Photo: Sunset over the Chao Praya
We got today off to a great start with a hearty breakfast at Lebua State Tower, followed by -- what else? -- a walking tour of all the best eateries in our neighborhood.
Breakfast at Lebua is a lot like breakfast at any of the Bangrkrat ("Village of Love") district hotels: omelette stations, fresh fruit stations, hot meat bar, sushi bar, dairy bar, sliced meat bar, fresh baked bread bar, juices of the world bar ... you get the idea. Because I knew we were about to be walking and eating for the next three hours, I decided to eat light: a plate of spicy seafood over rice, with a side of papaya, dim sum, and fresh watermelon juice.
After that, we set out on our walking tour -- one of very few tours we've signed up for here, now that we pretty much prefer to do things ourselves. But, as it turned out, the Bangkok walking tour of our neighborhood was a great choice. Olive, our guide, took us to five different restaurants, each specializing in a different kind of cuisine. Each was also one of those places that, as a visitor, you'd be likely to overlook -- so it was great to be able to tuck in to each new table with confidence.
While the num tod (pork with mint) was tasty, my favorite dish of the day was definitely the hot and spicy papaya salad from a tiny local joint called Yum Rod Sab (it's just across the river from the Oriental pier). There's a nice tension there between the coolness of the uncooked fruit and vegetables and the spiciness of the chili peppers, and when you eat it as hot as the locals do, you don't have to worry about a stuffy head for the rest of the day.
We also enjoyed our stop at Charoen Wieng Pochana, where we tried traditional roasted duck (Thai style, so less fatty), served over rice. Doused with a generous helping of fish sauce and hot sweet sauce, it was delectable! And, as it turns out, our hotel is right next door to PanLee Thai Bakery, where the Thai green custard buns are almost worth the flight over all by themselves. And as if that weren't enough, Kallaprapruek Cafe -- a traditional Thai-style bistro -- turned out to be just two blocks away. And you know I had to try the signature green curry chicken served on fried bread, right? And the coconut ice cream?
Having eaten so much, we really needed a good walk to burn off all those calories ... and so we headed for Chatuchak Weekend Market. My deal of the day? A pair of cloned "Beats By Dre" studio headphones. In the states, these run for about $249. At Chatuchak, you can pick up a pair for less than $30.00. We also picked up a few happy gifts for friends back home, including some great little Thai pins (dancers, elephants, and sailboats, finished in bronze and bright Thai red).
I wish I could describe Chatuchak to you, but it's almost one of those things you have to see to believe. Imagine any flea market. Now, imagine that the flea market is the size of Arkansas, and that every county specializes in something different: cloned designer clothing here, pets here, electronics here, food stalls here ...
The place is a warren of narrow paths that edge their way past millions of tiny booths. Here, a man paints images of the Buddha on old car hoods. There, a woman chops papaya for salads. Over there, they're selling cheap Chinese iPhone 5 knock offs that run the Android operating system. Just beyond there, you'll find paper lanterns, next to soap carvings, beside the bird cages, around the corner from the amulet shop, which is next door to the "Jeans While You Wait" tailor. The crowd is thick, the air is layered with fragrance (charcoal, fried fish, coconuts, soap), and the experience is a little overwhelming, quite frankly.
Now, while folks back home are getting ready to wake up, we're headed out to dinner. Not sure where to go tonight, but with just a little jet lag setting in, we'll probably just walk to a little mom and pop place two blocks away where the pad thai is supposed to be amazing.