DM and MM's Thailand 2005 Trip Diary

Day 8 - Bangkok: Chatuchak

Sunday, 17 April, 2005

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16:50

Shopping day today. We slept in a bit and went down to the 7th floor for the hotel buffet breakfast. This time it wasn't complimentary, but cost us 600 baht each, plus taxes - easily the most expensive meal of the trip so far! But if anything this buffet was even better than the one at the Amari Watergate. I had muesli with dried figs and yoghurt, followed by scrambled eggs on a nice grainy dark bread, one with bacon (two kinds available: crispy fried American style of more juicy English style - I had the English) and one with smoked salmon and capers, then some chicken dim sum dumplings and a steamed pork bun from the Asian selection, and finally two small almond croissants and a small piece of banana bread that Michelle had grabbed.

Stuffed to the gills, we prepared for an expedition to the Chatuchak Weekend Market - another thing on Michelle's must-see list for work purposes. After applying liberal amounts of sunscreen, we took the short walk to the Asok Sky Train station, where Michelle validated a couple of day passes she had collected from work. We used these to travel to the northern terminus of Mo Chit.

In another example of Asian efficiency, at the Siam interchange station, two trains from the different Sky Train lines arrived on opposite sides of the platform almost exactly simultaneously, allowing passengers from either one to cross immediately over and board the train on the other line without any waiting at all. (On the return trip the timing was even better, with the trains pulling in to a stop and opening their door within a split second of one another. Amazing.)

At Mo Chit, we walked along a crowded road a short way to the entrance to Chatuchak Market. This was easily the biggest market we saw anywhere, and was also probably the most crowded, as we simply had to push our way through shoulder-to-shoulder people traffic in some places. There were perhaps thousands of stalls, spread over several hundred metres of space in all directions. Despairing of having the time or stamina to examine even half the stalls, we threaded our way through the narrow tunnels under hot roofs (no breeze but thankfully keeping the baking sun off), picking random aisles to walk down. We gave up on a systematic approach to the maze and decided to navigate by whim and just work out where we were when we decided we'd had enough.


Food vendors,
Chatuchak market
We passed lots of stalls selling various items ranging from touristy junk to decent looking clothing, to serious jewellery, to furniture, to pets, to artwork. The range of goods on offer was immense, rivalled only by Suan Lum last night. There were of course also food and drink vendors aplenty. We got some water and Michelle had a watermelon "freshy" - made by blending watermelon and ice - delicious.

A few hours of wandering the market was enough to empty our stomachs of even the huge breakfast we'd had, so we began looking for something for lunch. A sweets vendor had a pile of parcels wrapped in banana leaves on display, so I asked "khâo niãw klûay dai mãi khráp?" and received the acknowledgement "klûay" indicating it was indeed banana and sticky rice. We bought three, two for Michelle and one for me for after finding some other food for lunch.

Not far away was a smallish covered area with tables surrounded by portable food cooking units on which ladies were preparing various dishes. Michelle grabbed a table with the sticky rice while I cruised around to try to get some curry for lunch. I noticed the women seemed only to be cooking, not taking any orders, and realised what was up when I saw a waitress approach Michelle and she had to indicate she didn't want anything and was just waiting for me. So I joined her at the table and waited for another waitress to pass.

A helpful Thai man at the next table over asked me in English what I wanted and I said (in Thai) "khâo khang phèt" (red curry with rice). The man motioned at a waitress, pointed to me, and yelled "khâo khang phèt!" The waitress he called to indicated she didn't serve that dish, but another quickly said she could get it - each waitress apparently only worked with a few of the surrounding vendors, not all of them. She approached and asked if I wanted it with pork (in English). I confirmed in Thai: "mûu khráp".

The curry soon arrived and was delicious. It was hot enough that I didn't even think of adding any extra chili from the now familiar set of four condiment jars on the table. Meanwhile, Michelle opened her sticky rice parcels and found them to contain red banana, not the pale yellow kind. I had my one as a dessert after my curry, and it was also good - sweet and banana-ey.

Needing to wash the sticky rice and banana off our hands and not seeing any place to do so or any form of paper towel to use, we ordered a bottle of water and got a cup of ice with it. We used an ice cube like a piece of soap to wash the stickiness off our fingers. When it came time to pay for the curry, I was astounded to discover it cost only 20 baht - less than 70 cents!


Chatuchak market
Feeling delightfully full, we wandered the market at random a bit more before deciding to call it a day there. On the way to the entrance we passed the same fruit juice vendor who had made the earlier watermelon freshy (amazingly, because I thought we had no chance of finding it again in the labyrinth of stalls, and had said so to Michelle) and Michelle got a mango version of the same.

As we left the Chatuchak Market, Michelle spied some cheap T-shirt tops in tie-dyed style patterns on the street right outside, for 39 baht each. I tried to bargain down by starting at 25 baht, but the guy was firm and chuckled at my attempts to talk him down. Since it was cheap as chips anyway, Michelle bought one at 39 baht. I later realised that I may have made my initial offer (in Thai) 205 baht, rather than 25 baht, by mixing up the words for "ten" and "hundred"...

At Mo Chit station, we looked at our map to see what else we might do today. Michelle mentioned wanting to check The Emporium shopping centre on Sukhumvit Rd quickly. It turned out to be just one stop past Asok on the Sky Train, so we decided to go there on the way back to the hotel. At Phrom Phong station there was a direct access pedestrian bridge from the station to The Emporium, which turned out to be an upmarket collection of mostly fashion shops, with some designer homewares, in a spartan western style mall relatively few shoppers. We had to pass a security bag check to get into the place, and it felt empty compared to the other places we'd been in.

We quickly scanned the floors from the ground level up and Michelle decided to get some food if they had a food court anywhere. We weren't confident it would have any food, as that seemed inconsistent with the high fashion atmosphere. However, when we reached the 6th floor, we were gobsmacked by a full-on Asian style food court very similar to the one at Mah Boon Krong.

There were numerous Western fast food outlets, plus several Asian restaurant, more or less fairly posh looking. There were also some take-away stalls of various foods and some shops selling things like cakes and pastries. We found a bakery shop that looked a bit Japanese in style, but which contained a vast selection of very European-looking breads and pastries. I selected a chocolate and almond pastry while Michelle grabbed an interesting looking brioche. When we found a seat eventually after looking over hundreds of metres of walking, we found it was actually a coffee brioche, which she enjoyed immensely.

On our way out, we stopped in to look at a supermarket that was also on the 6th floor (what is it about food and 6th floors in Bangkok?). We'd finally found a supermarket after having kept an eye out for one ever since our failed attempt in Chiang Mai. It had a bewildering array of fresh and packaged foods. The fruit and veg section was full of all sorts of tropical produce. The meat section was well stocked, with comforting signs reading "Hygienic Meat" in English above the selections. Some of the meat was imported from Australia. There was also a lot of seafood and a large pre-prepared sushi section. Then there were the aisles of strange Asian snack foods and other oddities amongst things like breakfast cereals and bathroom supplies.

Eventually we left and trekked back to the Sky Train station for the one-station hop back to Asok and our hotel. We've spent a restful afternoon relaxing out of the heat of the day. The plan now is for me to go have a swim in the hotel pool around sunset so there's no risk of sunburn, and then dinner in the hotel buffet. As much as exploring Bangkok more and getting a cheap and authentic Thai meal somewhere on the streets appeals, we need to relax and get an early night tonight to make sure we're okay to get up at 05:00 tomorrow for the flight home.

22:16

The buffet dinner was astoundingly filling. I began with antipasto: marinated eggplant, artichoke, capsicum, and sun-dried tomato, with onion focaccia bread and olive oil, plus two types of prosciutto and some spicy salami. Mmm. Then for a second appetiser, two different types of smoked salmon, some prawns with cocktail sauce, and half a crustacean that looked a bit like a Balmain bug or something. The mains were actually less inspiring, being a typical selection of roast and grilled meats, vegetables, and salads. I avoided this and took some Asian food: rice with fish in ginger sauce, shrimp cakes with lemongrass, and pork and crab meat stuffed into crab shells. Then because the antipasto was so good I went and got some more of that. Then it was on to dessert!

Michelle had had some of the seven or eight different cheeses with bread, but I went straight to the sweets, taking some crepes suzettes to begin, followed by slices of mixed fruit cream cheesecake, chocolate "New York" cake, and some blueberry cheesecake. That just about did it for me...

The buffet was in a room with coloured lights on the wall that slowly cycled through a rainbow of colours, and similarly changing lamps on each table. We noticed the lamps on the tables were only lit for occupied tables, but never saw how they turned them on, and examining a lamp revealed no switched. We guessed maybe they were remotely controlled. They seemed to change colour fairly rapidly, every 10-20 seconds or so, except that at some point during our meal ours got stuck on red, and didn't change again for as long as we stayed. We surmised that this was a warning signal to the waiters that we'd been grazing on the buffet for over an hour and were in danger of eating it out!

In all we were there well over an hour and a half, and left very full indeed. Which is good because we have to be up at 05:00 for our transfer to the airport tomorrow and won't get breakfast until after we check in for the flight home.


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