For Frederick

October 2016.

A Week in Bangkok

Dear Frederick,

Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, rests at the intersection of modernity and antiquity, combining a cosmopolitan street life with the timelessness of the past. It’s a place of contradictions, where the grit and character of historic neighborhoods are nestled besides skyscrapers, and where new mega-malls stand beside golden palaces. That just means that the city’s hidden treasures are waiting to be explored: wandering through Chinatown’s narrow streets can bring you to a live Chinese opera or some of the best street food you’ve tasted. In a city that truly offers something for everyone and the opportunity to become lost in a strange and beautiful capital, embrace the Bangkok residents’ philosophy of “sà-nùk,” the belief that every aspect of life should include a dash of fun and playfulness.

Day 1: Arrival

Pim, your guide, will be awaiting you at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok to escort you to your hotel, The Siam. Pim is an experienced writer, traveler, and author of many books on Thai culture. He has also authored the acclaimed Lonely Planet guidebooks, and is a perfect guide for an introduction to Thai Temples, nightlife of Bangkok or a walkabout through the Old Town.

Per our conversation, I selected this luxury resort because it is settled in the middle of Bangkok’s famous palace and historic district, giving you the unique opportunity to explore this unknown side of one of the world’s great cities. The hotel’s location is distinctive because you can access most points of interest by foot, Siam Boat or a short Tuk-Tuk ride. Bangkok’s Old Town, Historic District and Riverside have some of the Kingdom’s finest temples, monuments, museums, restaurants, markets, galleries, shopping, temples, neighborhoods and architecture. Slow travel is the norm here as the journey is just as important as the destination.

After some time spent settling into The Siam, you will take a boat in the early evening to River Citya four-story mall overlooking sweeping views of the Chao Phraya River. It offers a good range of fashion and jewellery shops, as well as riverside eateries with outdoor dining terraces. A well-known landmark on the Chao Phraya riverbank, River City has been around since 1984. Originally, it served a niche market of antique collectors and traders, spearheading monthly auction events where sellers and buyers of antiques could meet. Many antique shop owners here are pioneers of the trade and can offer expert advice on their products, whether they’re genuine antiques or modern reproductions. Be sure to tell them that you are a Siam guest to get the best price.

Dinner will be at the hotel’s Chon Cooking School, where you will sample signature Thai dishes while learning about the region and its cuisine.

Day 2: Canals

Per our discussions, I have planned a morning return to the Chao Phraya River, where, this time, you will explore some of Bangkok’s historic sites by boat. Bangkok has earned the nickname “Venice of the East” for its klongs, or canals, and they will evoke a sense of the city’s past as you journey past floating wooden shophouses and snapshots of life untouched by the advent of traffic and tourism. From your boat, you will see the Grand Palace, a complex of buildings with architecture that blends the past and present and Eastern and Western influences, and the golden Reclining Buddha statue in Wat Pho. Across from Wat Pho, catch a view of Wat Arun, considered one of the most stunning buildings in Bangkok. Its unique design includes colorful tiles said to have been donated by local people, and you will be heralded by the teeming of the temple’s bells from the river.

As every good journey must find the balance between activity and rest, you will spend the rest of the afternoon rejuvenating at the hotel. After your lunch, you can indulge at the Opium Spa. Based on your preferences, I recommend unwinding with a massage or taking one of the yoga classes led on an outdoor terrace. Your evening will conclude with a dinner reservation at Gaggan, which offers progressive Indian cuisine and was recently voted the best restaurant in Asia.

Day 3: Historical sites

Get an early start today for a classic journey through the most famous of Bangkok’s historic sites. Just as travel connects us between two worlds, so is this city connected by two realities: the old and the new, the East and the West, the familiar and the unfamiliar. Based on your interests in fully exploring Bangkok’s history, I know today’s tours will allow you to better understand the threads that bind Bangkok together.

Pim will take you by Tuk Tuk to the Marble Temple, Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall, and Vinmamek Mansion. The red-roofed Marble Temple is one of the land’s most beautiful temples, and by walking along its veranda, you can see 52 different Buddha statues depicting classical styles from Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, and Japan. Dusit Throne Hall weaves together Victorian and Moorish influences to create some of Thailand’s finest architecture from the early 1990s, now home to a museum of regional handiwork. Finally, Vimanmek Mansion offers a chance to visit the largest golden teakwood mansion in the world while browsing a collection of photographs, art, and treasures formerly owned by some of Thailand’s kings. All of these buildings stand as a witness to what travelers find so compelling: the rich heritage, pursuit of beauty, and ancientness of this land.

For lunch, you will take a break from sightseeing at the homey and award-winning Krua Asporn. Royally patronized, this authentic Thai restaurant includes a clientele of fussy families and big-haired, middle-aged ladies, and offers cuisine revolving around full-flavoured Thai dishes composed primarily of seafood and vegetables. This is one of the most famous restaurants in Thailand and a must for every visitor. Having indulged here many times myself, I have some strong recommendations: Green Curry With Fish Balls, Stir-fried Crab Meat with Yellow Chili and String beans, Crabmeat Omelet, Fried Giant River Prawns, and Mushroom Larb.

After an afternoon spent exploring and resting at your leisure, prepare to experience how Bangkok comes alive by night. Take the night River Boat to the Memorial Phra Pokklao Bridge for a favorite nighttime stroll through the Flower Market, Bangkok’s largest flower market that is at its most bustling after midnight. The Flower Market is a feast for the senses, an experience unmatched anywhere else in the world—Bangkok at its best.

Dinner will be at Jae Fai, home of some of the kingdom’s finest street food. One of Bangkok’s legendary street restaurants, a bowl of noodles costs 10 times as much as everywhere else—and it’s worth every penny. This place is still definitely no-frills and only accepts payment in cash. Mom, who is ageless, still cooks every dish herself over charcoal burners. The wait can be long, so I recommend having our staff order ahead for you to be ready at a certain time.

Day 4: Waterfront

Your morning will start early with a visit to infamous red archway Sao Ching Cha, across from which are ancient shrines believed to be essential to Bangkok’s wellbeing. If you’re lucky, one of the local Brahmin priests will give you a tour of the sumptuous Vishnu shrine, where you probably won’t see a single other foreigner. Later, venture to Wat Saket and the Golden Mount, once the highest point in royal Bangkok. The temple, situated on a man-made hill, provides an opportunity to travel back in time: before climbing a path curling up the hillside like a loosely coiled snake, an overgrown cemetery stands as a testament to Bangkok’s plague victims. Ascend to the summit for a panoramic view of the city’s historic districts.

Lunch will be at the city’s famous Phat Thai Thip Samai, a favorite for both locals and visitors. The remainder of the afternoon will be spent visiting the Jim Thompson Thai House & Museum, a collection of Thai sculptures assembled from all over the country in the mid-1900s by an American businessman enamored with Thai culture who resuscitated the Thai silk industry. If you’re in a retail mood, don’t miss the opportunity to bring home some silk and artwork from the museum shop.

Next, you will visit San Phra Phrom, where you will see a statue of the Hindu god Lord Brahma—then move on to the royal monastery Wat Patumwan. Your day will end with another journey on the water. Enjoy dinner on your cruise as you observe the Bangkok waterfront, with views of the Grand Palace, Wat Arun, and the city’s dynamic skyline, where structures new and old intermingle at sunset.

Day 5: Flower market

Bangkok is home to a thriving culinary culture and today will allow you the opportunity to indulge in famous Thai dishes, as well as those infused with the influence of other countries. Your morning will begin with Pim guiding you through Pharuat Market. This vibrant Little India community will transport you across the Bay of Bengal as you stop for a refreshing lassi or Indian masala tea. Once the site where many Indians migrated to Thailand nearly 200 years ago, it is now a bustling and vibrant area where you can dine on Indian cuisine or peruse racks of fabrics and batik lace. As it is close to Bangkok’s Chinatown, Pim will help you navigate the maze of street food stalls and Buddha statues to find streets where restaurants selling barbecued pork are juxtaposed to those cooking Chinese vegetarian curry. However, be sure to save room for dinner, which will take place at a restaurant near the ancient Chinese Tiger God shrine, now a popular prayer spot for both Thai and Chinese people. The home-cooked meal will be the perfect way to end your visit to the smaller communities within Bangkok, a testament to the city’s intermingling of cultures, beliefs, and residents.

Day 6: Thailand’s Historic Neighborhoods

Your morning will begin with a guided tour of the Kuti Jeen district and the Church of Santa Cruz, an artifact of Thailand’s first European settlers. Kuti-Jeen, home to a Chinese-Portugese community, is one of Bangkok’s last surviving neighborhoods where all the local structures are built of wood. Lunch will be at a tiny shophouse, where the Thai cook is known to prepare some of the most delicious phat krapao in Bangkok. Your tour of Bangkok’s historic neighborhoods will bring you to Nang Loeng, where you can see the now-closed Sala Chaloem Thai, the oldest wooden cinema in Thailand, or a nearby market, one of the oldest in Bangkok. This outing will offer you a last opportunity to explore Thonburi’s canal network and the largely unchanging Bangkokian riverine existence. Savor the experience of observing a way of life untouched by development, still bearing a sense of timelessness that we may lose sight of in landscape with shifting values and priorities.

In the evening, you will watch Lakhon Hun Lek, a sacred dance-drama tradition using puppets, at the community artist settlement Baan Silapin, a community entirely on stilts. Small homes dripping with flowers and unique art installations will bring you to a Bangkok of years ago. Dangle your legs into the river while feeding catfish, or relax with a good book. After dinner at Nahm at the Hotel Metropolitan, you have the rest of your last evening in Bangkok to continue treading the paths, both popular and hidden, that the city has to offer.

Day 7: Departure

This morning, you will bid farewell to Bangkok. Destinations are easy to find, but it is what we do with them that counts. You will carry with you the sights and memories of the Bangkok canals and temples as you continue on your life’s journey.

Frederick, it has been a joy to plan this itinerary for you. Please do not hesitate to call, should the need arise.