August 2018

Bangkok: The Secrets to the City
August 2018

A charming view of King Rama 8 bridge over the Chaopraya River

The city of Bangkok teems with relentless activity, a sensory overload of bustling noise, heavy traffic and street vendors at every turn. On Bangkok's main thoroughfares Thai culture is palpable - you see it, inhale it and feel its frenetic activity all around you. When it gets overwhelming there's just one thing to do: hop on a bike.

Words and Photography: Lauren Kramer

Blissful Biking

My family and I booked a guided, all-day bike tour of Bangkok's trails, excited to explore the non-touristy side of the city on two wheels. Within minutes of leaving the bike store with our guide, we were immersed in the peaceful corridors and alleyways of the city's residential quarters. Our destination was Bang Kruai, 20km away and one of Bangkok's oldest neighbourhoods, and to get there we crossed the impressive King Rama 8 bridge over the Chaopraya River.

Our guide knew the quiet alleyways like the back of his palm and expertly navigated through tight residential corridors designed for pedestrian, scooter and bike commutes. The air was fragrant with lush potted plants decorating the alleyways and the heady aromas of freshly fried fish and chicken wings cooking over open flame. We passed uniformed children playing games during their school recess and friendly locals who welcomed us with warm smiles of surprise. It was a hot, sticky day so we stopped to replenish our energy with freshly cut mangoes, the heavenly juice of coconuts, and as lunchtime approached, plates of delicious Pad thai from an outdoor, riverside food court, watching as the catfish performed lazy somersaults on the water's surface. Later, we pedalled past quiet temples surrounded by tall trees, watched meditative monks immersed in their daily rituals and biked alongside banana and coconut orchards, their trees heavy with fruit. We dropped the bikes off feeling tired but exhilarated, energized by the beauty and serenity we'd encountered in Bangkok's back roads.

Our destination was Bang Kruai, 20km away and one of Bangkok’s oldest neighbourhoods...

Culinary Secrets

If Thailand has a culinary signature it's in the heaped servings of papaya salad, Pad thai and sweet desserts of sticky rice with mango. We loved those flavours, and hoping to return home with more than just memories, we signed up for a cooking class. The session began at an outdoor food market where we handled veggies we'd never before laid eyes on: Galangal ginger, Kaffir lime leaves, Turmeric roots, Banana flowers and the rich scents of Lemon basil. In the classroom we chopped garlic and onion, bending over gas stoves as we prepared steaming plates of fragrant yellow curry, cashew chicken and Pad thai. We left with sated appetites, beautiful memories, recipes and good intentions to add these dishes to our dining repertoire back home.

Fish Food

As fish lovers we couldn't resist the opportunity to turn the tables and serve ourselves as fish food. Bangkok's fish spas consist of large tanks occupied by hundreds of hungry Garra Rufa and Honey fish imported from Turkey. We washed our feet and legs before dipping them cautiously inside the tanks and watching the fish swarm and nibble on our dead skin cells. It was daunting at first, ticklish next and a very cool experience once the sensitivity wore off. Best of all, it left our skin feeling smoother and healthier.

We loved those Favours, and hoping to return home with more than just memories, we signed up for a cooking class.

Magical Massages

You can't leave Bangkok without surrendering at least once to a Thai massage - the experience is, quite simply, mandatory. The many massage parlours that dot the city are visitors' favourite respites from the heat, noise and constant stimulation of the street. Inexpensive, deeply relaxing and available on every street corner, the treatments vary from back massages to head, foot and leg massages. The Thai masseurs and masseuses we encountered were experts at delivering therapeutic relaxation and given the affordability of the treatments, it's easy to justify succumbing to their hands on a daily basis for a series of treatments that rejuvenate, comfort and energize road-weary limbs.

To market, to market

If there's one market you visit in Bangkok, make sure it's Chatuchak. Thailand's largest weekend market, this is a 35-acre warren densely populated with some 8,000 vendors displaying a vibrant collection.

The goods are diverse, ranging from Thai handicrafts to silk table runners, fresh coconuts to live animals. Every price is highly negotiable, so arrive with patience, comfortable walking shoes and a sense of fun. At the prices you'll pay here, the goods you'll return home with will not be the highest of quality. Still, the fun is in the shopping!

The heat in Bangkok is searing so take frequent breaks, drink lots of water, indulge in the country's freshly sliced fruits and juices and haggle with a sweet smile.

If You Go:

There are some 33,000 Buddhist temples in Thailand, so be sure to visit at least one during your visit. Our day-long Bangkok bike tour included visits to three temples, and none of them charged admission fees. However, some of the bigger, most popular temples in Bangkok do charge fees for access.

Half-day, day-long and even night biking tours of Bangkok are available. Base your choice on your level of fitness and endurance. While there are no uphill climbs in the city, the heat and humidity can be exhausting.

Bangkok has thousands of stores offering massages. We suggest basing your choice on cleanliness and professionalism.

Cooking school sessions are generally half-day or three-to-four hours in the morning or afternoon and include a market visit, instruction time and a feast afterwards of the food you have prepared. They constitute a fun, educational way to gain a deeper insight into Thai cuisine and culture.