48 hours in Bangkok
In Thailand’s Brooklyn equivalent, you’ll take Muay Thai and sample street food.
With more than 21 million visitors, Bangkok was last year’s most visited city in the world—and for good reason. Thailand’s thriving capital is chockfull of temples, markets, and authentic street food as well as cosmopolitan dining, designer boutiques, and vibrant nightlife. There’s never a dull moment in this city where centuries-old history merges with modern sensibility. If you only have 48 hours, these are the places you’ll want to hit.
Where to Stay
The year-old Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park is the latest luxury hotel to open. It’s far more glam than its domestic counterparts with soaring ceilings, sparkly chandeliers, pool with cabanas (Imagine Dragons recently played a concert on the pool deck), and breathtaking views. The spa is a quiet oasis where you can get a ‘jetlag massage,’ and the lounge on the 27th floor has an expansive outdoor terrace.
For a more intimate stay, The Siam, designed by famed hotel designer Bill Bensley, is completely removed from the city bustle. With only 39 rooms, it’s a magnet for fashion- and film-industry types. The stylish, riverside boutique boasts an infinity pool, art deco-inspired bar, botanical garden, museum with Thai antiques, and a private, refurbished barge for river cruises.
There are no direct flights from the U.S. to Thailand, so the journey can take between 18 and 24 hours. After the long commute, focus on regeneration and activity, which will help the jet lag. If you’re checking into Bangkok Marriott Marquis, make a beeline to the hotel’s backyard, Queen’s Park, for a stroll. The park is a sanctuary for athletes, complete with jogging track, basketball courts, a lake, grassy knolls (where you’ll see Tai Chi in action) and outdoor fitness machines. From here, spend a few hours at EmQuartier next door. Malls in Bangkok flaunt over-the-top design, and this one features 45th-floor aerial views and a stunning, cascading waterfall as a backdrop to sleek, outdoor bridges in the center. For lunch, choose from 50 Asian restaurants, including Scruffy Apron, which serves up farm-fresh salads, and Belon Oyster & Raw Bar, serving daily oysters and ceviche. You’ll find the mother lode of notable Thai fashion designers selling everything from street to couture, like Disaya and Greyhound.
As the sun sets, head to The Jam Factory, a hipsterfied warehouse district along the river, reachable by taxi or public river ferry. Converted from an actual factory that produced jam, this hot spot is home to stylish restaurants, a coffee shop, contemporary art gallery and a lifestyle concept and design store stocked with some of the best gifts to bring back home (from locally-made candles and fun dishware to pet accessories). Grab a bite at The Never Ending Summer, an industrial-chic restaurant that dishes out modern versions of traditional Thai dishes, like roasted duck curry.
Just across the river is Asiatique, an Asian-style theme park/market with dozens of local street vendors, street food, and live Muay Thai matches. For a nightcap, head over to the ultra-swank Sky Bar at Lebua, a mothlight to jetsetters. Southeast Asia’s tallest open-air bar at 820 feet, it is an “island” in the sky featuring jaw-dropping, 360-degree views of the city’s sprawling and glittery landscape.
Most high-end Bangkok hotels offer lavish breakfast buffets (which include not only Thai but Western and Japanese selections), so you’ll want to grab a bite before heading out. Now that you’ve explored the modern side of the city, spend a day immersed in its past. Take a traditional tuk tuk (a three-wheeled rickshaw) to Grand Palace. The former home of Thai royalty since 1782, Grand Palace is masterfully designed with intricate details and stunning architecture. Make sure you check out the Temple of the Emerald Buddha before you leave.
Get your cardio fix at Master Toddy’s Muay Thai Academy where you can take a group class or book a private session. The facility is owned and operated by legendary Grand Master Toddy, considered the father of modern Muay Thai.
From there, take a 20-minute taxi to Sukhumvit, the main hub of Bangkok chock-full of street vendors, massage parlors, tailors, bars, and miles of authentic street food. Take a stroll and grab lunch at any of the vendors selling everything from pad Thai to vegetable curries. If you’re a history nut, explore Jim Thompson House, just a 15-minute taxi ride (or a 20- to 25-minute tuk tuk). The American entrepreneur introduced Thai silk to the world post-WWII. After living in Thailand for 22 years, he mysteriously vanished in 1967. His house is now a museum, a complex of six Thai-style teakwood houses that feels like a true time warp.
Plan your trip over a weekend to visit Chatuchak Weekend Market, the original night market with more than 8,000 stalls selling a wide array of merchandise, from antiques and clothes to snake whiskey and kao niew moo yang (pork skewers with sticky rice). They’re easy to eat, especially at markets. Whatever street food you end up choosing for dinner, make sure to get morning glory (a green vegetable similar to Chinese watercress), which is generally sautéed with garlic, because you can only get it in Thailand (the shelf life is short, so it’s too expensive for U.S. restaurants to import). Chatuchak is only open Friday to Sunday, starting at 6:00 p.m.