The first time I ever met Bangkok, I wasn’t quite ready for the pandemonium he brought to bear. But I fell in love with his crazy ass anyway.
I drank in the whirling neon, the steam from the street vendors and the asphalt beneath my feet, the skin-tingling relief at the slightest hint of a breeze, the cacophony of raw fish, spice and sizzling meat. This time, I couldn’t wait to show him off to my sister, and maybe get to know another layer of his personality.
We decided to stay near Khao San Road this time, both for the cheap accommodation in abundance in the area, and because I loved it’s messy, touristy, hedonistic vibe the first time I’d visited. Rather than stay right on that street, we opted for a room on Soi Rambuttri, a smaller, quieter street just across the road.
Not wanting to waste a moment, we tore ourselves away from the air conditioning and found our way to the center of the city to get on a bus to Amphawa, to one of the most famous floating markets in the area. Once there, we slowly made our way through the stalls, sampling a little of this, a little of that until we were full to bursting and still a little unsure of exactly what we had just eaten. We cruised the river for an hour after that, checking out a community that revolved nearly entirely around the waterways – a dock for every home.
The next day, we took a spin past the famous Reclining Buddha and explored the temple grounds of Wat Pho. After that, it was time to jump onto another local bus across town (for $0.80!) to get to the Chatuchak weekend market — a place where everything from paper lanterns to puppies are sold. The amount of stalls and wares was absolutely staggering, so much so that we got ‘buyer paralysis’ and actually had a hard time finding anything to buy!
After weeks of sticking to the cheap, we decided we wanted to see more than just Bangkok’s touristy epicenter, so we showered, got dressed up and headed to the Bai Yoke Sky Hotel to have a rooftop cocktail. While Beth and were both a little taken aback by the chintzy scene and terrible cocktails in the bar, we did make it up to the revolving roof deck and were able to take in the lights of BKK from the tallest building in the city.
After the disappointment of Bai Yoke as a cocktail destination, we headed to Silom Road, a place that’s popular with the business traveler and expat set in the city. We had dinner at a place called Scarlett, a wine bar in the Pullman hotel. After weeks of beer, I was so ready for a good glass of red. And I absolutely fell in love with the restaurant. Not only did they have wine for $3/glass, they had a cheese and charcuterie bar (yes!), where you could choose which you wanted on your platter by walking up and pointing. Plus they were serving oysters, the ambiance was great, we were surrounded by well-heeled office workers of various backgrounds out for post-work dinner and drinks. It was the same Bangkok I had fallen in love with the first time, but this one was wearing cologne and had his hair slicked back. Utterly dashing.
The next night, we decided we wanted to see a little more of this well-groomed Bangkok we’d met the night before, so we went to the rooftop bar at Lebua, which you might remember from a movie called The Hangover 2. Teetering over the whirling streets of the city, with a bright red sun sinking down behind the skyscrapers and a New York-priced cocktail, it definitely felt like a first-world country to me. We continued on to Cabbages and Condoms, a restaurant that’s famous both for it’s art made out of latex condoms and it’s contributions to family planning in Thailand.
But we knew we couldn’t leave without a proper farewell to the shaggy, crazy, mildly unhinged heart of this city. And so we found ourselves strolling down Khao San Road at 1 a.m., stopping for some live music and watching the neon bounce off the whirl of faces that filed past. The steam of the street vendors enveloped us like a parting hug, and we faded out of that great metropolis and into the jungles of the north.