Thursday, February 5

Organised Chaos (A Trip To Thailand): Part Two

Over the next few days we hung out with my friend’s Thai acquaintances. With their ability to speak Thai, and navigate the city, we were able to cover much more ground than before. We went to many a museum and cultural site, making that easy small talk that occurs among travellers, even when none of you can communicate well in one particular language. The time we spent together was certainly valuable, we saw many sites a day, but these Thais were…quite Asian. It was a quiet and studious affair. I did very much appreciate their help, and would wonder how I could repay their kindness when they had selflessly acted as our guides and asked for nothing in return.

My mission to try a wide variety of fantastic Thai food wasn't going well either. Not being a local, I had no idea where to eat good Thai food, neither did my friend nor apparently the Thais. Right outside our hotel where some food stalls, serving dishes such as chicken rice and congee. Now these dishes were extremely tasty, fresh and cheap. However, they were Thai appropriations of established Chinese dishes. So while I would have enjoyed eating Thai style chicken rice any day of the year, it wasn't exactly special. In the entire week in Bangkok, I think I only ate two meals that really excited me.

Congee, Thai style

The first came after we went to see Muay Thai. A late night dinner was in order, after we left at around 10 pm. We passed some unknown food stalls and decided to stop. Here is where I tried my first Pad Thai in a long time, and my first in Thailand. I’d eaten it before in the UK, and been impressed by its blandness. Naturally in Thailand, the Pad Thai tasted better, but it was still an incredibly inoffensive dish. Mostly composed of rice noodles; there was little in the way of spice, meats, vegetables, or even nice sauce. It was just boring.
Still, there were other stalls serving more varied food. One such stall's menu was entirely in Thai, so I asked my friends to help me. I ended up ordering half a dozen dishes, having no idea what would come out. What arrived was simply captivating.
Served on small plastic plates, every dish was an explosion of fresh, distinct flavours. Lemon grass, galangal and ginger featured prominently in many dishes. I couldn't name them, but among the dozen or so dishes we ate a fruit salad, a seafood salad, some minced pork, a hotpot of sorts and a curry. This was the food I had been searching for! Despite the protests from my stomach, I ate and ate, determined to enjoy as much of these jewels as I could. It also gave me an opportunity to thank my Thai friends, by paying for the meal. It was the highlight of the trip for me.

Yersh, one hell of a meal!

Now I did just mention Muay Thai…
I've done Muay Thai on and off, for years. It’s perhaps the only sport that I have a true passion for, having tried my hands at a dozen others. Naturally being in Thailand meant I had to watch the authentic sport. After some research I figured out where to go, and with the help of our Thai friends, we arrived at the relatively new Lumpinee Stadium. After haggling with the ticket seller, we paid almost $40 each to get ring side seats. I quickly noticed that we were essentially in the ‘tourist’ area, no Thais sat here, they all sat in the second and third class areas. Once the fighting began I saw why; while the ring side seats were closer, the second class seats provide almost as good a view and at a fraction of the price. Oh well.
The fights were mostly performed by children, 15 years old in some cases. They were accomplished and could certainly kick my ass, but I wasn't particularly excited. Occasionally the Thais would start yelling “Knee! Knee! Knee!” and it was hard to not get caught up in the excitement. After two hours of fights we decided to leave. A worthwhile visit? Yes. Something I could recommend? Not unless you went at a busier time of year, or are a massive fan of Muay Thai.

The other excursion of note was New Years. We went to our favourite cocktail place, Joy Luck Club, which was more of a restaurant. I had found it randomly several days earlier, had a mojito and a bite to eat, and was impressed. It also had a quirky and quiche vibe, with the South American and Western inspired d├ęcor. On New Years we ordered five cocktails each, and realised that despite the inspirational mojito, the ‘bartender’ couldn't make anything else. Many a cocktail I tried, and after looking them up online, realised they were totally different to what I was being served. Nonetheless they were enjoyable, and the owner was a very nice and earnest lady. Unfortunately she charged us the wrong amount, and despite being five cocktails down on an empty stomach, I found myself having to do mental arithmetic to settle the bill. Luckily years of refusing to use a calculator had paid off, and we closed the scene without drama and left.

My friend was too tired and drunk, so we took him back to the hotel, while the Thais and I continued on. We ended up visiting several more bars, with me drinking at each and them usually not. I steadily got drunker but the night never approached wild, which was disappointing to some degree. Spending time with just the two Thais gave me a chance to bond with them more, than while we touring around. My tongue was loosened and I talked, and asked questions incessantly. After the obligatory countdown we went to get food, and I had my second and last excellent food experience.
For some reason sukiyaki, a Japanese dish, is popular in Thailand so we started with that. When you are drunk and it's after 12 am food like this tastes even better. This was followed by an unidentifiable soup noodle dish and dessert which also tasted brilliant.
While not as crazy as my last two New Years, it was great knowing these two Thais better, as well digging into authentic Thai street food.

And so my holiday in Thailand (or Bangkok) more or less ended. I had mixed feelings. I was clearly disappointed by what I had experienced, the city being nowhere near as amazing as I had been led to believe. The city was dirty, chaotic and very little had excited me, apart from New Years and the couple of food experiences. 
But the weather was beautiful, the country cheap, the food bountiful and there was still so much for me to explore.
What I did know was that I wanted to go back and do two things in Thailand: 1. Travel with some friends who like getting wasted and doing stupid shit. I want a taste of that Bangkok hedonism I’d heard so much about. 2. Go to places like Phuket, Ciang Mi and Krabi for a totally different Thai experience, where beaches and temples are plentiful.

So I'll see you again soon Thailand, think of it as our second but promising date.