This Thanksgiving, we spent half a week in Bangkok enroute to wedding festivities in the Philippines. German and I were there last in 2009, on backpacker’s budgets. Back then, we stayed in hole-in-the-wall hotels, walked the local markets and splurged on one night of fine dining to get the full spectrum of Thai and tourist life. The city has changed tremendously since and has become one of the top travel destinations in the world.
It was a surprise to see mega malls, air conditioned sky trains, international food centers and a very in-your-face tourist vibe that wasn’t there just a few years ago. It’s an interesting experience to be able to go back to a place and claim some sense of familiarity with it, even as a tourist. As much as I loved the modern amenities and beautiful shopping centers, it was when we returned to the true essence of the city that I fell in love with it again – street life, in all its grime and chaos.
Due to jetlag, we were up at the crack of dawn each morning, light streaming into our 21st floor AirBnB rental. There is something magical about waking up to sunrise on your face, an experience I take for granted while home in California. Donning flip flops and shorts, we were out of bed within minutes and on Sukhumvit Road on the prowl for breakfast.
6.5 million residents were also waking at this time, their mopeds, buses, bikes, taxis and carts all competing for space on the pedestrian packed roads. It was a shock to the system to collide with with the colors, noises and smells first thing in the morning. Beyond the screech of tires and honking horns, the smell in the humid air hits you like a ton of bricks. It is the smell of Asia – a mix of diesel fuel, sewage and fried food, and it felt like home.
On offer was an endless array of sweet and savory foods, clothing, flowers and house wares. We went straight for the food stalls, with their boiling pots of curry, chili vegetables, pickled gingers and rice. The food carts are ingenious – customized to steam, deep fry, bake and broil meats, breads and fish on whatever sidewalk they happen to be perched on for the day. We purchased fried eggs, pad thai, steamed vegetables and noodles, all served in clear plastic bags for easy transport. Sliced mangoes, papayas, guavas and pineapples were plentiful and also sold in small plastic bags, equipped with giant toothpicks for munching on the go.
We found a lady selling pancakes rolled over mini sausages. While German investigated price, I choked on the light. Mind blowing, beautiful, morning light.
We also found a vendor selling the equivalent of Filipino “puto”, a sweet rice cake topped with grated coconut and wrapped in banana leaf. I was amazed that she could make something on the street that I couldn’t even attempt in my own kitchen oven.
I think German would agree that we had more fun shopping for the food than eating it. What a luxury it was to be able to sit down at breakfast with a pile of exotic fruits and home-cooked food, the long uncharted day still ahead of us. Mornings – they’re my new favorite.