratory activities put on hold. Locals and tourists were also encouraged to wear black (which we did) and behave with utmost sensitivity to Thai customs with no outward displays of affection or celebration. Most bars and restaurants shut down that afternoon and the following day and we knew that our second visit wouldn’t be what we had originally anticipated. You could feel the sadness walking the streets, everyone donning black and we felt more out of place than normal but also gained a new sense of respect for the people and culture. We chose to stay in Sathorn this time, a business district comprised of high rise buildings, large corporations, embassies and a ton of bars and restaurants. Our Airbnb apartment was pretty nice and had a rooftop gym and pool with great views of the city. We spent most days grabbing coffee from one of the small vendors down the road from our building before heading to the gym and grabbing a cheap lunch, a bowl of noodle soup and made-to-order pork satay from an open air restaurant close by. The broth was super light and had a small heap of perfectly cooked rice noodles which were topped with shredded chicken breast, toasted bits of garlic and crushed peanuts. We walked out of there multiple times for around $5 total! Dinners were more of a splurge and we had some great ones. The weather was pretty rainy, so we familiarized ourselves with the BTS Skytrain since our apartment was so close to the Chong Nonsi stop and spent one late afternoon at the Paragon Cineplex located in one of the huge malls a few stops away. After getting to the top floor and to the entrance of the theatre it felt like we were walking into a Vegas casino – high ceilings, beautiful chandeliers and over-the-top decor. Not to mention the great service. With butter popcorn in hand (we chose the OG but had the option of cheese and sweet), we made our way down a few red-carpeted hallways to our theatre, sat in our reserved seats and watched Deepwater Horizon with about ten others. The movie kept us on the edge of our seats and it was one of the better we’ve seen in a while. Afterward, we found ourselves across from the theater dueling it out at the bowling alley – Jesse’s heaven. Even the pitcher of cheap beer we ordered was served like it was an expensive craft cocktail, the bowling host made sure our cups were never empty and even wrapped them with napkins to catch the condensation. Thai service is amazing!
After experiencing Bangkok’s terrible traffic on our first go around, we were happy to use public transportation to get a round a few times. The train was very easy to navigate, really, really clean and cost less than $5 per person round trip. On our anniversary, we took the train to another mall for an Escape Room experience. Confident in our detective abilities, we got in the first room and needed to use not one but both of our free clues. Needless to say, we didn’t make it to the end but it was fun anyway… damn Escape Room! Afterward it was decided that more bowling was in order and we enjoyed a few rounds at a different alley. Before heading home we went to the chic Siam Discovery Exploratorium and had a unique experience upon entering the high end mall/creative space. After reading about the unique concept and connecting Jesse’s Instagram, we walked into a dark room full of small monitors covering the wall top to bottom. A few seconds later the monitors lit up with pictures from our trip among many others which was was very cool to see all of our memories surrounding us on our anniversary! We treated ourselves to a decadent mocha from this gourmet coffee & chocolate shop before heading home to get ready for dinner. That night we were supposed to sit ring side and watch a Muay Thai fight at Rajadamnern Stadium but all matches were cancelled for a month following the King’s death. Instead, we enjoyed a authentic Italian dinner at Il Bolognese and were pleasantly surprised at how good the food was. The meatball appetizer and brick oven pizza were delicious. The real anniversary dinner was the following night at Cocotte Farm Roast & Winery which was spectacular and one of our favorites of the trip. Our table was overlooking the open air kitchen which Jenn loved and we started with warm homemade bread with grainy mustard butter and an Aperol Spritz. Dinner included a delicious rolled smoked beef and burrata appetizer, perfectly cooked Wagyu rump steak with a peppercorn and tangy Chimichurri sauce, cauliflower gratin and a spicy bottle of red. After cleaning our plates, we were brought these mini bundt cake treats that were chewy and had the faintest bacon flavor – they were awesome. We also indulged in the warm, half-baked sticky toffee cookie (the obvious way to enjoy any cookie) with vanilla bean ice cream and warm butterscotch sauce which was divine and appropriately described by Jesse as “dirty good”. The 23 year old French chef knows exactly what he’s doing… happy one year to us!