Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Postcard from Bangkok

This year we decided to do something different for our March holiday, so instead of our usual skiing trip to the Alps, we went to Thailand.

We've never been to Thailand before so I planned our trip in two sections, allowing us to explore the beautiful island of Koh Samui as well as Thailand's bustling capital, Bangkok. Today's travelogue is about our time in Bangkok, an incredible city where ultramodern urban life is intertwined with tradition, resulting in startling contrasts that take you by surprise at every turn. We are fortunate to have wonderful friends in Bangkok, and their advice on hotels, where to go and what to see permitted us to make the most of our time, and enjoy things we would otherwise not have found. Mille merci, again dearest R and T.

I took so many pictures and there was so much to see that this postcard will be followed by two more... the next one is about our time in Koh Samui and how to accessorize a summer travel wardrobe for a resort vacation, and the third post will be about how to style the same wardrobe pieces for our Bangkok city break.

Now for the first part, and what to do, what to see and where to stay in Bangkok!

Room with a view... the way the city's sky scrapers frame the vast Lumphini Park reminded me instantly of New York. The park is liveliest in the mornings and evenings when the air is cooler. Joggers criss-cross the paths while others practice Tai-Chi on the lawns or meditate. On the weekend, the lake is dotted with swan-shaped boats, rented by couples or families with children.



Bangkok never stands still and the roads are always busy, even outside the rush hour. If you want to get across town quickly, the subway system, or even better the above ground sky train (with air conditioned carriages) is a better option than to risk being stuck in traffic for hours in a cab.



Religion plays an important role in Thailand, and it is considered a major pillar of society. There is total religious freedom, but the country is essentially Buddhist. Temples, shrines and spirit houses are a lively part of Bangkok's busy streets, and chances are high that you'll come across saffron-robed monks at least once during your stay.

When I took the picture below I thought how poignently it illustrates the symbioses of old traditions and modern life: The shrine for the God of Love (Trimurti) is located right in front of one of the world's largest shopping malls  (Central World), overlooked by huge billboards advertising the latest iPhone and surrounded by modern glass and concrete buildings. The shrine seemed like an oasis of peace and tranquility, shielding the people in prayer from their buzzing surroundings and letting time stand still for just a moment.



Temple offerings: fresh marigold and calotropis flowers strung into fragrant garlands (Phuang malais)



The Erawan Shrine is one of the most popular shrines. From early morning until late at night a steady stream of worshippers comes to pay respect to Than Tao Mahaprom (a Brahma god full of kindness, mercy, sympathy and impartiality) The picture below could have been taken before the age of mobile phones.. instead of living the moment through a lens, everyone's arms and hands are raised to pray, pay respect, or to hold offerings in the hope their wishes will be fulfilled.



Bangkok is a shopper's paradise and has immense, airconditioned shopping malls that carry every brand on Earth from Zara to Hermes. But I preferred to stroll through the markets, which seem endless! I walked through them for hours on end, and yet I barely scratched the surface... there is so much to see, and everything seems fascinating, enticing and tantalizing.



Street food is a wonderful way to get a sense of the Thai's culture and way of living. What struck me most was how beautifully everything is made and decorated. The deserts below resemble sumptous flowers and small fruit basket arrangements, making them a feast for the eyes as well as the palate.

Decoration plays a big role in Thailand. Even the smallest and simplest items are worked on, often elaborately, to make them look beautiful and special. I was touched to see how much care and patience is taken to arrange flower petals into stunning patterns on the surfaces of shallow bowls of water. Fruits are carved into exotic shapes, flowers strung into garlands, and napkins  artfully folded... these are just a few examples of a way of life which has been part of Thailand's culture for hundreds of years. Maybe it is part of the reason that Thai people are so very friendly, warm, and helpful. How can making your world beautiful and special not make you happy.



One of the markets not to be missed is the food hall on the ground floor of the Old Siam Plaza, on the edge of Chinatown. The Old Siam Plaza is the oldest shopping mall in Bangkok and the food section is full of locals buying their lunch or dinner. It's the perfect place for something to eat after exploring Chinatown in the morning. We bought a variety of small packages from different stalls and settled down on one of the wooden benches dotted either end of the hall,  eating our delicacies with no other tourist in sight.

It has been inspiring and fun to browse the aisles and watch the food being prepared. Everything is made fresh and from scratch. The stall in the picture below specialises in making egg yolk based delicacies, such as sweet golden threads and drops.  The drops are poured into miniature ceramic dishes, and while the mix is setting, each little blob is transformed into an exotic flower by an expert hand using a small wooden stick.





A terracotta steam pot covered with mousseline serves as a hotplate to make transparent wraps which are then filled with spices and vegetable, and folded into delicate, bite-sized parcels.



and those who like to cook at home can pick up perfectly portioned parcels of fresh herbs and spices



Beat the traffic by taking a boat



Or take a Tuk-Tuk taxi as a fun alternative for short journeys, but make sure to negotiate the fee in advance (Tuk-tuks don't have a meter)



What appears to be a biker's reunion is in fact simply what happens when the traffic lights turn green..  bikes and scooters squeeze themselves between cars waiting at the lights, giving themselves a pole position. How cars ever manage to cross the road is a mystery!


I have no idea what the plants below might be, or even whether they're destined for kitchen or garden. In the Western globalized world it's so rare to see things one has never seen before, and it's been a wonderful part of our trip to take in so many new things, colors, shapes and scents.



The very best market is the famous Chatuchak market, also known as JJ Market. It is said to be the largest weekend market in the world, with more than 15 thousand stalls covering an area of 35 acres. It is best to arrive early, as it gets more and more crowded during the day and very hot in the afternoons.



Fresh coconut water is a quick and delicious way to replenish liquids and energy!



As you can imagine, this market has everything under the sun on offer. From antiques to mass produced plastic goods, artisanal jewelry and decorative wonders, plants, food, flowers, clothes and accessories of every kind, many cheap and cheerful, some pricey and exquisite. It takes time and patience to find the gems amidst the vast offerings and thousands of stalls... a small cosmetic business selling their organic range of coconut skin and haircare, skilled jewelry makers, the three sisters who make fabulous, hand-embellished tunics and kaftans during the week and sell them in their little booth on the weekends,  or the creative whizz who combines imagination with expert craftsmanship, creating fabulous and extraordinary fantasies from materials most would overlook. I only wish I had more time to explore, hopefully there will be another time one day.


fresh mango ice cream, my favorite



Shopping makes hungry, and lunch is a welcome break after a lot of walking and browsing. Head for Section 1, by the Kamphaengpecth metro station entrance. Tucked into the far right corner you'll find a small, light and airy restaurant with ceiling fans, where traditional home-cooked dishes are served on banana leaves and simple terracotta plates. It provides a calm respite from the bustle of the market, and it is a perfect place to replenish your energy (it's slightly hidden, you can see the exact position in the map further down).





Chatuchak market map. Circled in blue: my favorite shopping areas. Circled in orange: the section of lunch place above, the exact position is indicated by the orange arrow. The colored sections help you find the areas you are interested in. You can see a bigger version here and find info on the sections here



Where to stay 

Our friends recommended the SO Sofitel, and it could not have been a better choice. The hotel is fabulous and chic, the breakfast buffet amazing and the location fantastic. The infinity pool and roof top bar overlook the Lumphini park, the rooms are beautiful and stylish and the metro and skyline stations are easily accessible by foot.



Design is a key feature of the hotel. The opulent and imaginative staff uniforms, as well as the luxurious Signature Clublounge and bold lobby were designed by Christian Lacroix (more pictures in the next post). His creations are reminiscent of the old Siam and yet everything is fabulously modern.  The room themes were created by five Thai designers, each one asked to tell their version of one of the five elements: fire, earth, wood, metal and water. We stayed in the Water Element, and I loved the calm and elegant muted colors.

 
 
Everyone in our family loves cooking, including DS, and for the last night in Bangkok we booked the Chef's table at the SO Sofitel's Park Society restaurant. Watching the kitchen in action made for a fun and memorable evening, and the food was, of course, wonderful too.



The Hi-SO roof top bar is located right next door. Perfect for a night cup while enjoying Bangkok's sparkling skyline for one last time


Coming next:

Postcard from Koh Samui and summer vacation travel wardrobe



Old Siam Plaza Food Hall: Wang Burapha Phirom, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200. Open from 10 am to 8 pm www.theoldsiam.co.th

Trimurti shrine: in front of the Central World shopping mall: 999/9 Rama I Rd, Khwaeng Pathum Wan (the neighboring Food in the Garden street food hall is also worth exploring)

Erawan shrine: in front of Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel, corner of Ploenchit and Ratchadamri Road

SO Sofitel Bangkok, 2 North Sathorn Road, Bangrak, Bangkok 10500. Tel +66 2624 0000
www.so-sofitel-bangkok.com

Park Society Restaurant and Hi-SO bar on the 29th floor of the SO Sofitel, 29th floor.
Tel: +66 2 624 0000

Chatuchak weekend market: for detailed infos and how to get there, please visit: www.chatuchakmarket.org


15 comments:

  1. What a joy to see your Instagram snippets combined into a large picture, and with your comments, oberservations and vivid descriptions- another heavenly travelogue! Thanks for sharing your very different experiences - certainly a lot warmer than the Alps! I love revisiting places with your eyes - you focus on so many little details that may go unnoticed otherwise. Looking forward to the next parts of your journey- can’t wait!! Hope you brought along some sunshine and spring weather. Love, Katha

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for the lovely comment, dearest Katja! We didn't miss the Alps this year, it was just so lovely to soak up the sun. So happy you enjoyed revisiting Bangkok and hope you find 'your Thailand' in the coming episodes too. Much love and hope you are having a wonderful spring!

      Delete
  2. I always enjoy reading about your vacation adventures because you appreciate and explain what is special to the locale. You have such good photos and wonderful descriptions that one feels they are sharing the experience with you. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much Jo, I'm so happy you enjoy the postcard posts! They are so personal and often take quite a lot of time to put together... knowing they make you feel sharing the experience makes it very much worth it. Merci!

      Delete
  3. What an enticing travelogue, highlighting an enchanted land. I had no idea! I'm amazed by their attention to detail and the desire to create beauty in common, everyday things like the street food. Here we put up with meals in paper bags and a $6 latte in a paper cup, and there they turn a simple fast meal into art.

    Your suite at the SO Sofitel was amazing - wow, house sized and stunning. But even more amazing and stunning is the traffic - it looks worse than Atlanta's on a Friday afternoon!

    It sounds like you had a memorable trip, and I'm definitely looking forward to the next installment.

    Love to you and the Swans,
    Jerrine

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Darling Jerrine, your comment nearly made me drop my latte! Very well observed and described... if only we could take all the best parts from the world and combine them into one! And of course leave the ones parts out... traffic being high on the list, for sure.
      Much much love as always xx

      Delete
  4. Bangkok has always been on my dream list, and the enticement continues after your amazing experience. From the gorgeous hotel and restaurant to the bustling streets and markets, it looks like a land of contrasts and new discoveries. How wonderful that your entire family could experience all Bangkok has to offer, especially for a family of foodies!

    However, I'm with Jerrine--that traffic looks worse than Atlanta on a Friday night of a long weekend! That's Southern speak for horrendous! No wonder you relied on public transportation--anyone with any sense would!

    I can't wait to see what you wore and how you put it all together. As a swan, I rely on your style expertise to trickle down into my pea brain and inspire me!

    Happy Easter to all the swans celebrating and to those not, Happy Spring!

    xoxoxo--Greta

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dearest Greta, - hope a trip to Bangkok will materialize one day very soon! And then let the skytrain be your guide. Being stuck in traffic has to be one of the most boring and unproductive exerices on Earth, really hope it'll be eliminated one day. Happy Spring to you and big hugs xx

      Delete
  5. Oh the places you go! Your trip sounds divine and I am sure many wonderful memories made!
    This installment of your travelogue is a perfect tickler for the next! Look forward to reading about what and wear/where!
    Happy Easter, Passover to all gathered here,
    T xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you darling Trudye! The memories are safely tucked away in a happy corner, but they've also spilled into the inspiration section! It's been an unforgettable time, and I hope to be back one day. Biggest mwahs and have a wonderful week xx

      Delete
  6. Dearest Mai Tai,

    Thank you for taking us along to Thailand. Loved your description and the pictures and can't wait to see the next parts and pictures of you. Have a lovely weekend. Big hug, Manuela

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you dearest Manuela, for your lovely comment. So happy you liked the first part of the Thailand travelogue and hope you enjoy the coming two parts too! Have a lovely evening and biggest hugs xx

      Delete
  7. A BEAUTIFUL VACATION!
    Now I need to find THAT BASKET BAG you showed somewhere.......I WANT ONE if its BIG ENOUGH!
    XX

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You found it, thank you very much! It should be with you soon, and I hope you find it big enough xxx PS. Can't wait to see pictures <3

      Delete
  8. Chère Maitai merci de nous avoir fait voyager Un séjour sublime et bien plus chaud que les alpes surtout que l hiver est bien long chez nous .Je crois que les plantes que tu n,as pas connue sont de l aloé véra car j en ai a la maison J attends avec impatiente tes prochaines photos Je t,embrasse ma très chère Mai tai Myriam

    ReplyDelete