There are a million Bangkoks—a million different scenes, neighborhoods, social groups and cultural offerings one can be part of. But, to keep it simple and limit ourselves to a 24-hour schedule, we’ll narrow it down to
two: Old Bangkok and New Bangkok. The former is teakwood houses, chaotic markets and riverside palaces and temples with the sound of bells wafting in the wind. New Bangkok is beautiful people stealing glances on the Skytrain, serviced high-rise apartments and rooftop pool parties.
Where to Stay
Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok (www.mandarinoriental.com/bangkok; 48 Oriental Avenue), in Old Bangkok, is a legendary hotel that has hosted the likes of Joseph Conrad and Somerset Maugham in its prime location on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. Formerly The Oriental, this colonial-style hotel, built in 1876, is traditionally elegant with modern touches like iPod docks. Most rooms have fantastic views of the river and all have access to a butler.
Dream Hotel (www.dreambkk.com; 10 Sukhumvit Soi 15) in New Bangkok. In a soi (alley) off Bangkok’s most international and modern thoroughfare—Sukhumvit Road—Dream Hotel is surreally decorated, and it’s not for everyone, but the rooms are luxurious and comfortable.
Saturday, 8 a.m.
Your first stop will be neither Old nor New Bangkok, but a sprawling bazaar on the outskirts of town. You will want to head to the famous Chatuchak Weekend Market (www.chatuchak.org; Th Kamphaeng Phet)—rumored to be Southeast Asia’s biggest—early to beat the heat and the crowds. You can buy almost anything here—from funky t-shirts to cheeses and beautiful antique replicas to gimmicky tchotchkes. The bazaar is a great place to land fantastic bargains on exotic goods like silk, rattan furniture and handcrafted teakwood Buddhas. If you need a snack, stop at Dinpao Cuisine, provided you find it in the maze. It serves Thai food along with a bunch of fresh and light Vietnamese dishes that help placate the heat.
Enter the Mo Chit Skytrain Station, a five-minute walk from Chatuchak market, and get on a train—the best way to avoid the Bangkok traffic—toward Saphan Taksin Station (you’ll have to change at Siam). At Taksin station, follow the crowds to the Central Pier on the Chao Praya River where you’ll hop on a river taxi up to Tha Tien Pier near Wat Pho temple.
This is Old Bangkok. Built in the 16th century, Wat Pho (Th Chetuphon, Tha Tien Pier) houses the giant, gold-plated reclining Buddha. Check out the sole of his feet, inlaid with 108 auspicious scenes in mother-of-pearl.
The intricately detailed paintings on the inner walls of the temple depict the Ramakien, Thailand’s national epic based on the Indian Ramayana. Be respectful of locals praying at the temple.
|Wat Pho, or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is the largest temple in Bangkok.|
Return to Siam Station. It’s New Bangkok time. The Siam area is the epicenter of a mall metropolis. Spending time in these air-conditioned behemoths is an essential way to escape Bangkok’s oppressive heat—and it’s what all Thais do. First, go to Siam Paragon (www.siamparagon.co.th; Rama I Road), one of the most upmarket malls in the Big Mango. You’re not here to shop—Paragon has all the same luxury brands you can get in the U.S. or Europe—you’re here to eat. Greyhound Cafe on the ground floor is a hangout for hi-so (high-society) Thais. It serves delicious Thai and Italian food in a modern, minimal setting. For a real Thai mall experience, cross the street to MBK, a gigantic, seven-level mall. Grab a sweet tea and explore the seemingly never-ending rows of stalls selling shoes, perfume, electronics, bags and DVDs.
Back to Old Bangkok. Take a short cab ride to The Jim Thompson House (www.jimthompsonhouse.com; Soi Kasem San 2, Rama I Road). Jim Thompson was an American architect who served in Asia during World War II, visited Thailand, and fell in love. The six teakwood structures, which collectively form what’s known as The Jim Thompson House, were dismantled from locations across the country and reconstructed on his property in Bangkok. Most of the houses are around two centuries old and were rebuilt in traditional Thai style. A lush garden of orchids and tropical plants fill the courtyards, and the houses are full of beautiful antiques and artwork.
Sink your teeth into some mouth-watering street food. It’s hard to take a step on the Big Mango’s streets without bumping into a vendor selling something delicious. Look around the Skytrain stations for some of the most popular places and follow the locals. Nibble on deep-fried fish cakes and cucumber in chili sauce or munch on barbecued spicy pork strips and sticky rice. The best Pad Thai noodles full of egg and shrimp deliciousness are whipped up on streetside woks. Wash it down with fresh tangerine, pomegranate juice or cool tender coconut.
If your feet are sore after all the walking, get a traditional Thai reflexology foot massage. Points on the foot that correspond with organs are kneaded by hand and poked with a small rod to improve blood flow and restore bodily harmony. You can also get a full body massage. For a true luxurious treatment, go to Sukhothai Hotel’s (www.sukhothai.com; 13/3 South Sathorn Rd.) Spa Botanica. For a more authentic one, go to Bai Po Massage (155/12 Sukhumvit Soi 11/1).
After a short nap at your hotel, head for Vertigo at the Banyan Tree Hotel (www.banyantree.com; 21/100 South Sathorn Rd.), the best rooftop bar and restaurant in Bangkok. Sixty-one floors high, it certainly offers a different perspective of the city. You’re here more for the view than the food (street food really is the best in Bangkok). Gaze ahead at other skyscrapers or down at the Chao Phraya River and the winding streets and sois below.
Finish your day with a wild night of partying. Demo (Thonglor Soi 10, Sukhumvit Road) in Thonglor feels like a New York basement bar with its graffiti-covered brick walls, but the clientele is all young, well-heeled Thais moving to funky electro beats. RCA (Royal City Avenue), a mall-style pedestrian nightlife strip that gets swarmed with 20-something locals on the weekend, has something for every taste. Megaclub Route 66 (www.route66club.com; RCA between Rama 9 and Petchaburi Roads) has a booming techno music room, a hip-hop room and a room with a band playing sing-along Thai favorites. Nearby, 808 Club (www.808bangkok.com; between Rama 9 and Petchaburi roads near Thonglor) has a more hip and international vibe and it’s where big-name DJs spin.
Bars close early in Bangkok but you’re probably exhausted anyway. Go to your hotel, sleep and dream of all the fun you had.
|Wat Phra Kaew, which houses the Emerald Buddha, is often regarded as the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand.|