03 Mar 2014

Bangkok by findingmomo

3/13

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Weiqi left at the crack of dawn to catch a flight back home because of work commitments. Gah. I was on my own for the rest of the trip. Slept a few hours more before rolling out of bed for a swim.

Left the house just in time for lunch. The day before I'd noticed a stall at Thong Lor selling roast duck and I was craving that for lunch. Googled "duck noodles" in Thai so I could place my order. "Bamee ped," I tell the lady confidently.

When my order arrives it has me wishing I'd also googled "large portion" in Thai. The two skinny Thai girls next to me look perfectly content with their tiny rice portions. I ignore them and order Coke (non-light non-zero) to make this meal a balanced one.

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In the mood to look at sea creatures, I head to the aquarium at Siam Paragon.

The highlight of the aquarium is the two-storey high glass observatory. I sit on the second storey and look at fishes as well as the people looking at them. It's easy in a dark, quiet and beautiful place to feel lonely and emotional, so it isn't long before I move to the shark exhibit. I try to get a hammerhead to stay still long enough for a picture but am ignored. A nearby diver notices and swims closer so he can be in my picture instead.

When the fishes start looking delicious I realize I am getting hungry. I leave in search of food (Curses upon you, tiny bamee ped!) and am waylaid by Zara. My attention span is a problem.

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A recent House of Cards episode has made me paranoid about train platforms with no protective barriers. At Siam station I make sure I have my back against a pillar so no one can push me onto the tracks, and eye everyone with suspicion as we wait for the BTS train to arrive.

Thanks to my vigilance, my overactive imagination and I make it to Chit Lom station unscathed. This is the station closest to Platinum mall, but it's still a partially unsheltered 15 minute walk away. I wonder if there's a better way to get there.

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I was last at Platinum back in November and it was packed with tourists. Had to squeeze through a sea of people to get from shop to shop.

The crowd is gone now. Two people were killed by a bomb at the nearby Big C supermarket last week and most tourists are staying the hell out of this area. I don't think I'm being foolhardy - I'd decided to come here because as of yesterday protests in the city had been consolidated into a single one at Lumpini Park. And if you've experienced the warmth and kindness of the Thais, you'd know that it's atypical of them to resort to violence. The bombing was an isolated tragedy. Life has to go on, or the bad guys win.

But enough preaching from me. I breeze through three levels of shops at Platinum, stopping only occasionally. Too lazy to browse properly so after buying just one top I get bored and decide to cross the road to Petchaburi Soi 19 for some braised pork rice at the famous wanton mee place. It's closed for the day, and I am filled with sadness.

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Reeling from the devastation of a consecutive failure to eat the Pratunam braised pork rice, I am unsure of what I should do next. A row of tuktuks lined up at the side of the road catch my eye. It's my fourth time in Bangkok but I have yet to take one of these so I figure, what better time than now?

I haggle halfheartedly (so bad at this stuff) with the driver and he agrees readily to my quoted fare.

I climb unglamorously onto the seating area of the scooter and we're off. It's a bumpy ride, and one that exposes you to the sounds and smells of notorious Bangkok traffic. Still, as we speed along a highway, I find myself enjoying the rush of the wind in my face.

I strike up a conversation with the tuktuk driver, Pong, who's Laotian but came to Bangkok at the age of 13 in search of work. After working a series of random jobs he found himself driving a tuktuk, and he's been doing this for 15 years since. When he drops me off at my destination he asks if he can come by to pick me up again when I'm done, and I readily agree.

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I'm at Pad Thai Thip Samai, arguably the most famous pad thai place in the city. It's located in the same area where the Grand Palace is, and can be pretty hard to reach via BTS. Just hop on a cab or tuktuk and tell the driver "Pad Thai Pratupi" (which translates into the rather macabre sounding "ghost gate pad thai"). Most of them should know where to take you.

Rather than sticking with regular pad thai I have ordered a fancy version, pad thai haw kai goong sot, or jumbo prawn pad thai wrapped in an egg. There's an English menu with pictures so you don't have to worry about ordering. I saw more tourists here than at Platinum hahaha.

Be sure to try their orange juice, which is famous in its own right. Apparently the queen of Thailand loved the pad thai here so much that she gifted the restaurant with her secret recipe for orange juice and so they started selling OJ along with their pad thai. Sounds a little random and bossy to me (Would you dare not to sell OJ created and imposed on you by the queen?) but I'm sure the queen meant well. In any case the OJ was refreshing and sweet, so just go with it.

The pad thai arrived and looked awesome. Felt like I'd received a present wrapped in egg, and I saw the envy on the faces of the Korean mom and daughter pair seated next to me, both of whom were halfway through their regular pad thais. Go big or go home, girls.

Taste-wise it was meh. I didn't like how sweet the very orange noodles were and there wasn't enough wok hei (fragrance) in the dish. Underwhelming, but the queen's OJ saved the day.

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Pong was waiting by the side of the road when I left Pad Thai Thip Samai. He asked if I was in a rush to get home, and I said no.

Without charging me anything above our agreed fare, Pong took me on a short tour of the surrounding Phra Nakorn area. As it was sundown the attractions were already closed, but I saw the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha softly illuminated by the rays of the setting sun. Elderly people were sitting on benches in a park, chatting and laughing. It was a side of Bangkok that I had never seen.

When we returned to central Bangkok we were caught in rush hour traffic. By the time we got back to Thong Lor it was nearly an hour and a half after I had boarded the tuktuk. Feeling both thankful towards and bad for Pong, I gave him the extra cash I hadn't spent on shopping that day. It wasn't much money, but I hoped the gesture had made his day, like how he had made mine.

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I am feeling peckish as a result of the less than satisfying dinner I had at Pad Thai Thip Samai.

After alighting at Thong Lor I make a little detour to Mae Varee (the mango stall featured on Day 1) and grab a box of mango sticky rice. Most people would stop here but no, not I.

I see the famous food street at Sukhumvit Soi 38 from across the road, and suddenly it's like my feet don't belong to me anymore. They take me back up the stairs to the BTS station and towards Soi 38, and inexplicably I find myself joining a queue for pad thai. I order the seafood pad thai to go, and scramble guiltily and excitedly back to the apartment with bags and bags of food.

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Technically the mango rice is dessert, but judging from the serving size I think it's meant for sharing.

I tuck into the pad thai as soon as I've switched on the air-conditioning in the apartment. And taken the picture below. And washed the cutlery. Digressing again.

The pad thai is superb. Blows the one at Pad Thai Thip Samai out of the water. Warm, fragrant noodles that are firm to the bite. It's also kind of gross that this is my second pad thai in five hours.

The mango rice is also excellent. I took care to drizzle only half the amount of coconut milk provided but I think that was plenty enough. The crispy mung beans made for a delightful contrast to the sticky and chewy texture of the glutinous rice. Mangoes were fresh, soft and sweet. Amazing.

So happy so happy :)