There was a time when Bangkok was little more than a giant tourist trap, filled with grubby backpacker hotels and trashy bars.
But over the past decade that has all changed, and the capital of Thailand has shrugged off its trashy reputation and emerged as one of the hippest and most cosmopolitan destinations in the world.
The seedy side of the city is still there for those who want it, but it’s now balanced with world-class restaurants, high-end shopping, hipster coffee shops and chic bars, making it the perfect choice for an affordable yet luxurious stopover.
From relaxing massages to the perfect pad thai, shopping for fashion by up-and-coming Thai designers to sipping French champagne on a rooftop, 48 hours is just the right amount of time to soak it all up – and here’s the best way to do it:
Pullman Bangkok Hotel G (Image: Supplied)
Set the right tone for your Bangkok mini-adventure by choosing a hotel that balances comfort and convenience. There are several excellent design hotels throughout the city, but the pick of the bunch is the swanky Pullman Bangkok Hotel G. It’s luxurious but well priced and boasts a terrific location right in the heart of the newly fashionable Silom neighbourhood.
There are plenty of good coffee places around here to give you a caffeinated kick-start, but the best choice is Rocket Coffeebar S.12. This incredibly popular café has a Scandinavian hipster vibe – which roughly translates to terrific coffee, tasty food (including a whole menu of open sandwiches) and a fresh, airy atmosphere.
Order the egg and bacon laden Viking Breakfast Plate if you’re feeling hungry, or a crunchy cinnamon bun if you want to ease your way into things, coupled with either a flat white or the house specialty hot cocoa, which comes as a chocolate popsicle that you swirl in a cup of warm, frothy milk until it melts.
Walk off your breakfast with a stroll along Silom Road, which is filled with little shops and markets, until you reach Lumpini Park. This oasis of green in the midst of the city is popular with joggers and cyclists, and the perfect place to shake off any lingering jet lag and soak up some vitamin D.
Baan Phadthai Bangkok (Image: Supplied)
After a wander in the park, go back down Silom Road until you reach the river and head to the newly-opened Baan Phadthai for a noodle lunch. They specialise in one dish (no prizes for guessing it’s Pad Thai) and believe us when we say it tastes nothing like the sticky, heavy version churned out by your local Thai restaurant at home. Here, the silky noodles are fresh and topped with high quality ingredients cooked to order. Go classic with grilled chicken or step things up a bit with the luscious grilled blue river prawn.
Or if you’d prefer to sample some of Thailand’s famous street food, head to Or Tor Kor markets. Located close to the famous – and enormous – Chatuchak Markets (which are worth a visit if you’re in Bangkok over the weekend), this fresh food market is considered one of the best in the world.
Or Tor Kor features rows of stalls offering everything from jewel-coloured tropical fruit to silvery mounds of just-caught fish and it’s a fun place to explore. But the real prize is the food court, a collection of stalls where you can buy generous plates of freshly made chicken satay, roast duck with handmade noodles or wanton soup with thin slices of pork for less than $AU5.
Myth Massage Bangkok (Image: Supplied)
After a busy morning of eating and walking, treat yourself to a spot of pampering. There’s no shortage of massage shops throughout the city, but if you want to be guaranteed a good experience head to either Myth Massage or Health Land Sathorn (part of the popular city-wide Health Land chain). Both are located a short distance from the hotel and offer extensive menus of treatments, from traditional Thai massage to oil massages and Ayurvedic treatments. It’s not as cheap as you’ll find it elsewhere but the value is excellent.
Issaya Siamese Club Bangkok (Image: Supplied)
For a special evening out try Issaya Siamese Club, a modern Thai restaurant located in a stunning restored 100-year-old villa and home to local celebrity chef Ian Kittichai (who began his career, many years ago, working in Sydney restaurants). Start off with a pre-dinner cocktail in the garden then feast on some of Kittichai’s signature dishes including his unusual take on Mussuman Curry made with lamb shank and the delicate Jasmine Flower Flan.
After dinner, drift upstairs to the “club” part of Issaya (which is more like a relaxed cocktail bar) or head back to the hotel for a nightcap on the terrace of the Scarlett Wine Bar, located up on the 37th floor and popular with locals looking for a stylish late night environment.
Vast shopping centres are popular in Bangkok, and one of the best ones to visit is EmQuartier. It features a 40m high waterfall (just what you need in a shopping centre) plus several food courts, a roof garden and cinema, and a whole host of retail options ranging from high end labels like Chanel to high street chains including Zara. But the jewel in the EmQuartier crown is the Quarator area, an entire floor devoted exclusively to Thai designers. If you need a break, pop into the Soda Urban Nomads store and head to the secret Love Bar tucked away at the back of the shop, where you can take five and enjoy a cheese plate or fresh juice.
Love Bar at EmQuartier Bangkok (Image: Supplied)
For an authentic and delicious lunch without too many bells and whistles catch a taxi over to Krua Apsorn in the Dusit district, a casual eatery serving up some of the best food in the city. It’s always packed with locals tucking into their signature dish: crab with yellow peppers and green beans, which is a must for seafood lovers. The curries, salads and omelettes on the menu are also excellent and incredibly well priced.
Work off your lunch with some sightseeing: the Grand Palace, National Gallery and various temples are all within walking distance (or a short taxi ride) and well worth a visit, if you’re looking for a cultural afternoon. If you only have the stamina for one, pick the Grand Palace, a spectacular series of buildings now only used by the royal family for ceremonial occasions but filled with treasures that are a reminder of the long and venerable history of the Thai monarchy (who should referred to at all times with utmost respect to avoid offending locals in any way).
After popping back to the hotel for a quick catnap and change of clothes, head across the river to The Never Ending Summer for a memorable dinner. The venue is a plant-filled former warehouse space with water views and a cool vibe, and the food is a fresh and modern take on traditional Thai cuisine, with an emphasis on sharing options. Snag a table out on the deck, with its canopy of fairy lights and views of the river, if you can.
CRU Champagne Bar, Bangkok (Image: Supplied)
10pmThen finish your two days in Bangkok on a high with a glass of bubbly at CRU Champagne Bar. This rooftop bar, which boasts the charming but baffling dress code of “bubbly smooth”, feels like something out of a James Bond film and offers dramatic views across the city.