BANGKOK

a hundred street stands in 24 hours

Imagine sitting down with your friend at let her tell you about a place she knows so well and love. With her words she takes you on a 24-hours escape, just the way she prefers it. Susanne Lindahl now lives in Stockholm and works as a media analyst, but for about three years altogether she lived in Bangkok where she both studied and worked as a teacher. And snacked, because they are really good at it in Bangkok. 24 hours begin now.

So tell me, where do we wake up?

In Bangkok! Since it’s such a hectic city I always choose a place with high standard, preferably by the river Chao Phraya. It has to be close to a sky train station, the traffic here is c.r.a.z.y! (A good tip: avoid the taxi for as long as you possibly can. Instead, take the sky trains, the subways or a riverboat. Or a mc-cab, but make sure to keep your knees tight…) We wake up quite early, while the temperature is still on the rise.

I’m hungry

Out on the street, we search for a mobile street stand, sit down on a pair of plastic chairs and order Khao Tom, rice soup with a little minced meat and veggies in it. In Thailand there’s really no difference between breakfast and other meals – no cereals with milk that is – and breakfast is almost always served hot.

When finished this salty soup, we’re in the mood for coffee so we’re off – to another street stand. And this is what really gets us energized: the coffee in Thailand is sweet. Order a Coffee Boran, which is standard, and you´ll get coffee with both sugar and condensed milk in it. To make the breakfast even more complete, we add a paper bag of Patongo – small fried dough balls – that are soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. Kind of like donuts, and just heaven when dipped into the sweet coffee. We’re off, we’re awake and we are high on sugar!

No choice but to start this day, then. Plans?

It’s weekend, and I suggest we go to the Chatuchak Weekend Market, mostly because it’s a spectacle. Here you’ll find everything you’ve ever imagine possible, just everything – antiques, ethnic hill-tribe crafts, baby squirrels… Everything is divided into sections and the vintage section is amazing, as well as the art section where artist sell their designs. The Market is just huge! If you see something you like, go for it; you will never find your way back. However, avoid the animal section if you have just a tiny bit of empathy for other creatures. It’s just breaks seeing these under-stimulated and heat exhausted puppets…

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As if a map would help. Photo by Lewin

What about the people? And what do we smell?

The thing is, even when I’m not in a shopping mood, Chatutack is a favorite because of all the people. I love to just hang around and gaze/look/stare at people – here you’ll meet the Bangkok hipster, big families with children and a granny in tow, backpackers with total control and confused tourists with no control, searching for air condition in panic. It’s one hell of a people safari!

Thais are very good at snacking; it’s kind of like a national sport and therefore you’ll find something to eat every tenth meter. You’ll find peeled and diced fruit in bags, fried squid with crazy hot sauce, chicken skewers, ice coffee, tiny grilled round sausages with sticky rice and what not! It just smells of food everywhere you turn.

Speaking of food, it’s lunchtime.

After a morning of trading and overcrowded places, we’re getting hungry. We sit down at – surprise – a street stand and order some sticky rice with grilled chicken and the daily dose of hot, green papaya salad. Som Tum is hard to avoid while in Thailand, and why should you? It’s a staple for the average Thai.

So, what’s next?

The sun is at its zenith and it’s HOT! I suggest we go to some small beauty salon, you’ll find at least one at every corner. For no money you’ll get your hair washed and dried, your nails done and perhaps some foot massage. Sounds relaxing, right? Well, often it’s not – the TV is always on highest volume, showing some soap opera. To top it off, the block’s old ladies’ chatter is even louder. Visiting these small salons is often an orgy in kitsch with colorful plastic buckets and cans and old posters of Thai movie stars on the wall. Charming, to say the least, and I love it.

Then we take a riverboat upstream, go past Chinatown and away from the skyscrapers, towards a calmer pace in the old parts of Bangkok. We jump off at Tha Prachan by the classic Thammasat University. Nearby is Bangkok’s biggest Buddha amulet bazaar where we rent (that’s what you say you do, when you actually pay) amulets for happiness and prosper, or whatever you search for. Here you can also find traditional (and perhaps dubious) natural medicine and, if you want to, someone will read your palms, which is common in Thailand.

On our way home we jump off at the  Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn), which is one of circa 400 temple areas in Bangkok. The temples are in Khmer style and differ a bit from others. Powerful.

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Two Buddha monks by the Wat Arun. Nymphs, mythical animals and demonic temple guardians are all common in the Khmer architecture. Photo by Jon, Flickr

And when the day turns into evening?

Late in the afternoons or during early nights, when the temperature is sinking again, I like hanging out in the Lumpini Park. Here you can go for a run, take a gym class, feed the fish, swim in the pool or just hang out by the ponds, watching the monitor lizards. Every night at 18.00, everything freezes as the national anthem starts playing out loud. Please note the tourists becoming extremely confused by this sudden and collective pause of motion.

Dinner?

There are an abundance of public gardens and patios where we can go for a cozy dinner. We pick Secret Garden Restaurant and order a couple (or more) dishes to share that will be served as we eat, without being divided into starters or mains. This is how it’s done here.

Now it’s countdown for real, but the night is still young. You will take me where?

It’s so worth it to go up on one of the rooftop terraces just to see Bangkok from above. It is a formidable city with extreme contrasts. However, the bar is expensive and the tremendous view will be accompanied by only one drink each. Still worth it, though. Another tip: leave your shorts and flip-flops at home since these places have dress codes.

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On top of the world at Sirocco, the world’s highest open air restaurant. Their famous Sky Bar is one of the best rooftop bars in Bangkok. Photo by Lebua

Then we’re off to somewhere less uptight, like a beer garden. Here we drink beer while looking at drag shows and Asian pop shows with (often) bad choreography. The dancers (often) qualify in the category “I rather dance than good”. Like everywhere else the volume is as loud as it can get.

And now, bar hopping! Bangkok is really a decadent city and the bar scenes almost infinite. Don’t trust the Tuk Tuk drivers’ advise on Ping Pong shows, go where the Thais go. RCA is a whole block of clubs and bars for every one, and if you really like bar hopping – this is the place.

Again, what’s so great about Bangkok is the incredible street food everywhere, 24/7. Before calling it a night, we sit down at a mobile noodle stand and order a cup of noodle soup, my favorite among all the fantastic street food. On our way home we stop by the nocturnal, gigantic, flower market and leave with big bouquets of orchids. We now head back, through the streets of Bangkok, to our soft beds.

(Cover photo in this story by Nezzle.)

By Catharina Holm


Destinations: Bangkok, Thailand

Escapes: City Break, Food, Hotel, Summer