By Dr. Michael Lim The Travelling Gourmet who explores temples, markets and samples tempting Thai delicacies…..
MAGNIFICENT temples, exotic cuisines and the mysterious Chao Phyra river are but some of the fascinating sights to be discovered in this splendid city, the capital of the Land of Smiles. A good time to visit is the cool season from November to February.
Shopaholics love Bangkok & one market you must see is Chatuchark Weekend Market where all manner of bargains and interesting gear can be bought. Fighting cockerels, T shirts, clothing, leather good, arts and crafts, ceramic wares, music CDs, movie DVDs and even pets are available here! For the extreme gourmet, try a packet of spiced crispy grasshoppers deep fried by the little old lady just outside the entrance.
In the area of the World Trade Center and Siam Center, there are shops, restaurants and boutiques. Posh department stores and shopping malls abound and just opposite the World Trade Center is Naraiphan Pavillion which is the official handicraft center for all different regions of Thailand. Sukhumvit Road is another hot shopping spot often likened to Singapore’s Orchard Road. Drop in on Bangkok’s Night Bazaar which opens from 3pm to midnight. At the junction of Wireless Road and Rama 4 Road near Lumpini Boxing Stadium, bargain hunt for clothing, gifts and souvenirs galore. You can watch Muay Thai-boxing matches in the stadium where the muscular combatants fight with everything from elbows to high roundhouse kicks.
My favourite temple to visit is the mystical, magical Wat Phra Kaeo or Temple of the Emerald Buddha which is also a treasure trove of Thai art. This is the most sacred temple in Thailand. The priceless Emerald Buddha was discovered in Chiengmai in 1434, and came to the temple on 22 March 1784 from Ventiane in Laos. It is not made of emerald but is actually a huge piece of carved green jade. I am always mesmerized to see it sitting on a tall gold covered wooden throne. This temple is inside the Royal Palace and no visit to Bangkok is complete without viewing this opulent and exotic palace. Anna, the central figure in the Hollywood movie “The King and I” was the tutor to the son of King Rama IV actually lived here.
Food, glorious food is another attraction & one restaurant I like a lot is the Sala Rim Naam in the Oriental Hotel Bangkok. A short boat ride away on the opposite bank of the Chao Praya River from The Oriental, one dines in a richly decorated traditional Thai pavilion to savour two of the Kingdom’s most rewarding cultural experiences, Thai cuisine paired with exquisitely executed classical Thai dance. Drool on authentic Thai dishes like Mee Krob, crispy sweet orange noodles with dried or fresh shrimps. Tantalise your palate with Yum Sum O, a tangy pomelo, chicken & shrimp salad, then tuck into explosive Tom Yum Goong bursting with the invigorating flavours of lemongrass, basil and other herbs and spices! No wonder Pierce “007” Brosnan likes to dine here.
I also adore the Oriental’s Thai Cooking School established in 1986. Keen epicures learn all about Thai cuisine here. Attend hands-on classes on Fridays & Saturdays with lectures & demos from Mondays to Thursdays. Tuesday is my favourite day as it is the day to learn about desserts plus fruit & vegetable carvings.
I recommend also The Chinese Restaurant in the Grand Hyatt Erawan, where during weekday lunch you’ll observe many Thai Captains of Industry dining with their lovely personal assistants. The décor features ceiling to floor shimmering cracked glass panels. Try signature dishes like mouthwatering braised abalone with sea cucumber and pine mushrooms, deep fried prawns San-Tong style with ginger & chilli plus Peking duck served traditionally with the sweet crispy skin precisely sliced from the meat, which is served pan-fried with noodles as a separate course.
The Grand Hyatt Erawan is also a very auspicious place to stay in the City of Angels. Right at the corner you’ll find the famous & revered Than Tao Mahaprom or Erawan Shrine This shrine, with the 4 faced Brahma God exuding a timeless serenity has been here since November 9, 1956. Legend has it that if you pray here & make your offering of flowers or fruits your wish will be fulfilled somehow.
The raunchy & racy notorious night life area of Bangkok is the Patpong district peppered with go-go bars and discos. Patpong 1 and 2 are the main streets. “Goldfinger’s” is one of the more reputable bars. In Soi Cowboy, another entertainment area, one of the largest bars is “Tilac” but beware that some girls may not be what they appear to be. Take care too with 2nd floor “clip joints” that will exorbitantly overcharge the unwary tourist for drinks & other services.
Bangkok has something for everyone but for me, it represents all the fables of the exotic east come to stunning life. Plan to visit soon if only for the glorious food! Sawadee Kraap! J