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 THREE / If you’re an early riser, throw on a pair of shorts and head down to Lumpini Park, Bangkok’s only downtown green space, for an early morning walk or jog. If you want to sleep in, do so; all of today’s destinations are near the hotel. Then turn right out of the Four Seasons and enter the Grand Hyatt Erawan
Bangkok to sample breakfast in The Dining Room. Afterward, turn right again to the sight of the 2 Erawan Shrine, located at one of the city’s busiest crossroads. Surrounded by designer boutiques and converging lines of the skytrain, the shrine is an island of spirituality in a sea of commerce. At any time of day, the tiny square is crowded with people making floral offerings. The image in the shrine is believed to have the power to cure ill health, bring success in exams, and secure a promotion at work.
Walk back to the skytrain station at Rajadamri or Chid Lom, and go to the National Stadium. Follow signs down a quiet lane to Jim Thompson’s House, one of the finest examples of traditional Thai architecture in the country. Thompson was an American who revived the Thai silk industry after World War II, created a collection of priceless Asian antiques, and then disappeared mysteriously in Malaysia in 1967. After your tour, browse silk products in the gift shop.
Continue the shopping spree a short walk away at Siam Square. The lanes and alleys are jam-packed with boutiques, bakeries, opticians, and fast-food outlets. When you feel the heat, head for the Food Hall on the ground floor of Siam Paragon Shopping Center.
Buy a food coupon (about 200 baht per person should do); then nose around the stalls that sell typical Thai street food.
Shop after lunch if the itch isn’t cured yet. The upper floors of Siam Paragon are favorites of Bangkok’s fickle shoppers. Three other malls also border Siam Square. Just be back at the hotel to put your feet up for a while before heading out for a big night on the town.
By 5 p.m., take the skytrain to Saphan Taksin, and then walk a block north to the State Tower. Take the lift to the Sky Bar on the 63rd floor and enjoy a cocktail “sundowner” as you take in a dizzying view of the city switching on for the night.
When you’re hungry, head back down to earth and take the skytrain from Saphan Taksin to Phrom Phong station. Walk back two blocks east to Mahanaga, tucked around the corner on Soi 29. This is one of the city’s most romantic settings, with seating in a leafy garden or in an air-conditioned interior with dim lights and deep-red drapes. The menu is a mix of traditional Thai and fusion food. Try the crispy duck spring rolls and pan-fried salmon in a mild red curry.
Linger over dessert and coffee; then go by skytrain to Nana station and stroll down Soi 11 to Bed Supperclub, a nightclub that looks like a spaceship, with a bar and dance floor on one side and a restaurant on the other. As the club’s name suggests, guests lounge on beds chatting between drinking and dancing. If it feels as if the spaceship has left the ground as the night wears on, it’s probably just the effect of three perfect days in Bangkok. u Ron Emmons is a regular contributor to HEMISPHERES from his base in Thailand. His new guide, Top 10 Bangkok from DK Eyewitness, appears in July.
You couldn’t pick a better time to visit Bangkok than January when Thailand’s trademark humidity is subdued. Highs still top out near 90 degrees, but mornings are in the upper 60s or low 70s. The rainy season runs June through October. During spring, Thailand’s pre-monsoon “hot” season sets in. Highs rocket well into the 90s or low 100s.
The skytrain is the most convenient way to get around the city center. The new subway is another way to beat traffic. Express boats offer regular service during daylight. Cabs charge a start fee of 35 baht. Tuk-tuks are a fun way to get around and are cheaper than taxis, but they leave you exposed to heat and pollution. Negotiate a price before getting onboard.
A Dusit Zoo Kids can see elephants and tigers, pedal a boat, and eat ice cream.
B Siam Ocean World (www.siamoceanworld.com) This new attraction features glass bottomed–boat rides, touch tanks, and tunnels where sharks glide overhead.
C Children’s Discovery Museum (bkkchildren museum.com) This museum offers enough hands-on exhibits, animals, and games to keep kids busy all day.
D Snake Farm See many of Thailand’s snakes having their venom extracted.
E Safari World (safariworld.com) This park is divided into a drive-through safari park and a marine park.