Get set to explore one of Asia’s most dynamic cities, where you’ll discover gilded palaces, rooftop terraces and intoxicating markets
Words: Lara Brunt
For the past three years, Bangkok has been crowned the most popular place on the planet, attracting more than 20 million visitors. Sprawling, steamy and often smoggy, the Thai capital radiates an infectious energy.
The city was founded in 1782 on the Chao Phraya River by the Chakri royal dynasty, which is still in place today. On the eastern riverbank, the Old City is home to must-see sights such as the Grand Palace, while nearby Chinatown is a colourful and chaotic maze. Along the river, Bangrak is the centre of the ever-evolving Creative District, with hip restaurants and grand riverside hotels. Elsewhere, Silom serves as the financial district by day and buzzing nightlife destination by night; Siam is the main shopping district; while the sois from Sukhumvit Road offer bountiful shops and eateries.
Read on for our curated list of the best luxury hotels, talked-about restaurants and only-in-Bangkok experiences…
From family-friendly resorts to boutique boltholes, here are the best places to stay
Opened last year in the Siam shopping district, the Waldorf Astoria Bangkok has 171 rooms ranging from spacious to sprawling. There are five restaurants and lounges, while the 16th-floor infinity pool boasts Instagram-ready views over the city.
In the same neighbourhood, the resort-like Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok has 401 rooms and four saltwater pools set amid landscaped gardens. Foodies will love the Michelin-starred Thai restaurant, while families will appreciate the complimentary kids’ club.
Tucked away in acres of gardens and lotus ponds near Silom’s Lumpini Park, The Sukhothai Bangkok has 210 rooms outfitted with silks, teakwood and muted earthy colours. Chill out by the rooftop infinity pool or in the spa, and don’t miss the fabulous Sunday brunch.
In tranquil grounds by the river, The Siam is an Art Deco-inspired gem with 29 antique-filled suites and 10 private pool villas. Lounge by the infinity pool or fill your days with cooking classes, spa treatments, Muay Thai boxing sessions or sunset cruises aboard an historic rice barge.
In the heart of Chinatown, Baan 2459 (baan2459.com) is a romantic heritage hotel which offers just four rooms. Each one is unique; plump for Room Two with its own private entrance, four-poster bed and clawfoot bath.
Then there’s the storied, riverside Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, forever ranked among the world’s best.
SIZZLING STREET FOOD
Hit the streets to find some of the city’s most mouth-watering Thai food
Despite recent attempts by city authorities to rid the pavements of food carts and stalls, Bangkok’s street food scene remains thrillingly vibrant.
Septuagenarian chef, Jay Fai, is the undisputed queen; her eponymous shophouse in Rattanakosin became the first and only Thai street-food spot to receive a star in Bangkok’s inaugural Michelin guide in 2018. Patient foodies won’t mind the long wait for her famous crab omelettes and crab curries. Close by, Thip Samai is widely considered to serve the city’s best pad thai.
In Chinatown; Yaowarat Road and the surrounding sois are street-food central, with plastic tables set up from around 5pm ’til late. Keep your eyes peeled for Guay Jub Ouan Pochana, T&K Seafood and Lim Lao Ngow.
TOP OF THE SHOPS
Tailor on Ten
For made-to-measure and bespoke gents tailoring, head to this little slice of Savile Row in Sukhumvit. The in-house tailors can create shirts and suits using high-quality Asian and European fabrics, plus the prices are fixed so no haggling is needed.
This former WWII artillery warehouse in the Bangrak district has been transformed into the city’s coolest mixed-use space. Browse the stores selling locally designed fashion, homewares and accessories, and refuel at the excellent café.
On the opposite side of the river, this cluster of restored 19th-century warehouses features beautifully-preserved Chinese murals and a dozen boutiques selling homewares, clothing and leather goods. Stay for lunch or dinner at the hip Nai Harng restaurant.
Bangkok has long been street-food nirvana, but you’ll also find plenty of Michelin-starred establishments shaking things up
Opposite Gaggan – regularly named Asia’s best restaurant – you’ll find the less-hyped but equally impressive Gaa. Chef Garima Arora, a former Noma and Gaggan alumnus, serves a 10- or 14-course tasting menu inspired by her Indian background, Thai ingredients and Nordic philosophies, with dishes like duck doughnut and liquid banana bread.
Located in the upmarket Gaysorn Village mall, husband-and-wife team Bee Satongun and Jason Bailey draw inspiration from centuries-old royal Thai cuisine to create bold, colourful dishes made for sharing. Highlights include slow-roasted goat curry and pickled chive root salad with lobster and morel mushrooms. pastebangkok.com Saawaan
Housed in a converted shophouse with moody dark walls and floor-to-ceiling windows, chef Aom Pongmorn serves a seasonal 10-course tasting menu with tea or grape pairings. From the first amuse bouche – kai luk koey (poached egg in tamarind sauce) – to the final pumpkin pudding, the dishes will surprise and delight.
If you’re in town on the weekend, take a 25-minute cab ride from downtown to Taling Chan floating market. Stroll along the floating dock as vendors serve up freshly cooked specialities such as hoy tort (fried oyster omelette) from moored boats. Then climb aboard a longtail boat and cruise the nearby canals. Make Chatuchak weekend market your next stop. The teeming market is divided into 27 sections and has more than 10,000 stalls, so download Nancy Chandler’s comprehensive map (nancychandler.net) to pinpoint the areas you’re interested in. Best buys include traditional textiles and handmade leather goods. After dark, head to hipster-rich Rot Fai night market in Ratchada (there’s also a larger sister market on the eastern edges of the city). Shop for vintage fashion and kitschy curios and tuck into street food from converted VW vans strung with fairy lights.
If a spa day is top of your wishlist, here are three of the best places to get pampered
Oriental Spa: Housed in a century-old teak house, the Mandarin Oriental’s spa is reached by boat across the river from the main hotel. There are 15 treatment rooms, including a handful with hot tubs, and menu of traditional Thai and modern Western treatments.
Panpuri Organic Spa: This all-white spa at the Park Hyatt specialises in anti-ageing facials and hot oil massages from Thailand’s leading organic skincare brand. There’s a second spa with five Japanese-style thermal pools at Gaysorn Village mall.
The Peninsula Spa: In a colonial-style building overlooking the Chao Phraya, this three-storey spa offers a full range of treatments, from a two-hour Thai massage to a hi-tech Second Skin facial using 3D-printed hyaluronic strips.
ASK A LOCAL
Somrak Sila, co-founder of WTF Café & Gallery (wtfbangkok.com), shares her insider tips for Bangkok
“Soul Food Mahanakorn (soulfoodmahanakorn.com) is my favourite restaurant. It serves consistently great Thai food in a simple dining space – the pomelo salad with chilli jam and popcorn tiger prawns is a must-try. Overlooking the Chao Phraya River, Loy La Long Hotel (loylalong.com) is a tiny hidden gem in the grounds of a temple and a top spot for a quiet sunset drink. A few doors down from my own café and gallery, Studio Lam (facebook.com/studiolambangkok) is perfect for those who love an intimate club with incredibly diverse music. And don’t leave Bangkok without buying some Tiger Balm – it’ll fix all of your problems!”
Enjoy sensational sunsets and sky-high views atop some of the city’s tallest towers. When the golden hour approaches, those in the know head skyward to one of the city’s many rooftop terraces. Join them at the newly opened Mahanakhon SkyWalk, a two-tiered observation deck 314 metres above the busy streets of Silom, complete with a glass floor section and Bangkok’s highest rooftop bar.
Meanwhile, the aptly-named Vertigo pairs upscale al fresco dining – think smoked Wagyu carpaccio topped with crayfish and caviar – with spectacular views from 61 floors above the city. Before you sit down for dinner, drop by Moon Bar next door for sundowners.
Across the river, ThreeSixty sits atop the Millennium Hilton Bangkok. Listen to live jazz while taking in the unfettered panorama of the city skyline and filling up your Instagram feed.
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