Your essential guide to Bangkok

By Mark Eveleigh

An award-winning journalist and photographer specialising in Asia, Mark Eveleigh’s writing has been published in titles including National Geographic, The New York Times and Esquire.

Find your bearings

In keeping with the traditional feel of Bangkok’s first luxury hotel that opened almost 145 years ago, the area around what was once known as ‘New Road’ is one of the most fascinating and diverse in Bangkok. A short walk away from the venerable façade of Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok is the Buddhist temple of Wat Suan Phlu, as well as the city’s burgeoning Creative District, where you’ll find the Haroon Mosque and the Assumption Cathedral (which is around 200 years old). Also here is Bang Rak quarter, at once the heartland of modern Bangkok and a kaleidoscopic pageant of street life in this most hospitable of Asian capitals.

Feed your mind

More than any hotel in the Thai capital, Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok exudes an old-world charm that makes you feel as if you’re walking arm-in-arm with former Bangkok residents, Somerset Maugham and Joseph Conrad. A major refurbishment in 2019 has brought new life to the hotel’s quarters, adding spacious suites and refreshed River Wing rooms by designer Jeffrey Wilkes, as well as updated restaurants and swimming pools. The crumbling brickwork of the Old Customs House graces the riverfront like a backdrop to The Jungle Book. Just a few metres away you’ll find the charmingly restored neoclassical heritage shopping arcades of O.P. Place Shopping Centre and O.P. Garden with their collections of antique shops, galleries, designer stores and fine tailors. Serindia Gallery in O.P. Garden has monthly exhibitions from Thai and international artists.

The Old Customs House

The faded grandeur of The Old Customs House.

Shop like a local

For venerable Thai craftsmanship, Cotton House in O.P. Place can work its tailoring magic on silk shirts, suits and dresses in just a couple of days. Guests can also take a short boat ride from the hotel to chic riverside ICONSIAM, a sprawling complex of boutiques championing Thai designers, as well as major international brand outlets. The hotel’s private boats are a scenic and convenient way to access the BTS Skytrain for other shopping districts, too.

Only in Bangkok...

“Laden with literary and historical references, the almost 145 year-old grande dame of Mandarin Oriental hotels is the definitive introduction to the majestic Chao Phraya river. A river excursion in a private long-tail boat never ceases to amaze me. Only 20 minutes away from the hotel pier towards Bangkok’s Old Town, guests will see an array of city landmarks, including The Temple of Dawn, The Grand Palace and the National Museum of Royal Barges. They can also make a stop at various public piers for a stroll among the bustling flower markets or eclectic art galleries along the way. Offered daily from the hotel, there’s no more adventurous or alluring way to discover Bangkok’s heritage in just an hour or two.”

Greg Liddell, General Manager, Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok

See some sights

Just 20 minutes away by tuk-tuk or taxi you will find the world-famous sights around The Grand Palace. The palace itself and Wat Phra Kaew (the Temple of the Emerald Buddha) are best visited shortly after opening time at 8.30am to avoid the crowds. Just around the corner at Wat Pho, however, you can enjoy a more peaceful sense of the spiritualism that is a central tenet of Thai Buddhism. Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok offers complimentary boat shuttles that connect guests with commuter boats at Sathorn Pier (a major transport hub). From here you can explore sights of the Chao Phraya River – the lifeblood of the city.

Toast your arrival

Sample the magic of some of Bangkok’s most talented mixologists at The Bamboo Bar. Opened in 1953, it has become a beloved city institution for its tipples and live jazz, making its way on to Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2019 as Thailand’s highest ever entry. Stylish, tri-level speakeasy Rabbit Hole is also nearby in the Thonglor area, offering classic cocktails behind an unsuspecting wooden door.

Make time to unwind

Make time to unwind

Spa & Wellness

The Oriental Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok offers a rejuvenating range of treatments from the ‘Digital Wellness Escape’ to customised rituals and the finest traditional Thai massage. A serene Spa Studio also offers results-driven treatments and the renowned Bastien Gonzalez Pedi:Mani:Cure. (If you want to find another way to K.O. that stress, there’s even a chance to try Muay Thai.) Beyond the hotel, a long-tail boat ride can, at times, feel more like a roller-coaster than a way to unwind, but once you reach the narrow channels of Bangkok’s ‘bayou’ neighbourhoods, you’re sure to feel your pulse slow. Here, there’s a rural lifestyle that few people seem to expect from the legendary City of Angels.

Dine in style 

With sweeping river views and delectable, contemporary French fare, it’s hard not to get swept up in the charm of Chef Arnaud Dunand-Sauthier’s two-Michelin-starred Le Normandie. Cross the river for Thai dining at Terrace Rim Naam, or a more lively affair at Sala Rim Naam, offering traditional performances every evening. A short taxi ride away, Chef ‘Ton’ of New York’s Eleven Madison Park fame reinterprets local plates using the finest seasonal ingredients at Le Du.

Le Du

Turmeric Chicken at popular resaturant Le Du.

Le Du

Le Du's dish of Compressed Watermelon.

Sala Rim Naam

Cross the river from Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok to visit Sala Rim Naam.

Terrace Rim Naam

Spectacular river views from Terrace Rim Naam.

Time travel

Built in 1876, The Oriental, now Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok has a colourful history. Famed for being the first luxury hotel in old Siam, few people realise that Jim Thompson, the colourful silk magnate (and US secret service operative), is one of its past owners. As part of the hotel’s 2019 refurbishment, designer Jeffrey Wilkes incorporated 189 of Thompson’s fabric designs.

And finally

A 20-minute stroll from the hotel, Chinatown is a labyrinth of narrow lanes dotted with converted old shophouses. It’s an enchanting place to visit, offering charming bars TEP and Ba Hao, bustling markets and delicious street food.

Bangkok’s gourmet street food

The night market

The night market in Bangkok's China Town. Photo: Martin Puddy, Getty Images

Vendors

A vendor sets out their stall. Photo: Ray Laskowitz, Getty Images

Thai barbecue

Thai barbecue dishes are among Bangkok's most popular street food. Photo: Prachanart, Getty Images

Train Night Market Ratchada

The famous Train Night Market Ratchada, Bangkok. Photo: Patrick Foto, Getty Images