As if the daily grind of grocery shopping wasn’t enough, try having to navigate around the train schedule, too, like these shoppers at the Maeklong Railway Market outside of Bangkok.
Couples traveling together to Thailand this month can speed their way through the traffic at Bangkokâ€™s Suvarnabhumi Airport faster than you can say, â€œno tuk tuk, no massage.â€ Register at one of the â€œAmazing Thailand, Amazing Romanceâ€ counters â€“ located on both the East and West concoursesÂ â€“Â by providing some basic information and receive a heart-shaped sticker and a key chain with the Thailand tourism mascot, Sook Jai, which entitles couples to use the â€œpremium laneâ€ for a fast track through the notoriously congested immigration process. Befitting a country known for its embrace of a third gender, theÂ program applies to same-sex couples, too. I think I feel an emoticon coming on.
Night markets are a tradition particular to Asia. A crazy open air jumble of stalls and stands selling everything from meat and produce to tchotchkes to clothing, condiments, and prepared foods, it only comes alive after dark. Part shopping mall, part social scene, it makes for great people watching while also being quite handy for souvenir shopping if you’ve spent your entire day engaged in more culturally elevated pursuits. In Hong Kong the night markets are pristine; in Bangkok only slightly less so. Here in Siem Reap the capitalism is nakedly pure – if slightly lessÂ hygienic: no price is what itÂ seems and absolutely everything is negotiable
When a Bangkok local makes a point of urging you towards an out-of-the-way restaurant with the delectable promise of good food, take heed: opportunity is seldom a lengthy visitor. So it was that I found myself traveling down a winding alley to the fortuitous gates of Gedhawa, a homey establishment specializing in the subtle, herb-fragrancedÂ plates of Northern Thailand. Decorated in silk lanterns, rough-hewn wooden tables, and all manner of mid-century pop culture ephemera, it could easily come off as kitschyÂ in less skilled hands. Yet when you’re escorted to table byÂ a kindly older woman who could easily pass as your grandmother – if your grandmother was Thai, that is – the illusion suddenly becomes clear: you’re in an idealized version of someone’s home, so get ready for home-cookin’ Thai style. The accordion-style menu proved exhaustive – and exhausting; after all, there’s only so much one can reasonably eat, despite the temptation – and eyes ten times larger than my stomach. In the end I settled on a couple of favorites,Â mixing in a few adventuresomeÂ unknowns: sai oua, a spicy pork sausage fragrant with lemongrass and galangal; coconut-flecked shrimp, crunchy, sweetÂ andÂ irresistible when dipped into a sauce of palm sugar, vinegar and chili; green papaya salad – a masochistic addiction of sweet meets heat – was practically combustible; wrap-it-yourself pork larb redolent with spices and fresh mint; pad thai, simple and elegant, with just enough unexpected fire to make it interesting. I couldn’t have planned a better meal for my Â last night in Bangkok if I tried. And a good thing I didn’t.
Notice the golden dome of Sirocco in the background – cause of this morning’s retreat into a privateÂ spa suite at The Peninsula. Sinking into a jacuzzi tub with views over the pool and out to the river, fresh coconut water in hand, and not one but twoÂ attendantsÂ waiting to salt scrub me down and oil me up, I mightÂ justÂ consider this home sweet home for the day.
Not having seen either of the rowdyÂ Hangover movies I had no idea that The Dome at lebua is considered a place ofÂ pilgrimageÂ in certain circles – I’d just gone forÂ dinner and the promise of one of the best views in Bangkok. Located on the 63rd floor of The Dome,Â Sirocco is one of the world’s highest al fresco restaurants andÂ indeed, the panoramic view over the city’s middling skyline isÂ as good as it gets. If you can the handle crowds and the relentless flash of camera-toting tourists theÂ adjoiningÂ multi-hued Skybar -Â cantilevered out over the building -Â is something to see, even if only for the Bangkok bravado of the bartenders.
The historic second capital of Thailand, then known as the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, was founded in 1350. Glorified as one of the biggest cities in Southeast Asia and a regional power for some 400 years, it reached its apex in terms of military might, wealth, culture, and commerce in the 16th century, when the Kingdomâ€™s territory extended into and beyond present-day Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar. Ayutthaya had diplomatic relations with Louis XIV of France and was courted by Dutch, Portuguese, English, Chinese and Japanese merchants. Conquered by Burmese invaders in the late 18thÂ century many of the cityâ€™s magnificent structures were almost completely destroyed and the ruins which remain were abandoned after a new king liberated the Kingdom and moved the capital to Thonburi, across the river from modern-day Bangkok. A UNESCOâ€™s World Heritage site, the ruins of Ayutthaya are today one of Thailandâ€™s archaeological highlights, with three palaces and over 400 temples strategically located on an island surrounded by three rivers connecting the city to the sea. The architecture is a fascinating mix of Khmer and early Sukhothai styles. Some cactus-shaped obelisks, called prangs or reliquary towers, denote Khmer influence and look something like the famous towers of Angkor Wat. The more pointed towers, called stupas, are ascribed to the early Sukhothai influence. And everywhere you look there is praise to Buddha.
AÂ few years ago at The HalkinÂ in London,Â I had the pleasure of enjoying a most extravagant lunch at Nahm, the only Thai restaurant in the world to be bested with a Michelin star.Â Australian chef David Thompson is an accidental authority on ThaiÂ cuisine – a chance holiday in Bangkok ignited a culinary obsession – and his first cookbook, Thai Food, is a meticulous investigation into the multifarious flavors of the kingdom as well as a bible ofÂ food porn for gourmands. The success of an additional outpost ofÂ theÂ restaurantÂ in Thailand was recently realized earlier this year when it was namedÂ one theÂ The 50 BestÂ RestaurantsÂ in the World, so naturally this secondÂ NahmÂ moved high atop my list of must-eats in Bangkok. More casual than what you’d find in London, it was nevertheless equally meticulous, with layer upon layer of flavors surprising the palate on a continuous loop.Â Rarely does a Thai meal have a repetition of tastes, so a curry, a salad, a relish, some soup and a stir-fry all combine to make a varied diningÂ experience.Â This isn’t food you shovel in with a pair of chopsticks, however; chef Thompson’s dishes – complex and floridlyÂ herbaceous – demand you take the time to savor each bite from the chew to the swallow. Served Thai-style, meaning family style and all at once, it also makes for one fragrant and heady feast.
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