Bangkok is often the first touchpoint for visitors on a south-east Asian holiday and many will want a couple of days to get over the jet lag and experience the city before heading off on the rest of their itinerary.
With a huge range of activities and experiences to be had and new ideas popping up all the time, we look at options for short stays in the city, including foodie experiences, cultural sights, spa treatments, active pursuits and nightlife offerings.
Whether it’s fine dining or street food, Bangkok boasts impressive gastronomic credentials. Clients looking for high-end cuisine should consider Blue Sky at the Centara Central Plaza Ladprao Bangkok hotel (centarahotelsresorts.com), which offers a menu chock-full of decadent delicacies such as caviar, oysters and foie gras – and they can take in captivating views of the city skyline from its 24th-floor vantage point.
For a quirky option – and more adventurous tastes – Bangkok’s Insects in the Backyard restaurant (insectsinthebackyard.com) serves up giant water beetles, bamboo caterpillars and grasshoppers. Situated within walking distance of the Chang Chui market, the restaurant claims to be Thailand’s first edible insect fine-dining experience, with dishes including wild green salad with pan-fried crickets, nachos with silkworm cherry tomato salsa and grilled grouper with ant caviar.
For those keen to get more hands-on, suggest the Urban Adventures Thai Cookery Class with Courageous Kitchen (from £70 and commissionable to agents, urbanadventures.com), which lets clients try authentic Thai cooking with a local non-profit organisation.
Anula Galewska, responsible business manager at Urban Adventures, says the experience should appeal to more intrepid clients.
“It reaches the core of local communities to bring travellers face-to-face with local issues. Clients touring with us feel the direct impact of their contribution and get to witness progress first-hand while immersing themselves more wholly and authentically,” she says.
From the Grand Palace to the Wat Po temple – home of the reclining Buddha – there are plenty of draws for culture vultures in Bangkok.
Clients on Saga’s To the Gulf of Thailand itinerary (from £2,249pp, travel.saga.co.uk), can explore the city’s cultural highlights via a number of modes of transport, says Tom Cranshaw, product and purchasing manager – Asia, India and Australasia.
“Bangkok is a cacophony of colour, sounds, smells and sights, and there is no better way of exploring the myriad experiences than by longboat down the Chao Phraya River, the main waterway of the city,” he says.
“The itinerary also includes a tuk-tuk ride through one of Bangkok’s flower markets and a day excursion to the Mae Klong Railway Market, renowned for surrounding a railway track that is still in use.”
For second-time visitors or those keen to explore beyond the most popular attractions, David Carlaw, head of faraway product at Premier Holidays, recommends a stay at the X2 Vibe Sukhumvit (three nights from £649pp, x2vibe.com).
He adds: “Situated in the fashionable On Nut area, the hotel has created a destination guide as part of its ‘Live Like a Local’ campaign, which encourages visitors to uncover authentic urban activities that can’t be found in travel guides.”
Highlights include a visit to the W District – a mall filled with coffee shops, street food outlets and sculptures from Bangkok’s up-and-coming urban artists – and Wat Bang Na Nok pier, home to a Buddhist monastery and picturesque riverside cycling routes.
Another unusual way to explore Bangkok’s culture comes courtesy of the akyra TAS Sukhumvit Bangkok, a Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH) member, where guests can take part in a Treasure Hunt Bangkok tour (£119 for two, theakyra.com). The package includes a one-night stay plus a semi-guided adventure from the Golden Mountain Temple to the city’s colonial area, with visits to cultural attractions along the way.
Another option, the Discover Hidden European Heritage in Bangkok with Luc Citrinot package (from £34pp) sees guests join the historian on a walking and boating adventure through the city to learn about its colonial past.
Muay Thai, a type of martial art, is Thailand’s national sport and a popular experience in Bangkok – both for spectators and aspiring amateurs.
Isango! has Muay Thai live show tickets (from £17pp and commissionable, isango.com), where clients will learn about the history of the martial art through acrobatic displays, Thai boxing and sword flights.
Guests staying at the Siam hotel (thesiamhotel.com) can take part in the Muay Thai Boxing programme. One-on-one lessons will teach clients traditional fighting techniques and give them the option of visiting a local Muay Thai training centre to watch a fight.
For something less arduous, Trafalgar’s 11-day Treasures of Thailand tour (from £2,395pp, trafalgar.com) offers clients a chance to join locals during a visit to Lumpini Park to learn the basic principles of tai chi and try it themselves.
They can then unwind with a treatment in one of Bangkok’s spas – either in one of the city’s hotels or its many wellness centres.
The Devarana Spa at the Dusit Thani hotel has launched a new spa package that focuses on promoting muscle relaxation and skin rejuvenation.
The 120-minute Athlete Reviver Devarana Tamrab treatment (from £152, dusit.com) includes an “aromatic yoga regime” massage with an aloe gel facemask and herbal bath that promises to help tone skin and widen blood vessels to prevent muscle injury.
More techie treatments are on offer too – such as sensory deprivation sessions at the Bangkok Float Centre. An hour in the tank (from £48, bangkokfloatcenter.com) removes all sensation of gravity, light, touch and sound to conserve physical and mental energy and reset the body’s “hormonal and metabolic balance”.
While Bangkok’s LGBT-friendly clubs and dance music venues are a big draw for Brits, there is also a lesser-known side to the capital’s nightlife, says Erica Moore, Far East product manager at the Inspiring Travel Company. She recommends clients join the Evening Portions tour, available at the Peninsula Bangkok hotel (peninsula.com).
“Here, guests are shown around ambient alleyways of old Bangkok, sampling street snacks, cocktails and craft beers along the way. The tour includes street art and speakeasy-style bars – things you might not associate with Bangkok.”
For those who prefer to gaze down on the city’s bustle, the CRU Champagne Bar at the Centara Grand and Bangkok Convention Centre at CentralWorld (champagnecru.com) offers high-end tipples such as Bollinger 007 Spectre Limited Edition from a rooftop vantage point. A favourite among locals is Above Eleven (aboveeleven.com), a park-inspired rooftop bar and restaurant overlooking Sukhumvit Soi 11. And, while lesser known, the 360 bar at Millennium Hilton (hilton.com) offers unrestricted views of the Chao Praya River with reasonably priced cocktails and entertainment.