There is no better way to find your Bangkok feet than a food tour of the nighttime restaurants and markets by tuk-tuk. Coming from the Iceberg, it was just too hot for us to entertain the notion of pigging out while the sun was up.
I booked such an outing with Bangkok Food Tours for our first night in town and was not disappointed. Our guide and tuk-tuk driver were fantastic – all food and drinks were ready for us upon arrival to each spot and we never had to wait for our driver when we were finished. We met them near SamYan station, about a 20-minute walk from our hotel through the heaving streets rammed with food stalls and tourist trinkets. We climbed aboard our very own pimped-out tuk-tuk for the evening, then we were off to parts of the city that tourists would never be brave enough to find on their own.
Our first stop was billed as a secret place, and I honestly have no idea where it is. All I know is that it seemed very popular with the locals. The larb (minced pork with herbs and spices) was fantastic. It was here that I learned my first valuable lesson regarding Thai food – now I like to put Tobasco sauce on my scrambled eggs and mac & cheese, but “medium hot” is still WAY too hot for my delicate, Western taste buds. Many Thai people speak English but the phrase “mai phed” (not spicy) definitely comes in handy when ordering food if you can’t stand the heat.
Spicy larb with sticky rice at our first secret stop.
Next stop, Ann Guay Tiew Kua Guai, a small restaurant specializing in fried egg and chicken noodles in a very local part of town near Klang Hospital. Your dish may come with a cooked egg, omelette-style, which is what I went for, or you can have it with a runny egg, which appealed to the other half. Both dishes were amazing. Our guide took us to the back alley “kitchen” to watch the chef in action. Because the Thais use large woks over charcoal fires for cooking, it makes sense that they haven’t bothered to bring the kitchen inside. It’s the charcoal that makes all of the difference in these noodle dishes, which is why they are so hard to replicate at home.
Fried noodle yumminess at Ann Guay Tiew Kua Gai that had been flamed over charcoal (also photo top of article).
Next, we visited two iconic landmarks that you can easily get to on your own during the day, but they are much less crowded in the evening – the Flower Market and Wat Pho, the reclining Buddha temple. Bangkok’s flower market is one of the largest in the world and is open 24 hours per day. The smell is like a fairytale and you could watch these women skillfully weave flowered wreaths for hours. There’s also produce for sale here, as well as street vendors offering various cooked insects. We weren’t brave enough to try the insects but if I ever live in Bangkok, this produce stall (photo below) run by a woman who dresses her cats will be where I shop.
Wat Pho at night is peacefully devoid of the daytime throngs and all of the architecture is majestically illuminated. Most people go just to get a glimpse of the massive reclining Buddha but we also wondered around and enjoyed the ceramic detail of the buildings up close. After that, we went down the street to a rooftop bar called the Eagle’s Nest which offers views of Wat Pho on one side and view of the Chao Praya River and Wat Arun on the other. This tiny bar located down an alley has one of the best views in the city! Be sure to follow all of the links in this paragraph because the photos on these other websites are far better than mine.
Wat Pho at night.
Amazing diagrams at Wat Pho show why this was a place of higher learning.
Wat Pho from the Eagle's Nest rooftop bar.
Dinner cruises meader down the Chao Praya River, just passing Wat Arun on the opposite side.
We begrudgingly left the stunning views and headed to our last stop of the evening, which is widely regarded as having the best Pad Thai in the country – Thip Samai Pad Thai, aka Ghost Gate Pad Thai, as it is located in a neighborhood known for its temple and cemetery. I’ve read conflicting reports that attribute the creation of Pad Thai to either a post WWII rice shortage, meaning that rice made into noodles would last longer, or to the Thai government’s desire to encourage nationalism with a “state dish.” However it came to be, it is worth standing in the long line of both locals and tourists to get your fix here. The kitchen is on the sidewalk, not in the back alley, so you have a front-row seat for the action as you’re waiting patiently for someone to inhale their noodles and vacate a table. The line moves fairly quickly and yes, you will suck down that plate of noodle-y goodness in less time than you spent waiting for it, but you will miss out on one of the best things in Bangkok if you decide you're too impatient to stand in line. And the orange noodles? They've been smothered in a sauce made of shrimp heads and roe - delicious!
Thip Samai is fairly easy to find - if you have a guide and a tuk-tuk.
Stand in line, it moves quickly. Just try not to get run over as the line sometimes spills onto the road.
I know, it looks questionable but it is delicious!
Sit back and enjoy your sidewalk table and plastic stool or crate for just a few minutes - others are waiting.