Sure, Bangkok is eating bugs on Khao San Road and lurid nightlife and tuk-tuks and temples. For many foreigners living in Yangon, it’s a getaway for shopping and feasting. But for the savvy traveler, the Thai capital is a trove of genuine surprises that color any visit with novel memories and photos.
Its main waterway, the Chao Phraya River, is as crucial to the city now as when it was founded by King Rama I in 1782—15 years after the Burmese sacked the former Siamese capital of Ayutthaya. Watch the river ferry cargo and passengers through the city from Yao rooftop bar atop of the newly opened Bangkok Marriot Hotel The Surawongse in the city’s storied old quarter.
As a five-star property surrounded by heritage sights on one of Bangkok’s oldest and most prominent roads, The Surawongse makes for a superb base to explore a lesser-known side of the capital. Nearby are the neoclassical Neilson Hays Library, the 19th century Sri Maha Mariamman Temple, and Bangkok Folk Museum, which gives an insight into the lives of well-heeled Bangkokians during World War II.
The décor of the hotel pays homage to the old Thai phrase “chang sip mu,” or “ten divisions of craftsmen,” which encompasses traditional Thai crafts of carving, modeling, lacquering and metal beating among others. In the lobby, for instance, as well as being greeted with a bracelet of scented flowers and a lemongrass tipple, guests will notice puppet models and costumes amid an abundance of silk. An easel, brushes and weaving are set stylishly around the reception; lacquer work adorns the ballroom door, and stenciled imagery of old Thai village life lines the walls of the breakfast and dinner restaurant, Praya Kitchen.
Take a few hours to enjoy the spa and infinity pool before venturing out in the local neighborhood. Then, heading southwest, prepare for a bicycle ride in the so-called “lungs” of the metropolis.
In the middle of the Chao Phraya River is a lush green island dotted with centuries-old temples and colorful orchards. Bang Krachao would feel similar to a lazy village on the banks of the Mekong River were it not for the skyline in the backdrop. Take a five-minute boat from Klong Toey port (10 baht) to the pier, where bikes are available for rent (70 baht per day, 30 baht per hour). Attractions include a firefly tour and the Bangkok Tree House, a boutique lodging and coffee pitstop. But perhaps the best fun here is to simply ride around Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan Park and Botanical Garden, spotting kingfishers, cranes, and slightly unnerving monitor lizards.
From Klong Toei station, hire a taxi to reach Klong Toey port and then take a boat to the island.
So Heng Tai
Whereas a visit to Bang Krachao might be better suited to the morning, So Heng Tai is the perfect place to while away an afternoon. The Fujian-style teak mansion in the old Chinese
neighborhood of Talat Noi has been standing for some 230 years, making it one of the first Chinese abodes to be built in the area, and one of the last remaining.
But the four-meter scuba diving pool dominating the space around its three pavilions is the icing on the cake. A Chinese migrant who became a successful trader in edible bird’s nest built the mansion during the reign of Rama I, so the story goes. Seven or eight generations later, his descendent built the pool to teach scuba diving students, and the district government requested he opened the house to the public. Visitors are asked to buy a drink, with profits going to maintenance of the house. For those interested in diving, the NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors) standard courses are 15,000 baht for locals and 16,000 baht for foreigners (course materials available in English, Japanese and Mandarin as well as Thai) and include an open dive in Pattaya.
282 Soi Wanit 2, Khwaeng Talat Noi, Khet Samphanthawong. Opened
Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday from 9am-6pm, Friday from 9am-9pm, and
Cycling Bang Krachao and sipping ice coffee in So Heng Tai would fill a day nicely. Equally as good would be scouring the wrecks of airplanes before catching a film in an historic cinema.
No one quite knows how the stripped carcasses of jets ended up in a large grassy lot near Ramkamhaeng Road Soi 101, but it has made for one of the most unusual draws in Bangkok. Although reachable by bus or taxi, the canal ferry from Klong to Wat Sri Bunruang Pier is an easy way to get here. Most of the seats, life jackets, safety manuals and oxygen masks have been taken from the former Orient Thai Airlines MD-82 jetliners and Boeing 747 nose sections, though bits are still scattered inside. Some of the fuselages are home to families, who charge about 200 baht for entrance to the site. When exploring the aircraft be respectful and extra careful because of the many sharp points and flimsy platforms.
Take the Klong canal ferry to the last stop, Wat Sri Bunruang Pier, and walk down Soi 107 to the busy highway Ramkamhaeng. Then take a right and walk for 100 meters.
Tie up a weekend getaway with a film at Scala, Thailand’s last remaining single-screen movie hall. Located at Siam Square shopping center, Scala was designed by architect Chira Silpakanok and opened in 1969. Scala means ‘stairs’ in Italian, a flight of which lead up to the art deco atrium and a grand chandelier. The 1,000-seat cinema usually leans toward independent films, and tickets are cheap. With the recent closure of Apex Theatre Group’s classic cinema Lido (the group also owns Scala), this movie hall has become even more special to the country. It’s modernist exterior is attractive, too. Go there for the ultimate retro cinema experience.
Scala Theatre, Siam Square Soi 1, Rama I Road. Find out what films are showing on +66 2 251 2861 or visit moveedoo.com.
Get there: Myanmar National Airlines (MNA) is a quality and comfortable airline that regularly flies Yangon-Bangkok, roundtrip from US$105.
Stay: The Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse is the Thai capital’s latest five-star property, located in an area steeped with history and attractions. Visit marriott.com for deals and reservations.