While there’s no better feeling than arriving in a new city as a complete stranger and trying to navigate the unfamiliar streets and neighbourhoods on your own, there’s also something special about seeing a place through the eyes of a local. You get to bypass all the tourist traps, receive a fast-track education on the cuisine, and see the local hotspots that evade most visitors. This is especially useful when you are faced with a sprawling metropolis of more than six million people such as Bangkok. As with any major city, no number of days are enough to do it justice, so who wants to waste time seeing things not worth seeing?
In the case of Bangkok, our local expert is my good friend Gaby, who’s been living in Bangkok (and loving it) for the last three years. Yes, she’s a farang (the word for foreigner in Thai), but she’s a farang who mainly hangs out with Thais, has a Thai boyfriend and knows how to speak the lingo (loosely translated as – she’s practically Thai now).
Having cleared her diary one Saturday to hang out with us, we met her at the Nana BTS station first thing to head to the Chatuchak weekend market.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
Chatuchak Market is one of the world’s largest outdoor markets and features more than 15,000 stalls. From reading various blogs before our trip there, I quickly realised that due to the sheer scale of the place and the number of people who like to descend on it every weekend it’s certainly not for the fainthearted. So as someone who absolutely despises crowds and queues (there are other things I’d rather do with my time than navigate through crowds, like pluck my eyebrows), I was concerned that I’d spend most of the day absolutely hating it.
Thankfully, however, both Ankit and I loved it.
When you first arrive, you have to walk at a snail’s pace through the market stalls that line the entrance, but once you free yourself from the initial madness, there’s more than ample space to spread out in. This is especially true near the stalls that are around the perimeter of the whole market.
As we made our way around, we first encountered dozens of stores selling all kinds of trinkets for the home. A stall that sold some expensive-looking cushions (but that were priced at a mere $3) made me momentarily wish that we still had an apartment to deck out. There’s not much use in buying throws and candles right now!
As we made our way through the madness, I asked Gaby whether it would be possible to see all the stalls in one day.
“I think so, but why would you want to?”
Good question. While it is possible, it would entail spending most of your time whizzing from one place to another without really enjoying the process. So, in short, if you’d like to see the whole thing, spend two days there.
The birth of a new vice
“Oh my God, you have to try Choconana,” Gaby exclaimed as I wiped a load of sweat off my forehead.
“What the hell is Choconana?” I enquired.
Turns out, it’s a banana that’s been frozen and then dipped in chocolate and nuts of your choice.
Ankit’s face lit up at the sound of something sweet, so we set out to find one of the many stalls that sell this rather interesting delicacy.
I have to admit that even I, with my lack of a sweet tooth, loved the Choconana, despite how phallic it looks and how awkward it is to eat one while walking in a crowd.
Eating the Choconana set the pace for a day of stuffing our faces and drinking (my favourite kind of day). Literally ten minutes after we’d finished chomping on our chocolate-covered bananas, Gaby began to exclaim “mochi,” “mochi!” as we walked past a stall which sold them.
Mochi is pounded sticky rice with an ice cream filling, and has made its way over from Japan. We had not tried this before, so decided to give it a go. We opted for one chocolate and one cookies and cream.
Let’s just say that a lot of vices began during this day at the market – it’s delicious and very unlike anything I have tried before.
There’s little that you cannot find at Chatuchak. During our time there, we saw everything from stuff for home, to statues of Hindu Gods, Goddesses, and of course, Buddha, plants, army clothes, soap shaped as fruit, funky jewellery, shoes and incense. Even if you have no plans to buy anything, it’s really worth looking around and enjoying the atmosphere.
Lunch with a side order of hysteria
Once we had browsed for a few hours, we ate lunch at a food stall with the chorus of the owner yelling in our ears. Not the most relaxing way to enjoy a plate of noodles and a cold beer, but at least it was cheap.
While at the beginning I was mightily impressed with Chatuchak (“This is SO much fun,” and “this place alone is worth moving to Bangkok to – imagine the things we could fill our house with,” I exclaimed at regular intervals to Ankit), as the hours wore on and the crowds grew thicker, my introverted self began to want to retreat (“my goodness, there are so many people now,” and “I need to bloody sit down,”). So after a few hours we left and headed to Gaby’s apartment to chill for a few hours.
Hip and Happening Banglamphu
With sore feet and heads from walking around the market for hours, we decided there was only one ailment – a well-mixed cocktail. Gaby lives in Banglamphu, an area that incorporates Khao San Road – the place in Bangkok that backpackers are most familiar with.
If you peel yourself away from the cheap beer, massages and parties of the backpacker haven, what you’ll find not so far away is an area that’s teeming with trendy bars, cafés and restaurants. Gaby says the area is very up and coming, and it’s easy to believe her after having spent some time there. I much prefer to explore places like these where locals hang out than with to head to where other backpackers congregate, although Khao San Road is a must visit at least once when you’re in Bangkok.
Chomping through town
We first headed to Chomp – a cozy and inviting spot that serves up burgers and cocktails. We opted to have the latter. Chomp is über cool and hosts things like photography exhibitions, poetry sessions and jiu-jitsu training classes. It blends in perfectly with the surrounding area’s bohemian feel, and while I didn’t get the chance to speak with the owner, you can really sense that they’re trying to create something of a community within the space, which is something I loved about it.
Following our post-market trauma cocktails, we headed for the Phra Sumen Fort, which is just a five-minute walk from Chomp. The fort was built in 1783 by King Rama I as part of the defence for the city. It was dusk by the time we got there, so people were gathering in the park that adjoins it to enjoy the evening breeze. The fort also overlooks the Chao Phraya river, which adds to its charm.
After spending some time by the fort, Gaby’s boyfriend Tee, who is a chef at his own restaurant, met with us to lead the way to some delicious street food. We walked down an enclosed, narrow alleyway that was lined with plastic chairs and metal-top tables. The waiter handed us all a bunch of menus in Thai, which was obviously pointless, so we all told Tee the kind of things that we liked and he ordered on our behalf.
Following dinner, we headed for a night cap at Sheepshank, another one of the area’s effortlessly cool venues. En route, Gaby told us about a nearby place called Escapades Burgers and Shakes, which is partly owned by one of the city’s top mixologists. People queue up here for the burgers and cocktails; really hoping to head back there one evening to give it a try.
Sheepshank is another eclectic joint in Banglamphu. Housed in an abandoned boat shed by the river, the interiors have been left much the same, with pulleys still hanging from the ceilings. I really loved the place’s industrial feel as well as the crowd – unpretentious yet trendy, which is always a good mix. The bar/restaurant serves Western food; we ordered a cocktail each (Amaretto Sour for me, which I’m happy to report was mixed to perfection) and enjoyed a perfect ending to an ‘I heart Bangkok’ kind of day.
This map will lead you to all the places we explored during our day out. The nearest BTS to Chatuchak Market is Mo Chit. From there you can also get a cheap cab to Samsen Road, where most of our day’s attractions are located.
Ever visited Bangkok? If so, what’s your favourite area and why?