- City Break, Nightlife
- Asia, Bangkok, Thailand
Packed full of daytime adventures and vibrant nightlife, the Big Mango is famous for its beautiful wats, spicy food and terrible traffic. Traffic aside, Bangkok is home to a recipe for the perfect urban break and there is never a dull moment in this chaotic yet rewarding city.
By Sofia Mitra-Thakur
Tour the Temples
Start before dawn, throw on some layers to cover up your shoulders and legs, and head to Wat Arun, or Temple of Dawn, where you can admire its towering spire, climb the stupas and soak up the sunrise views. Next hop across the river on a water taxi to Wat Pho, whose giant reclining Buddha statue has to be seen to be believed. End your cultural tour with the intricately detailed architecture of the Grand Palace complex, where the main attraction is Wat Phra Kaew, or Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
Kick back and relax
Bangkok offers a full range of massages to suit your budget, from cheap and cheerful shops welcoming drop-ins, all the way to ultra-luxe spas offering full-day experiences. For a fantastic mid-price massage with calm, comfortable surroundings and a choice of Thai or Western-style massage, you can’t go wrong with Urban Retreat Spa 1 Sukhumvit Rd, (+66) 2 229 4701) or BodyTune (2/F, 56 Yada Bldg, Silom Rd, (+66) 22 38 4377).
Flex your wallet
It’s no exaggeration to say that Bangkok is a shopper’s paradise, especially when it comes to the insane malls — they run the gamut from the bargain-basement MBK Center (444 Phayathai Road) to posh, upmarket Siam Paragon (991/1, Rama I Road, (+66) 2 610 8000) and EmQuartier (651 Sukhumvit Road). For a mall with a difference, check out Terminal 21 (88 Sukhumvit Road, Soi 19, (+66) 2 108 0888) – its unique Asian boutiques, flash sales and excellent top-floor food court make it a must-visit.
Drink it all in
Stunning views of the city and cocktails — what more could you want? There are literally dozens of fantastic rooftop bars but our top picks are Above Eleven (38/8 Soi Sukhumvit 11, +66) 83 542 1111) for a funky night dancing to the live DJ, the Speakeasy at Hotel Muse (55/555 Lumphini, (+66) 2 630 4000) for a more chilled, lounge vibe, the Banyan Tree’s Vertigo and Moon Bar (21/100 Banyan Tree Hotel, South Sathon Road, (+66) 2 679 1200) for its dizzying heights from the 61st floor. Make sure to check the dress code before you go.
Explore the outdoor markets
Test your bargaining skills at the famous Chatuchak Weekend Market, the largest in Asia hawking everything from clothes to homeware, food and even pets. If you want a more local, off-the-beaten track experience, head to Talad Rot Fai, a cool vintage market – come hungry and sample the excellent food and stack stalls.
Cruise the river
With the Chao Phraya River cutting through the city, what better way to take in the sights than on the water? Hop on the Chao Phraya Express yellow tourist boat where the tour guide can point out must-see attractions, or hire a private long-tail boat for a more leisurely, personalised journey. For an extra special occasion, book a luxurious dinner cruise on the Loy Nava and Manohra.
Catch some live music
Thailand is a treasure trove of live music, especially the ubiquitous local bands playing acoustic covers at every other bar. Check out the soul and funk bands at SoulBar (945 Charoen Krung Road, (+66) 93 220 0441), grab a burger and beer at dive bar Fatty’s (598/66 Asoke-Dindaeng Road, (+66) 81 438 7221) and bounce to indie tunes. Or check out Saxophone (11 Phayathai Road, (+66) 2 246 5472) for a night of jazz, blues, reggae, or ska, or sit back and enjoy the dark, jazzy atmosphere at Iron Fairies over a mixology-style cocktail.
Nestled in the trendy Thong Lor area, this hip restaurant is does great Thai comfort food, accompanied by a killer cocktail menu. Our top picks at Soul Food are the lemongrass sea bass in a banana leaf, zesty pomelo salad, sticky tamarind pork ribs and smoked duck red curry.
56/10 Sukhumvit Soi 55, Thong Lor, (+66) 27 147 708.
Sala Rim Naam
For a classy dining experience, you can’t go wrong with Sala Rim Naam, a charming restaurant housed in a traditional pavilion on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. The beautifully presented dishes are very tasty, if slightly toned down on spice for foreign palates, and you can’t fail to be entertained by the accompanying classical dance and mock battles scenes.
48 Oriental Avenue, Bang Rak, (+66) 26 599 000.
There are a gazillion great mall food courts in the city, but this superb one at the bottom of posh Central Embassy is one of the best. Live cooking stations featuring different regional styles of Thai cooking offer delicious dishes that rival the flavours and prices of street food. Our top pick is khao soy, a Northern style dish of braised meat in a rich coconut broth accompanied by boiled and crispy egg noodles.
G/F, Central Embassy, 1031 Ploenchit Road, (+66) 21 197 777.
A little further out in leafy Ari, this Thai fusion eatery is well worth the journey. The portions at Rock are huge and hearty, and the pork syrup buns and prawn curry-filled coconut shells are to die for. The incredibly nice staff and delicious cocktails – try the Kunming Tourist Trap – are the icing on the cake.
7/1, Soi Chamnan Aksorn, Phahonyothin 9, Ari Soi 4 Nua, (+66) 82 688 8200.
Issaya Siamese Club
A detour from the main tourist hub, this stunning restaurant in a century-old colonial villa offers a charming dining experience. Kick back with a cocktail at Issay Siamese Club in the lush landscaped garden before heading indoors for a delicious Thai-fusion style meal – we recommend the chilli-glazed pork ribs. And make sure you leave room for the sensational desserts.
4 Soi Sri Aksorn, Chuaphloeng Road, Chua Ploeng Road, (+66) 26 729 040.
You can get a lot of bang for your buck when it comes to city hotels, with many centrally located high-end addresses offering excellent rates. If you want to be close to Bangkok nightlife stick to the Sukhumvit area – The Okura Prestige, InterContinental Bangkok, Hotel Muse and Sofitel So are all excellent. But if you want to splurge on the riverside experience you naturally can’t go wrong with The Peninsula, or ultra-luxurious Mandarin Oriental.
Getting There and Around
Several carriers including Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Airlines, AirAsia and Thai Airways offer frequent direct flights. Once you’re in town, take the quick and efficient BTS SkyTrain and MRT when you can. Alternately taxis make for a comfortable, cheap and air-conditioned journey – just be aware of the excruciatingly slow peak-hour traffic. Skip the rip-off tuk-tuks and, if you’re game, hop on a motorbike taxi for a speedy ride around the city instead.