Bangkok part I: Chinatown

Our next stop was Thailand’s iconic traveller mecca of Bangkok. Despite coming close in the past, we’ve never quite made it to the capital of Thailand for one reason or another, so we were excited to see what all the fuss was about. We had a slightly nerve-wracking border crossing from Cambodia as we watched other travellers get comprehensively grilled by immigration officals, but apart from having to wait in an extremely long queue, our experience was thankfully drama-free. Phew!

We’ll almost certainly return to Bangkok in a couple of weeks as we turn south towards Malaysia, so for this visit, we decided to focus our eating and sightseeing efforts in and around Chinatown, where we were staying.

We’d heard so much about the frenetic pace in Bangkok that we were very surprised to discover the network of canals around Chinatown, which were absolutely charming and really quite peaceful. There was some street food on offer here (which of course we ate), but mostly the area was residential and full of small neighbourhood shrines, cats and flowers. Perfect!

We couldn’t resist a market visit, so we headed to Pak Khlong Talat, the city’s flower market. As one review mentioned, this smelt way better than visiting the fish market! We were pretty amazed at the number of garlands, displays and even sacks of fresh marigolds on sale here – there must have been literally millions passing through the market each day. Apparently, marigolds represent success and good fortune, and took on special significance for Thai people when they were widely used in tributes to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in 2016.

We’d read that no visit to Bangkok would be complete without a visit to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Grand Palace, which are contained in one large complex of more than 100 buildings. We’d also read that it can get extremely crowded, particularly in the middle of the day. Busy tourist sights aren’t exactly my cup of tea, so we somewhat reluctantantly made our way there (right in the middle of the day, because we are suckers for punishment). It was actually very impressive, with vibrantly gilded and tiled buildings packed so closely together that it was sometimes difficult to pick them out individually. Just like the Silver Pagoda in Phnom Penh, the enclosure was surrounded by a long wall decorated with an 178-panel mural, this time telling the Thai version of the Hindu story, the Ramayana.

In the end, we probably preferred Wat Pho, which was just down the road. This contained the city’s largest reclining Buddha (I’d not seen a reclining Buddha before, and it struck me that this opened up a whole new range of possibilities for record-breaking Buddhas!), the country’s largest collection of Buddha images, and more beautifully tiled buildings. It was also much quieter and thus a more relaxed experience, even though we were disappointed that the crocodile pond we’d seen on the map didn’t hold the promised crocodiles – perhaps for the best, given its proximity to a Primary School also set within the complex.

At sunset, we visited Saranrom Palace Park for a quick rest. It turned out that we were the only ones relaxing, as this park was a really popular place to come for exercise after the working day and as the temperatures dropped. There was a really pleasant, convivial atmosphere as people did laps around the running track, yoga on the grass or joined a dance class held next to the lake.

We were puzzled to see a man laying on the grass with his hands in the water, feeding some fish. It was attracting a lot of attention from passers by, and we couldn’t understand firstly why he couldn’t just throw the food into the fish, and secondly why everyone was so interested. It wasn’t until later that we realised he was, in fact, feeding the giant water monitor lizards who lived in the park! They were lovely creatures and rather more interesting than the ducks we’re used to in our local parks in the UK. However, we were slightly more nervous of them than we might have been, since we’d been having a conversation about monitor lizards just the other day and had read they have a maximum speed of 20 km per hour (probably faster than we can cycle and definitely faster than we can run)! Thankfully, these ones were obviously very happy with the dinner they’d already been given and were busy having a post-meal nap.

For our own dinner, we were keen to eat some more street food in Chinatown, about which our guidebook had raved. We couldn’t find much evidence of the promised street food stalls around Yaowarat Street (perhaps an after-effect of the pandemic, or perhaps we were simply in the wrong place), so instead, we headed to Nay Hong. This wasn’t that promising either, as it was described as a difficult to find hole-in-the-wall, tucked in an alleyway, with no English sign and no English menu. We also couldn’t find it on Google Maps, and we had no idea what it looked like. Oh well, worth a try!

When we arrived in what we thought might be the right alleyway, we found lots of cooking going on but no places to sit down. After standing there confused (and presumably in the way) for a minute or two, someone gestured us round to the front of the building on the main street. When we got there, we found a proper restaurant with Michelin Guide stickers on the front window! The name didn’t match, but we joined the queue anyway and did some quick searching of reviews to check for what dish the restaurant was known. It was described as fried noodles with chicken and runny egg, which somewhat matched the street food we’d read about. So, in the end we think we might have been in the right place, but that the operation had just massively expanded and gained a Michelin Star since our guide was written – not bad! I loved that all the food prep still happened in the alleyway – if it ain’t broke….

Anyway, this dish wasn’t much of a looker, but it was supremely satisfying, with crunchy, eggy pancake wrapped around chewy noodles, perfectly seasoned chicken pieces nestling within, and salty egg yolk providing a sauce for the whole dish. The portions were tiny (I know they don’t look it in this pic, but they really were!), so we ordered a third to share once we’d finished our first batch.

This properly finished us off, so we headed back to our hotel before a sleeper train to Northern Thailand the following day.

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