Great escapes: Tranquil time off in the Thai capital
'Great Escapes', the new book by Lonely Planet, is a compilation of indulgent breaks, as this extract on Bangkok shows
Wednesday 23 October 2013
The longtail boat drops you off at a dock on the river, then chugs away, leaving you to walk the raised cement path through the mangrove forest. You emerge at a small collection of buildings that nearly blends into the background; climbing the stairs, you join the branches in the treetops in your open-air "nest", a room at the Bangkok Tree House. Yes, you're still in Bangkok.
The fierce growl of tuk-tuks and the thick scent of diesel fumes disappear behind you as you duck into the calm of a Buddhist temple. Bangkok's pollution is sloughed off your skin as you indulge in a Thai massage.
You wake up at dawn, watching groups of Thais performing a slow t'ai chi in Lumphini Park. You sip a sunset cocktail in one of the city's famous sky bars, leaving the chaos far below you.
Bangkok can over-stimulate even the most Zen traveller, but pockets of calm do exist in this steamy city. A quiet canal, a shady park or a meditative hour in a temple: these are all experiences that beckon the frazzled visitor. They need to be sought out, however; Bangkok does not immediately present its quieter side.
Time of day can be just as important as location when seeking silence, with dawn being the best time to appreciate the tranquillity that Bangkok often keeps hidden. Then, the only sounds that greet you will be the swish of brooms on pavements and the barefoot padding of Buddhist monks in saffron robes receiving alms in the streets.
Make your trip to Bangkok a restorative one by visiting sights that offer downtime. Thailand's Buddhist culture is a natural diversion from go-go bars and traffic, and so are its spas. The city's surrounds, with mangrove forests and hidden canals, are also great for escaping the pandemonium. Those who make the effort to seek out Bangkok's peaceful side will be richly rewarded.
The perfect getaway
Set the tone for your Bangkok escape by sleeping at the Bangkok Tree House. The Tree House sits on an island in the Chao Phraya River, with rooms ("nests") perching above the mangrove forest. You will leave the city behind as you disembark from the boat. Choose your level of comfort – a room with air conditioning, an open-air platform or a mattress floating on the river. As you choose sites to explore in Bangkok, remember to make reservations at a few of the quieter ones.
A Thai massage and spa treatment is a quintessential Thailand experience, and Bangkok is a wonderful place to indulge. The Health Land Spa offers serenity from the moment you enter the facility, where you are greeted by the trickle of running water and the scent of lemongrass. Spa treatments range from an hour-long Thai massage to a three-hour package that includes a body polish and milk bath.
When you are touring Bangkok, include a few of the more peaceful spots in your itinerary. The Jim Thompson House is a soothing museum surrounded by jungle, an odd oasis in this busy city. The complex of teak structures was the home of Jim Thompson, an American entrepreneur who founded the Thai Silk Company. After touring the museum, pause at the pond-side café for a nibble.
End your day with a cocktail at one of Bangkok's sky bars. You will be storeys above the hubbub, with the city view and warm night air to calm your nerves. Sirocco Sky Bar was made famous in The Hangover Part II, but there are plenty to explore; the Sofitel's Park Society offers an unparalleled view of Lumphini Park and the city skyline, while the Nest lures the weary traveller with day beds.
Bangkok's main airport, Suvarnab-humi, is an international hub servicing flights from all over the world. Plan a couple of months in advance if you are visiting during high season, which is November to March.
The Bangkok Tree House has a very limited number of rooms and needs to be booked well in advance. You do not need to book spa services more than a day ahead.
Step off the temple treadmill with a tour of Bangkok's modern-art scene. Airy, cool galleries give you insight into the modern psyche of Bangkok's art world. The website bangkokartmap.com is updated regularly with openings and shows. The Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, in the city centre, is a good introduction to the city's art and culture scene.
Kathmandu Photo Gallery is located in a renovated pre-war shop and is Bangkok's only dedicated photo gallery. Also check out the minimalist 338 Oida Gallery, Bangkok's artiest new addition.
This is an extract from 'Great Escapes', published by Lonely Planet (£29.99). To order a copy, go to: shop.lonely planet.com
Location Bangkok, Thailand
Best time of year November to March
Ideal time commitment Five days
Essential tip Avoid using tuk-tuks and insist that your taxi drivers turn on their meters
Pack Temple-appropriate clothing, insect repellent, ear plugs
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