01 Wat Phra Kaew and the Grande Palace
This is the spiritual centre for Thai Buddhism, the monarchy plus pretty much every tourist to Bangkok. Follow the gold-plated spires and glittering mosaics leading the way to the Emerald Buddha itself – the country’s most holy image. Then relax and take a river taxi along Khlong Om – one of the Chao Phraya River’s tributaries. www.palaces.thai.net
02 Take a Thai massage
Queue up for a pummelling at Wat Pho (www.watpho.com), set in the temple complex housing the reclining Buddha. Hard to beat at 400 baht (£8) an hour. More luxurious rub-downs are at Deverana Spa, an urban refuge with everything from wraps to hot oil massages. www.devaranaspa.com
03 Culture and consumerism
Inaugurated in 2008, the Art and Culture Centre has become a creative hub for Bangkok, hosting exhibitions, films and concerts (www.bacc.or.th). Neighbouring Siam Square, has cutting edge galleries including the adventurous Whitespace, while Mob F is a smart gallery-mall filled with upcoming designers. Thonglor in Sukhumvit is the new hipster neighbourhood on the block with Soi Thonglor at its heart, a district full of design boutiques. http://mob-f.com
04 Flowers in Chinatown
Hit Bangkok’s Chinese district at sundown, when stallholders are setting up for the night. On the edge of the melee, at Pak Klong Talad, the city’s biggest flower market is a retreat from the intense sounds and scents of the city.
05 Get your Thai boxing kicks
Muay Thai is now practised around the globe, but there is no better place to observe its subtle yet often brutal nuances than in its spiritual home. Combining Western hand techniques with the use of elbow, knees and powerful kicking, it’s a visceral spectacle attended by thousands of baying Thai spectators. www.muaythailumpini.com
06 Cocktails and clubs
For classy aperitifs in a sparkling setting, try the Sirocco Sky Bar (www.lebua.com) at the State Tower, where an oval bar juts out over the edge of the building, 800ft above street level. An even hipper venue is the Bed Supper Club in trendy Sukhumvit, offering DJs, live music and art and fashion gatherings. www.bedsupperclub.com
£ Thipsamai: You’ll struggle to find a better pad Thai than the version on offer here. Lusciously soft noodles are heaped from a fiery wok on to a plate alongside giant prawns and superbly yellow eggs. 313 Mahachai Road. T: 00 66 2 221 6280.
££ Krua Apsorn: This is one of the best sit-down venues in a city where indigenous food is generally served on the street. Try the yellow curry with lotus shoots. Samsen Road. T: 00 66 2 668 8788.
£££ Le Normandie: Rated by many as the best French restaurant in Asia, it’s the place for a Bangkok blow-out. Prices verge on the ridiculous, but there is no doubting the calibre of the food. 48 Oriental Avenue. www.mandarinoriental.com
Get on your bike: Bangkok is a surprisingly cycle-friendly place if you have the right guidance. The vast system of small streets and alleys are easily navigable and offer visitors an insight into everyday Thai life. Specialist operators can organise pedalling tours to Bangkok Jungle (Bang Kachao), a semi-island across the Chao Phraya River with few cars or houses. Recreational Bangkok Biking offers itineraries. www.bangkokbiking.com
What’s in a name? Thais call their capital Krung Thep, an abbreviated version of (take a deep breath): Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Yuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit. The world’s longest place name roughly translates as ‘City of Angels’.
Published in Jan/Feb 2011 © National Geographic Traveller UK