When Anthony Bourdain and his crew visited Thailand in April, Bangkok was in political upheaval. This week's episode of No Reservations opened with flickering images of soldiers, protesters and smoke, with Bourdain admitting, "I don't know what to say about Thailand. I don't know how to make sense of what we saw here."
What followed was an hour of great television that didn't just capture this tense moment in the country's political history but also the unbelievable day-to-day moments that make Thailand so intriguing. As Bourdain said later in the episode, knee-deep in the choppy seas, "I'll see you at the Emmys."
While fighting took place across town, Bourdain and his crew stayed on peaceful streets, eerily quiet and apparently deserted. Despite occasionally stumbling across a street blockaded by a burning car, Bourdain mostly stuck to his task -- eating. At Jok Prince, he sat down to a bowl of jok, or rice porridge, with pig offal and soft-boiled eggs topped with chiles and hot sauce.
Bourdain had a special travel companion with him. Although Eric Rivera didn't win the 2008 contest to travel with Bourdain, his special charm and fascination with the sport Muay Thai made an impression, and he was called back. Together they walked down the street in the middle of Thai New Year - the world's largest water fight. Armed with water guns, people all across Thailand hosed each other down and smeared face powder on friends and strangers. It was the bizarro world version of the real fighting that was still going on.
On day two, Bourdain and his crew travelled toward the gulf. At the Banleam train station, Tony and his guide enjoyed a bowl of noodle soup with crispy wontons, sliced pork and fish balls. As it turned out, the train they caught traveled straight through an open market. The stall owners moved their tubs of lychee, frogs and crabs five feet out of the way as the train came through.
But the crew's plan wasn't to shop at the market, despite the delicious-looking wares. It was to catch cockles. On the boat, a swarm of monkeys approached to steal their food, and Bourdain was in his element.
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Bourdainisms: "Monkeys are more socialized than Top Chef contestants!" "I don't like 'em. Beady eyes, nipples like butt plugs, they're getting more daring with every banana." "Here you go, my little friend. I shall call you Ebola."
Finally, Eric Rivera got to show off his skills in a Muay Thai fight. Seeking "snacks before unspeakable violence," Eric and Tony visited the Thai equivalent of a sports bar for spicy rubbed chicken and papaya salad.
Bourdainism: "When I first came here, I ordered the salad thinking it would be a cool counterpart to my meal. That was a mistake. I think my pubes just burst into flames."
Next week: Montana