Being in a metropolis like Bangkok was strangely comforting, like the buzzing feeling I get when I return to NYC after a long trip away. The city welcomed us with lights, traffic, Uber, cocktails, rooftops, and shopping malls- all things that I thought would be a turn off after being in such small towns and being so close to nature, yet we fell right into step with the pace of the city.
The first night was actually like eating at a mediocre Thai spot in NYC. We really just went for the name (see below). We spent the remainder of the evening at Backstage Bar, which had a speak easy vibe. Thick plush curtains separated each table and dimly lit candles helped you get cozy with the heavily scented drinks (rose, cinnamon, and vanilla). The hiphop youtube mix was also a familiar and made for an easy night.
Mr. Ken arrived early for our day trip to Ayutthaya, the second capital in Siam for 417 years! Our first stop was the Bang-Pa-In Summer Palace, dating back to the 17th century. It was first used by Prasat Thong from 1629-1656, and then was revived by Rama IV. It’s really impressive to see a garden and residence so large for one family. Various architectural styles influence the buildings on site like a Swiss style chalet and a Chinese style throne.
Mr. Ken chuckled ‘I love Americans’ when we declared we were ready for the next stop on the itinerary after just under an hour on the grounds. Even with a stop for a smoothie along the way, I didn’t see how we needed to spend more time here, but maybe I was missing something? Mr. Ken said that other visitors spend twice as long in the garden alone. With this pace, we’d definitely get back to the Grand palace and Wat Pho by the afternoon as these were two sites that Mr. Ken highly recommended.
We learned how to bow our heads to the reclining Buddha at Wat Lokayasutharam, and then made our way to Wat Mahathat where the roots of a tree surround the head of a Buddha statue. Visitors should kneel next to the head when snapping a picture so that your head is not higher than Buddha’s. We enjoyed a set lunch at De Riva Ayutthaya, a riverside restaurant where Mr. Ken ordered us too many noodles. We didn’t think that was possible at this point!
A power nap on the car ride back to Bangkok ensured we were fresh for the Grand Palace. The Thai King, Bhumibol Adulyadej, passed in October 2016. He was the world’s longest reigning monarch (seventy years!) Flocks of Thai mourners were visiting from around the country to pay their respects making our Grand Palace visit a historical one. Folks were dressed entirely in black from head to toe, not just for this visit, but for 100 days after the kings passing- or potentially until he is buried. (see previous pic of Mr. Ken in black)
We actually timed our visit so that we would arrive at the same time as the Royal Family’s motorcade was entering the Palace (just kidding, but it was neat!) All visitors had to sit on the sidewalk for about twenty minutes until the family was within the Palace walls, giving Corey just enough time to buy elephant pants to ensure he was ‘decent’ for the palace grounds.
The Grand Palace was established in 1782 by Rama I and it definitely lives up to its name. We spent an hour inside the walls and hadn’t even gotten a peek at the palace at that point. This complex is home to the renowned Emerald Buddha and various other government offices. The Buddha is actually carved from a block of jade, and was found in Chiang Rai, a northern Thai city before it found it’s home in Bangkok. Surrounding the Emerald Buddha’s temple are four other monuments: a Golden Chedi, a Royal Pantheon, the Mondop, where sacred Buddhist scriptures live, and oddly, a miniature model of Angkor Wat. Scattered around the complex were various statues of mythical creatures to protect these buildings. During this time, we noted that separate spaces were created for Thai mourners and for foreigners. Foreign visitors were cattle herded through a small gate in order to walk by the Palace. I appreciated that Thai mourners stood/sat in lines where they had food and water provided while they waited to see the revered King.
Wat Pho, aka the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is a short walk from the Grand Palace. The Buddha is also as grand as the grounds feel since it is surrounded by chedis and stupas that are iconic to this area. We caught monks chanting in the large temple space, and Corey spent some time capturing a perfect picture of an archway.
Our dreams of getting a massage at the Wat Pho Massage school were quickly extinguished since the lines were very long and the number system didn’t seem to be getting us anywhere. However, we figured that the sister campus around the corner must be quite good as well. After a coffee at the very cute Elefin cafe, we secured a foot massage at the end of their day.
No way that our dinner recommendation was just around the corner from the massage campus!? Too good to be true! Err Rustic Cuisine did not disappoint. It was the best restaurant meal we had on our entire trip. Thank you, Tamara (Noma’s sommolier)! The phrase ‘err’ is an informal, almost too casual way of saying ‘yes’ in the Thai language. You’d use this phrase with close family members and friends. The name was picked to symbolize the causal ambiance of the restaurant. I actually sighed when I took my first bite of food– the foodie-seeking, big city, tablescape-setting good type of sigh. Food stalls are another category so there isn’t a comparison here. We appreciated the house mosquito repellent provided at our table as well. Our Samui-ferry friends, Whitney and Paolo, recommended Above 11, a rooftop bar, for a cocktail so we snagged a small table and looked out over the city lights and reminisced about our adventures on our last evening.
For the final day on our honeymoon, we did some shopping. First, we visited Chatuchak Weekend Market, the largest market in Thailand. It felt as if I was reliving the souk life in Marrakesh with so many vendors, alleys, and shops! The stalls are packed into one place, and there is a numbering system that I quickly ignored. We found Pai, and his wonderfully trademarked backpacks. Hamblepie is a collaboration with Pai and his mom, and we were happy to pick out some new hand-sewn backpacks and other small gifts.
Next, the Terminal 21 mall with floors that are themed after international cities. This mall brought back memories from my shopping experiences in Japan as nothing was my size except for shoes and watches.
Cabbages and Condoms, a restaurant dedicated to reproductive health and AIDS awareness, was a great choice for lunch! The gift shop is also a hoot even if you’ve already eaten at another spot.
On our way to the airport, we dreamed that our flight would somehow be delayed during our layover in Kuala Lumpur. Alas I finished writing this final entry as our plane was landing in London. Upon our return, we’re trying to work on portion control while still seeking out the best Southeast Asian food in London- potentially these concepts might be mutually exclusive but we’re trying to make it work!
- Visit the Grand Palace and Wat Pho
- Get a massage if you can at Wat Pho (but most likely any place will do!)
- You must eat at Err Rustic Cuisine
- Cabbages and Condoms felt like a decent Thai restaurant in NYC 🙂 The models made of condoms are the best bits!
- Cocktails here or here are a good look especially on a roof top bar
- Buy a bag from Hamblepie at the Chatuchak Weekend Market