I blame Thailand for the crazy desire I have to go everywhere… including back to Thailand.
Thailand was incredible. INCREDIBLE. Yes, I was super jet-lagged and craving Western food by the time I returned home. Yes, I sweated through my clothes and took two showers a day on a regular basis there. Yes, I walked a ton and my feet hurt constantly from all the “see everything” daily plans. It was so worth it! I strongly recommend travelling there if you can stand the flight (about 20-ish hours combined). When people ask why I picked Thailand, I have three reasons I give them: the food, the beaches, and the exchange rate. None of them disappointed.
I planned this trip after an enormous amount of research. We started in Bangkok. This was a great idea, because if there is one word to describe the city, it would be “clusterfuck.” In a good way, of course. Pardon my language, but there is really no other way to explain Bangkok. It smells more than occasionally of shrimp paste and hot garbage, and there are people crawling all over the place constantly. There are street vendors galore, shrines to Buddha at every business and home, and hookers. Once, I’m pretty sure I some ladies of the night bowing to a Buddhist shrine and leaving a few offerings at the start of their evening. I also played board games at a bar with some flirtatious girls who may or may not have been hookers, but that’s a whole different story. Anyway, the reason it was great to start in Bangkok is because this city will run you ragged. With its average temperature of 81 degrees [Fahrenheit] every day and the lack of a cool breeze, combined with the need to plan, walk, and use an array of public transit to get around (buses, taxis, tuk tuks, Skytrain, boats), we were exhausted. At the end of every day, we either partied… or struggled to stay awake past 9 PM. It’s an addictive, if exhausting, fabulous city!
|The first Thai Buddhist temple we saw in real life, so naturally we had to take a picture. So ornate.|
After (almost) seamlessly finding our apartment that we rented through Airbnb , we bought snacks from a convenient store in our building and went to bed early to prepare for our first day on the town with Bangkok Food Tours. I did bitch a little about wanting to go out to the neon van bars parked all over the streets in Sukhumvit, but Charlie was the voice of reason. Sleep was a good choice. After reading tons of Trip Advisor reviews, I planned a food tour to get acquainted with Bangkok. It’s a good way to get to know a city, especially when there’s a language barrier involved. It gets you accustomed to approaching street food vendors and other locals, which can initially be pretty intimidating. The food tour was a good way to explore the city, get our bearings, and have a Thai local order food for us from vetted and quality places. You get a little bit of culture and a lot of food.
When we arrived at the tour meeting point, we already felt like we were in a mecca of street food, but it was really just a little gathering of venders outside of a Skytrain station. They were selling knock off purses and there was a guy singing karaoke from a portable speaker system- obviously I had to tip him and take his picture. We wanted to try the pad Thai, dumplings, and some unidentifiable foods we saw while we awaited our group, but I knew from reviews of Bangkok Food Tours that we shouldn’t eat yet, not even breakfast. We were about to get plenty.
Our tour guide Nushi (I’m spelling it phonetically here ok- rhymes with sushi) was very knowledgeable and introduced us to local store owners, taking us to places we would never have even noticed on our own. We walked around the historic area of Bangkok known as Bangrak and we had everything from duck to curries to pastries. I even met a guy from North Carolina who had gone to Emory law school and just taken the bar exam too… small world. There were also some folks from Hong Kong and India. We all had a great time. Anyway, now for the foods of the Bangkok Food Tour:
|First stop: A little family-owned shop known for its roast duck.|
|Roast duck, gravy, rice, with ginger and cucumber. You could even try some duck innards and feet (they were crunchy) if you liked!|
|Our tour group at the table on our first stop. Satisfied.|
|A local selling his produce. Don’t ask me what everything is. This is the kind of thing I expected to see all over Thailand, and I did.|
|Just a little snack on our route: Fried bananas.|
|Next Stop: A Muslim-owned restaurant where we could try an excellent chicken or beef yellow curry noodle dish. This woman plated our dishes one at a time in front of us.|
|Ubiquitous in Thailand: A group of 4 condiments on all restaurant tables so you can doctor your dish as you choose. Red pepper for spice, sugar for sweet, fish sauce for salty, and vinegar for sour. I love this idea.|
|Muslim yellow chicken curry noodles. Delicious! I’m pretty sure I dreamed of these before coming to Thailand.|
|This man was selling fresh eggs out of this traditional over-the-shoulder basket. He posed for me!|
We crossed the river by ferry and our guide led us into a shanty little restaurant to try some traditional Isan food. This cuisine hails from the northeastern region of Thailand and was by far the spiciest of all the things we ate all day. This food incorporates a lot of sour flavors as well. And I loved it! It may have even been the group’s favorite of the day. Charlie and I actually had our first ever taste of Isan-style food at the DC restaurant Little Serow (it’s outrageously good!). There were definitely no tourists eating around this area of Bangkok and it was awesome to see the family cooking everything from poultry to whole fish. We saw this local man selling fresh eggs just steps from the river and there were lots of chickens and other birds in cages all over the place. This restaurant backed up to a tiny walkway and other people’s backyards. Everything was definitely fresh- the fruits, vegetables, and fish were all from super close by. The catfish had just been fried. Unrelated, this was also where I used my first eastern toilet… a hole in the ground at the back of the restaurant.
|A woman making fresh som tam, or spicy green papaya salad, a well-known Thai dish.|
|Grilled snakehead fish stuffed with lemongrass for sale. Note the sharp teeth in their mouths. Apparently these are pests around Thailand|
|More fresh roasted poultry. Duck? Chicken?|
|The fresh som tam and spicy pork salad. Both delicious. I was getting a little full at this point… and a little lazy on the photography apparently.|
|Fried catfish. It was light and crispy and so delicious. Salty and warm. Also, there’s my new favorite condiment, one of the things I miss the most- vinegar with red and green Thai chilies.|
|Underneath all that fried lemongrass (holy cow) are some tasty fried pieces of chicken on the bone.|
|By the end of this feast, there was nothing left. Amazingly good.|
The next stop on our Bangkok Food Tour was a bakery and pastry shop. There were tons of things to buy here that would have been great for afternoon tea or coffee or to take home to America as gifts and, of course, a TripAdvisor sticker on the front window. We tried two buns each and then either an iced tea or coffee.
The final stop was an actual indoor restaurant with lots of business-professional types eating in suits, complete with air conditioning and Western toilets. Although we’d gotten used to the casual, curbside dining, everything here was great too, but I did learn that I am not the biggest fan of baby Thai eggplants. They served them in the green curry and I bit into them thinking they were peas… not so much. They are bitter and not a traditionally Western taste. It was good to learn early though, because they made a frequent appearance throughout our trip.
|Nushi at the bakery!|
|One green custard bun, one pork bun. Both light, fluffy and so good.|
|A soft sweet bun filled with well-seasoned pork. Unexpected but I think this could really take off in North Carolina.|
|A Thai iced tea and the center of the green custard bun. The Thai teas are made with condensed milk and are really sweet but oddly refreshing and tasty.|
|Fresh vegetables. Those pods in the front are called stink beans.|
|A sample size of traditional Thai green curry and roti (an Indian-inspired crispy pancake-like bread).|
The final dish of the food tour I was actually scared of… but incredibly pumped to try! Durian ice cream! I have seen so many TV shows about this fruit. People complain about the texture and the smell. Some hotels, including the one we stayed in in Chiang Mai, put up signs forbidding you from bringing it into your hotel rooms because the smell is so bad and difficult to get out of the space. It’s known as the “king of fruits.” Ice cream was possibly the most innocuous way to try it for the first time. You could still grasp the odd taste and smell that crept up on you in an unidentifiable way, but it wasn’t bad. One guy at the table said, “If I didn’t know this was durian-flavored, I might say this ice cream had gone bad.” Other words people threw into the mix to describe the taste was “rotten meat,” “macadamian nuts,” “garbage,” and “dirty socks.” Hearing all this while you ate it didn’t help the process… but it was certainly an experience. I think I enjoyed it.
|DURIAN ICE CREAM!|
I totally recommend Bangkok Food Tours and Nushi. I would go back right now and do all the tours they offered if I could. (Maybe I will…) There’s also a nighttime tour of Bangkok’s Chinatown.
I also totally recommend eating any Thai food you can get your hands on, especially from a hole in the wall place like some of these or a cart on the side of the road! It was some of the best food we had our whole trip. Now I regret not eating ENOUGH street food while I was there!