Dubbed as the City of Angels, Bangkok is blessed with cultural hotspots, markets of every kind, and street food stalls that outnumber the tuk-tuks. For these reasons, it's a perfect destination for friends with limited budgets and an unlimited thirst for adventure—just like Ainna and I.
A few days before the world hushed in sleep by the pandemic, we flew to Bangkok to celebrate our friendship. Ainna had been there, so I was fortunate to have almost full control of our itinerary. Every breakfast, lunch, and dinner we had we bore away with us, not only in our stomachs but especially in our hearts. They kept us entertained, curious, and hopeful even if armchair traveling was all we have been doing up to now.
My memories here remain so vivid that even a year after, I can still taste the khao soi from Nang Loeng market, feel the moist river breeze that caressed the floating markets, and hear the future plans my bestie and I exchanged in between sips of cocktails. Below are bite-sized bits of the most unforgettable food trip I ever had.
While street food chef Jay Fai couldn't accommodate us, Tom and Shell from A Chef’s Tour gladly expanded our gastronomic vocabulary beyond pad thai and mango sticky rice. As we passed by Jim Thompson's house on a Klong boat and sat on plastic stools in some back alley, Ainna and I bit into 14 authentic local foods, including gluay tod (sesame-sprinkled fried bananas), khanom tuey (coconut milk pudding), Thai taco made with roasted mung bean flour, and a platter of luscious native fruits.
Some of them had faded into memory. But whisper khao soi and I could go on and on about the tangerine-hued noodle soup. Without naming the dish, Tom watched us take our first slurp and let it speak for itself. Every chili seed, cilantro, chicken chunk, and drop of coconut curry liberated me from the jetlag and eased me into vacation mode. I think it's a secret Thai people would rather keep for themselves and what makes tom yum a consolation now.
At $59 a ticket, we were able to start our trip on a high note, learn about both the extraordinary and ordinary lives of Thais, and appreciate Bangkok food like no tourist. If one can only take a single tour of the city, it should be this.
Anyone lucky enough to meet Ainna and I know we share a strong love affair for coffee, so naturally, cafe-hopping was a daily activity while we were in Bangkok. Most coffee shops we visited were woven into our itinerary. Some, such as the local Starbucks Café Amazon, seduced us mid-tour with the aroma of roasted beans and interiors perfect for resting.
Most of my java budget was poured on the multi-awarded espresso bar Factory Coffee. When the doors flung open, my eyes set on the delicate pastries and single-origin coffee beans neatly displayed at the counter. Save for the industrial-inspired setting, nothing in that cafe was run-of-the-mill, contrary to its name.
I asked for Phayathai, an espresso and tonic blend infused with lemon syrup. Having the barista prepare it in front of me and letting the beans and bright citrus flavors take turns soaking my tongue created a magical experience I probably won't forget (for the price we paid, I better not!). I got lost in a trance that I missed Ainna stabbing her croissant and spilling thai tea filling all over her dress.
A dish that was good regardless of where we tried is pad thai, the country’s archetypal dish. Served as street food or entrée in restaurants, the stir-fry specialty is made with rice noodles, tofu, scrambled egg, bean sprouts, some meat, and chopped peanuts as a finishing touch.
Though we were lucky enough to sample it at Thai Select-recognized The Bangkok Heritage or Krua Krungthep to locals, those sold at Talad Neon Night Market in downtown Pratunam and other floating markets were tasty for their price too.
Although, what we devoured on the topmost floor of Icon Siam was the most memorable. Partly due to the antidotal zing from the pineapples, but largely because the vendor spoke Thai only. It was the first time my indecisive self found bestseller impossible to order.
After what felt like a game of charade between Ainna and the courteous but confused vendor, I pointed to whatever looked familiar. The two of us plopped down on the food court bench and savored every forkful of pad thai until only a layer of grease was left.
After spending our third day in Thailand navigating the temples of Wat Arun, Emerald Buddha, and the Grand Palace, Ainna and I hit Havana Social for a nightcap.
Marked by an unassuming telephone booth plastered with posters and graffiti, the speakeasy transported us to 1940s pre-revolution Cuba. I cashed in my cocktail ticket for a Rum Punch, while Ainna ordered a classic drink. I couldn't blame her; the Caribbean Smashed Mojito sounded refreshing on a particularly exhausting day.
As the alcohol and live Cuban music intoxicated us, we talked about food, feelings, and our future. In those moments, all I can think about is how grateful I am to enjoy the small things in a beautiful place like Thailand.
We sampled as many drinks as our wallet permitted that night, but it was our second order of Capitol Couture—vanilla and turmeric-infused vodka cocktail with salted caramel, lime, ginger beer, and thai chili—that made us stay longer than planned.
I wouldn't be able to say I've been to Bangkok if I had not gone to Chatuchak Weekend Market. The dizzying maze of 15,000 shops had everything—from handwoven bags and porcelain dinnerware to cheap clothes and street food.
Me, being my peculiar self, bought five elephant ornaments symbolizing my family, a pair of peacock-colored earrings that were too cute, and a Leo beer magnet for my Leo, beer-loving boyfriend. As Ainna perused the dresses, I spent my remaining cash on dried herbs, spices, and curry pastes to bring Thai food home.
Well aware that some things are better where they are, Ainna and I hit OngTong for dinner and ate khao soi one last time.
Now when I hear Bangkok, these real food memories come to mind.
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