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Going out to eat food in Bangkok, Thailand

In response to jo6pac's request, here's a food pr0n post, except not, as you will see. Since by this point I have established at least one foraging routine -- exactly as I have routines in Maine, since wherever you go, there you are -- I thought I'd go through that routine and see what I could photograph and record along the way. (This post may be slow to load, because there are a lot of images.) I started during "sweet light," but through the course of the walk, which takes a little over half an hour, night will fall. And isn't it great to be walking an hour a day and eating good food?

Here's where I started, on the corner of Rama IV and Sukhumvit "soi" [alley] 42:

Figure 1

The mysterious East! Point is, Bangkok is humongous, and miles of it looks like this. We aren't talking Paris, here; Bangkok is big, noisy, polluted, crowded, and ugly. And Bangkok is full of random assemblages, musical interludes, kindly people, and small beauties. Bangkok is dynamic. It's the most dynamic place I've ever been, including Manhattan and London. So, walking along Rama IV, here's a gate:

Figure 2

There are a good many high walls and gates in Bangkok; rich or richer people live behind them. (On my way back, I walked past one such; from inside the compound, I heard loud masculine ranting from a TV, as if from a protester rally; outside was a small food truck with a forlorn woman waiting, I'm guessing, for men to come out of the house during a commercial break for a snack). Anyhow, this gate opens on a derelict, decaying house, not sure why. Also, gold, going up. The Thais sure do love gold, going up, don't they? On the next block:

Figure 3

Mixers for restaurants; motorcycles. Small multiples of each, side by side. Food and transport, the glory and the bane of Bangkok, though in each case Bangkokians come up with daily workarounds.

Figure 4

Here is a gorgeous plant in a pot. Bangkokians love to put plants in pots. I'm not sure why, but maybe it's because if you live in a soi, you have no yard; or maybe it's because you can move a pot upward in case of flooding. We can also see a social transition, in the background; I'm in a working class neighborhood, albeit with hi so dwellings scattered throughout, and now that we're a block away from the big Rama IV artery and down a soi, we get graffitti. (I don't know whether it's gang sign, or not.)

Figure 5

Bangkok used to be called "the Venice of the East" because it was criss-crossed with canals. Not only did the canals help with transport, they absorbed rain runoff, and flooding. Many of canals (called khlongs) have been filled in or turned into roads, generally at the instigation of real estate developers, and those khlongs that remain... You don't want to swim in the water. Indeed, though a few khlongs still have commuter boats on them, the boats are very low to the water, and it's recommended that Westerners, at least, be very careful about being splashed. Restoring the khongs to their former beauty, cleanliness, and function would be a wonderful infrastructural project -- and would make some lucky real estate developers a shit ton of money -- but apparently that's not in the cards; the government in essence plans to control flooding by building a second Chao Praya, of concrete, parallel to the existing Chao Praya, to funnel floodwaters past Bangkok to the sea. The Army Corps of Engineers tried the same thing in New Orleans, and matters ended badly.

Figure 6

Walking up the canal now, we come to open space that looks a lot like a farm -- all of three blocks away from that massive intersection, and one block away from the graffiti. But the busted swing is sad; see "Gardening in Bangkok" for what the swing looked like two years ago.

The garden is on a corner; turning the corner and going down a soi to the next corner we end up at a sort of food shanty; it's clearly not a place for foreigners to enter, so I don't, but I can't figure out who hangs out there; taxi and motorcycle drivers, perhaps. It looks like a little bit of rural Thailand. And music was playing, so I recorded it, from behind the shack. (I hate taking pictures of people on the street because it's invasive, and then there's the whole "simple, happy, genuine locals" thing. Ugh.) By now night has completely fallen:

Figure 7

Music, passing cars and motorbikes, conversation, rattling utensils, whatever the heck that bird is... The sound of a winter night in Bangkok. The iPad has a lousy lens but brilliant software to compensate; I wish and wonder if the iPad's lousy mike has software compensation as well; I'd love to be able to bring that music up.

Figure 8

The shanty, too, is on a corner, so we make a turn, and suddenly we are back in the hi so world: High-rise managed apartments, embassies, high walls with gates. Lights, coming at us, either motorcycles or expensive cars...

Figure 9

So, moving fast now, we zip up soi 38 past the tall buildings and high walls to the food carts (note the "small multiples"):

Figure 10

and -- I should have taken photos of the brutalist BTS elevated rail line over Sukhumvit, but I didn't -- arrive at our destination, a street-side food operation I spotted near Pridi Banomyong Institute:

Where I ordered food.

And focused so much on eating that I forgot to take a picture! I'll try to do better next time. Here, however, is a menu:

Figure 11

If you ever want to feel like you're really in a different country, really in a different culture, pick one that has a non-Roman script! But here is the best part of my dinner. More music:

Figure 12

Music, and cars, and pedestrians, and cutlery, and I think my thumb over the lens there, in the beginning. Again, I wish I could really record. I think this style of music is amazing, heart-tearing, full of grief and wonder; possibly like Fado. So far from K-Pop or idoru!

And quickly now, since I have to go to bed, I went back to soi 38 for dessert:

Figure 13

Shaved ice, coconut milk, and gingko. Then I got some fresh coconut to drink on the way home:

Figure 14

* * *

And so to bed, after posting this.

UPDATE I added the figures so I can refer back to the images.

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rama.jpg114.15 KB
gate.JPG189.2 KB
pot.JPG214.46 KB
window.jpg102.58 KB
khlong.JPG79.07 KB
swing.JPG174.5 KB
tire.JPG116.23 KB
soi_38.JPG121.79 KB
menu.JPG189.24 KB
dessert.JPG101.25 KB
coconut.JPG133.62 KB
nightfall.JPG140.71 KB
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jo6pac's picture
Submitted by jo6pac on

you if I had an extra dime to my time I would move in. Thanks

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

Canah(kale) pla(fish) kem(salted) is delicious. Pad krapow(fried basil) gai(chicken) or moo(pork) or vegetarian, sai(with) kai dow(fried egg).
Gang som, sweet/sour soup, kung(shrimp)/gai(chicken) or gang som cha om kai.
That is a sweet/sour soup with a vegetable(cha om) and egg combo, cut into squares and in the soup. My personal favorite way to have gang som.
Guiteow (noodles) with tom yum, sen lek(medium thickness noodles) and moo dang(barbecued pork) is my favorite Thai fast food.
It's a feast out there, try it all. Never had a problem with Thai food shops. Most are clean and healthy(at least in our area).
Cheers.