Bangkok night tour, Thailand
Most visitors to Bangkok have seen the city by night. But, usually, only one side of the city. They’ve seen the bars, decorated by the girls being suffocated by mini skirts; they’ve seen the stalls along the side of the main roads selling t-shirts for a few dollars or handicrafts that have never been touched by a hand and show no signs of any craft; they’ve seen the street food carts with sizzling or bubbling concoctions that are probably delicious but are maybe not worth the risk.
This is the Bangkok by night that an average visitor sees when they step outside their hotel in areas like Sukhumvit or Silom. This is not the Bangkok by night that locals know.
To find this local side of Thailand’s capital, you don’t need to go far. But you do need to know where to look. It’s in the markets, the restaurants, the temples and the streets that you can discover a different side of the city.
Take the Khlong San Plaza markets for example. Once upon a time this site was a train station but now it’s become a different part of a daily commute for many. It’s where they stop in the mornings or the evenings on their way home from work.
Food stalls sell cheap snacks or more filling meals for the weary who can’t face their kitchen. Row after row of small clothes shops line the heart of the market and young women – many with unimpressed boyfriends – flick through the shirts and pants and skirts on the racks. (Quality is not what they’re looking for and that’s lucky because it’s not on offer in this mecca of disposable fashion.) Some people are getting their hair cut, their nails done or even a tattoo! Interestingly, I hear very little shouting for shoppers to come into a stall or look closer… that treatment is reserved for the tourists.
A small ferry takes me across the river. It’s just 3 baht for a ticket (about ten cents) which seems cheap but, then again, all it does is go from one side to the other. Nearby bridges would do the same job but that would add a lot of walking into a journey. The ferries are part of a normal commute for many Thais but at this time of night they’re quite empty.
On the other side of the river is one of Bangkok’s most impressive temples – Wat Pho. I’ve been here before during the day but never at night. It’s almost unrecognisable. After dark there’s no entrance fee and there are also no tourists. Not every part of the complex is open and a trip during sunlight would still be worthwhile but there’s something a bit special about the dim lighting on the ornately-colourful stupas throughout the temple. It’s serene and appropriate for a site like this. I take in the atmosphere for a while before moving on.
Guiding me through local Bangkok this evening is a new tour company called Expique. They’ve put together small tours that show a different side of the city and we’re using tuk tuks to travel most of the way. Although we may be a bunch of tourists, we see no others in the places we’re visiting.
The tuk tuk I’m in stops outside a restaurant called Thip Samai for dinner. It has a reputation for making the best pad thai in Bangkok – a big call but one that’s hard to disprove and so the claim is perpetuated. A production line on the street churns out the dishes. One cook stir fries, another wraps the dish in egg. The meal arrives hot on the table and, biting into it, I find myself unable to argue against its top status. (Incidentally, if you do go to Thip Samai restaurant, make sure you drink the homemade juice – it’s delicious!)
It’s starting to get late but that’s just when things begin to get busy around Bangkok’s main flower market. More than just flowers are sold here, although they are the focus. Crates are being wheeled around the surrounding streets, produce is being unpacked for sale onto tables, bags of petals are being filled. I see one man, standing amongst boxes of vegetables, quickly sneaking a bowl of rice. Young men – you could almost mistake them for boys if not for their dark tattoos – are shirtless and shifting enormous blocks of ice. Girls – unmistakeable as such – are making final trims of flower arrangements that will soon be sold to Bangkok’s hotels and restaurants.
We get a few strange looks as we wander through – I don’t think tourists come here at this time of night often. I don’t feel unwelcome, though (expect perhaps when I get in the way of a man pushing boxes too fast through the narrow walkways).
The night finishes in Chinatown with dessert from a small cart on the side of the street. It’s an interesting dish – a sweet soup filled with more than a dozen strange objects, each fitting somewhere on the spectrum of tasty to ‘what the hell is this?!’. The man who serves me has to explain how to mix it properly and he does so with half a smile and half a rolled eye.
Perhaps, in some ways, it’s a symbol of Bangkok by night. Mixed into this sweet soup of a city are the good and the bad. You just need a local to help you work it all out.
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Time Travel Turtle was a guest of Expique but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.