Travel

From up­start creative spa­ces and ob­scure bars to neigh­bor­hoods where a sur­pris­ing ur­ban tran­quil­ity reigns, Bangkok re­mains ripe for dis­cov­ery

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36 hours in Bangkok

ONE OF THE first Thai words that for­eign­ers learn in Bangkok is ‘farang’, or ‘for­eigner’. And no won­der. More than 20 mil­lion farang de­scend on the tem­ples and temp­ta­tions of Thai­land’s cap­i­tal ev­ery year, mak­ing it one of the planet’s most vis­ited cities.

You run into each other in ho­tels and restau­rants, in the air-con­di­tioned mega­malls of Siam Square, at the teem­ing Chatuchak out­door mar­ket and the Bud­dhist sites of Wat Pho and Wat Arun. To­gether, you jos­tle through the crowds along the buzzing Sukhumvit strip and the back­packer haven of Khao San Road. And there you are again, ven­tur­ing into the fa­mous bars of Pat­pong and Soi Cow­boy.

For­tu­nately, Bangkok is vast and fast-evolv­ing, with many re­mote cor­ners and newly minted hang­outs. From up­start creative spa­ces and restau­rants to the un­der-vis­ited Thon­buri district, Bangkok re­mains ripe for dis­cov­ery.

FRI­DAY 4pm: Si­amese stud­ies

“Are Tuk-Tuks and Pad Thai Re­ally Thai?” That ques­tion, em­bossed on a wall, wel­comes you to the re­cently re­opened Mu­seum Siam, an in­ter­ac­tive, high-tech fun house whose motto is ‘De­cod­ing Thai­ness’.

Ex­plor­ing the gal­leries is like bounc­ing around a pin­ball ma­chine: sur­faces light up, bells ring and char­ac­ters and ob­jects sud­denly pop out of floors and walls as you ac­cu­mu­late knowl­edge about Thai his­tory, roy­alty, fash­ion, food, Bud­dhism and pop cul­ture. Spoiler alert:

Tuk-tuks ar­rived in Thai­land via post­war Italy and Ja­pan.

6pm: Gods and mon­sters

Ur­ban chaos gives way to vil­lage-like (and farang-free) tran­quil­lity across the nearby Me­mo­rial Bridge. Fea­tur­ing an er­satz moun­tain dot­ted with Bud­dha stat­ues, the rock gar­den of the Wat Pray­oon com­plex is a haven of grot­toes, pavil­ions, roam­ing tur­tles and fish ponds. Along­side it, a soar­ing, white, bell-shaped chedi sur­rounded by 18 smaller white chedis is a si­mul­ta­ne­ously mas­sive and min­i­mal­ist mon­u­ment.

Go past the Church of Santa Cruz (orig­i­nally con­structed by Por­tuguese set­tlers; the present struc­ture was re­built in the early 20th cen­tury) and fol­low the slim river­bank path to Kuan An Keng. The Chi­ne­se­built tem­ple is adorned with red pil­lars, golden bells and sculpted dragons; be­yond it, is the daz­zling, mul­ti­tiered, 19th-cen­tury Bud­dhist tem­ples and bell tower of Wat Kalayana­mitr. A ferry ( THB5, or about $0.16) re­turns you across the river in min­utes.

8pm: Sub­lime Gaa

Gag­gan is reg­u­larly ranked as Asia’s best restau­rant. Don’t eat there. Just across the pas­sage­way is the less fas­tid­i­ous, less ex­pen­sive, less-hyped, al­most-brand-new and truly sub­lime din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence known as Gaa, where you don’t have to book weeks in ad­vance. (A few days are enough — for now).

Dé­cor con­sists of in­dus­trial ma­te­ri­als and au­tum­nal hues, mu­sic ranges from bossa nova to David Bowie, and the in­no­va­tive food comes courtesy of the In­dian chef Garima Arora, who worked pre­vi­ously at Copenhagen’s Noma restau­rant and, yes, Gag­gan. The 10-course menu ($67) might show­case In­doSi­amese hy­brids ( Thai cray­fish on In­dian flat­bread with shell bisque), high-end com­fort food (warm fer­mented tofu whey with char­coal-roasted cau­li­flower), meaty-sweet mashups (chilled shards of chicken-liver mousse on toast with lon­gan jam) or fruity fun desserts.

10.30pm: The Chi­nese col­lec­tion

For most trav­ellers, Chinatown’s ap­peals are street food and the huge gold Bud­dha in Wat Traimit. But the small nearby lane called Soi Nana is a gold mine of new bars. The red neon, flick­er­ing can­dles and dark wood at Ba Hao evoke a sul­try den from 1930s Shang­hai.

SATUR­DAY 10am: Mar­ket sat­u­ra­tion

Want to rub sweaty el­bows with tens of thou­sands of re­tail en­thu­si­asts in a 27-acre, sun-seared out­door mar­ket with some 15,000 booths hock­ing co­conut­shell ash­trays, ele­phant-print pants, jas­mine soaps, striped cush­ions and count­less other wares? If not, swap over­loaded

For­tu­nately, Bangkok is vast and fast- evolv­ing, with cor­ners many and re­mote newly minted hang­outs. From up start creative spa­ces and restau­rants to the un­der-vis­ited Thon­buri district, Bangkok re­mains ripe for dis­cov­ery.

Chatuchak mar­ket for un­der­vis­ited Pa­paya, a soar­ing air-con­di­tioned ware­house shop packed with a mu­se­um­like col­lec­tion of vin­tage goods: bel­lows cam­eras, Ja­cob­sen chairs, bar­ber poles, 1970s com­put­ers, claw foot tubs, Ori­en­tal rugs, snuff boxes, surgery lamps and so much else — ex­cept other shop­pers.

1pm: Fishes and loaves

Cheap, noisy, no-frills, whitetiled, over­bright: Krua Ap­sorn bears all the signs of a top­notch tra­di­tional eat­ing room. Skip the crab omelette — lo­cally fa­mous but over­rated — for spicy seafood spec­i­mens like sil­very sil­lago fish ( in a fiery soup of beans, peas and leaves) and plump tom yum shrimp ( in co­conut-milk broth with mush­room chunks). Lunch for two costs around $21. For dessert, nearby Mont Nom­sod is a Bangkok in­sti­tu­tion, beloved for its thick white toast spread with sweet top­pings ($0.77) like co­conut-egg cus­tard, and chunky corn soup.

3pm: Go postal

What hap­pens to old post of­fices in the in­ter­net era? Hope­fully they end up like the Bangkok Gen­eral Post Of­fice, which now houses the Thai­land Creative and De­sign Cen­tre. In ad­di­tion to a li­brary, stu­dios and a large ex­hi­bi­tion area — re­cently host to an ex­cel­lent elu­ci­da­tion of Thai ar­chi­tec­ture — the cen­tre fea­tures a bou­tique sell­ing hip­ster sneak­ers by Truly, min­i­mal­ist wooden clocks from Pana Ob­jects, and other Thai prod­ucts. Up the road, Ware­house 30 ups the neigh­bour­hood’s creative quo­tient with an in­die doc­u­men­tary cin­ema, a gallery-cafe and shops sell­ing every­thing from steam­punk fash­ion to vin­tage stereo equip­ment.

6pm: Sweet suf­fer­ing

Like Thai boxing and Thai spices, Thai mas­sage is not for the weak. Dur­ing a 60-minute ses­sion ($11) at Ruen Nuad — a hum­ble wooden house amid the sky­scrapers and crowds of down­town Bangkok — you be­come the soft tar­get of the masseuse’s pow­er­ful knees, el­bows, fore­arms and fists as he or she stretches you like Play­Doh, twists you like Twiz­zlers, folds you like origami and presses you down like an over­stuffed suit­case. All the pulling, prod­ding, pum­melling and, yes, punch­ing can make you feel like the dummy in a model-mug­ging de­fence class, but you will walk out­side feel­ing as limber and light as a ghost.

8pm: Nur­tured by na­ture

“In praise of the won­drous beauty of na­ture” reads the menu cover at Cui­sine de Gar­den: Un­ex­pected words in a tall, dense me­trop­o­lis with few green spa­ces. But this glassy and hushed restau­rant that opened last year of­fers an or­ganic en­clave amid the as­phalt and con­crete. The pro­ject starts with the dé­cor — slim tree trunks stretch from floor to ceil­ing, like an in­door for­est — and con­tin­ues with a four­course menu ($49) and var­i­ous amuse-bouche whims.

The line-up might in­clude a leaf-shaped brioche served atop a real leaf, a shrimp-mus­sel­salmon-crab quar­tet de­ployed on small white stones or a soft-boiled egg atop a nest­like struc­ture of crispy rice noo­dles and a bed of pulled chicken: a gooey, warm, crispy and meaty in­ter­play of farm­yard flavours.

SUN­DAY 10am: Chan­nel surf­ing

A tran­quil and spir­i­tual side of the city ap­pears when you mo­tor through the wa­ter chan­nels of Thon­buri in a canopied wooden boat. Sin­chai Travel, aka Long­tail Boat Tour, has its ticket of­fice on Sathorn Pier. A 90-minute trip costs up to $55 per per­son.

Bangkok’s tow­ers van­ish and soon you are among old wooden canal houses and plank piers where chil­dren fish, white cranes swoop down, women in mo­tor­boats pass with skew­ered meats for sale, and mag­nif­i­cent tem­ples and moun­tain­ous Bud­dhas sud­denly ma­te­ri­alise.

12.30pm: A walk on the weird side

To reach Old­man Cof­fee, drop your car or taxi at the high­way over­pass, duck un­der the fuse­lage of the de­com­mis­sioned Lock­heed pas­sen­ger jet, fol­low the gravel path past the toi­let­plunger-toss ar­cade game, turn left at the he­li­copter and go past the Vic­to­rian-style photo por­trait stu­dio. If you reach the huge metal skull the size of a garbage truck, you’ve gone too far. Such are the at­trac­tions of ChangChui, a new al­ter­na­tive theme park and Gothic won­der­land, com­plete with shoot­ing gallery, food stalls, vin­tage shops, artist stu­dios, open-air bars and con­cert halls — to say noth­ing of de­ac­ti­vated tor­pe­does, dis­used trac­tor­trail­ers, hu­man-size ro­bots and an ex­hi­bi­tion room with skulls and stuffed birds. If you need lunch, try In­sects in the Back­yard restau­rant. At your own risk. LODG­ING Opened in late 2017, the 231room Lan­caster Bangkok is a spa­cious and lux­u­ri­ous new­comer with a gym, spa, restau­rant, rooftop pool and mul­ti­ple bars. Dou­ble rooms in Fe­bru­ary from $103. Al­ter­na­tively, save money at Old Town Hos­tel — a 1920s build­ing with 12 dor­mi­to­ries and nine pri­vate rooms — then splurge at the ad­join­ing 80/20. Dec­o­rated in an in­dus­trial style, the gallery-restau­rant serves dar­ing, play­ful and de­lec­ta­ble neo-Thai con­coc­tions. Dou­ble rooms from $25.

In the heart of the emerg­ing Chinatown bar scene, 103 Bed and Brews has six rooms with taste­ful retro fur­nish­ings and a cool cafe with mul­ti­ple cold brew cof­fees and Thai mi­cro­brews. Rooms from $38.

ChangChui theme park

The view from Bangkok Gen­eral Post Of­fice

Soup at Gaa restau­rant

Ba Hao in Soi Nana

Pa­paya mar­ket

Inside Gaa restau­rant

Wat Pay­roon

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