I’m no stranger to Bangkok, in fact it’s one of my favorite cities in the world. One reason for that is every time I visit, I discover new reasons to love the Thai capital and on my most recent trip it was learning about the food culture that impressed me the most. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve certainly eaten my way around Bangkok in the past, in fact my recent trip there was mostly so I could enjoy some amazing Thai food. But, in the past I’ve always figured it out on my own, enjoying great food but not really learning anything about Thai cuisine. That’s one reason why I wanted a more formal education and I found the ideal way to do that on a Context Bangkok food tour. I’m working with Context Travel throughout the year to highlight some of their tours around the world, but I’m certainly no stranger to their walking tour experiences. I’ve been patronizing them for years because, unlike so many other companies, they offer walks that are completely different from anything else offered. As one of their Deep Travelers, I’m proud to say that Context and I both agree that travel is an education, one born from a natural cultural curiosity.
I once heard that the brain doesn’t remember pain, which is probably how I forgot about the nightmare that Bangkok traffic can be. Glancing at my watch every .05 seconds, I was terrified that I’d be late for the start of the Bangkok food tour so instead of ordering an Uber, I jumped in the back of a tuk-tuk and sped through the streets of Bangkok. If you haven’t ridden in one before, tuk-tuk drivers can be slightly insane, and mine was no exception but thankfully his reckless abandon through the congested streets of Bangkok ensured a prompt arrival, in fact I arrived just as our guide Gary approached. Turns out Gary is a blogger like I am, although his specialty is food, Thai food in fact. A British expat, he has called the city home for a few years now with no plans to leave, making him the ideal guide through the city’s street food and night markets.
While I love Thai food, my knowledge of it was extremely limited and what ultimately sold me on the tour was the promise of learning that Thai food means a lot more than Pad Thai. That’s what I needed, that’s what I wanted desperately, to learn and experience as much as I could about what is one of the world’s great cuisines. As in all reviews of food tours, I won’t provide a stop-by-stop list of everything I ate and where we went. That’s not fair to the tour itself, but what I will do is provide some examples of the delicious foods we tried and what the overall experience was like.
City of Stalls
If Bangkok is known for anything, aside from traffic, it’s the city’s incredible street food scene. I’m not sure if the concept of street food started here, but if not then the city has adopted it as its own. Everywhere, and I do mean everywhere, you can find just about any sort of tasty morsel for sale along curbs and down alleyways. Books have literally been written on the subject and I’ve certainly enjoyed my fair share of Thai street food in the past, so I was excited when our tour started off by experiencing some of the best stands in Bangkok in the city’s famous Chinatown neighborhood. The first area of Bangkok to be modernized more than a century ago, it still retains a feeling of the exotic and strange. Walking along, I wanted to stop at least half a dozen times to try something, but Gary knew exactly where he was going, to a street stand known simply as Musical Chairs. It’s earned this name over the years because the chairs alongside the stall are always full of people, constantly eating and moving along, creating a culinary game of musical chairs. Plopping down on one of the way too small plastic chairs, my taste buds were alive in anticipation for the first course of the evening. Any good tour should have a natural progression, a story arc and that was certainly the case in Bangkok as we started out the evening with two of the city’s staples: green curry with rice noodles and Penang curry with pork. While not my first time eating these classics, they were amongst the best I’d ever enjoyed but, more importantly, learning about the dishes and why they’re so popular was the best part of the experience.
That theme of amazing food along with a crash course into Thai culture was exactly what I’d hoped for in the tour and that knowledge gradually increased from one stop to the next. What isn’t often said about food tours is that they can also be fun ways to explore new neighborhoods, and that was the case for me in Bangkok. It was my first time in the city’s Chinatown district, and I was instantly dazzled by the swarms of people and bright neon lights overhead. But the tour meandered around Bangkok, even taking a riverboat ride at one point. This exploration means that the tour isn’t just great for first time visitors, but even for repeat visitors like myself – anyone who wants to get to know the city as locals do. I was also impressed by Gary’s flexibility. Before the tour I had let him know about my picky eating ways and although there’s a lot of stuff I don’t eat, he managed to tailor the tour to suit. That meant there wasn’t a single dish I didn’t want to try and for once I didn’t feel like a weirdo on a food tour. It’s a simple gesture, but one that meant a lot to me personally and is yet another reason why I love taking Context tours so very much.
We finished the evening after a marathon of consumption – six stops in all, each with very generous helpings of food. We ended our evening the way we had began, at a street food stand, but one specializing in something most people don’t associate with Thai cuisine – dessert. It was also a dish I had never heard of before, much less tried – Pandan Thai Roti or green pancakes with banana. More or less a delicious crepe, it was the ideal way to end the tour, a nice final surprise during an evening full of them.
Reflecting on the Bangkok food tour, I realize now that it was so much more than a nice way to learn more about Thai cuisine or even eat dinner out. It was fun, it was friendly and it was exciting. Gary felt like a longtime friend, and by the end of the evening we were all joking and kidding with each other; the tour was like a night on the town instead of an educational activity. Ultimately, that’s what any tour, food or otherwise, should be. How we feel on a tour is just as important as the information imparted or food consumed, and for me the tour was one of the best experiences I enjoyed during my trip to one of the great capitals of the world, Bangkok.