- Euro-Thai high rise
- A lollop from Lumpini
- Bangkok meets Park Avenue
- Uptown embassy enclave
- Manicured minimalism
- Sparkling South Sathorn streets
- Designer eyrie
- Hot shopping quarter
- Exclusive city sanctuary
- Shops and saloons of Sukhumvit
- Urban fable
- Leafy soi, left of centre
- Thai art deco allure
- Right on the river
- Stately sanctum
- Bustling embassy enclave
- Mega-malls and bustling bazaars
- City life
- Riverside and rooftop thrills
Sultry and engaging, Thailand's captial is a warm whirlwind of sights, sounds, smells and tastes. This Venice of the East is criss-crossed with canals, thronging with traffic and brimming with temples, palaces, markets and malls.
Whatever you do, don’t be put off by Bangkok’s travails: no other city on earth offers such a staggering array of affordable pleasures (and we don’t mean in the notorious red-light district). From sumptuous day spas and exquisite dining to on-the-hoof street snacks or boutique browsing, gratification is never more than a moment away. Bangkok may have become a byword for exoticism, but the only word that matters in the City of Angels is sanook – a Thai term that translates to ‘easygoing fun’.
In spite of prolific commercialism, Bangkok retains a profound spiritual side rarely found in modern cities, and it’s not surprising to stumble upon a shrine as you trundle between shopping centres and high-rise office blocks. The best example is the famous Erawan Shrine at the Ratchaprasong intersection, wedged between some of the city’s largest malls and five-star hotels. This highly revered deity attracts Thais who come to ‘make merit’; watch while they conduct prayer rituals (often with Louis Vuitton bag in hand) and marvel at the traditional Thai dancers.
- The open-sided, three-wheel auto rickshaws known as tuk tuks look fun but are best avoided. Take a metered taxi instead: there’s a flat hire rate of THB35 with fares usually rounded up to the nearest THB5. Most taxi drivers won’t speak English, so have directions in Thai to hand.
- Tipping culture
- A 10 per cent service charge is included in most hotel and restaurant bills, but it’s relatively rare that this reaches the staff. Where service has been exceptional, a cash tip is always appreciated.
- Siesta and fiesta
- Business hours are 8am–5.30pm on weekdays. Banks usually open between 8.30am and 3pm during the week. Malls often stay open until 9pm or 10pm. Many bars and low-key restaurants keep entertaining into the small hours.
- Packing tips
- Bangkok sells plenty of threads at rock-bottom prices, so pack light and reinvent your wardrobe. During the rainy season, a Pakamac™ will be your BFF.
- Recommended reads
- To get to grips with the nuances of Thai popular culture, pick up a copy of Phil Cornwel-Smith’s highly entertaining Very Thai. John Burdett’s detective thrillers, Bangkok 8 and Bangkok Tattoo are pulpy but engaging. Michelin-starred David Thompson’s guide to local cuisine, Thai Food, is an essential gastro-publication.
- Bangkok is a gastronome’s paradise, feeding visitors everything from the victuals of Chinatown and the planet’s finest street food to upscale international cuisine at the city’s gamut of gourmet restaurants. The most authentic (and usually the freshest) food is to be found at the ubiquitous roadside stalls strewn across the city.
- Thai baht. £1 is approximately THB50.
- Time zone
- Time zone GMT +7
- Dialling codes
- Country code for Thailand: 66; Bangkok (0)2
- Do go/don't go
- Temperatures are on the cooler side of roasting from November to February, but between April and July, the mercury can shoot up to 40ºC. The rainy season runs May to October.
Don't go home without...
indulging in a pampering treatment at one of Bangkok’s many salons. Pretty up tired talons and trotters with a mani/pedi at a Take Care beauty salon at Siam Paragon (+66 (0)26 107 771) or Sukhumvit soi 33 (+66 (0)26 620 805); Healthland (www.healthlandspa.com) is the locals’ choice for massage.