Since its emergence as an R&R destination for American servicemen during the Vietnam War, Bangkok has had an infamous reputation as a hedonistic den of sin. But look beyond the tired stereotypes to discover the increasingly swish and stylish capital of a booming Asian tiger.
Fueled by manufacturing and heavy industry, Thailand is currently experiencing an annual GDP growth rate of 7.8%. If you’re not easily swayed by numbers, just step off the plane in
Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK), a soaring steel and glass behemoth of modern engineering.
Make no mistake about it. Thailand is on the rise.
The red-light district of Patpong may still be earning a quick baht, though Bangkok is anything but a one-trick pony. On the contrary, the city is flush with investment, boasting a new subway system, luxury shopping complexes, elite hotels and cosmopolitan restaurants.
Even Khao Sahn Road, SE Asia’s legendary backpacker ghetto, is all-grown up. Peddlers selling banana pancakes and pad thai now share the streets with fashionable bistros, health and beauty spas, quaint B&Bs and child-friendly entertainment options.
As a nod to this impressive urban transformation, Gadling is proud to present ’48 Hours in Bangkok.’1) What’s a wat? Go find out. European capitals may have skylines of soaring cathedrals, but here in Thailand, architectural elegance reaches its pinnacle in the wat. Inclusive of Buddhist temples and monastaries, wats are typified by their golden spires, curved awnings, white-washed walls and elaborate red and green tiled roofs.
One necessary stop is Wat Pho, which houses a golden reclining Buddha statue that is reportedly one of the largest in the world. Wat Pho is also the traditional birthplace of Thai massage, and there is an eager staff of highly talented masseurs on-hand to work the knots out of your travel-worn body.
2) Shop ’til you drop at Siam Paragon. With favorable exchange rates and duty-free prices, Bangkok is nothing less than a shopper’s paradise. The city’s central metro stations are adjacent to palatial malls, including the $450 million installation that is the Siam Paragon.
Compared to luxury-branded Gaysom, Siam Paragon’s retail offerings are a notch below. But Siam Paragon ultimately proves to be a more well-rounded destination, complete with a food court, supermarket, cinema and aquarium alongside well-regarded department stores and franchises.
3) Splurge on a proper English afternoon tea at the Mandarin Oriental. The original wing of this chic five-star offering is centered on the Authors’ Lounge. A colonial throwback complete with rattan furniture and Siamese umbrellas, the lounge honors past guests including literary greats Joseph Conrad and Barbara Cartland.
In the afternoons, the Authors’ Lounge is the scene of well-heeled patrons sipping organic teas and munching on scones with clotted cream. The rhythm is set by an in-house pianist, and accompanied by the subtle clanking of fine silverware against bone china.
4) Let your hedonism run wild on Koh Sahn. Evenings on this raucous road have something of a split personality. In some stretches, you can booze until the wee hours of the morning while grinding it out on the dance floor. In others, you can relax on a tealight-strewn patio while puffing away on an apple sheesa.
Things are no different on the menu – or in the spa. Street food is hawked in generous portions at rock-bottom prices, while fusion restaurants offer up European comfort food alongside Thai delicacies. Discount massage parlors run less than $10 per hour, while boutique salons prim and pamper from head to toe.
5) Tie up your apron and take cooking classes. Your average gourmand can seek out the best dining establishments in Bangkok, but it takes a hard-core foodie to go back to basics. Sounds like your cup of jasmine tea? If so, don’t leave Bangkok without a crash course in Thai cooking.
In French cuisine, the secret is in the sauce. But when it comes to Thai, it’s all about the ingredients. Not surprisingly, cooking courses start with a quick tour through the local markets. With fresh produce in hand, it’s easy to capture the signature Thai blend of hot, sour, sweet and salty.
Even with all the suggestions we’ve listed above, 48 hours isn’t nearly enough time to scratch the surface of Thailand’s dynamic capital. And, we haven’t even mentioned the stunning nature and cultural sites that lie just outside Bangkok’s confines.
Had a positive experience in Bangkok? Feel free to chime in and share some personal tips.
Sawadee khup. Bangkok awaits.
BONUS FUN FACT: In the Thai language, the official name of Bangkok is “Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Yuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit.”
Registered in the Guineess Book of World Records as the longest place name, Bangkok’s official name translates to “The city of angels, the great city, the eternal jewel city, the impregnable city of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarma.”
** All images are original photographs produced by this blogger **