According to the 2018 Mastercard Global Destination Cities Index, Bangkok is the most visited city in the world, welcoming more than 20 million international visitors in 2017. Some days, it can feel as if all 20 million of them are in the Thai capital at once.
Then again, it’s easy to understand Bangkok’s appeal. The weather is warm all year. The place buzzes with energy and overseas travellers get serious bang for their Thai baht, especially around eating, drinking and shopping.
It isn’t just leisure travellers making a beeline for Bangkok, either. Courtesy of policies introduced by the late King Rama IX, the city has established itself as a business-friendly hub with aspirations of becoming an Asian trade and digital economy powerhouse. And with the amount of activity, construction and foreign investment taking place around the corporate precincts of Silom and Sathorn, it appears that Bangkok is well on the way to achieving its goal.
While it’s unquestionably an international city, there’s still plenty of Thai flavour to be found in Bangkok’s back streets – especially from the delicious and convenient street food on offer. The result is a cosmopolitan destination where business and play come together easily.
Coffee pit stop
A short walk from Saphan Taksin pier and BTS Skytrain, this hip two-storey café inside a former boat repair shop has fast won over locals since opening at the start of the year. Whether you perch downstairs (great for people watching) or up (better for working), count on great coffee made using beans from Sarnies’ own roastery.
Weathered timber surfaces. Covetable Scandinavian chairs. Natural light galore. You’d go to this café inside a furniture showroom just to take photos. But there’s substance along with Luka’s abundant style. Great coffee aside, snappy breakfast burritos, shakshuka and a watermelon and feta salad are on hand to help seal the deal.
That the Thai capital is home not only to great Italian cooking but also good regional Italian cooking speaks volumes about its cosmopolitan dining scene. Helmed by butcher’s son Paolo Vitaletti, this Roman trattoria remains faithful to Eternal City food traditions, from great porchetta to delectable regional pastas such as carbonara and amatriciana. Grab a seat at the bar, order a glass of something from the Mediterranean-skewed wine list – vino made from organically and biodynamically grown grapes are a focus – and know the meaning of happiness.
The Bangkok-born chef Bee Satongun may have discovered a love of cooking in Australia but it’s in her home city that she found her voice. From a “salad” of watermelon, ground salmon and galangal to a vivid southern-style yellow crab curry, the food at Paste boldly and proudly celebrates Siamese tradition. While the dishes are polished, discreet service and curved, private dining booths make this Michelin-starred fine-diner ideal for combining business and (gastronomic) pleasure.
Drinks with clients
Named for the former United States First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, this upmarket bar is as elegant-cool as the rest of the tenants at the hip Siri House precinct. Sofa seating and a tropical mid-20th century aesthetic tick the boxes for chilled and sophisticated – ditto the classic cocktails.
1. Benchakiti Park may be within touching distance of Soi 11’s bustling nightlife but its atmosphere has a sense of calm rather than chaos. A flash of green among the high-rises of Sukhumvit, the park and its central lake draw joggers, runners and cyclists. There are also paddleboats and bikes available to hire. Get there via various MRT and BTS stations.
2. Thai and Japanese cultures come together at Yunomori Onsen. Whether you prefer your onsen experience to be traditional (soaking in a garden) or new-school (the water in the “soda bath” is enriched with health-giving carbon dioxide), this house of relaxation on bustling Sukhumvit Road is an ideal recharge station.
3.Not all rooftop bars are built for parties. Hidden on the 57th floor of the Waldorf Astoria Bangkok, The Champagne Bar is an intimate and refined salon accessible by a hidden door. Arrive at opening time to nab a seat or couch by the window and enjoy a glass of bubbles while watching dusk envelop the city.
Best co-working space
“The Great Room” says it all. Connected directly to Chidlom BTS in Central Bangkok, this light-filled space makes staying productive on the road easy (start your week with the Monday Breakfast Club and end the day with a cookie and hot chocolate). Day passes are THB950 ($45) with meeting rooms and full-time and virtual desks also available.
Opened in March in the lively Lumpini district, Rosewood Bangkok celebrates Thai culture in myriad ways, not least via its svelte, tapered shape that was modelled on the traditional wai gesture of greeting. Rooms are elegantly appointed, with a neutral palette and floor-to-ceiling windows for exquisite views, while dining options include European brasserie classics and southern and northern regional Chinese specialties.
If you have a couple of hours…
Bangkok boasts one of South-East Asia’s liveliest contemporary art scenes. Housed in a 125-year-old mansion, H Gallery is ideal for a flying visit, while Bangkok CityCity Gallery sports a more urban flavour.
If you have half a day…
Part second-hand store, part design museum, Papaya is Bangkok’s last word when it comes to finding one-of-a-kind mementos. Spread across three floors, the store’s sprawling inventory takes in everything from vintage Thai songbooks to statement furniture pieces. It’s not just shoppers that swing past, either; photographers use Papaya as a location for shoots as well as mining its rich seam of antique props.
If you have a day…
Koh Kret Village, an island settlement on the Chao Phraya River, is an excellent daytrip for locals and visitors alike but getting here might take some planning. One option is to head to Saphan Taksin pier and catch a boat. Once you’re on the (man-made) island, life shifts gears. Rent a bicycle to cruise around admiring the local pottery before dining at one of the many restaurants set up in converted houses.
If you have a weekend…
A former fishing village, Hua Hin became a getaway destination for Bangkok residents after the Thai royal family built summer palaces there in the 1920s. As you’d expect in a city by the sea, water activities – excursions to islands off nearby Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, perhaps – are an attraction but great golfing and eating also feature among Hua Hin’s drawcards. (There is, for the curious, Inu Cafe where friendly Shiba Inus offer “dog therapy”.) A private-car transfer is the fastest and most economical way for groups of four or more to make the 200-kilometre journey here from Bangkok.