2 days eating in Naples

Back in January I told my husband we were going to a fancy restaurant for his birthday and asked him to Google it. ‘Looks good. Hang on, it’s in Italy’… ‘Yes, I’m taking you to Italy for dinner!’ I said smugly, glad that my surprise had been successful. The next day he text me saying he’d been doing some research and found another not-so-fancy restaurant that looked even better than the fancy restaurant I’d chosen. Who says romance is dead?

I’d asked some of my friends about where to go in Italy for a lightening visit in mid-January. Blue Monday to be specific – the most depressing day of the year. I’d toyed with Milan, Pisa and Florence but settled on Naples for two reasons: pizza and Pompei. I will admit that I may have had a tiny ulterior motive to nerd out but I’ve always wanted to go, and Murtie loves Italy so, really, everyone won.

Day 1

We flew out of Gatwick at 8am on a Sunday morning, arriving in Naples around 10.45am. A sketchy 25 minute taxi ride later we were dropped off in a high-rise residential area, wandering the maze looking for our Airbnb, Lorenzo’s Art Studio. We were greeted by our host, Jeanette, who popped her head out of a first floor window waving and shouting ‘Katty! Welcome!’. She kindly let us leave our bags in the apartment so we could head out and explore, leaving us a key and instructions for how to get in later.

Our first port of call was something to eat, and for two people who hadn’t had breakfast that only meant one thing: Neapolitan pizza. Back home in London I’ve been to a few places ‘inspired’ by Neapolitan pizza, but I’ve always been left disappointed by too much dough.

As we waited for our earmarked restaurant, Insolito La Pizzeria Gourmet, to open at midday we wandered up and down the streets near the Cattedrale di San Gennaro, eyeing up the pastries and sweet treats on display and trying to decipher the graffiti on the buildings. No doubt the owners thought we were a bit weird arriving as soon as they opened, but we were hungry, and English, and on time. We ordered a pizza each – mine a margarita with mozzarella, mushrooms and tomato, Murtie’s with mozzarella, anchovies and capers (they’re the wrong way round in the photo!). We could see the dough being spun and stretched through a window into the kitchen and within 10 minutes two enormous pizzas landed in front of us.

We cut them down the middle, took half each (we’re food sharers, most of the time), and demolished them. As we were nibbling on the last bits of crust a group of 20 Italians came into the restaurant and filled every chair. It was like something out of a sit-com as three generations (we assumed) helped small children and little old ladies cram into any spare seat, including the two at our table. A delightful grey-haired Italian man doffed his cap at me when he sat down, and a stylish lady in a sensibly big coat sat next to Murtie. With zero Italian between us we smiled and made ‘the food is yummy’ faces before leaving the family party we had found ourselves in.

Day 1, 1.30pm

With full stomachs we walked to Piazza Garibaldi to catch the train to Pompei. It took us a little while to decipher the ticket machine but finally bought our tickets for about 5 euro and waited on the platform for our train to arrive. It was a almost a double-decker with a ton of empty seats, and spotless. There’s nothing I love more than staring out the window of a train at the changing landscape and watching the comings and goings of ordinary people getting on and off the train.

The entrance to Pompei is a 20 minute walk from Pompei station and we arrived around 3pm. We bought our tickets and walked around the site for 2.5 hours. I won’t go into detail about Pompei because you just need to go. I can’t believe it’s taken me 29 years to finally go there – a person who grew up religiously watching Time Team, the HBO series Rome, and spending most weekends of my childhood watching oranges flung from ballistas at Rockbourne Roman Villa in Hampshire (100% go there too, it’s awesome).

We had a 40 minute wait for a train after leaving Pompei so we settled in to a bar next to the station called Open Bar. Our drinks came with a tray of nibbles – a custom I think English bars should really get on board with. You can’t beat a bowl of olives and a bag of crisps with your G&T whilst it’s pouring outside.

Our journey back took almost two hours because our train stopped mid-journey… and was promptly cancelled. It was a shame as we had been enjoying the (assumed drunken, perhaps they were high on life) escapades of four Spanish girls who were singing and challenging all the men on board to a salsa dance off. An older gentleman and his partner, who’d clearly been enjoying the entertainment too, kindly explained in broken English that the train had been cancelled and we could get another train from the opposite platform. We all got off the train and the group of Spanish girls, now with two Italian boys in tow, sprinted across the tracks. We were sensible tourists and took the subway, picking up the alternative train.

We were starving by the time we got to the restaurant Murtie had chosen for his birthday dinner, Antichi Sapori Partenopei. We were welcomed as if we’d walked into someone’s home – our host, a friendly Italian lady, asked where we were from, handed us glasses of Prosecco with our menus and read the specials, recommending every single one. An Italian couple next to us joined in giving their recommendations too. A group of tourists from Serbia and Germany took a table in a corner and joined the melee. I slurped my Prosecco and grumbled to Murtie about how much I hate Brexit.

We ordered a starter of salmon carpaccio, which I didn’t take a photo of because we were so hungry (sorry!) and two pasta dishes which were recommended to us: ricotta ravioli with shrimps and chive butter sauce, and courgette spaghetti (served Neapolitan style, which I was told is proper al-dente).

The food was unsurprisingly incredible. Pasta just tastes different in Italy – however I make it or cook it, it’s never the same texture or taste as in Italy. Same for the pizza to be honest, there’s just nothing like it. We finished off our meal with a dessert each – I had a chocolate torte and Murtie had a vanilla berry cheesecake, and both were off the chart.

By this point we’d finished a bottle of red wine made in the vineyards on Mount Vesuvius and 2 glasses of prosecco. We were stuffed, merry and eventually wobbled back to our Airbnb at midnight.

 

Day 2

At 8.30am Murtie handed me one of the chocolate pastries gifted to us by our Airbnb host, Jeanette. By 11am we’d eaten the whole box, which was a perfect start to the day. I text Jeanette telling her we were ready to leave and she replied saying ‘We have no guests today, take your time!’. We were so grateful she let us leave our bags so we could wander round Naples before leaving for our flight at 4pm.

We set off in search of more pastries and bought some local delicacies in a bakery called Pintauro. Murtie had a Sfogliatella – a Neapolitan flaky pastry filled with a sweet ricotta filling, and I had a Taralli Napoletani, a savoury round pastry which tasted of rich black pepper and almonds. I finished off Murtie’s Sfogliatella as he said it was too sweet, but it was perfect for my sweet tooth. The bakeries in Naples are amazing and I snapped a few photos of the treats on offer.

Unfortunately the heavens opened around noon and did not stop. We walked to the restaurant Murtie had chosen for lunch and joined the soggy ‘queue’ of people waiting outside. Sorbillo is one of the most popular restaurants in Naples, purportedly serving ‘the best pizza in Naples’ and founded by Gino Sorbillo, the man who introduced Neapolitan pizza to the world. When I say we queued, we stood in a mass of people trying to work out what the queue etiquette was, finally deciding pushing to the front and giving a man with a clipboard our names was the accepted approach.

The wait was only 15 minutes as we’d come after the lunchtime rush. The menu was in Italian, so with a little help from Google Translate we ordered our pizzas with anchovies and mushrooms. Hats off to Sorbillo as the pizza did not disappoint – it was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever eaten. As for ‘the best in Naples’ accolade, well, I will have to come back and eat all the other pizzas to be able to decide.

We left Sorbillo around 3pm, our feet still soggy from the rain and in need of something sweet. I found a café nearby that did good hot chocolate according to TripAdvisor, and we arrived at Caffè Ciorfito a few minutes later. We sat down at plastic tables and were served the most amazing coffee and hot chocolate, with complimentary mini pastries and lemon sparkling water.

My hot chocolate was thick and luxurious and I enjoyed every spoonful. I literally had to eat it with a spoon, it was the best.

At 4pm we went back to our Airbnb to pick up our bags. We chatted with Jeanette for 45 minutes about her flat, her son, and coming to Naples from the Philippines. She was absolutely wonderful and I implore you to stay in her Airbnb. It’s one of the best I’ve experienced. Even in the pouring rain she kindly walked us to a cash point and the taxi rank to get to the airport.

We got on the plane feeling absolutely stuffed and content. Despite the weather, Naples was full of character, history and really, really good food. I have no doubt we’ll be back.

The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Thailand

I was 15 in 2004 and vividly remember watching footage of the Boxing Day tsunami on television. A friend from school was in Thailand at the time and I remember him describing the sound of the rushing water as he sheltered with his family on the top floor of their hotel. At that age my furthest trip abroad was Europe; I’d never been to Thailand and knew absolutely nothing about it. As I reached my late teens and early twenties my perceptions of Thailand were shaped by stories of friends’ gap years, photos of their sunset cartwheels and gargantuan cocktail buckets at debauched full moon parties. Finally making the trip aged 29 for two weeks (not long enough) has at last opened my eyes to what Thailand is all about: big-hearted people, colourful culture, sunsets of dreams (fewer cartwheels though, much higher risk of injury now I’m over 25) and food that I’d fly back for tomorrow.

When we booked The Sarojin we knew nothing about its story or that of Khao Lak. We chose it solely on aesthetics and the prospect of much needed beach time following a week in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. I will leave you to read about The Sarojin’s origins. I won’t dwell on the hotel’s past too much because I want to talk about its present. The hotel is defined by exquisite, heart-warming hospitality; arriving there was like being welcomed home by my parents at Christmas.

Our flight from Chiang Mai to Phuket earlier that day was unremarkable apart from a mild feeling of panic when it looked like we were landing on the beach until the runway appeared seconds before we touched down. After an hour heading north on a motorway our taxi turned down a lane and meandered through groves of rubber trees until we pulled into the landscaped drive of The Sarojin. I was greeted with a leafy bouquet and we were led to some sofas where we dabbed our faces with cool, freshly scented towels and toasted our stay with a juice flavoured with the plant that grows in the hotel’s grounds. We were overwhelmed with tranquility.

We had arrived early and as we waited for our room to be ready we followed a winding pathway to the beach, which was already dotted with bronzed sun-seekers and happy children. I hopped about excitedly as something darting along the sand turned out to be a tiny hermit crab scurrying towards the sea. Wildlife in central London leaves a lot to be desired unless you’re a fox spotter, so a hermit crab in the wild was super exciting.

Later in our stay Murtie beckoned me out of the pool because he’d spotted a water monitor making its way stealthily across the grass. Seeing it was magical; I haven’t felt wonder like that in a long time.

Once we’d dusted the sand off our feet outside our garden room we cracked open our complimentary sparkling wine and spent half an hour admiring every spotless surface, the neatly folded towels, the luxurious waterfall shower and later, wondering how we would scoop out the pink rose petals floating in the bath tub.

I can’t say I’ve stayed in that many luxury hotels and I suppose if you’re in them all the time then you might not appreciate the luxury and little details. I can safely say that The Sarojin is the best hotel I’ve ever stayed in for one distinct reason: the little details. Whether we were by the pool, eating breakfast or walking to our room, we noticed little details: grounds staff wished us good day, cold water/ juice and fruit at the pool, folded towels in the shape of animals on our bed and palm leaf sculptures on our pillows.

I’m contemplating the next sentence and I’m salivating. The food at The Sarojin is the best I’ve eaten at a hotel. Ever. It’s inclusion in the Michelin guide is deserved. I can taste the French toast with perfectly cubed fresh fruit and sweet maple syrup. Their all-day breakfast concept is one I fully got on board with. Sitting under a canopy looking out over lush green grass, listening to the bubbling water feature and twitter of birdsong, eating our way through the menu was the defining, joyful moment from our honeymoon. If you drew a Venn diagram of Murtie and I, the linking circle would be food. When I say we ate our way through the menu, we absolutely did. Even if our choices got a bit lost in translation; my request for avocado on toast with poached eggs came as a beautifully plated avocado sandwich with poached eggs. I was not complaining, sandwiches are great.

We tried everything on the Thai breakfast menu over our 7 days including mee sapam (egg noddles with shrimp and squid), phad se-eiw (wok friend rice noodles with chicken and dark soya sauce), Thai omelette and congee. Next we went onto sweets and devoured banana pancakes, French toast and waffles, finishing our ‘breakfasts’ each day with a cheese board. I can’t put into words how happy I was eating all the food. All day. For 7 days. If heaven exists, it’s the all-day breakfast at The Sarojin.

As a kind gift to us on our honeymoon we were treated to a five course tasting menu for dinner. I must apologise for the lack of photos because it was by candlelight and I didn’t want to interrupt our romantic dinner by trying to take photos for Instagram. Here is the menu:

I won’t describe each course, but each one was as delicious and intriguing as the next, and paired perfectly with the wine. Both of us winced drinking the dessert wine as the sugar hit our teeth and it was the only glass that wasn’t emptied that evening.

We spent the next few days exploring Khao Lak early in the morning, taking the hotel’s push bikes to Sai Rung waterfall, spotting Kingfishers and cicadas on telegraph wires, and along the cape to coconut beach.

Once we returned to the hotel we had leisurely breakfasts/lunches and chilled by the pool or beach, sheltering occasionally from the unpredictable but spectacular tropical storms that appeared and disappeared as quickly as they arrived.

We returned to our room on our penultimate night to find a letter inviting us to a staff meet and greet that evening. It was wonderful to meet the people behind the little details, who were each introduced by name, role and how long they’d been part of the Sarojin family. The hotel manager, Mr Kade, kindly introduced me to the head chef, who told me about his career and passion for creating beautiful food. If we hadn’t book a day-long excursion for our final day I’d have stayed longer to take him up on the kind offer of a cooking lesson.

By candlelight we ate our evening meal in the hotel: fish cakes and sea food pizza, the portions so big we took our leftovers back to our room for a midnight snack.

On our final day in Khao Lak we took a longboat ride through the mangroves and rocky outcrops of the Phang Nga Bay. We’d booked the excursion through The Sarojin and it showed: a supply of cool, fresh towels to dab our faces, a cool box of drinks and a hospitable guide who shared her interminable knowledge of the area with us at every opportune moment. We kayaked around the bays, laying down to float inside the rocky caves with awe and wonder at nature. A few times we came across plastic and polystyrene in the water, which our guide responsibly gathered onto the kayak to remove. We posed like idiots on James Bond Island, Khao Phing Kan, and later stopped at Koh Panyee, a Muslim community on stilts in the middle of the bay. Here our guide set up a veritable feast of stir fry, prawn and chicken tempura, fried rice and fresh pineapple overlooking the view. We returned to dry land an hour later and were driven to the ‘monkey temple’, Wat Suwan Kuha, and watched from afar as they demolished bananas and pushed each other into a tin bath of muddy water.

We were inevitably sad to leave The Sarojin to catch our flight home the next morning. We were, however, gratefully surprised by our pre-ordered breakfast boxes, which were enormous and included a variety of pastries and muffins, and a scrambled egg and smoked salmon wrap with fresh orange juice. It was delightful, although we were a bit sad not to enjoy the all-day breakfast one last time.

I’m writing this a few months on and I genuinely feel a bit emotional about the experience we had at The Sarojin. Despite collecting insect bites and sunburn, I loved every moment of staying of there and would fly back tomorrow if work would let me. I’ll fondly remember the cheeky Burmese striped squirrels chasing each other at breakfast, the couples who relentlessly hogged the prime-spot day beds at the pool, and the adorable misspelling of ‘Honeymoon’ on our bed when we first arrived.

I’ll never forget the jolly voice of a Thai lady saying ‘sawasdee kah!’ to every passer-by of her bar, and the delicious pineapple shakes we drank out of coconuts sitting 10 metres in front of a derelict hotel swimming pool destroyed 15 years ago. We felt uneasy, unnerved and yet humbled. It felt important that we were there, witnesses to the visible reminders of past devastation. The twisted tree roots and broken rocks on the beach have become part of the landscape, and life in Khao Lak goes on.

 

HONESTY POLICY

The Sarojin gave me one complimentary evening meal having seen some of my Instagram photos. I have received no payment for this article and it is a 100% honest review. I bloomin’ loved the place!!

 

 

3 days eating in Chiang Mai

Day 1, 8am

The sun was rising over the dark green, hazy mountains as our plane approached Chiang Mai International Airport. Our moment of zen came to an abrupt end as Murtie and I entered arrivals and were ambushed by a noisy rabble of taxi reps. Our hotel was only 15 minutes away and as the heat rash began to flare on my ankles we picked the least obtrusive taxi driver who led us to his car, which had turf on the floor. Obviously.

We arrived early at the Thai Akara Lanna Boutique Hotel so we left our bags at reception and explored the winding streets of the old town. A couple of people were queuing outside the spot we had chosen for lunch, Tikky Cafeand we were given a paper number 3 marking our place.  The area at the front of the restaurant was brimming with tropical fruit and we stood watching a young Thai woman effortlessly lopping the tops off fresh coconuts with a cleaver.

Five minutes later we were seated at a low table with big comfy chairs and a colourful patterned table cloth. I ordered a coconut-pineapple shake, and Murtie ordered a mango-passionfruit-coconut shake, which the lady set to work making immediately. They tasted as good as they looked.

I could have eaten the whole menu, but I’m a sucker for anything deep fried so I chose prawn tempura and vegetable fried rice. Murtie had stir fried chicken with chilli and Thai basil. We could hear the sizzles from the kitchen behind us as we took in our surroundings; a family with two young children giggling and sharing plates of food, a young woman on the table next to us, dining alone, impressively scoffing down two giant plates of noodles and a fruit shake. Our food arrived in generous portions too and my tempura prawns dunked in sweet chilli sauce were heaven. Murtie’s teddy bear-shaped rice was cute if random.

Arriving at Tikky Cafe at 11.45am had unwittingly been a good move as the queue had tripled in size by the time we left. We saw some of the sights of Chiang Mai on the way back to our hotel, my favourite was Wat Phra Singh, where the meditating monks were so still they looked like statues.

We hopped in a tuk tuk having lost our sense of direction and finally checked-in to our hotel where we were kindly presented with a slice of banana bread as a honeymoon gift.

After scoffing the banana bread we took a taxi to the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, which we’d been told not to miss. 6pm was much too early to arrive and the stall holders were just starting to fire up their grills and hot plates. We killed some time perusing the market stalls nearby for half an hour and I impulsively bought a 7/11 t-shirt to wear as a pyjama top. The food market was beginning to get busy when we returned and it was hard to decide what to eat with so much on offer – grilled fish, stir fries, spring rolls, kebabs, pasta, burgers, crepes and more. We shared the following:

Fresh noodle spring rolls

Chicken gyoza

Nutella Roti

The tables around us filled with people as we ate and a guitarist started playing Bryan Adams songs on stage as flashing lights came on. We did one more loop of the food market but our stomach’s were too full.

Day 2

The next morning we dropped into a coffee shop by our hotel called Coffee Telling and Murtie sampled the local coffee beans. I don’t like coffee but he said it was delicious, so I’ll take his word for it. I pored over a display of marathon medals hanging opposite the main counter that turned out to be the owner’s. I was reminded of the joke ‘how can you tell if there’s a marathon runner in the room? They’ll tell you‘ as he and I (London, 2016, never again!) bonded over our marathon experiences – his a lot more interesting than mine with marathon medals from Thailand and Japan.

We were picked up an hour later for our excursion to Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, one of the ethical companies in Chiang Mai who focus on animal welfare and conservation, and don’t allow tourists to ride the elephants. Our day was spent rolling around a mud bath with these beautiful creatures and I will remember it forever (despite the ‘authentic’ tunics they made us wear, see below).

It took two showers to finally wash all the mud out my hair and even then I’d missed in-between my toes. We rounded off our day walking to Kat’s Kitchen for dinner and despite almost all the tables being full, people were chatting quietly and the atmosphere was easy-going and relaxed. I wanted to try the local dish in Chiang Mai – Khao Soi egg noodle, but couldn’t resist having another Pad Thai so I ordered both. The Khao Soi had crispy, crunchy noodles on top of a thick fragrant curry sauce with chicken and even more noodles underneath. It was carb heaven.

Khao soi egg noodle with chicken

Pad Thai with chicken – also absolutely delicious.

We washed our food down with a mango and pineapple shake each, and the whole thing came to less than £7.50.

Day 3

Our final day in Chiang Mai was spent getting lost outside the old town and eventually ditching our map in favour of a red taxi to see the oldest temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Chiang Man and then Wat Chet Yot

We left the sights in search of food and took another red taxi to the Nimmanahaeminda Road, which was recommended to us for good food and shops. We found a street food market at One Nimman, an established, well-kept shopping area. It was a pleasant surprise that the food market wasn’t too expensive, as the building it was housed in seemed rather swanky.

I tried a steamed fish parcel wrapped in a banana leaf for 30 baht (75p) and it was hotter than the sun. Whatever else was in the fish parcel besides chilli was delicious, but it was so hot it genuinely made me feel light headed.

I’d lost Murtie in the melee of food stalls, so I got myself a plate of fried rice noodle with black soy sauce for 50 baht, just over £1. He reappeared a minute later with a fragrant duck noodle bowl. The photo doesn’t do either of our meals justice as they were both delicious. Mine thankfully reversed the effects of my chilli overdose 10 minutes earlier.

After lunch we continued our sightseeing at Wat Suan Dok and Wat Chedi Luang, where we took part in the ‘Monk Chat’ and learned about their daily life and beliefs.

As the sun was setting we took a Tuk Tuk to Cooking Love, a restaurant Murtie had seen on Tripadvisor, for dinner. I was so grumpy when we got there because we’d walked 16,000 steps that day, my heat rash had spread up to my thighs and we had to wait 10 minutes for a table. I’ve waited for tables in London for an hour so in hindsight 10 minutes really was no big deal at all, and as soon as we sat down where it was cool, I forgot about my heat rash.

Cooking Love was packed, and for good reason. We were greeted with green tea and watermelon as we sat down –

My panang curry with chicken was big on flavour and portion size. I was desperately sad to be defeated by it!

We ended the night with a drink in a bar near our hotel owned by a Brit named Mike, who told us he had been in Chiang Mai for 17 years. I can absolutely see the appeal of Chiang Mai and I’m so glad we included a visit in our 2 week trip to Thailand.

The heat during the day was dry, it cooled down in the evenings, there were minimal bitey bugs, slightly less traffic than Bangkok (but driving still as bonkers), fewer tourists at the sites, and most people going about their business at a slower, more sensible pace. Food-wise, we ate some of the best and cheapest food in Chiang Mai. I would fly back tomorrow for the prawn tempura from Tikky Cafe.

4 days eating in Bangkok

People have told me that you either love Bangkok or you hate it. I’m the first camp, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for being in the second. It’s bonkers. During our first hour in Bangkok, Murtie and I unwittingly strolled hand-in-hand down the neon lit street of Soi Cowboy, which I’d seen in a ‘things to do in Bangkok’ guide, and somehow missed the minor detail that it is in fact the red light district. On the plus side, it triggered a topical and excellent discussion on the regulation of sex work as we passed a bar called ‘Spice Girls’, which definitely did not have the vibe of a 90s girl power band.

Day 1, 9pm

With rumbling stomachs, we left the bright lights and scantily clad people behind and found a small Japanese restaurant for dinner: Tori Soba Nanase. We both had the special soba, a chicken broth with chicken balls, sliced chicken and egg. Yes, after 12 hours flying to Thailand, our first dinner was … Japanese. Sacrilegious perhaps, but completely delicious and for about £3 it was worth it just to eat food that didn’t jiggle off the tray from turbulence.

Day 2

The next morning we spent 15 minutes at Sukhumvit MRT station trying to get our heads round the ticket system, finally opting for prepaid travel cards, which we later realised didn’t actually save us any money than if we’d just got single tickets. We took the blue line to Chatuchak Park for the Chatuchak Weekend Market and followed the meandering crowd to an entrance packed tightly with stall holders selling fruits, cold drinks, and things with elephants on. Once inside it dawned on us how massive the market was – we were in zone 27, of 27. We walked 9.5km in 3 hours through the bustling melee of sellers and selfie-taking tourists, stopping regularly to try the tempting street food on offer:

Spring rolls

Coconut ice cream

Chilli squid

Mango sticky rice

Toasted brioche with sweetened milk

At dusk we slumped at a table with our bags of wares (tshirts, baskets and Thai spice mixes) and had a fresh coconut shake and a Singha beer for about £1.50.

We freshened up at our hotel and navigated our way through the backstreets to find our dinner venue: Cabbages and Condoms. When we had asked our friends for their food recommendations in Bangkok, Cabbages and Condoms came up numerous times. It’s the most bizarre restaurant I’ve ever eaten in –

Questionable, but inclusive, tips on safe sex

Condom lights

Food guaranteed not to cause pregnancy…

Murtie and I shared a Massaman curry, vegetable fried rice and Thai fish cakes.

The food was delicious although it was one of the more expensive places we ate at whilst in Thailand (£23.66).  The bill came with a plate of condoms as our after dinner ‘mints’. As we left I read a bit more about the restaurant: it exists to promote family planning and raise funds for the area’s Population and Community Development Association. It’s definitely an innovative way of getting people’s attention and money.

Day 3

After a morning sightseeing at Wat Saket (The Golden Mount), Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) and Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn)  we came back across the river to the Tha Tien Ferry entrance where the street was jam-packed with food stalls. Murtie had a stick of shrimp for 40 baht (£1) and I had spring rolls and sweet potato balls for 60 baht (£1.50). Both were served to us in plastic bags, which was handy but guilt-inducing and we’re now trying hard at home to minimise our plastic waste to make up for it.

Grilled shrimp

Sweet potato balls

We walked to the Grand Palace and Murtie had to buy some fetching elephant trousers because his shorts weren’t long enough. It was heaving with tourists and my neck was sunburnt, so we took our photos and hopped in a tuk tuk to Maha Chai Road. We slumped in a bar that I can’t remember the name of and had coconut shakes and beer waiting for our next eatery, Thipsamaito open.

‘Is this Thailand’s best pad Thai?’ asked the BBC earlier this year – we had to check it out. We arrived at 5pm on the dot and joined the queue of people already winding down the street. As we approached the front of the queue we could see their famous pad Thai wrapped in egg being made freshly outside –  it took 10 seconds in the best non-stick wok I have ever seen. The kitchen was run like a military operation with food cooked and immaculately presented on plates in seconds, whilst servicing an unrelenting queue for takeaways.

Our server had pre-empted our order and our prawn pad Thais wrapped in egg appeared within seconds of handing over our marked menu. We drank the restaurant’s renowned freshly squeezed orange juice, which had so much pulp it was a challenge to suck it up the straw. On the wall behind us were framed newspaper cuttings stating that this was indeed the best pad Thai in Bangkok. I ate quite a few pad Thais during my two weeks in Thailand and it was definitely up there. I appreciated the pot of ground peanut on our table and liberally sprinkled it all over my pad Thai at least three times.

‘The best pad Thai in Bangkok’

Fresh orange juice

All the ground peanut

Day 4

We ventured to the Khao San Road on our fourth day in Bangkok, but we quickly decided it wasn’t our cup of tea. We ventured onto the backstreets instead and chose Krua Apsorn for lunch. We ordered the crab omelette to share, a dish the restaurant is renowned for, which was tasty and incredibly filling. I had a Thai green fishball curry and it was so spicy I had to hide my teary eyes from the locals.

Crab omelette

Thai green curry with fishballs and steamed rice

We walked off our food for an hour in no particular direction and eventually I spied a cake shop. Choux Time had tables of treats inside and outside the shop, and Murtie picked something to try whilst I went round taking photos. We had the sweets with yellow and pink in the middle. Still no idea what they were but the sugar fuelled the rest of our afternoon.

Cakes at Choux Time

Selection of sweet goodies at Choux Time

These are the sweets we tried

After struggling to flag down a taxi, we took a tuk tuk to Petchaburi Road and spent the late afternoon exploring Pratanum Market. The women’s fashion was awesome and I haggled away a couple of hundred baht at a stall with some really quirky tops. The market was packed with locals and there didn’t seem to be any other tourists in sight. I loved this area as it felt like authentic, bonkers Bangkok – the overhead wiring being a visual representation of this.

I had my first Thai massage at the Watergate Spa on Petchaburi Road. Despite opting for a head and shoulder massage (heat rash on my ankles was too bad for a full Thai massage) the masseuse put me in positions I didn’t know were possible. My spine cracked with every movement,  but it did the job. I felt like I’d been needing that massage for about 5 years.

Bangkok was face-paced, full-on, and I absolutely loved it. I’m used to London, which is organised ‘don’t you know there’s a queue?’ chaos. Bangkok is disorganised chaos. Crossing the road is a heart-thumping but life-affirming experience.

From a food perspective, Bangkok is brilliant. Whether in a restaurant or served from a cart, my defining memories will be fresh ingredients, big portions, punchy flavours, chilli to make me cry – all served with a warm and welcoming Thai smile.