When planning on where to stay before arriving in Bangkok we decided that we wanted to be close enough to sample as much of the highly acclaimed street food as possible, whilst still being fairly well connected to local transport options. Unlike many other large cities Bangkok’s MRT service doesn’t cover a large area of the city that tourists are going to want to visit. For these reasons we chose to find a guesthouse near to Chinatown.
We found La Locanda, a newly opened small and bright guesthouse on a backstreet on the edge of Chinatown, owned by an amazingly friendly Italian couple. It’s probably about a 500m walk in one direction to get into the mix of Chinatown and all the food stalls on Yaowarat Road and a similar distance in the other direction to Hua Lamphong train and MRT station. The boat pier at Rachawong, another 500m ish from China Town, is where you can catch the Chao Phraya Express boat along the river to access areas such as the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Khaosan Rd.
We had arrived in Bangkok on a Saturday evening and decided to try and get our bearings and grab some tasty street food in Chinatown before getting an early night. We eventually found Yaowarat Rd. and the food stalls after heading in the wrong direction and getting a little lost! I have since come across the free app Maps.me, which lets you download maps to use offline and just works by using your GPS. This has since proven to be a very useful tool!
After sampling some moo ping (marinated grilled pork skewers, Bel’s favourite!) and Sai Krok Isaan (northeastern Thai pork sausages, my favourite!) we found a little Chinese stall selling crispy pieces of pork belly served with a spicy chilli sauce. We were like pigs in sh*t!!!
The following day we walked to Hua Lamphong station and jumped on the MRT to the Chatuchak Weekend Market, one of the largest markets in the world. This place is vast. At first glance the 8000 odd shops and stalls look like they have no order and every alley and street looks the same. However if you grab a map from one of the information centres the colour coded and numbered sections do start to kind of make sense. The market sells all sorts of items, from antiques to live animals, from clothes to furniture and everything in between. There is of course a large food court area serving up cheap and tasty street food to give you the energy to carry on exploring the market!
We’ve been to Thailand many times before but have never visited any of the temples, or Wat, instead preferring to concentrate on the wonderful islands and beaches. Whilst we were in Bangkok we decided it was about time we explored some of them. Our first stop was Wat Traimit, better known as The Temple of the Golden Buddha. It contains the world’s largest golden Buddha, weighing 5.5 tons, sitting almost 5m in height and costing at today’s prices around £190 million!!! What a shame it’s too big to fit in Bel’s bag!
It only costs 10 baht per person to visit the Wat so it’s well worth stopping by.
Next we headed to the boat pier at Rachawong in China Town and caught the Chao Phraya Express boat along the river to Wat Pho (aka The Temple of the Reclining Buddha). We chose Wat Pho over the Grand Palace due to a recommendation by Carlo, the owner of La Locanda. He told us that the entrance fee for the Grand Palace was 500 baht (£12.50) per person and 100 baht (£2.50) per person for Wat Pho. In his opinion Wat Pho was the nicer of the two and less likely to be packed with tourists. Armed with this information (he had me at the entrance fee!) we headed to Wat Pho and I’m glad we did. It’s one of the largest temple complexes in Bangkok and is famous for it’s reclining Buddha, covered in gold leaf and measuring 46m in length.
The main attraction is popular with tourists but it was very nice and relaxing to wander through the rest of the complex, admiring the intricate architecture, without the crowds.
If there is one street in Bangkok that springs to every travellers mind (thanks in no small part to Mr DiCaprio!), it is Khao San Road. We decided to make the 2km walk there from Wat Pho for refreshments after our cultural visits!
Alex Garland’s book ‘The Beach’ describes Khao San Rd as “the centre of the backpacking universe”. Judging by the number of travellers of all ages and nationalities who come here, some like us just because they’ve read the book and watched the film, and others to shop, eat, drink and swap tales about their travel experiences, that statement is spot on!
We ended up doing just that! We found an Irish Bar where we planned to stop for a drink and watch the world go by for a bit. Without realising it a British and Irish Lions tour game was about to kick off so we decided to stay and watch that. At the bar we were sat next to a Welsh couple who were passionate about their rugby. We started talking about the game and ended up 6 pints later swapping travel tales and contact details in the event that our paths may cross again in the future.
Switching back to street food, sort of, I’ve long been a fan of the Australian chef David Thompson and own a copy of his encyclopedia-like cookbook ‘Thai Street Food’. He has a Thai fine dining restaurant in Bangkok called Nahm, which in 2014 was voted number 1 in ‘Asia’s 50 best Restaurants’ list. Once we knew the dates of our Bangkok trip I tried reserving a table here for dinner. Unfortunately they were fully booked during our four night stay. Not to be put off by this I sent them an email asking to be contacted if they had any cancelations or if they could squeeze us in. Guess what? They did, dinner booked for two! Our only problem now was trying to find suitable clothes and shoes in our rucksacks for a posh restaurant.
We knew in advance that this was obviously not going to be a cheap evening and was far removed from the cheap eats on the street throughout the city, but this was on my bucket list and therefore we tried to forget about our budget for an evening. We decided to dive right in and order the 7 course taster menu and as an added treat a bottle of nice white wine! The food was absolutely stunning, wonderful bold flavours that are perfectly balanced. From the steamed red curry of scallops, to the clear soup of roast pigeon, crab and tapioca and the Muslim curry of oxtail, it was all fantastic. Our only disappointment was the desserts. Our western tastebuds just couldn’t get around the salty and sickly sweet Thai delicacies. Give me a cheesecake or chocolate dessert any day!
I know a lot of travellers rush through Bangkok airport on their way to a tropical sandy beach but if you have a few days to spare you’ll find a visit to Bangkok is very rewarding.