Bangkok, the heaving heartbeat of Thailand from which one travels to a choice of sensational beaches and island idylls, is always one's first stop in Thailand. With more than 14 million people living in and around the capital, it is buzzing with bars, shopping malls and cultural wonders. A boat ride on the city's Chao Phraya River is a wonderful way to while away a day, and from its banks bursts forth this hedonistic metropolis that also has a chic, eclectic and very luxurious side that is rife for exploration.
The markets and bazaars of Bangkok are bountiful. Whether you are after flying fish or fresh flowers, silk or sneakers, you'll find it on this city's streets. Chatuchak Weekend Market is considered to be the biggest of them all, while ThaiCraft at Sukhumvit is a market that occurs twice a month, offering a wonderful introduction to the work of local artisans. For bespoke furniture, P Tendercool
is the hip kid on the block. Here, the creations of Bangkok-based Belgian designers Pieter Compernol and Stephanie Grusenmeyer guarantee something unique for the home. If you want a break from the searing heat, the top-notch shopping (and air conditioning) of the newly opened Siam Discovery shopping mall will delight. Find contemporary Thai and international labels all under one glass atrium. Its a civilised and tranquil contrast to the hustle and bustle outside.
Hot and often overwhelming, South-East Asian cities might not top your list of holiday spots as a family, but Bangkok is sensational for children. The cultural offerings are unlike anything they will have seen before, from the eye-catching Emerald Buddha sitting inside Wat Phra Kaew to the gargantuan gold Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho. Top that with riverboat rides and amazing food - Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok's Riverside Terrace has a fabulous international buffet, offering Indian tandoori, seafood and an enormous dessert station - and youve given them memories for life. The hotel's babysitting services mean you can enjoy a date night of your own, while, by day, little ones will adore the Sanook Sanook kids club, which caters for children aged 3-14 with an array of arts and crafts, all supervised by highly qualified staff. And if you do bite the bullet and travel with small babies, Mandarin Oriental can arrange in-room essentials such as cribs, sterilisers and baby bathtubs. If the heat gets too much, head inside to KidZania at the Siam Paragon shopping mall. Kids can easily lose a day in the replica city, developing their fireman, policeman or even sushi-making skills. Also in Siam Paragon is the Bangkok Sea Life Ocean World. Catch the feeding time action when the aquariums divers enter the tanks with the sharks and eagle rays.
Although located in the centre of town, Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok is a peaceful oasis. Perched along the banks of the Chao Phraya River, you are a leisurely boat ride away from the magnificant Grand Palace and a short walk to the fantastic Skytrain, for easy access across this vast urban dwelling without tackling the challenging traffic. Stay on top of your fitness in either of the hotel's two outdoor pools or on the tennis court, or try Thai boxing in the new training room. For total relaxation, check into the hotel's Oriental Spa. Need to recover from a long-haul flight? Any one of the 10 calm treatment rooms makes the perfect retreat for a specialist Jetlag massage, devised to combat dehydration and fatigue. Or try the Oriental Organic Journey and you'll find out why this spa has earned so many accolades. A body scrub, hair treatment, steam, massage and shower rolled into one, this delectable two-and-a-half-hour experience will leave you refreshed and renewed.
Mandarin Oriental has no less than nine culinary offerings. For traditional Thai food that would please any local, there's Sala Rim Naam, which is idyllically located across the river. The interior is a feast for the eyes, designed as an ornate pavilion in Northern Thai style, while the food is, well, quite literally a feast. Authentic Thai dance is performed nightly, to be enjoyed alongside punchy local dishes; how hot you go, however, is entirely up to you. If you prefer an a la carte offering with views, the neighbouring Terrace Rim Naam is a wonderful alfresco alternative; the massaman neua (beef curry) comes highly recommended. If you are inspired by Mandarin Oriental's cuisine, book a course of a day or more at the hotel's renowned Thai Cooking School, where you can learn all the skills you could possibly need to continue enjoying authentic Thai cuisine at home. For those who want to step outside the hotel for a meal, local favourites include Eat Me, which serves both international and regional dishes, and NamSaah Bottling Trust, a self-described Asian 'gastrobar', where you can dine and then wine the night away. Its especially adored for its cocktail selection. Fans of inventive French cuisine should order the tasting menu at the Bangkok outlet of L'Atelier de Jokl Robuchon from the eponymous, revered chef. Sit around the high bar that surrounds the kitchen.
If you hit the big city without tots in tow and you want to scratch under the surface of its notorious bar scene, Maggie Choo's is a must. You'll be welcomed by nothing more than a small wooden door as an entrance. Once inside, you'll find yourself transported to 1930s Prohibition era Shanghai. From the same designer, Sing Sing is a bar-cum-club with kicking Cuba Libres. If you want something more refined, don't forget the elegant and legendary Bamboo Bar at Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok. It has live jazz daily and an innovative cocktail list.