How Thunderstorms and Wrong Turns Made Bangkok’s Best Pad Thai Taste Even Better

Dog at Market Near Thammasat University

The belly of Bangkok’s blackening sky rumbled louder and louder as we picked through a small market just off the Thammasat University campus. Vendors scrambled to fold up and pack up their t-shirts, skirts, dresses, handbags, and shoes before the storm blew through; we debated our next move and the likelihood of making it to our target destination on foot, without getting drenched.

Taking a taxi would be cheap and easy, but before the weather had become a factor we’d planned on a long, leisurely stroll down Thanon Maharat, which winds alongside the Chao Phraya River, and weren’t thrilled about possibly abandoning those plans and missing out on those magical early-evening hours in Bangkok when the hot afternoon temperatures have yielded, and the day turns to night in hazy sunsets that color the sky in spectacular shades of orange, pink, and blue.

We decided to hoof it, and made it down Amulet Alley, past the Royal Grand Palace, and finally to the intersection behind Wat Pho before the rain began pouring down in thunderous sheets. We found shelter underneath the awning of a small shopfront with burlap bags of dried mushrooms and chili peppers out front. Harmless touts were lingering here, too. One of them approached and asked where we were going, a common conversation starter for taxi drivers hoping to skip the meter and charge a “special” flat fee for farang. I smiled and said “Mai chai tourist kup kun krup” (“I’m not a tourist, thank you.”), so he moved on to a young couple from Eastern Europe studying a fold-out map with confused looks on their faces.

I’m sure they got a bargain fare.

We cut up Thai Wang when the rain begain to subside, but it quickly picked back up and forced us under a terraced side entrance to Wat Pho, which was closed to tourists for the day. The sympathetic security guards ushered us in and pointed to one of the nearby temples. We sat there on a wooden bench in silence, listening to the rain, letting the time, place, and moment soak in. Two weeks ago we were packing up our apartment in Brooklyn and getting set for our move back to Bangkok, and now here we were at one of the city’s most-visited temples, in a thunderstorm, alone until two monks wearing faded-orange robes and carrying umbrellas shuffled over and stood at the steps of the temple, engaged in quiet conversation.

After about 25 minutes the rain let up once more, so we struck back out on Thai Wang. It was now pitch black, and we were now starving, anxious to find our way to our favorite pad thai spot for the first time since we’d returned. Normally, navigating over there wouldn’t be a problem–we’re familiar with this part of the city–so we didn’t think to bring any maps with us, which tonight was a mistake.

We somehow got turned around: instead of going straight another few blocks on Wang and taking a left on Mahachai, we took a left on Thanon Atsadang and endured a long march up to Thanon Ratchadamnoen, stopping one time at 7-11 for confirmation that we were indeed at least heading towards Ratchadamnoen (they giggled, and said we were), and a second time to use the restroom at the thoroughly depressing Royal Hotel.

Tip: if you’re planning a trip to Bangkok, don’t stay at the Royal Hotel.

We knew where to go once we got back to Ratchadamnoen, and made it all the way down to Democracy Monument before, inevitably, the rain came tumbling down again even harder than before. We waited it out as long as we could, but finally said fuck it, waited for somewhat of a lull, and beelined it for Mahachai as fast as possible, which isn’t that fast when you’re wearing flip-flops and sliding all over the place on the city’s notoriously slippery sidewalks.

Thip Samai Pad Thai

Finally, there it was: Thip Samai, a modest joint that doesn’t look like much from the outside, but easily has some of the best pad thai in all of Bangkok (and plates cost under 50 baht, too). We were a little soaked, but as we ripped into our gooey noodles like we hadn’t eaten in days, the rain was the last thing on our minds. I thought about the khlong boat ride to Phan Fha, the markets we’d walked through near Thammasat, the food vendors lining Amulet Alley, and the quiet calm we enjoyed at Wat Pho. I thought about all the time in front of us, and all the time in Bangkok behind us.

I also thought about whether or not I should order another plate.

Thip Samai is located at 313 Thanon Mahachai, near the Golden Mount and a short walk from Phan Fah pier on Khlong Saen Saep. It’s open daily from 5pm – 3am.

Photos copyright Brian Spencer

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