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Bangkok: Bustling and Sprawling

Bangkok: Bustling and Sprawling

Bangkok is what you make of it. It's reputation of neon lights and a boisterous night life isn't far fetched. When chatting with similar travelers, the consensus is that it's a fine layover, but can be skipped.

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In an effort to continue slow playing our travel plans, we stayed for four nights. And we didn't hate it. We flew from Koh Lanta, and the vibrant city felt like a different world from the one we left. 

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Waking up in a new place is my favorite feeling. With the entire day ahead, I love exploring on foot to really get a feel for daily life. And Bangkok was the epitome. 

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It's a highly walkable city with ample green spaces.

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As such we found it surprisingly easy to escape Bangkok's chaotic noteriety.

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We stayed in the neighborhood Silom at Good One Hostel. We were keen on staying in a hostel to discover Bangkok with fellow travelers, despite that our room consisted of a door and a bed. Good One Hostel has a neat concept of a cafe and bar downstairs, but unfortunately, it wasn't too conducive to meeting others. 

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The location, however, was fantastic. We were extremely impressed with Bangkok's advanced mass transit systems. The Skytrain (BTS) Chong  Nonsi  Station was a one minute walk from the hostel.

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Since the BTS and underground both have Silom connections, the vast city felt accessible. 

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After a long day of travel to get to Bangkok--planes, trains, and automobiles--we were feeling bedraggled. 

 Bus from Don Mueang International Airport, Asia's oldest operating airport

Bus from Don Mueang International Airport, Asia's oldest operating airport

We found a super satisfying restaurant next door, quick and easy.

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After, we wandered into some smaller malls, which were surprisingly fascinating to explore. Many of Bangkok's malls often feel like an air-conditioned, more orderly, version of the city's infamous night markets.

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On our first full day, we set out to really adventure. Our plan was to head to Khao San Road, by way of Chinatown, on foot.

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Thailand's capitol is becoming increasingly more diverse, where food and culture is represented from most Thai regions.

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Bangkok is also full of contractions. Megamalls scattered throughout the city stand behind old riverside villages.

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Skyscrapers share sidewalks with gold-spired temples. 

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Bangkok's vibrant street life made it easy to walk sizable distances without notcing the distance. 

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Much of daily life--stalls of to-go lunch packs, tuks tuk exchanges, hidden markets in alleyways--is carried out on the street.

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We especially enjoyed getting lost in Chinatown.

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The strip is under one mile, adjacent to Charoenkrung Road. Temples, dumpling stalls, gold shops. The energy was exciting, borderline frantic.

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I grew up going to New York' Citys Chinatown every Christmas Day, a true cliche in the Jewish community. So, I'm accustomed to congested Chinatowns. Bangkok's Chinatown was on another level. Scents of dried shrimp, head-on fish, fried dough, sugary pastries, and fragrant teas filled the alleys.

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The narrow laneways transported you to another world.

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If you were apprehensive about your next step, you may very well get trampled.

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We caught our breath outside. We did stop for some dumplings in a plastic container that we ate on low plastic stools on the side of the road. 

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Once we made it to Khao San, we were ready for something more substantial than dumplings. I have a vivid memory landing in Bangkok in 2011 and getting the best pad thai I've had in my life on Khao San Road.

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It was less than $2 USD and it was fresh, salty, sweet and nothing like the oil laden takeout dish I was accustomed to in the States. No, this was different. Prepared street side, made to order. 

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I was eager to recreate, so we stopped at the first pad thai stall we came across on Khao San. As remembered, it delivered. 

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Completely satisfied, we walked outside and it started to downpour. We popped in a bar next door to grab a beer and play cards while we waited for it to pass. Once the rain let up, we weaved our way back, past the Giant Swing on Bamrung Muang Road.

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Similar to Vietnam, we'd come across random book fairs under tents. It's unclear who was the target audience, but children, adults, and monks all perused the offerings. 

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Perhaps our favorite aspect of Bangkok was Lumpini Park, where we took a nightly stroll.

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That first day, we took the SkyTrain to the park around dusk.  

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The park is widely used by joggers and aerobic classes in the mornings and evenings. 

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Playgrounds, workout apparatuses, and a large lake fill the treelined space.

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We were inspired by the access to getting outside in a major city. Clean public restrooms with showers were scattered around the park, where an attendant facilitated a bag check while folks worked out. It all made so much sense. No cost, no fee, simply encouraging people to be active. It was one of the aspects that we wondered why more American cities don't implement such a straight forward system.

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Other days in Bangkok were spent in a similar manner. The colorful streets often felt like stimulation overload. The architecture, the scents, the colors, the cross dressers. 

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We checked out Sathorn Pier. 

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And the Gand Palace.

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The nice part of visiting a city for the second time, was that I wasn't compelled to do the typical tourist activities. We were racing from temple to temple. We gained so much more by discovering quiet streets on our own accord.

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Lined with old wooden houses on stilts. 

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We stopped in a Chinese tea room, Tea Chaprasert, which felt like an oasis in the middle of the city. We were treated to a lovely tea tasting, where we learned about a world of teas we'd never been exposed to. 

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As such, we stopped in a grocery store to buy Cha Tra Mue, a famous Thai tea, as a gift. Kind women in the store explained the differences between each type. In the most general sense, we found Thai people to be so friendly, and it was refreshing that the same held true in such a big city.

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Bangkok is largely known for it's world-class street food scene. Every meal is sold on the street, anytime of day or night. Colorful sweet concoctions.

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Fresh fruit stands were ubiquitous. 

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Live crabs. 

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Commuters would often pick up breakfast and to-go packaged lunches in the morning on the way to work. But, the scene was even more lively at night. It was hot, but I find steamy noodles at plastic tables to be one of the greatest joys of traveling.

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Personally, our time in Bangkok was capped off with one of the most well orchestrated cooking classes I've taken abroad. 

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Sompong Thai Cooking School offers highly reputable cooking classes in Bangkok.

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I was eager to take a class in Thailand, and after three weeks traveling north to south, I managed to do so on our very last day in the country.

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The class started by visiting the local market to learn, smell, and understand the ingredients we were using. Typically the entire vegetable is used: kaffir lime juice and the leaves for various curries, coriander root used for flavor and the leaf for decoration.

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The market tour provided a comprehensive understanding of the elements of Thai cooking.  Saltiness from dried shrimp and fish sauce, sourness from lime juice and tamarind, and sweetness in savory dishes often comes from the palm sugar coconut. We also learned how coconut milk and cream is made and separated. 

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Each day of the week offers a different menu. I took the class on a Wednesday and the preset menu was ideal. We started by making panaeng curry paste (num-phrik-kaeng-panaeng).

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Which was used in the panaeng chicken curry (panaeng-kai). The version we made was essentially Thai red curry with crushed peanuts.

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One of my favorites, Thai Papaya Salad (som-tam-Thai).

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I had a heavy assist for the tomato rose from the talented instructor, who assured me I needed more practice. 

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I was lucky to be part of a wonderful group: one traveler from Kuala Lumpar, one from Taiwan, and one from South Korea. They all helped ensure I didn't burn my pad thai, which is quite easy to do since the stir fried noodles can burn quickly. It was lovely to share the meal with them as well, as we compared travel notes. Dessert included a cloyingly sweet bananas in golden syrup (kluay-kai-chrumand fresh mango.

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Bangkok is a dynamic city. And as I suppose is the case with any large metropolitan area, you can find whatever you're looking for. I absolutely loved the green space the city had to offer, which I think should be highlighted more often. Of course, the cooking class, where seemingly complex dishes were in fact so simple. Ultimately, I'd say Bangkok is worth at least a few days. You can truly find anything you're craving and if nothing else, you'll never be bored.

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