Bangkok diaries: Calming cruises and energising Thai culture contrast metallic skylines in Thailand’s capital
The first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Bangkok — is the shopping centres, massage parlours and delicious street food. But soon we discover that there is more to this popular tourist destination. Especially when you see a small bottle of Fanta or sugar cane juice being offered to the “spirits” in the Thai shrines that dot the length and breadth of the city — our curiosity is definitely piqued. We learn that this is done as a part of their belief that when construction of a new building starts, the spirits who lived in the place before would be disturbed and so they set up a small spirit home for them to rest. The Thai folk take it further by placing a straw in these bottles, for the “spirits” and deities to have a comfortable sip! With its numerous quirks and unique culture that blends the past and the future, the Bangkok we get to see is bright, colourful and fascinating.
City of lights
Onboard the inaugural direct flight of GoAir to Bangkok, the journey begins from a glum, cloudy Mumbai afternoon. Soon the gloom was lifted once we entered the T3 terminal of Mumbai International Airport where the GoAir staff ensured that the mood was celebratory. In fact, over a piece of cake, we even interacted with the captain of our flight who gave us a peek into what we could experience up in the air. We found ourselves ensconced in the Airbus 320, GoAir’s low-cost carrier, and it took us to our Thai destination within four seamless and smooth hours. To tinker our taste buds, the flight’s in-house menu had a lot of interesting snacks to offer. One such that we gorged upon was the combination of cheesy and caramelised popcorn with some Kashmiri Kahawa tea. As the flight inched closer to our destination, the skyline of Bangkok demanded all our attention even from air — with its array of lights dotting the landscape of the city. Luckily, we got to be above the city for a longer time due to air traffic and caught glimpses of their elaborate flyovers that link the city. At the Suvarnabhumi airport we were greeted with the traditional garland — Phuang Malai — made with orchids and traditional jasmine flowers.
A one-hour drive to the heart of the city in Sukhumvit and we reached our home for the next four days — the Movenpick BDMS wellness resort. Staying true to its name, the place offered a sense of calmness and a serene vibe. Credit that to the interiors that blend the elements of Thai culture with a focus on earthly elements like water, green, sunlight and wood. One of the pieces decorating the wall depicts a network of canals pouring into the Chao Phraya river, which is the lifeline of the city. We are appraised about these small details over a glass of refreshing mango welcome drink.
With this fluidity in the ambience, we headed to our rooms. Inside our Deluxe King rooms, a similar theme was followed with ample use of sunlight to illuminate the room with the use of glass walls. The hotel rooms offer a view of either the canals leading into Chao Phraya or their in-house wellness pool — each of which looks just as picturesque as the other. The room is also unique because of the hotel’s insistence to cut down on single-use plastics, and so the plastic water bottles are replaced by packaged glass water bottles which help to ensure the Earth’s wellness as well. We were informed they would soon be replacing the plastic disposables from the toiletries used to cut down on the carbon footprint they leave behind.
Now that we were in Bangkok, we were ready to dig into some delectable seafood and authentic Thai food. However, that plan could wait — as we started with meals that were healthy and nutritious, becoming a wellness resort. We began our day with a Thai-Western breakfast at the in-house diner, Tamarind, which is the resort’s ‘digestive wellness clinic’. On offer was a platter of fresh organic juices, farm-picked veggies and an assortment of freshly baked bread, sausages and special curative muesli. One of the in-house specials that we loved was an assortment of pro-biotic shots, which give you a digestive boost — good enough to get you going for the day’s street eat-outs!
Across the three day trip, we tried an assortment of Thai and Pan-Asian cuisines. One of the most easily found and loved dishes was the signature combination of sticky rice and mango topped with coconut milk. Almost every eatery we went to offered this and this was also a common dessert option at the street shopping centres. It’s a must-try for those coming to Bangkok as the mangoes taste much more fibrous and juicy than the ones in India. This can be easily found for anywhere between 50 Thai Baht (THB) to 70 Thai Baht depending upon the toppings you further add to your sweet.
Also, don’t miss trying the coconut ice cream, which is served in a coconut shell, along with a stem of the orchid flower at almost all street shopping centres. However, the best place where one can enjoy the ice cream is at the Domnoen Saduak floating market where we purchased these ice creams in a cute coconut shell from a vendor on the boat. She offered a combination of chilled Chang beer and these ice creams. These ranged between a 70THB to 100THB.
While Bangkok is famous for its street food, I got over the Phad Thai the vendors had to offer and preferred the Raw Papaya Salads available for 50THB. These could be combined with almost every non-veg, seafood options available and give a tangy spicy makeover to the meats. Another must-try for me personally was the comfort food of Beef stew and rice with chilli. These for me were the underrated stars of Thai Cuisine as the meat cooked in broth with Thai spices made for a perfectly nutritious meal. These were available at about 100 to 150 THB at any street food centre.
The Thai hospitality
When in Bangkok a massage is mandatory. We opted for the traditional Thai Foot massage (around 200 THB). The rejuvenating massage is done with concoctions of oils and herbal scents. Available at all markets across the city, the one-hour massage relaxes the feet and takes away all the aches from the travel. If the oil is not your favourite, opt for the dry Thai massage, which is equally effective and we find that it relieves all the fatigue and strain from the muscles.
Post the hectic tours across the city in the balmy weather, don’t forget to hop on a delightful ride on a cruise ship across the river Chao Phraya. The one-hour ride with peppy music and an array of Thai food give you the best of the city under one roof — with a myriad of views of the iconic temples and skyscrapers. So let the wind run wild through your hair, as you sit back and enjoy the City of Lights. The lavish buffet on the cruise has a unique dessert option — that of the red water chestnuts soaked in warm coconut milk.
The silk route
Even after enjoying the views of the city from the flight, room windows and cruise, I was greedy for more. So I headed to SO Bangkok — a unique concept hotel in the heart of the city, which stands tall and overlooks the Lumpini Park, the biggest lung space in the city. You can enjoy the view while digging into Pan-Asian cuisine at the in-house dining space, the Red Oven.
Being in Bangkok can make you feel like a “city overdose”. If you’re looking for a break from the concrete buildings and long bridges, head to the Jim Thompson’s Museum to soak in the regional folklore and culture. The museum takes you through the life of Jim Thompson who is credited to be the one who revived Thai silk. At the entrance, you can spot a weaver boiling and separating silk from the cocoon and pressing them into reels of Thai silk thread. One can also explore a range of authentic Thai silk designed as ties, shawls, their traditional “Chut Thai”. The silk has also been designed into a range of upholstery fabric.
Another unique window into the depths of this city is a trip to the markets that Bangkok has to offer. We picked the Chatuchat market, one the largest in the city where it’s very hard to land back in the place you once visited. Here one can get their hands on the many items sold in this market that range from clothes to pets to camera accessories and candies. Here one can easily get souvenirs for their family and friends back home — favourite picks for which are the handmade soaps, the green tea powder, the small elephant shaped soft toy, bowls made of coconut shells and seashells etc. These can be easily spotted being sold in bulk so bargaining becomes easier. One can also find good quality bags, shoes and belts at cheap rates starting from 500 THB.
After three days as we prepared to leave the city, it’s bustling streets, its choppy yet serene rivers and calming vibes, one thing was certain that this city just knows how to spoil you. Be it with delicious food or warm hospitality, it is a city that can pamper you.
GoAir flights from Mumbai to Bangkok start from Rs.7,000.
Deluxe room at BDMS Movenpick Resort at 5,400 Thai baht.
(The writer was in Bangkok on invitation.)