48 Hours In: Bangkok

In association with Emirates

Full of golden palaces, teeming markets and fabulous food, the Thai capital is a popular destination for budget travellers. But Bangkok can also boast some stunning five-star hotels. David Leck explores.

WHY GO NOW?

Between now and April, Bangkok enjoys its most pleasant weather. The oppressive humidity and monsoon rains have passed, giving way to clear skies and pleasantly hot days in this exotic yet accessible city.

TOUCH DOWN

Thai Airways (0870 606 0911; www.thaiairways.com), British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com), Eva Air (020-7380 8300; www.evaair.com) and Qantas (0845 774 7767; www.qantas.com) all fly non-stop from Heathrow to Bangkok; Phuket Air (0870 774 5450; www.phuketairlines.com) flies from Gatwick. Emirates (0870 243 2222; www.emirates.com) flies from a number of UK cities, with a change of plane in Dubai. From Bangkok's Don Muang airport, 20km north of the city centre, the easiest way into town is by metered taxi. Including road tolls, you will pay around 350 baht (£5).

GET YOUR BEARINGS

Bangkok is a chaotic, sprawling city of seven million souls, and is confusing for the first-time visitor. It straddles the Chao Phraya river and is divided into five districts: Thonburi, Old City, Chinatown, Downtown and Dusit. Two of the city's must-see attractions ­ the superb temple, Wat Pho (1) and the breathtaking Grand Palace (2) ­ are in the Old City while Dusit is home to Bangkok's largest green space, the city zoo and the golden teak structure of Vimanmek Mansion (3). Downtown features Silom Road (Bangkok's commercial heart), Patpong (its biggest night market), the Oriental Hotel (4) and Jim Thompson's House (5). Wat Arun (6) is across the river in Thonburi. The best ways to get around are on the impressively efficient Skytrain public transport network and the city's brand new Subway system. Fares start at around 15 baht (20p).

CHECK IN

Bangkok accommodation ranges from the cheap backpacker haunts of the Khao San Road to some of the world's finest five-star residences. The best in the latter category is the Oriental Hotel (4), beside the river at 48 Oriental Avenue (00 66 2659 9000; www.mandarinoriental.com). Superior river wing rooms cost $330 (£184); to push the boat out, stay in the authors' suite (frequented by Joseph Conrad, Noel Coward and the like) for $950 (£529). An excellent alternative at the other end of the scale is the Bel-Aire Princess (7) at 16 Sukhumvit Soi 5 (00 66 2253 4300; www.royalprincess.com) which has superior rooms at 2,707 baht (£41) with breakfast.

TAKE A RIDE

The Chao Phraya Tourist Boat (00 66 2623 6001; www.chaophrayaboat.com) is one of the easiest ways of visiting many of Bangkok's sights. A one-day pass with unlimited stops costs 75 baht (£1). Take the tourist boat from Sathorn pier (8) (Saphan Taksin Skytrain stop). Get off at Pier 9, Tha Tien (9), and take a second boat (20 baht/30p) to Wat Arun (6). Named after the Indian god of the dawn, this temple is a unique example of Khmer architecture in Thailand.

WINDOW SHOPPING

For high-end browsing head for Emporium Shopping Centre (10) on Sukhumvit Road (Phrom Pong Skytrain) or Gaysorn (11), on Ploenchit and Rajadamri roads (Chit Lom Skytrain). Housed in an impressive white stone building on Charoen Krung Road (Saphan Taksin Skytrain), OP Place (12) is the place for antiques, jewellery, art, tailors and Thai silk.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

Mobile stalls cooking and selling a whole range of food seem to line almost every street. Because dishes are cooked in front of you and served piping hot they are safe to eat. The city's signature dishes include kai yang (charcoal-grilled chicken), pop pia (deep-fried spring rolls) and khanom beuang (filled, sweet pancakes).

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

A couple of hours at the Grand Palace (2) is an essential part of any visit to Bangkok (00 66 2263 5500; www.palaces.thai.net). This vast walled complex was the official residence of Thai kings from 1782 to 1946, and contains breathtaking royal temples, gold-laden palaces and lavish throne rooms, plus narrow alleys and manicured gardens. The palace, on Na Phra Lan road, opens 8.30am-3.30pm daily, admission 250 baht (£4), which also includes admission to Vimanmek Mansion. Shorts and bare shoulders are forbidden.

A WALK IN THE PARK

Set in attractive and peaceful landscaped gardens, Vimanmek Mansion (3) on Ratchawithi Road (00 66 2628 6300; www.palaces.thai.net) is the largest golden teak building in the world. It was built by King Rama V in 1900, and its series of opulent rooms are a showcase of Victorian-influenced Siam. It opens 9.30am-4pm daily, admission free with a Grand Palace ticket.

AN APERITIF

For a high-level al fresco drink, go to the Moon Bar ­ part of the Banyan Tree Bangkok (13) at 21/100 South Sathon Road (00 66 2679 1200; www.banyantree.com). From 62 floors up, you will get stunning views across the city. The adjacent Vertigo Grill is a popular dinner venue. For something different drop into the Bed Supper Club (14) at 26 Sukumvit Soi 11 (00 66 2651 3537; www.bedsupperclub.com). Housed in a bizarre futuristic white oval pod, it features a bar and lounge area with divan-beds suspended from the walls and low-slung chairs illuminated by a restful blue neon glow.

DINING WITH THE LOCALS

You will find a good smattering of Thai professionals (and some well-informed tourists) eating at Mango Tree (15) at 37 Soi Tantawan, Surawongse Road (00 66 2236 1681) ­ a few minutes from the chaos of Silom Road and Patpong. In an intimate courtyard, complete with a small waterfall, you dine on beautifully presented dishes from an extensive menu starting at around 150 baht (£2).

SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH

Nine out of 10 Thais practise Theravada Buddhism. Bangkok's oldest and largest temple is Wat Pho (1), a labyrinth of 35 buildings on Chetuphon Road (00 66 2225 9595; www.watpho.com). You can get there by boat to Tha Tien pier. Dating from the 16th century it is also a respected centre for traditional medicine and Thai massage education. It opens 9am-5pm daily (admission 20 baht/30p), but Sunday morning is the ideal time to soak up the relaxing atmosphere and catch its key attractions ­ notably the 46m long reclining Buddha that signifies his passing into Nirvana.

OUT TO BRUNCH

Cook your own. The Landmark Hotel (16) at 138 Sukhumvit Road (00 66 2254 0404; www.landmarkbangkok.com) offers a two-hour Thai cookery course for 1,950 baht (£30), taught by chefs from its respected Nipa Thai restaurant.

WRITE A POSTCARD

Perfect your prose at the Authors' Lounge at the Oriental Hotel (4), where Somerset Maugham stayed in the 1920s while recovering from malaria. Huge high teas at 850 baht (£13) are served against a backdrop of neo-classical architecture.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

The American Jim Thompson came to Bangkok in 1945 after serving with the US Army in Europe. Three years later he founded the Thai Silk Company. A decade on, captivated by his adopted home, he set about dismantling six teak houses from other parts of the country and reassembling them in the capital. Thompson disappeared while on a visit to Malaysia's Cameron Highlands in 1967, but his home remains as one of the most intriguing destinations in town. Jim Thompson's House (5) at 6 Soi Kaseman 2, Rama I Road (00 66 2216 7368; www.jimthompsonhouse.com) is an enticing combination of flower-strewn gardens and homes filled with a collection of art and antiques spanning 14 centuries. It opens 9am-4.30pm daily; admission 100 baht (£1.50).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
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: Senior Project Manager - Bristol

    £31000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the UK, the major project fo...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Executive - Meetings & Events (MICE) - £40,000 OTE

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Are you a high achieving...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Account Executive - Hotel Reservation Software - £40,000 OTE

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: A rapidly growing Hotel ...

    Recruitment Genius: Tyre Technician / Mechanic

    £15000 - £16800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Tyre Technician / Mechanic is...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game