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Experience Travel Tales: Thailand – The culinary delights of Bangkok by public transport

by David Gookey

In our ‘Travel Tales’ series, our Travel Consultants share their travel stories. Our Travel Consultants regularly travel to the destinations they specialise in. This is how each hotel, experience and mode of transport we recommend has been road-tested and reviewed. This ensures that our advice to you is fresh, up-to-date and first hand.

Here David Gookey, our Thailand Travel Consultant shares his travel tales in Thailand…

“Smells like hell, tastes like heaven” These are serious words from my personal guide Lee about Durian fruit as part of my full day exploring the culinary delights of Bangkok using public transport.

After being picked up by Lee at my central Bangkok hotel she and I hopped on to the BTS Skytrain monorail system to our first stop of the day at the Samyam market. This is considered one of the best food markets in Bangkok and is in between a traditional market (with individual stall holders) and a supermarket (being covered, pretty clean and with trolleys). This is where the high-class local people or their staff shop and it was an absolute haven for a foodie like myself.

Lee is a big fan of sweet deserts and within moments of arriving at the market, I was already trying a whole host of different treats starting with a coconut custard served in a tiny metal bowl, ‘Kanom Kloay’ a rather unusual white flat cake made from steamed banana and coconut milk and then small cakes made from roasted sticky rice flour. I later tried a sticky rice, black bean and banana dessert wrapped and steamed in banana leaf and this was a firm favourite of mine – so much so that Lee insisted on getting more should I feel hungry later on!

As well as trying a variety of local fruits, we also stopped by a counter selling freshly steamed savoury buns, trying both a bamboo shoot and dried shrimp version as well as one made out of onions and cabbage. The stall holders loved our enthusiasm and we got away lightly only trying two types!

We then flagged down a passing Tuk-tuk, the famous thai three-wheeled transport, to the Nanglerng food market which is one of the oldest local markets in central Bangkok. Here, the quality of produce was perhaps a little lower than at the first market but it was certainly more atmospheric especially in and around the seating area where locals where enjoying the freshly cooked food from a number of vendors.

Lee bought yet more food – this time two pyramids made from betel leaf on a stick but she wouldn’t tell me what was in them! They were sweet, savoury and crunchy at the same time and Lee explained they were an appetiser with ‘coconut meat’, with ginger, shallots and cooked with palm sugar. Lee played a little trick on me and took me to a stall where two old ladies were cooking something that had won food awards and had featured on local television. I had no idea what I was eating – a rather glutinous sweet and savoury concoction with a topping of fried garlic. It turned out to be pork cooked in rice flour which I should have recognised given the huge amount of pork I had in Northern Thailand recently.

We then took a local taxi to Kim Linang a famous restaurant more than 100 years old near Bangkok City Hall. I must admit that I was feeling a little full at this stage but had some room to try a little of the Bitter Gourd soup – apparently good for cooling the body down and it was certainly bitter and not to my taste, penang pork curry which delicious and spicy and a rather unusual looking catfish cake which I had pointed out. With Lee’s guidance I was certainly trying different dishes than I would never have previously ordered.

We crossed the road to an unassuming place that sold a very famous dessert made from vermicelli, coconut and covered in ice. They have a special technique where the smoke from a beeswax candle gives the dessert a delicious smokiness and they are official suppliers to Thailand’s royal family!

It was then a short taxi ride towards Chinatown after a detour to Bangkok’s flower market – I had heard great things about it and asked Lee if we could visit. That’s one of the advantages of having a personal guide rather than being part of tour group – you can make changes on the day if there’s something that catches your eye! The market was particularly busy as it was the day before the annual Loy Krathong festival where Thai people float a Krathong (a decorative floating boat decorated with banana leaves, flowers, incense sticks, and a candle) on rivers or canals.

We rounded off the day by having a Pad Thai at the famous Thipsami restaurant – the locals will come all over the city to eat and will often send a motorbike taxi to collect a big order. Coconut juice or orange juice the order of the day and a sign lets you know the market rate for a bottle of orange juice – something I had never seen before and was perfect with the Pad Thai.

It was a great day with Lee and we managed to fit in a huge amount as she knew all the different shortcuts and it was a lot of fun using public transport although for more than 2 people (or those that want to escape heat or rain) I would recommend doing the tour with private transport.

Did I get to try the durian? No, as Lee never buys it when she’s working as a guide as it gives a smelly breath! In any case, she explained that her home town produced the highest quality durians which do not smell but these come with a huge cost of up to 5,000 – 8,000 Bhat (£100 – £150) each. Far beyond my budget…

To talk about these and other experiences on your holiday in Thailand talk to David today.

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