48 HOURS IN...

Bangkok, Thailand

From the mayhem of Khao San Road to the tranquillity of Wat Pho, Thailand's capital is one of extremes - and the more breathtaking for it

Click here for 48 Hours In... Bangkok map

WHY GO NOW?

The Thai capital has enjoyed a remarkable makeover, which has elevated it to the Asian stopover premier league along with Hong Kong and Singapore. And at this time of year, the city enjoys its most pleasant weather.

TOUCH DOWN

British Airways, Eva Air, Qantas and Thai fly non-stop from Heathrow to Bangkok. There are also dozens of connections via Europe, the Gulf and Asia. Fares are available from £465 return through www.opodo.co.uk.

Bangkok's shiny new airport is 25km east of the city centre. A metered taxi to the centre can cost as little as 500 baht (£7.50) and take as little as half-an-hour. If you fly in on a weekday at dawn, however, it is probably better to catch a local bus from outside the terminal to On Nut station, where the SkyTrain (elevated railway) begins. This journey will cost no more than 100 baht (£1.50) in total, and will allow you to speed over the traffic jams.

GET YOUR BEARINGS

Bangkok is a large and complicated city of seven million souls, but most places of interest to tourists are within a fairly manageable area on the east side of the Chao Phraya River. The Old City occupies a bulge of land, with Chinatown to the south and Dusit to the north. Many of the leading hotels are to the south-east in the Silom area. The main traffic-clogged arteries are the spines to which numbered lanes, orsois, are attached.

Transport options include tuk-tuks (motorised three-wheelers, resembling a cross between a Reliant Robin and a bus shelter, for which you negotiate a fare) and metered taxis, but in the morning and evening rush (7-10am and 4-7pm) the streets are gridlocked. At such times, motorcycle taxis come into their own, though it is safer to rely on the excellent SkyTrain and the new MRT underground railway. Fares are low (typically 25 baht/£0.40 for a short trip); you buy a ticket from a machine, though staff are on hand to change notes and offer advice.

CHECK IN

Backpackers congregate in cheap digs along Khao San Road (1), but it is well worth investing a little more cash and time to reach Reflections (2) at 81 Soi Ari (00 66 2 270 3344; www.reflections-thai.com). Each of the 30 rooms in this beautiful art hotel has been created by a different designer. It is a long way north of the centre, which explains its low rate of 2,850 baht (£43) including breakfast, yet is only 200m from Ari SkyTrain station.

Closer to the action, Dream Bangkok (3) at 10 Sukhumvit Soi 15 (00 66 2 254 8500; www.dreambkk.com) emulates its Manhattan twin, with a dazzlingly chic foyer, an ultra-cool bar and rooms that have something of a spaceship feel. A standard double costs US$164 (£91) including breakfast.

Good deals are available at the classy Chateau De Bangkok (4), which has an excellent location at 29 Soi Ruamrudee 1 (00 66 2 651 4400; www.accor.com) and rates as low as US$83 (£46) for a double, excluding breakfast.

TAKE A HIKE...

... through a cultural phenomenon. Start at the striking Democracy Monument (5), rather lost in a swirl of traffic, and aim west and a touch north to the start of the Khao San Road (1). This is the strangest thoroughfare in Asia: in a street barely 500m long, you can go online, get a massage or a tattoo, buy a fake student card or driving licence, drink at Starbucks, eat a Big Mac, and drink beer at one of a dozen bars pumping out Bob Marley tunes. For a full appreciation of the nuances, visit early in the morning; after dark, the place is full of drunk gap-year travellers.

As an antidote, continue through the grounds of the Victory Temple (6) and make your way to the riverside Santichaiprakan Park (7) - location for the last lamphu tree in this area, which was named Banglamphu because of the erstwhile profusion of them.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

In Bangkok, the edge of the road isn't a kerb - it's a kitchen. Every meal you eat in the city should be a joy, starting with steaming noodle soup from one makeshift street stall and fresh tropical fruit from another, for a total of 60 baht (£0.85) or less. Dining opportunities like these crop up every 10 metres or so on busy roads, even amid the Western mayhem of Khao San Road.

For something more structured, a good choice popular with locals and tourists is Yong Lee (8), a Chinese-run place that opens out on the corner of Sukhumvit Road and Soi 15.

WINDOW SHOPPING

Bangkok is basically one big shop. Street vendors set up store on all the main thoroughfares, with highly negotiable prices. The city also has some spectacular malls, filled with designer stores whose prices are often significantly lower than in Britain - especially with the relative strength of sterling. A good place to glimpse all the glitter is the aptly named Emporium (9) on Sukhumvit Road.

A WALK IN THE PARK

Adjacent to the Emporium mall is the pocket-sized Benjasiri Park (10), where you can escape the slipstream of this high-velocity capital and admire some dramatic sculptures.

AN APERITIF

Alfresco and altitude converge in Bangkok. At Vertigo, 200m above the city streets on the top of the Banyan Tree Hotel (11) at 21/100 South Sathon Road (open 5pm-1am daily, weather permitting; 00 66 2 679 1200), you can sip a Singha beer or a Vertigo cocktail while the sun slinks off through the smog. The dress code is smart casual, or they won't even let you into the lift.

DINING WITH THE LOCALS

Head across town to dine in the stars on the top floor of the State Tower (12), on the corner of Silom Road and Charoen Krung. The menu at the Sirocco (00 66 2 624 9555) is "international" (lots of non-native dishes such as salmon) and the prices relatively high (especially if you opt for wine rather than local beer), but the exhilaration of fine open-air dining on the 63rd floor is unbeatable.

SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH

Out of the hundreds of Buddhist temples, or wats, that are scattered around Bangkok, you should single out Wat Pho (13), the oldest and vastest in the city. The temple (open 8am-5pm daily, admission 50 baht/ £0.75; 00 66 2 225 9595; www.watpho.com) is a labyrinth of 35 structures - one of which is the 43m-long reclining Buddha that signifies his passing into Nirvana. "Tourists must be in polite dress, no shorts," you are warned. Wat Pho is also a centre for traditional Thai massage; you can indulge for 250 baht (£4) for an hour, or learn massage yourself.

TAKE A RIDE

... on the river. The Chao Phraya River Express is a high-frequency ferry that provides a perfect antidote to the crowded city streets - and good views of the city. Fast and frequent ferries shuttle up and down the river, at low fares. From the Tha Tien pier (14), serving Wat Pho, to The Oriental Hotel (15) costs 15 baht (£0.20).

OUT TO BRUNCH

The Oriental Hotel (15) at 48 Oriental Avenue (00 66 2 659 9000; www.mandarinoriental.com) is one of Asia's classic hotels. Make sure you seek out the 19th-century original amid the more modern wings, and explore the travel memorabilia decorating its elegant walls. Then make a selection from the classy Thai dishes on offer at The Verandah to create a bespoke brunch.

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

The Grand Palace (16), perched close to the river (and accessible from the Royal Pier) on Na Phra Lan Road, was the official residence of Thai kings for nearly two centuries until 1946. A couple of hours wandering through the gilt-edged splendour of temples and chambers will leave you dazed and amazed. It opens 8.30am-3.30pm daily, admission 250 baht (£4).

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

Go on, have another excellent Thai meal in lovely surroundings - and do the world a favour at the same time. The secret is to eat at Cabbages and Condoms (17) 6 Sukhumvit Soi 12 (00 66 2 229 4611; www.cabbagesandcondoms.co.th), which is run by a charity that helps Thailand's rural poor.

Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    Day In a Page

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate