A guide to Bangkok's best attractions, restaurants, bars and unusual experiences, as judged by head concierges from three of the city's best hotels.
Despite its numerous charms, sprawling, sleepless Bangkok can be a confusing, chaotic introduction to Thailand. In addition to exploring the city's various temples, markets, restaurants and spas, visitors travelling to Bangkok in April will be able to experience Songkran. A celebration marking the traditional Thai New Year, it takes place on April 13-15 and features huge water fights as part of the festivities. Here, concierges from three of Bangkok's best luxury hotels give their insider guides to the best attractions and experiences the city has to offer, and their advice on what to avoid.
Sharing their knowledge are:
Nattanan Kovacic, Guest Services Manager, InterContinental Bangkok
Atiphol Soonthornsingh, Chief Concierge, St. Regis Bangkok
Vuttinun Vikiniyadhanee, Chief Concierge, Shangri-La Hotel, Bangkok
I’m new here. Tell me something interesting about Bangkok.
Nattanan: Bangkok is one of the world’s best places to eat. Visitors shouldn’t be afraid of the street stalls or restaurants with Formica tables and metal stools: they often serve the best food in town
Which attraction should I definitely make time to see? I only have time for one.
Nattanan: You don't want to miss the Grand Palace and the Temple of The Emerald Buddha. One of the highlights is the Buddha carving made from a huge piece of imperial green jade.
Atiphol: There are so many, but one of our recommendations is to spend time at Wat Trimitr, the biggest golden Buddha image in the world, and to then walk along China Town past a flower market to Wat Suthat or Giant Swing temple.
Vuttinun: The Grand Palace and Temple of The Emerald Buddha. Both are Bangkok’s most beloved temples and they're found in the same complex. Building began in 1782, the year Bangkok was founded, and every monarch has expanded this important royal complex.
Which of the “must-visit” attractions should I avoid?
Nattanan: The bars in Patpong night market. It’s a well known district of Bangkok where it’s easy to get ripped off or overcharged for something you didn’t order in the first place.
Atiphol: You should avoid any offer from taxi, tuk tuk drivers or seemingly friendly locals who invite you to visit a particular shop, tailor or jewellery seller. They just want to scam tourists into the shops where they have commission. Get advice on the best shops and shopping areas from your concierge instead if unsure.
Vuttinun: The Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi Province is a very popular destination for animal lovers. Unfortunately, this temple is operated by a non-Thai organization which is rather commercial.
Is there a particular exhibition I should see while I’m here?
Nattanan: Visit Nitat Rattanakosin, which is a permanent exhibition presenting the artistic and cultural legacies of Rattanakosin Era.
Atiphol: The Siam Niramitr Show (on daily at 8pm) tells the story of Thailand's origins, its creative culture and beliefs through a lavish stage show that features countless actors and impressive special effects.
Vuttinun: Ananta Samakom Throne Hall has an interesting permanent exhibition called “Arts of the Kingdom” showcasing the masterpieces of the royal craftsmen and artists.
Where gives the best view of Bangkok?
Nattanan: A river cruise on a long-tailed boat on the Chao Phraya River. Sometimes the best views are from the heart of the city rather than high above it.
Atiphol: There some really great rooftop bars that offer spectacular views of the city, making a great sunset activity. Two that are highly recommended are Sirocco at Lebua and Vertigo on top of the Banyan Tree.
Vuttinun: The 85-storey Baiyoke Tower II skyscraper hotel on Ratchaprarop Road - it's the tallest building in the city.
I’d like to try something new here – what do you recommend?
Nattanan: Besides seeing the world-famous Muay Thai fights, you should also try riding an elephant at Suan Sampranor.
Atiphol: You could try holding a python or watching the assistants milking the snakes for venom or feeding them with small animals at Snake Farm at the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute (Thai Red Cross Society).
Vuttinun: There is a restaurant in Bangkok called Dine in the Dark, in which all the waiters are blind. Guests eat in a completely dark room.
Is there a Thai cooking class you recommend in Bangkok?
Nattanan: Amita Cooking School is a new popular cooking school located by the Chaophraya River. Here, you’ll get to cook Thai dishes using the freshly hand-picked ingredients from the private herb garden.
Atiphol: There are three I recommend: Blue Elephant Cooking School; Naj; and Baipai Cooking School.
Vuttinun: Baipai Cooking School, where you can enjoy a relaxed, home-style cooking class in a two-storey wooden house littered with palm trees and plants.
I’d like to buy an unusual souvenir – what do you recommend?
Nattanan: Pick up an amulet or charm at the Amulet Market, next to Maharaj Pier. It’s Thailand's largest Buddhist amulet and talisman market, and an important site for Thai Buddhists and those seeking good fortune.
Atiphol: Chilli Paste (Nam Prik Pao), which is good for making authentic Tom Yum soup at home.
Vuttinun: Visit “Talad Rot Fai”, located near the weekend market. You will find tons of unusual souvenirs there, which could be local handicrafts or Thai antiques from Seventies or Eighties.
Tell me a phrase or piece of slang I can use to fit in around here.
Nattanan: Use ‘Tao Rai Kub’ to ask ‘how much’ when you’re shopping.
Atiphol: Try 'Zab' or 'Aroi Mak', meaning very delicious or yummy.
Vuttinun: While using a taxi in Bangkok, you may say “Chai meter duay krub” which means “please use the meter”. Otherwise, some taxi drivers in Bangkok will turn it off and you would have to pay more for the fare.
What’s the best restaurant in Bangkok right now?
Nattanan: Though there are plenty of fantastic restaurants to try in the city, you’ll still find some of the best food at the street stalls. The dishes are often secret family recipes handed down over many generations so you won’t find anything like it anywhere else.
Atiphol: Two of your best options for Thai food are Bolan restaurant on Sukhumvit 26 and Baan Khanitha restaurant Sukhumvit Soi 23.
Vuttinun: Within the Shangri-La Hotel, Bangkok, I suggest Salathip Thai Restaurant serving authentic Thai food in Thai-style teak houses by the Chao Phraya River. Outside the hotel, you can try Bed Supperclub, for a fancy dinner served in bed.
And where’s best for drinks? I don’t want somewhere touristy.
Nattanan: Try Face bar, an Ayutthaya-style house - beautifully designed with delicious cocktails and a relaxed, cozy atmosphere.
Vuttinun: Due to large number of tourists in Bangkok, it would be quite difficult to find somewhere that isn't touristy. You could try a nightclub called Brown Sugar which is located near Grand Palace. They offer one of the best jazz music in town and also wonderful cocktails.
I’d like to get some clothing made in Bangkok. Can you recommend a tailor?
Nattanan: Definitely the Chinese Tailor. It’s one of the largest tailors in the city and is known for the quality of the clothes, the huge variety of fabrics and the very reasonable prices.
Atiphol: James Fashion on Sukhothai road is one of the best tailors in the city.
Vuttinun: I normally recommend guests go to Thai Square tailor, which is reliable and is recognised by Le Clefs d’or Thailand.
I’m going to propose to my partner while I’m here – where should I do it?
Nattanan: Take your partner to the Equestrian Statue of King Chulalongkorn in front of the Anantasamakom Throne Hall one evening. It is tradition for Thai people to go to this monument and to pay homage to His Majesty King Chulalongkorn so it’s always adorned with flowers and wreaths. Away from the crowds, it’s the perfect time for a romantic proposal in front of the atmospheric, illuminated hall.
Atiphol: Arrange a private dining venue at Breeze restaurant with a special set up and arrangement of a macaroon with a ring inside or a bunch of flowers with a ring inside.
Who’s the standout creative talent in Bangkok right now – is there someone in particular whose work I should check out before I leave?
Nattanan: Studio RMA in Thonglor is fantastic and you can even try a photography class there. The founder is very well-known in both local and international art circles.
What’s the appropriate way to haggle in Bangkok?
Nattanan: If you would like to haggle for something, you can negotiate approximately a 30 per cent discount on the original price.
Atiphol: If you're visiting a local market such as Jatuchak weekend market you can bargain down around 10 - 20 per cent but if you are visiting a tourist market like Nana market or Patpong night market you need to start with a request for a 50 per cent discount to be sure of getting things for a good price.
Vuttinun: In the market or other place where the price is negotiable, you can try politely asking for a 30-40 per cent discount and walking away if it's refused. You may get a better deal instantly.
I’d like to spend some time removed from the bustle of Bangkok – what’s the most relaxing thing I can do here?
Nattanan: One of our sister hotels, InterContinental Hua Hin Resort, is less than three hours’ drive from Bangkok and it’s perfect for a relaxed beach getaway. There are lots of outdoor activities that are good for those who want to get some sun, sea and sand but who don’t want to travel too far to the islands.
Atiphol: We would recommend visiting a spa and perhaps having a Thai massage, either at the Elemis Spa at the St Regis Bangkok or another one nearby that we can recommend. Alternatively, on weekends you can travel to a tranquil evening floating market called Amphawa, which is one of most attractive sights Bangkok has to offer.
Vuttinun: You may spend sometime for a Thai massage at Wat Pho or at CHI, The Spa in our hotel.
Thanks for your help. Should I tip in Bangkok?
Nattanan: Tipping isn’t expected in most places here although it is always appreciated. There are also many places that charge a service fee already, so it depends entirely on the generosity of the individual and their satisfaction with the service.
Vuttinun: Tipping isn't essential in Bangkok but in some cases it might increase service and productivity.
John O'Ceallaigh Telegraph.co.uk