Even though hangover 2 is on Netflix I did not watch it to prepare for Bangkok. Actually, I did not prepare at all. I planned to read up on Bangkok in Hong Kong or the flight over. But Hong Kong was such a rush with so any things to do and so many great people to do things with that I never found the time to read.
On the 20th I had to get up at 4;45 to catch a cab with Alex to the airport. Unfortunately the first bus runs at 5:15 and takes at least 45, but more like 60+ minutes to the airport. And my luggage drop off closed at 6:55, Alex even earlier at 6:35. The night before I had Korean food, dumplings, and Macanese food, which proved to be not the perfect combination, especially combined with less than 4 hours of sleep. So I went nauseous and tired to the airport. The line at the luggage drop of was huge, Hong Kong airlines was not the most efficient company in processing check ins and drop offs. So I waited for more than 45 minutes, until rather exactly 6:55, to drop my backpack. The gate was one of the very last gates with boarding starting at 7:25 and the time from check in to the gate being 20-30 min including a train ride. So I hurried through security, passport control, and train ride to arrive just in time for boarding. However, in my condition I was not in the mood for reading up on Bangkok, so I decided to wing it and hoped that Corinna knows what to do.
I arrived on time in Bangkok, bought my SIM card, and headed towards our airbnb guest house. I met Corinna at the Skytrain station and we started to look for our guesthouse. We walked straight to the street that was shown on google maps and ended up in the middle of a little side street full of street food. Unable to find the correct house we asked one of the ladies who sold food, but she wasn’t able to help us. But she pointed us into the opposite direction, as the street is quite long and continues on the other side of the highway. We walked back and then finally found the guest house, so we dropped backpacks and went back to the other end of the street to get some food. My first Thai food was fried rice with pork and basil, which was perfectly spicy even though I ordered only little spicy. We continued walking along the small streets to discover more street food and small restaurants, all filled with local people who were on their lunch brake. As far as I could see, we were the only westerners around.
In the evening we had our guided tour “hidden gems of Bangkok”, which started strictly speaking not in Bangkok but on the other side of the river. We walked to a small temple where we took a longtail boat to one of the more distant temples from the tourist areas. The temple was almost empty, and we were able to take a look into the main chamber just as the monks came in for their evening prayer. Next we went to one of the richest temples in Bangkok, Wat Pak Nam, as it is the temple of the founder of a popular meditation technique. The first floors show various gifts the temple received over the year, from statues to watches or other valuable trinkets. On the top floor a neon green shrine with alien-like lighting was the centerpiece. The green glow was really fascinating. It completely lacked the glorious, golden presence of the normal shrines, with their flowers and presents. It really felt like out of this world.
We crossed the river and went to the market area. First stop was the food market, which was about to close down. We went to a small food stand where the lady was already waiting for us. Here we were supposed to try one of the most famous and most delicious Thai deserts, mango with sticky rice. Our guide explained that it is very important to have the right kind of mango. In Thailand there are dozens of mango variants, all used for different purposes. The perfect mango for eating with sticky rice is Nam Dok Mai, a completely yellow mango with a very sweet taste and very tender structure. It is a rather expensive mango, why many cheap places show them in their display but use cheap, sour, and stringy mango. The sticky rice tastes quite similar to milk rice, but with coconut milk. The combination of the rice with the coconut milk and the sweet and tender mango is most delicious. I was really surprised, since I am not the sweet tooth, how much I liked this combination. Mango that really tastes sweet but fresh, with the mild and creamy coconut rice was the first Thai food experience in this trip that really changes my view on food.
Next stop was the flower market. What I expected to see were a vast variety of colorful flowers in buckets, where the florists make the fanciest bouquets for you and the air is filled with all the exotic scents I can and cannot imagine. But it was completely different. The stands offered plastic bags filled with the ever same flower heads, mostly orange, some yellow, and a few other flower parts. It was less of a flower and more of flower parts market. A little bit like when you go to the animal market and expect to see various animals to buy but in the end it’s a butcher market and all they sell is meat.
The flower parts are not used for home decoration or as gifts, but for making presents to temples and Buddha. You create flower chains in the ever same way with the ever same flowers to donate them to Buddha for good luck. Our guide bought us each a flower chain to donate to Buddha later, so we will have good fortune.
The second to last stop on our tour was the Wat Pho temple, famous for it’s over 30m long reclining Buddha. Most people think that the reclining Buddha is resting or sleeping but in fact it’s the dying Buddha. All Buddha statues show his life, from young years until his death. The reclining Buddha is the one who is lying on his death bed. By now it was already dark and around 8 pm, the main entrance of the temple was closed. But the side entrances are still open during the night, and while you cannot visit the inside of the temple hall with the Buddha statue, you can visit the temple grounds. And compared to daytime, you can visit them for free instead of 100 Baht (2.50 EUR) fee, and without the masses of tourists. The temple ground were almost completely empty. Just a few stray cats and a bike tour group were wandering between the pagodas and statues.
The last stop for the day, or by then night, was a small pad thai stand behind Wat Pho. The owner cleaned a small plastic lawn table and lawn chairs for us to sit, then started preparing pad thai for all of us. Our guide used the time to give us some background information on this famous Thai dish. It is actually not as old as you would think. Pad Thai was invented in the last century, as the king decided that all the noodle dishes were only Chinese dishes, and Thailand needed it’s own signature noodle dish. So he told to chefs that they should invent a signature dish for Thailand with noodles. And they invented Pad Thai. Essentially, it’s fried flat noodles with vegetables and sprouts, then some shrimp and fish sauce, spicy chilies of course, lime slices, and crumbled peanuts. All very representative of Thai and an ever present delicious treat from 40 Baht on the street to several hundred in fancy restaurants. The version we got here was the basic street food variant, with dried shrimp but fresh vegetables. A really tasty, spicy and fresh snack after 5 hours touring through the city.
To stretch our legs we went to a nearby rooftop bar with view across the river. The view was really nice, but the prices were adjusted accordingly. While a small beer is usually around 70-80 Baht (2 EUR) in normal bars they charged a steep 260 Baht (almost 7 EUR) for 0.33l. Maybe this was also one of the reasons why the bar was completely empty except for one other table. Looking down to the river we saw at least 10 or 15 river cruise boats all having their dinner and party events while going up and down the stream. Some boats with DJ, some with live bands, and some with only dining and no party. But the same for all was the lack of party mood. Music was playing loudly, but nobody was dancing, and the boats were half full at best. The supply largely exceeds the demand, which to me makes the cruises even less interesting and further decreases the demand. Half the boats would make it a lot more fun, I think.
After drinks we had to answer the question on how to get back to the guesthouse. We were in the old town, more than 7 km away from our place. There is no metro in the area, boats stop shortly after sundown, and buses are not really an option as they are unreliable, routes are hard to understand, and changing buses just adds more time because you never know when the next bus comes. We decided to start walking and see how far we get before we were bored and hail a taxi or tuk tuk.
The biggest surprise during the walk from the old town to Silom was that the streets of Bangkok, even though it was hardly after 10 pm, were empty. Tuk tuks, taxis, or motorbikes were still roaming the streets, but on foot we saw only very few people. No more food stands, no more shops. Then you turn around the corner and there are a few stalls, right after the streets are empty again. Then we entered china town. The first few blocks were still empty, then out of nowhere a night market started and from one block to the next the streets were brightly lit and so many people walking on each side that the cars could hardly use the outer lanes.
The Chinese night market was mainly food, and with a repeating pattern of shark fin soup, which is good for your health according to Chinese medicine, or birds nest soup, where swallow nests are cooked to extract the swallows saliva, which is good for your skin. Again according to Chinese medicine and bogus according to scientific medicine. In between the shark fin and birds nest stalls were all the usual suspects of street foods, and the night life was as I expected it from Bangkok. People sitting, standing, eating, chatting, and browsing along the stalls. But within 1-2 blocks, the busy life found to an end, and we walked the remaining 3km alone in the streets. Bangkok, the city that soundly sleeps.