3 Days of Food, Shopping and Relaxation in BangkokBy Ana Kalaw
A palpable energy brews in Bangkok, providing inspiration and invigoration to go-getters and wide-eyed tourists alike. It’s hard not to get swept away by the city’s dynamic bustle and its fascinating mix of grit and glam.
Amid the modernity of glass-fronted skyscrapers and high-rise luxury condominiums, Bangkok is also home to 19th-century shophouses and sprawling temples. Pockets of history are found throughout the riverside Old Town, while massive mixed-use complexes in the city center give glimpses of the world of tomorrow. Sukhumvit, Bangkok’s main thoroughfare, and its side streets are home to luxury malls and stylish hotels, as well as street vendors selling inexpensive merchandise and à la minute fare. It’s a place where opposites come together seamlessly.
It’s easy to jump right into Bangkok’s history, mouthwatering food and retail entertainment, but take time to appreciate its hidden charms, as well. Explore the parks or the Chao Phraya River, and wander around narrow alleyways with an iced drink in hand. Three days may not be enough to see everything that Bangkok has to offer, but it’s enough to get a taste of the city’s pleasures, great and small.
As always, check for travel guidelines and closures before planning your trip.
Friday: A Day of Art and Culture
You can’t claim to have visited Bangkok without a trip to Charoenkrung, Bangkok’s first paved road, where the merge between past and present is most evident. In this soulful neighborhood, Chinese-style shophouses, European-inspired mansions and early 20th-century buildings still stand as a reminder of Bangkok’s diverse past.
Charoenkrung is known as Bangkok’s creative district, home to warehouses-turned-galleries and art boutiques. And what better way to kick off a day in this artsy area than with breakfast at the art-inspired Le Méridien Bangkok, which features modern design and artistic installations that whimsically interpret Bangkok street life. Its all-day dining restaurant Latest Recipe serves a satisfying Thai breakfast set of green curry with chicken and vegetables and Thai omelet.
Make sure to fill up. You’ll need the energy for a walking tour of Talad Noi, a historic area that welcomed the city’s first Chinese settlers during the early 19th century. Spanning the narrow streets that branch out from Charoenkrung Road, Talad Noi is known for its fascinating blend of beautifully preserved heritage buildings, traditional shophouses turned into trendy coffee shops, pocket markets and street art.
Points of interest include the Chao Zhou Shi Kong Shrine, built in 1804 by the first group of Hokkien Chinese immigrants to Bangkok; the Gothic-style Holy Rosary Church, which amazes with its arched doorways and stained-glass windows; and the So Heng Tai Mansion, which features a stunning fusion of European and Chinese architecture. Talad Noi’s crisscrossing alleys are also livened up by a series of colorful murals and street art installations just begging to be documented for social media.
Bangkok can get very hot, so take a break from the heat and pop into one of the handful of tea rooms in the area for a quick refresher. A favorite is Citizen Tea Canteen of Nowhere, which churns out artisanal, ice-loaded milky drinks made with tea from different regions in Thailand.
When your stomach starts to growl, hop on one of Bangkok’s famed motorized rickshaws, a tuk tuk, to the Si Phraya pier for lunch at Feng Zhu. This quaint stall serves specialty potstickers stuffed with spiced meat or a variety of mushrooms. These small bites also come unconventionally topped with mozzarella cheese, salted egg yolk or wakame (seaweed). For a proper sit-down meal, check out Samlor, a cozy spot that serves elevated Thai street food.
To get a better feel of the creativity that abounds in Charoenkrung, make your way to River City, a renowned hub for art that houses galleries, antique shops and dealer showrooms, all in one modern space. This art-focused shopping center is connected via a skywalk to the long-standing riverside establishment, Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel & Towers, where you’ll find the nautical-themed restaurant Siam Yacht Club. It’s perfect for catching sunset views over the Chao Phraya River and sipping on a Thai-inspired drink or two before dinner.
A few minutes’ walk from River City is Warehouse 30, which champions local art and enterprises. Cargo containers have been converted into a minimalist exhibition space, trendy galleries and cafés, as well as cute boutiques selling vintage wares and novelty items.
Have a progressive Michelin-starred Thai dinner at 80/20, just a few hundred yards from the hotel. The restaurant is best known for using locally sourced produce to create inventive tasting menus that represent the many complex flavors of Thai fare.
Before calling it a night, have at least one drink at Tropic City, which is an easy two-minute walk away. A mainstay on the list of Asia’s Best Bars, this neon-lit establishment creates cocktails so delicious you won’t mind staying out past bedtime.
Saturday: Retail Therapy
Wake up refreshed and head to El Mercado in the center of downtown Bangkok for a hearty Western breakfast with eggs, freshly squeezed OJ and lots of bread. From here, it’s easy to cab ride for a quick meander around Benchakitti Park, where you’ll find beautifully landscaped greenery and a serene pond connected by a pedestrian sky bridge.
One of the pathways leads to the newly renovated Queen Sirikit National Convention Center (QSNCC). Unless there’s an ongoing event or convention, the center is generally deserted, giving you ample opportunities to take photos against its sleek minimalist interiors infused with modern Thai details and art. While you’re here, you may want to grab an iced latte at %Arabica on the mezzanine level.
You can’t leave Bangkok without experiencing what Thais call their national pastime: shopping. Down the main road from QSNCC, there’s Terminal 21, a super-fun shopping center where each floor’s theme is a major global city. Shop for trinkets and beauty products right by the Eiffel Tower on the Paris level, or walk away with unique finds from one of the souk-style alleys on the Istanbul floor. (Bonus: This shopping haven is strategically located right next to The Westin Grande Sukhumvit.)
Take a break for lunch and treat yourself to refined Thai dishes at Royal Osha, an elegant, high-ceilinged dining room on the embassy-lined stretch of Wireless Road. It’s one of the best places to try pineapple curry with prawns or wagyu beef with a Thai twist.
For something less upmarket, try your luck at Sa-nguan Sri, also on Wireless Road. Probably the most unassuming establishment on this avenue, this legendary eatery is always packed with office workers sitting elbow to elbow as they tuck into homestyle Thai fare such as fried mackerel with shrimp paste sauce or what has been touted as the best green curry in town.
After feasting, take the Skytrain to Chidlom station for an afternoon of retail pursuits. Here you have megamall centralwOrld and luxury shopping mall Gaysorn Village. Both are connected to Platinum Mall, a multilevel wholesale retail center with endless rows of stalls plying trendy clothing and fashion accessories at bargain prices.
Post-shopping, you may want to take a moment to light an incense stick and pray for blessings from the Hindu god Brahma at the Erawan Shrine, central Bangkok’s most popular religious site. The shrine is located across from Gaysorn Village, which is home to another Hindu deity, Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and fortune.
Treat yourself to an indulgent sit-down dinner after a day of walking, shopping and speeding around. At Dine in the Dark at the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Bangkok, your meal is served in inky darkness, encouraging you to enjoy your food by relying on your senses of smell, taste and touch. Visually impaired staff expertly guide diners on the intricacies of each dish.
The Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit has the upper hand when it comes to novel dining experiences in the city. The hotel also has Le Petit Chef, which combines projection mapping and gourmet cuisine in one unforgettable immersive dinner.
If you’re still up for drinks after dinner, the Sheraton is a skip away from Abandoned Mansion. At this “gangster-themed speakeasy,” you can enjoy live jazz music and a fine cigar along with drinks made with unexpected ingredients and named after notorious mobsters, such as the John Dillinger (popcorn with whisky) or the Al Capone (bourbon fat-washed with Italian salami).
From here, take a short taxi ride or the Skytrain to House of Heals at Renaissance Bangkok Ratchaprasong Hotel. The passion project of Pangina Heals, Bangkok’s most famous drag queen, House of Heals is a joyful, inclusive queer space that shoots off high-voltage drag performances on a nightly basis.
Sunday: Calm in the City
Have a late breakfast of generously filled bagels and sandwiches plus an iced coconut long black coffee at crowd-favorite Sarnies on Soi Sukhumvit 37. Specialty coffee enthusiasts may want to café-hop and make stops at Ceresia Coffee Roasters on Soi Sukhumvit 33 or Roast at luxury mall EmQuartier.
You may want to do some last-minute shopping at EmQuartier, but if you’ve exhausted all your shopping energy — and budget — the mall has a multilevel green space that’s perfect for taking a much-needed breather amid mini-waterfalls and pocket gardens. Benchasiri Park right across the road is also a nice place to stretch your legs and absorb nature’s reinvigorating energy.
EmQuartier is also home to several highly recommended dining options, including Sava All Day Dining, which puts a luxurious twist on homey Thai comfort fare. If you have a yearning to try unconventional regional Thai cuisine, walk over to Sri Trat, a casual-chic eatery that specializes in seafood dishes from Trat on Thailand’s eastern coast. Signature dishes include spicy sea bass soup with salacca (a palm fruit) and shrimp paste, and lon pu kai, a coconut-milk-based dip with delicious crabmeat, crab roe and minced pork.
Another option is EKKALUCK at Maidi Paidi Bangkok, Autograph Collection, where the inventive Thai-cosmopolitan dishes are thoughtfully curated to surprise and delight guests through an elevated form of progressive cuisine, presentation and service.
After strolling through Bangkok’s urban jungle, a leafy change of pace is in order. Take the Skytrain to Punnawithi Station to access 101 True Digital Park, a massive multiuse complex with more than 54,000 square feet of green space that’s ideal for working, catching up with friends or just plain relaxing. Grab a cold drink in one of the trendy cafés and go up to the rooftop garden where they grow native plants in harmony with the environment. Or you can just watch the world go by in the shade of sweeping branches on the public lawn.
The neighborhood you’re now in, Phra Khanong, is one of Bangkok’s fastest-growing. Walk east for eight minutes down a side street to get to Blue Wild Warehouse, a creative multipurpose hub that has been transformed from an old delivery depot into a hip space that retails preloved collectibles, cute bric-a-brac and retro fashions. From here, get back on Sukhumvit and grab a sweet treat from Drop By Dough, purveyors of doughnuts with the most exciting flavors.
If your appetite is calling out for something more satiating, make your way back west to Soi Sukhumvit 71 (“Pridi” to locals) for your final Thai meal in the city. Larb Lub Lub, set in an unassuming food court on Pridi Soi 43, serves some of the best Isaan bites in Bangkok alongside fresh Japanese produce.
Take things slow on your last night in Bangkok and head over to Soi Sukhumvit 26 back in Phrom Pong for a nightcap at Kilik Social Club. Sip ingredient-forward cocktails while settling into a cushy leather couch. Try the Kaisar-i-Hind, which has mango verjuice and mango lassi foam — a fitting drink to toast to sweet times in the Big Mango.
This article was created in partnership with Time Out.