Sipping numbingly hot tom-yum soup off a road-side cart; manoeuvring through packed malls where classy imitations tempt at every glance; being entertained by gorgeous lady-boys in kinky clubs. This is the ultimate tourist-trap that Bangkok lays out. But there’s more to this city than hedonistic overload, finds Kiran Mehta
I’ve visited Bangkok more times than I can keep track of, but I still can’t get enough. Bangkok has had me preened and plucked at up-market spas. She’s had me addicted to tangy Thai dishes, names of which I cannot even begin to pronounce. She’s caught me coyly watching a cabaret performance. And she’s seen me shop till my suitcases were bursting at the seams. After all, one can’t expect any less of a city that celebrates self-indulgence. While this energy is what draws me in time and again, this time I wanted to scratch beneath the surface. And in the process I discovered a Bangkok that’s rarely written about in guide-books–a place still built on the pleasure principle, but leaning more towards the epicurean than the hedonistic. In other words, gratification without the guilt! Here’s more from my Bangkok adventure:
Amita Thai Cooking Class
The streets of Khao San and Sukumvit always lure me in with just a whiff from road-side food carts serving spicy Pad Thai, peppery massaman curry, sweet-and-sour mango on sticky rice, delicious coconut-milk drinks and more. I stuff myself silly but later the guilt of being a glutton weighs a tonne. So on this recent visit, I decided to remedy the situation by tossing things up a bit—I wasn’t going to simply let this city feed me, I was going to learn to cook Thai food (and then eat it, of course!). To put a somewhat altruistic twist on this, if you give a woman a meal, you feed her for a day; teach her to cook and you feed her for a lifetime! And that’s how I signed up for a half-day cooking class at Amita Thai cooking school.
Sign up for a half-day cooking class at Amita Thai Cooking School
Set by the banks of the Chao Phraya River in the district of Thonburi lies this charming little culinary school run by a husband-wife duo. I reached the cooking class by means of a speedy boat ride, arranged courtesy of the school. I stepped into the school and it was like walking into a fairy-tale with herb gardens, fragrant flowers in bloom and an open kitchen overlooking the calm waters. The expert chef first taught us about the different herbs and the medicinal properties of each. After picking out the herbs ourselves, we then cooked up a storm. And later in the shade of apple trees and mango trees, together with my class-mates, I sat down to enjoy my very own four-course meal.
Course fee: 3000 THB inclusive of pick-up and drop-off service (depending on your location).
Sky bar at Sirocco
Some scenes from Hangover (Part II) were shot at this bar located within the Lebua Hotel at State Tower, a swanky 5-star, all-suite hotel.
Given that the movie shot at this location revolves around the concept of being wasted, how does one put Epicureanism at work here? Ironically, the location does just that. Since this bar is situated on the 63rd floor, it is one of the world’s highest open air bars and offers a sweeping 360 degree view of the city. It’s a sanctuary, far removed from the city’s hustle and bustle; even the deafening horns of the tuk-tuk cannot disturb the peace here. The sights and sounds from up here are as close to heaven as one can get. A place to rejuvenate the tired spirit, even as you sip on some potent ones! And if the weather Gods decide to smile on you, then as you reach out your hand, it seems like you can touch the clouds.
Recommendation: The Hangovertini priced at 490 THB (plus taxes).
Arts of the Kingdom
When most visitors to Bangkok mention art, they usually refer to an electric dance routine by pretty lady-boys. But while such moves do loosely refer to ‘art’, they come nowhere close to authentic Thai arts and crafts. Just one look at the people and it’s clear that the Thai’s are a very creative lot – from the attention to detail that goes into folding paper-napkins into interesting shapes at road-side cafes, to the almost bizarre styles in which many locals wear their hair, to the intricately embroidered wares that sell at night-markets. It’s almost as if there’s a bit of a budding designer in most of them. Little wonder then that Queen Sirikit of Thailand would support local arts and crafts. The Queen herself went to many little villages and mingled with the artisans there, heard their problems and decided to promote their very source of livelihood. The result – her foundation aptly termed The Support Foundation of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit of Thailand. And this foundation is the pillar behind the Arts of the Kingdom.
While the Arts of the Kingdom showcase many different masterpieces and put of many exhibitions, one thing remains the same – the intricate craftsmanship, the ornate form, and the sheer opulence of hand-made beauty. (artsofthekingdom.com)
At the end of my little self-guided tour of Bangkok, I realise that despite the fact that I know this city like the back of my hand, there is still a lot to discover. And that’s why visitors like me, need to get off the beaten Bangkok path.
* Images of food and Amita Thai Cooking Classes by Kiran Mehta
Holiday in Bangkok