Honey, I'm home!
After quite a long P&D hiatus, I am finally back, rejuvenated, and about 5 shades darker after my most recent travels to Thailand and Hong Kong. This past year has been full of many new adventures, and quite frankly I've already lost track of how many flights I've taken since the start of 2018, which a bit scary because I actually don't love living life perpetually in the air. What I do love, however, is discovering new places, eating local foods and enjoying the high of something out of the ordinary.
This summer trip to Asia marks my 3rd to the continent, and my second visit to both Thailand and Hong Kong. I visited Phuket for only 2 days in 2014 when I did a short term study abroad program during my winter break in my junior year of college. I then visited Hong Kong with 3 other friends after extending our Asia trip for a few days. So many memories were made during that time, and it was this very trip that sparked my love for traveling. I honestly didn't think I would be back again so soon (if you can call almost 4 years soon), but there's always reasons to postpone a trip. My philosophy about travel is that as long as I can manage the vacation days for work and afford it financially, I will never regret booking a ticket.
"Jobs fill your pockets, but adventures fill your soul"
Blake and I have traveled together in the past for shorter trips in the US, Canada and Mexico, but this marks our biggest and most exciting one yet. We booked our flights a couple of months ago after deciding which dates would fit our work schedules the best, and from there, filled out a rough itinerary of the ground we wanted to cover during our two free weeks. All we knew was that we had 15 days, and that our first stop would be Bangkok and our last would be Hong Kong. The rest was just a fun game for us (or mostly just me hahaha) to fit the pieces of the puzzle together.
Our 15-Day Thailand/Hong Kong Itinerary
12 days in Thailand (3 in Bangkok, 3 in Chiang Mai, 2 in Krabi, 2 in Koh Phi Phi, and 2 in Phuket)
3 Days in Hong Kong
And we're off! First stop... BANGKOK!
Thailand is a country that simply has it all - it’s impressively beautiful and sacred temples, postcard-like beaches, bustling shopping and food markets, crazy nightlife, and most importantly, some of the best food money can buy in the entire world. After my first, but short-lived taste of the Thai life a few years ago, I've been longing to come back to Thailand to explore the country more fully. While I wish I had unlimited time to do it, 12 days is simply not long enough to visit 5 different cities. However, we managed with the time we had and made the absolute best of it.
After a very long 2am flight from Newark to Hong Kong and then a connecting flight at the crack of dawn to Bangkok, we finally made it to one of the world's craziest cities. If you've been to Bangkok before, you already know that there are 1001 things going on here at all times but the energy there is electric. Here are the top highlights from our 3 days here!
The Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel &Towers
I've stayed in plenty of hostels during my travels, and while I love the idea of meeting new people and paying next to nothing for a living space, I have to admit that nothing really beats the luxury of staying in a nice hotel on vacation. Luckily, Thailand is one of those places where your money can go a very long way, which means that you don't have to sacrifice an arm and a leg to experience some of the finer things in life. We stayed at the Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel & Towers, which borders the Chao Phraya River and is just a 10 minute ride away from the heart of Bangkok. We were definitely spoiled with a sweet suite upgrade with incredible views of the river. In the mornings we would grab breakfast at the lounge before heading out to the temples, and in the afternoons we would make sure to enjoy the hotel's amenities by hopping in the pool or doing a quick gym session before happy hour and dinner. Talk about the perfect start to an incredible trip!
Thai food is my favorite cuisine of all time, so the expectations were very high. I was more than ready to tackle all of thenoodles and rice coming our way before we even hopped off the plane. We walked to this eatery close to our hotel while waiting for our suite to be ready, and kicked off our foodie adventures with fried pork ribs, Panang curry, and arguably one of the best Pad Thais I've ever had.
Yaowarat Road, located in Samphanthawong District, is the core of Bangkok's Chinatown. Together with a few other main streets branching off Yaowarat is this unique and bustling neighborhood. Chinatown happens to be one of the the city's oldest areas as it was founded in 1782, which means the area has a rich history to match its diversity of options for food and shopping.
You can find plenty of local restaurants here including many shops selling everything from gold and textiles, to antiques and souvenirs. The best time to visit is actually after dusk, when locals and foreigners line the streets for fresh grilled seafood and yummy (but sometimes questionable) market stall food. Having visited many different Chinatowns around the world, I was really curious what a Chinatown in an Asian country would be like. The verdict? I don't think I would even be able to tell that I was in Chinatown in Bangkok without all of the Chinese signs around! We were still getting used to Thailand vibes on our first day, that it was kind of hard to distinguish certain cultural neighborhoods so quickly.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
Bangkok is famously known for its bustling night markets, so I made sure my itinerary included visiting plenty of markets across the country. Our first one was the famous Chatuchak Weekend Market, an indoor and outdoor market that is the largest in the world. Covering 27 acres with over 15,000 stalls, this place is no joke! It is an absolute must-visit in Bangkok, and I would carve out a chunk of the day if you really want to explore everything the market has to offer. Unfortunately, we came quite late on a Sunday evening (which was the only day we could visit) and many stalls were already closed.
Here are the opening times so you don't make the same mistake!
Wed-Thu (Plants & Flowers) 6am - 6pm
Fri (Wholesale Day) 6am - 6pm
Sat-Sun (Miscellaneous) 6am - 6pm
Pak Khlong Talat (Bangkok Flower Market)
Pak Khlong Talat, aka Market at the Mouth of the Canal, is a 24 hour market selling flowers, fruits and vegetables. The busiest time of the day to visit is before dawn, when shipments are coming in from boats, though our stroll through the market in the early evening was equally as enjoyable. I never knew Thailand had such a large floral trade, but I quickly realized this when I saw flower garlands hanging everywhere from religious shrines to rear view mirrors in tuk tuks and taxis. People frequently purchase them as offerings for good luck. I wish I had a need for flowers in Bangkok because the vendors here offer much more reasonable prices than my local NYC deli.
Madam Musur Bar & Restaurant
Khao San Road was our end destination for the evening, so I chose a dinner spot close by for our first dinner of the trip. Madam Musur is a cute eatery serving up some delicious local cuisine. To be honest, I really don't remember what we ordered other than a curry (which we ordered at pretty much every meal). I do remember this Thai iced tea being bomb though.
Khao San Road
Famously known as the backpackers ghetto in central Bangkok, Khao San Road is a must visit street because its where the party never ends. If I were a solo traveler, there is no doubt that I would have chosen to stay here not only for its dirt cheap accommodation options but also to meet new people from all around the world, each with a different story to tell about how they ended up in Bangkok. Given how close Khao San Road is to some of the city's most famous temples and sites, it's one of the best locations to stay with plenty of bars and food options, and the ability to roll right into bed after a long night of partying.
After dinner, we got our first Thai massages of the trip before heading to a few bars where we met some interesting people from England (we watched them eat fried scorpions on a stick) and Germany (who showed us pictures of a giant white rat he ate in China). We quickly learned that the party really begins once all the bars close after 2 am and everyone piles in the streets to continue raging until dawn. The weirdest things we saw? More than half a dozen fried insect street carts charging 10 bahts (30 cents) for a photo and being asked if we wanted laughing gas for entertainment every 10 feet we walked. While we were quite entertained and a bit confused at the easy amusement, we finally took a taxi home after our first successful day in Bangkok!
Wat Pho, Temple of the Reclining Buddha
When I think of Bangkok, the first thing that comes to my mind before the crazy night life are all the incredible temples the city has to offer. Even for those who are not religious, like myself, I think visiting a few temples in the city is a right of passage during a visit to Thailand. Wat Pho is one of Bangkok's most visited and oldest temples, founded in the 16th century. While the entire complex is fairly large, the main ordination hall lies the 46m long reclining, gold plated Buddha. While I did some research and saw pictures of it beforehand, nothing compared to seeing the grandeur of this statue in person. My own photos cannot even do it justice.
The Wat Pho complex comprises of many structures, "including an ubosot or ordination hall, a number of viharns, a scripture hall and almost 100 chedis. The four largest chedis are dedicated to the first four Kings of the Chakri dynasty. They contain some of the ashes of King Rama I through King Rama IV." Wat Pho is also commonly known as the birthplace of Thai massage, as it is a famous center for traditional massage and medicine. There is actually a massage school you can visit for a traditional Thai massage after a long walk around the temple. What better place to experience this than where it all began?
The temple opens at 8am, and we just happened to arrive at 8:30am unintentionally. Luckily, this also meant very few crowded during our first half hour visit and were able to walk around and admire all the beautiful and intricate sculptures in peace. I recommend going near opening time to avoid the late morning rush and if you want some empty shots like we were able to get!
Bangkok's Grand Palace is one of Thailand's most popular tourist attractions, and the crowds we braved during our visit by 10am in the morning proved this to be true. It is a complex of buildings in the heart of Bangkok that is the official residence of the Kings of Siam/Thailand. However, the current King Vajiralongkorn (Rama X) and his late father, the revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) reside(d) elsewhere during their reigns. The Palace is still used every year for official events, including royal ceremonies and state functions. While I was not a fan of of the insane crowds here and the quite hefty price tag of a ticket for Thailand standards (~$15USD), the Grand Palace is stunning from every angle. I will most likely not visit again in the future, but I would highly recommend visiting very early when it opens to enjoy the grandeur and magnificence of the Palace in peace.
Eat Sight Story
After our visits to Wat Pho and the Grand Palace in the morning, we really worked up an appetite. Our lunch spot had some amazing views of the river and an even better of Wat Arun, which we visited the day after.
Make Me Mango
Mango sticky rice alone is enough for me to take a trip to Thailand, so in our week and half, eating as much of it for dessert or as a meal replacement was of top priority. Make Me Mango holds a special place in my heart because it was our first mango sticky rice of the trip. Although we had better the following night and on the islands, it really fueled the mango obsession going forward. The menu is basically mango heaven, and we ordered the sampler to try a couple different yummy desserts, including ice cream, pudding, and mango sticky rice with coconut sauce after our lunch along the river.
Tuk Tuk Experience As someone who is very used to walking around a gridded city, looking at the map of Bangkok made me quite nervous. From our experience traveling from place to place, things in Bangkok seem to be pretty spread out as the city is fairly large and the streets make absolutely no sense to me. There is no shortage of transportation options, and as soon as we stepped out of our hotel or any restaurant or temple, we were bombarded with plenty of taxi and tuk tuk offers. Taxis cost a bit more in the city and many drivers will not use their meters and negotiate a price prior to entering to the trip, which was frustrating at times because many will try to overcharge. Luckily we were able to negotiate with them since supply is much greater than demand.
Our favorite transportation experiences, however, involved our crazy tuk tuk rides! We took quite a few during our entire trip since it was more convenient, usually cheaper, and most importantly, much faster since they are smaller and can weave in and out of traffic easier. However, as we learned, they are also much more dangerous, and tuk tuk drivers prove to be incredibly risky drivers, as we found ourselves holding on for dear life on the wrong side of the road a few times (sorry mom).
Banyan Tree - Moon Bar & Saffron Sky Garden
Summer time in New York is basically known as roof-top season, and while I don't think many places can top my favorite view at the Standard Hotel, the Moon Bar and Saffron Sky Garden at the Banyan Tree Hotel were some of the most spectacular and memorable places we went to in Bangkok. In fact, we spent over 4 hours at both of these bars. Our main goal was to get a drink at the Moon Bar at the rooftop of the hotel, but since there was light rain, it was temporarily closed. We headed to the covered Saffron Sky Garden instead on the 52nd floor for a few drinks while we waited for Moon Bar to open. The drinks at both bars were easily comparable to NYC prices which is quite ridiculous for Thailand, but it was worth it for the amazing views of Bangkok and the insanely cool vibes at dusk.
Saffron Sky Garden
While many friends and taxi drivers joked that Blake should not be going to Soi Cowboy with a girlfriend in tow, we knew we couldn't miss this famous stop in Bangkok. The street is named after a retired American airman, T. G. "Cowboy" Edwards, after he opened the 2nd bar on this street and was given the nickname since he often wore a cowboy hat. Fast forward over 40 years, and there are over 40 go-go bars alone on this brightly lit street. Girls can be seen outside most of them to lure in customers, but what goes on behind the curtains can only be seen if you ever get the opportunity to venture in there yourself. A visit is a quintessential Bangkok experience that simply must be ticked off the list.
Chao Phraya River Ferry to Wat Arun
One of our first tastes of Bangkok was straight from our hotel room, as we had a beautiful, almost panoramic view of the Chao Phraya River. On our third morning, we finally took the ferry in our hotel's backyard and basically took the cheapest (about 50 cents) and most efficient rides of our entire trip. While local ferry isn't exactly the most glamorous, it got us to our final destination much quicker than it would have by taxi or even tuk tuk. In fact, I highly recommend it if you are not staying in central Bangkok are are in an accommodation close to the river border. The ferry system here is actually much more comprehensive than I thought it would be, with 5 color coded lines running through one of Thailand's most famous rivers.
Locally known as Wat Chaeng, Wat Arun is located on the Thonburi/West bank of the Chao Phraya River, directly across from Wat Pho. While eating lunch at Eat Sight Story the day before, we had a stunning view of Wat Arun from the other side of the river, and were excited about visiting it the next day. Wat Arun is one of my favorite temples out of all the ones we visited on our entire trip, as its main and distinctive feature is its central spire (prang) which is encrusted with colorful porcelain. It's hard to get over how intricately beautiful it really is. Next to the prang is the Ordination Hall with a Niramitr Buddha image. We spent around 45 minutes walking around the crowd less temple and shopping for paintings at the shops nearby.
Coin Museum Treasury Department Bangkok
One of the joys of traveling for me is the trip planning process that comes along with it. But no matter how many perfect itineraries I come up, plans will always change, and that is what makes it all the more exciting. ON this particular day, my plan was to head to the National Museum, one of the must sees on Bangkok's topp list of things to do. But my planning here failed short and I didn't realize it was closed that day and that we would have to skip it altogether since it was already our last day in Bangkok. Luckily, we found out about the closure when we haphazardly walked into a random Coin Museum and ended up spending a solid hour (virtually alone), learning more about the monarchy of Thailand, and why King Bhumibol the Great, Bhumibol Adulyadej and his wife, Sirikit are so beloved by the people of Thialand. I honestly learned a lot from this museum alone, even though we came across it randomly and did't know what to expect at all. The exhibit is also free and also air conditioned, so it's a great escape from the summer heat.
I'm a pretty simple gal when it comes to coffee, and if you gave me an oat milk latte any day I would be pretty satisfied. Factory Coffee was a visit based a one of Blake's friends' suggestions, so we made a stop here before heading back to our hotel for an afternoon swim break. I love trendy coffee shops and NYC is home to many, so it was cool to get to see one of Bangkok's hot spots for an afternoon Joe.
2 Michelin Star Feast at Gaggan
I enjoy good food and spend too much of my time on Yelp and Open Table, though I definitely wouldn't consider myself a huge foodie or someone usually willing to drop a lot of money for fine dining. Luckily, my job allows me to experience eating at amazing restaurants around the country, which is something I would not be able to comfortably afford with the savings and personal goals I have.
With that said, I don't go around chasing Stars. But when you're in Bangkok and one of the world's most famous 2 Michelin Star restaurant is around the corner and won't break that bank as much as Eleven Madison Park would back at home, I say that it a once in a lifetime experience that is well worth the splurge
I am actually not a fan of Indian food (sorry loves!), but I was very curious of Gaggan's passion of turning such a comfort cuisine into a fine dining experience and work of art. I actually made the reservation before watching the Chef's Table episode months before the trip, but after watching it with Blake one night, it solidified my plan to keep our table as a last dinner in Bangkok.
Since 2010, Gaggan has won many accolades, and is currently sitting at #5 in the 2018 World's Best 50 Restaurants List. It is also comfortably reigning #1 as Asia's Best Restaurants for the 4th consecutive year.
Hearing fine dining and Indian food in one sentence was already enough to catch my attention, but Gaggan's famous emoji menu equally peaked my curiosity. As a frequent Instagram user and terrible texter, I tend to use emojis a lot to express my emotions and reactions. As gimmicky as some may think the 25 course emoji menu is, I really love how relatable and fun it makes the entire dining experience.
Here are some quick facts about our dinner and Gaggan!
Our seating time was 30 minutes before the 1st course was served
We sat in a U shaped table with 6 other couples around one of the open kitchens in the restaurant
The entire dinner from first to last course was approximately 3 hours
Gaggan was not present at the dinner - He was in Japan for the 77th time
The emoji menu is presented without the names of the dishes in the beginning. Before each course was presented, the chef would give a description, history, or reason for the dish. At the end, we were given a menu with the names of every course
We did not do the optional wine pairing
22/25 courses are eaten with your hands
We had a bonus 26th course of hand-made chocolates
The total price of the meal including water and service charge and VAT, was about 250 USD per person
Left to Right: White Peach, Yogurt Explosion, Lick It Up Foiegras Mango, Cheese Ghewar
Left to Right: Eggplant Cookie, Idly Experience, Charcoal Samosa Channa, Chily Egg Nest
Left to Right: Mushroom Pav, White (Cauliflower) Cloves, Som Tam, Puchka Brain Horseradish
Left to Right: Uni Green Apple, Chutoro Sushi Tribute, Corn Quail Drip, Prawn Balchao
Left to Right: Scallops Cold Curry, Momo Vindaloo, Lamb Chop Green Chilly, Cutlass Fish Paturi
Left to Right: Death Star Porcini Finale, Rose of Tonka Beans, Flower Power Lychee, Dark Side of the Moon
Left to Right: Serving plate India puzzle, Yin & Yang Saffron & Pistachio, Floral Chocolates!, the Kitchen view
Was it worth it? YES! Gaggan will actually be closing in 2020 and Gaggan Anand will be pursuing other endeavors in Japan. I'm glad we got to tick it off before this gem is retired.
Ratchada Night Bazaar
We visited quite a few night markets in Bangkok, but it wasn't until our last day that we really found one that we loved. Ratchada Night Bazaar was our first stop after Gaggan, so we weren't hungry at all or any of the street food. However, we did have a fun time popping in and out of air conditioned shops and doing some light souvenir shopping before heading to Chiang Mai. What made it extra special was that we got to meet up with one of our mutual friends, Vicky, who coincidentally was also in Bangkok for one last night on her long trip abroad. I'm so happy our paths crossed and it was great to see a familiar face from home and hear about her adventures. But the best part? I went home that night with a giant plate of mango sticky rice (which I carried to Nana Plaza with me after leaving the market), and I ate it in bed at 3am.
I guess you could say that Bangkok was a major success! What a beautiful and rich city that I wish I had more time to explore the crevices of. Luckily, Bangkok is a very accessible city and large travel hub and I wouldn't be surprised to find myself here in the not-too-distant future. Chiang Mai - here we come!