Part II: After our first day in the hot city grit, we cooled off by the pool with a glass of white wine — mysteriously served in a vase of colored water — and perused the 80% accurate map in search of dinner. Our planned destination was Samboon, a local restaurant recommended by locals and ex-pats alike.
By the time we left the hotel, the streets were transitioning from daytime to nighttime. Storefronts that had been shuttered and locked all day were opening to reveal windows of fresh roasted meats and layers of fresh fish over ice. Schools and convenience shops were simultaneously pulling their shades and locking their doors for the night. Market vendors erected folding tables and umbrellas to set up stalls of fresh fruit, clothes, and souvenirs for tourists. Watching this, given the nearly unbearably sweltering heat of our first day, I began to realize that nighttime makes more sense for many people to do their shopping and eating. The night air, while still tropical, is far more comfortable for walking in when carrying bags of supplies.
We arrived at Samboon hungry and ready for a filling meal. Two bottles of Singha, the popular light local beer, were ordered straight away while we studied the menu. Per the recommendation of friends, we ordered our first dish of Tom Yam Goong — a spicy, sweet, salty shrimp soup that is the national dish of Thailand — Curry Crab Salad, and a Shrimp with Sweet Noodles.
The soup was first to arrive, with its delightful presentation in a large donut-shaped serving bowl with flames dancing through the center to keep it warm. We scooped portions into our individual bowls and quickly fell in love. The sweet heat of the soup was tempered by lime zest and lemongrass and filled to the brim with fresh prawns — probably selected from the tray of fresh prawns over ice two steps down from our table. It was easy to see why this soup is so widely revered and it quickly spurned our trip-long version of Soup Wars. There was no way we were going to go the rest of the trip without enjoying it again.
The Curry Crab Salad, another dish we were soon to see on subsequent menus, was second to arrive. The crab shell rested in the center of the dish, but the meat had already been extracted and shredded and mixed into a soupy sweet curry broth. Spooned over steamed white rice, it was meaty and satisfying with a subtle sweetness from the curry and chili.
Our third dish, the sweet noodles with shrimp, was slightly disappointing. Undoubtedly it had been dumbed down to suit our American palates, but I could see it flourishing with a sweet peanut sauce and dash of chile.
Following our amazingly satisfying meal, we rounded out the night with a visit to Khao San Road, the notorious pedestrian road popular with backpackers and locals alike. The block-long street was teaming with tourists from around the world and market stalls hawking everything from flip-flops and sarongs to fish balls and large barbequed fish on a stick. The vibrant atmosphere further confirmed that Bangkok does indeed transform into a different city after dark. A quick glimpse of Khao San Road the next day showed an entirely different picture of a quieter street, filled with massage parlors, a few market stalls, and hardly any backpackers in sight.