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In addition to private charters, public river boats zigzag between jetties conveniently close to A-list attractions. Step ashore at Rattanakosin Island, the historic heart of Bangkok, to explore the Royal Grand Palace. Established in the 1780s, during King Rama I’s reign, the walled complex features opulent tiered buildings with gilded roofing. Ornate statues of a dozen giant ‘demon guardians’ grimace outside of the palace complex’s Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the most sacred of many Buddhist places of worship in Thailand. At its core sits Buddha, sculpted from jade, and robed in pure gold.
A significantly larger statue of the Enlightened One reclines inside the Wat Pho temple. Seamlessly enveloped in goldleaf and stretching for 46 metres, he props his durian-like spiked head on his right hand and gazes serenely above the steady stream of visitors. Traditional medicine is taught onsite and insiders know to visit the adjacent pavilion for invigorating Thai massages – an earthy alternative to the tranquil spas inside luxury hotels. Within an urban garden off Sukhumvit 31, the Oasis Spa is a good tip for travellers seeking an elegant day spa and contact with locals.
Trawling stalls at Chatuchak Weekend Market is another way to transact with Bangkok residents. Handcrafted furniture, clothing and jewellery count among wares displayed at the sprawling and multifaceted market. Also vast, the riverside IconSiam mall offers air-conditioned walkways between stores selling the likes of Patek Philippe watches and Prada goods. The Siam Paragon mall is another upscale shopping haven stocking fashion wear by premier brands.
To view both traditional and contemporary Thai art, head to the National Gallery. Aficionados will find journeying onward to the privately owned Museum of Contemporary Art worthwhile. The sleek, naturally lit building displays artworks over five storeys. The recently opened Jim Thompson Art Center is another worthy tip. Regional works are displayed within the building at the same compound as the opulent teak house – today a museum – that was formerly home to the American who played a pivotal role in promoting Thai silk after World War Two.
Among must-see landmarks along the Chao Phraya’s riverside is the porcelain-clad prang, or spire, of the Wat Arun temple. Its embellishments warrant viewing up close. For a broader view of the urban landscape, gaze down from the revolving observation deck up on the Baiyoke Tower’s 84th floor. To combine sightseeing and sipping cocktails, head to the backlit Sky Bar on the rooftop of the Lebua State Tower, 250 metres above street level.
For exercise, walk or jog the trail looping the lush Lumphini Park. Tai Chi is also practiced in the park, which shares its name with one of Bangkok’s principal Muay Thai arenas. The Rajadammern Stadium is the other. Take a ringside seat to view bouts preceded by rituals charged with symbolic meaning.
Bangkok’s dining experiences range from inexpensive street food on Chinatown’s busy Yaowarat Road to Michelin-starred fine-dining. Inspired by Thai recipes published in cookbooks a couple of generations ago, Australian chef David Thompson’s cosy Aksorn serves flavour-packed dishes, including coconut cupcakes with salted pork. Reserve well in advance to secure a table at the two-starred Sorn, which showcases Southern Thai cuisine prepared with sustainably sourced produce. For exquisitely presented interpretations of Thailand’s royal cuisine, try the tasting menu at R-Haan, another of Bangkok’s six two-starred establishments.
As a destination for an urban break, the city is itself one of Asia’s brightest stars.For Sunseeker enquiries in Thailand, please contact Sunseeker International - firstname.lastname@example.org