The cultural, spiritual and commercial centre of Thailand, Bangkok – or Krungthep, as the locals call it – is a magnet for pleasure- seeking travellers who use it as a stopover en route to another country, or as the staging post for further travel within Thailand. Famous for its sky-high bars and incredible restaurants, luxury hotels and swish shopping malls, Bangkok is an exciting, sure-fire crowd-pleaser.
It’s also hot and the city streets are jammed with traffic, but don’t let that put you off spending time in this jewel-box of a city, because the rewards are totally worth it. The food is ambrosial, the shopping brilliant and the people delightful – what more could you want in a fun holiday destination?
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Check into the luxurious Centara Grand, where the service is impeccable and the views fantastic. Located in the heart of Bangkok’s shopping district, six upmarket shopping malls are within walking distance of this five-star hotel. It offers two of the city’s best restaurants, Red Sky, an urban bistro on the 55th floor, and Uno Mas, a buzzy ‘Taste of Spain’ tapas restaurant on the 54th floor, plus two acclaimed rooftop bars. There’s also an award-winning spa, outdoor pool, fitness centre and tennis courts.
Take the shortcut from the 23rd floor of the hotel to the 10th-largest shopping complex in the world, CentralWorld. My favourite passions are food, shopping and foot spas, and all are well catered for in this seven-storey behemoth. There are 500 shops, two department stores (Zen and Isetan), a cinema complex, plus 90 restaurants and cafés. Make sure you give yourself a few hours to check this place out.
Bangkok’s skyscraper rooftop bars and restaurants are legendary, so head on up to Red Sky on the hotel’s 55th floor for an evening of amazing views, food and mind-boggling cocktails – be sure to try the signature passionfruit martini. Made with vodka, passionfruit, mint leaves and a foam cap, it’s like having dessert before your meal. Chef Alan Wesley Kwan’s menu is an east-meets-west affair, with dishes like the Surf & Turf Tower – a three-tiered platter of wagyu beef, lamb cutlets, Maine lobster, prawns, Alaskan king crab and US scallops. It’s not cheap, but hey – how often do you get to dine with your head in the clouds?
Finish your night in style at one of the world’s highest alfresco Champagne bars – CRU. Mixologists will whip up great cocktails, but if you love your bubbles you can try a flute of 1998 Taittinger, a 2009 Bollinger or G.H. Mumm No.1 Pink – an exclusive drop only available in Thailand at this bar. Yes please!
Time to put on your walking shoes and visit the most revered Buddhist temple in the country, Wat Phra Kaew, or The Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It’s located inside the grounds of the Grand Palace, the residence of the royal family since 1782 – if you loved The King and I, you’ll love spending a couple of hours wandering around these beautiful grounds just as Anna did in the 1860s with King Mongkut’s children. The temple is named after a Buddha that may be called Emerald but is, confusingly, carved from jade. And don’t expect a mega-Buddha either – it’s pint-sized, albeit very beautiful. While you’re at Wat Phra Kaew pop into the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles for a look at the royal textiles over a century.
Around the corner from Wat Phra Kaew is Wat Pho, one of the oldest temples in Bangkok and home of the impressive 46-metre-long Reclining Buddha and the largest collection of Buddha images – almost 1,000 – in the country. The Lonely Planet guide cites this as their fave site in Bangkok.
Shopping is as much a part of the Thai culture as eating, so head to Chatuchak, the world’s biggest weekend market. There are more than 15,000 stalls spread over 11 hectares, so grab a map on entry (or download here) – the market is divided into sections so if you know what you want, it should be easy to find. And if furniture or large items are on your list, there are shipping agents who can help organise safe delivery. Make sure your bargaining skills are up to scratch – the prices here are excellent, but be careful buying “antiques” that may not be real.
Dining at a place called Cabbages and Condoms may sound strange, but it’s highly recommended. Profits go to the Population and Community Development Assoc, so it’s a unique way to assist with Thailand’s family planning issues and empower the locals to eradicate poverty. It’s also great Thai food, served in an attractive, fairy-lit courtyard (book to ensure a spot) and air-conditioned rooms where all the decorations are made using condoms. Yep, and every diner is given a condom with their bill, too!
Your driver will take you from the hotel to Tha Maharaja Pier for the 30 minute-boat ride to the Amita Thai Cooking Class, located in the old town of Bangkok, the city’s historic centre. On the way you’ll get to see how life has been lived for centuries along the Chao Phraya River. Tam Piyawadi Jantrupon, the owner of Amita, is a delight, showing her cooking students how to prepare food like a local after first taking them through the organic herb garden to learn about the uses and health benefits of the plants used in each dish. It’s informative, fun and ends with a delicious four-course meal. You don’t have to be a whizz in the kitchen to enjoy this, it really is for everyone. Afterwards, a car delivers you back to the hotel at around 2pm.
No undies, no bathers, just your birthday suit – that’s how you take to the waters at a Japanese onsen (hot spring), and Bangkok happens to have one of the best. A couple of hours at Let’s Relax Spa is guaranteed to get you ready for your onward journey from Bangkok as you immerse in five different springs featuring anything from micro bubbles enriched with oxygen to colour therapy. A visit to the sauna and steam room before relaxing in the Himalayan salt stone room is as incredible as it sounds – especially when combined with a Thai or oil massage. There are separate facilities for men and women, lounging clothes are supplied and the entire experience costs around $40AUD for two hours.
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