In the second article of this series Carla ter Maat finds both culture and cuisine in Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok – Thailand’s largest city with a population 6 million people and a metropolis covering 3,000 square miles. Hardly the first port of call you would expect to go to for a relaxing break but Bangkok is deemed to be one of the world’s most exciting cities and I was intrigued enough to want to spend a few days exploring a fraction of it before moving North.
The Cha-da, one of Travelbag’s recommended hotels was perfect. Located in a popular shopping/office area of Huai Kwang, it is a little ways from the hectic centre and has a rather tucked away but very welcome rooftop pool.(I couldn’t resist starting and ending my days with a reviving swim and enjoying the stunning city views at sundown.) The Cha-da Hotel is conveniently located on the MRT, Bangkok’s main subway line making commuting easy, convenient and very affordable; a one way ticket to the main station Hua Lampong costing 38 bhat (a mere 78p). Once there, China town is a 10 minute walk away. I would suggest being brave and using the tuk tuks if you’re travelling outside of an area you know as the road layout and names can be quite confusing (as a rough guide, expect to pay about 40 bhat for any 5 minute journey, so again, very affordable and faster than taxis who are generally stuck in totally standstill traffic!)
I was intrigued to find out where people suggested to eat and what the specialties were. Everyone’s response was the same…it seemed Tom Yum was the overall favourite. This classic Thai noodle soup is said to soothe and restore the mind and body. Thinking that sounded exactly what I needed, I heeded their suggestions and opted for the seafood variety, Tom Yum Talay. The king prawns were some of the largest I had seen and there was a generous amount of squid and white fish. Good sized pieces of lemon grass, root ginger and chillis are left in the broth when served, adding intense flavour but be careful when eating.
You could head for a restaurant but with the immense array of street vendors in and around Chinatown, it really is the place to go for great selection, oodles of atmosphere and freshly cooked at the minute dishes. Generous portions come at low, low prices (do not expect to pay anything over £3 pp, including a nice chilled big bottle of Chang Thai lager-complete with ice and a straw!)
I had arranged with Zara at Travelbag to include a half day Temple and City Tour, which was a great way to absorb some of the atmosphere of the The Old City, Bangkok’s spiritual and historical heart. The Old City is thick with temples but by far my favourite was Wat Pho, the oldest temple in Bangkok. The grounds, were serene, outstandingly beautiful and felt intensely spiritual. The 46 meter long stunning image of The Reclining Buddha image fills the whole Wihan and is an amazing sight to behold.
Although not in the tour, do ensure you start early (when its cooler) and spend a few hours at The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo. It is a remarkable site and houses the very sacred and much revered Emerald Buddha image. All Wats (temples) are for the people regardless of faith, everyone is welcome – do ensure your legs and arms are covered and shoes removed before entering!
Probably not something most people would have considered, but another highlight of my Bangkok stay was a half day Colours of Bangkok bike ride. As you would imagine, the business is run by two Dutch guys who have lived in Bangkok for 17 years and know it well. With two fellow riders from the Netherlands and our Thai guide, we were carefully navigated around the main roads to see a normally unseen side of the city. We met some of the people who originate from the north but come year on year to the “communities” of Bangkok to work (Thailand has only 5% unemployment and its clear that the people are extremely enterprising and hard working, just to make ends meet. Yet, despite their hardship, they were genuinely happy to welcome us and show off their meagre homes. again, I am humbled by the Thais and Buddhist way of life.
The rest of the tour took us into “the green jungle’ – by ferry to the other side of the river which consisted of acres of coconut and palm plantations. In the centre a wonderful park, where the locals come for a bit of peace, quiet and clean air at the weekends. I can fully appreciate why!
Bangkok really was an eye opener and I am glad I took the extra days here to discover the delights of a city so huge yet so gentle, polite and respectful. I will be taking this piece of their culture on my journey.
Carla ter Maat
Carla ter Maat has worked in food related businesses all her working life, from running an award winning delicatessen and catering business in Virginia Water to owning and managing a sea front Italian restaurant in Sussex. This has produced in her a wealth of experience in the Food, Drink and Hospitality industries. Now, as Sales Manager for the impeccable drakes boutique hotel and restaurant in Brighton, Carla continues to impart her knowledge and delights in discovering the hidden gems, whether fine food importers, local wine producers or excellent restaurants; and she’s travelling far and wide to do so.
Carla’s journey was organised by www.travelbag.co.uk