The City of Angels

I squashed myself further into the front of the pork mince stall as the train slowly trundled its way through the centre of the market. I’m not sure how it came about whether it was the market that sprung up on the train tracks or the train tracks were laid through the busy market. Whichever came first they now coexist in the same narrow space in the town of Mae Klong, an hour outside Bangkok. The stall holders are used to the passing of the train and most of the stalls are on wheels, ready to roll back their vegetables, fruit and fish when they hear the announcement from the nearby station. They leave the pulling in of the shade awnings till the last seconds though, to protect their goods and themselves from the scorching afternoon rays, jumping out in front of the slowly rumbling engine to pull in the blinds. The girls were fascinated, from their safe vantage point in a nearby fruit stall, that the lady couldn’t be bothered to move her towering pile of rambutan fruit. The bottom of the carriage just brushed the pile, sending a few of them tumbling further into the wheels, anyone for a smoothie? Literally seconds after the massive beast had passed the shade umbrellas were unleashed, stalls kicked out and the stall holders banter continued, as if nothing had happened.
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We had been brought to the market by an old friend and colleague of Steve’s Brian and his girlfriend Kae. Brian lives in Jakarta but had flown into Bangkok for the weekend to see us, he knows the city well as Kae lives there. We set off on Saturday in a long tailed boat to explore one of the floating markets. The Chao Phraya River is swollen with all the recent rains, so we had to go through a lock to access the smaller channels. There are hundreds of narrow canals in the city, houses back straight onto the water so you get to have a noisy at people’s lives. Eating out with Kae was wonderful, at the market she picked out some of the most delicious foods for us to try. Plump prawns, delicately flavoured fish, spicy salads and a couple of bowls of soup with interesting pork “bits” that tasted delicious.dsc03096wat-arun-bangkok-with-brian-and-kae
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image Surprisingly we had space that night to eat out as Brian and Kae took us to one of their favourite restaurants, the Issaya Siam Club. Looking around the sophisticated and sumptuous surroundings of the converted 1920’s house, Alisha wondered aloud why it was that we never take her to such swanky restaurants? She laughed when we told her it was what we used to do….. before we had children. Thankfully they then tried to be on their best manners, to keep up with surrounding. The experience was fantastic, not only was the food delicious but there was quite a lot of culinary theatre too. It culminated with an amazing desert translated as a “broken bucket” with all the components laid out on a couple of banana leaves on the table. First there was the coconut cream; crushed peanuts; mulberry and lychee ice-cream; and several more exotic ingredients laid out with panache. Then out came a smoking cauldron, there was a bang and onto the table tumbled some cake and a frozen chocolate “bucket” which cracked into pieces, all wreathed in fog. We were all transfixed and it tasted as good as it looked.
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The following day Brian had hired a minibus to take us all an hour outside Bangkok to Amphawa floating market. Going to a market with Kae gave us a great new perspective, as she explained all the different culinary delights that we’d seen but hadn’t been brave enough to try on our own. She bought some of the tastiest morsels for us to try. Popular with people from Bangkok, it was busy as it was Sunday lunchtime. We stopped for a delicious lunch in a riverside restaurant, just outside the main hustle and bustle of the market. dsc03154imagedsc03159
From the market we jumped back in the minibus and headed out to a wat (Buddhist temple) which had been completely engulfed by trees growing around it. Busy with devotees, Kae kindly sorted us out with the correct offerings and explained the correct way to use them. One of the fascinating aspects of Asia is the diversity of religions, so this year the girls are going to study the different ones as we pass through the region. Buddhism is next on our list, so it was great to learn more. As we had driven through the town of Mae Khlong earlier the driver had mentioned the market held on the traintracks, so we stopped on the way back to town to check it out.
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For our last night with Brian and Kae, we went to another fabulous restaurant known for its haute cuisine. It’s diverse tasting menu was full of gems. Most intriguing was the glass of rice spirit; followed by chunk of bitter tamarind; but finished off with a spray of sweet pandanus water from a little bottle – unusual but delicious. It was so lovely for Brian to fly into see us. I know Steve particularly enjoyed going for a couple of beers and a chat in the evenings after dinner, while I took the girls back to the hotel. Kae was lovely and particularly kind with the girls, listening to them chat away and showing them lots of interesting things.

The rest of the week we explored Bangkok on our own. The magnificent Grand Palace complex is full of Wats, murals, chedi (Buddhist spires) and Royal buildings. We spent several hours marvelling at its beauty and trying to photograph its splendour. Nearby Wat Pho and its immense reclining Buddha. The huge complex is filled with many temples all fascinating and beautifully decorated. Footsore after such a interesting day exploring we jumped on the local river bus to get back to our riverside hotel. The Riverside Ibis was a great find, a centrally located hotel with a big enough parking lot for the truck. How ever much I ribbed Steve about how soft he’d become staying in a hotel, I was very thankful for the location and air conditioning. dsc03209dsc03236dsc03239dsc03240dsc03273wat-pho-bangkokimageimage
Lucy’s birthday is in a couple of weeks, so as the girls joint birthday treat they spent the day at Kidzania. It’s a great concept, a city where children are the adults. They get to do different jobs, which they earn money for, which they can then spend on things. Actually writing it like that it doesn’t sound like much fun, it sounds like life. But it is absolutely great, trying out different jobs, being totally independent in a safe environment and having an absolute blast. They went to the one in Dubai, when we were shipping between Africa and Australia, and were very excited to be going again. While Steve sorted some jobs in the massive mall outside, I caught up with some writing in the parent’s lounge. I caught up with them to see them making sushi in a Japanese restaurant and to see Lucy model in a fashion show. Their favourite job was being secret agents though, especially dodging through a laser filled room to collect some secret documents. dsc03296

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Our last full day in Bangkok was more cultural with a visit to Jim Thompson’s house, an American Thai silk baron who disappeared mysteriously in 1967. He purchased six different teak houses and brought them to beside a canal in Bangkok in the 1950’s to be configured into the most beautiful mansion raised on stilts. It is full of ancient Buddhas and antiques, all done in the best possible taste. The Thai silk company he started has gone from strength and now has shops all over the country selling lovely scarves and homeware.

Our last full day in Bangkok was more cultural with a visit to Jim Thompson’s house, an American Thai silk baron who disappeared mysteriously in 1967. He purchased six different teak houses and brought them to beside a canal in Bangkok in the 1950’s to be configured into the most beautiful mansion raised on stilts. It is full of ancient Buddhas and antiques, all done in the best possible taste. The Thai silk company he started has gone from strength and now has shops all over the country selling lovely scarves and homeware.

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After our six days in the capital, we were sad to leave Krung Thep, which translates into English as the “city of angels”. While the city might be very hectic and busy it has a great energy. Crossing the bridge and jumping on the river bus or the skytrain made getting around really easy, especially important in the heat. We had a fantastic time meeting an old friend; making a new one; seeing amazing sights; exploring fascinating markets and eating lots of wonderful and diverse food.

3 thoughts on “The City of Angels

  1. Steve and I have fond memories of Bangkok. Thanks for sharing your experiences. We continue to enjoy each and every one of your entries. Best wishes for continued safe travels.
    Chris and Steve Booth

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