Recently named the World’s Best City by readers of Travel + Leisure, Bangkok is in the midst of a cultural and artistic renaissance. A decade since the Asia Financial Crisis crippled Thailand’s Tiger economy, a wave of daring designers, taste-makers and hoteliers have come to the fore. Drawing inspiration from the regions rich cultural legacies, they are transforming the City of Angels into Asia’s city of cool.
The heart of wining and dining, Sukhumvit Road just keeps on getting better. Bar wise the last few months have witnessed some big arrivals, from the glitzy, star studded Long Table (25th floor, Column Residency, Sukhumvit Soi 16; Tel: 02-302-2557/9; Drinks for two $14) to the el-fresco Nest (33/33 Sukhumvit Soi 11; Tel: +662 3054000; www.lefenix-sukhumvit.com; Drinks for two $10) on the roof of Le Fenix Hotel and gimmicky Ice Bar (winter woolies supplied) at last year’s big dance-club newbie Twisted Republic (37 Sukhumvit Soi 11; Tel: +66 26510800; www.twistedrepublic.com; cover charge and drinks $45). Sleep it all off at the new 79-room apartment-hotel Ten Face (81 Soi Ruamrudee, Wireless Road; Tel: +66 26954242; www.tenfacebangkok.com; Doubles rooms from $275) designed by local group IAW and inspired by Tosakan, the Thai demon-warrior with his ten all-seeing faces. For something a little more sophisticated, the antique-filled 1940s mansion Ariyasom Villa (65 Sukumvit Soi 1; Tel: +66 22548880; www.ariyasom.com; Double rooms from $200) is currently having its finishing touches put on.
Better known for its string of big-brand mega-malls like Siam Paragon and next door Zen and Central World Plaza, the arrival of the outrageously quirky Siam@Siam Hotel (865 Rama 1 Road, Siam Square; +66 (0) 2217 3000; www.siamatsiam.com; Double rooms from $120) last year put Siam Square on the fashion map (look for the big blue foot in the front yard). The vibe spread, and now one of the Kingdom’s oldest malls, Siam Centre, has become the Mecca for home-grown designer shops. For prêt-à-porter wear head for the third floor, where retro chic Baking Soda and Japanese-chic Greyhound sits alongside bag and belt guru Madame Tango (Siam Square BTS; www.siampiwat.com). Head to the narrow lanes opposite Siam centre for up-and-coming talent. Newly-renovated ISSUE (266/10 Soi 3, Siam Square; Tel: +662 26584416), is packed with Roj Singhakul’s globe-trotting collection.
Victory Monument and Beyond
Two years ago Soi Rangnam was famed for its by-the-hour hotel rooms and spicy Issan restaurants. It’s now being hushed as Bangkok’s next big thing. Made accessible with two Skytrain stops and a direct airport link, the area- a mere stone’s throw away from bustling Siam Square- was given a big boost when Accor’s angular Pullman King Power Hotel (Tel: +66 26809999; www.pullmanbangkokkingpower.com; Double rooms from $93) and state-of-the-art Aksra Theatre (Tel: +66 26778888; www.aksratheatre.com) moved into the monstrous King Power Complex (8/2 Rangnam Road; Tel: +66 22058888; www.kingpower.com). As word of the areas access and tranquility has spread, condominium towers and office relocations have been popping up everywhere. Club Culture has transformed an old Thai restaurant into busy night-club and Starwood are set to open a new city hotel in two years.
Where to Stay
A stone’s throw from the Royal Palace, with incredible views of the Chao Praya River and Temple of Dawn, 12-roomed Arun Residence (36-38 Soi Pratu Nokyung, Maharat Road (opposite Wat Pho); Tel: +66- 19158; www.arunresidence.com; Double rooms from $95) is one of several reviving Bangkok’s old wooden houses. Book the Arun Suite for its private balcony, but beware late risers- the river wakes up 5 am and thin timber walls offer little protection.
Young and Dandy
New York socialite Vikram Chatwal’s Dream Bangkok (10 Sukhumvit soi 15; +66 2254 8500; www.dreambkk.com; Double rooms from $115), is what he calls Hautel Couture. Like fashion, it’s both glamorous and whimsical; guest rooms have ethereal blue lighting seeping out from under the bed, in the lobby three Buddhist stupas are submerged in water, while Flava Bar is guarded by a bright pink leopard.
Stay Right Here
The new river-front giant, Millennium Hilton (123 Charoennakorn Road; Tel: +66 2 4422000; www1.hilton.com; Double rooms from $120) stuns with its lofty foyer. Guest rooms are on the small side, but the suspended pool with floating deckchairs peering over the city make up for it.
Where to Eat
To Thai For
Elegant Ed Tuttle- designed pavilions surrounded by a lotus-filled pond still houses Bangkok’s finest Thai restaurant, Celadon (Sukhothai Hotel, 13/3 South Sathorn Road, Tel: +66 2 3448888; www.sukhothaihotel.com; Dinner for two $120). The food lives up to the setting, refined traditional fare like crispy soft shell crab with pomelo salad and fried fish with herbal dipping sauce.
Set in an old Chinese merchant’s house, the stunning newly renovated China House (48 Oriental Avenue; +66 2 6599000; www.mandarinoriental.com; Dinner for two $250) reminisces on 1930s Shanghai when the city was famed for its decadence and debauchery. Diners are cocooned in private enclaves draped in red silk, black lattice and fine bone china. Don’t miss Middle Kingdom treats like Peking Duck and Mariage Freres teas.
The smallest of Bangkok’s new foodie openings is the one making the most noise. Named after the prodigious chef from legendary no-frills Chicago eatery Greet Tea Japanese Restaurant, Isao (5 Sukhumvit Soi 31; Tel: +662 2580645; Lunch for two $40) adds a liberal dash of contemporary zing to traditional sushi, concocting imaginative rolls like Volcano and Chicago Spicy Crazy.
Bangkok’s love affair with al fresco bars started when Banyan Tree Hotel converted their heli-pads into Moon Bar and adjoining Mediterranean restaurant Vertigo (21/100 South Sathorn Road; Tel: +66 2 6791200; www.banyantree.com; Drinks for two $30). Sixty-five floors up, it still has the best views, and Mojitos, in town.
Join the Q
Shimmy through the night at Bangkok’s renowned Q Bar (34 Sukhumvit Soi 11; Tel: +66 2 2525366; www.qbarbangkok.com; Drinks for two $15, Cover charge, from $12, starts at 9 pm), fresh from a recent face-life which added an upstairs terrace and retro bar. There are more than 60 vodkas on the menu, a heaving dance-floor downstairs, and for midnight munchies, a Pizza Club mobile diner on the street below.
What to do
Catch a glimpse of Thailand’s vanishing puppet theatre at Joe-Louis Theatre (Suan Lum Night Bazaar, +662 252 9683; Daily 7 – 8:45 pm, tickets $18). Established by the late Sud Sakorn, performances of the classical dance lakhon lek use vivacious life-like puppets to retell stories from the Hindu epic Ramayan.
Recreate the dishes that has made the Blue Elephant (233 South Sathorn Road (below Surasak BTS); Tel: +66 2 6739353; www.blueelephant.com; Classes from $85 per person) one of the most acclaimed Thai-cuisine brands in the world. Courses start with a trip to the local fresh food market and end with the lunch you created.
If Bangkok is the heart of spa, then recent addition ESPA (Peninsula Hotel; 333 Charoennakorn Road; Tel: 662 8612888; www.bangkok.peninsula.com) is its holy grail. The sumptuously quiet colonial-style house has 18 treatment room spread over a whooping 5812 square meters, all promising Asian therapies on state-of-the-art beds which move at the flick of a switch.
SPOTLIGHT ON: Thong Lo
A busy through-fare at the far end of Sukhumvit Road, Thong Lo (pronounced Tong-Lore and also known as Sukhumvit Soi 55) was once the domain of wedding studios, noodle shops and second hand car dealers. Reinvented as Bangkok’s epicenter of style, sleek furniture showrooms boasting Cappellini and Kartell now sit alongside fashion studios and lifestyle venues like The Third Place, Penny’s Balcony and label-loving J Avenue.
Shades of Retro
Owner Anan Tatutlo is a purveyor of 60s and 70s Danish collectibles: vintage furniture, vinyl records, and reconditioned Bang & Olufsen audio kits (Thong Lo Thara Rom Soi 2; Tel: +66 2 7149657).
Accessory designer Maureen Okogwu’s glamorous collections of jewelry, shoes and handbags are adorned with feathers, shells and precious stones. Custom designs can be whipped up in a week (916 Soi Thong Lo; +66 2 7147990; www.sunnyrose.th).
This modernist mall inaugurated Thong Lo into the realms of chic. To Die For (998 Soi Thong Lo; +66 2 3814714; Drinks for two, $15) wins rave reviews for its Champagne cocktails and contemporary fare like roast quail with foie gras and figs, but not the brusque service. Their backyard courtyard is an ideal place to chill. Next door, Basheer Books (+66 2 391981) stocks an impressive collection of titles on design and art.
Recently re-opening, this contemporary chic haberdashery stocks everything from designer gardening tools in leather pouches to garden art ducks meshed from scrap metal and Oriental printed crockery (912 Soi Thong Lo; Tel: +66-2 3814324).
The latest in bar-a-plenty Thong Lo, drop by Hobs for 22 varieties of Belgian brews, including fruit beers and honey- infused Hoegaarden. A beer-only bar, the country-style Belgium dishes are both cooked with beer and paired with a beer (Ground floor, Penny’s Balcony; Tel: +66 2 6556251; Pints for two $13).
Recently relocating from Sathorn Road, Thai restaurant Patara adds a touch of elegance to fashion-frenzied Thong Lo. Graze on fine-dining dishes like char-grilled sea bass with a red curry sauce and honey-duck in pandan leaf at bargain basement prices (375 Thong Lor Soi 19; Tel: +66 2 1852960; www.patarathailand.com; Dinner for two $35).