Features

Bangkok Renaissance

11 Mar 2024 by BusinessTraveller
Bangkok Yaowarat Road - credit Tourism Authority of Thailand

Whether it’s extended metro lines, the huge number of new hotels or the parks springing up in the heart of the city, Thailand’s capital is so much more than a stopover destination.

Change is afoot in Bangkok. Yes, traffic still occasionally grinds to a standstill during rush hour, but huge investment in its public transport system means more people are leaving their cars at home. The MRT’s Yellow Line, which connects Lat Phrao (a neighbourhood popular with backpackers) to Samrong in eastern Bangkok, opened in June 2023, while the MRT’s Pink Line, connecting the riverside district of Nonthaburi to Bangkok’s Min Buri district, launched at the end of the year. Getting around Bangkok using public transport has been relatively easy in recent years, thanks not only to the MRT but also the BTS Skytrain.

Alternative transport

It’s also likely that Bangkok’s ancient canals (known as klongs) could soon become widely used transportation routes once more, courtesy of regular spruce-ups (in July 2023 more than two tonnes of plastic waste was scooped from the Lat Phrao Canal during an organised clean-up). These canals are destinations in their own right, lined with floating markets and riverside restaurants, although for now a cruise along the mighty Chao Phraya River, which weaves through Bangkok’s centre, is perhaps the next best thing. Guests staying at riverside properties such as The Siam Hotel Bangkok and The Peninsula Bangkok can take free water taxis across the river to places such as Sathorn Pier (which connects to the Saphan Taksin BTS Skytrain station) and Asiatique, a sprawling riverside market filled with souvenir and street food stalls. It’s also worth noting this popular tourist spot operates its own free river shuttle between 4pm and 11.30pm.

Fancy some pedal power? While a bicycle is unlikely to be the preferred mode of transport for those on business, there are still plenty of opportunities for keen cyclists with some spare time. One of the most popular bike-based tour companies is Co van Kessel, founded by a Dutchman who spent much of his life exploring Bangkok by bike. Co van Kessel offers a wide range of tours – including ones that take in the banana plantations on the city’s outskirts – along with team-building events. covankessel.com

Bangkok Chao Phraya River - credit Tourism Authority of Thailand

Downtime developments

There’s also never been more green space in the city. One example is Benjakitti Forest Park, which opened to the east of the immediate city centre in 2022. Regarded as the jewel in the crown of plans to transform Bangkok into a much cleaner, greener, more liveable city by 2023, the park has some 9,000 trees and a network of nature trails and cycling paths. There’s also Pathumwananurak Park, which opened in downtown Bangkok in August 2023. The park has 64,000 sqm of landscaped gardens and is close to the Siam Square and Siam Paragon shopping centres.

In reality, you’re never far from a retail therapy hotspot in Bangkok, where the newest mega-mall is Emsphere, which opened on Sukhumvit Road in December 2023. Alongside Thailand’s first city-centre IKEA store, there are five dedicated event spaces, a Gourmet Market food hall, which opens until 3am, and dozens of stores and restaurants – including a Bread Street Kitchen & Bar by Gordon Ramsay. There are also new developments at other city-centre malls, too. In November 2023 Siam Paragon unveiled its new Luxe Hall, a 20,000 sqm space which has stores from Christian Louboutin, Longchamp, Miu Miu and Versace, along with Thailand’s first Loro Piana store (an Italian company specialising in cashmere).

Prefer culture over couture? Head to the Jim Thompson House – in early 2023 it was incorporated into a much larger attraction – the Jim Thompson Heritage Quarter. The Jim Thompson House, opposite the national stadium in downtown Bangkok, is the former art-stuffed home of the late James HW Thompson, known as the ‘Thai silk king’. After being discharged from the United States army in 1946, he travelled to Thailand and built a home in Bangkok out of six old teak-wood Thai houses, procured from various parts of the country. The property has long been one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions (largely on account of Thompson’s collection of antiques, which includes paintings, silverware and 13th century Thai pottery). The highlights of this expanded canal-side complex now include an arts centre, a store filled with products made from Thai silk, a permanent exhibition about the man himself and the Silk Cafe.

Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok - Fitness & Wellness Centre - Yoga with monk - credit mandarin oriental hotel group

Where to stay

Whether you’re in Bangkok on business or for pleasure, finding a place to stay is also easy, thanks to a flurry of new hotels. The riverside area has some of the finest properties, several of which ranked highly at 2023’s inaugural World’s 50 Best Hotels awards. Properties which made the cut include the Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok at Chao Phraya River (No 3) and Mandarin Oriental Bangkok (No 10), both of which are perched on the Chao Phraya’s banks. Not that Bangkok hoteliers can rest on their laurels – in the second half of 2023, new hotels throwing open their doors included the Novotel Living Bangkok Sukhumvit Legacy; the Madi Paidi Bangkok, Autograph Collection; and the Courtyard by Marriott Suvarnabhumi International Airport.

There’s also been a flurry of renovations. In October 2023, the Amari Bangkok completed a renovation of its Grand Deluxe rooms, and this year opened a new restaurant, ChomSindh, which serves refined Thai cuisine. A second restaurant – Nila, which focuses on delicacies from India’s coastal regions – is scheduled to open soon.

In the third quarter of 2024, the Ritz-Carlton Bangkok will open on Wireless Road, close to the Sukhumvit and Sathorn neighbourhood and just a short walk from MRT and BTS Skytrain stations. The hotel will occupy levels 1 to 25 of One Bangkok, a new mixed-use development.

Other 2024 openings include the 504-room Moxy Bangkok Ratchaprasong, which opened last month; the Aman Nai Lert Bangkok, which will open in the second half of 2024 and will incorporate a hotel and residences; and the Six Senses Residences The Forestias, a sprawling hotel with residences built around a woodland lagoon.

Up-and-coming districts Bangkok’s waterfront remains one of the city’s most popular attractions. In recent years, Charoenkrung, a riverside neighbourhood fanning out from Bangkok’s first paved road, has emerged as the city’s arts district. Daubed with colourful murals and filled with independent galleries, boutiques and restaurants, it’s a great place for an art fix. Charoenkrung’s revival was kick-started by the opening of the Thailand Creative and Design Center in 2017, but for many, it was the 2020 opening of Charoenkrung’s Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok at Chao Phraya River (see our review here), with its in-house art gallery, that put this area on the map.

Art on Bangkok canals - credit Tamara Hinson

Dining delights

The Four Seasons’ BKK Social Club, a dimly lit retreat known for its huge selection of whiskies, has also made regular appearances in the World’s 50 Best Bars list. In 2023, it bagged third place in Asia’s 50 Best Bars awards, featuring alongside Bang Rak’s Tropic City (No 6), famous for its flower-adorned, rainbow-hued cocktails, and Vesper (No 12), a Silom bar which serves up playful twists on classic cocktails. Here we recommend the Turmeric Old Fashioned, crafted by British mixologist Tom Hearn, who honed his talents at The Savoy’s American Bar.

“Currently, Bangkok has one of the most vibrant and progressive bar scenes in the Asia-Pacific region,” says Philip Bischoff, beverage manager at the Four Seasons. “The sheer quality and the variety of great bars is increasing exponentially, and we have so many great talents in the city’s bartending community. I’m excited to see where it goes.”

Night owls will also now be able to stay out even later, because the government recently announced that nightlife venues’ opening hours will be extended to boost tourism. Since mid-December 2023, certain venues have been able to remain open until 4am, although this is technically a trial period – discussions about how long the extended hours will be in place are expected to take place soon.

Last year also saw the launch of the first 50 Best Restaurants awards, in which Bangkok’s Le Du bagged 15th place. It’s helmed by Thitid Tassanakajohn, who studied gastronomy at the Culinary Institute of America before returning to his native Thailand and founding Le Du, where the menu pays tribute to the Thai cuisine he grew up with. Another venue that should be on any foodie’s radar is Blue by Alain Ducasse Bakery Boutique, which opened last December at the Iconsiam shopping centre.

Six Senses The Forestias Bangkok - credit Six Senses

Forthcoming Bangkok hotels

Fairmont Bangkok Sukhumvit

Due to open in 2024 (date to be confirmed), this 419-room hotel in Bangkok’s central business district was previously the Grand Mercure Bangkok. Accor calls it Thailand’s first fully integrated luxury MICE hotel, on account of its extensive meeting facilities and focus on tech, including virtual meeting technology. fairmont.com

Ritz-Carlton Bangkok

The 260-room Ritz-Carlton Bangkok will open in the third quarter of 2024 on Wireless Road in the heart of the city. It will occupy levels 1 to 25 of the upcoming One Bangkok mixed-use development. ritzcarlton.com

Six Senses Residences The Forestias

This spread-out property, described as an intergenerational lifestyle destination and set to open in Q4 of 2024, will have 27 residences (plus a hotel in 2025). Located in Bang Na, to the south of the city centre, it will be surrounded by a purpose-grown forest with a treetop canopy walk. sixsenses.com

Words: Tamara Hinson

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The cover of the Business Traveller June 2024 edition
The cover of the Business Traveller June 2024 edition
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