Chaos meets calm — and they totally hit it off — in Bangkok, where treasure-trove markets and ancient temples belly up to cool eateries, minimal galleries, and luxe spas. Noodling around the balmy metropolis is a sensory explosion. Silk scarves, spicy chow, and massages — oh, mai!
Though posh hotels and opulent temples (wats) line each side of Chao Phraya River, in-the-know locals and visitors mingle in modern central Bangkok, amidst Siam Square’s upscale shopping spots, Sukhumvit’s restaurants and bars, and Silom’s art galleries. Huge outer-lying day and night markets offer a more traditional scene, whether during the dry (November to May) or rainy (less scorching) seasons. (And let’s just get this out of the way: The sex shows are exploitative and a buzz kill. Skip them.)
In Thailand, spa culture is everywhere. (Thai massage? A form of ancient medicine.) Take advantage by staying at hotels with amazing spas. At the swank Peninsula Bangkok (333 Charoennakorn Rd.; +66-2-861-2888) the infinity pool lined with thatched cabanas seems to flow into the river. Boutique hounds flock to ultra-trendy new Dream Bangkok (10 Sukhumvit Rd., Soi 15; +66-2-254-8500), smack-dab on Sukhumvit. And if you want a meditative, holistic retreat, check into the simple yet beautiful Baan Dvara-Prateep (53/3 Moo 5, Tambol Koh Kred; +66-2-373-6457).
Once you’ve hit the must-shops — Jim Thompson’s high-end silk emporium and local craft haven Chatuchak Weekend Market for handwoven scarves and chic soaps — head to Siam Square for hot emerging designers. Pioneering boutique It’s Happened to Be a Closet (266/3 Siam Square, Soi 3; +66-2-658-4696) sells limited-edition vintage-style garments and shoes in piles of organized chaos. Stripped-down 8½ (G. Lido Siam Square, Soi 2; +66-2-658-1947) sells one-of-a-kind dresses with bubble and asymmetrical skirts by designers Soranee Lohathat and Yuth Jirojanakul. Marni hangs alongside innovative Thai, Korean, and Japanese designers like FB68 at La Dress (Siam Square, Soi 3; +66-2-251-3378). Cloud 9 (999 Ploenchit Rd.; +66-2-656-1428) in swanky Gaysorn mall carries 3.1 Phillip Lim and Bangkok-designed Boyy Bags.
Eat traditional Thai in all its lime juicy, peanuty glory at waterfront Supatra River House (266 Soi Wat Rakhang; +66-2-411-0305). The art scene gathers at Eat Me (off Convent Rd., Soi Pipat 2; +66-2-238-0931) over fig and ginger cocktails and double spicy prawns, beneath paintings from chic H Gallery (201 Sathorn, Soi 12; +66-8-1310-4428). Vegetarians love Anotai (976/17 Soi Rama, 9 Hospital; +66-2-641-5366), for stir-fry vermicelli with morning glory and fresh chili, countless teas, and brownies to boot. For outstanding views and Eurasian fare, hit new hotspot Ember (99/11-12 Lang Suan Balcony Builing, Soi Lang Suan; +66-2-652-2086). When the sun sets, head to the Sky Bar on top of The Dome (1055 Silom Rd.; +66-2-624-9555), an amazing outdoor bar that hovers above the city.
Traffic is bad. Estimate double the taxi time. Even better, get around on the SkyTrain.
Head to famed Thai massage training school Wat Pho for low-price, high-skill rubdowns.
Respect the royal family’s name — or risk getting thrown in jail.
Take a canal boat trip from The Oriental pier. You don’t need a destination. It’s all about the ride.
You’ll wish you were Siamese, no matter who pleases.