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An Insider’s Guide to Bangkok

Equal parts vivacious, soulful, confounding and fickle, Bangkok continues to set pace with its amazing dining, shopping and good old-fashioned spa-ing.

But as any first timer soon discovers, this 24-hour city can quickly overwhelm with it seemingly constant gridlocked traffic, hustle and noise. Here are some recommendations on how to get the most out of the city, while keeping your calm.

The Siam

Ensconse yourself away from the madding crowds at ultra-luxe riverside haven The Siam. Just 28 suites and 11 pool villas exude a mod-retro deco vibe, furnished with antiques, art and collectibles hand picked from the owner’s collection. There are butlers on tap, a dinky riverside pool, antiquey bar, traditional teak Chon Thai restaurant – plus a Muay Thai gym to work off those calories the next day.

River cruising

Hands down, the best way to explore Bangkok is via its river – a cruise along the meandering Chao Phraya affords eye-popping glimpses of working boats, glittering temples and everyday life bankside. Take the BTS skytrain to Saphan Taksin pier and hop on the regular Chao Phraya Express Boat (not the pricier tourist boat) either to Grand Palace (pier 9, Tha Chang) or Banglamphu (pier 13, Phra Athit). Even more fun are speedy, low-rise longtail boats; dodge those offering tours and rent one by the hour to zip up the backwaters.

Chinatown Amble

Post river trip, hop off at River City Pier and prepare for some foot action with a walk around  Chinatown. This frenetic, commercial district clustered around Charoenkrung Rd is tops for street life and art, antiques and fauxtiques – plus its captivating narrow back sois are surprisingly pedestrian friendly. Starting at River City Shopping Complex, follow signposts for the China Town Walking Street Tour, an easy amble that has you strolling past the C.18th Portuguese-built Holy Rosary Church, colonial period archi and narrow, teeming alleyways.

Almeta Silk

Interconnecting sois Sukhumvit 23 and 31 (also known as Soi Sawasdee) are a one-stop shopping destination, home to a slew of homegrown interior and fashion design stalwarts. Standout on soi 23 is the fabulous Almeta Silk, (20/3 Sukhumvit Soi 23), which shelves beautiful flowing fabrics in countless colours bought by the metre, hand-woven to order or transformed into cushions/curtains. They also shelve a natty array of gorgeous wraps, loungewear and accessories that fit perfectly into carry-on.

The Oasis Spa

Even the most robust of visitors can get overwhelmed by the noise, heat and buzz of Bangkok but thankfully, this is Thailand and there are spas aplenty to counter the chaos. Occupying a mod Siamese villa with pretty garden outlook, The Oasis Spa offers Thai, Lanna and Ayurvedic massages, including the signature two therapist, four-hander. If you have time, there’s also body scrubs and wraps, foot rubs and facials with trad herbs, plus Jacuzzi and steam. Oh, go on…

Issaya Siamese Club

If you’ve planned weeks, if not months ahead, you’ll have either pre-booked a pool-side perch at Nahm, David Thompson’s superlative Thai fine-diner or nabbed a coveted spot at Anand Gaggan’s molecular Indian marvel Gaggan. And while these multi-gonged restos are deserved of your patronage, so is the gorgeous Issaya Siamese Club. This lovely early C20th garden villa furnished in bright Thai textiles is a tad off the main Suk-Silom grid, but it’s well worth the schlep to experience Ian Kittichai’s richly flavoured renditions of traditional recipes.. Linger for post-prandial drinks in the upstairs lounge. Rumour has it a certain Mr Beckham ate there recently…

Q&A Bar    

Bangkok’s bar scene has undergone a massive transformation in recent years. Where once there was little choice but muzak-playing hotel lobbies, dive bars and those with a ‘show’ there is now a diverse and stylish offering – from the Ash Sutton empire of Iron FairiesMaggie Choo’s and Sing Sing to quirky gin bar Teens of Thailand or swish rooftop stunner Vogue Lounge. But it’s a dark alley in minimart-studded North Asoke that’s home to the city’s most sophisticated secret sipper, Q&A Bar. Just 10 counter seats line this narrow, dim-lit 20s-style imbiber, pouring grown-up libations to a (mandatory) well-dressed clientele.

Krua Apsorn

Until recently, Bangkok’s street food was reason alone to visit the Thai capital – but with recent government crack downs, open-air food stalls are slowly disappearing. Street-food fans can instead seek out shophouse eateries, that straddle the line between street stall and restaurant and serve real-deal flavours for you to get your chilli kick. Krua Apsorn is revered by local foodies for its finely tuned renditions of central Thai standards. Started by a former cook for a member of the royal family, it’s decor might veer cafeteria-meets-granny’s sitting room, but it remains packed at lunchtimes. Must-try dishes include the crab omelette and stir-fried crab with long beans. Although Krua Apsorn boasts several branches, the original in Dusit is the best.

Chatuchak Market    

There’s no air con, it’s hot and sticky, but it’s oh-so worth it. Chatuchak, the sprawling outdoor market in north Bangkok is utterly intimidating to the novice, so do not enter at any old place as many have never been seen again. Save the taxi for taking home your loot and take the MRT to Kamphaeng Phet instead – the station is in the market. Beeline for Sections 2 & 3 (indie fashion), Section 26 (antiques, fabrics, gemstones and ethnic bobs), Section 7 (contempo art, boho lifestyle and cafes), and Section 8 for artisan crafts. DO NOT venture into the centre section for that is where madness lies. Be in by 9.30am and out by noon latest.

The original version of this article was written by LUXE for Buro 24/7.

For more Big Mango tips and insights, nab a copy of the LUXE Bangkok guide…

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