BEGUILING AND BEWILDERING, subtle and brash, spiritual and sensual—Bangkok is all these and more. Once known as the Venice of the East because of its dependence on canals for transport, Bangkok today is a bustling metropolis with some of Asia’s top hotels, restaurants, and shopping centers. Though the city’s main sights are temples and palaces, what stays in the minds of most visitors are encounters with ordinary people. This is when the famous Thai smile appears, cutting across cultural boundaries to forge a genuine bond.
Author Ron Emmons Photography Dave Lauridsen
DAY TWO / Be up and out before 8 a.m. to make the most of the day. Take the skytrain to Chid Lom (changing at Siam) and walk down Lang Suan Road (parallel to Rajadamri Road) to Café Lenôtre, an excellent French bistro where you’ll enjoy melt-in-your-mouth pastries and delicious coffee. After breakfast, take a cab to Wat Benjamabophit (Marble Temple), located in the Dusit district. This is one of the few city sights that are not yet on a skytrain route but is well worth seeing for its modern Thai temple architecture. The main temple building is made of Italian marble, and its cloisters contain a fascinating display of more than 50 Buddha images in a variety of postures, each signifying a different Buddhist teaching.
Hop in a cab, or one of the noisy three-wheelers called tuk-tuks, for a ride to Vimanmek Palace around the corner. Billed as the largest golden teakwood structure in the world, this is a gloriously well-crafted royal home. There is not a single nail in the structure, which is held together with wooden pegs. It was once occupied by King Chulalongkorn, who reigned from 1868 to 1910. On guided tours, visitors can peek into 30 of the mansion’s 72 rooms that contain period furniture, including the throne room, the king’s bedroom, and the bathroom with the country’s first flushing toilet. If you like, look around other buildings.
When your stomach rumbles, take a cab back to Peninsula Plaza on Rajadamri Road next to the hotel. For lunch, go up to the attractive Provence Restaurant. Try the famous peninsula noodles with beef, served in a tasty broth, and some refreshing fruit juice. Afterward, rest in the cool tranquility of the Four Seasons until your midafternoon appointment at the hotel’s MSpa for a four-hand signature massage—sure to be a highlight of your stay.
After the spa treatment, revel in relaxation, but get to the Four Seasons’ Spice Market Thai restaurant at 6 p.m. sharp for an early dinner. Go for the Kannika Set Menu—a taste of typical Thai dishes like thom yum kung (spicy sour soup with prawns) and moo nam tok (grilled pork in spicy salad). Pair it with a delicious Monsoon Valley white wine, which is made in Thailand.
Then, take a cab south to the Joe Louis Puppet Theatre, and sit back to enjoy the 80-minute 7:30 p.m. show. The puppets, which are finely crafted and more than 3 feet tall, are manipulated by three puppeteers each, not by strings from above but by a complex set of levers from behind. The puppets act out scenes from the Ramakian, using lifelike movements.
The theater is located in the heart of the Suan Lum Night Bazaar, one of Bangkok’s best spots for souvenir shopping. After the theater, bargain for Thai silk scarves, woven bags, carvings of bamboo and wood, lacquerware, and more. There often is a Thai pop band playing in the large beer garden. When you’re ready to move on, take a cab around Lumpini Park to Brown Sugar, a quirky and cozy club that features live jazz every evening. The Four Seasons is just a few minutes’ walk away (turn right out of the club, then right again on to Rajadamri Road).