DESTINATION: LOCAL LIFE & DISHES IN BANGKOK
MODE OF TRANSPORT: TUK TUK
Meet time was, 18:45, at National Stadium. It is the end of the line on Bangkok’s BTS Mass Transit System. In a bit of a panic, not wanting to miss the rendezvous, the three of us went from a light jog to a full on sprint. Up a set of stairs, there they were, Karen and Ngan, two lovely ladies we befriended earlier in the week. Along with them, was a person they referred to as our docent.
My daughter, Bailey, looks up at me and quips, “that sounds so much cooler than saying guide”.
We, along with a select few, and I say select because we have never been part of a tour with so few people, were handed off to a man with a blue polo shirt, as the two of them departed. The man in the blue polo introduced himself. His name was Arty, and with a voice that commanded attention, along with a smile as wide as the Chao Phraya River itself, welcomed us to Buffalo Tours’ Bangkok Street Eats by Tuk Tuk. He escorted us, down a set of stairs that drew us away from the station.
BUFFALO TOURS’ BANGKOK STREET EATS BY TUK TUK.
As we descended, it seemed almost as if we were leaving behind a Bangkok that we had gotten to know these past few weeks. The end of the line for the train also marked the end of the line for the modern city it had become. He whisked us all into Tuk Tuks two at a time (in our case three) and after an introduction to our driver, off we went into the evening. As we sped off, the feeling was akin to that of time travel.
The large avenues turned into smaller, less traversed streets. The lights from the highrise buildings behind us disappeared, along with any semblance of present time. We were taken to a Bangkok of yore. A Bangkok that was a city built on top of a series of canals. A Bangkok that had yet become the Capital it is now. The waterways no longer exists, but the essence was still there.
In what would be an alley that no tourist would ever think of going down, Arty introduced us to an eatery, only known by locals, that served vegetarian specialties. It was important for us to experience such a place, not only due to it’s almost daunting location, which it was far from being, as we were greeted with authentic and grateful smiles, but also because it was the middle of the Vegetarian Festival. A feast that ran for 9 days, commemorating what Buddhist believe as a period in which the nine emperor gods get together and discuss the upcoming year. Believers abstain from meat and make offerings in hopes that the gods align the planets just right for a prosperous year to come.
A carnivore and a Catholic, I knew a thing or two about deprivation for the sake of being absolved. After tasting some of the offerings, from fried dehydrated tofu that had the texture of pork rinds to the ubiquitous spring rolls, I realized how elevated vegetarian food can be. If I had known this as a kid, I would have given meat up every Lent.
Away from the alley and onto a larger street, we broke the fast per se and were given tastings of seafood delicacies from a vendor that offered fish cake and fried crablets. This was followed by a sweet coconut rice dumpling called, Khanom Krok, which was served warm with the coconut cream oozing out of it with every bite. On a hot night, under dimmed street lights, breathing in the smoke that came from grills and vats of oil, nine strangers were communing over plastic bags filled with food. It was an experience that every food lover dreams. What every traveler dreams. This group act made us all feel a little closer to each other.
THEN THERE WERE THE BUTCHERS.
In the Lower East Side of New York, there was a butcher shop on the same street where I grew up. My grandmother would often take me along to help her carry the meats she would purchase for the week. I would be entranced with the knife work being performed day in and day out at the shop. The art of butchery is an anachronism, machines have taken its place.
On that evening, on the same street we were enjoying street delicacies, time pressed the rewind button. There he was, under well-lit light bulbs powered by a small generator, almost like seeing an apparition, a real butcher. He was shirtless, tattooed and aproned. Like Jackson Pollack with a brush, the butcher wielded his cleaver and within a few minutes, dissected a hog in front of an awestruck crowd. Loin, ribs, belly, shoulder, beautifully displayed for us to admire. Thankfully, a lost art still existed in the streets of Bangkok.
OFF TO THE FAMOUS THIPSAMAI
Off we went again on our Tuk Tuk, this time back to present time a bit. Arty thought we should have some Pad Thai. This is the kind of thing that is probably on everyone’s tour agenda when visiting Bangkok. But in reality, what tour would be complete without having the most renowned national dish. This was no ordinary Pad Thai, this was from a Bangkok institution named, Thipsamai.
Off we went again on our Tuk Tuk, this time back to present time a bit
They do Pad Thai and Pad Thai only. Theirs’ was unlike any I have tasted before or since. First, when it was presented, it already looked different from the others. The noodle was wrapped in a thin crepe-like egg batter. Looking more like an omelette than a noodle dish. Second, the noodle itself had a hue that resembled the color of saffron infused rice. The color also caught Bailey’s attention, and when she asked what made it that color, the response was, let’s just say, vague. As it always is when one tries to get someone to divulge a secret recipe. Suffice it to say, that it was the best noodle dish I had in all my time in Bangkok.
Back into the Tuk Tuk for yet another food stop. This time to a quiet, hip area in Chana Songkhram. Between a wine cafe that looked like it belonged in the Left Bank of Paris and a posh bar that could have easily belonged in Hong Kong’s SoHo, was a humble little shack of a place named, Roti Mataba. Bangkok was a mercantile town, with that came religion. Roti Mataba was a fine representation of the Indian Muslim food culture that exists in this great town. We were all filled from our individual servings of Pad Thai, but there was more than enough room for the made to order crepe-like delights. The adults had a version made with chicken bits and Bailey, the only child in tow, had one with condensed milk drizzled on top. Since that day, it had become her staple dessert in Thailand.
THE NEIGHBORHOOD CERTAINLY LOOKED POISED TO BE THE NEXT HOT SPOT, BUT PLACES LIKE THESE STILL ANCHOR A TIME IN THE CITY THAT SEEMS TO BE FLOATING AWAY.
Before getting back on the Tuk Tuk, I humored Arty that the next stop would be for a beer. He laughed, had me join him in his Tuk Tuk, got to know each other, and told me that he would, in fact, take us for a drink after a visit to Wat Pho, the home of the Temple that houses the famous reclining Buddha, and the pagoda that holds the ashes of the 4th King of Siam (aka, the king in “The King and I”). We had visited Wat Pho in the daytime, but its splendor, especially for those who want to catch it with a lens, is even greater in the evening. This again was one of those rarely known secrets that tourists never take advantage of. The sacred grounds are open in the evening for visits without charge.
After some history and spiritual lessons, we followed Arty to yet another dark alley. With a wink, he tells us to follow him up the stairs of a non-distinct Bed and Breakfast. When we got to the top, most of us breathing a bit harder, were treated to some of the best views available on the riverside of Bangkok. As if that weren’t enough, Arty kept his promise of a round of beers.
BANGKOK’S FLOWER MARKET.
It wasn’t over just yet. The Tuk Tuks were to take us to one last destination, and it was a good one. This stop was not for the stomach but a feast for the eyes, we were brought to Bangkok’s Flower Market at Wang Burapha Phirom. The fragrance and the visual was second to none. Nearly ten o’clock in the evening, there was a frenetic sensibility in the air. People were buying flowers at the end of the evening. I always thought this a morning practice, but not here. It was quite the scene. There were business people haggling with flower merchants, grandmothers keeping everybody fed behind the lines, children watching televisions hooked onto the street lamp power lines, and then there was us. We truly felt as if we were experiencing something only locals experience – We were on the outside looking in. Simply fantastic.
Arty put us into our respective Tuk Tuks and, just like that, our time was done. When he waved goodbye as our Tuk Tuk pulled out, I felt that I had made a friend and had a feeling of missing him already. The Tuk Tuk headed toward the bright lights, and as if it were a portal, when we neared the train station, Arty and the Bangkok we all had the opportunity to experience, disappeared into the night.
BRENDA’S SHORT TRAVEL GUIDE TO BANGKOK:
We flew into Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport on Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur. The flight took almost 2 hours. The flights cost us $75 one way for all 3 of us. If you’re flying internationally from another continent, the airport used is called Suvarnabhumi International Airport.
We took a taxi from the airport for $20 into the Lat Phrao neighborhood (on the outskirts of the city center), which took us about 45 minutes.
WHERE TO STAY:
This was the first time we’ve chosen to stay at an AirBnb because we were going to stay an extended time and Bailey was really keen on having her own bedroom and actually so were we. We chose Jaz’s apartment after many listings because it accommodates up to 3 people and it had a pool and wifi. Also, after reading many great reviews, we chose to book it. Jaz met us right at the front of the building after she directed the taxi driver on how to get there. She brought us up and showed us around the apartment and the building. She also greeted us with a basket of fruits, some snacks, water and juice!
The apartment is painted mostly white and with touches of wood. It was perfect for a hot city like Bangkok! It has an awesome balcony and a coin operated washing machine (each load is 30 baht), which was a welcome addition. Jaz has thought of every detail, we never had to purchase any essentials, she provided plenty and a very nice touch is, she messaged us almost every day to let us know the events around the city! Last and most importantly, it’s super clean.
Then there is the coffee shop and the mini mart downstairs on the third floor, which were both great and inexpensive. The pool and the gym were both also fantastic!
And a few more pictures from us. You’ll see plenty in the airbnb website but most of the pictures don’t give the apartment justice. You’ll have to see it for yourself.
For the original article visit Andrew Tolentino’s blog, article: An Evening Into The Past