I have a some friends from Thailand, so I’ll be very interested in learning more about the culture and country that they come from this week. Here’s what we can expect…
The culture of Thailand incorporates a great deal of influence from India, China, Cambodia, and the rest of Southeast Asia, and Thai cuisine blends five fundamental flavors: sweet, spicy, sour, bitter and salty. In an effort to experience each of these tastes, Tony explores the bustling streets of Bangkok and immerses himself in the local street foods, cultural practices, and people. He discovers delicious dishes, kind people, and beautiful scenery. Yet, no sooner does the crew arrive in Bangkok, do they find themselves in the center of a political upheaval. Amid the protests, violence, and uncertainty, Tony and the crew make a point of discovering the elements that make Thailand magical.
Tony connects with Eric Rivera, a finalist in No Reservations’ Fan Contest. Eric, a Muay Thai fighter, has always felt connected to Thailand and wants his chance to show Tony the wonders of this country. First stop? Songkran, the Buddhist New Year festival, home of the world’s largest water fight. Streets are crowded with jubilant, relaxed people, festively shooting water guns and slapping powder in one another’s faces: a pleasant break from the nearby chaos. The next day, as Eric trains for a match, Tony travels to Samut Songkran, northwest of Bangkok, via train with his friend and guide, Gong. Along their journey, they travel through – yes, right through – the Maeklong Market, a bustling outdoor market that just happens to be situated right on the train tracks.
From train to boat, Tony and the crew travel up-canal to the Gulf of Thailand, where men harvest fresh cockles in the mud of the gulf. Tony, always willing, gives it a shot, ending up waist-deep in gooey brown mud. Gong then takes Tony and the crew further into the gulf, where they encounter gusty weather, forcing them to take immediate shelter. Tony and Gong waste no time, with crew and equipment fast behind they evacuate to safety.
Tony and crew then find themselves in Ampua, a town on the banks of the Mekong River and home to a floating market popular with tourists visiting Thailand. They navigate throught the crowded pathways to find spicy Thai salad, made of unripened papaya, and citrus and fish sauce, a national staple and very spicy dish! Next, Tony meets up with friend and ex-pat author, Jerry Hopkins, to explore the many canals of Bangkok. At the Taling Chan Floating Market they sample grilled stuffed snakehead fish, a popular treat in Thailand, before going their separate ways. Eric Rivera, busy with Muay Thai training, takes a break to show Tony some of his favorite pre-fight ‘rituals’, many of which center around food. They enjoy spicy Thai grilled chicken with Isan-style sticky rice, papaya salad, and cold beers before Eric’s big bout.
The next morning, Eric trains at a local Muay Thai school to prepare for his bout. The Thai training ethic is undoubtedly based on respect, dedication, blood, sweat, and tears, and Eric is eager to see how his skills match up to the local fighters. After several sweaty, chaotic rounds, the fight is over and Eric has certainly gained respect among the Muay Thai culture. Time for a post-fight dinner – Tony, Eric, and some local fighters enjoy a feast of massaman curry, Thai mackerel, and frog curry, while discussing their love of their shared sport, their dedication, and their country.
Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, Thailand airs Monday, August 17 at 10pm E/P on the Travel Channel.