Check out the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho in Bangkok (Photo: City Press)
Bangkok is a rush, every time. The metropolis is powered by a good-natured population of 8 million in the CBD alone. Known as a premium shopping mecca, there’s no shortage of glitzy emporiums where you can part with your baht – but the real personality of the place is found on the pavements, thriving microcosms of vintage markets, wheelbarrow cafés, arcades, massage lounges, tattoo dens, tailors and one-stop shops selling everything from pies to plasters.
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Bangkok baristas are slaying it, and there’s a slew of top-notch places to sate your caffeine addiction. Gallery Drip Coffee in the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre is owned by two artists, and is a creative space loaded with character, cool murals and art. It’s a good place to pull back the pace and browse a selection of books, ceramics and other paraphernalia for sale.
They use single-origin beans sourced from arabica plantations in and around Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.
Afterwards, take a walk around the stores in the centre to make sure you experience other restaurants and the art exhibitions.
- 107 Rama Road 1, ground floor Bangkok Art and Culture Centre
Roadside grub in Bangkok is in a league of its own and Jay Fai, with her eponymous restaurant in the historic Rattanakosin, is the only female Michelin-starred street food chef in Thailand. Seafood is her forte and her signature crab omelette is the stuff of glowing reviews – she even had Martha Stewart declaring her the best chef in Thailand.
After cooking at the same eatery for 40 years, she has long taken pavement pad Thai to new heights and, at the age of 74, shows no sign of slowing down. Dishes, at 500 to 1 000 baht (R196 to R393), are way pricier than at other street food stalls, but it’s what you pay when eating anywhere with a starry accolade.
- Reservations 092 724 9633 or email@example.com
MANGO AND STICKY RICE
You’re in Thailand, so forget the eggs Benedict and do breakfast Thai-style. Maybe a bowl of flat noodles will see you right, or if you’re feeling fruity, stop for a takeaway at Mae Varee in hip Thong Lo for a portion of mango and sticky rice served with sweet and creamy coconut sauce. It’s the best place to get it, fact.
The store hums with a stream of foreign and local customers, which is always a good sign. It’s conveniently located a few steps from the Skytrain, and with Thong Lo being one of the coolest areas in Bangkok, it’s a great place to explore further as you snack.
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Cho Why Art Gallery on Soi Nana in Chinatown is a multidisciplinary space in an original Chinese shophouse that showcases installations, photography and art exhibitions, as well as doccie screenings and experimental work.
It’s also a prime event destination used for informal gatherings like rooftop paella nights, so keep tabs on their Facebook page for info on what’s current and forthcoming.
HOME-MADE ICE CREAM
Rattanakosin is one of the most antiquated and best-preserved areas of Bangkok, dating back to King Rama V, where artisans have plied their trade for close to 100 years, and where each small store has a plaque outside telling a little of its history. It’s hard to find if you don’t know your way around Tanao Road, so book a guide and visit the Nutthaporn parlour, which makes exceptional home-made ice cream. Try the black sesame seed flavour and pair it with the home-made buttered cake.
There are also many landmarks to visit in the immediate area.
- Phraeng Phuthon Road, Khwaeng San Chao Pho Sua
A visit to Bangkok means at least one temple visit and Wat Pho, 10 minutes from the Grand Palace, is a good place to start. It’s home to the 46 metre-long Reclining Buddha, whose vast mother-of-pearl feet alone measure 5 metres in length. The statue is a gleaming sight to behold.
The temple complex holds many other attractions as well, so explore the grounds and then book a traditional Thai massage in an open-plan pavilion (don’t expect a fancy spa environment).
Wat Pho is the national headquarters for the preservation and teaching of traditional Thai medicine, and the therapy techniques used are rooted in ancient methods.
Jim Thompson was a self-made US entrepreneur and architect who fell in love with Bangkok after he was posted there by the US army after World War 2. His fascination with the art of weaving silk by hand led to his reviving the ancient craft in Thailand and starting a silk company that has morphed into an empire.
Jim Thompson House, on the banks of the San Saeb Canal, is the home he designed and built in 1959 from six other Thai houses that he’d bought, dismantled and transported to the current site from all over Thailand. Today, it is a museum that houses his art collection and other exquisite artefacts.
- Soi Kasemsan 2, opposite National Stadium
Drinking a cocktail overlooking the city is a signature experience in Bangkok, and the rooftop bar at the stylish Siam@Siam Design Hotel will have you oohing and aahing from the minute you step on to the terrace. Aside from the cocktail offering, the wine list is excellent.
Book for dinner and a sleepover because you won’t want to leave. Arrive early, sip slowly and take in the stunning panoramic views.
- 865 Rama 1 Road, opposite National Stadium
Foat was partly hosted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. For more of her writing, follow her on Twitter @allisonfoat. For more info: Amazing Thailand South Africa