Jennifer Gampell
868/75-76 Soi Vanich 2
Songwad Road
Sampanthawong
Bangkok 10100 Thailand
Tel/Fax: (66) 2-237-3362
Mobile: (66) 1-925-7187
E-mail:
jennifer@gampell.com
Web site:
ww./gampell.com

 

 

 


March/April 2008

 

ON LOCATION: BANGKOK
Get more bang for your Bangkok buck: The best mall meals, innovative Thai designs and fantastic outdoor market
By Jennifer Gampell

Ms. Gampell, a peripatetic American writer based in Bangkok, began her freelance career after a motorcycle crash put her in a provincial Thai hospital for a life-changing month. She much prefers her current life to the San Francisco desk job she held for 15 years.

Mall Meals
I’m known for my wacky second-hand-clothing statements, and in my ongoing search for wardrobe additions I’m more likely to visit flea markets and thrift shops than big, conventional stores. However, I cope surprisingly well in Bangkok’s upscale malls, because even there the fun-loving Thai ethos tends to create pockets of the market-like chaos and cacophony I adore. Take the ground-level food court at Siam Paragon, whose stalls run the gamut from cheap and cheerful to ultra posh, with a daunting array of options in between. Using prepaid coupons (one person can easily eat for 150 baht—less than $5 USD) you can buy simple, single-dish Thai meals from one of the outlets and carry your tray to the cavernous aquarium-themed dining area. At the other end of the spectrum—and the mall—is Crystal Jade, a swanky Singaporean restaurant chain famous throughout Asia for freshly made noodles and buns. Food-loving Chinese-Thai families fill the round tables downstairs; the quieter booths upstairs provide a formal backdrop for exotica like “Buddha Jumps over the Wall”—a dish of shark fin, abalone and sea cucumber that costs more than $38 USD and must be ordered two days ahead.

To Market, To Market
In Bangkok, the term market encompasses anything from haphazard vendors selling trinkets on the sidewalk, to markets named night, thieves, farmer’s, cloth, flower and amulet, as well as various indoor and outdoor arcades. But for me, the only market worth the name is the Chatuchak Weekend Market, whose narrow, labyrinthine lanes sprawl over 30-plus acres, with stalls offering almost everything under the sun. You’ll need time, determination and comfortable shoes to explore properly. (Remember to drink water—and hang on to your purse!) Expect a huge range of take-away or sit-down Thai dishes, cut and potted plants, dogs, cats, snakes, lizards, chickens, new and used clothing, furniture, antiques, handmade souvenirs (jewelry, statuettes, incense, baskets, pottery, and Thai-style knick knacks), textiles, books and home decorating items. Those who love markets but hate heat (and occasionally claustrophobia-inducing crowds) might prefer the smaller, saner and less anarchic Suan Lum Night Bazaar.

By Design
When I first visited Bangkok 15 years ago, Thai design meant incoherent displays of unrelated and old-fashioned artifacts crammed onto shelves. But gradually, as a young generation of Thai designers returned from studying in the West, “Thai style” became a byword for cutting-edge objects, often made from natural materials. Some items, like Kachama’s silk weavings sold at Golden Triangle, reflect their ethnic origins. Others—such as the modern furniture made from plants and roots at Panta—are resolutely contemporary. Thai artisans are fabulously attentive to detail, which you’ll notice in the packaging of locally made bath and spa products. Portable, scented and beautifully wrapped—could there be a better memento to tuck in your bag?

 

 

Copyright 2008 Jennifer Gampell