In a city of almost ten million where the streets hum with a constant flow of people moving to and from their destination, imagine finding a little slice of serenity in the centre of it all.
Would you think it possible?
Recently I travelled to Bangkok with a group of writers and bloggers from Brisbane. We flew with Air Asia – the low-cost airline who have recently added direct flights out of Brisbane (see the end of this post for more information about the flight.)
Here are five new and interesting experiences I discovered in Bangkok – including food, sights, where to stay and how to get around.
From Brisbane to Bangkok
Flying time from Brisbane on Air Asia without delays is nine hours 20-minutes. We have a few minor hiccups. A later than scheduled departure (45 minutes) and storm cells over Bangkok meant we had to circle for another 45 minutes. On the ground, we clear customs efficiently and meet our smiling guides, Suree and Tenh from Absolutely Fantastic Holidays Co. Ltd
The downside of arriving at night anywhere is trying to establish the layout of a new city. When the driver pulled into the driveway of Shama Lakeview Asoke in downtown Bangkok (30 km from the airport) I’d no idea exactly where in Bangkok we were. No biggie. The warm and friendly greeting we received from the Shama staff quickly erased any memories about flight delays. A welcoming duo of drinks was passed around. Time to celebrate – this morning we were in Brisbane and tonight we’re in Bangkok.
But we couldn’t erase the fact our bodies were on Aussie time. With the three-hour time difference, it was time for sleep. After a long but fun day, we check into our apartment. Love my HUGE king-sized bed. Time to recharge in readiness for Bangkok adventures in the morning.
The morning after the night before
Eight hours of sleep later, I drew open the curtains. From my 19th floor window, it was a very different view than the dark landscape from the night before. Beyond the rooves of single floor dwellings was a lake fringed by greenery, the sprawling cityscape behind. The peaceful looking lake was likely the inspiration for the Hotel name: Lakeview. I wanted to investigate. But luxuriating too long in my comfy bed, left no time for exploring this morning. Our group was on a tight schedule with many new Bangkok experiences planned. Exploring lake Ratchada and the surrounding park would have to wait.
A hot breakfast at the downstairs Coffee Club – conveniently accessible from the hotel lobby. Sukamel Mondal (Shama’s General Manager) stopped by to say hi. (This casual friendliness from the staff was a highlight of my Shama experience.)
With half an hour up my sleeve, I duck outside for a quick reconnaissance of the hotel’s facilities. The pool – looked inviting. At 25 metres a decent length for swimming laps, something I like to do whenever I can find the time. (Hope to squeeze in a swim before the evening’s activities.)
Out on the streets, Bangkok was well and truly awake. Street food vendors, their carts parked precariously on the narrow footpath were selling various hot food. A small market with eclectic items from limes and flowers to clothing and kitchen gadgets was tucked away down a side street. On the intersection of the main street and Sukhumvit Road, were floors of shops in Terminal 21. Another place to add to the ‘maybe later’ list.
User-friendly BTS Skytrain
It was time to tackle Bangkok’s public transport – often the simplest and most convenient method of getting around Bangkok (stay off those congested roads.)
Suree explains how to use the BTS Skytrain. I’d worked that one out during my last trip (and if I can do it – anyone can!)
At Saphan Taksin Station we catch a hop on hop off boat Chao Phraya Tourist Boat. This is the first hop on hop off boat in Thailand, stopping at 11 attractions along the Chao Phraya River. An inexpensive way to watch the vibrant river life – the boats, local vessels and the houses on stilts above the river’s banks (200 baht $10 AUD and the ticket allows for travel on the river for 24 hours from when you start using it.) Painted in bright colours, tourists will easily find these vessels.
Thailand and temples go hand in hand. With over 31,000 temples it’s impossible not to make a visit to at least one or two during a trip to Thailand. Last year during the ASTW Conference, I visited a few of Bangkok’s popular temples, but I’d only viewed Wat Arun from the river.
This Buddhist Temple, also known as the Temple of Dawn is said to be spectacular viewed either at sunrise or sunset with the morning (or afternoon) light reflecting off the Temple’s white surface. It was still spectacular (and hot) in the middle of the day when we visited. Dating back to the end of the Siamese Ayutthaya Kingdom (ruling from 14th – 18th centuries) the original (smaller) temple was largely destroyed by invading Chinese and Burmese armies. It was rebuilt by General Tatskin during the Thonburi Kingdom (1768 – 1782.) The central spire, known as the Prang is the tallest in Thailand at 70 metres
Colourful tiles of varying patterns cover the white temple. Each tile is hand cut and no tile is the same. The’yre from pieces of pottery which broke during the journey by boat from China.
“The Thais caught onto recycling early,” says the always smiling Suree.
My Favourite: The green-faced statue of Totskan guarding the entrance to one of the temple buildings. (10 pairs of hands and 20 faces.)
Another boat drops us at a house on the river in Soi Wat Rakang which belonged to Khunying Supatra Singholkala, the founder of the Chao Phraya Express. An entrepreneur and astute businesswoman, she operated Bangkok’s river ferries and was known as the River Queen and lived in the house from 1975. In 1998 the house was converted to a fine dining restaurant.
As our first official Thai meal in Bangkok, we hand the task over to Suree to order a selection of dishes. Loved the Thai Chicken and cashews and the DIY crispy prawns wrapped in bethal leaves (thank you Suree for demonstrating how you combine the elements. Need to careful not to overload with too many chilies.) The food is superb as is the view of river life passing by metres from our table.
Washed down with a refreshing watermelon crush drink – we left Supatra River House very content and calculating when we may be able to return.
Check out Chinatown for street food
We travelled the streets of Chinatown on the Thai Bus Food Tour. It was a little voyeuristic sitting upstairs in our comfortable air-conditioned double-decker bus, being served afternoon tea Thai style while looking out from our high vantage point watching the street life unfold below us.
Returning to Chinatown via a Tuk Tuk the next night was something else. The atmosphere was electric – literally – thanks to the copious amount of neon signs typically found in Chinatowns anywhere in the world. The streets are teeming with people and street food vendors. An interesting combination of cooking smells, traffic moving next to where you walk and crowds of people – locals and tourists – a unique way to experience dinner on the go.
We start on Yaowarat Road (corner of Sawat) at a Michelin star stall Pa Tong Go Savoey selling patongo – deep-fried Chinese dough (who knew street food would be Michelin star?!) Topped with your choice of Pandan custard, sickly sweet condensed milk or chocolate – these fluffy light rough shaped pieces of were sooooo good!
Now Street food experiences can be a bit of trial and error. But with two experts like Suree and Tenh who knew all the best places, we enjoyed some delicious dishes. We followed those two ladies like sheep. The gals would grab the food and explain what makes each dish special. We’d huddle together passing plates of food around as the flow of diners passed us. It sounds chaotic and it was, but that’s all part of the street food dining experience.
We eat Chinese green noodles, taste chicken soup with vegetables, observe stir-fried noodles as they’re artfully tossed in the air before being caught in a large wok which returns to an open flame – street food theatre at its best.
We saw the famous Jay Fai in action. Rene had heard about Jai Fai and said she’s featured on Netflix in a doco about street food. Standing beside her open kitchen set-up – watching her sinewy arms expertly manoeuvre ingredients in a couple of pans over charcoal and flames – was something else. Jai Fai’s a character – check out ski goggles and bright red lipstick.
Her real name is Supinya Junsuta – but they all call her Jay Fai (translation: Chinese Aunty with a mole.) This 73-year-old legend cooks everything herself at her shophouse eatery, Raan Jay Fai. She is the chief cook and receives very little assistance from staff. In 2017 Raan Jai Fai was the first ‘shophouse eatery’ in Bangkok to be awarded a Michelin star.
Her food is above street food prices – online clips indicate her crab omelet is 1000 baht – as with anything that becomes popular through social media, the prices go up and the waitlist grows longer. The sign on the front gate of the shop says – bookings are two months in advance. But what a spectacle the flames, the heat, the smoke from the charcoal fire – it’s just so unique.
The media may have raised her profile to the level where she’s this popular, but she’s definitely got something going on. It’s not fancy fine dining, but tables are packed as we saunter past reluctantly leaving Jai Fai to her cooking.
Fact: Apart from Jay Fai, most of the street food costs around $2AUD per plate – incredible value.
Not sure I would be bothered lining up for the best Pad Thai in Thailand at Thipsamai – a few doors up from Jai Fai. But people obviously thought nothing of lining up halfway down the street for food – especially if it has that kind of reputation. Thankfully our clever guides ordered ahead before we started our tour of Chinatown and we skipped the lines.
Tenh picked up a bunch of Pad Thai dishes to ‘go.’ We’d had so much street food I wasn’t sure where we’d squeeze it in – but we jumped in our Tuk Tuks with our container filled with Thailand’s ‘best’ Pad Tthai to try in the comfort of our serviced apartment (later!)
Good to know: Shama’s rooms are fully serviced apartments. Each room has a kitchenette with microwave, cooktop, utensils and a very large standard-sized fridge. And they have a washer/dryer combo. Not that you wouldn’t want to eat out in Bangkok – but if one morning (or evening) you wanted to stay in and have vegemite on toast (provided you BYO the vegemite) this is very possible at the Shama Lakeview Asoke.
Exploring the quieter side
There’s always something going on in Bangkok. It’s a challenge to juggle a busy few days and find time to explore the quieter areas. But I did manage to squeeze in a walk around peaceful Lake Ratchada on my last morning. Surrounded by Benjakitti Park, this green space has a cycling and running/walking path and is easy to access from the Shama Lakeview Asoke
And I also managed a few laps in Shama’s pool – helps work off the Thai food (that’s what I tell myself!)
These are a few of Bangkok’s ‘little’ beauties I discovered. Remember – when I say little, I don’t mean they’re tiny.
And now that Brisbane has direct flights with Air Aisa – you can travel to Bangkok with $$$ saved to throw towards a Thai meal or foot massage (or two or three.)
Fly Air Asia direct from Brisbane to Bangkok
Since the 26th June this year, Air Asia are flying a new route four times a week (Tuesday/ Wednesday/ Saturday and Sunday) from the river city non-stop to Bangkok.
Voted the world’s best low-cost airline at the Skytrax World Airline Awards for the 11th year in a row, Air Asia offers economical fares that you can choose to upgrade aspects of by pre-purchasing extra bundles, like checked baggage, meals and choosing your plane seat.
Tip No. 1: On the night flights out of Bangkok, don’t expect a complimentary pillow or blanket – these cost extra. These are only offered when you purchase Premium Flatbed. So, remember to BYO something to keep you warm – its hard to snooze when you’re chilly!
Tip No. 2 The inflight meal, if you pre-order one, is not huge and we only ordered one!. Water is limited to two bottles – one on take-off and another at the meal (or you can buy onboard but the service isn’t regular.). So I suggest fill up your recyclable water bottle at the chill station (located on the way to the toilets in the departure lounge.) On a nine-plus hour flight you should be drinking a few litres of water – says mama Jen!
Tip No. 3 BYO snacks – especially if you are travelling with constantly hungry teenagers.
In the interests of keeping this blog post from becoming way too long, my other Bangkok highlights will be in a separate blog post:
UNESCO Listed Ayuthaya Historical Park including Candy Floss Street
Jim Thompson House and Museum – the home of the Thai Silk King
Fine dining at Michelin Star restaurant Saneh Jaan
I travelled as a guest of Air Asia and Hug Thailand. All opinions expressed are my own.