In the past, Bangkok may have been more well-known to the hedonistic traveler than the healthy one, but this exotic and legendary locale has a ton to offer those looking to stay energized on the road. From incredible tropical fruit to health-soaked functional beverages to amazing (and cheap) spa treatments, Bangkok can be a great place to gain your sanity, not lose it.
Krisadee Bodhidatta, MPH, RD, Nutrition Consultant and Bangkok native helped us plan one healthy day in her city, suggesting options to keep your diet in check without sacrificing flavor or experience.
Start your day at Rama 9 Park Market, a talaad sod (fresh market) that's popular with the locals and offers sit-down breakfast options. For a healthy, authentic experience with plenty of protein to fuel a morning of sightseeing, choose rice porridge with fish, fresh ginger and coriander or sticky rice with grilled pork (keep an eye out for stalls that offer black sticky rice, this colorful grain delivers more nutrients than its white counterpart). If sweet and creamy is more your style, try fresh soymilk with nutritious, high-fiber toppings like red beans, gingko nuts and barley. Save some time after breakfast to check out the colorful local produce, and wander the lush grounds of Rama 9 Park (Rama 9 Park, Sri Nakarin Road, Suanluang, Bangkok).
At lunchtime, take the opportunity to try a vegetable we don't see too frequently in the States, like mara (bitter melon). This gourd has been shown to contain an active compound that increases insulin sensitivity and helps control blood sugar. Try bitter melon in soup noodles with chicken (kauy tiew kai mara) or stir-fried with egg. Chances are your meal will involve some sort of rice or noodle. When possible, opt for red rice (high in fiber, as well as vitamins A, B and E), black rice (contains antioxidant anthocyanin) or mungbean noodles (also known as glass or cellophane noodles; they rank low on the glycemic index meaning they don't spike your blood sugar).
Good lunch spots in town include Vista Cafe (Virasu building, Vitthayu Road) or Taling Pling (Punn Road, Silom or at Sukhumvit 34). If your agenda doesn't include a lengthy stop, most noodle stalls serve a decent tom yum koong, a classic prawn soup seasoned with lemongrass, galangal, lime leaves and chiles. Make sure to get the clear broth version, which will have fewer calories than the richer coconut milk-based kind (called tom yum koong nom kohn).
Need a mid-afternoon energy boost? Thai people take their snacks very seriously, and the streets of Bangkok are lined with vendors. Since this is your "healthy day in Bangkok," skip the ubiquitous fried, doughy options and head to Sri Thai Delicatessen at K Village Sukhumvit 26 for some vegetarian saku sai moo. Vegetarian saku are balls of ground peanuts and pearled barley, served with fresh chiles, cilantro and lettuce. Nuts and whole grains make this snack an energy powerhouse with plenty of fiber and healthy fats, while chiles provide vitamin C and antioxidants. You can also stop at one of the many fruit carts or any supermarket for inexpensive cut fruit. Mango and guava are native to Thailand; as well as the more exotic mangosteen, durian and rambutan.
For dinner, try traditional southern dish kao yum. It's a salad of cooked rice, fresh herbs, dried coconut, dried shrimp, green mango, bean sprouts, lime leaves, chopped long beans and dried red chile with a slice of lime. Ingredients are served separately in mounds with dressing on the side, so you can assemble your own meal. Go heavy on the long beans, mango and bean sprouts, lighter on the calorie-dense rice, coconut and dressing. Krisadee recommends the kao yum at Kua Kling Paksod (Thonglor soi 5 Sukhumvit 55), Anotai (Soi Rama 9 Hospital) or Watercress (K Village Sukhumvit 26).
It's been a long day and you've been so very well behaved -- time for dessert (you are on vacation after all)! Ice cream ma-proud-on is like a cross between sorbet and ice cream, made from young coconut juice rather than full-fat coconut cream so you can indulge your sweet tooth without completely undoing your efforts. Find some at Grayhound Cafe (2nd Floor The Emporium Shopping Complex or J Avenue Thonglor 15 Sukhumvit 55) and then get some rest. You've got much more to see and do (and eat) tomorrow!