We’re having the luxury of time here in Bangkok living like (and with) the locals for the second time now. The last time we did this was last year where we lived at The Hub Residence at Ramkhamhaeng and walked daily to the tennis court 5 minutes away so that Ben could get his intensive training in the mornings.
This year, we’re doing the same. Except that we’re not at The Hub this time due to their new minimum 6-months rental policy. We’ve found decent and simple lodging nearer the beginning of Soi 4, and are super stoked we’re just next to a 7-11 and literally a minute’s walk away from the glorious street food prepared and cooked by the same locals who could still remember us from last year.
The kids pretty much delve right into being at home in BKK and know the drill well – no balking at street food (the locals here take pride in what they prepare), say thank you and hello with palms pressed together in a slight bow, smile whenever things get lost in translation and speak in English slowly, and watch out for cars before they cross even the tiniest of alleys.
When in BKK living at the outskirts beyond the tourist façade of malls and high rise, here are 5 things to do to experience life as a local. Or at least, here’s 5 things we have done.
Go ahead and try it; the experience might surprise you.
1. Be ferried down the soi, the local-way
Right in front where we live, there’s a hut with parked motorcycles on the left that ferries people from place to place and pedal carts queued up to take groups of people down alleyways (with seats enough for 6 and pedalled by a local) on the right. Hop on to a pedal cart for 5 baht or onto a motorbike for less than 30, and you can get ferried from one end of the alley to the other (or beyond, perhaps!) without having to walk!
Definitely an experience for the kids on a pedal cart and a luxury for those whose legs are aching from walking too much!
Getting a ride on the pedal cart: the uncle pedals hard all day to get people from Point A to B
2. Play old school video games at arcades/shopping mall
A 10-baht coin slotted into any arcarde game machine is great mileage. It lasts for 15 minutes. Put 4 in and you get an hour of rest while your boys expend their energies.
Totally worth it.
Game: 40 cents
Brotherly bonding: priceless
My father taught me how to drive
At the arcades in the city centre, the games are double the price (20 baht for a race car cheap thrill) but still, they are great ways to hang out with the locals or hang out like the locals. Many of the local school kids are there dancing their para-para-dance and might even challenge you in a bike or car race.
3. Explore community malls
We checked out The Commons at Thonglor and frequently go to The Mall at Ramkhanhaeng, and The Nine. These are awesome community and neighbourhood malls to be in to watch the world go by. You can sit at cafes, eat lots of crepe cakes, pretzels and donuts, and take lots of pictures. Best part is, everything where we stay (in the area of Ramkhahaeng) is almost ten times cheaper than anything in the Greater Metropolis like Siam.
The Commons has an entire storey for kids that allows for free play (if you get food and drinks) and facilitated play (200 baht for the 1st hour); methinks this is great if you want to just chill out but your kids are raring to go. I hear they also run holiday camps like crafting and cooking. They also organise block parties where you can hang out and participate in community-building activities, similar to our RC and CC activities back home.
The Commons at Thonglor, the latest community mall in Bangkok
It’s not a huge mall at all; merely a space for people to hang out, but there are interesting things around
Like these giant fans to cool the space
And lots of space and stairs to monkey around
The Kids Common is where kids can have fun
And where play matters
Driving around in a cloth bus and using all our imagination
The top yard has lots of space to chill out and a herb garden to explore
Lego fun at Kids Commons
Play area that’s chargeable because kids get to craft under supervision
4. Do as the locals do + watch Thai tv for cultural immersion
December marks the beginning of mourning for the Thai people who are grieving the passing of their late king. And every now and then the tv zones out from its regular programming and broadcasts funeral rites and rituals happening live at the Grand Palace. What a great way to be immersed in the history and culture of of a country through tv broadcasts, in a time like this.
Beyond that, my kids would sit in front of the tv to watch Boomerang and cartoons in Thai. Even if they have no idea what’s being said, the constant listening in gives them the immersion I’ve always hoped they would get. They can say some simple words in Thai, which is not bad for a start!
When we head to the malls, we also take the time to walk around the various exhibitions and appreciate the many artwork and installations in memory and honour of the late Thai king. We left flowers where they were freely available for anyone who wished to pay their respect and stood in silence to watch the many videos the malls were playing.
One of the many picture exhibition happening right now (time of writing: Dec 2016) at the walkway between MBK and Siam Discovery
Taking a moment to watch a video celebrating King Bhumibol’s life
The pictures even have QR codes to scan so you can download it for keeps
This art installation by a local artist features some form of kinetic energy to light up a rendition of lights making up the face of the late king
Step on the platform, and this comes out – how brilliant!
This installation features lots of heart-shaped people (and free “hugs”!) as a reminder to show love and compassion to people around you and the less fortunate (it’s even some form of a charity drive!) because that’s how they’d like to remember King Bhumibol. That’s really also what he exemplified in his life.
The kids got to learn a little more about King Bhumibol’s significance in Thai society and history, and it was, in my opinion, an honour to mourn together with the people. We also tried as much as possible to wear dark colours every day.
Leaving a special flower as a mark of respect at the atrium of Siam Paragon
5. Savour the sights and smells of street food
Nobody really cooks at home, I hear. The locals settle their breakfast, lunch and dinner at the roadside street stalls and that pretty much is their way of life.
Our rule-of-thumb for street food: food must be cooked in high heat (which means we don’t really patronise the carts that sell fruits or som tum).
We love it that we get to try everything from fried dough fritters and pork porridge to beef noodles, phad thai, wanton noodles and chicken soup right at our door step. Not to mention the freshly made Thai tea and local desserts from flavoured soy milk to coconut pancakes at such an affordable price.
The locals who make a living selling street food are a hardworking bunch who never fail to tirelessly show up to cook – every single day, including Sundays and public holidays – and we have so much respect for them; we love to stand around to watch them prepare the food we want to tabao back.
They have so much pride in what they do.
This was such a godsend: I’m hacking away with this awful cough and this porridge is what I have every morning with generous slices of ginger and spring onions and flavourful meat balls is so much comfort. I’m so regular that the stall owner just knows what to do when she sees me.
7 dough fritters for 20 baht which is old school youcharkway, except that it’s pop-in-your-mouth-bite-size!
Having a feast after tennis, and it’s only 9 in the morning! Ben is having pad thai freshly made and the rest of us had pork soup (fatherkao), porridge (Becks and me) and some sort of coconut and yam kueh (Nat & helper)
This is the best part of being in Thailand. There’s nothing not to love, and we’re enjoying every day we’re here living like we’re one of them.