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.
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:
Coconut ice cream
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
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.
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.
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, Thipsamai, to 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
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.
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.