Asia travel diary: Bangkok, Thailand [part 3]

We started our last day in Bangkok bright and early hoping to cram in as much tourist things as possible. We organised a cab driver with our hotel for the day at a flat rate of $1,500THB/$50AUD* where he would take us to the famous Damnoen Saduak Floating Markets (a 1.5 hour drive) and famous Thai temples.

Our cabbie was a zippy and speedy driver who weaved in and out of traffic like no tomorrow. It didn’t feel like the safest drive there but we arrived in one piece, so phew! He pulled up to a rather isolated floating market boat dock with car park bays for drivers to rest up and wait for their clients/customers to do the tour thing before hopping back into the cab and moving on to their next destination. We were greeted with the boat tour organisers and tickets for the boat ride and tour was $1,500THB/$50AUD*. Per person.

What. The. $#!#.

That combined was more than our cabbie for the day and I already thought that that was a tad bit expensive! Our eyes literally popped out of our sockets when we saw the price tag on those tickets. Exorbitant prices targeted at tourists!! Sigh.

bangkok, floating markets

After coughing up the bill for the tour, we weren’t left with much money on hand as we weren’t expecting it to be that expensive. Therefore we had to be selective and ‘stingy’ as to how we spent the remainder of our baht. Well… at least we had the whole boat (with a shade cloth) to ourselves. And so, our boat driver took us through the narrow river canals whilst we observed the locals’ ways of life.

bangkok, floating markets

We came across many vendors on boats and river houses on stilts selling fruits, vegetables, beer (!) and beverages, plants and souvenirs. Of course, everything was overpriced for the tourists so haggle like mad, OR buy your souvenirs back in the city or at Chatuchak Market. I played bad cop for the most part and refused to buy anything as we had already bought all our souvenirs the day before at the markets and at a cheaper price too.

One of our first stops was at a house by the river that sold food. The owners young daughter aged around 8 handed us their menus down to our boat as we stayed put and made our selection. We ordered a pad thai and noodles whilst the mother and grandmother quickly whipped it up in their joint kitchen/living space.

bangkok, floating markets, pad thai
Traditional style pad thai; $150THB/$5.00AUD*

This is the most memorable dish that the stranger had from our entire trip.

It was that good. Traditional style pad thai with soft rice noodles that still had some bite to them whilst still holding their shape with a handful of fresh bean sprouts, spring onions and a small mound of sugar and peanuts (on the other side of the pad thai mound) alongside a cheek of fresh lime. We mixed all the components together and boy oh boy, was that an amazing pad thai or what?! Best ever. Ever-ever-ever.

AMAZING.

bangkok, floating markets, spicy pork noodle soup
Spicy pork noodle soup; $50THB/$1.67AUD*

The spicy pork noodle soup was a lot cheaper in comparison with the popular pad thai but still so tasty! The soup was clear and had so much flavour packed into it. A bunch of firm noodles sat at the bottom of the bowl topped with minced pork, bouncy fish balls, dried shrimp, chives and chillies… oh them chillies, they sure got our sinuses running!

bangkok, floating markets

After that amazing meal, we didn’t have much money left to spend so we asked our boat driver to bypass all souvenir and trinket stalls as he was passing them by so slowly therefore allowing the shop owners time to try and sell us their goods. Heh! Instead, we asked him to find a stall at the floating markets that exchanged money as we were in desperate need for some cash on us – albeit at a lower conversion rate ($1AUD=$29THB – not bad at all considering our circumstances).

bangkok, floating markets
Boat traffic

A part of the boat tour was to stop by at a coconut sugar factory where we got to watch locals making coconut sugar, sample some coconut treats and buy any souvenirs (exorbitantly priced) if that tickled our fancy. We weren’t that excited about this part of the tour but it was a good opportunity for us to get out of the boat and stretch our legs.

bangkok, floating markets, coconut sugar factory
Coconut sugar factory

Sugar!!! That was all we could smell and taste in the air… in the air! It smelt incredibly rich and sweet.

We also got to watch a demonstration of coconut sugar being made. Lots of physical strength was required to stir through the thick caramel in a large pan that sat on a tyre on the floor with many tourists having a go at the manual task.

Back into the boat and off we went to the final part of our tour; a stop over at a local temple.

bangkok, floating markets, temple

bangkok, floating markets, temple

After a donation to the temple, we were handed a fresh flower, incense sticks, gold leaf paper and a bag of fish food to feed the fishes later on by the edge of the river.

bangkok, floating markets
Burning incense sticks, a close up shot of the buddha statue with gold leaf paper

The flower was offered to the temple, the incense sticks burnt and placed in a pit in front of the statues and the delicate pieces of gold leaf paper was stuck onto the statue.

bangkok, buddha foot print
Buddha foot print

bangkok, floating markets

The whole tour took around 1.5-2 hours depending on our pace. I’m glad we got to go to the floating markets and experience it for ourselves, but if we were to go back to Bangkok, we wouldn’t do it again; it was just one of those things that had to be done and get ticked off the list. We were taken back to the dock and met up with our driver. He insisted he take us to a place where ‘every tourist should visit in Bangkok’; that place being the Gems Gallery International… and that he also needed to use the bathroom! Quite honestly, the Gems Gallery was a waste of time and I had an inkling that it was part of a ‘scam’ to try to sell us crap things. One of the staff members guided us around the building and we got to see the locals crafting jewellery pieces together, and so much jewellery in glass cabinets on display which lined the walls and was lined in rows within the show room. We then reached the souvenir shop and this was when the staff member started to get pushy and tried to pressure us to buying things. Once she realised that we weren’t going to budge, she wasn’t particularly pleased and left us on our own; we were more than happy to leave the place! So be warned travellers, this place was a waste of time and if you must buy your jewellery and gems in Bangkok, do your research cause there are so many gem scam stories that occur in Bangkok!

Moving on, our next destination was the Grand Palace which is a complex of several buildings, halls, pavilions, gardens and courtyards. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is also within the Grand Palace. (FYI, entry fee was $500THB/$16,67AUD* per person.) Before we could explore the grounds, we had to hire sarongs and pants to cover our exposed skin ($200THB/$6.67AUD* per clothing item) and upon returning the items, we were refunded with our money. Now, imagine being fully clothed in intense heat and humidity… not fun! We struggled a lot that day and tried to find shelter in as many air conditioned buildings as possible to cool ourselves down.

bangkok, grand palace, emerald buddha
Wat Phra Kaew or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha as seen from the Outer Court

bangkok, grand palace

bangkok, grand palace

bangkok, grand palace

bangkok, grand palace

bangkok, grand palace

bangkok, grand palace, Phra Thinang Chakri Maha Prasat
Phra Thinang Chakri Maha Prasat

Really beautiful and intricate buildings within the Grand Palace.

We explored as much of the Grand Palace as possible but eventually, the heat got to us and we just needed to head back to our hotel for a cold shower and some much needed rest after such a long hot day. The plan was to see the Reclining Buddha after the Grand Palace but we requested that our cabbie take us ‘home’. Plus, we had to go back, wash up and get ready for our last fancy meal in Bangkok anyway. Dinner was to be had at Gaggan, another restaurant that ranked 17th on the World’s Best 50 List and 3rd on Asia’s 50 best restaurants for 2014.

Gaggan

Gaggan was housed in a white washed colonial-style wooden house in downtown Bangkok and offers progressive Indian cuisine with traditional touches. The restaurant was brightly lit inside with white decor, white furniture and touches of green from fresh plants and flowers. There were 3 degustation options in the menu and considering how much we spent during the day, we opted for the ‘cheapest’ one called Taste of Gaggan at $1,800THB/$60AUD* per person. The following degustation was called India Reinvented and only included an extra course with the meal at $2,800THB/$93.33AUD* – we didn’t think the extra $33.33AUD was worth it for another dish.

bangkok, gaggan
Front doors, exterior shot

bangkok, gaggan, amuse bouche, Cucumber, ginger and lemon sorbet with cucumber foam
Cucumber, ginger and lemon sorbet with cucumber foam

Before we dived into our degustation, we were treated to a ball of cucumber, ginger and lemon sorbet with cucumber foam and a sprig of mint leave. So refreshing and light!

bangkok, gaggan, hendricks gin and tonicGin…

bangkok, gaggan, hendricks gin and tonic…and tonic

bangkok, gaggan, hendricks gin and tonic
The making of a Hendricks G&T :)~

bangkok, gaggan, mocktail
Mocktail

First cab off the rank for the degustation was the Street eats from India.

bangkok, gaggan, street eats from india
Street eats from India
Pani puri, spiced nuts in an edible plastic bag, samosa and yogurt chaat

Four little starters were presented on our table and they all looked so unique and cool – there were a lot of oohs and ahhs on the table… mainly coming from me! We were instructed to eat them in a certain order to fully appreciate the flavours and prepare our palate for the dishes ahead.

First up, Chef Gaggan’s signature yoghurt chaat that has been on the menu since day dot of the restaurant being opened.

bangkok, gaggan, street eats from india, yoghurt chaat
Yoghurt chaat

We were informed not to bite the sphere on the spoon but to have it in one mouthful. We carefully picked up the spoons and slid the slippery egg shaped yoghurt spheres into our mouths. BOOM! The sphere exploded in our mouths, an explosion of light creamy yoghurt with hints of Indian spices. So good and so fun!

bangkok, gaggan, street eats from india, spiced nuts, edible plastic bag
Spiced nuts in an edible plastic bag

Oh the novelty of eating a ‘plastic bag’! It felt like we were eating one of those vegetable sachets that come with 2 minute noodle packets. The edible bag was in fact, a thin rice paper and once consumed, dissolved immediately leaving behind the crunchy nut bits.

bangkok, gaggan, street eats from india, samosa
Samosa

An inside out deconstructed style samosa with a potato mousse on top of a crisp wafer and garnished with a raisin and dill.

bangkok, gaggan, street eats from india, pani puri
Pani puri

The ‘sweet’ finish to our starters. It’s like that saying of ‘things are not what they seem’, as one would expect the pani puri to be a sweet ball of chocolate but once we popped it into our mouths, it was a pop of salty, sweet and sour in one! The white chocolate shell had a spicy savoury liquid centre with an edible piece of silver on top. Yum!

bangkok, gaggan, viagra, oyster

bangkok, gaggan, viagra, oyster
Viagra®

A freshly shucked oyster, with spiced marinated apple and Yuzu chutney with lemon air presented on a glass plate with rock salt and tweezers! Beautifully presented; the oyster was so light and creamy paired with a refreshing and vibrant flavour profile from the apple, chutney and light lemon air, it was such a shame that we only got one each. I’m sure we couldv’e gone through a dozen of these!

bangkok, gaggan, sandwich, foie gras
Sandwich

This wasn’t your typical sandwich.

A foie gras mousse, onion chutney and hazelnut candy sandwiched between a pair of onion water baguettes. It was incredibly light and delicate so we had to handle these sandwiches with care. The onion water baguette was like a crunchy light airy foam with loads of onion flavour. The velvety smooth foie gras mousse was intense and creamy and paired beautifully with the sweetness from the onion chutney and hazelnut candy. A great variety of textures and flavours… so delicious!

bangkok, gaggan

bangkok, gagganDown to earth

This rock was our favourite dish from the entire meal.

The ‘down to earth’ was a mind blowingly tasty soup that consisted of asparagus, morels, mushrooms, artichokes with 62°C egg yolk and truffle chilli air. There was an earthiness from the morels and mushrooms that came through the soup with firm and chewy bites from the vegetables… and then that egg yolk that was just so glossy and creamy that tied the elements together. The truffle chilli air was light and gave it a slight kick. We made sure we scraped that rock clean. Bloody delicious.

The flavours were now progressively getting more heavier and punchier as the courses kept coming out.

The river king followed shortly after.

bangkok, gaggan

bangkok, gaggan
River king

The river king was presented under a glass cloche with some smoke trapped underneath. Once our waiter lifted the cloche, there presented on the plate was a single tandoor grilled fresh water prawn with a curry leaf infusion and mango chutney. It tasted as good as it looked.

bangkok, gaggan

bangkok, gaggan
Keema pav (lamb ragout)

The keema pav were mini burgers of minced lamb curry with dehydrated tomato bread and chutney. They may be bite sized but they were packed full of flavour so we tried to savour these slowly and took little itty bites out of them. Or maybe it was just I that savoured the burger slowly…

bangkok, gaggan

bangkok, gaggan
Bong connection

Next up was an artistic presentation of red mullet in green chilli herb marinade with Bengali mustard, sweet potato, all spice gel on a black slate plate. The red mullet was cooked just right with the flesh still moist and bouncy with a nice kick of heat from the green chilli herb marinade on the outside. The dehydrated Bengali mustard and sweet potato with all spice gel was interesting and added different textural and visual components to the plate.

bangkok, gaggan

bangkok, gaggan
British national dish

Our final savoury course for the degustation was a home-style chicken tikka masala accompanied by naan bread. We couldn’t help but think that this was rather simple compared to the amazing dishes we had prior, but despite its simplistic appearance and presentation, it was one awesome and super delicious chicken tikka masala! And the accompanied naan bread of both the butter and garlic varieties were so fluffy and light with a slight toasty char on the outside. We happily mopped our plates clean with the naan but resisted on finishing off the lot cause we still had to save some room for the sweet stuff.

bangkok, gaggan
Made in Japan

Our first dessert was a white sesame cake, wasabi ice cream and miso leaves. The white sesame cake and miso leaves that sat on top of the subtle hinted wasabi ice cream provided a nice light, airy and slightly salty crunch to the dessert. A nice contrast of textures and flavours.

bangkok, gaggan
Divine

Our final dessert was fresh Mahachanok mango with cardamom ice cream, pistachio gnocchi and yogurt cookie. Once the waiter placed this in front of us, she picked up my spoon and fed me a pistachio gnocchi! We were a bit taken back with the gesture and eyed each other with an ‘ahh okay…’ look. Hahah. I was more concerned of not being able to take the picture of the dish but luckily the stranger was spared the gesture so I quickly got a snap of his plate before I passed it back. A really interesting and ‘spice’ flavoured dessert with fresh mango hugging onto every element. The pastel green gnocchi was incredibly delicate and dissipated once consumed leaving behind a lingering note of pistachio, and the yoghurt cookie crumbs gave it a welcome balance of crunch and tangy sweetness. Delish!

What a delightful degustation and experience at Gaggan, we had so much fun with the food and was in awe with the presentation, flavour combinations and techniques used. Surprisingly we both agreed that we liked Gaggan better than Nahm and would return if we were in Bangkok, we would definitely recommend you try Gaggan too if you happen to be in town! Our total bill was $6,800THB/$226.67AUD* with 10% service charge + 7% VAT, beverages and tip.

Next stop: Macau.

-d

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
Ratchaburi

Grand Palace
Na Phra Lan Road
Phra Nakhon 10200 Thailand
P +66 2 623 5500

Gaggan
68/1 Soi Langsuan
Ploenchit Road
Lumpini 10330 Thailand
P +66 2 652 1700

*exchange rate at time of travel $1AUD=$30THB

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