I Traded My Traditional Thanksgiving for a Thailand Fantasy

published Nov 9, 2017
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(Image credit: Erin Wengrovius)

What’s better than a table groaning under turkey and all the fixings, a swarm of family members, and leaving the dishes for later while you hit the early Black Friday sales? For me, it turns out, it’s a day in steamy, delicious cacophony on the other side of the globe.

(Image credit: Dana McMahan)

How I Ended Up Trading Turkey for Tuk Tuks

In 2008, my husband and I started a tradition of traveling to points further and further from home over Thanksgiving. It made sense for us at the time: Making the most of limited vacation time at our previous jobs by tacking it onto a holiday; skipping out on squabbles with siblings; and not having to explain yet again that as vegetarians, No, we did not eat turkey. Frankly, we just didn’t enjoy the holiday drama and epic consumption, so we made our escape.

We started close to home, in snowy fairytale Quebec City. Instead of turkey and dressing it was a candlelit dinner of risotto with Taleggio cheese. Next up was Prague, with takeout pizza and real Czech beer at the bar with fellow Thanksgiving-skippers in our hostel.

Then in 2010 — a decade into our travel mania in which we’d made the rounds from London to Paris to St. Petersburg to Istanbul to Morocco — we needed something farther away, something even more unlike our daily life.

We decided on Bangkok, mostly because I found its actual, official full name to be irresistible: The City of Angels, The Great City, The Residence of the Emerald Buddha, The Impregnable City (of Ayutthaya) of God Indra, The Grand Capital of the World Endowed with Nine Precious Gems, The Happy City, Abounding in an Enormous Royal Palace That Resembles the Heavenly Abode Where Reigns the Reincarnated God, A City Given by Indra and Built by Vishnukarn.

(Image credit: Dana McMahan)

Yes, it’s a place that requires 30+ hours crammed into economy class, turns your circadian rhythms inside out, and is, by many accounts, filthy, loud, overcrowded, and blazing hot. But I will counter you a hair-raising spin in the back of a tuk tuk careening through the maddest traffic you’ve ever seen; a bargain basement-priced massage; or the glory of just one golden temple.

If you have inhaled the smell of steaming rice, simmering galangal, freshly chopped chilies and herbs, traffic fumes, and the heaving sea of humanity, eaten one perfect pocket-change meal from a street vendor, or tasted the creamy goodness of an ice-cold coffee swirled with “sweet milk,” you probably understand.

If you haven’t and if you are contemplating escaping the trappings of a traditional Thanksgiving, allow me to make the case for Thailand.

(Image credit: Dana McMahan)

5 Thai Treats That Will Make You Forget About Turkey

1. Mango Sticky Rice

You guys, there aren’t words to convey the love I have for this combination of sticky rice with sweetened coconut milk and juicy hunks of ripe mango (which taste nothing like the tart, firm, yellow stuff back home). How and why is this the best thing on earth? I don’t know and I don’t care, but every time I’m in Thailand I stuff myself with it daily and even take one last serving of it onto the plane.

2. Thai Iced Coffee

The combination of rocketing temperatures of this city — the hottest on the planet — and relentless choking exhaust from millions of zooming motor vehicles means you’re always hot and always thirsty. And, thanks to flip-flopping time zones, always sleepy. Enter: Thai iced coffee. It’s my favorite non-alcoholic beverage ever (and one I almost never have back home; somehow it’s just not the same in an air-conditioned coffee shop in my own time zone).

(Image credit: Dana McMahan)
(Image credit: Dana McMahan)

3. All the Street Food

Here’s how you do street food in Bangkok: Join throngs of people in line, order whatever they’re having from the steaming vats, and perch on rickety, tiny stools with your Styrofoam container. It literally doesn’t even matter what you get. It will be a perfect balance of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and hot. And it will cost you 25 cents.

(Image credit: Dana McMahan)

4. Hotel Breakfast Fruit

If there is a greater joy than waking up on the other side of the world and walking down to a hotel breakfast spread where the fruits come straight out of Willy Wonka’s wildest dreams, well, I don’t believe you if you say there is. The fruits are as fun to name as they are to eat: rambutan, mangosteen, dragonfruit, jackfruit, snakefruit, rose apple, lychee, longan.

(Image credit: Dana McMahan)

5. Coconut Water

Before it was de rigueur for sport types and anyone fighting a hangover to swig spendy bottles of coconut water, the clever people of Bangkok were lopping off the top of the shell and drinking the sweet nectar inside. One of the first things I have to do upon landing in the City of Angels is make for the first coconut vendor I see, and until I head home I’m guzzling two to three a day.