Getting into Bangkok after a few weeks in the north of the country is a little bit of a weather and city shock. The heat hits you as you step outside, then the ride into the city from the airport along the high freeways gives you a surreal view of the highrises, low residential pockets and little grottos of green trees tucked in amongst it all.
After sending our taxi down an alley off Krung Thonburi Road, we check into the Aiya Residence Sport Club. This place has huge quiet rooms for the dollar and a full outdoor and shaded swimming pool, while totally decorated in a 1970s wood panelled vibe. The neighbourhood is local and not yet succumbed to the super high rise, perfect.
The view from our room sums up the neighbourhood vibe.
The surrounding streets are narrow which makes for some squished cars and walking but the locals just get on with it.
We walked a few metres down the road to the end of the soi in the last light of the day. We hit Thanon Charoen Rat at the end straight away with food stalls set up for business.
On the intersection at the end of our street was a stall selling crab noodles, yep.
Tin small fry pans like claypots simmered with fresh crabs and thin rice noodles.
As the textile shops packed away their rolls of fake leather and vinyl from the street the stalls took over. We stood around waiting for a table and admired all the old beaten up Vespas used by the locals.
Once we were seated, the necessaries were brought out slowly, piece by piece - tissues, cups of ice, bowls of green chilli sauce. Our order of mussels followed, served with the green sauce. There wasn't any more flavour added to them besides their own saltiness and a pile of holy basil, so you pulled them apart and dunked them in the chilli.
The crab arrives, steamed in the pot with garlic, green shallots and what tastes like Sichuan pepper, topped with a loopy pile of glass noodles. The sauce had gone thick and sticky at the bottom so you needed to mix the noodles through to get all coated with the sauce. Later, you could use the empty mussel shells as a spoon to scoop up the thick sauce left on the bottom of the bowl.
We don't head far for breakfast, practically next door.
This dark little shop was filled with all sorts of drinks and groceries and ran two different street stalls at the front.
Eat in options.
The rice porridge is a wonder. A not too thin rice gruel with half thumb sized balls of pork meatball, a few slices of kidney (promptly transferred to Alison's bowl), shreds of ginger and slices of green shallot. A generous shake of white pepper and a very soft cooked egg and it was breakfast perfection.
After breakfast we walked the length of Charoen Rat with the aim of getting down to the river.
Elvis the floofer.
Walking down the street early in the day the fabric stores haven't yet put out their displays so the path was quite clear for a good stride. The weather early in the morning (at least before 9) was cooler, a slight breeze in play meant the walking wasn't too unbearable.
Klongsan Market is at the end of the road, right where the ferry terminal sits. The food stalls looked good here with some English on the menus, probably due to the location nearby of the Hilton Millenium Hotel.
Friendly stall holder.
From Klongsan we only needed to go directly across the river to get toward Chinatown at the River City stop. Once you are through a few streets of motor parts recycling, you're there.
The Chinatown of Bangkok is one chaotic strip. Food, clothing and shoe stalls line the streets vying for your baht. The back lanes are even busier - we've fought our way through them in the past and just wanted to walk down the main strip this time around.
Yaorowat Road was packed with punters hitting up the gold shops, perhaps some pre holiday purchasing custom.
As always, there are food stalls everywhere.
The specialty of this street vendor was a radish and vibrant green shallot cake.
A large square is sliced and fried on a large griddle and heated through. Plain tasting, the shallots gave it some extra flavour.
Development proceeds nearby behind large steel fences, old residences look like they are being converted into ye olde type new shopping areas.
Small finger bananas on the grill.
Lunch stop along the canal. We were both getting grumpy and hot walking in the heat so this was a rescue as well as food stop.
A large water monitor decided it was a good stop for a sun bake as well. Another one swam around nearby. Count your kids and small dogs when these guys are nearby.
Our luncheon establishment.
On the menu was yen ta fo, a soup dish we've often ignored. There were a few served at different places along the way so it must have been the dish de jour for the area. This one was not too heavy on the fermented soy that gives it the pink colouring and strong on the toppings game.
A tiny pet squirrel in a cage observes the action, popping out from his fluffy hidey hole.
Next stop along the line was Khao San Road. The backpacker strip was in full banana pancake/ fisherman's pants swing. We don't think there's anywhere else on earth that displays such a mass of travellers, starting or finishing, on their way through, in various shades of hippiedom depending on how long they have hocked their backpack around. We spied well dressed young girls lugging large suitcases, older couples, families, louts, layabouts, blokes with no shirts, girls in bad dreadlocks and boys in soccer shirts.
After an early evening swim we keep close to home for dinner. Across the road.
A simple seafood fried rice topped with spoonfuls of fish sauce and chilli from the condiments set.
A just hot enough papaya salad for some vegetable goodness.
And the winning dish, rice noodles cooked in sweet soy, diagonal cuts of chinese broccoli still just crisp and egg scrambled through the lot.
The next day is New Years Eve and some of the locals are getting ready with a pre-nap.
Dreaming of a Hawaiian escape.
Up in the shopping area this gang of layabouts was busy doing nothing.
It was all alerts on once we walked past, barking and hurrumphing.
And some were super friendly after they realised all was OK.
Although it was only New Years Eve we assumed it would be mostly business as usual. But most shops were closed, so some of the places we wanted to try nearby just weren't open.
Some small places were open, we found this food court near the markets serving up. An expat lady stopped and had a chat with us, and we asked why the shops were all closed. 'Probably a holiday. Thais are always having holidays'.
The soup was served a little cool but full of porky inner bits, possibly a kuay jap. The broth was excellent and the rolled rice noodles almost become just another piece of treasure to be found.
The day was starting to heat up and there was more food to be found along the street.
Frying fishcakes in the heat must be a hard gig.
A fresh cooked batch of bite sized fish goodness.
At 25 THB these were wonderful, not too smothered over with sweet chilli. Not sure why there is a Thai habit to cook up delicious tasty morsels then smother them in sweet sauce.
To beat the heat we jump on the BTS into the malls of Siam Square.
The city was preparing for New Years celebrations, some streets were blocked off.
McDonalds check in. While the corn pie is always a favourite, the pineapple pie could be a new contender.
Large supermarkets have popped up in the new centres, but they still have some good things to try. If you didn't get a chance to try Spicy Giant Water Bug Chilli Paste, now's your time.
Pork floss dough'ssant a steal at100 THB.
When we came to Siam Square in 2001 I remember being amazed to see a place where you could get an espresso style coffee, the first time we'd seen it in Bangkok. Now the centres are temples to big name stores with about every coffee store imaginable. We were happy to see our Japanese favourite, St Marc Cafe.
While the iced tea and coffee and the namesake chocolate croissant (Choco Cro) were good, the cost was quite prohibitive at 125 THB for just the iced tea.
Bangkok gets busier as the night gets closer.
Large themed areas were set up all around Paragon and Siam Square. Each one had a beer sponsor and a stage. New Years was on it's way.
We didn't want to get into the madness of that so headed back home. We had to fly home on New Years Day and it wasn't going to be with a huge thumping hangover, although that's been done before.
We forage for some in room dining. These chicken pieces cooked on the open charcoal fire are a good start.
We also get a quick tom sum made with these roasted eggplants and chillis.
Back home we sup our quality afternoon snack with some top shelf vino from the Top Daily supermarket nearby.
Downstairs the locals are having parties we would have loved to join in. The tables were groaning with food.
Later in the evening we take a last stroll around the neighbourhood, saying farewell to the lazy market cats who watched all the rats scamper around while they slept.
A few lazy dogs as well.
A sweet treat before dinner, palm sugar cake with sweet carrot on top.
If you know Tiger Cave in Eating World in Sydney's Chinatown, then you may have wondered why they sold steak and chips. We found the Bangkok equivalent around the corner from our hotel.
The menu has a large range of western favourites.
German bratwurst, pork chops and sausages are popular on the diners tables. This place was full of locals, not expats, enjoying a western New Years Eve dinner.
The happiest chef in all of Bangkok.
As we got here a little late in the evening, the choices were a bit low. The pork chops and steak were sold out so a chicken steak had to do.
The mixed sauasage plate, two german style numbers with the same white bread and vegetables. Should have gone the fries option.
Vegetable salad served with a sweet mayo (or some such equivalent) sauce. Probably not necessary and we just ate the greens.
Sauce selections, essential for the bangers.
Time to feed the cats and head home.
It's our last morning in Thailand so after a congee at the joint next door we take a victory lap around the markets.
New Years Day and it all just goes on.
It's a little quieter and we wish we could stay longer.
Out to the airport, past the new developments and the older areas just hanging on. We wonder what it might be like next time we come in, large cities all around the world seem to be in such a huge hurry for change.
We love Thailand. See ya next time.