Life's better with cake and a sprinkle of fairy dust
This was the perfect getaway, even the Hubby agrees. A quick zip-around to Bangkok and back in less than 48 hours. We came back energized, thinner (in spite of eating MORE and constantly) and more appreciative of each other’s companionship.
Chatuchak market was tops on the man’s things-to-do list. The last time we were in Bangkok, he went absolutely mad for the endless array of goods on sale, so this time we set off bright and early for the market on Saturday morning. Try to get there about 8 a.m. to avoid the maddening crowds and crazy heat that usually gets all too much for me by midday.
While the hubby shopped to his heart’s content, I was there for only one thing – the food! Every one of my friends who’s been to Bangkok seems to have this picture on their IG or Facebook, no kidding. For someone’s who been to Thailand more times than I can remember, it’s unbecoming that I jump on the bandwagon so late in life.
Peddled from a cart, a generous serving of coconut ice-cream, served in half a young coconut kernel, atop the the delicious, tender coconut flesh conveniently scraped off the shell, costs only 35THB (about SGD1.35). On top of that, you get your choice of six different toppings – sticky rice, sweetcorn kernels, shredded pumpkin, attap chee (nipa palm seeds), roasted groundnuts, nata de coco…etc. You can have as many toppings as you want, or none at all. I went for the whole smorgasbord, hold the pumpkin.
Chatuchak’s a great place for snagging great bargains on home decor items and local artwork (and replicas). Despite the hubby’s concerns on baggage restrictions, I insisted on lugging home this beautiful carved elephant (SGD 20) as a gift to a friend and a three-tiered porcelain cake stand (an irresistible SGD 12 only!). I’m hopeless at haggling, but with the good-natured Thai folks, a smattering of the language and a sweet smile easily lands you a decent deal.
Picked up a few bottles of essential oil for the home as well, they are cheap and cheerful here (SGD5-6 for 5ml bottles). I wanted to bring home the aroma of Thailand with me, so I picked lemongrass and also asked the obliging saleslady to recommend a few other blends with “hom Thai” (the Thai fragrance).
Come Sunday morning, we gave the lacklustre Continental breakfast buffet at the hotel a miss (sorry, we’re in Thailand), and grabbed a taxi to Chinatown (Yaowarat Rd.). Tell the cabby “pay talaat sod Yaowarat” and he will drop you in front of a huge outdoor fresh market where ethnic Chinese BKK-ers go to shop for their daily necessities.
And the FOOD. Omg.
I hopped off the cab and instantly dragged my husband and made a beeline for the stalls selling street food. Most people I know only come to Yaowarat at night for the famous BBQ seafood and street food, but Yaowarat is actually one of my favourite places for breakfast. We started with the famous Mee Keow, which is very similar to wanton noodles in Singapore, but 10 times better and more flavourful (re-affirmed by the husband, who loves his wanton noodles).
We licked our bowls clean and walked a few steps to the middle of the market, where all types of push carts congregate at the crossroads. Adjacent to each other were two stalls – one selling nom sot (hot, fresh cow’s milk with different toppings, like chewy tapioca pearls) and the other, its perfect complement, the humble pa thong ko (deep fried crullers, basically 油条). They cost three baht each and are hot, fresh and crispy, perfect for dunking into hot sweetened milk or coffee.
Shopping makes me hungry, so there’s only one answer – more noodles! I ordered the Thai street food classic kuay teow nam (thin rice noodles in a savoury broth); Hubby had the kuay teow haeng (dry version) that came with copious amounts of crispy lardons. If you want some of that yummy broth with your dry noodles, tell the vendor, “kor nam sup noy” (please give me some soup) and they will bring you some in a small bowl. All washed down with a cup of very icy and toothachingly sweet chaa dam yen (Thai iced tea, without milk).
We were having an extended breakfast right in the middle of one of Bangkok’s largest wholesadle markets – Sampeng Market. Here, you can find everything and anything from fashion, toys, textiles, hardware, tools, wedding favours, packaging, accessories… Lovely place to stock up on things like socks or bedlinen for the whole year (and probably the next) to Christmas stocking fillers (hair scrunchies for 2 THB or less than SGD0.10, anyone?) to Halloween costumes at a steal. One year, we were here with the parents and we lugged home a battery-operated CAR for the kiddos for less than 200 dollars.
There’s mostly no need to haggle, but prepare to buy in bulk to enjoy the attractive prices. The quality is, well, wholesale quality, and questionable in some cases. To get at the good stuff, one has to properly sift through the thousands of stalls and back alley shops. If hard-pressed for shopping time, Chatuchak would be a better place to spend your baht. You’d pay more (like twice or thrice the prices) than Chinatown, but at least it’s all curated already.
We gave the wholesale shopping area a miss and wandered onto the fringes of Sampeng. A couple of streets down from the market lie the used goods area. Locals throng these few streets every Sunday for their daily needs, like gardening tools, used clocks, hardware, machine parts, handphone batteries, even a sex toy or a pirate porno VCD. Kind of like Sungei Road in Singapore.
If you are vintage junkies, like we are, this is a treasure trove of vintage clocks, typewriters, transistor radios… Bring cash, though. Short of a few baht, we had to peel our eyes away from a lovely working vintage radio, sniff.
There are heaps of used mobile phones, cameras, accessories… It’s not hard to wonder why Sampeng is also fondly known as Thieves’ Market. If you lose anything in Bangkok, it might just turn up here.
Other interesting finds included these old Pepsi containers. When I was 6 or 7, and in Bangkok with my parents for vacations, these Pepsi containers were a ubiquitous sight at street stalls and contained wooden chopsticks for customers to eat their noodles with. Now that most street vendors use disposables, these containers have become obsolete.
Before heading back to the hotel, I loaded up on sundries at the market, like chai po waan (sweet pickled radish), naam tan peep (palm sugar), Thai chilli powder, dried kaffir lime powder and huge, insanely sweet Thai pineapples. You can check in the latter at the airport, just ask the vendor to cut off the spiky, leafy tops to reduce baggage weight and make for more efficient packing. Pack in a box or wrapped in newspaper in a bag. We bought a zipped canvas tote for 25THB and our pineapples arrived back in SG perfectly.
For the hubby, no trip to BKK is complete without the notorious tuk-tuk ride. I prefer the air-conditioned comfort and metered prices of the cities’ taxis but he loves the adrenaline rush, the shortcuts, the thrilling speed, the stink of the city in your hair and clothes… Unlike taxis, you have to haggle and agree on a price with the tuk-tuk driver and expect to always pay more for a tuk-tuk than a taxi. For example, a cab ride from our hotel to Chinatown costs about 80 THB, so do not expect the tuk-tuk driver to take you the same distance for anything less than 100 THB. We found one that would take us for 110 THB, so we loaded up and headed back to hotel for some R&R before our night flight.
Our hotel, The Continent, was located in the trendy area of Asoke in Sukhumvit. It’s a bit like the Holland Village of Bangkok. Lots of expats, gyms, shopping malls, Italian pizza joints… etc. Very conveniently located next to both MRT (to get to the Airport Rail Link) and BTS (to get to everywhere else in downtown Bangkok).
There’s a bunch of perks like complimentary all-day canapes and drinks, late check-out, free laundry service… etc for guests sleeping on the Sky floors, which is pretty high up, thirty-something floors.
The rooftop pool is small but great for relaxing and catching a tan.
The view 37 floors down wasn’t so relaxing.
One thing I learnt about relaxation from the Thai people is the concept of jai yen (literally, a cool heart). It’s a bustling city, trains and streets are as packed as Singapore, especially during peak hours. Yet the vibe is almost always tranquil and relaxed. People give up their seats on the train to the elderly without making a fuss, even if the elderly is a foreigner. At the market, vendors pushing carts and trolleys behind you always politely say “khaw tot na khrap“(please excuse me) or “ra wang khrap” (please be careful) and people just move out of their way. Nobody’s heels or egos get bruised. People seldom show agitation or impatience in public. I was stuck behind this lady and her little girl, about 5 or 6, in a throng of people because a truck was unloading goods ahead. The weather was sweltering and the little girl started to whimper. The mother immediately put an hand on her shoulder and said gently but firmly, “jay yen yen na, luuk” (Cool your heart, child). I was silently applauding the mother for her wonderful parenting.
To Thais, losing one’s temper, or rather outwardly showing any display of anger, is considered extremely bad manners. By association, the people with you, also lose face. So to put it bluntly, Thais are accustomed to “sucking it up”. This, in no way, means Thais do not get angry or are pushovers; if they are offended, they just do not show it outwardly. Over time, you learn to not feel agitated over the things beyond your control and become a happier, more relaxed person.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more Singaporeans learnt the art of jay yen yen? And learn to chill, like how our feline friends do, even overseas.
Last but not least, what’s two cat molesters to do but molest more cats, even while traveling? Cats here are so chill!!!