We arrived in Bangkok at dusk. The air was warm, a balmy 31 degrees (c).
After reaching the entrance to the airport, we boarded the tram and headed off to our hostel. Upon reaching the last stop, we stopped by a 7-Eleven and picked up some bottled water for the night.
Sitting on the bus to our hostel, I let the tropical breeze flow through my hair. Looking out the window, I could feel a difference in tone compared to China. Things here seem more lighthearted; hiding who you are and what you believe in doesn’t have a place.
We arrived at our hostel, The Shanti Lodge, with hungry stomachs and tired eyes. Searching for dinner, we came to the conclusion that the only place still open near us was a 7-Eleven. I enjoyed a surprisingly good spaghetti carbonara with a chocolate milk.
The next morning, we got off to a late start. Our logistics team took us to the river boat station; at the station, fish swelled in the water near the dock. Peter bought a bag of bread crusts that a local was selling nearby, and we took turns tossing various sizes of crusts into the murky water below to feed the catfish. They flopped around in a large horde around the bread pieces.
We boarded one of large boats and were ushered to the front. We traveled about ten minutes along the wide canal where we were dropped off at the first Thai Bhuddist temple.
The first views were stunning. Large white spires topped the square temple. Tall stairs led to the first tier of the temple. Our group explored the site for thirty minutes while baking under the blazing sunshine.
We once again boarded a river boat to cross to the other side of the river. The opposite bank was loaded with souvenir shops and fruit vendors of all kinds. I purchased a delicious fresh papaya from a fruit vendor for twenty baht. The second temple had many vendors surrounding the perimeter. There were also many tourists which made me feel a little out of place. I realized I hadn’t seen this many tourists since my arrival in Beijing.
After some confusion over our lunch plans, we headed to the line of Tuk-Tuks (small motor driven carriages that resemble – as Ellie calls it – a marriage between a golf cart and a carousel) and negotiated a decent price for three Tuk-Tuks. The ride was exhilarating. The drivers seemed to be trying to race each other. At one point I saw Melissa, Mercedes, and Muskaan zoom past, only to catch up to them moments later. I was unsure how much I was willing to trust the driver given I was not even sitting in a designated seat since we had four people in a three person carriage. It was fun but a little scary.
After paying the drivers 150 baht each, we made our way down the main food street. There were signs outcropping from the surrounding buildings almost every other foot. Deciding that this street was a little too touristy and expensive for our liking, we took the next left and found that we really couldn’t escape the touristy restaurants. We enjoyed Thai food at this Israeli-Thai restaurant, Shoshana. Many pad Thais and Thai ice teas were ordered. The Thai flavors were a nice change after Kunming, whose flavors lack some sweetness.
We walked from the restaurant to another combined restaurant-and-cooking school where we had a scheduled class. The cooking instructor warmly greeted us and ushered us upstairs to the classroom. The classroom had several steel tables with multiple large burners set up. There was a long table to the side which sat all of us. Everyone received small recipe books and the lesson began.
First we were to make the restaurant’s secret chili paste. The instructor had us add various ingredients as he made the paste. After adding the dry chiles, he blended the mixture. We were encouraged to taste the chili paste with cucumber slices and carrot sticks. It tasted amazing. This chili paste would become the base of the next recipe.
The recipe that followed was a vegetable tofu soup. Starting with the frying of the aromatics, we moved to adding the vegetables, tofu, and water. Some light seasoning was put in and then a tablespoon or two of chili paste. Coconut milk was then added which transformed the clear soup into a creamy broth. I was surprised how such a simple dish could taste so complex.
From the soup, we moved on to curry. For this recipe, we were given the ingredients, told the methods and set off to make the dish in groups of two. For the curry, it was very important to not leave the spices in the hot oil for too long or they would burn and ruin the flavor. I made sure to watch for smoke and put the water and coconut milk in immediately after I saw a slight color change in the tomato paste. For vegetables, we had baby corn, potato, carrot, tomato, and onion. The curry was incredibly fragrant and didn’t take long at all to finish up. The flavor was, like the soup before, very good.
Our final dish was a personal favorite, pad Thai. Now let me start off by saying that I have tried to make this dish back in America multiple times. Every time, it turned out very wrong. I was super excited to learn the authentic method as I believe my previous attempts were western re-creations. We started by turning the heat on high and frying the vegetables with the garlic. Once the garlic browned, the vegetables were pushed to the side of the wok and one egg was cracked into the wok. I stirred vigorously as to not let any of the egg burn. In went the noodles and we were advised to do sort of a crushing motion to make the rice noodles soft. After a minute or two, the seasoning of dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, and sugar was added. We turned off the heat, added the lime juice, and garnished with peanuts and coriander leaves (cilantro).
At this point we had all eaten so much food. I was not sure how much more food I was able to eat, but I couldn’t just not eat the pad Thai I had just made. Just when I thought I couldn’t eat any more, our instructor made some of the mango with sticky rice and coconut milk that was in our small recipe books. I don’t think I have ever tasted such a sweet, fragrant, and juicy mango. We thanked our teacher and filed out of the restaurant.
I am fairly sure not one person was comfortable with how much food we had consumed within the last couple hours. We decided to walk back to our hostel. The walk took about twenty minutes and everyone was exhausted on our return. I retired to my bed to relax and recollect my thoughts.
Several people headed out later to the night market while others stayed back to rest.
The next morning we left at 6:00 AM to the airport for our flight back to Kunming.
I am glad to have seen what I saw and accomplished what we did in Bangkok, but it is clear that there is a lot more we could have seen to get a better understanding of southern Thai culture. Now, sitting on the plane back to Kunming, I look forward to the rest of our program and the many new experiences I will have in Kunming, Xishuangbanna, and our student planned travels. That cooking class has to have been one of my favorite events of our trip thus far and I am fortunate to have had such a great experience in Bangkok.