If Bangkok has a ‘centre’, the Siam area of Bangkok is probably it. Siam’s transformation over the past 10 years has led to the addition of über-trendy lifestyle malls, such as the Siam Center. One of the first malls in Bangkok, the Siam Center has been completely revamped to become an ear-popping, eye-turning celebration of hip. There’s no shortage of food and beverage hangouts and places to sit and marvel at Asian consumer culture at its best.
For arts and crafts, there are numerous galleries, art venues and handicraft shops among the back lanes and side streets, all the way from Phra Athit Road in Rattanakosin, south through Chinatown to Charoen Krung Road and down to the riverside. Among the myriad discoveries is P Tendercool on Soi Charoen Krung 30. The Belgian-Thai furniture company is housed in old warehouses where they create impressive hardwood teak and makha wood tables using sleeping planks formerly used in Vietnam and Cambodia as beds.
Once referred to as the Venice of the East, Bangkok’s extensive network of canals means you can make the most of the water when you go sightseeing, avoiding the hectic traffic. The boat ride from Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok to the Grand Palace along the Chao Phraya River is only 15 minutes. Within the complex there are more than 100 buildings and temples, including Wat Phra Kaew, home to the spectacular Emerald Buddha. A visit to Wat Pho, the oldest and largest Buddhist temple in Bangkok, is also rewarding. Dating from the 16th century, it is famed for its 15 metre-high, 46 metre-long reclining Buddha. The National Museum in the Rattanakosin area, meanwhile, represents the definitive accumulation of historical Thai culture.
Or for something more contemporary, head inland along Sathorn Road to Sathorn Soi 12. Here you’ll find H Gallery, one of Asia’s leading venues for regional and international art. Its exhibitions are organised or curated by Brian Curtin, an Irish-born fine art expert.
A treatment at The Oriental Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok is a must for any spa lover. In a beautiful teak house across the river from the hotel, you can try a traditional Thai massage, or go on a signature Oriental Organic Journey. The latter includes a full body scrub of coconut, green beans and jasmine rice; a herbal hair treatment, and a massage with rice milk cream.
In the Ploenchit part of town, on Soi Ruamrudee, Hyde & Seek gastro bar offers dishes from Asia, Europe and North America, and signatures from chef Ian Kittichai’s restaurants in Barcelona and New York. The relaxed atmosphere at night is defined by DJs playing chillout sounds, while the indoor seats around the bar and the large outdoor area with lots of greenery provide different spots to kick back and people watch, from 11am until past midnight. Or for an authentic Thai buffet lunch or set dinner, try Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok’s Sala Rim Naam, idyllically located with a terrace and pavilion on the opposite bank of the river. Delicious highlights include steamed Thai dumplings and spiced seafood salad.
One of the biggest transformations in Bangkok in recent years is the continuous rise of Sukhumvit Soi 11, a busy street where you only have to step indoors for a multitude of elegant bar and dining options. Above Eleven is a rooftop bar and restaurant on the 33rd floor of the Fraser Suites Sukhumvit. Inspired by urban parks, key features include custom-designed trees and a maze in the entrance area. Bed Supper Club is still the focal point of nightlife at Soi 11, hosting guest DJs, parties and events in its white room and bar. Such is its popularity that numerous other venues have opened around it, including bistro bar Oskar, a great place to meet friends before heading to the club. Unique to Sukhumvit Soi 11 are all the Volkswagen dormobiles that function as roadside bars along the street and stay open until dawn.
Bangkok’s nightclub, bar and dining scene is evolving rapidly, so there are many cool discoveries to be made. As the natural light fades and the lights go on, the whole Chao Phraya River comes alive with vessels and is a delight to behold. Overlooking the water and majestic Wat Arun, and located beside Wat Pho, The Deck by the River at the Arun Residence is the ideal spot to chill with a cool cocktail before dinner.
A visit to Asiatique after dark is also highly recommended. Popular with international visitors and Thais alike, this 29-acre former trading port and warehouse site of the East Asiatic Company – a giant of international trade in colonial times – is now a remarkable riverside destination of boutiques, cheerful restaurants and entertainment outlets. Throughout Asiatique, history is preserved in the form of huge cast-iron anchors, goods train tramlines, and cast-iron replicas of coolies at work and man-pulled trishaws, all perpetuating a sense of time and place. Located a short trip downriver from Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok, the best way to arrive or depart is by boat.