“So, what is Bangkok most famous for?”
I asked, trying to strike up a conversation with the driver who had picked me up at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport. The pre-arranged airport-to-hotel transfer was in a sleek Mercedes. It was going to cost me twice as much as a regular taxi. But hey, on this trip I wasn’t scrounging.
He thought for a moment and replied with a chuckle, “girls!’
He didn’t elaborate.
It took me a little bit by surprise. I had expected him to mention things like food, temples, silk, massage, etc. before getting to the girls. I wondered if he was referring to the beauty of Thai girls in general, or to the much-maligned sex tourism industry the name Bangkok triggers in people’s minds.
For me, Thailand was a filler — one more country that I could visit before I had to head back to deal with the realities of everyday stuff. I had not done much research on Bangkok. It was somewhere I was going to go, because I could.
Besides the nightlife, and the seedier side of Bangkok, the only other thing I had heard about the city was Gaggan — the Two-Michelin-Star rated Indian restaurant that had won the The Best Restaurant in Asia award three years in a row.
The first thing that struck me about Bangkok was that it is hot and sweaty with temperatures hovering around 30 degrees Celsius during the day. The concierge at the JW Marriott, located centrally at Sukhumvit and Soi 2, reminded me that it was winter in Bangkok. I was not about to complain, my wife had just sent me pictures of our street in Mississauga covered in a foot of snow.
With a population of around eight Million people, Bangkok is no small city. I had to choose what I was going to see and experience in the two days I had planned for Bangkok.
I picked temples, food, and the night-life.
The numerous markets — night market, the weekend market, the flower market, and others like them — will have to wait for another time.
If you are into temples (locally referred to as “wats”), you will get your fill in Bangkok. For a city known more for its frisky ways, people appeared more religious than I had expected them to be. Monks and ordinary people flocked to temples to offer prayers and incense sticks at all hours of the day. The temples, dedicated to Buddha, were unique in their own ways — lying Buddha, standing Buddha, emerald Buddha etc. Here’s a post titled “Ten must-see temples” from Bangkok.com that provide overviews of the top temples in Bangkok.
That brings me to food and Gaggan.
I do not know a lot of people who do not love Thai food. From street food and functional hole-in-the-walls, to quirky restaurants with names like “Cabbages & Condoms,” Bangkok offers something to fit everyone’s taste and budget.
It is odd that the best restaurant in Thailand serves “progressive Indian food” and not Thai food. I had first heard about Gaggan Anand and his early struggles while watching an inspiring episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix.
Typically, if someone had told me that I would have to wait three months to get a table at a restaurant, I would have simply avoided it. But this was Gaggan, so I decided to give it a shot.
I got a table-for-one on my third attempt!
As someone who is apprehensive about food that looks better than it tastes, I figured that even if I didn’t like it, the experience would give me some bragging rights.
My concerns were quickly dispelled. Gaggan was everything it promised to be!
The twenty-five course prix fixe menu showed only a list of emojis, leaving patrons guessing as to the content of each of the dishes until revealed by the staff at the very end. The restaurant did ensure that customers’ food allergies and restrictions were identified upfront. The unique presentation styles and the creativity fully complemented the taste and authenticity of the food.
With the temples and Gaggan out of the way, I decided to check out the nightlife.
I had done enough research to know that there were primarily three areas of Bangkok dedicated to adult entertainment — Nana Plaza, Soi Cowboy, and Patpong. Since Nana Plaza was a two-minute walk from my hotel, I decided to check it out first. I quickly realized that the concept of personal space does not exist when you are ambling along Soi 4 — the street where Nana Plaza is located. Everything is in your face — the girls, the masseuses, the ladyboys… Everyone is out to try and to get you interested in their wares and services.
“Avoid making eye contact, that is the cue…” I remembered Neville, my cousin advising me.
That is easier said than done when you are trying to take in all that is going on and every other person on the street is trying to sell you something. In about an hour or so, I had clicked enough pictures and downed a couple of beers and was ready to head back to the sanity of the Manhattan Bar at the JW for a night cap.
As I sipped my bourbon, I realized that the temples, palaces, and the energy of the city appealed to me more than the the walk down Soi 4.
To each one his own…
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