Stepping out into Bangkok for the first time is like being walloped around the face with a big barbecued fish — it’s hot, it’s sticky and it’s smelly. Then there’s that charcoal residue, the thick pollution that lines your nostrils and your lungs. Dazed and jet-lagged, you don’t know what’s hit you — but it’s intense and overwhelming, but most strangely of all, it’s fun.
No matter how much stick Bangkok gets for being a dirty hole, the colourful temples and the tenacity of its people has to be admired. As with most cities, Bangkok dons many personas. Having stayed for only three days and four nights, Billy and I had a good dig around and started consolidating our own opinions of the place.
We decided to stay in the Samsen area just behind the infamous Khoa San Road, it was a quiet enough area to get over our jet-lag, while being only ten minutes walk from bustling Khoa San and a long twenty minutes to key attractions like the Grand Palace. We didn’t realise that this area was also renowned for it’s street food. Perhaps the best night of the trip so far began in one of these little restaurants, and ended in it.
The area is a fairly small, residential area in which families are squeezed into higgledy-piggledy apartments that are interspersed with the odd Seven Eleven, local cafes and workshops. It’s very much a working area, you can see that the people live a tough life and at the same time, they are gentle and melodic — this is in stark contrast to those you may meet in the heavily touristed areas.
Billy and I felt quite safe there, however, one evening as we walked back at around 7pm from Dusit Palace, we were stopped first by a tourist police officer and again by a genuine Tuk-Tuk driver who simply wanted to ensure we were close to our hostel. It was a bit of an awakening.
With all the fresh ingredients laid out before us, friendly service and very healthy portions, Jok Pochana was our favourite spot in Bangkok. Two main courses and large bottles of Chiang came in at just 300 Baht. Situate down a side-street, or a ‘soi’, it is a quieter spot than the vendors that line the main Samsen Road, so diners can relax over their meal and use their facilities.
After a wee trip down to Khoa San Road, we found ourselves back across the road from the restaurant in a cracking blues bar called Adhere Blues Bar. It was a long skinny set-up, crammed with people from all walks of life and most importantly a fantastic blues band.
Most people were drinking large naggins of rum, ‘Sangsum’ with soda water. Before long Billy and I had joined the club and were taking tips from a Canadian muscian/teacher on how to get work in Bangkok: ‘Yeah,’ we grinned at each other, ‘We’re thinking about moving to Bangkok’. Before long our plan was hatched, I would write for the Bangkok Post and Billy would teach English.
By the time the bar was turning out we were still going strong and chatting with the couple who owned the bar — he plays the lead guitar while she runs the place — and a gregarious Thai lady who explained why Thai people can’t ‘poopey’ when indulging in western food. Together with a French man and his Thai girlfriend we piled out and across the road to a make-shift street bar.
Here we joined an extremely old and bald Thai man who was blessed with the biggest smile and his lone companion, a young bearded Russian man who sucked sadly on a pipe.Despite the quiet, residential surroundings, the atmosphere was celebratory as everyone mingled. Billy ordered more food from Jok Pochana next door and we enticed the owner to join us for a drink.
With a glow stick on my head, I was taught the basics of the Thai language and the reason behind locals always jamming what looks like a lip balm up their nose — it’s actually eucalyptus and helps clear their airways when they feel ill (basically if the pollution gets too much). I chatted to the old man about my Grandpa who was imprisoned in Thailand in WW2 and helped build the railway — he told me to write to him and so I took a photo of his ID card and promised I would. He gave me his eucalyptus balm and a pen — because I am a writer and cannot write without a pen.
Somehow Billy saw sense and in a euphoric stupor we said our goodbyes and locked away beautifully hazy memories of what Samsen and it’s people have to offer — pure, grounded fun and great food.