Guide To / 48hrs in Bangkok

by SARAH MATHEWS

Reading Time: 10mins

 
Bangkok cityscape sarah

HELLO, BANGKOK

the perfect guide for those few nights spent passing through Thailand's energetic capital

 
 
 

WHEN I RETURNED TO BANGKOK AT THE END OF LAST YEAR TO WRAP UP A BRANDING PROJECT AND a SHOOT FOR A CLIENT, I FOUND MYSELF FEELING SOMETHING I HADN'T REALLY FELT BEFORE IN ALL THE TIME I'D SPENT LIVING in thailand (TWO YEARS PRIOR). ON THE ONE HAND, IT FELT WONDERFULLY FAMILIAR TO BE BACK AND ON THE OTHER, it FELT LIKE I Was seeing this city for the very first time. the energy. the details. the design. every time i looked out i would see something different - from the hundreds of faded green tennis courts perched on top of impossibly high skyrises; to discovering the history behind a hauntingly beautiful abandoned skyscraper known as 'ghost tower' opposite our location. I'm normally so observant, how had i prevented myself from seeing all of this before?

 
 
We’re so accustomed to making excuses. Our work, our relationships, our routines and stress too easily get in the way of us looking up, really listening and taking in information. This time around, even though we were working around the clock and jet-lagged as all hell, I was AWAKE in every sense of the word. Awake to the cool undercurrent of what, I guess, I’d always known had been there and awake to the people and space around me with the highest quality of awareness.
— SARAH
 
 

This probably had something to do with the fact that I was travelling with Kate, one of my favourite people in the world because she makes me laugh 24/7 and also, because she has the trained eye of a detail-obsessed designer who was experiencing Thailand for the first time while helping me wrap up this project. There was profound energy in the connections we made with people along the way; in learning new things about each other and this place I thought I already knew. It made me examine the way I connect with people and places in my own everyday routine back home and as a result, I often catch myself observing 'this rush' in other people that are blissfully unaware of how much they're missing. For many reasons, even though it was a quick in and out, this trip will remain one of my all time favourites. I'm often asked what people should do if they're just passing through so here it goes... a quick hit list of my favourite places to hang out... 

 

 

GETTING AROUND

  UBER / CABS   Uber has come a long way since it first launched in Bangkok. I once had to direct my entire trip with sign language because my driver didn't know how it worked, nor did he understand me (go figure). Nowadays, I prefer using Uber to cabs because you can agree to the fare upfront and it's easier to communicate where you want to go. Cab drivers always tried to make an extra buck off me as a foreigner (or  'forang'  as they like to call us), so always insist they run the meter. Driving in Bangkok is notoriously stressful. Even with GPS there are multiple overhead passes and it's often hit-and-miss guessing which one you're meant to be on. When you're competing with a population of 8 million, it's sometimes easier to hop on a scooter.     

UBER / CABS

Uber has come a long way since it first launched in Bangkok. I once had to direct my entire trip with sign language because my driver didn't know how it worked, nor did he understand me (go figure). Nowadays, I prefer using Uber to cabs because you can agree to the fare upfront and it's easier to communicate where you want to go. Cab drivers always tried to make an extra buck off me as a foreigner (or 'forang' as they like to call us), so always insist they run the meter. Driving in Bangkok is notoriously stressful. Even with GPS there are multiple overhead passes and it's often hit-and-miss guessing which one you're meant to be on. When you're competing with a population of 8 million, it's sometimes easier to hop on a scooter.  

 

  TUK-TUKS AND MOTORCYCLE TAXI'S    Fun fact: arriving at   The St Regis Hotel   in a tuk-tuk is acceptable but YOU WILL BE STARED AT (a story for later on). I personally love them. Yes, you will have to barter like a maniac; yes, you might have to hold on for dear life but they're fun and disco-esque at night. And let's face it, anything is better than sitting in gridlock traffic with 8 million other people. Motorbikes are the quickest way to get around (albeit more hair-raising). Drivers wear orange vests to be easily recognised and while you are probably going to have to barter a bit here, but most of the time it's worth it just getting around that traffic.

TUK-TUKS AND MOTORCYCLE TAXI'S

Fun fact: arriving at The St Regis Hotel in a tuk-tuk is acceptable but YOU WILL BE STARED AT (a story for later on). I personally love them. Yes, you will have to barter like a maniac; yes, you might have to hold on for dear life but they're fun and disco-esque at night. And let's face it, anything is better than sitting in gridlock traffic with 8 million other people. Motorbikes are the quickest way to get around (albeit more hair-raising). Drivers wear orange vests to be easily recognised and while you are probably going to have to barter a bit here, but most of the time it's worth it just getting around that traffic.

  MRT TRAIN LINE   Serving over 410,000 customers a day on two lines, it is pretty easy to get your head around especially if you have your landmarks in place. That's another reason why  I loved staying at  Siam@Siam Hotel   (below),  because all of our trips were on the same line to get to nearby attractions... it was that easy. 

MRT TRAIN LINE

Serving over 410,000 customers a day on two lines, it is pretty easy to get your head around especially if you have your landmarks in place. That's another reason why  I loved staying at Siam@Siam Hotel (below), because all of our trips were on the same line to get to nearby attractions... it was that easy. 


WHERE TO STAY

  SIAM@SIAM DESIGN HOTEL BANGKOK   This was my home away from home every time I used to come through to Bangkok when I lived in Thailand. It's conveniently located next to the MRT line and happens to be within walking distance to   Jim Thompson's House   (a must see heritage museum) and all the major shopping complexes like  Siam P  aragon (below).    Map  |  Website  |  Instagram

SIAM@SIAM DESIGN HOTEL BANGKOK

This was my home away from home every time I used to come through to Bangkok when I lived in Thailand. It's conveniently located next to the MRT line and happens to be within walking distance to Jim Thompson's House (a must see heritage museum) and all the major shopping complexes like Siam Paragon (below).

Map | Website | Instagram

  RONGRATANA EXECUTIVE RESIDENCE   Great for a weekend in the city - this small boutique hotel felt much more like our own luxe apartment. It was roughly the same price as other hotels (if not slightly cheaper) and it had a kitchen and lounge area which would be cool for longer stays, if you wanted to stay in and cook. They also have a gorgeous little restaurant downstairs for breakfast or ordering in called,   The Hen & The Egg.     Map  |  Website  

RONGRATANA EXECUTIVE RESIDENCE

Great for a weekend in the city - this small boutique hotel felt much more like our own luxe apartment. It was roughly the same price as other hotels (if not slightly cheaper) and it had a kitchen and lounge area which would be cool for longer stays, if you wanted to stay in and cook. They also have a gorgeous little restaurant downstairs for breakfast or ordering in called, The Hen & The Egg.

Map | Website 

  ANANTARA RIVERSIDE BANGKOK   If you're in the mood to stay on the edge of the  Chao Phraya River  and want to be a little more flush,  Anantara  is a treat. While it's a big resort, the energy feels different. Whether it was walking through their beautiful gardens; watching city lights reflecting on the water at night; having the convenience of being able to hop onto a river boat to get to the nearby floating markets and attractions on the other side. It literally helped slow the crazy energy of this city right down.    Map  |  Website  |  Instagram     

ANANTARA RIVERSIDE BANGKOK

If you're in the mood to stay on the edge of the Chao Phraya River and want to be a little more flush, Anantara is a treat. While it's a big resort, the energy feels different. Whether it was walking through their beautiful gardens; watching city lights reflecting on the water at night; having the convenience of being able to hop onto a river boat to get to the nearby floating markets and attractions on the other side. It literally helped slow the crazy energy of this city right down. 

Map | Website | Instagram 

 


where to shop

  SIAM PARAGON   Need anything, anything at all? Look no further than  Siam Paragon  or every other mall on it's neighbouring corners! You'll need stamina, the whole day to walk all the elaborate food courts (and dessert courts!) and level after level of the department stores - oh and then a cab ride home for all your shopping. It's where we would come and stock up on supplies when I lived 3hrs away in a remote little fishing village. This is a picture of Kate losing her mind in the colour coded Design section of  Kinokuniya Book Store  - still one of my favourites.    Map  |  Website  |  Instagram    

SIAM PARAGON

Need anything, anything at all? Look no further than Siam Paragon or every other mall on it's neighbouring corners! You'll need stamina, the whole day to walk all the elaborate food courts (and dessert courts!) and level after level of the department stores - oh and then a cab ride home for all your shopping. It's where we would come and stock up on supplies when I lived 3hrs away in a remote little fishing village. This is a picture of Kate losing her mind in the colour coded Design section of Kinokuniya Book Store - still one of my favourites. 

Map | Website | Instagram

 

  CHATUCHAK WEEKEND MARKET   It's hot, it's sticky, it's crowded and it's always well worth it exploring the manic maze that is Chatuchuk market. They sell everything from beautifully woven bags to custom clothing, interior decor, fabrics and food. If you're in Bangkok over the weekend this experience is not to be missed - the same goes for this cooling and fresh coconut ice cream from one of the venders.   Map  |  Website  |  Instagram

CHATUCHAK WEEKEND MARKET

It's hot, it's sticky, it's crowded and it's always well worth it exploring the manic maze that is Chatuchuk market. They sell everything from beautifully woven bags to custom clothing, interior decor, fabrics and food. If you're in Bangkok over the weekend this experience is not to be missed - the same goes for this cooling and fresh coconut ice cream from one of the venders.

Map | Website | Instagram

  FLOATING MARKETS   While these floating markets were near extinct, they have been kept alive by nostalgic Thais and tourists. To avoid bumper to bumper situations at some of the more obvious choices, rather venture out a little further to   Taling Chan Floating Market   and stop off at   Wat Pho, The Temple of The Reclining Buddha   (rated the #1 thing to do out of 617 experiences in Bangkok), and just 10 minutes upriver. It's best to get there early to avoid the crowds and sweltering heat.    Map

FLOATING MARKETS

While these floating markets were near extinct, they have been kept alive by nostalgic Thais and tourists. To avoid bumper to bumper situations at some of the more obvious choices, rather venture out a little further to Taling Chan Floating Market and stop off at Wat Pho, The Temple of The Reclining Buddha (rated the #1 thing to do out of 617 experiences in Bangkok), and just 10 minutes upriver. It's best to get there early to avoid the crowds and sweltering heat. 

Map


where to grab a drink

  SKY BAR AT LEBUA    Not only has it been voted one of the  best rooftop bars in the world  but it has also been voted one of the highest and most stylish rooftop bars you will ever see. You might recognise it from  this scene  in  The Hangover II  movie and now you too can sip the well-known  Hangovertini,  which their mixologists created for the famous cast during filming. The drama of the multi-hued florescent bar against the backdrop of the dome and the best views in Bangkok makes this a must-see highlight.   Map  |  Website  |  Instagram

SKY BAR AT LEBUA 

Not only has it been voted one of the best rooftop bars in the world but it has also been voted one of the highest and most stylish rooftop bars you will ever see. You might recognise it from this scene in The Hangover II movie and now you too can sip the well-known Hangovertini, which their mixologists created for the famous cast during filming. The drama of the multi-hued florescent bar against the backdrop of the dome and the best views in Bangkok makes this a must-see highlight.

Map | Website | Instagram

  IRON BALLS GIN DISTILLERY   One of the most beautifully designed bars and distilleries I've ever been to and the best spot to get a gin cocktail in the city! Because it is so tiny, the space has been so intricately designed with every inch being considered and production of the gin is extremely limited, for this reason. Iron Balls Gin is handmade from fermentation to distillation using freshly cracked coconuts and pineapples with hints of juniper, hillside ginger and lemongrass.    Map  |  Website  |  Instagram

IRON BALLS GIN DISTILLERY

One of the most beautifully designed bars and distilleries I've ever been to and the best spot to get a gin cocktail in the city! Because it is so tiny, the space has been so intricately designed with every inch being considered and production of the gin is extremely limited, for this reason. Iron Balls Gin is handmade from fermentation to distillation using freshly cracked coconuts and pineapples with hints of juniper, hillside ginger and lemongrass. 

MapWebsite | Instagram

  HAVANA SOCIAL    This was one of the first bars we ever stumbled upon when I went over to Bangkok and it remains a solid favourite. To enter, you have to go through a telephone booth and exchange the 'password' with the doorman over the receiver. This obscure hole in the wall then opens up into the coolest Cuban Havana Bar with great music, cocktails, cigars and all night dancing. It's the last thing you would expect to find and an experience you won't let yourself forget.   Map  |  Website  |  Instagram    

HAVANA SOCIAL 

This was one of the first bars we ever stumbled upon when I went over to Bangkok and it remains a solid favourite. To enter, you have to go through a telephone booth and exchange the 'password' with the doorman over the receiver. This obscure hole in the wall then opens up into the coolest Cuban Havana Bar with great music, cocktails, cigars and all night dancing. It's the last thing you would expect to find and an experience you won't let yourself forget.

Map | Website | Instagram

 


UNFORGETTABLE FOOD experiences

  ZUMA   When it comes to mouthwatering and memorable flavours that never disappoint, look no further than  Zuma.  We had already eaten there this last trip but the thought of leaving and not getting to taste their  Miso Marinated Black Cod  and  Dragon Sushi Rolls  again was too much. So we cancelled our plans at the last minute hitched a tuk-tuk ride and rolled up at the  St Regis Hotel  ready for round 2 and the most delicious cocktails. It is on the pricier side but it is so worth it.    Map  |  Website  |  Instagram    

ZUMA

When it comes to mouthwatering and memorable flavours that never disappoint, look no further than Zuma. We had already eaten there this last trip but the thought of leaving and not getting to taste their Miso Marinated Black Cod and Dragon Sushi Rolls again was too much. So we cancelled our plans at the last minute hitched a tuk-tuk ride and rolled up at the St Regis Hotel ready for round 2 and the most delicious cocktails. It is on the pricier side but it is so worth it. 

Map | Website | Instagram

 

  BUNKER    I still daydream about this place and our experience there. The architecture, decor, staff and ambiance combined with exquisite food and wine pairings... It was as memorable and surprising as it had been years before and their team went out of their way to spoil us when they heard we had come back all the way from South Africa. If you're ever in Bangkok, this is one restaurant you don't want to miss and it's not over the top when it comes to pricing.    Map  |  Website  |  Instagram

BUNKER 

I still daydream about this place and our experience there. The architecture, decor, staff and ambiance combined with exquisite food and wine pairings... It was as memorable and surprising as it had been years before and their team went out of their way to spoil us when they heard we had come back all the way from South Africa. If you're ever in Bangkok, this is one restaurant you don't want to miss and it's not over the top when it comes to pricing. 

Map | Website | Instagram

  THARA THONG   Located at The Royal Orchard Sheritan on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, this restaurant is all about presentation. From the floor seating and low tables, to the ornate decor and traditional instruments and Thai dancing. This is the perfect authentic experience for new visitors to the city. Oh and if you order the prawn and papaya dish that they serve in a pineapple... please let me know what that is! I only discovered it on my last night and feel robbed that I didn't find it sooner :)   Map  |  Website  |  Instagram

THARA THONG

Located at The Royal Orchard Sheritan on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, this restaurant is all about presentation. From the floor seating and low tables, to the ornate decor and traditional instruments and Thai dancing. This is the perfect authentic experience for new visitors to the city. Oh and if you order the prawn and papaya dish that they serve in a pineapple... please let me know what that is! I only discovered it on my last night and feel robbed that I didn't find it sooner :)

Map | Website | Instagram


a fun night out

  MAGGIE CHOOS    Inspired by Shanghai in the 1930s, a time when it was considered to be  'the Paris of the East' , rumour has it the real Maggie Choos (former begger turned famed cabaret star), fled Shanghai to Bangkok to escape arrest. After buying a noodle shop, she discovered a door behind one of the walls which led to a derelict old bank and so the legend of this underground music bar began. The costumes, the swings and vault-like design of the lounge areas add to the theatre of the live jazz performances which happen almost every night. Just a short walk from the SKY BAR at LEBUA, it's a must-see stop after that pricey sundowner.   Map  |  Website  |    Instagram    

MAGGIE CHOOS 

Inspired by Shanghai in the 1930s, a time when it was considered to be 'the Paris of the East', rumour has it the real Maggie Choos (former begger turned famed cabaret star), fled Shanghai to Bangkok to escape arrest. After buying a noodle shop, she discovered a door behind one of the walls which led to a derelict old bank and so the legend of this underground music bar began. The costumes, the swings and vault-like design of the lounge areas add to the theatre of the live jazz performances which happen almost every night. Just a short walk from the SKY BAR at LEBUA, it's a must-see stop after that pricey sundowner.

Map | Website | Instagram

 

  SING SING THEATRE   An award-winning Chinese-themed night club experience in the heart of Sukhumvit. Here you will, on the odd occasion, have a David Beckham sighting. Well Lauren (pictured left) at least did. It's only fair that she get all this luck since she discovered 99% of the places featured here ;)    Map  |  Website  |  Instagram

SING SING THEATRE

An award-winning Chinese-themed night club experience in the heart of Sukhumvit. Here you will, on the odd occasion, have a David Beckham sighting. Well Lauren (pictured left) at least did. It's only fair that she get all this luck since she discovered 99% of the places featured here ;) 

Map | Website | Instagram

  KHAO SAN ROAD   Wildly fun (while not everyone's cup of tea) this crowded, neon, noisy night out should be witnessed at least once. The streets are blocked off and a number of venders line up to sell you food and flea-market type goods. It's known as backpackers central so it is a lot more affordable and there are a number of cool spots down quieter alleys to sit and grab a bite to eat.    Map  |  Related Guide   

KHAO SAN ROAD

Wildly fun (while not everyone's cup of tea) this crowded, neon, noisy night out should be witnessed at least once. The streets are blocked off and a number of venders line up to sell you food and flea-market type goods. It's known as backpackers central so it is a lot more affordable and there are a number of cool spots down quieter alleys to sit and grab a bite to eat. 

Map | Related Guide  


CAN'T GO TO THAILAND? NO PROBLEM!  

Recreate authentic Thailand vibes with this delicious recipe for my staple Thai diet - I lived on this stuff!

 
tom kha gai

TOM KHA GAI

Thai Chicken Coconut Soup

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

WHAT YOU'LL NEED

  • 1 can (14 oz.) coconut milk
  • 1 can (14 oz.) reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 6 quarter-size slices fresh ginger
  • 1 stalk fresh lemongrass, cut in 1-in. pieces
  • 1 pound boned, skinned chicken breast or thighs, cut into 1-in. chunks
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce (nuoc mam or nam pla)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Thai chilli paste
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro

AND how to prepare it

In a medium saucepan, combine coconut milk, broth, ginger, and lemongrass and bring to boil over high heat. Add chicken, mushrooms, lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, and chilli paste. Reduce heat and simmer until chicken is firm and opaque (5 to 10 minutes). Discard lemongrass. Garnish servings with basil and cilantro and enjoy!