A romantic gesture made a decade ago takes Simon Clays and his better half back to an Asian metropolis he thought he might be done with. He thought wrong. Text by Simon Clay
I nodded and remembered that we had done everything conceivable to do in the city, over the space of five days. From above, on the river, markets, shopping malls, street food, fine dining, clubbing. You name it, we did it. Yes, even the girly bars.
So, how to crack this particular nut in two fewer nights, ten years on? Without repetition, and possibly, with some romance. Bangkok is notorious for its hectic traffic. Getting about can be arduous or just damn confusing, however efficient the BRT metro. So, I decided to split the trip in two.
We began our trip down memory lane at the Oriental Residence Bangkok on Wireless Road. It’s a relatively new property overlooking the picturesque Lumphini Park and within spitting distance of the biggest shopping malls.
It’s a shopaholic’s paradise. Or so it appears from the number of bags and boxes I’m carrying, after just two hours. Central World, Gaysorn Village, Siam Square One, MBK, Siam Discovery—we’ve covered them all without wheels of any sort.
I’ll concede my legs feel a little jaded on the walk back, but so is my credit card. Mrs Clays is starting to froth, her eyeballs overdosed on designer brands and neon. Even she is happy to retire, ensconced around the Oriental’s pool area. Cool cabanas and ice-white sunbeds are crowned by a horizon of stainless steel towers. This is Central Business District, prime postcode Bangkok. We are surrounded by next-gen Thailand, but cocooned in luxury. The afternoon slips by with drinks at the pool bar. It’s easy: graze on Thai snacks. Drink. Read. Swim. Snooze. Repeat.
The recipe for the evening and dinner, not quite so. It’s an anniversary dinner. We want fine dining, not China town or cantina style. We want bespoke standalone, not a hotel or a multi-cuisine restaurant. And, it has to be Thai. Not asking much, then? Again, we walk. Not always a good idea with my wife, especially as she’s guaranteed to wear the most inappropriate footwear possible. She does. Heels, six inches. Fortunately, I get lucky, and not 400 metres from the hotel, we stumble (literally) upon a magnificent looking Thai fine diner called Osha. The god of Jimmy Choo is on my side, but is it worth the shoe leather? Quite simply, yes. It’s Thai fusion with a subtle twist. It’s slight; the squid sits with a duck egg garlic mayo. The chicken satay is accompanied by a curried peanut sauce. The red curry is laden with Hungarian goose breast. It’s that good, I’d recommend it to anyone visiting the city. Whatever side of the river you are.
The next morning, we check out and take our first cab across town to the Shangri-La Hotel, Bangkok. It’s one of the grand old dames of the city. It also does an impressive Sunday brunch, al fresco and on the river. If the wife drools over shopping, the husband loves to watch the River Chao Phraya drift by with a glass of wine. Gaze at the impossibly huge barges, surrounded by the world’s biggest buffet. It’s a global cuisine overload. Lobster. Traditional English roast dinner. Yorkshire pudding, even. We forget it’s an anniversary as the afternoon turns into a festival of indulgence. And boats.
A second, and now timely, reason for booking the Shangri-La is its spa. Like the Sunday brunch, they are vast and very well prepared. We take a couples‘ treatment room, and two skilled masseurs attempt to pull and push at around 15,000 stubborn calories. I drift, like the river.
An hour floats by, and by the time we’re done, it’s time to head to the executive floor for cocktails and yes, more food—Executive Club rooms come with access to a lounge that offers complimentary cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and a breakfast area. I confess that it’s pure greed, but way up here in the clouds, it’s a beautiful way to watch the Bangkok sunset.
The next day is another ‘hers’ mission: operation jewellery. Except we fail miserably. All the shops we find behind Shangri-La’s ‘jewellery quarter’ don’t quite cut it for her—not the sapphire she’s got her heart set on. We stop dead at the entrance to Robinson Department Store. She’s frustrated; I am out of ideas. Silence. Suddenly, a Thai man’s parroting at us.
He asks my wife if she’s Indian. He has a son working in Chandigarh. We get talking, and before we know it, he’s packed us off in a tuk-tuk in search of Peter Nang. I try to figure out how it might be a scam, but it’s impossible. It’s no rip-off; he was just nice in the good, old-fashioned way of ‘nice’. Not so nice for my wallet. But the stone is exceptional and the price set by government. All above board, kosher and certificated.
Again, time has defeated us, and we’re running late for a date on the river. Fortunately, the Shangri-La is smack bang next to the river ferries that operate between the major hotels. One hop on the hotel’s taxi and we just make it to the Manohra river boat dinner cruise. It’s recommended as the best. It’s an old, converted rice barge, and feels the part. The four-course traditional Thai dinner—more food—is an exceptional way to see the city’s most famous landmarks illuminated by night. The Grand Palace, The Temple of the Dawn, and the rest pass us effortlessly to the sound of cutlery and soothing Thai music.
It’s been 10 years since we last did all this. Much has changed about the city. Much has changed about us (my waistline is probably 10 inches wider). But we do everything, and more than we set out to do. I just don’t think we’ll wait another 10 years to do it again.
Oriental Residence Bangkok A member of the Amari group of hotels, it’s part hotel, part private apartment- cum-residences, and has its own Savelberg restaurant, which serves French cuisine with a little Dutch inspiration. Starts from INR 9,000.
Shangri-La Hotel, Bangkok Straddling the river and the Saphan Taksin BTS station, Shangri-La Hotel, Bangkok boasts an impressive array of world-standard facilities. The pool area is mighty, and there’s a whopping nine different places to dine. A Club Horizon twin costs around INR 20,000.
The Queen of Curry, Bangrak Market Wedged behind the Shangri-La Hotel, Bangkok is the lively Bangrak Bazaar—a haven for well-priced women’s fashion. Opposite it is a string of restaurants, the best of which is Queen of Curry. The food is first-class local, the prices almost a joke. Best of all, they sell their curry pastes by the jar. INR 1,200 for two