Thailand Day Four: Food Tours and Palaces

This is the fourth day of our trip to Thailand. If you haven’t read them yet, I encourage you to read day one, two, and three.

Nicole and I got up early again today, just like our Railroad market day. Nicole booked a Travel Zoo food tour around central Bangkok for us. We met up at the Skytrain stop/ferry port nearest to our apartment. Our Thai guide led our group of 10 around Bangkok and we spent the morning in different restaurants trying traditional Thai foods as well as popular foods in Bangkok from different cultures such as China and India.

Our First Stop: Roast Duck in Chinatown

Our first stop was in a Chinese part of Bangkok at a little restaurant called Chareon Wieng Pochana. It was run by an old Chinese man who owned the restaurant for over 50 years. He’s too old to cook anymore but he still sits out front and greets customers as they come inside. We ate traditional roasted duck served on rice. The meal was served with peppers on the side, and I foolishly applied the peppers liberally to my dish: bad idea. Aside from the peppers being too spicy, the meal was awesome.

Our Second Stop: Curry Noodles at a Muslim Cafe

At our second stop, we visited a small muslim cafe and ate curry noodle soup. There were condiments on the table to season the soup as we wished. I believe this is the same soup Nicole and I had been enjoying for the past several days.

Our Third Stop: Catfish and Est Cola

After our second stop we took a boat across the Chao Phraya river to a small cafe  called Yum Rod Sab at the end of a narrow alley. Inside of the cafe we ate Yum Pla Dook Foo, crispy catfish with a green mango salad and a refreshing Est Cola, Thailand’s own version of Coca Cola. It tasted like a cross between Pepsi and Coke.

Our Fourth Stop: Pan Lee Bakery

All of our stops so far had been lunch foods and more of the savory persuasion. So our next stop at the Pan Lee Bakery was a welcomed pit stop on our food tour. The cafe was like any coffee shop/bakery in the states. There was a corner for sitting and a chalkboard menu with various caffeinated drinks. On the right side of the cafe were a variety of cookies and pastries. Nicole and I each picked up a few bags to bring back to our coworkers for helping to cover our classes while we were away.

Our tour group sat at the cafe and ate delicious Thai-style Green Custard Buns, BBQ Pork Buns and Thai Iced Tea. I really liked the buns, the pork bun was like a slightly sweeter version of Korean Mandoo while the Green Custard Bun tasted more like a fruit danish. I couldn’t have any of the Thai Iced Tea since it was made with milk, but Nicole liked it.

[box type=”info”]This was also our only bathroom stop on the tour. Our guide explained that the polite euphemism for going to the bathroom was “shoot a rabbit” for boys and “pick some flowers” for girls, as in, “I’ll be right back, I’m going to shoot a rabbit.”[/box]

Our Last Stop: Thai Curry and Ice Cream

Our last stop of the tour was at a cafe called Kallaprapruek. We ate traditional Thai Curry served on Roti and Thai-style Coconut Ice-cream. This was our fanciest stop so far. The restaurant was very modern. There were business people enjoying fine foods in a classy establishment. It was the polar opposite of everywhere we’d been up until this point.

After this meal, our guide brought us back to the skytrain stop/ferry port near our apartment where we’d started. We said our goodbyes to the rest of the group and hopped on another ferry to visit the Grand Palace.

The Grand Palace

The Grand Palace is centrally located in Bangkok, alongside the Chao Phraya river. The king and his royal government lived there from 1782 to 1925, after which absolute monarchy was abolished and the king moved to a different palace.

Nicole and I wandered the 2 million square feet of palace grounds and looked at the many different buildings and temples. A large part of the complex is the Wat Phra Kaew or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The complex is really interesting because there are buildings from almost every single era of Thai architecture.

It was nice to see a different style of temple from what we were accustomed to in Korea. These temples were far more ornate and almost every surface of them was covered in gold. They were a site to behold. The Korean temples are detailed in their own way, but made of wood and, I would say, simpler in design, perhaps less gaudy as well.

Wat Pho

After the Grand Palace, Nicole and I walked down the street to Wat Pho, one of the oldest and largest temples in Bangkok. Also home to a great massage school. However, Nicole and I didn’t get a massage there. One of the biggest attractions at Wat Pho is the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, a massive Buddha reclining on its side. We were beat from viewing so many majestic temples so we headed over to the neighborhood we’d visited two nights before for fish and chips to have a different international meal.

Tapas

Wine and Tapas
Wine and Tapas

It’s been awhile since I’ve had patatas bravas, or “brave potatoes”. They were one of my favorite foods at my hometown tapas restaurant, Ceviche. Nicole and I used to go on Tuesday for their tapas specials. In Bangkok, Nicole found a tapas restaurant for us to dine at. The two of us split a ton of delicious tapas and some wine before heading back to the apartment.

This was our fourth day in Thailand and a really enjoyable day at that. After a few days away from work I was feeling refreshed. Its easy to get caught up in the minutiae of your 9 to 5, or in my case 1 to 9:40. Getting a chance to step away from work for a few days and relax really changes everything.

Thailand Day Three: Floating Market

This is the third day of my trip to Thailand. If you missed the first and second days, check them out first.

van to the floating market in bangkok thailand

Our third day in Thailand was a Monday. The real enjoyment of a vacation doesn’t seem to hit until you find yourself vacationing on a weekday. I was enjoying my time on Saturday and Sunday, but, once Monday rolled around, it really sunk in that I was on vacation. Just knowing that normally I would have to be at work, teaching, grading, and making assignments, but instead, I was visiting an exotic country, was thrilling. It wasn’t all relaxation though.

This morning Nicole and I got up early (7:30am) and packed a bag for our first tour of the trip. Nicole had booked a tour on Travel Zoo for the Railroad market and the Floating market. We met downstairs at 8am and took a van with some very quiet, I’m guessing Chinese, tourists. The trip was about 2 hours to get to the railroad market.

The Railroad Market

Fresh veggies at the railroad market in Bangkok Thailand

railroad depotThe van dropped us off at the end of a very rustic rail depot in a small town. Our guide said “the market is over there”. He pointed to the other end of the rail depot. Then he instructed us to meet back at the van in an hour and promptly disappeared. Left to our own devices, Nicole and I walked to the end of the rail depot and into the market.

The railroad market is called the railroad market because its literally built on top of a set of railroad tracks. Everyday, several times a day, a train comes through and all of the vendors and patrons must promptly move out of the way. All of the stalls, if you can call them that, are on wheels and they quickly roll out of the way to make room for the train. After the train comes through, the stalls roll right back out and carry on with their business.

The railroad market was very different from the weekend market we visited yesterday. The weekend market had a bit of everything and I got the impression that if you were a local you went to one part and if you were a tourist you visited a different part. This market was very much locals-only. There were all manner of spices, fruits, vegetables, and meats. I don’t use the term ‘all manner’ lightly. There were both fruits and meats at this market that I had never even heard of, let alone seen.

Lunch

Lunch Time at the railroad market in Bangkok Thailand

After we walked around a bit, Nicole and I stepped into a little cafe and had a bite of that delicious soup we seem to find everywhere. As usual, it was amazing and less than three dollars. After soup, we found some little coconut balls that looked and tasted amazing. They weren’t sweet like you would expect, they just tasted like actual coconut meat with a dash of salt.

Delicious Coconut Balls at Railroad Market in Bangkok Thailand

Train Time

After about 30 minutes, I noticed that the market started to clear out. People were moving out of the market and lining up along the side of the road between the depot and the market. Nicole and I joined the crowd to watch the stalls move out of the way and the train come through. I was grateful for being so tall. I got a great photo of everyone else taking photos of the train coming through.

people photographing the train at the railroad market in Bangkok Thailand

After the train passed, Nicole and I met up with our guide and hopped back in the van to head to our next stop

The Floating Market

If the railroad market was locals-only, the floating market was tourists-only. It was a neat experience and I’m sure at one point it was made for locals, but the uniqueness of the experience, buying things from a boat, eventually became saturated with tourists.

We hopped out of the van about an hour later at what looked very similar to the rail road depot, minus the railroad tracks. We walked through the depot and down some steps into a waiting boat. The market, or should I say canal, was packed. It was like rush hour traffic but with boats instead of cars. People were cruising up and down the canals taking pictures and buying wares.

On each side of the canal were stalls right out in the water with enthusiastic vendors pulling your boats over with long hooks. It kind of reminded me of the Mexico ride at Epcot. Fortunately, the vendors were content to let you keep floating by if you said ‘no’. Nicole and I bought a scrapbook for our trip, but that was it for our boat ride.

At the end of our 30 minute ride, we hopped out and walked around the land-based stalls. Nicole bought some more souvenirs and I bought some more postcards. (Sophie, get ready for a ton of post cards!) We also had a small lunch, more Pad Thai and some more Coconut ice cream…so delicious.

Back to Bangkok

The bus ride back was uneventful (naps, etc.). However, back in Bangkok, we left our souvenirs at the apartment and went to see the Jim Thompson House…

The Jim Thompson House…and Protesters

We took the sky-train to the right stop for the Jim Thompson House (JTH), and promptly took the wrong exit and got lost for 5 minutes. Several overzealous Tuk Tuk drivers directed us in the right direction and we found the JTH in a few minutes. The drivers tried to convince us that the JTH was closed, a common scam, and that we should instead go on a trip with him to some jewelry stores.  We declined his offer and walked to the JTH.

The area surrounding the JTH and the sky-train stop was surrounded by protesters just sort of…hanging out. Many of them were in tents or sitting on the sidewalk. They didn’t pay too much interest in us and we just walked on by. Many of the hotels in the area were closed because of the protests but the JTH, despite what the Tuk Tuk drivers said, was open.

Who is this Jim Thompson?

Jim Thompson was a CIA agent who got really into the silk trade after he left the CIA. He built a beautiful house out of 6 smaller Thai houses and completely changed them around to make them very western. About 8 years after Jim Thompson built this house, he was hiking in the jungle and disappeared, never to be seen again. No one knows exactly where he went.

It was a great tour and the home was beautiful. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed inside the actual house, but, I took a few outside the house of silk looms, the gardens, and wood carvings.

After the tour, Nicole and I had a mango smoothie and some curry at the Jim Thompson House cafe before taking a boat up the Chao Phraya river.

 Wat Arun

We took the Skytrain to the boat and headed up river. There are a number of boats that drive up and down the Chao Phraya river and they are packed. When we got on, the boat was relatively empty but, by the time we got off, there was standing room only and, I’m guessing, not nearly enough life vests.

Nicole and I missed our stop by one and ended up getting off at a park adjacent to the Wat Arun temple, but we managed to get some great photos right before and right after the sunset.

Chinatown

After the sunset, Nicole and I went to visit Chinatown and grab a bite to eat. Because Lunar New Year was right around the corner, Chinatown was decorated for the holiday. There were paper lanterns hanging on almost every street and banners everywhere. We stopped at another small outdoor cafe that appeared to be run out of a small food cart. Where they got all the food, I have no idea.

Fish Dinner in Chinatown

We ordered fish…and received a fish, all of it. It was a massive fish of indeterminate species, but I can confirm it tasted incredible.

After our very busy and eventful day of markets, the Jim Thompson house, Wat Arun Temple at sunset, and Chinatown, we were beat. The two of us took a Tuk Tuk across town and back to our apartment for the low price of $3 and we didn’t even have to stop at sketchy jewelry stores along the way.

Our third day in Bangkok was our busiest day yet. Despite being so busy, it was a relaxing day and a relief not to be at work. Stay tuned for Thailand Day Four: Palaces, Tapas, and Temples.

Thailand Day Two: Markets and Pubs

This is the second post in my series of Thailand vacation posts. If you missed it, the first one is here.

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Nicole and I ate a quick breakfast in the room; danishes from the 7-11 on the corner. Then, we  stopped at the street side café for more delicious soup. It was quickly becoming a staple of our trip to Thailand, much like the coconut ice cream from the night before. [divider_flat]

The Skytrain

The skytrain, Bangkok’s elevated subway system, was only a 5 minute walk from our apartment. It stops all over downtown and central Bangkok, but it only has a few stops outside of central Bangkok. Fortunately, we were near one such stop. We took the skytrain across Bangkok to the weekend market. Along the way we saw hundreds of protesters camped out, sleeping in the streets in tents. Before our arrival, Thailand declared a state of emergency for two months. Thailand was going through some serious political tension and the government was holding an emergency election February 3rd, the day after we left.

[box type=”alert”]I expected, to some degree, that the protesters would affect our trip or our ability to enjoy Thailand, but, in general, they kept to themselves and weren’t remotely interested in tourists.[/box]

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The Weekend Market

weekend market in Bangkok thailand

The weekend market, open Friday-Sunday, is massive. It would take days to see everything there. The market is set up like a giant flea market with lots of little stalls selling everything imaginable. There are stalls selling clothes, shoes, pet supplies, art on canvases, sculptures, coconuts, postcards, leather belts, wooden elephants, almost everything imaginable. Lots of the goods we saw were name brand, or knock-offs, and selling for a fraction of the price of what they would go for in the states. For example, Nicole and I bought Beats headphones for about $7 each.

We spent the afternoon at the market buying tons of presents for our families. Clearly, we weren’t the only ones with this idea. The market does enough tourist business that there’s even a DHL in the market offering cheap flat rates to send your boxes home.

Lunch

Shrimp Pad Thai at the Weekend Market

After we shopped to our heart’s content, we had a delicious meal of shrimp Pad Thai. It was about $3.  So far, everything in Thailand has been absurdly cheap. Nothing we’ve done or spent money on has been more than $3-5. The meal was delicious and the food was served quick.  In Asia, I’ve never had to wait more than a few minutes for my food to arrive.[divider_flat]

Our Trove of Thai Treasures

After lunch, we headed back to the apartment, via the skytrain. Back at the apartment, I sorted through my gifts for my family and wrote a few post cards. I’d bought so many souvenirs already. My family was going to get a second Christmas.

presents from the weekend market
presents from the weekend market

Fish and Chips

For dinner, Nicole found the best place in Bangkok to eat fish and chips, her guilty pleasure. We took the skytrain over to the Londoner, an English pub in downtown Bangkok that brews its own beer and makes delicious English food. Unfortunately, due to the protests in Bangkok, the Londoner was not serving alcohol, including their own home-brewed beer, and was buffet only for the day.

cheesy fries in bangkok thailand

Forlorn, distraught, and dejected, Nicole and I walked next door to another pub called the Royal Oak where we enjoyed some Australian Tennis and fish and chips. It was surreal to find a corner of Thailand filled with Brits, Aussies, and pubs. From inside of either of the pubs we visited, you would think you were in Britain or Australia instead of Thailand.

Thai Massages

After Dinner, Nicole and I went across the street to a massage parlor- not that kind- and had Thai massages. We had hour-long back, neck, and shoulder massages for about $5. It was my first ever massage and a great experience. I planned to get many more in the coming days.

Day Two in Thailand: Recap

Our second day in Thailand was fantastic! We ate delicious Thai food and English food. We bought tons of gifts for our families, and we got to enjoy warm weather in Thailand. Overall, it was an awesome day.

Thailand Day One: The Adventure Begins

In Korea they celebrate two new years’: Solar New Year, the traditional western New Year, and Lunar New Year, an exciting double New Year you get to celebrate if you live and/or work in East Asia. For Lunar New Year, Nicole and I had two days off: Thursday and Friday. We both additionally took off Monday through Wednesday giving us an awesome 9 day holiday from Friday night to the following Sunday night.

Before you read

If you haven’t read about Solar New Year, check it out here. If you have read it then check out my trip to Thailand below!

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Getting to Bangkok

I left work at my usual time around 10pm and hailed a cab over to Nicole’s apartment. From her apartment we both grabbed our bags and took another cab to the bus station. Our bus left for Seoul at 11:40 and we arrived in Seoul at about 3am. From the Gangnam, yes that Gangnam, Station we took a cab to Seoul station to take a train to Incheon where the airport is.

[box type=”info”]Fun Fact: The first train to Incheon is at 5:20am.[/box]

What’s a person to do at the Seoul Train Station between 3 and 5am? If you guessed wait inside you’re wrong. Unfortunately the station is closed until about 4:30. Nicole and I waited at a crowded Lotteria immediately adjacent to the train station. Clearly we were not the only people waiting for the station to open. Almost every single seat in the joint was taken. Many patrons were sleeping on tables or waiting impatiently, luggage in hand.

Finally 5am rolled around and we went into the train station to purchase our tickets and head to Incheon. The train left promptly at 5:20 and an hour later Nicole and I were on a moving walkway slowly making our way towards the airport terminal.

The Flight

Check in was quick and we made it to our gate with about an hour to spare, about 8:30am. Since we were sitting in row 58, a row so far back, on most planes you would be sitting behind the plane, we got to board first. It was neat.

Nicole sleeping on Thai Airways

Let me say this about the flight, Thai airways is fantastic. If you get a chance to fly Thai airways, I strongly encourage you to do it. There are touch screens in the back of every headrest and remotes in the armrests. The touch screens have dozens of movies, music, and tv shows to choose from. The food was pretty good too and there were free potent potables for consumption. Nicole and I indulged in celebratory gin and tonics and then Nicole fell asleep again and I watched a ton of movies because I can never sleep on transportation.

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Touch Down

We touched down, or landed, in Bangkok at 1:30pm due to a two-hour time change. It was hard to believe that we were finally in Thailand after traveling almost nonstop since 10pm the previous night. Customs was a breeze, just like it was entering Korea and Japan. In a matter of minutes Nicole and I had our bags and were on our way to meet a man I would later come to call Pimon, his name.

Pimon, or possibly Simon

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Our air BnB host, Bee, offered to have her father pick us up from the airport and drive us directly to the apartment all for $20. Considering Nicoleand I had zero idea of how to get to the apartment this seemed like a great proposition. We met up with him in front of the airport and we walked to his car. He introduced himself as Pimon, at least I think that’s what he said. He was difficult to understand.

Pimon was an interesting fellow. I would say he was in his late 50s. He loves his family and kids, his wife died of cancer, he enjoys hiking in Canada, and he is very proud of his daughter, Bee. That was all I understood of what he said. On an unrelated note, for some reason he reminded me of what Dave Thomas, of Wendy’s, would look like if he was born in Thailand instead of the US.

[box type=”info”]Fun Fact: People drive on the left side of the road in Thailand.[/box]

Getting to the Apartment

From the airport we hopped on the highway and he drove us the 30 minutes or so to our apartment. We took the highway over much of downtown Bangkok. It was a view to behold. Bangkok is such a modern and futuristic city at its center, but its antiquated and poor just about everywhere else. In the center of downtown there are designer boutiques and multistory shopping malls. Meanwhile only blocks away people live vastly different, and poorer, lives.

Pimon drove us past a nearby plaza area called Asiatique and a few other sites in our neighborhood. Afterwards he brought us to the apartment and gave us the key. Nicole and I had booked a studio apartment for our stay for about $300. The apartment was incredible and much nicer than both of our apartments in Korea.

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It was nice to finally be done traveling, almost a day after we started. We both passed out on the bed from exhaustion and probably slept for an hour.

Waking up in Bangkok

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I woke up with one of the worst headaches of my life, probably from not eating and drinking enough while traveling. Luckily, there was a “café”.

The soup we shared was just enough to tide us over as we walked towards Asiatique and dinner. Along the way we got to see our first taste of Bangkok, outside of downtown. The buildings were old and run down, but lively and bustling on the first floor. Most of the buildings were concrete block and maybe 3-4 stories. The first floors of most of the buildings were shops. There were lots of internet cafes, hair salons, and little cafes selling that same soup we had near our apartment.nearby where we could get food. By café, I mean there was what looked like a hotdog-cart parked on the side of the road with several plastic tables and chairs. Nicole and I split a delicious soup that was one of the best meals I had on the trip. There were bits of beef and spices in it and it was the right balance of spicy and flavorful. A few bites of soup and I was good to go.

The soup we shared was just enough to tide me over until dinner. Nicole and I stopped at a small restaurant that Pimon had recommended to us. We ate delicious fish and steamed octopus in a lime chili sauce. It was amazing, but also amazingly spicy. I thought I knew what spicy was, living in Korea and all, but Thai spicy is on a whole other level.

After dinner Nicole and I walked down to Asiatique, the market that Pimon told us about in the car earlier. Asiatique used to be a derelict warehouse park on the water. However the area had been renovated and each of the former warehouses were converted into hip outdoor markets with various shops and stalls. Nicole and I bargained a bit with a few shop keepers and bought some gifts for our family. We also got some dairy-free coconut ice cream, served in an actual coconut and sprinkled with peanuts. It was amazing and it quickly became a staple of our Thailand trip. I probably ate it everyday.

Next to Asiatique was a giant ferris wheel, I believe the third largest in the world. As we were walking over to it, fireworks began to go off and the two of us decided to watch the fireworks from the edge of the river instead.

This was a spectacular end to a very long and very eventful day. We rode buses, taxis, trains and planes. We traveled almost all day and all night. However, at the end, it was all worth it. We enjoyed delicious foods in a variety of venues and got to experience a new and interesting culture.

The best part of all, this was just the first day.