I think I might be the only traveler in the world who has actually avoided Thailand. For years.
If you know me well, you probably know where this is going. If not, let me drag it out and build it up.
If there is one thing I like to do when I am traveling, it’s eat. I am a firm believer that you can learn a lot about a country and its culture through its food. I eat anything and everything when I’m on the road. Of course this gets tricky when you have a life-threatening food allergy.
Why, fate, why??
Peanuts, the bane of my existence. How much easier would my life be if I could eat peanuts without a fear of dying by anaphylactic shock? A helluva lot easier, that’s for sure.
While I devour Asian food all the time, I’ve always avoided Thai food. One accidental run-in with a free to-go container of pad thai taught me a serious lesson when I was 20. Thai food has a lot of peanuts, do not eat Thai food Liz. And don’t go to Thailand.
Just kidding! Challenge accepted!
I never fully wrote off Thailand as a place I couldn’t go to, it was just never high on my list, mostly because of the whole peanuts-can-and-will-kill-you scenario, but also because Thailand is like a backpacker/blogger holy land that totally turned me off.
Every blogger and their mother lived in Chiang Mai at one point or another, and I know so many people who have stomped down the well-defined Southeast Asia tourist trail who’s heart beats to the fire drums of the islands of Koh Tao.
5 years ago I would have been all over it, now, I am more like, meh.
But I am a firm believer in not writing off a country without even seeing it first, so when the opportunity to visit Sri Lanka via Thailand popped up, I couldn’t say no.
I had just over 24 hours in Bangkok on my layover to Sri Lanka and I decided to make the most of it. I quickly made the executive decision to leave all of the madness of Khao San Road for another time, and keep this trip casual.
Bangkok can be overwhelming, instead of trying to do it all in a day, I decided to just relax and explore and soak it in.
My goals were simple – stay somewhere comfortable and awesome for a refresh between my longhaul flights, just wander with no itinerary for a day, and eat all the Thai food and not die and check out one of those infamous Bangkok rooftop bars.
Sounds easy right?
I started looking at hotels on Yonderbound, which I talked before here, and discovered the most amazing deal. The Hotel Muse Bangkok was an easy choice. I love history, boutique spots, and affordable luxury. A 5 star hotel in a great location, fabulous character and with epic reviews (and free wifi woot woot) with prices down at $113, is this for real?
$113 a night for a 5 star hotel?! Holy shit!
So after 2 days of travel from New Zealand to Thailand, because that’s how long it takes to get places when you live at the end of the world, I was dead.
Though I had a great amount of fun on my Jetstar flight between Melbourne and Bangkok. Not only did I magically end up with a whole row to myself on a full flight (winning!) my plane was also from the future.
Instead of having window shades you pulled up and down, it had a button that dimmed the windows blue, darker and darker til you could sleep.
Woah! I’ve never seen that before.
Thailand greeted me for the first time by Smacking me in the face with humidity almost as soon as I got off the plane. As I made my way through the unfamiliar airport, full of new smells, loud sounds, way too many people and a lot of colors everywhere, I thought, welcome back to the chaos of Asia.
By the time I arrived in Bangkok at night I was ready to hit the sack. Catching a cab to Hotel Muse, I was pretty stoked to see it lived up to its reputation!
It is one thing to come off of 15 hours and 3 plane rides to be greeted with smiles and grace, instead of banging on a door to be let in.
Catering towards independent travelers, the Muse is east-meets-west combining a 18th/19th century European touches with far east King Rama V – era of Thailand, the golden age.
Which of course begs the question, why aren’t more hotels themed this way?
This is the closest I’ll likely get to Downton Abbey style of travel in real life.
Greeted by a lot of smiles and a beautiful arched entry way, I checked in as quickly as I could before bolting to my room. I couldn’t wait to fall asleep. Of course I had to have a quick jump on the bed to make sure it was fit and comfortable.
After a good night’s sleep I was wide awake at 4:30, thank you jetlag, and properly got to experience the luxury of my room, and more specifically, the clawfoot tub.
Between the dark wooden paneling, quirky wallpaper, stylish mirrors, antique furniture and leather suitcases, there were so many lovely touches I couldn’t pick a favorite. Just kidding, the tub was my favorite. That and the super fast free wifi.
After an amazing breakfast upstairs overlooking the city with some of the hotel girls, I made my way to the rooftop for my first glimpse of Bangkok in the daylight. What a city. I couldn’t wait to get started.
I made my way into town on the local ferry down the river, hopping off to explore of the of the famous temples.
For me this was just going to be an introduction, a teaser to Thai culture. I spent a few hours wandering around the crowded temple, before eventually succumbing and made my way to a cute airconditioned cafe overlooking the river.
You don’t always have to be a tourist and I learned ages ago that spending 12 hours a day on your feet ticking items off a guide book list was not always the best way to experience a place.
Slurping my iced coffee as the sweat dried from my clothes I started talking with some of the staff who were from the area, poking and prodding as I usually do. You’ll always learn more from locals than from any guide or blog haha.
They told me just down the main road were many markets, with street food stalls galore and even flowers and candies.
With my stomach rumbling, I decided it was time to start eating.
Tucked in my bag I had two epipens, Benadryl, and a handwritten note from the lovely staff at the Muse in Thai explaining I couldn’t eat peanuts. The time had come to put it to the test.
Wandering down the noisy street as tuk-tuks, trucks, and scooters rumbled by, I followed my nose and took in all the sites and scents.
Plucking up my courage I picked a stall that had a couple of ramshackle tables covered in lining with stools next to a big mobile cooking station. As much as I wanted one of those big soup bowls, I couldn’t bring myself to order one in the heat. So I pointed out a rice dish and said “does this have peanuts?”
The guy stared at my like a grew a second head so I whipped out my note, he read it before going “ahhhh ok ok.”
The great thing about eating street food with an allergy is that you can watch them make it. So much better and more effective than expecting a waiter to pass it on to the kitchen staff.
After a few minutes I had a steaming plate of rice and chicken and yummy sauces in front of me. Now here’s the part that is inherently tricky with having a food allergy. Do I trust them? Did they understand?
Many might not agree with me, but I am not going to make all my own food when traveling and lose out on the experience of getting to taste a local dish. Sorry. So I have my own little tests.
I give a visual look over and a prod with my fork – don’t see any peanuts. I discreetly lift the plate and give it a sniff, nope doesn’t smell peanut-y. The old guy sitting across from me stares at me like I’m crazy.
Finally I lift a forkful and shove it into my mouth, hopefully appearing as if I am savoring it when the reality is that I’m waiting to swallow to see if my mouth starts to itch or swell or if I taste peanuts.
Swallowing peanuts is the truly dangerous part of my allergy. Sure, having a mouth full of itchy hives isn’t ideal but I’d rather have that than have my throat swell shut and die.
Once I’ve deduced there aren’t any peanuts, I woof it down. Yum yum.
Source Arnold Valentino
I did this over the next few hours wandering around the markets until I couldn’t move and had to hail a cab back to the hotel.
While I was only in Bangkok for 24 hours, what I deduced about peanuts was the following.
- Most of the time I noticed they added peanuts or crushed peanuts to the end of dishes, which is easily avoidable.
- Everyone understood my note even if they didn’t understand me.
- Thai food is delicious, what have I been missing out on for 26 years?
- Mango sticky rice is THE BEST THING EVER INVENTED.
I then headed back to Langsuan Road where the Muse is located and wandered around there for a while. I imagine this to be the more gentrified area of Bangkok which in some ways, made it more weirdly local than the chaotic areas around the famous temples and palace. Read – no tourists.
I did some serious people watching over here, watching teenage girls gossiping over frappuchinos at Starbucks and people running to and from meetings. It was weirdly familiar to America. In a rare fit of acting my age and nationality, I wandered into a mall.
A mall! I couldn’t remember the last time I was in a mall, let alone when I was traveling. Who am I?
I ended up getting the best manicure I’ve ever had at a fancy salon on the top floor. It was shellac and lasted for over 2 weeks of not-so-gentle traveling.
It was hilarious because none of the women there spoke any English but it was a great way to relax and people watch and get a little pampered. Am I getting old? Since when did a manicure appeal more to me than visiting more temples?
Who knows, all I know was in that moment, that’s what I felt like doing so I did it. And I don’t regret it. It was awesome.
After some more wandering and getting lost, I made my way back to the Muse to freshen up for drinks at the Speakeasy rooftop bar. 1920’s themed with an amazing cocktail list and in character staff, it was a great spot to unwind as the sun set and the lights of Bangkok came on.
Sometimes I think I was born a gentlemen in a past life, so I channeled my inner Gregory Peck or Earl of Grantham sipping a mint julep and wishing for a cigar – just kidding!
And a few hours later after I finally digested all of the amazing Thai street food I had that day, we made our way downstairs to the Medici Kitchen and Bar. I love that the Muse has so much unique variety in every aspect.
Serenaded by opera singers, we shared some of my favorite Italian dishes, something I totally wasn’t expecting in Asia over red wine before I hit the sack absolutely exhausted.
Thailand was nothing like what I was expecting and if I learned anything, it was that 36 hours in Bangkok definitely wasn’t enough. Can’t wait to go back!
Have you been to Thailand or Bangkok? Have any tips for my next trip? Have you ever gotten to a new place only to realize you just wanted to wander and take it easy instead of take in all the sites?
Many thanks to the Muse for hosting me in Bangkok – thank always, I’m keeping it real, all opinions are my own, like you can expect less from me.