Try Larb Gai (Thai Chicken Salad) instead of Pad Thai

I just returned from a most glorious holiday in Bangkok, Thailand.

This is not my first trip. Probably my tenth. But this one was different from all the rest.

You see, all my previous trips were when I worked as a flight attendant many years ago. Bangkok was a coveted layover that we all wanted to land so that we could get our fill of shopping and eating. We'd fly in with empty suitcases and fly out with excess baggage.

Back in the day, every time I visited Bangkok I did the same round of things- all the apparent must-dos; shopping like it was an endurance sport,  traipsing around Patpong,  strolling in Sukhumvit and eating Pad Thai at every opportunity I got.

This trip, since I'm definitely older and perhaps a bit wiser, I did none of the above. Instead, I tried a lot of things that were off the regular, well-worn tourist path which made for a more immersive cultural experience.

I'm sharing a few of my top recommendations of things to try instead of the must-dos. Khlong boat rides instead of tuk tuk rides, Banglamphu instead of Sukhumvit and Larb Gai instead of Pad Thai are just a few of my favorites.

(If you're hungry, scroll down to the bottom of the post for the recipe for Larb Gai; a delicious Thai chicken salad made with ground chicken and seasoned with lime juice, sugar, fish sauce, coriander, mint and aromatic roasted and ground sticky rice powder. So light and refreshing, it's replaced Pad Thai as my favourite Thai dish.)


Larb gai, laab gai, thai minced chicken salad, Thai ground chicken salad
Larb Gai- Thai Ground Chicken Salad

Unusual Things to Do in Bangkok

This is my list of hidden gems in Bangkok, my experience of Bangkok off the beaten path where I didn't have to fight hoards of tourists but got to immerse myself at a very calm pace in the lovely Thai culture and experience the warmth and hospitality of the wonderful Thai people and their beautiful city.

1. Instead of the Front of the Golden Buddha, try the Back

Everybody visits the Giant Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho. It's spectacular and extraordinarily huge! While I was so impressed by the sheer size of the Buddha, so were all the other hundreds of tourists in the temple clambering for a photo op. 

My tip: Forget about trying to get the perfect picture of the front of the Buddha. Instead walk around to the back of the Buddha where you can admire the sheer size of this statue and his peaceful, recumbent pose at your leisure. I assure you that you'll be the only other person there.

Wat Pho Golden Reclining Buddha, back view of reclining Buddha
The giant reclining Buddha statue at Wat Pho

2. Instead of Tuk Tuk rides, try Khlong boat rides

Khlong boats, my most favorite means of transportation in Bangkok! These Khlong boats used predominantly by locals speed along the vast network of canals that criss-cross Bangkok. (Did you know Bangkok is known as the Venice of the East?) We easily traversed east and west of Bangkok by hopping on and off at the little stations along the canal. Tickets can be bought on the boat. 

Way better than taking a kitschy tuk tuk ride or a predictable uber ride, this helped us experience the special flavour of the city- being a part of the local commute, seeing the backs of chop houses on the canals and watching Thai people going about their business from hanging out laundry to cooking by the canals. Plus there's no doubt that this is a far quicker and calmer way to travel and beat rush hour traffic jams and chaos on the road.

Khlong boats, Bangkok canal
Khlong boats: These low, speedy ferries traverse the Bangkok canals and are a normal way of transportation for the people. 

3. Instead of river cruises, try the Chao Phraya ferries 

My second most favourite form of transportation in Bangkok are the Chao Phraya ferries that ply the big Chao Phraya River on which the city is built. At just a fraction of a price that you would pay to go on a river cruise, these Chao Phraya ferries depart every few minutes from various stops along the river. They ply quite close to the shore, so a real treat is being able to see the backs of the beautiful buildings and other notable attractions that can't be seen from the roadside. 

Marine Department, Bangkok
A view of the beautiful Marine department buildings from the Chao Phraya ferry.

4. Instead of Sukhumvit, try Banglamphu

Sukhumvit is glitzy and new and safe and teeming with international tourists. But Banglamphu is full of old world Bangkok charm, quiet streets, beautiful temples, sprawling palaces, old cafes, traditional Thai style architectural homes, chop houses, no malls and far fewer tourists. There's so much to absorb in this laid back part of town. And with it's proximity to the river and bounded by canals, a waterway ride is never too far away. 

Banglamphu, Bangkok, Thai temple
For Thai temple heaven, head to Bangalmphu.

5. Instead of admiring the Giant Demons in Wat Arun, admire the posing Thai beauties

Wat Arun is one of the most beautiful temples in Thailand. But after seeing dozens of golden buddhas, the thing that fascinated me the most were beautiful Thai women who floated gracefully around the temple grounds dressed in traditional finery and posing for pictures. I was quite mesmerised at every sighting! Turns out that just outside the temple there is a little shop where one can rent all this beautiful ethnic clothing and jewelry, dress up and then go into the temple for a photo shoot. Wat Arun may be know for its beautiful temples, courtyards and Buddhas, but I'll never forget attending this impromptu fashion show in Wat Arun.

Thai women in traditional outfits walking outside Wat Arun in front of the Giant Demons, Thai women in ethnic wear with umbrella
Giant Demons keeping an eye on Thai Angels.
For an impromptu fashion show, head to Wat Arun.

6. Instead of only eating Thai food, learn how to cook it

This was one thing I knew I wanted to do; attend a cooking class in Bangkok. There were so many options to choose from, but we finally chose a 1/2 day session at Bangkok Thai Cooking Academy which promised us a very hands on cooking experience.

In 3 1/2 hours we visited a local market to see how and where to buy local produce that we would use in our cooking. We then learned to make 4 dishes of our choice. Each of us had our own prep and cooking station and we did all our own work from cutting, chopping, pounding to frying and plating, under the watchful eyes of our chefs. It was such a memorable experience. The best part was getting to eat all that we had cooked and meeting other people in the class from different parts of the world. 

To read about my experience and review of Bangkok Thai Cooking Academy- click here.

Bangkok Thai Cooking Academy, Cooking with woks, international group
Our Thai cooking class in progress at the Bangkok Thai Cooking Academy

7. Instead of Oil Massage, try Traditional Thai Massage

There are massages and then there are 'massages' all over Bangkok. 

I'm going to tell you about the kind of massages that are not in quotes. 

Very different from an oil massage, a traditional Thai massage is a novel massage to try especially if you are in Thailand.

Below is a picture of where we had the most wonderful 'Traditional Thai Massage,' on a rooftop lined with aged timber in the plumeria filled property of the beautiful Ariyasom Villa boutique hotel's Som Sen Spa

By the way, in a Traditional Thai Massage, you get a massage with your clothes on in a communal area like below. We were given a comfortable pajama set to wear before our masseuses worked on our body. It's quite a rigorous massage where the masseuses don't just use their hands, but at some points use their feet, legs and body weight to bend and twist us into shape. Not for the delicate, but worth a try.

Ariyasom Villa's Som Sen spa, rooftop Traditional Thai massage communal massage space

8. Instead of supermarkets, try local fresh markets

Supermarkets are easy, predictable and comfortable to shop in. Instead, to experience a bit of the local culture we ventured into fresh markets where different vendors come under one roof to sell their produce from fresh fruits, local vegetables and rice to meat, fish, turtles, eels and even more exotic stuff. 

Even though a language barrier existed, the people were so lovely, helpful and friendly that this experience will always stick with us. Here's a picture of our happy fruit vendor who sold us durian, jackfruit and pomello. 

Fruit seller at Onnuch Fresh Mart, Bangkok
Our cheerful fruit vendor at the Onnuch Fresh Mart in Bangkok

9. Instead of Pad Thai, try Larb Gai

Pad Thai is ubiquitious in Bangkok. From street cart vendors to food courts to fancy restaurants, Pad Thai is readily available. Perhaps that's why everybody knows about Pad Thai.

But Larb Gai? Now that's a little hidden secret. This refreshing Thai chicken salad is made with a sweet and salt lime dressing and fragranced with lots of aromatic greens and an essential spoonful of roasted and ground sticky rice powder. On a hot, Thai afternoon this light salad is way better than Pad Thai. 

Try it. The recipe is below.

Laab or Larb means chopped in Thai.

Gai means chicken in Thai.

And by the way, I learned to make this Laab Gai salad during our cooking class at the Bangkok Thai Cooking Academy. So, it's the Real McCoy :)

Larb gai, laab gai, thai ground chicken salad, thai minced chicken salad, how to make larb gai, how to make larb gai salad, larb gai sauce
Laab Gai or Thai Ground Chicken Salad with shallots and fresh herbs

How to Make Larb Gai Salad (Thai Minced Chicken Salad)


☐ 250g of minced chicken


☐ 2-3 shallots (thinly sliced)
☐ 1 stalk Thai coriander 
☐ 1 stalk cilantro
☐ 1 stalk spring onions
☐ 3 stalks of mint (use only leaves)
☐ 1 small cucumber (Persian), cut into matchsticks (optional)
☐ 2 long green beans, cut into matchsticks (optional)
☐ Salad greens (optional)


☐ 2 teaspoons sugar
☐ 1 1 /2 tablespoons fish sauce
☐ 2 teaspoons of Red chili flakes
☐ 1 lime, cut into 3 pieces (discard center section with seeds)
☐ 1 1 /2 tablespoons of sticky rice powder (instructions below on how to make it from uncooked sticky rice grains).

Step-by-Step Instructions:

Step 1: Cut Greens

  • Hold the stalks of Thai coriander, cilantro and spring onions together and finely chop them up.
  • Pull the the leave off the mint stalks. Discard the stalks. Keep aside the mint leaves to use later.
  • Slice shallots finely and set aside.

Step 2: Make Sticky Rice Powder

  • In a wok with no oil, add 3-4 tablespoons of uncooked sticky rice grains. Stir until it become golden brown. Cool and then grind with a mortar and pestle or in a mixi until it forms a coarse powder. Use 1 1/2 tablespoons for this recipe and store the remaining powder for another time.

Step 3: Boil Chicken Mince

  • Boil minced chicken in a little water until water evaporates and the chicken is cooked.

Step 4: Add Seasonings and Greens

  • Add the seasonings to the dry chicken (sugar, fish sauce, chili flakes, lime juice sticky rice powder).
  • Squeeze lime juice (to taste)
  • Add the thinly sliced shallots and all the chopped greens (Thai coriander, cilantro, spring onions and mint).
  • Optional: Garnish with matchstick cucumbers and green beans. Serve with cooked sticky rice and salad greens.

For more of my Thai recipes and Travelecipes to Bangkok, see:

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