Bangkok is known throughout the world for being the ultimate Sin City. A vibrant metropolis of red lights and debauchery that makes Las Vegas look like Disneyland in comparison. This rambunctious reputation can be traced back to the 1970’s, a time when the city was a popular stopping point for vacationing American soldiers, and has now been forever solidified in the 2011 hit film The Hangover II.
However, Bangkok is turning the page on its sinful past and is beginning to explore a new, softer side. Think less sleaze and more chic. It may take some time for travelers to accept that Bangkok now has more to offer than just nightlife, but sooner rather than later Bangkok will be recognized as one of Asia’s most happening cities. So check out some of the finer things that Bangkok has in store.
The River of Kings
The Chao Phraya River slices its way through Bangkok and functioned as the city’s principal artery of transportation for hundreds of years. Today the river is as busy as ever with large and small boats plying the waterway. Because of its historical importance to the city, many of Bangkok’s oldest communities can be found along its shores. It also happens to be the location of one of the city’s best hotels, The Peninsula Bangkok.
This hotel is part of the iconic Peninsula brand and is ranked as one of the nicest hotels in the world. With only 10 guest rooms on each of its 39 floors, every room offers impressive views of the Chao Phraya and the sprawling city below. The hotel is located directly on the banks of the river and operates its own boat service. The Peninsula’s wooden boats offer a comfortable way to see the river and transports guests to and from the nearest BTS station.
The most amazing part of the hotel can be found in its facilities. There are three bars and three restaurants, including the excellent Thipatra Thai Restaurant. The hotel’s swimming pool is another story altogether with a tiered, multi-level design and a privileged position overlooking the river. The views are fantastic and the poolside drinks are ice cold.
Solitude in the big city
One interesting way to explore Bangkok and learn more about the city and its culture is through hotel’s Peninsula Academy. Each one of their tours and citywide excursions are designed with the goal of educating guests on Thai culture. They range from Thai cooking classes to flower arranging courses, visits to the National Museum and Art Gallery, or even a Muay Thai kickboxing lesson.
The Academy’s Kudee Chin Tour takes visitors on a walk into Bangkok’s past. It includes a leisurely cruise down the river on one of the Peninsula’s private boats, and a guided walking tour through Kudee Chin. This small riverside community is home to an eclectic mix of cultures and heritages. Walking down the small lanes and alleyways of Kudee Chin allows visitors to see the simpler side of life in Bangkok. The walking tour explores this by visiting historic religious sights in the area including a church, mosque and Buddhist temple.
Fine Thai dining
Across from the Peninsula Bangkok, and also located on the Chao Phraya River, is another one of the city’s top hotels, the Mandarin Oriental. While the hotel itself is a luxurious oasis, what really stands out about the Mandarin Oriental are its restaurants. The Sala Rim Naam Restaurant is located on the opposite side of the river from the hotel and patrons are ferried across on the hotel’s private boats. At the restaurant a pleasurable assault on the senses awaits. The location is in a riverfront wooden pavilion and the servers are dressed in extravagant, traditional outfits. The set dinner menu features only the best ingredients and dishes prepared by world-class Thai chefs.
Cocktails and jazz bars
[Also see "Cities With The World’s Best Nightlife"]
Most travelers only experience Bangkok’s nightlife in the context of red-light districts or Khao San Road, however the city has much more to offer than strip clubs and backpacker dives. The neighborhood of Thong Lo is the city’s trendiest entertainment area. The long stretch of Thong Lo Road is packed with bars, clubs and international restaurants. It’s a popular nighttime destination for suave expats and Thai celebrities alike.
One cool bar on Thong Lo is Iron Fairies. It doubles as an iron workshop in the day and its decor looks like something straight out of a Tim Burton film. The bar can get very crowded as in-the-know people come from around the city to enjoy its dark atmosphere and live jazz performances.
The area’s hottest club is the appropriately named Funky Villa. Some of the city’s most beautiful people flock here night after night for its grandiose vibe and pounding beats. The Porsches and BMWs outside make it clear that this club is a long way from Patpong and it’s not unusual to spot Thai celebrities and models in the crowd.
Shopping: No negotiations required
Another happening spot on the Chao Phraya River is the River City Shopping Mall. Specializing in antique furniture and jewelry, it truly is an antique lovers paradise! The multiple floors of the mall showcase a variety of treasures from Thailand and Southeast Asia and most of the stores are run by genuinely friendly and knowledgeable proprietors. There are monthly auctions and some good deals too! Many of the stores have working relationships with luxury hotels around the city, so namedrop your hotel to be assured that you’re getting the best prices.