This week’s guest post takes us for a wander around Bangkok with resident blogger Simone of Garlands and Geishas. In the foodie tour around Simone’s neighborhood of Thonglor, we sample everything from top-grade mangos, ramen and dim sum to gluay ping and yam som-0. I got hungry just reading the post, and I’m sure you will too. It also made me want to return to Bangkok immediately to sample all the delicacies that Simone features in the post.
ON THE FOODIE TRAIL IN THONGLOR
“Next station…Thong…Lo’, the digitised voice politely states through the speakers. Gliding atop Bangkok I look out the window to watch the city blur by; gleaming high-rise offices juxtaposed against crumbling houses, with the jungle stretching out defiantly between them. The view extends as far as the eye can see, blanketed by a brilliant blue sky above. “Doors…opening”. With a hiss, hot sticky air rushes towards me as I move with the swarm of people down the stairs and onto the street.
The departing Skytrain rumbles overhead as a barrage of sights, sounds and smells come at me all at once; garlands, vegetables and jewelry spread out for sale on the pavement, the pungent smell of mango drifts by in the warm air, the clank-clank-clank of utensil on wok. I weave in and out of the people, some wearily waiting for the bus home after a long day, others stopping to buy dinner from a local vendor.
As I walk past the teppanyaki joint, the chef looks up from his station and gives me a friendly nod hello, now an apparent ritual. I smile; this is what Bangkok’s about. This is why I love my neighbourhood of Thonglor.
Home to mainly Japanese & Western expats and well-to-do Thais, the area is often overlooked by travelers. To some it has a reputation as being yuppified and over-priced. The New York Times even featured the area in an article on fleeting Bangkok trends. To some extent the reputation is warranted. The area has had enormous redevelopment over the last ten years, with hip bars, boutiques and design centres sprouting up seemingly every month (and most recently closing down due to the economic downturn).
But for me, what makes this area so appealing is its ability to hold onto tradition, despite its rapid development. It’s a successful mix of old and new. A natural fusion of contemporary Thailand, Asia and the West, that is perfectly illustrated by the variety of restaurants, street vendors and food markets pocketed throughout the area.
It’s known for its specialty food finds – from traditional Thai, Korean and Laotian restaurants, to English tearooms and Japanese ramen shops. You could eat here every day for a month, and not get bored. Residents of Bangkok know how to do two things well – shop and eat. So do as the locals do and head to Thonglor to partake in their favourite pastime – eating!
The easiest way to get to Thonglor is to take the BTS Skytrain, which runs through the shopping and financial districts of Bangkok. At Thong Lo station, take exit #3 onto Sukhumvit – Bangkok’s longest and busiest road. Turn around and walk about 20 metres to Soi 55 (also known as Soi Thonglor) on your left. From here, your culinary tour begins – I’ve purposely chosen the following places, as they are all located on this street.
The first shop you’ll see is Mae Waree, a fruit shop that specializes in mangoes. These are seriously the best mangoes I’ve had. There are all sorts of varieties; from the common nam dok mai (which is yellow, pointy and fleshy) to ok rong (which is orange, round and super sweet). Prices vary depending on the season, type and grading. Two giant, top-grade mangoes will set you back about 80 baht. They also sell ready-made mango sticky rice and homemade Thai sweets. My favourite is kanom chun (rice powder, sugar and pandan leaf). Continue walking down the soi, keeping an eye out for the phat thai eatery and the street vendor who makes som tum (spicy papaya salad).
If you’ve been travelling through Asia for a while and are craving the simple things, like a good slice of bread, then you’ll appreciate Toraya. This Japanese bakery is situated a further 20 metres down. The shop sells a wide range of loaves, sandwiches, sweet/savory buns and Japanese sweets. The bread is amazing, probably because of the amount of sugar they put in it – it’s probably not a good idea to eat this everyday! I also recommend the stuffed curried chicken bun. A loaf costs around 40 baht.
Just outside the bakery is a vendor who prepares gluay ping (grilled banana). The old woman who makes it seems to be here early in the week, at night. The roast duck and noodle shop next door is excellent also.
A little further down is Grande Ramen, a Japanese noodle restaurant specializing in…ramen! Ramen is a noodle dish served in a rich, complex broth. The ramen here is the best in Bangkok. Residents travel from all over the city for a bowl here. There are around 20 varieties; from the traditional soy-based broth with meat, bamboo, eggs and vegetables, to the Thai-Japanese fusion with coconut milk, lime and chili. The gyoza is also highly recommended. The air-conditioning provides a welcome relief to the heat outside, as does the ice-cold barley water that the staff refill (for free). A bowl of ramen costs between 40–120 baht. It’s also worth trying Grande Teppenyaki, directly next door and owned by the same proprietor.
A 20-minute walk down Soi Thonglor, on the corner of Soi 13, is Thon Kreung. The food here is about as authentic and traditional Thai-Chinese as you can get and is my favourite place to eat in Bangkok. There are two private dining rooms, an indoor section, as well as a nice outdoor terrace and adjoining bakery. There’s a wide selection of dim sum and fresh, inexpensive seafood. However I gravitate towards the Thai dishes, like krapao moo krob (marinated pork topped with basil leaves) and gai haw bai toey (chicken wrapped in pandan leaf). Traditional Thai dishes like gaaeng kiaao waan gai (green curry chicken) and yam som-0 (pomelo salad) are also recommended. They have a wide selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, as well as Thai and Western desserts. A feast for two, with drinks, costs about 700 baht.
This is just a handful of the amazing places to eat in Thonglor. While you’re there, check out the night market on Soi 38.