Bangkok is the world’s most visited city, with well over 20 million people dropping in each year. For Australians, it’s not just a destination — it’s also a convenient stopover on the way to or from somewhere else.
A stopover has different priorities than a full holiday: It’s likely to be between long flights, so rest, exercise and at least one good meal are high priorities. And if it’s Bangkok, you must include some time for shopping.
Bangkok has some of the most exclusive hotels in the world, notably the renowned Mandarin Oriental, but also the Peninsula, and so many others. They aren’t cheap, but fortunately, there’s a wide range of mid-range hotels that offer comfort, cleanliness, and security.
One hotel that’s perfectly located and very Australian-friendly is the four-star Rembrandt Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 18. This has been a very popular area for a long time so you’ll find everything you need nearby. It’s also less than a 10-minute walk to the Asok BTS station.
The 5 star interior of the Mandarin Oriental is quite impressive (Image credit: Thanan Kongdoung)
The Rembrandt Hotel offers modern rooms, fast wifi, and a range of restaurants. It’s particularly good value if you book an Executive room or suite, as these are not only on the upper floors of the hotel with views but provide access to the Executive Lounge that offers breakfast, and evening drinks and canapés, as well as a separate check-in and check-out. Altogether, it provides a very relaxing break.
One of the more dramatic developments in Bangkok in recent years has been the evolution of its shopping malls. A good example is Terminal 21 Bangkok on Sukhumvit Road, which has an international airport theme. The information boards look like departure ones and the staff at the information desk wear flight attendant-style uniforms.
Each floor is themed as a different part of the world — the basement is Caribbean themed (and has an excellent gourmet food store), then there’s Rome, Paris, and Tokyo. The third floor is Istanbul and its many gift shops do resemble a souk. When you arrive at the Golden Gate Bridge suspended above, you’re in San Francisco and the restaurant precinct. It’s fun, and while much of the fashion is for young Thais, the gifts and electronics make for hours of shopping.
One MTS stop away is the very stylish EmQuartier, home to renowned designers from Celine and Jimmy Choo to Rolex and Prada. While the Helix Quartier and the Glass Quartier are stylish, the Waterfall Quartier with its rainforest and outside area is spectacular.
The natural sculpture running through the Emquartier is a breath of fresh air (Image credit: Nattakit Jeerapatmaitree)
The best way to have a memorable stay in Bangkok is with an outstanding Thai meal. One option is Nahm, where Australia’s own David Thompson has drawn huge accolades for his interpretation of Thai cuisine.
To quote the World’s Best Restaurants, “Get ready for flavour: Chef David Thompson and his team take exquisite pains to ensure their dishes are perfectly balanced, but when Thai food is your metier, there’s an undeniable power to the flavours on the plate, with smoke, heat, sourness, funk, and bitterness all playing their part.”
On my most recent visit to Bangkok, I managed to get a booking at Bo.Lan, long regarded as one of Bangkok’s best restaurants. It moved locations several years ago and the new restaurant at Sukhumvit Soi 53 is beautiful. As you enter the grounds, you leave the Bangkok streets behind and walk through a water garden.
Before you are taken to your table, you visit the kitchen to meet the chefs and try a starter there. The set menu is inventive and reveals Thai cuisine at its very best. As we left, we stopped by the gift shop to buy a gift of some pepper oil that a pepper-obsessed friend in Sydney later pronounced as superb.
Perhaps the only service more widely available than food in Bangkok is a massage. Indeed, these can be combined — opposite the Rembrandt Hotel, the Lean On Tree is both an outdoor restaurant and an indoor spa. Both were good without being great.
Whether you need to be kneaded into shape after a long flight or following hours of shopping, you’ll find a massage service wherever you are. The cost of a one-hour foot massage that will leave you floating on air is a fraction of what you’d pay at home.
Massage options range from the ubiquitous street massage shops to highly refined two-hour massages for couples or perhaps a massage by the blind. You can even have a massage at Wat Pho, regarded as the original home of the Thai massage, where you can learn how to do it yourself (though probably not to yourself).
Wat Pho is not only the home of Thai massage, but also an imporant Buddhist temple
The airport and transfers
When Suvarnabhumi Airport opened in 2006, it marked a turning point in the growing sophistication of Bangkok. It was a dramatic step up in every way from Don Mueang Airport, that is still used for some domestic flights.
Whether you want some last minute shopping, a massage, a meal, or simply some downtime in a tranquil lounge — it’s all here. Considering the often-dreadful Bangkok traffic, it’s very convenient that the airport is served by an airport rail link that connects to the BTS network.
You can do a lot in just a day in Bangkok and much of it can be specific to the special attractions of the city. When selecting your next stopover, put the Thai capital at the top of your list.
Have you found something in Bangkok that you’d recommend to other WYZA readers?