When brainstorming where the next (and first) destination ought to be when I start traveling abroad again, Thailand came to mind, and thus begins the chronicles of my trip to Thailand.
As many of you may already know, my mom is Thai. She was born and raised in the province of Ubon Ratchathani, in the Northeastern Isan region of Thailand. I have fond memories of the stories my mother would tell me about her hometown. When I was growing up, we would also visit Thailand every year.
I vividly remember flying Thai Airways, tasting the delicious foods they would serve us on the short 3-hours flight from Singapore, and smelling the fresh-cut orchids they'd bring us. Also the flight attendants had gorgeous uniforms.
Our trip to Thailand would always kick off with with several nights in Bangkok. The Erawan Shrine (or San Thao Maha Phrom) would always be our first stop. You see, mother is a very devout Buddhist and strongly believes that a visit to the shrine would grant us good luck, and even a wish!
The Erawan Shrine is located in the capital city of Bangkok, which houses a statue of Phra Phrom, the Thai representation of the Hindu god of creation Lord Brahma. Typically packed with endless streams of worshipers and tourists paying their respects, they would often leave ceremonial offerings that range from floral garlands, teak elephants and fruits. You will also find that this shrine very often features dancers who are hired by worshipers, hoping to see their wishes at the shrine come to fruition.
For the keen eye (or mind), this is the same shrine that was victim to a bomb explosion on August 17, 2015 that killed 20 and injured an additional 125 people.
Opening hours: 0600 — 2400
Location: In front of Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel, corner of Ploenchit and Ratchadamri Road
Floating Markets in Bangkok
Visiting Bangkok's floating markets is one of my favorite activities to date. No trip with mom would be complete without waking up early on a weekend day, and making the trek out to one of the many floating markets. We never left empty handed.
Once upon a time Thailand's canals and rivers were bustling with farmers transporting their goods for trade. While these canals and rivers have been replaced by trucks and trains as shipping lanes, they are still vibrant social hubs rich with color and chatter. Merchant communities still gather in these canals and rivers, trading goods, jokes, laughter and food, keeping the atmosphere alive.
These floating markets are a major tourist attraction, so prepare yourselves and know what to expect! Thankfully choices are plentiful, and I found this handy dandy guide on What's on Sukhumvit that should make things a little easier.
|Market||Distance||Hours||Touristy?||Look out for…|
|Amphawa||50km SW||Fri-Sun, 8am-9pm||Yes||Long-tail boat trips|
|Tha Kha||50km SW||According to the moon||No||Overhead foliage|
|Bang Nam Phueng||20km E||Fri-Sun, 8am-2pm||No||Thai desserts|
|Damnoen Saduak||100km SW||Daily, 6am-12pm||Yes||Brightly colored boats and bamboo hats|
|Bang Khu Wiang||15km W||Daily, 4am-7am||No||Monks on their alms rounds|
|Bang Khla||100km E||Sat-Sun, 8am-6pm||No||Fresh seafood|
|Khlong Lat Mayom||20km||Sat-Sun, 9.30am-4.30pm||No||Unusual fruit and veg|
|Taling Chan||11km||Saturday-Sunday, 7am-4pm||Yes||Flowers and seafood|
No trip would be complete without some kind of a beach visit, and my childhood trips to Thailand with mom never failed to include a few days at Bang Saen.
Bang Saen is closest in proximity to the nation's capital of Bangkok, and is a weekend favorite of locals. Absent (or in much reduced numbers) are the tourists who seek out the infamous Patpong experience. For those who are looking for a quaint palm-lined beach packed with vendors and seafood stalls, this is your place.
If swimming is not your priority, Bang Saen is an excellent weekend getaway beach. Bang Saen makes up for the fact that it's not the cleanest beach in Thailand, with an abundance of beach activities, seafood and of course, fresh cut coconut.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
Before embarking further into Thailand's outlying provinces, we would certainly not want to miss the opportunity to shop at one of Bangkok's many markets. While Bangkok does not lack multi-story malls like the MBK Center, Siam Paragon, and Central World, you will find that the street markets provide a much richer experience overall. And makes for great practice with some (light) bargaining.
The Chatuchak Weekend Market (also known as the JJ Market) is one of Bangkok's most prevalent markets and is most certainly on most travelers' Top 10 List for the city. This indoor/outdoor market covers an area of approximately 27 acres, and is home to more than 15,000 stalls. Roughly 200,000 — 300,000 shoppers visit on a daily basis.
The market boasts offerings from all over Thailand; among them are clay souvenirs, Buddhist amulets, crafts from many local regions, flowers, silk textiles, and more.
Opening hours: Saturday and Sunday from 0600 — 1800.
BTS: Sapan Khwai Station or Mochit Station
After a few highly exciting nights in Bangkok, filled with neon lights, the honking of Tuk-Tuks, and atrocious traffic and fumes, it seems like the perfect time to take a slow ride on a train to Thailand's easternmost province: Ubon Ratchathani.
The province of Ubon Ratchathani is the largest among the seventeen that make up the Northeastern (or Isaan) Region. Ubon prides itself for having the liveliest music and parties, the spiciest foods and the prettiest girls 1. Ubon thrives in the agriculture and service industries. Thai silk and textiles can also be found in abundance here.
Historically, Ubon was part of the Khmer Empire but was seized by the Kingdom of Ayutthaya in the 1700s. Refugees from Laos who were escaping persecution by King Siriboonsarm of Vientiane founded what is known as Ubon today. The heavy Laotian influence is why you would often times hear the locals speak a Laotian/Thai mix, which sounds oddly familiar, but with a flair almost.
To get to Ubon, one would either take the bus, ride the train, or catch one of the three daily flights from Bangkok. To get opportunity to enjoy countryside views offered by rural Thailand, we might opt for the train route and grab us a sleeper cabin.
Food in Ubon is indeed quite spicy. I recall the Som Tam and Laab that my mom used to cook when I was a young child visiting Ubon during our annual Thailand trips, and how I'd be screaming for milk or water after taking several bites. You see, the heat builds up, and creeps up on you… fast. As family gatherings are a huge part of Isaan culture, meals very often turn into long leisurely events, accompanied with copious amounts of delicious home made food, adorned by the ubiquitous sticky rice basket.
But perhaps my all time favorite Isaan dish (as simple as it looks and sounds) is Kai Ping, or Grilled Skewered Eggs. Although this dish looks very simple, it is rich in flavor and takes a little preparation. But what you're rewarded with is a hard-boil-styled egg with a beautiful brown shade to it. Paired with the right sauce and Khao Kiaw (sticky rice) and you might as well be in food heaven.
Of course there is much more to Isaan food than what I've teased us all with. I'll be sampling some Isaan dishes state-side and writing about them on the next posts in this series, and comparing them to what I find once I've set foot in Thailand.
I hope you'll stick around and join me on this adventure!
Prior to embarking for Thailand, I wanted to make sure that I had a rough idea of the things I wanted to experience. With the help of the following sites/resources, I was able to compile some of the items on this article.
- As purported by We Love Ubon