Writing: Heba El-Sherif
Travel Experience & Photography: Hoda El-Sherif
There’s much to say about taking a trip to Thailand. The typical list includes a boundless variety of street food, picture-perfect beach spots and cheap shopping. But a few days in the north could offer anything from treepod dining and paragliding to massive water fights, awe-inspiring Buddhas and a multitude of perfectly preserved temples that in their entirety are a reflection of Thailand’s rich culture.
Below is an attempt at journaling the highlights of our trip.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
From crafty silverware and antique light fixtures to trendy clothing and a variety of plants, Chatuchak is undisputedly the most extensive and exciting shopping experience in Bangkok.
About 15,000 stalls are set-up every weekend in the open air for vendors to sell their products, often priced lower than one would find at bigger shopping malls or markets, like the ones found around the backpacker’s hub Khao San Road. It could be disorienting for first timers, yes, but it’s this kind of competition that ensures prices are distinctly reasonable.
Visitors are a mix of locals and foreigners, and the market is easily accessible from the center of Bangkok. A first-hand tip: find a map ahead of your visit to get a general sense of which sections you would like to visit. This doesn’t mean you have to stick to a preplanned route, but the maze-like set up can have you going around circles, so it’s good to be prepared.
At the entrance of the market, we spotted a potbellied chef with a beret dancing in front of a large skillet. His specialty was paellas, the signature Spanish dish, and we later learned that he’s a well-known feature of the market. It was a charming encounter, although, at least for a moment, we were taken aback considering that delicious Thai food was available at every corner.
Food aside, we picked out a collection of precious handmade mugs and ramekins that we continue to use in our studio.
Navigating through the narrow canals that make-up Damnoen Saduak is a cherished tourist activity. Itself a collection of small floating markets located some 100 kilometers outside Bangkok, Damnoen Saduak is considered the most popular floating market in Thailand.
Every morning, the web of canals that make up the market is dotted with wooden boats weighed down by fresh produce. Farmers keen on catching early risers boast their treats as visitors pass by, gliding along the waterways in their long-tail boats. It’s a bustling affair until noon, where bargaining is permitted and snapping shots of the artful displays of fresh fruits and vegetables is a standard activity.
Even as roads continued to be constructed, particularly during the 19th century, the importance of Thailand’s web of khlongs, the word commonly used to refer to its canals, persisted, not only as a lifeline for farmers, but also as a nod to the country’s rich past.
On our visit, we passed by a woman in traditional clothing and a straw hat preparing Pad Thai. With a hotplate perched in front of her and a riot of aromas wafting about, she had laid out all the ingredients: noodles, bean sprouts, eggs, onions, coriander, peanuts, fish sauce. We also sampled some very yummy sticky rice with mango form a neighboring vendor, a rich local staple that can be savored at any hour of day.
If Thailand’s south is famed for its islands, the north is the heart of its temples. In addition to a striking landscape, it’s recommended for those interested in cultural tourism or adventure travel.
We planned our trip around April, so we were lucky to attend the Thai New Year Songkran while in Chiang Mai, the largest city in northern Thailand. Some of the traditions associated with Songkran have locals visiting temples to pour water on Buddha statues by way of washing away one’s sins. The spiritual cleansing spills onto the streets of Chiang Mai, turning the city into one giant, friendly water fight.
After a tour of some temples, we decided to grab a bite at a street restaurant, lured by the crowd waiting to be seated. We opted for barbequed squid, shrimps and a scrumptious grilled fish with sea salt and chili peanut sauce, followed by a drink of coconut water, which is a common offering in most street markets in Thailand. Pulled out of a chilled icebox, it’s the ideal beverage to quench your thirst after a long day of walking.
Our favorite coffee shop in Chiang Mai, Ristr8to, was set up by coffee aficionados who arrived in Thailand in 2011 by way of Australia. Its name is a nod to Ristretto, a traditionally short shot of espresso made with the standard amount of ground coffee but extracted with about half the amount of water used to prepare a regular espresso.
The setup is so inviting that we kept coming back to Ristr8to throughout our stay in Chiang Mai. Wood adorns the wall of the indoor section of the café, with large blackboards spread along the walls. Everything from the exact amount of caffeine in your coffee to the amount of milk used can be found on the menu, and that, coupled with a warm, friendly atmosphere, sets this place apart.
Home to high-end beachside resorts and a buzzing nightlife, Phuket is also famous for its evening markets. Our highlight was this stuffed shellfish bonanza cooked in béchamel.