Bangkok is a city of contrasts: a noisy, colourful and chaotic meeting point of old and new. Love it or hate it, it’s impossible to deny the infectious electric energy oozing out of every corner of the Thai capital. With seven million inhabitants and more than eight million cars, getting around the city is an adventure in itself. Whereas travelling by cab may seem like the most comfortable option, in Bangkok it can often be the most frustrating one. When there is so much to see and do and you only have 2 days in Bangkok, it is worth finding ways to avoid getting stuck in traffic for two hours on a journey that might have taken 20 minutes. Most of Bangkok’s sites are well connected by public transport, which includes the MRT underground system, BTS Skytrain and, last but not least, a solution often overlooked by foreign visitors, a variety of public ferries and private boats that traffic the city’s canals and the Chao Praya River. But if you’re looking for a truly Thai experience, a tuk-tuk is the way to go or, if you’re a real adrenaline junkie, a motorbike cab may be the only way to travel fast when traffic is heavy.
A city that never sleeps can make you restless, but when you want a moment to relax, there are countless restaurants, rooftop bars and spas inviting you to enjoy a moment of peace. Bangkok is home to southeast Asia’s most sumptuous hotels and resorts and some of its best shopping, as well as one of the most exciting food scenes on the continent. This is not only the city of Gaggan, named the best restaurant in Asia for the last three consecutive years, but also a whole host of other top-notch eateries. In fact, now’s the perfect time to explore the first-ever Michelin Guide to Bangkok: featuring 20 brand-new stars, including Gaggan (of course) with two, as well as several Thai hotspots, such as Paste and Chim by Siam Wisdom, and some exciting western propositions such as Elements in the Okura Prestige Hotel and Savelberg, by Dutch chef Henk Savelberg, set within the immaculate Oriental Residence Bangkok.
Here are our top tips for how to make the most of 2 days in Bangkok, the buzzing Thai capital:
If you have just arrived in Bangkok, it’s time to get your bearings. The city is notoriously hard to navigate, almost entirely unwalkable and has few clearly defined neighbourhoods. To get the most out of it, we recommend booking some time with an experienced local guide who can show you the hidden gems that tourists seldom find on their own. Smiling Albino (smilingalbino.com) is a Canadian-owned business with more than 18 years’ experience of scouting out every area of Bangkok, eating at every restaurant, sleeping in every hotel bed and visiting every temple, as well as training each and every guide, ensuring a highly personalised, custom-made experience for all its guests.
Whereas some new arrivals to Bangkok may be keen to visit the “big three” temples of Wat Pho, Wat Arun and the Grand Palace, others may be more interested in exploring the more obscure parts of the city. Ask Smiling Albino to take you on the less-trodden path to see the Amulet market and flower market before boarding a private longtail boat to explore the canals (klongs) of Bangkok, visiting Klong Bang Luang village and Baan Silipin Artist’s House. Next up, check out less-visited temples such as Wat Kanlayamitr with its giant sitting Buddha, and Wat Suwannaram in Thonburi. Visit the creative artisanal districts and mercantile communities along the banks of the Chao Praya River, before wandering the tiny lanes (sois) and alleys (troks) of Chinatown, stopping to taste some authentic Thai street food including smoked duck rice noodle soup, Hainnese braised rice and chicken, and local-style Pad Thai (different to the one most tourists know and love).
In Bangkok, it is not always easy to find real Thai food if you also want to escape the midday heat in a cool air-conditioned restaurant. Don’t despair: Supanniga Eating Room (www.supannigaeatingroom.com) has what you’re looking for. Incredibly popular with local Thai foodies, Supanniga has three branches in the city as well as a dinner cruise on the river. Our favourite is the modern, yet authentic, Sathorn branch. Don’t miss the crab curry, the Thai omelette with prawns, and the moo cha muang, chunks of tender pork meat stewed with Thai herbs and cha muang leaves. Make sure you leave room for some sticky rice with mango for dessert.
If all that that walking and eating has left you drained, it’s time to pamper yourself. Check in to Opium Spa at the stunning Siam Hotel (www.thesiamhotel.com/health-leisure/), for a Thai massage and a facial. If you’re the sporty type, you may prefer to sign up for a muay Thai boxing class. The Siam also offers a range of different yoga classes, as well as meditation, Reiki and Tai Chi. For something even more unique to take back home with you, The Siam has even opened a specially consecrated space devoted to the inking of sacred Sak Yant tattoos.
Steve Café (www.stevecafeandcuisine.com) may not sound very authentic but this small Thai-owned riverside eatery serves excellent food and is popular with locals and visitors alike. Hop on the complimentary water limousine from The Siam and you are just a short boat ride away from Steve Café. The best time to arrive is early evening so that you can watch the sunset across the river. Top dishes include the deep fried prawns with tamarind sauce, spicy grilled pork with lemongrass and chicken with basil leaves.
Head back into town for a nightcap at The House on Sathorn (www.thehouseonsathorn.com). This neo-classical structure from 1889 was first a private residence, later a hotel, and, from mid-century to 1999, served as the site of the Russian embassy. Today, The House on Sathorn stands out for its spectacular colonial architecture and elegant drinking and dining venues. The bar serves a wide range of classic and seasonal signature cocktails that can either be enjoyed in the cosy indoor bar or on the terrace overlooking the interior courtyard.
You have already spent 50% of your 2 days in Bangkok and it is time for some serious shopping. If you have money in your pocket and like top designer brands, Bangkok has everything you need. Siam Paragon (www.siamparagon.co.th) is the third-largest shopping mall in Thailand and exudes opulence from the minute you step through the door. With brands like Prada, Versace, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Chanel and Jimmy Choo, you won’t be easily bored. Another option that is handy if you are staying at the Okura Prestige is Central Embassy (www.centralembassy.com). The mall, which is smaller and less hectic than Siam Paragon, can be accessed directly from the hotel without needing to set foot outside in the heat. It features top names such as Saint Laurent, Tom Ford, Givenchy, Gucci and Kenzo, as well as some interesting Asian brands.
Once you finish up at Central Embassy, you’re just steps away from Yamazato Japanese fine dining restaurant (www.okurabangkok.com/en/restaurants-in-bangkok.html#tab-32) at the Okura Prestige Hotel. The menu is based on the centuries-old traditional Kaiseki Ryori Japanese style of haute cuisine, with a huge selection of raw, grilled and fried fish and meat dishes. Yamazato also features two teppanyaki tables, a sushi bar stocked with the freshest seafood flown in from Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market, and stunning views of the Bangkok skyline.
Bangkok is not only famous for its big-name brands, it is also home to some of the finest tailors in the world. Head over to World Group Tailors (www.worldgroupbkk.com) behind The Oriental Hotel to create your own exclusive, one-off fashion pieces. For more than 40 years, this house has been excelling in the art of tailoring, serving patrons including royalty, statesmen and dignitaries.
So we’ve all heard of Gaggan, but have you heard of Gaa? Open less than a year, this new restaurant is the brainchild of Chef Garima Arora, a former sous-chef at Gaggan. Backed by the man himself, Gaa (www.gaabkk.com) is located right across the road from the white colonial-style building that houses Gaggan Anand’s two Michelin-star establishment. Led by an impressive, predominantly female team, Gaa serves ten- and fourteen-course tasting menus that blend Thai, Indian and European influences exquisitely, beautifully, deliciously and yet almost entirely unpretentiously. Arora’s signature dishes include the frozen chicken liver mounted on longan, a donut stuffed with duck vindaloo served with six types of pan-Asian pickles, local sturgeon caviar on Thai strawberries and por wor oil, and the absolutely exceptional baby corn cobs, chargrilled and served with a corn milk dip. We think Bangkok may have a new superstar on its hands.
Not quite bedtime and you want to make the most of your 2 days in Bangkok? Then head over to Maggie Choo’s, a sultry nightlife venue situated on the lower ground floor of the Novotel Silom Hotel (www.facebook.com/maggiechoos). The location was once the underground vault of the East India Company, and the interior walls of the room are lined with vault doors. There is a small dance floor as well as a series of semi-private rooms for chatting, smoking or enjoying a little more privacy. The crowd is a mix of upper-class Thais, expats and tourists from the Silom area. Sunday night at Maggie Choo’s is gay night.
Where to stay when 2 days in Bangkok
Hotels don’t get more fabulous than Bangkok’s most exclusive luxury urban resort, The Siam Hotel. Set on the banks of the Chao Praya River, The Siam exudes lavish tranquillity and is the ideal option for anyone who values exceptional service, complete privacy and relaxation. Filled with bespoke design details, lush greenery and antiques, the hotel strikes the perfect balance between Art Deco and timeless colonial-style decadence, set in a spectacular building designed by world-renowned hotel guru Bill Bensley. The Siam’s unquestionable ‘wow’ factor is further enhanced by details such as the complimentary water limousine that will take you where you need to go on the river, a screening room, cooking school and a superb health and wellness offering including a spa, yoga classes and a muay Thai boxing ring.
If you prefer to be where the action is, look no further than The Okura Prestige Bangkok. Set right in the thick of things, adjacent to the exclusive Central Embassy shopping mall and a few steps from the Skytrain, this upscale hotel is perfectly situated for anyone wanting to max out on all that Bangkok has to offer. The hotel itself is chic and sophisticated, with elegant Japanese-style interiors, jaw-dropping views of the city from the rooms and the 25th-floor infinity pool, as well as excellent dining options, which include Japanese haute cuisine at Yamazato, and Elements, a one-Michelin star French restaurant offering molecular gastronomy.
After 2 days in Bangkok, you may be exhausted but you will remember them forever and you will start planning your next visit already on your flight back home.