Photo of the day: Khao Soi @ The Thailand Tourism Festival. Photo credit: Aaron.
I woke up this morning really motivated, so I started doing researching on where and what to eat in Bangkok. I planned to visit the Chatuchak Weekend Market after seeing so many good eats in one place; however, Aaron reminded me that there are Chinese New Year festivities going on at Lumphini park as well, and it is Chinese New Year day. There wasn’t too much in terms of description of activities but we decided to be festive and check it out anyway.
But first, we needed breakfast. Aaron was craving some dimsum, so we were on a hunt. Staying in Chinatown, we assumed there would be good dimsum everywhere. The streets of Chinatown was as busy during the day as the night. Today, it was full of people wearing traditional Chinese Qi Pao’s or just their favourite red shirt, since it was Chinese New Year Day. Our first thought was to check out The Canton House, but when we looked at the menu outside the restaurant, there were no dimsum items on the menu. (We saw later during the day that people were eating dimsum inside the restaurant. ) We then stopped at a restaurant called Hua Seng Hong, which had dimsum on their menu so we walked in and were seated in the second floor. After taking our time to select interesting dimsum menus, we waved the server down to order. When we said we wanted dimsum, she asked us to wait. Then another server came and put down 2 options, normal shrimp dumplings (har-gaw) and crab dumplings. We said yes to the crab and no to the shrimp, since we could just get this back home. The crab dumplings were good and flavourful, but then we waited and waited. The server eventually came back and said what else we want to order so we ordered some tea and water. She then looked puzzle and pointed at the menu and we said again that we were wanting to order dimsum. Apparently that was it! Just 2 options! Disappointed, I just picked out the duck with “green noodles”, which looked interesting but apparently they were out of that too, so I just had the egg noodles instead. To be fair, their duck with egg noodle dish was actually really good, full of good flavours. It was served dry which was different than what we expected. So we did not get what we came here for, hence we paid our bill and left. On our way out, we saw a line-up of people wanting to come in, so evidently it is a good restaurant but perhaps we just did not know what to order from them. I did see a lot of people with claypots of food on their tables.
We then continued our quest to find good food. I noted down a place Mark Wiens talked about called Thai Heng, but it appeared closed when we got there. Again, we kept walking. Interestingly enough, we ended up on the same side street we ate at last night! During the day time, they had another set of different food stalls! We’re in luck! We browsed through all our options and decided on a rice dish with pig knuckles and a side of pickled vegetables. We later found out this was called Khao Ka Moo. Most street food stalls here, also provide you with an array of condiments to put on your food. Here, we had some good chilli oil and this Nuoc Mam-like concoction. These condiments were amazing, perhaps more so than the dish itself. The rice was covered in the pig broth and the pig was good, perhaps too fatty for me. There was also another type of meat on the plate. Aaron says sometimes it’s better not to know what type of meat it really is. I actually liked it better than the pig knuckles.
We were finally full and happy. On our way to our next destination, we decided to try a bottle of a fruit juice that was ubiquitous on the street stalls here. There was a choice of a red, orange and yellow juice. We believe the fruits were pomegranate, orange and some kind of citrus fruit. We decided on the citrus. It was actually surprisingly good. I was expecting it to be sour but it was nicely sweet and I really enjoyed the bits of pulp with each sip.
Next, we stopped at Wanderlust, a hip coffee shop with very esthetically-pleasing drinks at not wallet-pleasing prices. I got the beautiful avocado smoothie and Aaron just had a cappuccino with espresso on the side. (It was apparently an combo item on the menu – for the caffeine lovers I guess). The smoothie was very nice and light. There was some bits of strawberry and slices of almonds on top, which added to the flavour. I also can taste some muesli or grain product in it as well to an another layer of complexity to its taste. Overall, a more sophisticated avocado smoothie compared to the ones I’ve had in Vietnam. I ended up being very productive there, having uploaded one post and writing up two others. Our hotel wifi is not very good, so I figured it’s best to pre-upload posts elsewhere.
It was 3pm and the festival at Lumpini park started at 2pm, so we made our way over there. We were planning to take the MRT there so we walked over to the Hua Lamphong Station. We also got to catch a glimpse of the crowds going up to see the Golden Buddha at Wat Traimit. I was not dressed appropriately, so we did not end up going in. We also noticed we were very close to the railway station and decided to pick up our train tickets from the online travel agency 12goasia. It was a really painless process to get the tickets through them and now I understand why multiple sources recommend them. They had an online booking system, which was not exactly live since you first send them your request, then they physically have to get the tickets for you and since you a confirmation; however, they did have a pretty accurate inventory of the remaining tickets in each class and we were able to get the tickets of our choice, given the options they provided. I have tried using another agency, which said this class of tickets has already been sold out. Perhaps this agency just pre-purchases it and then resells it to customers. The pick up was easy for us since we stayed close to the train station. We could have wanted till the day of departure to pick it up as well.
The location of 12goasia was basically at the entrance of the Hua Lumphong MRT station. It was then we realized that it’s probably more economical to Uber, especially with the 40 Baht discount happening right now for the Chinese New Year.
As soon as we reached Lumphini park, we saw a crowd. Some were paying their respects to the King, since there was a memorial set up. Others were taking photos in front of the memorial. We did not have a lot of expectations coming here for the Chinese New Year festivities, because we understand it celebrations should be kept to a minimum to respect the King. I just expected a few food stalls here and there, then maybe some red and gold decorations and some festive lion dancing and Chinese music. I was so wrong. Apparently this was more than a Chinese New Year celebration. It was a 5 day annual “Tourism Festival”, which took up the entire park. There was a shuttle that ran throughout the park so visitors can explore all the 10 zones, mostly divided on the different regions of Thailand. Looking at the map, we were most interested in the “Local Foods” zone and the “Chinese New Year” zone, so we made our way over there.
As soon as we entered the Northern Thailand zone, we realized we just stumbled across the most amazing (food) festival ever. We weren’t even close to the “Local Foods” zone and we were around surrounded by street food stalls everywhere we looked. We were overwhelmed, but in a good way. The signs were all in Thai and I still don’t know how to decipher their gorgeous characters so we relied on looking at the food and decided whether or not to get it. Most of the time, it was a “yes”. We decided to try this colourful noodle curry dish. It smelled amazing and I wanted to try something dyed with gac fruit (a popular fruit used in Vietnam used to dye foods), so we paid our 40 Baht (~$1.50 CND) and was given a some colourful noodle with a ladle-full of delicious hot curry. We then were given the opportunity to put our own toppings, including cucumber, onions, cabbage, pickled vegetables, bitter melon, green beans, and bean sprouts. The choices were endless. It was a nice light curry with good textured noodles. I would probably leave out some of the vegetables next time, such as the pickled vegetables and the bitter melon, but otherwise it was a great start to our afternoon! We then walked a few steps and we confronted with a dilemma. We saw something that looked like Khao Soi. It was probably Khao Soi because that was what people around me kept mumbling. I have never had this dish before but I’ve seen it many times in food vlogs and I knew it was something I would really enjoy. I understand that I would probably get the chance to eat some in Chiang Mai, but after my bad experience with Bun Bo Hue in Hue, I decided not to wait. The other part of the dilemma is that we are only 2 minutes into this festival and there was so much more to explore. We didn’t want to fill up now and miss out on other great eats later! But I couldn’t wait. Well, I guess I had to wait because there was a huge line. So we divided and conquered. I waited in line and Aaron went on to explore other surrounding options in the zone. It worked out quite well and we kept doing this throughout the night. The line moved very fast and I got my hot bowl of Khao Soi in no time. It was just what I expected. This will be the dish to beat in Thailand. It was the most amazing combination of tastes (sweet, savoury, spice) as well as textures (the creaminess of the coconut-based curry, along with the crunch of the deep-fried egg noodles and the pillow-texture of the egg noodles. Aaron and I were both agreed this is our new favourite dish and we must have many more during our trip.
We excitedly made our way to the other zones to see what else there is to try! I was tempted by the coconut ice cream stall and again stood in line patiently. Aaron went to explore and bought a bag of mini curry fish puffs, which he said he was given a sample, then had to buy since it was so delicious. It was really good. I am usually not a fan of curry puffs but these bite-size goodness with such rich flavours of fish and just a hint of curry makes it really hard not to love. We nibbled on these and soon reached the front of the line. We ordered the coconut ice cream in a coconut shell and happily made our way to a nearby bench to enjoy it. I was once again impressed by the quality of the food here! This coconut ice cream is better than the one we had at Wanna Waffle in Hanoi! It had little frozen pieces of Pandan in there. As well as real coconut meat and a some yellow sprinkles, which tasted like Rice Crispies. I was actually quite sad to finish it and kept scraping at the shell for more meat.
It was time to explore the other zones of this festival! I love how there was a stage in every zone with different types of performances, in additional to the centre/main stage. It was definitely a lively festival. Then there was a time when everyone around me seems to have stopped and there was a song playing over the speakers. I just kept buzzing around but noticed Aaron stopped too. Apparently, it was the national anthem playing and everyone was to stop what they were doing. Oops! I eventually caught on and paused too.
We finally found the food zone but the food choices weren’t that impressive. It was either that or we were getting full. I really enjoyed the acoustic pop performance though. Soon, we made our way to the Chinese New Year section, which was made quite obvious with the red lanterns and a Money God staying outside. There was also a nice, large lighted dragon display, as well as some other dragon sculptures. There was even an altar set up for people to pray and light incense. Again, we were not too interested in any of the food choices. What I really wanted was for some Thai milk tea, but couldn’t seem to find the stall anywhere. After watching a brief, but mandatory lion dance, we wandered back to the other zones. Then, there it was. The smell of rich tea entered my nose. I looked and I see cans of condensed milk with tea steeping in some pantyhose looking contraption. I immediately lined up. Aaron, being the good Malay, realized this was actually Teh Tarik and not Thai Milk Tea. Works for me! I guess it makes sense because we are in the Southern Thailand section and this borders Malaysia. They also sold roti with condensed milk so we got some of that too. The tea was amazing, as expected, full of rich tea flavours along with the creamy and sweet condensed milk. The roti was alright. Not as good as the ones we’ve had in Malaysia.
We were both getting really tired, but Aaron really wanted some Pad Thai before we left. The most popular Pad Thai stall was already closed for business. We found one stall next to them which was still selling and we grabbed the last plate. It was still very good! I mean, how can you go wrong with Pad Thai in Thailand? Despite being the last plate, it was still nice and hot, which we appreciated. Again we noticed there was no meat in it. I guess that it is the norm to not be served with meat here.
We were pretty happy with our afternoon/evening spent here and it was time to go home. We again Ubered, but with the really bad traffic (at 9pm!), it was probably faster and cheaper to use public transit. Lesson learned for next time!