The NBA (next big adventure) Part 1: Bangkok

Five nights in Bangkok on the Chao Phraya, the river of Kings. We have lived as such, slept as such and dined as such. “This place has a Michelin star but the food is only so so. That place is much better” is proclaimed on ever street corner. We have eaten in the darkes alley and on the highest tower (?). We have completed the tempel run in less than 12 parsecs. Here is to the start of our NBA.

08.03. After two rushed days at work, and a last minute phone conference, we rush to catch the direct ICE train to Frankfurt airport. At checkin some guy grabs my backpack from the belt and walks off. Hope that was an airport employee… After a McDonalds dinner, we make our way to Helsinki, and onward to Bangkok (witjout buying Mumins for Michi). Thanks to premium economy, we have a relaxing flight.

09.03. We arrive in Bangkok in the afternoon. We clear immigration quickly and get our luggage (I was lucky). The taxi system at the airport works very smoothly and, after ca. 1h drive we reach our hotel, Sala Arun. And do we have a view from our room!

As I have a bad headache, we eat dinner at the hotel (overpriced but ok) and go to bed. Headach clears around early morning so we use our jetlag and sit on the terrace at 2am.

10.03. Today, we have booked a floating market tour. We start early, at 7:15 and drive to Samut Sonkhram Province, about 70km south east of Bangkok. Our first stop is the infamous “train market”, a 30 year old market set directly on the railroad tracks. 8 trains pass through the market per day. Within seconds, vendors clear sunshades and goods from the track and the train passes through, only centimeters from our faces. But not without stopping at the restaurant, we have chosen as a viewpoint, to get some coffee for the conductor. As the train departs, so do the tourist hordes; and the market is rebuilt within seconds. We explore the market a bit more and get acustomed to the Thai offerings.

From the market, we drive about 15min to Tha Kha floating market. Tha Kha is a very small, local Thai market. First, we take the row boat along the canals to visit a coconut plantation. Thai use coconut sugar for many dishes. Sap is collected from the flower stems of the coconut palms, than cooked to remove the water. It takes 150 sap containers (150 climbs up and down a palm tree) to make one pack of coconut sugar, priced at 700Baht. Tough work.

Back at the market, we finally get our first food of the day. Small fried won ton style bags, four types of curry with rice noodles (2x fish curry, green curry and bean curry), and Pad Tai. The dishes tase very fresh.

From Tha Kha, we drive to Bangnoi Floating Market, a bit bigger than Tha Kha. We get a 30min Thai tortu… massage, and have drip coffee from northern Thailand as well as sea esparagus and green mango with seafood sauce.

Feeling fresh and relaxed, we head to a temple straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. The temple is the size of a small chappel. The entire building is overgrown by trees – roots covering the walls. Inside sits a single budda; the old statue is covered in gold leaves.

Our final stop is the large Amphawa market. From Indiana Jones to Waterworld. The market, again, sits along both banks of a river, with food stalls on the side and boats selling food from the water. We eat at “the best restaurant in Amphawa” (aka tourist joint). But the food is actually good. We eat grilled seabass with a delicious sauce made of lime, salt, chili and coconut sugar. We finish the food tour with garlic clams.

Overall, the tour was fun but we felt it lacked the imersiveness we are used from our friends at Untour Shangahi.

Back at the hotel, we drop off our backpack and head out again. Palace and temple areas are completely deserted. However, there is a big public celebration at the National Theater, which we join for a short while. Next, we head to the infamous Khao Shan Road. The part of Bangkoks underbelly, where expats and cheap tourists congregate, breathe laughing gas and drink, drink, drink. We pass through quickly, and take a taxi to China Town. Street food heaven. Esp. our first dish, duck soup, is delicious.

Michi especially enjoys the quick tuktuk ride home. We end the evening with drinks in the Sala Aruns Eagel Nest Rooftop Bar overlooking the palace, Wat Pho and Wat Arun.

11.03. The alarm rings at 6.30, again. Today, we are up early to beat the heat and the crowds to the tempels. We eat a quick breakfast on the balcony, overlooking Wat Arun. At 8.00 we are among the first few visitors at Wat Pho. Its increadibly peaceful. The friendly guard lets us into the main prayer hall early. We are almost alone, sit on the floor and soak in the athmosphere. The hall of the reclining budda also has few visitors at this hour.

At the Grand Palace, crowds are still small (its crowded but, as we learn later, it could have been much worse). First we visit the amazing Tempel of the Emerald Budda. The upper terrace with the golden Stupa Phra Si Ratan Chedi, the Royal Pantheon and the Phra Mondop is most impressive. The hall of the emerald budda feels smaller than the hall at Wat Pho and is already much more crowded. The budda is 66cm tall, and thus looks like a dwarf on the giant throne. With the heat picking up, we stroll past the palace – we cannot visit inside – and to the exit. By now, huge crowds wait on the square in front of the palace. We head back to our hotel to cool of and pack, as we move to Loy La Long Hotel.

The hotel is an old Thai house directly above the river. The entrance is hidden in a small alley behind Wat Pathum. Our room, the Green Room, overlooks the river. After arrival, we first sleep. Later, I have a final phone call for work.

In the late afternoon, we explore the neighbourhood.

Michi discovered the Jeh O Chula, a Michelin rated corner joint. We arrive early. We stick with the recommendations, golden duck, salnon salad, fried shrimp and tofu and, of course, the signature tom yum mama noodles – “improved” instant noodels. Tje tast is simple but amazing. Always sour (lime), hot (chili), sweat and salty with a few leafes of coriander.

With burning mouth and full stomache, we walk towards the Siam Shopping center (nice) and take the metro to Patpong Night Market (notorious place surrounded by luxury hotels).

In the evening, we relax with fellow travelers on the Loy La Long terrace in the cool evening air.

12.03. We start our day of with a beautiful breakfast on the river. People next door live in the same style of house as our hotel but totally different live.

Today is temple day no 2. We take the ferry (orange line) to Wat Arun. At 9.00 its already quite hot. The temple is beautiful from up close, made up of a lot of intricate details.

We take the public ferry across the river and walk past Wat Pho via Saranrom Park and the under-construction Wat Ratchabophit to Wat Sutaht. This temple houses a gian sitting budda. We watch the restaurators repaint the murials and cool of under the fans.

Then, at the Monument of Democracy, we stumble at the most wondeeful, tacky Michelin Star restaurant, Methavalai Sorndaeng. Founded in 1957, I bet nothing has changed. Waiters in white captain jniforms, white linnen covered tables with neatly folded napkins, brass cutlery, and a piano and singer that come straight out of the times when, at the end of a Robinson Club holiday, all guests would but up a performance. The food is brilliant. We eat Tom Yum noodles, Papaya Salad and Green Curry.

Two more temples to go; and the are awesome. First, we visit Loha Prasat. With its many golden spires, it looks like … like there was a spire super sale. On the way to the top, the different stages of enlightenment are explained. Nirwana offers a beautiful view across the neighbourhood.

But for views we climb the Golden Mount. Its english name speaks for itself. TukTuk drivers try a nice scam suggesting they can take you up the hill but only drive 100m to the entrance gate. Maybe next time we buy it… Despite the heat, the climb is not to bad. And the view from the very top is rewarding. We can even see the palace in the background.

Five Temple run completed.

We take a TukTuk back home and relax in our awesome hotel, enjoying the river.

Next: Food Tour Part 2. After the interesting but foodwise disappointing tour to the floating markets, we are somewhat sceptical about the nigjt market tour. Ms Mod picks us up 1h before the scheduled time, which is good for us couch potatoes. We have a party tucktuck driver that blasts music along the way. First stop is a small place on the western bank in a small alley behind the Wat Suwan ferry. They serve northern Thai food. First dish is an amazing papaya salad with fermented crab and sticky rice. Next, the good-but-not-live-altering pork neck. But the two absolute highlights are fried lemon gras (they have a special cook just for that) with chicken and a fluffy cat fish something, which looks like a sponge, but mixed with vinegar, chili and green mango is incredibly delicious.

The second stop is right down our alley – in this case a particularly dark and narrow one somewhere north of China town. We skip the Michelin Star foodstand for this one. Enough said. Fried noodles with fried and running egg are amazingly tasty and flavorful.

Next, we take a break in more familiar waters in the Grand Palace region. First, we check out the flower market and fold lotus blossoms. Forget the dutch tulips These are massive amounts of flowers. We try thai rose apples and small pineapples with salt and chili. Amazing combination.

Next, we head to a bar two blocks from our first hotel, which was the super secret drink location – apparently, we know to much but also shooting us does not seem to be a helpful option. We revisit Wat Pho after hours and learn that this was also the first Thai Massage university. We donate our lotus blossoms for a wish.

Foe our final stop, we head back to the Golden Mount, for Bangkoks best Phat Thai. Covered in a thin shell of egg white, with flavors expertly addes by Ms Mod this is the best we had.

Finally, desert: We have Desert Tacos with egg and coconut sugar and a coconut milk, coconut sugar delicassy wrapped in palm a leaf.

Fill and almost unable to move, our tuktuk driver takes us home. We relax on the terrace with other german guests and drink beers into the night.

13.03. We sleep in… finally… at least until 8.00. There are worse places to have breakfast.

This morning we have booked a two hour boat tour through the Kongs, the canals on the west side of Chao Phraya. Captain Jack (I do not know his name but he is an american Thailand veteran) picks us up at the pier behind the small temple in the small alley. We drive south on the river Chao Phraya and hear stories about old brothels by the river, the Portuguese Embassy and the now smaller fish market. South of Rama III bridge we turn west and past the watergate into the Dao Khanong. There are a lot of small 2-3 house communities on the river. Sometimes it is not quite clear why the houses have not yet sunk into the river. There even is a 2 boat floating market. We turn into the Bang Khun Thian, see more houses on the river, temples (it is not allowed to catch fish in front of the temples there are millions). Its a different world from that under the skyline we see as we float back out on Chao Phraya. Back at Loy La Long, its time for a rest.

This is the Loy La Long Hotel. Our room is in the front corner on the basement.

In the afternoon, we take a tuktuk to Jim Thompsons House. Thompson was an American how came to Thailand in the 1940s, established silk trade and collected Thai artwork. His house is an assembly of traditional Thai houses, which were transported to Bangkok. The house is nice, but the presentation a bit strange (Disneyland feeling, no photos, tour required).
Next stops: Bangkok Arts and Culture Center, browsing at the infamous MBK Department Store, as well as a walk past the Erawan Shrine.

Our final highlight is an evening at the Vertigo at Banyan Tree, a 61st flor al fresco restaurant with an amazing view over Bangkok. We enjoy the sunset and the athmosphere – food is mediocre compared to the backalley cookpots but that does not matter. Last night in Bangkok and the world’an oyster.

We have a beautiful table on the far deck.

We end with a final beer on our terrace aboce Chao Phraya river.