Marisa is a freelance writer and librarian who grew up in Thailand who loves sharing Thailand's history and culture with anyone who will listen...
Over the years, the New York Times has showcased different aspects of Bangkok through its “36 Hours in” series including some inspired locales that we thought would truly offer new insights into Thai culture. So, with the help of the NYT team, we designed New York Times Journeys – Bangkok’s Hidden History and Food Culture to share our favourite parts of the city with you!
A history lesson with bursts of flavour
We begin with a simple snack oozing with history, khanom bueang. At Mae Prapa’s, crispy crepes receive a dollop of sweetened meringue to accompany sweet or savoury toppings, from shredded coconut to chopped scallions. As we crunch away on these scrumptious mouthfuls, we learn that, although Mae Prapa has been serving these delights for over 50 years, these snacks date back centuries earlier to 14th century Thai Ayudhya Kingdom and the intervention of an old Portuguese lady. To learn more, join the tour!
Back at Mae Prapa, we wander over to Phra Sumen Fort, one of Bangkok’s many fortifications, but only one of two still standing today. This one is now the centrepiece of a lovely riverside park, where we learn a little history of Bangkok as we enjoy the view, including a recitation of Bangkok’s full name (if you want to know, google it, it’s a doozy to try to say in one breath!). By this time, our trusty tuk tuks arrive to take us to our next destination.
A moment of reflection, then time to “decode Thainess”
No tour is complete without photo ops, and the tuk tuk ride from Phra Sumen to our next stop, Wat Mahathat Yuwaratrangsarit cruises past some iconic sights, heading along Sanam Luang with the Grand Palace outlined in the distance, then turning towards the river and more local sights of street stalls and pushcart vendors. Wat Mahathat is one of the oldest temples in Bangkok, but we’re not here to wander the grounds. We’ve come to the temple’s world renown Vipassana Meditation centre, where we take a moment with a monk who teaches us acceptance and how to calm our minds through Insight Meditation.
Mind a little clearer, we head back into our tuk tuks and head further down to Museum Siam where they’ve taken edutainment to a whole new level. This colonial style building used to house the Ministry of Commerce, but now, it is Museum Siam, a self-proclaimed “discovery museum”. Inventively interactive, each exhibit encourages us to play along, from opening drawers and cupboards to find out more about a display to putting plates on a setting for a multimedia presentation (when you can learn more about khanom bueang!)
A milky sugar high before calling it a night
Head slightly spinning from all the factoids we don’t want to forget – which Buddha image represents our birth day, why different spirit houses get different offering, when did Pad Thai become the national dish – our tuk tuk drivers take us to well deserved break at Mont Nom Sod. Fifty years ago, dairy wasn’t an integral part of the Thai diet, so Mont Nom Sod served it more as a treat, usually flavoured and very sweet, often as condensed milk with cubes of thickly sliced bread. Having started as a street cart, the quality of the milk products has led to it becoming a local institution and popular shop today.
That sweet revelry is followed by a savoury snack and some fun engaging with the street food vendors outside. Then we head to our final stop, Tep Bar, just on the outskirts of Chinatown, steps away from Hua Lampong Train Station. Literally tucked away in a side street off a side street (this is a “blink and miss it” location), Tep has a speakeasy feel that exudes Thai pride. How’s that? Well, there are infusions of Thai herbs of all sorts to create cocktails like the Thai Sabais we enjoy, one of the main attractions is watching giant prawn crackers be prepared before tucking in with a lovely sweetened chili paste. And then, a local musician climbs on a makeshift stage to play tunes on a Thai xylophone. Sated and smiling, the tour ends just as the night begins.
Urban Adventures Truly Reveals a Hidden Side of Bangkok
There are the must-sees in Bangkok, the Grand Palace, Temple of Dawn, Chatuchak Market, and so on, but some of us prefer exploring the “hidden” sides of the City of Angels. “Hidden” is a bit of a misnomer, since these gems are revealed here and since most are quite well known among locals. Urban Adventures’ New York Times Journeys – Bangkok’s Hidden History and Food Culture is as promised – a journey to spark curiosity and tickle taste buds beyond the typical temples, satay, and som tam.