Staying in the Old Quarter
This, not that, is what we were looking for in Bangkok
We settled in for a week at the Feung Nakorn Balcony Rooms, the only hotel in a quiet section of Bangkok’s old quarter. The largely residential neighborhood is within walking distance of some of Bangkok’s popular sites, including the GrandPalace. But the sightseeing began just steps from the hotel. Across the street was a lovely temple we had almost all to ourselves.
The Grand Palace
Europe’s castles and cathedrals are two reasons we keep returning to that continent again and again. So it’s no surprise that Bangkok’s wonderland of temples and other grand buildings would make a list of favorites.
Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall
We thought we had time traveled to Europe when we laid eyes on this Italian Renaissance-style building, commissioned in 1906 as a reception hall. Today a museum, it’s filled with artwork from frescoed ceilings on down, and admission is included with a ticket to the Grand Palace although it’s in a different section of the city. The many rules you have to follow to get inside and the chaotic way you’re informed about them is off-putting—all belongings must go in a rented locker in another building (including cameras, so no interior photos), women must wear skirts (even long pants for females won’t get you entry)—but worth the hassle. The Throne Hall is truly impressive inside, although you’ll have to take our word for it.
Buddha statues are everywhere in Bangkok. They’re enshrined in temples across the city. They’re sold in fancy shops and market stalls. They come gilded, bronzed, and bejeweled. We saw Buddhas being well-tended by Bangkok residents, bathed, tucked in at night, and carefully cushioned for transport in the backs of trucks. Bangkok’s Buddhas range from the diminutive Emerald Buddha, housed at the Grand Palace and reaching just 26 inches, to the country’s largest reclining Buddha, a massive 15 feet high and 150 feet long.
We now have passports burgeoning with fresh blank pages courtesy of the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok. It’s a seemingly simple task we would not have had time to complete during our month-long stopover in New York this spring thanks to government bureaucracy. The Embassy, meanwhile, handed us each 48 new pages of possibility in an hour and for less than it would have cost stateside.
Streetside Pad Thai
We made three visits to Thip Samai just to be certain that the restaurant deserves legendary status for its Pad Thai. Their vegetarian version delivers a perfect medley of fresh ingredients and spices—mushrooms, marinated tofu, spring onions added to taste, lime wedges for zesting, and unlimited amounts of crushed red pepper and peanuts. There is also entertainment. While standing on the fast-moving line, you can watch other diners’ dishes being prepared in the sidewalk kitchen.
Our Favorite Soup Shop
“You spicy. And you medium.” At what fast became our preferred lunch spot in Bangkok, the owner greeted us with a grin and showed off his mental prowess, recalling from a previous visit how we each liked our soup.
In our constantly changing world, a small bit of familiarity goes a long way. Finding an eatery we enjoy enough to return to is cause for celebration. Not only does it help ease the burden of constantly figuring out where to eat, it makes us feel like regulars even if it’s for a short time. When you travel every day of the year, simple pleasures can be as satisfying as watching a sunrise over Angkor Wat. Like finding a humble noodle shop where the chef knows exactly how many chilies to add to your soup.
Where it is: Fuang Nakhon Road between Soi Sukha 2 and Sukha 1 Alley. Coming from the Feung Nakorn Balcony Rooms, the soup shop is on the right hand side of the street. Look for the sign below (in Thai), the pink gate, and the friendly owner greeting customers.