Bangkok Food Tours takes travelers to some of the city’s best restaurants, which are often missed by tourists. // © 2016 Shane Nelson
Feature image (above): Tuk tuks were the mode of transportation for the writer during a trip hosted by Bangkok Food Tours. // © 2016 Shane Nelson
I don’t mind admitting that Thai food wasn’t the first thing on my mind while racing through the streets of Bangkok in a “tuk tuk” — picture a three-wheeled motorcycle outfitted with covered bench seats for both a driver and passengers. The colorful swirling and then stagnating crush of nighttime street traffic in Thailand’s capital was a mesmerizing mix of entertainment and occasional terror; our tuk tuk driver weaved his way through speedy lane changes, squeezing his vehicle repeatedly into what initially appeared as impossibly small openings.
Last summer, I joined a Tourism Authority of Thailand international media outing hosted by Bangkok Food Tours, an excursion that began around 8 p.m., after the day’s heat had started to fade. A fabulous way to get a taste of some of the city’s most popular dishes for locals, the company’s tours aim to offer travelers an authentic experience, one beginning with an iconic form of Thai transportation.
“Why would you come here and just take the subway?” said Chinawut Chinaprayoon, who launched Bangkok Food Tours about five years ago. “It is convenient, but if you want to experience something really local, you should try local transportation. For Bangkok, you have to ride the tuk tuks.”
Chinaprayoon has also worked to build a tuk tuk brand in Bangkok called Smiling Tuk Tuk, which consists of licensed local drivers that have received English and driver safety training and follow a set of rules and regulations designed for those commonly transporting Western travelers.
“We were thinking that tuk tuk drivers are becoming more and more disconnected from world travelers,” Chinaprayoon said, noting the wide range of scam stories folks will discover after a quick tuk tuk web search. “And we thought this was not good for Thai tourism in the long run and not good for local people.”
There is, of course, a great deal more to Bangkok Food Tours than just the thrill of rushing through Thai traffic in one of these vehicles (the name tuk tuk was coined to reflect the sound of the vehicles’ engines). Chinaprayoon hopes to introduce visitors to some of the city’s best restaurants, as well — establishments that likely would be missed by international travelers.
“If you look at local restaurant owners, or local restaurants in Thailand in neighborhoods that are serving very good, delicious food, they are disconnected from world travelers because of the language barrier,” Chinaprayoon said, noting that places without English menus and a setting or atmosphere familiar to Western standards may worry many visitors.
“How can you be sure this is something safe or something that you should order?” Chinaprayoon said. “So that’s why we try to break the ice and make a connection between travelers and locals.”
Not surprisingly, the food we sampled on the tour was fantastic. Folks considering the product should certainly pack a hearty appetite, as the whirlwind of restaurants offers delicious dishes at every stop, including “guay tiew kua gai,” which contained chicken, delectable noodles and a cooked egg — and still makes me hungry just thinking about it.
While we didn’t stay too long at any restaurant before hopping back into our tuk tuk, there were a slew of tasty highlights, such as fried crab strips prepared in a curry powder and served with morning glory and steamed prawns. Another of my favorites was a dessert stop that featured a black-sesame-seed ball prepared with white-rice flour and served in a ginger-syrup soup.
Pad thai fans certainly won’t be disappointed, as the tour takes travelers to one of the signature restaurants in the city for the dish. Thipsamai has been open for 50 years and is also famous for its orange noodles. The pad thai here was some of the best I’ve ever eaten.
Typically, the nighttime tuk tuk food tour (which starts at $55 for adults) runs from around 8 p.m. to midnight. It also features a stop at well-known Wat Pho for a unique nighttime view of the ornate stupas, as well as a chance to meander through the Pak Klong Talad flower and vegetable night market, which offers a host of fabulous photo ops. The tour wraps up at a cozy, rooftop bar overlooking Chao Phraya River and the gorgeous Wat Arun temple.
Chinaprayoon encourages travel agents to visit the Bangkok Food Tours website to learn more about the tour itineraries before reaching out to the company via email to discuss booking the product for potential clients.