A Taste of Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal in 4 days

Travel Dates: October 27, 2017- October 31, 2017 (4 days, 3 nights)

Places visited: Lisbon, Sintra, Cascais

Weather: We got extremely lucky with the weather during this trip. It was 75ºF-80ºF and sunny all 4 days that we were there. When we spoke to the locals, we found out that it was very strange for it to be this warm around this time. But then again, seems like nowadays the weather is getting more and more unpredictable…

Getting Around: When we first landed at the airport, we took a taxi to our Airbnb, which was only cost us 9 EUROs for a 20 minute ride. Almost everyone we encountered spoke English so that was a huge relief! I ended up printing out the address to our AirBnb to give the taxi driver just in case but overall the roads were very accessible. Uber is super convenient and affordable in Lisbon. Some of our rides cost 3-4 Euros and we never waited for longer than 5 minutes for a car. We ubered back and forth during our trip, about 75% of our transportation we used Uber and cost us a total of $72 USD the entire 4 nights and 3 days we were there.

Lisbon is not a huge city so you can definitely walk around instead of taking a taxi or Uber. Since the city is built on hills, walking gives you the opportunity to catch amazing views from almost any hill you climb. However, the stone pavement (calcada portuguesa) on the streets of Lisbon makes it a bit more difficult to do so. The roads are slippery and steep at times so I would definitely suggest wearing shoes with a rubber sole or take an Uber to your destination. Going downhill was very hard for me even with rubber sole shoes!

We stayed at an Airbnb during our stay in Lisbon which was located in the Graça District. It was on top of a hill but the views from our apartment were amazing and totally worth the hike up there! After doing some research, it seemed like Lisbon was a place where there were many hostels available and many locals list their apartments on Airbnb. When deciding between a hotel or an Airbnb, it was more affordable to stay at an Airbnb – not to mention amazing views for half the price!

Food Scene:  Wine, cheese, cured meats, espresso, pasteis de nata, we couldn’t get enough of it all! The wine is extremely cheap – we purchased a bottle of wine at the supermarket for 1.20 Euros! Portugal is also known to make Vinho Verde (green wine) which tastes like a sparkling white wine (delicious!) and we often had it when we had bacalhau (salted cod) or seafood dishes.

Day 1

We left the airport at around noon and headed to our Airbnb. I had printed the address out in case I needed to communicate to the taxi driver and just showed it to the cab driver. The airport was relatively close, about a 20-minute drive. After settling down, we headed out to our first stop, Miradouro da Nossa Senhora do Monte, for an amazing view of Lisbon.

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We then headed Rossio or Praça Dom Pedro IV Square to meet our group for our food and wine tour.

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Fountain facing D. Maria II National Theatre

We booked 2 spots for the 4:30PM Lisbon Small-Group Gourmet Portuguese Food and Wine Tour through TripAdvisor. It was a great way to meet the local people and ask a bunch of questions to the tour guide, who was very well educated on the history of Portugal and its food scene. They have their itinerary on their website so you can go there for more info.

Our first stop was a small shop called A Tendinha do Rossio, where we had vinho verde (green wine) and bacalhau (Salted cod) croquettes. (Note: this particular tour has more than enough alcohol for even the heaviest of drinkers so definitely pace yourself!).

We then ventured to Espumantaria do Pestisco where we had sardines, another favorite food in Portugal. We had wine with every food that we tried, I lost track of how many glasses we had! We then went to Bacalhoaria Silva, where we had quince jam and cheese and port wine. We also tried the famous Ginjinha, a sweet cherry liquor, a typical drink in Lisbon. We then shared a family meal with small plates called petiscos. We had a chickpea salad with salted cod, mushrooms with garlic, Portuguese sausage, and lots of bread for sharing and dipping. The tour guide taught us a lot about not only food but also history of Portugal and the ways locals live which I loved!

After the food tour, we were stuffed so decided to walk around, and check out the rooftop bars in Lisbon. We stopped by Rooftop bar (on the top floor of Hotel Mundial) and had a drink each. It was nice to be in an open air rooftop bar but I think I prefer a rooftop view during the day more, since there aren’t a lot of lights at night in Lisbon. The drink menu was primarily gin cocktails, over twenty or so varieties. We later learned that gin is the liquor of choice for many locals throughout the Iberian peninsula.

We went to dinner at Laurentina o Rei do Bacalhau at 9PM (the locals eat there pretty late!) and had some more delicious Portuguese food (See below). The Portugese commonly boast of having hundreds of cod recipes – almost enough for one a day, and this restaurant was definitely representative of that. This is the type of place where if you’re not too familiar with cod like we were, letting the waiter guide the meal is a smart option.

Day 2

We booked a day trip tour to Sintra and Cascais through Tripadvisor. There were quite a few tour options to choose from but we went with the day trip due to time constraints and overall it covered quite a bit of the more famous areas outside Lisbon.

We had a small group of 8 people which was great! Our first stop was to Sintra, where we visited the beautiful Pena Palace.

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We were able to tour around this beautiful palace and learned a lot about its history. Perhaps the most interesting tidbit was that each castle segment over time was built adjacent to one another rather than on-top of as in the case of many conquests throughout history. The inhabitants through different areas definitely had respect for their predecessors and the colorful setup of the castle is living proof of that hundreds of years later.

We were then dropped to the downtown area and we tried Sintra’s famous travesseiro from Casa Piriquita. This was the first of many amazing deserts we tried in Portugal and this pastry, unlike the others, had a flakier, rougher texture that represented classical western deserts. Following dessert, the tour guide gave our group the option of eating lunch in Sintra or going to a local joint halfway between Sintra and Cascais (our next stop). Our group unanimously opted for the latter and we ended up at a restaurant called Toca Do Julio. The place was off the beaten path and definitely looked like a place only locals visited. The highlight of the lunch was a Portuguese style black pork steak which had the consistency of a pork chop but the flavor of a ribeye (yummy!). Chances are if you end up on the same tour we were on, you’ll end up in this place.

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We were then dropped off in the beautiful beach town of Cascais where we walked around to shop and check out the area. Cascais reminded us of a mix between the beach towns of New England and Rodeo drive in sunny California. It is a hotspot for many Europeans and there was a bit of something for everyone including blue ocean facing resorts and high-end shopping. Since we only had an hour or so, we walked around shopping in the local bazaars and trying a delicious gelato from Santini.

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We got back at around 6:30PM and decided to give the famous seafood restaurant Cervejaria Ramiro (the one Anthony Bourdain visits in his show) a shot. We waited for about 45 minutes which isn’t too bad considering it was prime time on a Sunday night. They have a waiting area that has a dispenser for beer which made the time pass by. The prices were more expensive than I anticipated, especially for the tiger prawns and rock lobster but we had to try one of those!  We ordered the rock lobster and the garlic shrimp and both were delicious! The garlic shrimp was drowned in a super delicious and flavorful sauce, bursting with flavor, one that we highly recommend you to try if you come here! If they had allowed us to order a plate of pasta we would have just ate that with the rest of the sauce we had left over. We were stuffed already but wish we could have tried everything on the menu!

Day 3

We decided to go do some more exploring in Lisbon and our first stop was the beautiful Moorish castle Castelo de São Jorge. Lisbon has amazing views from many vantage points but this place took the prize. It was a little hilly getting here and the line was a bit long to get tickets and get inside but it was so worth it!!

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The castle was beautiful and walking up and down the staircases felt a little scary but overall it was such a cool experience seeing the ruins of the former royal palace, and learning about its history. It got a little packed within the castle walls, especially with the lines of tourists, but there were more than enough places to snap nice pictures. There was even a wine cart toward the outer castle limits and several restaurants with views overlooking the entire city.

We then took a stroll to Barrio Alto and was able to see the Elevador de Santa Justa, which brings people all the way up to see the amazing views of Lisbon.

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Our visit the famous Convento do Carmo was extremely memorable. This beautiful Gothic church was ruined by the 1755 earthquake and was never restored.  It was absolutely breathtaking to be present inside of what remains, with its arches exposed to the sky. It is now a museum open to the public to visit. Toward the end of the walls was what looked like a large library containing relics of the past.

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We then headed to the Time Out Market for some grub and of course we needed to try our first bite of the popular pasteis de nata. We had some from Manteigaria, which were delicious. Its flaky crust and rich egg custard far exceeded the egg tarts they sell here in NYC!

We then tried Miguel Laffan’s Chicken all around Piri-Piri chicken which was one of the top items we had on our trip. The chicken was so tender and bursting with flavor. The meat broke apart easily with just a fork and the sauce was not oily at all but still maintained an amazingly rich flavor. We then figured we would try one more thing even though we were stuffed! We had some delicious fresh sushi from Confaria. Portugal isn’t particularly known for their sushi but the country’s appreciation for fresh fish and expert cuisine made this a quality meal and each piece of nigiri was very enjoyable.

For dinner, we contemplated several options but ended up at Jose Avillez’s Bairro do Avillez. It is a place that has several eateries inside- Taberna, Pateo, Merceria, Beco, and Cantina Peruana. When you walk in you can walk through each of the restaurants and admire the décor of each room with its own unique style and feel. Even though we didn’t have reservations, the wait was very convenient as they seated us in a comfortable garden waiting room and served us snacks and wine.

We ate at Taberna, where we had a hearty meal consisting of delicious cheese and charcuterie and small plates to share. We had the Iberian pork steak with bread, garlic, and cilantro, asparagus and mushrooms cold salad, Iberico ham and serra cheese. The star of the meal was the Iberico ham. Even though I’m typically not a huge fan of cured meats, the skill and preparation with which the ham was made with absolutely blew me away.

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Day 4

Day 4 was our last day in Portugal so we tried to fit as much as we could into our day. Our flight was in the afternoon so we decided to spend our last day in Portugal in Belem. Our first stop was to the famous Pasteis de Belem where the famous egg custards were first made. It was here that we had the most amazing pasteis de natas! The cream melted in our mouths and had the perfect amount of sweetness. It was further complemented by a clean cup of Portuguese expresso.

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We then walked towards the waterfront to see the beautiful monument Padrao dos Descobrimentos, which celebrates the adventurers and explorers of Portugal. The monument was gigantic and towered over the waterfront.

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We then visited the romantic and breathtaking Torre de Belem (Belem Tower), a small fort built on the Tagus River. We were going to go in but the lines were so long and we didn’t have much time left before our flight. Regardless, there were several vantage points to snap pictures and the palace felt magical.

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We then went to beautiful Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery). We waited for a LONG time so we would suggest that you get there early to avoid the lines. We couldn’t stay long since we had to catch our flight back home but we tried our best to see the most we could. The inside of the monastery had a curious yet mesmerizing symmetrical feel. It was quite historical inside as it contained the tombs of many famous Portuguese historical figures including the renowned explorer, Vasco de Gama.

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When we walked into the monastery, especially to the two-story cloisters, we were speechless. The architecture, which incorporates Manueline and Gothic styles, is so intricate and beautiful, it really deserves a silent moment to take it all in.

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IMG_2819The church that was inside the monastery was where explorer Vasco Da Gama’s remains are stored.  The church was so beautiful as well, it is really a worthwhile place to visit and worth the long wait.

We didn’t have enough time to go to many places but I wish we had stopped by Praça do Comércio, the square next to the Tagus River and the Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra, a beautiful property with a palace, chapel, wells, and a park. And of course, we wish we had more time to explore more of Portugal but I think we did okay for 4 days and 3 nights!

Happy exploring and eating,

Joanna + Alan

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A Taste of Thailand- Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai in 3 days

Weather: Much more enjoyable than Bangkok, less humid and no rain, usually around the mid 70s-80s. For the majority of the time, it was cloudy with some sun here and there.

Getting around: After getting off the plane, we had a very smooth transition off the plane and into a cab. The airport has a very efficient system for getting a cab. You are assigned a number and you wait your turn and you let the clerk know beforehand where you are going so they can explain it to the cab driver. Again, iTranslate app and TripAdvisor came in handy for translation. Luckily we were staying at a well-known hotel (We found it through a tour) so we did not have a problem. Overall, the cab fares are less than in Bangkok. There wasn’t uber during the time we were there but I have been notified that it has launched there now. I learned from some travel blogs that there is an app called Grab that is like Uber that is available there but for some reason it didn’t work on my phone..

Food Scene: Overall, the price of food in Chiang Mai in the local areas are mostly around the same as in Bangkok and slightly cheaper than in tourist spots in Bangkok. There are coffee shops are everywhere! They have the same amazing food but fewer street vendors that were close by to us. We went to mostly restaurants to eat and had some snacks here and there.

Day 1: We landed in the morning and checked into our hotel (The Imperial Mae Ping hotel) and ventured around the area to find some food.. which happened to be right across the street, score! Here is where we sat down at a restaurant with no English words (we later found out on google maps that the restaurant is called Pa Phai Noodles) and asked us if we wanted pork, chicken, or beef and a couple of minutes later, we had two large bowls of boat noodles in our faces! After lunch, we waited at our hotel for Day 1 of our 3 Day Lanna Tour that we booked through Travel hub Chiang Mai . We were picked up from our hotel and our first stop was a White Hmong hill tribe village. We learned a lot about the tribes in Chiang Mai and visited some more the next few days. At the White Hmong village, they sell souvenirs to tourists as a source of income (pictured below).

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They live just a few steps from their vendor stand and share a community garden

After visiting the tribe, we went on our drive up to the mountains to Doi Suthep Temple, probably the most well-known temple in Chiang Mai. There were a lot of stairs to walk up, but luckily there was an elevator to get us up there! It was beautiful and because it was on top of the mountains, we had a stunning view of the city.

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After our visit to the temple, we went to a Khantoke Dinner at the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center. We really enjoyed this experience!! Several cities in Northern Thailand used to be their own separate kingdom called The Lanna Kingdom, and Chiang Mai was one of the them. We had a traditional Khantoke Lanna Dinner, where we were served food in large round platters at low tables while sitting down cross-legged on the floor. The food consists of sticky rice, which you hold in your hand and stuff the rice with the items given on the platter. As we were eating, there were cultural dances that were performed including a Thai Finger Dance and a Thai Sword Dance. It was a very cool experience!

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Day 2: We started our day pretty early since we had a long day planned ahead for our tour. We were picked up from our hotel and first went to visit Maekhajan hot springs. It was more of a touristy area and the springs were pretty small. We found some cheap souvenirs here and of course, started our day off with some Thai coffee!

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After our visit to the hot springs, we got into the van and headed towards Chiang Rai, a city in northern Thailand. We visited the temple Wat Rong Khun, also known as the White Temple. It was absolutely gorgeous and also completely different from all the other temples that we visited. It is designed and owned by the artist Chalermchai Kositpipat.

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The intricate details and design of the temple were impressive. It is definitely a place one must visit if you are in Chiang Rai!

The only thing that was not white was… the bathroom 🙂 see below

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Before we headed to our next destination, we decided to stop by for a little taste of Chiang Rai. We had to try one a popular dish in Northern Thailand, Khao Soi. It is a coconut curry with egg noodles, and topped with crispy egg noodles. It was delish!!

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After our yummy bowl of noodles, we then headed to the Golden Triangle, one of the main areas used to produce opium before it was made illegal.  It was cool to see three countries at one spot- Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. We were even able to get on a little boat to visit Laos, where we drank their “welcome drink,” cobra, scorpion, turtle whiskey! And nope, I did not try any of it..

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We then drove further up until we reached the most northern part of Thailand and were able to see Myanmar!

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We then headed to visit the Karen Long Neck tribe. We learned about them when we were in school, I remember them because of their rings around their necks. The visit was truly an eye- opening experience since we did not know too much about the tribe at that time. Many people of the Karen Long Neck tribe fled to Thailand from Burma to escape. However, they are not allowed to work in Thailand since they are not actually citizens of Thailand. Because the women wear the rings around their necks, even if they were to go to Thailand to work, they would immediately be noticed and not be allowed to work. Because of this, they have to sell goods to tourists for income. There are conflicting feelings about visiting the tribe, for some people think that the women continue putting the rings on their necks to attract tourists because it is their only source of income. Many people question if it is ethical to come to visit them and “see” them as if they are a show or an exhibit. I still have mixed feelings about this but if you don’t visit them and buy from their shops, they have no income…

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After our long day, we tried to visit the Chiang Mai night bazaar but because it was on a weekday and it was a little bit late, there weren’t that many stores opened. It was nice to see all the shops though!

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For dinner, we went to Lemongrass Thai Cuisine, which was nearby. We had some delish Pad Kee Mao (Drunken Noodle) and another round of khao soi (curry noodle soup)! The noodles in the pad kee mao were much thinner and smoother than the ones I am used to.

Day 3: On our last day of our trip, we went to visit an elephant safari, Maetaman Elephant Camp. Here, we took saw an elephant show (they know how to paint!), rode on an elephant, and did some ox-carting. The elephants were super cute and we took pictures with them but we did notice that this definitely wasn’t an elephant sanctuary. We were also a little bothered by how they treated the ox while we were ox-carting. I think if we could choose, we would have rather gone to a sanctuary versus a place for elephant riding.

Afterwards, we went to an orchid and butterfly farm which wasn’t our favorite. It seemed that we were there to waste time, no one spoke to us about anything and just dropped us off there. However, we saw some pretty orchids!

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After we got dropped off and at our hotel and headed to the airport back to Bangkok for some more adventures. Overall we loved our time in Chiang Mai and definitely missed the weather after getting back to Bangkok!

 

 

A Taste of Thailand- Bangkok

Travel Dates: Oct 22- Oct 30 2016

Places visited: Bangkok & Chiang Mai

Bangkok in 3 days

Weather: When we booked our trip to Thailand we knew we booked it during the rainy season but just decided to go with it and see how lucky we would be with the weather. Bangkok was extremely humid (80-90s F) with scattered thunderstorms but thankfully, we only got caught in one storm on our way back home from dinner one day. We’ve never seen a downpour ever like the one got caught in but we successfully made it back to our hotel in the mini river that formed in the streets of Bangkok. It was quite an experience but certainly one I would prefer not to be repeated.

Getting Around: When we first landed at the airport, we decided to give Uber a go and it was pretty affordable! We traveled 24.5 miles for $11 (that’s like JFK to the Yankee Stadium in NYC!). However, when we were calling an Uber from our hotel, the wait was always around 20 minutes due to the traffic in Bangkok. In those cases, we took cabs (make sure they turn on the meter when you get in) and they were sometimes even cheaper than Uber. Our advice would be to head out earlier to start hailing a cab and also to account of the intense traffic in Bangkok. Because some of the cab drivers did not speak English, we had to pull up addresses in Thai and Trip Advisor was a life saver, you can translate the address on the app or you can download the iTranslate app which was super helpful when trying to communicate with the locals.

*There is a train that runs in Bangkok but we did not take it.

Food Scene: Street Food is the real deal here in Bangkok. Everywhere we went, we saw food vendors whipping up some amazing stir fry dishes or noodle soups. The food is not only amazing but also super cheap! In the local areas, food is cheaper (about 30 baht or 86 cents for a noodle dish) but even in the touristy areas, food is still cheap (70 baht or $2 for a noodle dish). Thailand is a big producer of coffee so there are tons of coffee shops everywhere and coffee is usually 30-40 baht per cup.

Day 1 – After we arrived in Bangkok, we checked into our hotel, which was across the Chao Phraya River, and across from the Grand Palace. We were not here for long but we went to Wang Lang Market to check out the stores and food. There are tons of shops prices are more affordable compared to other parts of Bangkok that we visited. We ended up going into a restaurant where the menu was only in Thai. Thankfully, there were photos and we ended up being served an amazing meal (see below).

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Wang Lang Street

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We then made our way to Chinatown on Yaowarat Road

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We ended up eating at T&K Seafood and were obsessed with their crab curry!

After stuffing our faces with delicious food, we visited our first rooftop bar nearby, at the Grand China Hotel at the Sky View 360º Rooftop Bar and Restaurant. It is located on the revolving top floor of the hotel but it moves so slowly you don’t notice it when you are there.

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view from Sky View 360 Bar

After returning back to our hotel, Baan WangLang Riverside, which was across the river from the Grand Palace, we visited the bar there and saw a great view of the Grand Palace.

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Day 2– We took a plane to Chiang Mai (see Chiang Mai post) and returned back to Bangkok to explore some more. We did a Historic Bangrak Food Tasting and Culture Tour where we learned a lot about Thai culture and food. Some of the highlights of our tour were our trip to Muslim Restaurant, where we had delicious roti mataba and massaman chicken curry.

Another favorite of ours was our visit to a local restaurant that serves Isan (northeast region of Thailand) food. Isan food is known for its use of lime, cilantro, mint, fresh herbs, chili peppers, and sticky rice. Our favorite was their lemongrass fried chicken (gai tod). The flavors were complex and everything just came together so well. The sign to this restaurant in Thai but after some research, I believe it is Yam Rot Saeb.

While we were walking, we saw these interesting Thai coconut-rice pancakes (kanom krok) on the street and decided to give it a try because they looked interesting (and cute). They were amazing!

We loved this green custard bun from the famous Panlee Bakery . It tastes like a Chinese custard steamed bun but the bread is even fluffier! We also found out that it is green because it is colored by pandan.

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After the food tour, we headed to our hotel, Lebua at State Tower (known for where the Hangover 2 was filmed) and went to the sky bar there. The hotel is beautiful and we highly recommend staying here at least for one night. We booked the hotel for ~$100 a night (which is amazing compared to rates in NYC!). However, be prepared to pay some NYC prices for their cocktails at the sky bar…

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Day 3-  We visited the Damnoen floating market in and then went to the Buddhist temple Wat Pho to see the beautiful reclining Buddha.

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It was a cool experience to shop around in a boat, but it seemed to be a bit too touristy for us. The vendors were overpriced and really tried to sell us things at unreasonably high prices.  We were lucky that we went to the Wang Lang Market where many locals shop so we knew the average prices of certain goods. However, it was still a cool experience to see people selling food and cooking on their little boats and vendors along the river.

When we got to Wat Pho, we were amazed at how beautiful it was.

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Before we left, we decided to splurge on one last meal at Nahm, ranked number 37 in world’s best 50 restaurants, and number 8 in Asia. It was nice to have a different kind of dining experience. We were super stuffed afterwards, but everything was delicious! A few of our favorites were the aromatic curry of chicken with pickled cucumbers , the scallop salad with coconut and lemongrass, and the whole fried fish with lemongrass fish sauce.

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We loved loved Bangkok and hope you do too!