Bustling Bangkok: Insects, night-clubs and floating markets create welcome chaos on the last stop in Thailand

By on November 27, 2017

We were warned about Bangkok: “It’s crowded,” “It’s loud,” “It’s soooo touristy.”  Those warnings weren’t wrong, but they also weren’t totally fair.

Yes, Bangkok is certainly the largest, busiest and perhaps most tourist-centric city we’ve been to on this Jackson-meets-Thailand trip. But along with the bustle, Bangkok is also full of industry, universities and great food.  

Our first night there (and consequently our last night in Thailand), we ventured out to Khao San Road, a street notorious for its nightlife, street food and souvenirs. We met up with a local Thai girl named Pim, a friend of a friend who kindly showed us the ropes.  

Thank God for Pim. Not only was the street packed with tourists, the stalls were flowing over onto the sidewalks, filled with t-shirts, elephant pants, blouses and more goodies than I can even begin to describe.  

The vendors on Khao San Road all compete for business with the same wares, so they call out to each passerby, shouting prices and pushing signs in their faces advertising those notorious “ping pong shows” (something we were very unenthralled by), laughing gas, $3 gin buckets, tattoos, bracelets with lewd sayings … the list goes on and on.  

Behind the stalls, music pounds with heavy, jarring bass from open bars and night clubs, each playing a different song, and each pushing the stereo louder and louder.  

In the midst of the bar chaos, though, there is a pleasant surprise. Food carts with hot pans roll by us at a leisurely pace, pushing slowly through the throngs of people, with signs advertising for pad thai, grilled meats and much more.

The one that caught our eyes had bins full of fried insects and signs with cameras with a line through them. We’d have to pay for a photo.

“Try the silk worms,” Pim said as she pulled out 40 Baht (the equivalent of $1.20) and bought a bag of about 50 fried worms dusted in salt and pepper.  

I swallowed hard, grabbed two and popped them into my mouth.  

“They taste kind of like peanut butter,” I said. She laughed. Americans do love their peanut butter.  

We also tried a fried scorpion, which I must say wasn’t my favorite. I’ll take the peanut butter worms any day.

After a few hours, overcome by exhaustion and overwhelmed by sight, sound, smell and taste, we headed back to our hostel with plans to meet Pim the next day for lunch at Klong Lat floating market.  

Located in west Bangkok, this market is only open Saturdays and Sundays, and we realized upon entering its crowded walkways that unlike Khao San, it is not a market frequented by tourists.  

Hugging the Lat Ta Niao waterway, the market consists of hundreds of food stalls sheltered under a makeshift roof. Each stall sells different food: fresh fish, cooked fish, fresh prawns, cooked prawns, sun-dried pork/beef, noodles, soups and desserts are all options, as is green papaya salad, my personal favorite.  

Along the railing by the water, shallow boats sit to sell fruits and vegetables to customers who have come for a weekend lunch.  

After a quick survey of the market, Pim picked a few things for us to eat. The first, a papaya salad from the northeastern region of Thailand, was unlike most papaya salads we’ve had, and was layered with glass noodles and bits of whole crab. We watched as the vendor threw different ingredients into a deep, brown bowl resembling a butter churner with a large mortar, and started pounding the salad together with a long wooden pestle.  

We also bought a half of a skewered chicken, which was grilled and covered in a deliciously sticky and spicy glaze as we waited. It was served with sticky rice, which was wrapped in banana leaf parcels. We found a table by the side of the canal and devoured our lunch.  

While quite literally licking our fingers clean, we were surprised by a man dropping off three plastic pouches. Inside were crispy rice cakes held together by caramel.

“There’s an old Thai proverb,” Pim said, pulling her rice cake from the pouch and taking a bite. “It says, ‘A meal without dessert is a meal for servants.’  It means that in the old days, only the poor cannot have dessert, so one must always enjoy dessert if you can.”  

I took a bite of my rice cake — the perfect mix of toasty, nutty, crunchy and sweet.  

“I think it’s a good saying,” I said, and popped the rest of the treat into my mouth, satisfied not only with Bangkok, but with our food tour of Thailand.

Time to head back to a world without the hustle and bustle of Thailand’s brilliant street markets — and back to Jackson. PJH

About Helen Goelet

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