Bangkok was not an immediately lovable city to me. In fact, after a few (very short) visits there, I only found one thing to truly love: the malls (seriously, the BEST… I may need to introduce you guys to the awesomeness of Bangkok malls in a future post). But as a whole, it’s just too dirty, noisy, and stressful. And not to mention HOT all the damn time.
So on our most recent visit, I didn’t care much to run around town hitting up major tourist attractions. (And honestly, after 2 months in Thailand, I cannot pretend to be excited about seeing yet another wat.) It got to the point where every time D asked me what I wanted to do that day, my answer was “to go to the mall.”
After a few days of wasting away our days inside of malls, eating expensive and un-extraordinary food, I conceded that there is a huge city out there to be explored. Somewhere with better food.
And that’s when we discovered Chinatown.
As most of the things we do are motivated by food, we came to Chinatown with the intention of eating as much as humanly possible.
Once the sun has set, Bangkok’s Chinatown is the place to be for foodies. It throbs with an electrifying energy. Countless street vendors set up shop in between small markets and higher-end restaurants. Little plastic stools and folding tables spill out unto the sidewalks. Neon signs shine bright all along Yaowarat, the main road. But don’t even think about cabbing through town during rush hour because the traffic is at a standstill.
To get to Chinatown, we took the MRT to the Hua Lamphong station, and then hopped into a tuk tuk (or you can just walk the <10 minutes there). We had the driver drop us off at the Chinatown gate, and then walked the short distance towards the neon lights.
We knew that seafood is a must here. The two most famous places are T&K and Lek & Rut. It’s impossible to miss these two
restaurants street eateries – just look out for the MASSIVE crowd.
Located on street corners just across an alleyway from each other, the diners and the crowd of people waiting for seats spill way out into the street. These are the busiest street corners in all of Chinatown.
Stop #1: giant prawns at Lek & Rut
We didn’t have a preference between the two, but as we were lucky enough to find a seat right away in the alleyway behind Lek & Rut, that is where my loyalty now lies. Knowing that we have a big night of eating ahead of us, we went for just one plate of giant prawns to share at 300 baht, or US$9.
A few minutes later, a plate of six pink plump prawns arrived at our table. We dug in. Wait, no. First, the camera eats –
I’m generally not a fan of seafood, but these prawns were the best I’ve ever had. They were grilled to perfection and so tender and juicy. They were good on their own, but even better with the spicy chili dipping sauce. As soon as we polished off the plate, we wanted more and immediately asked for another order.
The cost for 2 plates of prawns: 600 baht, or US $18. Not bad for a dozen giant shrimp!
Lek & Rut location: Yaowarat & Thanon Phadung Dao Street (though you wouldn’t miss it with the crowd!)
With happy tummies, we made our way further down Yaowarat. We meandered through the small alleyways, which are just as action-packed as the main street. Everything looks so good, but with quickly filling tummies (those prawns were surprisingly filling!), we knew we had to picky.
Stop #2: bird’s nest soup
As we wandered the alleyways, one shop caught our eye. It was a place completely devoted to Bird’s Nest Soup. Bird’s Nest Soup is a Chinese delicacy made from the spit of nesting swallows. It’s believed to have a number of health benefits including eradication of free radicals and anti-aging. It’s ridiculously expensive because the cleaning of the nest needs to be painstakingly done by hand. This delicacy is one of the most expensive animal products in the world!
I’ve heard of it before, but have never had it. After a bit of hesitation on D’s part, I managed to convinced him to try it with me!
When our soup came, we were completely confused on how to actually eat it. It came with a few sides: some large beans, honey, and an egg. The shop owner instructed us to put them all into the warm soup. We dumped in the honey and beans (which turned out to be a sweet kidney bean), but I could not imagine mixing egg into a sweet soup (gross?!), so we ate it on the side.
I’ll have to say that this was surprisingly good, although completely non-descriptive at the same time. The soup doesn’t actually taste like anything, except for maybe the honey that we dumped in. The texture is jelly-like with a little bit of crunch from the visible threads of nest.
Definitely interesting experience, though I wouldn’t go out of my way to have it again as I’m not completely sold on the health benefits. :P
Stop #3: Thai dessert crepes
We continued on along the 1 km strip. A good rule of thumb is to just look for crowded stalls. That’s how we came across a couple making these little crepes roadside. There was a small audience gathered around watching them work.
You can see these tiny roadside crepes (or Thai tacos) almost anywhere in Thailand, but these are probably the most appetizing ones I’ve seen yet. Mainly because they were being made fresh right in front of our eyes. We watched as the makers laid out the dough, spoon on a layer of egg yolk, and sprinkle on the toppings.
As there was a language barrier, they couldn’t tell us what the filling was. But after doing a bit of research, I believe that bright orange filling is a mixture of shredded coconut and dried shrimp. It was slightly sweet and the shell was nice and crispy, but I’m not all too convinced that it was worth the 20 minute wait!
At this point, we were both seriously full (at least I was). Seriously?! What is this? When did I become so weak…
But we had one more restaurant we wanted to visit before calling it a night: Odean, a crab noodle soup joint located close to the main gate.
Unfortunately, after walking around lost and confused for a while and finally asking some people, we learned it was closed that day. Bummer. But not to fret, because a couple of nights later, we came back to get out hands on some of that famous crab soup.
Odean crab noodle soup: take 2
The yellow egg noodles and clear broth are good in their own right, but the crab is the real star here. You can get a bowl of normal crab soup at an affordable 50 baht, which will get you some crabby meat pieces, orrrrr you can go for…. THE CLAW!
These crab claws are not cheap, starting from 200 baht and going all the way up to 600, pending on how big you want it. We went for the 300 baht (US$9) claw, and got a fatty claw on top of the egg noodle soup.
While there was absolutely nothing wrong with it, it was also slightly underwhelming if I’m being honest. 300 baht is a lot in Thailand and you can get a lot of food with that (or you can get 6 huge prawns). By comparison, one bowl of soup with one crab claw seems a little sad.
Odean location: Charoen Krung Road near the gate
We didn’t get to eat as much in Chinatown as we had originally hoped, but our nights here are among my favorite Bangkok memories (yes, beating out the malls :P). Everything about Chinatown is an adventure – from the dodging of traffic to dining on little plastic stools. Next time I’m back in Bangkok, I’m making a beeline straight for Chinatown. Those prawns are calling. :)
Have you been to Bangkok’s Chinatown? Have you had bird’s nest? How do you eat it?!
I apologize in advance that the next month may be food heavy on the blog. We haven’t been doing much except for eating!