City Slicker: What to see and do in Bangkok
The Thais are making strenuous efforts to win back tourists to their capital. Ian McCurrach reveals what to see and do whether you are a new or returning visitor
Sunday 01 February 2009
Last year's civil unrest, which saw anti-government protesters blockading the airport, may have hit visitor numbers but, with the situation now calmer and the British Foreign Office easing its warnings, travellers to, or through, this South-east Asian hub are returning.
To win us back, the Thai government is proposing waiving visa fees and is consulting with Thai Airways to drop fuel surcharges to reduce the price of fares. These measures extend to encouraging hotels to lower room rates, including leading five-star properties. There are some extraordinary bargains on offer, such as rooms for £66 a night at the Metropolitan (metropolitan.como.bz/ bangkok), £39 a night at the Amari Hotel (amari.com), £116 per night at the Marriott Resort and Spa (bangkok.com/marriott), and £96 per night at the Conrad Bangkok (conradhotels.com). Once you're there, the cost of living is low.
There is a fresh crop of restaurants, bars and clubs to visit and a new wave of indie subculture to investigate. The British electronica band New Young Pony Club is set to headline an indie music festival in the city in February. Dates are still to be confirmed, but check myspace.com/ newyoungponyclub for details.
Don't miss ...
The bling of the glittering gold domes of the Grand Palace (palaces.thai.net). Don't miss the Emerald Buddha, which dates from 1782;
Wat Pho, (watpho.com), home to the reclining Buddha;
Escaping the heat by riding the cool SkyTrain metro between attractions;
Shopping for bargains in the strip of stores by Siam Square;
Taking a river taxi along Khlong Om – one of the many waterways that run off the Chao Phraya River – from the pier by the Peninsula Hotel (peninsula.com) to see rickety wooden homes on stilts, lush fruit orchards and tiny temples, with a pit-stop at one of the many restaurants;
A cycle tour with ABC Amazing Bangkok Cyclist Tour (realasia.net) to explore districts tourists overlook;
Lumphini Park – a sea of grass, pagodas and shady paths, where local sports such as takraw, a curious kind of kick volleyball, are played.
Thonglor in Sukhumvit is a cool place to hang out. The area centres on Soi Thonglor, which snakes away from Thonglor SkyTrain station. It is home to many chic new local designer boutiques and concept stores such as EQ, Geo and Hawaii 50. Street numbers are meaningless in Bangkok, but if you wander along Soi Thonglor you can't miss them. For a coffee go to Greyhound, or try the crab with chillies at Niyon Phochana restaurant.
Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre (BACC)
This vast contemporary edifice opened last year. Galleries, exhibition halls and performance spaces have a diverse programming brief encompassing all the art forms from painting to performance art. The emphasis is on work that reflects modern Thai culture along with visiting exhibitions of international work. Until mid-February, Bangkok 226 is a showcase for Thai artists focusing on different aspects of the city. Details: bacc.or.th
This new rooftop bar is the hot spot of the moment for pre-party cocktails or post-party chilling. It is up on the roof of Le Fenix Hotel (lefenix-sukhumvit.com), at the centre of the clubbing district. Lounge on daybeds and take in the views of the glittering skyline.
This property dates from 1942 but it opened its doors as a hotel only in August last year. Set in a tropical garden with a small pool, it has 25 rooms and suites comfortably furnished in contemporary style. The restaurant, Na Aroon, has a healthy-eating menu and the Som Sen Spa offers a range of massages. Studio rooms cost from £61 per night.
David Thompson, the award-winning chef and founder of Nahm restaurant
"I love eating in Yaorwat [Chinatown]. There are four blocks that are more like a busy restaurant corridor than a major city thoroughfare, and the noodles here are among the best in town. Almost any place will be good, though the more crowded places usually indicate their quality. Sit down if you can find a stool. I like to order fish dumpling soup with egg noodles and then season it heartily with chillies, vinegar and sugar. Roast duck and pork hanging in nearby shops tempt me to have a second, different bowl of rice noodles."
How to get there
Ian McCurrach travelled with British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com), which offers return flights from London Heathrow to Bangkok from £737 per person.
Bangkok Tourism (bangkoktourist.com).
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