Meera Dattani champions the case for spending a few days in the Thai capital
Bangkok is much more than just a transit town. If you’ve been used to regarding it as an airport with a city attached, think again. Skipping the Thai capital means clients will miss out on one of southeast Asia’s most exciting cities – and this is coming from a fifth-time visitor.
It’s a bold, colourful metropolis where world-renowned restaurants, shiny malls and weekend markets sit alongside peaceful Buddhist temples and ornate royal palaces. Floating markets, historic towns and national parks offer day-trip opportunities too, making it the perfect stopover – or more – en route to Thailand’s beaches or further afield.
WHERE TO STAY
Save: One thing Bangkok has plenty of is choice, with an abundance of good-value, high-standard accommodation. The contemporary, 396-room Chatrium Hotel Riverside Bangkok – with three restaurants, two bars, an infinity-style pool and Nemita Spa – is a good choice by Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River. For flexibility and value for money, consider serviced apartments – Ascott Limited operates three brands in Bangkok (Ascott The Residence, Citadines Apart’hotel and Somerset Serviced Residence), all commissionable to agents.
For a trendy option near the lively road Thanon Sukhumvit, try Aloft Bangkok, part of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, with its rooftop pool, restaurant, 24-hour cafe and cocktail bar.
Spend: Boutique is big in Bangkok. Late 2012 saw the opening of the Riva Surya, a 68-room property with pool, terrace and dining area overlooking the river and high-spec rooms with flatscreen TV, iPod docking station and free Wi-Fi. If you’re looking for historic hotels, Secret Retreats offers Chakrabongse Villas, an original 1900s riverside house and the Indochina-inspired eight-room Cabochon Hotel, which opened in spring 2012, tucked away on a quiet soi (alley) off busy Thanon Sukhumvit.
Splurge: With cash to splash, options are infinite. The luxury, 39-suite riverside resort The Siam opened last June, featuring Bangkok’s first pool villas, infinity pool and chemical-free Opium Spa. Other high-end riverside hotels include the newly rebranded Anantara Bangkok Riverside Resort & Spa, which has the only restaurant in the city serving Pacific Rim cuisine. In the city centre and on the Skytrain route is the Sofitel So Bangkok, a five-star design hotel with a rooftop pool and bar.
Other newcomers include the Oriental Residence Bangkok – which has 145 luxury serviced apartments, popular Cafe Claire, Mandopop Chinese restaurant and fourth-floor Play Deck with gym, pool and bar – and the Siam Kempinski Bangkok, a resort hotel with tropical gardens and saltwater pools by Siam Paragon mall, which remains a favourite.
New to the city this year are the Bangkok Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit in the up-and-coming Thonglor area, the 407-room W Bangkok in the lively Silom district and the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Sukhumvit, which has a rooftop infinity pool.
WHAT TO DO
There’s much to soak up in Thailand’s capital city and the Skytrain, metro, taxis and long-tailed boats make Bangkok easier than it seems to get around.
Most visitors start by the Chao Phraya River to see the spectacular Thai architecture, murals and revered Emerald Buddha statue of the Grand Palace temple complex, while Wat Po and Wat Arun temples also wow visitors. Clients can also enjoy traditional massages inside Wat Po.
The river is Bangkok’s lifeblood. Dinner cruises and river boat trips along the canals or to the floating market across the river in Thonburi (‘old’ Bangkok) offer a scenic perspective on the city. For shopping fixes, Siam Square and malls such as Terminal 21, MBK and Siam Paragon, the riverfront shopping complex Asiatique and famous Chatuchak (also called JJ) weekend market offer many a spending opportunity.
There are lots of alternative ways to experience Bangkok. Agents can earn commission on Intrepid Travel’s Urban Adventures, which uses clued-up local guides on tour on foot, by bicycle or tuk-tuk. I sampled Chinatown Food Discovery (from £38), enjoying a walk past chaotic and colourful market stalls, traditional Chinese apothecaries and Pak Khlong’s wonderful flower market.
Do Something Different offers a range of excursions, from dinner cruises and canal trips on rice barges to cooking classes, Muay Thai boxing matches and tours to the Grand Palace and temples.
Bangkok is also a good base for the surrounding region. An early start is on the cards to soak up the atmosphere of Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, where locals sail along narrow canals, selling their fruits, vegetables and other wares from the water.
Also worth visiting is pretty river town Kanchanaburi, a jumping-off point for the bridge on the River Kwai, the ‘death railway’ built during the Second World War and the Allied War Cemetery. Attraction World offers excursions to both, from £29 and £46 respectively.
Kanchanaburi is also a good base for rafting and trekking, and for visiting Erawan National Park’s famous waterfall.
Clients could head for the temples and ruins of Ayutthaya, a Unesco World Heritage Site and former ancient capital of Thailand, or the less well-known but lush, coconut palm-clad landscape around Samut Songkhram or Mae Klong town, an hour’s drive south of Bangkok, known for Tha Kha and Amphawa floating markets and hundreds of historic canals. Two hours northeast of Bangkok is Khao Yai National Park, a chance to see birdlife, gibbons and wild elephants or explore the flourishing vineyards of the Khao Yai wine region.
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