I’ve been to Thailand twice in the past few months. I love the people, food, sites and hotels there, so it only made sense to go back again when a long weekend opportunity came up. This time, I decided to visit the big city of Bangkok. A number of friends in China have bought property there so I wanted to see how the city has evolved since the last time I visited nearly eight years ago.
Since I’ve been to Bangkok several times before, this won’t be a tourism post, but rather just to share some images of the areas I managed to visit in the short three night stay. My goals were to visit the old town during the day and Chinatown at night, watch the sunset at the King Power Mahanakhon Tower, eat at least one unique Michelin Star dinner, visit as many “food courts” as possible and go shopping at Icon Siam.
It was a lot to pack into three nights so the stops were shorter than I would have liked, but each left a strong impression of how much Bangkok has grown up over the past decade. It still has that special charm, with great people and food, but now with more sophistication and choice to add to that. Icon Siam especially really ups the game for what a shopping experience can be!
King Power Mahanakhon Tower
I would suggest this be your last evening in Bangkok so that you can identify all the spots you visited from high up top. The Mahanakhon Tower has become iconic in Bangkok’s skyline and is my second favourite modern building in Asia (Beijing’s CCTV Tower being my favourite). There’s lots to do in the tower including dining, entertainment, bars and of course, shopping.
I recommend booking tickets for the Skywalk during the slightly more expensive sunset time. Tickets as of August 2023 were 1080 Baht (US$30) per person. This included a cool, free CGI photo of you in various interesting positions on the tower, the digital elevator ride up to the 75th floor, and access to the outdoors 78th floor skywalk, sky lounge and viewing dock.
For the 78th floor viewing dock, the glass is low enough that you can easily place your camera above it to avoid reflections. It’s actually an amazing setup with dance music playing, a lounge with seating and drinks, and lots of seating on the viewing dock itself. The staff go to great pains to inform you that there’s no time limit once up top and encourage people to hang around and enjoy the views. Ticket sales are limited so it will never get crazy crowded.
The journey from entry to the building to being on the 78th floor took about 20 minutes. It did get a lot busier as the sunset time of 18:48 approached so perhaps come a bit earlier than 20 minutes if you’re arriving at peak time. Up top, I’d highly recommend staying for the sunset and blue hour. It’s surprisingly not windy up there in the open air so make sure to wear cool clothes and put lots of sunscreen on; there’s nowhere to hide from the sun.
It was a magical experience to watch the sunset, even though it was a cloudy day when I was up there. The best images came right after sunset and before the city became too dark to get clean images using the GFX’s F4 lens. In regards to lenses, I brought the GF32-64, but wished I had brought something wider like the GF20-35. I had to use a panorama stitch in a few images to get the full curve of the Chao Phraya river into the frame.
Nobody does shopping malls like Thailand does and that shows at Icon Siam, a huge shopping mall on the river, which opened in 2018 at a cost of over US$1.5 Billion. It appears the money was very well spent because it’s a stunning place to spend a day; the viewing docks, outdoor patios, shopping choices, incredible indoor floating food market and the various food courts and food options were amazing. It felt limitless and I think we explored perhaps half of the complex.
Michelin Star Restaurants
I’m timid on Michelin Star restaurants because they almost always disappoint. Once the restaurants become famous, they seem to lose the desire to put that extra effort in. However, in Thailand and Bangkok specifically, with so many Michelin Star restaurants, and the seriousness with which Thais take their food, I felt it would be worth it to give a few a shot while I was there.
The first one I visited was GAA, where Chef Garima Arora became the first Indian female to earn a Michelin star at the age of 32. The restaurant is housed in a beautifully restored old Thai house by Architectkidd, a Bangkok based design studio. I was seated in the upper floor for dinner and then moved to the lounge for cocktails and wine. Both areas are beautifully and tastefully designed.
It takes a lot of courage to make your signature dish based on durian! I’m part of the 50% of humanity that despises durian so I had every expectation this was going to be a disaster dinner. However, given that the Chef had made this her signature dish, I felt compelled to give it a chance; I’m so glad I did!
Each night, the Chef prepares a tasting menu using the ingredients that will be fresh at that time. If I recall correctly, the tasting menu had 12 courses, with each one carefully explained, not just the ingredients used, but also how to eat them (I really appreciated this as some dishes were new to me). Every dish that came out was exquisitely presented, and most importantly, bursting with flavours.
The signature dish arrived, with an unripe durian presented before me. It was then covered in a curry sauce. My first impression was that I couldn’t smell the durian (thank goodness!) and my second impression of the creamy durian and curry combination was that it was incredible. I can’t imagine how the Chef came up with this combination, but it worked very well. Even a diehard durian hater like myself was digging to get every last morsel.
Every aspect of the experience lived up to the hype of a Michelin star. Indeed, I would not be surprised to see the Chef getting more stars in the future. The creativity, service, ambiance, warmth from both the Chef and her staff, and the amazing tastes, all came together to create an unforgettable experience. Highly recommend a visit!
The second Michelin Star restaurant I tried was Paste, located in the Gaysom Village complex. The ambiance here was more high tech with the bright screens from the shopping mall across the street giving a Sci-fi feel to the restaurant.
The seats were uniquely U shaped and facing away from each other so there was a deep feeling of privacy. I prefer a more open environment to get a sense of the people I’m dining with, but I can appreciate some will prefer this privacy approach.
Once again, as seems to be common in Bangkok, this restaurant takes its food and service very seriously. I decided to go for the a la carte menu this time because the tasting menu had a few seafood items that I wasn’t too excited about. The highlight had to be the crab curry. The squid appetizer was also amazing, as was the fish main.
Chef Bee Satongun created a nuanced and complimentary balance of tastes throughout her dishes. The omelette was another standout dish, however it was a bit on the big side! The Chef was very generous with the seafood, especially the crab, so arrive hungry to ensure you don’t leave anything behind.
Old Town and Chinatown
Most tourists will spend their days at the various temples and shrines and in the modern part of Bangkok. Locals however told me that they spend more and more time in the old town because of all the unique coffee shops, restaurants and craft stores. Even though it was super hot, I walked around these areas until I was drenched in sweat. Definitely bring two pairs of underwear and t-shirts for each day if you intend on being outdoors!
From the old town, it was easy to take a ferry from the various piers to get to Icon Siam or other destinations along the river. I’d highly recommend this form of transport as it’s much faster and easier than taking a taxi or Grab.
No post about Bangkok would be complete without talking about the epic traffic you’ll face. Maybe it’s because of my 10 years in Beijing (another notorious traffic nightmare) or because I just visited Canggu in Bali which has to be the worst traffic on earth (cars don’t move for 45 mins or more), but the traffic didn’t seem as bad this time in Bangkok as I remembered.
When the Google Maps or Grab shows 30 minutes, the variability was only +/-5 minutes. Most places seemed to take about 35 minutes to arrive at. Given the short distances, it’s still bad traffic, but in the grand scheme of things, being in an air-conditioned Grab for ~30 minutes isn’t so bad. Tuktuks continue to be an alternative and are typically able to shave off a few minutes, however they’re not air-conditioned.
Another great alternative is to use the various public transit systems. Either the BTS, MRT or ferries along the river. I used all three and found them to be easy to understand and with great customer service for when I needed some assistance. The general politeness of the transit staff towards tourists is a bit surreal. Imagine answering the same question day in and day out, while somehow having a genuine smile on your face; I don’t know how they do it, but I salute and thank them for it!
For this trip, I was debating between two hotels: Kimpton Maa-Lai and Capella. The prices for Capella were astronomical when I went to book so it became Kimpton by default. I booked a Maa-Lai Suite and found it to be large and well equipped. I love it when hotels provide a yoga mat so I can do BODYCOMBAT exercises in the privacy of my room.
I’d like to commend Kimpton on providing the absolute best user experience on their website for showing the room you’ll get. The 360 degree view works perfectly and the room was exactly as shown. Far too many hotels don’t provide a view of what you’re going to get and/or have incorrect information on their website. Well done Kimpton!
The location was in a quiet part of the city, about a 12 minute walk from Chit Lom Station and a short walk to Lumphini Park. When booking the hotel, I figured a short walk to the station won’t be a big deal, however in 33C and high humidity heat, I often found myself taking a taxi from the station to the hotel. For a future trip, I’m planning to staying closer to a transit station to make it easier to get around.
The hotel itself was a very happening place. There are several restaurants and bars on site which were often packed with people and dogs. Yes, dogs! I’m not sure if it’s a Bangkok thing or a Kimpton thing, but there were a lot of dogs hanging out with their owners on the ground floor restaurant. For a dog lover like myself, this was like being in a small heaven. It seems the most popular dog in Bangkok is the unlikely Samoyed! I wonder how they cope with the heat with all their fur.
Bangkok is well worth a visit in 2023. The city has matured into an incredibly sophisticated and modern metropolis. There are so many more neighbourhoods I want to explore so I’m already planning another few trips this year and in 2024. I’m also contemplating buying some property there given how amazing this experience was.
It’s a city that has it all: Multiculturalism, amazing variety of high quality food, friendly locals, modern amenities, public transit, world class medical care, mind-blowing shopping choices, and hundreds of unique neighbourhoods and experiences waiting to be explored. I could spend the rest of my life in Bangkok and find something new everyday.
Book your tickets now. You won’t regret it!