Welcome to my place . . . Bangkok
Gem expert and jeweller Emma Gregory on snakes, street food and sunset strolls in the Thai capital
Gemmologist and jewellery designer Emma Gregory, from Skerries, Co Dublin, has lived in Bangkok for 11 years
Emma Gregory, originally from Skerries, Co Dublin, has lived in Bangkok, Thailand for 11 years. She is a qualified gemmologist and jewellery designer and owner of Spokes Jewelry Services, a fine jewellery manufacturing company. She also serves on the board of directors of the Irish-Thai Chamber of Commerce.
Where is the first place you bring people to when they visit Bangkok?
The Snake Farm at the Red Cross Society (also known as the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute). Many people come to Thailand wanting to experience exotic animals up close, but most of these “attractions” exploit the animals and force them to live in appalling conditions. This Snake Farm is different and is a research centre that educates the population about the role snakes play in the eco-system and also produces valuable anti-venom for the greater South-East Asian region.
You can view a huge collection of live serpents up close in humane conditions. The staff are research scientists and provide a daily showcase of their venom extraction process and an excellent talk and snake handling experience. The facility is downtown and within minutes’ walk of Lumpini Park.
The top three things to do in Bangkok, that don’t cost money, are ...
Visit Lumpini Park – a large park in the centre of the city where Thais walk, run, play sports and picnic. Wander, take a boat ride, feed the turtles and stick around for the playing of the national anthem at 6pm. Observe as hundreds of people in your range of view suddenly stand still as though time has stopped and then begin moving en masse as it ends. As a visitor you are also expected to stand still in a show of respect. During January and February, the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra do a free outdoor concert from 5.30pm on Sundays.
Pak Khlong Talat (The Flower Market) – although it has now all moved indoors, the flower market is still the stuff that Instagram dreams are made of and a lovely insight into the significance of floral decorations in Thai culture. Open 24 hours a day, it is at its liveliest from midnight to before dawn and is quiet in the afternoons.
Suan Rot Fai (The Railway Park) – this much less well known park features a smooth bike trek and lake (boats and bikes can be rented for small sum) and a free Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, where you can learn about butterfly lifecycles and watch them enjoy the local flora. There are lots of large, well-established trees that provide much needed shade in the Bangkok heat. The park can be accessed by BTS (Mo Chit Station) or MRT Underground (Chatuchak Station), with a 10 minute walk, and is close to the Chatuchak market.
Where do you recommend for a meal eaten out doors on a sunny day?
Bangkok has long been known as the best place in the world for street food but, thanks to a government clean up effort, the city’s street vendors are being systematically removed, street by street, from its pavements. What this means for the food scene in the long term I dread to think, but in the meantime, I recommend pulling up a small plastic stool and enjoying whatever the street vendors have to offer whenever you seen them. This may be your last chance.
Where is the best place to get a sense of Bangkok’s place in history?
The Museum of Siam is an interactive, modern museum dedicated to Thailand’s long history. It is housed in a beautifully restored 19th century colonial building. Starting in prehistoric times, you move, room by room, through time periods. It is re-opening in November 2017 after renovations.
In the meantime, take a day trip to Ancient City (Mueang Boran) on the outskirts of Bangkok. Save yourself the headache of dealing with taxi drivers and get an Uber. This vast outdoor park features recreations of Thailand’s most famous architectural landmarks from temples to palaces. It gives an encompassing sense of Thai culture and the influence of the surrounding territories such as the Khmer and Chinese empires through architecture and aesthetic.
Thai food and coffee options in the park are excellent and plentiful and the little market outside includes traditional wooden souvenirs. This is a beautiful, well maintained and very peaceful oasis. Golf carts, bicycles and trams are also available if you don’t fancy walking.
What should visitors save room in their suitcase for after a visit to Bangkok?
Skip the fakes and resist the temptation to load up on 99 baht fisherman pants. They won’t last two washes and will not look the same in the cold, grey light of a rainy dawn when you get home.
Curry paste vendors usually have vacuum sealed packs to take home. They will be much fresher and more vibrant than branded curry pastes that have sat on a supermarket shelf for two years.
If you want to buy some local handicrafts that give back to the community, consider stopping by the Fatima Centre Shop (by BTS Phrom Phong station) where you can pick up handmade toys, quilts and decorations. The Fatima Centre is a non-profit, non-denominational centre that helps young women at risk in the slums by educating them and giving them handicrafting skills. It is run by Sr Louise Horgan of the Good Shepherd Sisters, who is from Cork and is in her 80s. She is a well know character here in Bangkok among the Irish community.
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