Thailand Has You Now
Bangkok surprises with luxury shopping, bargain hunting, spicy food, a classy cocktail scene and dazzling culture; Thailand’s small towns abound with rustic charm.
By Elyse Glickman
Bangkok(Spiritsman)11/10/11—Much of Thailand’s mystique lies in its food and the lush tropical landscape that begets its famed Thai Hom Mali rice (the rice formerly known as Jasmine) as well as a bounty of fruits and spices. This resonates with the popularity of cooking shows like PBS’s Easy Thai Cooking with Tommy Tang and surveys revealing Thai food is one of the fastest growing ethnic cuisines worldwide, ranking sixth in one global study developed by The Kellogg School of Management and Sasin Institute.
Bangkok and resort towns like Chang-Mai and Phuket put on a great show for people coming to Thailand for the food—from humble street food carts to high-end culinary spots. However, visits to smaller agricultural towns add another intriguing perspective—especially as Thailand’s production makes up 30% of rice on the world market. According to the 2011Thailand Rice Convention & World Rice Standard Summit staged in Bangkok and rice production capital of Nahkonsawan, Thailand’s rice industry growth ties right in with world demand for Thai cuisine as well as the increasing popularity rice-based spirits such as sake, soju and rice vodka.
While many of Thailand’s most beautiful destinations pay regal homage to King Rama IX and past kings, it is interesting to note Rama IX is deeply and personally involved in the well-being of his subjects, right down to the health of the rice industry. He has gone as far as having rice paddies in his yard at the main palace for scientific purposes.
Next time you enjoy your favorite Thai dish, forget what you know about it from pop cultural references (i.e. Hangover 2, the 80s ditties One Night in Bangkok and A Passage to Bangkok). Your passage to Bangkok and beyond, when planned thoughtfully, can be a nourishing experience for body, mind and soul.
Where to Land in Thailand
Hotels & Resorts
Bangkok The five-star Shangri-La Hotel scores high marks, with plush suites, million dollar views, panoramic fitness center (no shortage of elliptical machines!), Chi Spa, a most impressive pan-Asian breakfast and brunch buffet (breakfast ice cream with muesli and enormous chunks of fresh fruit; very respectable Northern Indian breakfast fare). It’s also walking distance from river cruises, water taxis and SkyTrain, which puts the best of new and old Bangkok right at your feet.
Travelers on longer visits or smaller budgets will want to check out the adorable Bossotel Inn Bangkok (www.bossotelinn.com), a block down the hill from the Shangri-La. It features a small but authentic Thai breakfast area, friendly staff and cute, fitness room, pool, attractive lobby, unfussy and roomy suites. It is said to be a favorite second home for celebrity chef Tommy Tang, often in town to shoot his American Public Television series Easy Thai Cooking.
Chiva Som (www.chivasom.com), one of Southeast Asia’s most respected wellness resorts, is at the heart of one of Thailand’s first vacation destinations founded in the 1920s. Though it seems a little compact at first inspection, it opens out like a lotus into a multi-dimensional sensory experience.
With Chiva Som’s mission to send you home healthier than when you arrived, personalization takes priority over pretension. For example, the hotel’s acclaimed kitchen caters not only to vegans and vegetarians, but also Kosher, diabetic and other personalized diets—and the Thai food is quite delicious and authentic. Although the rooms, public areas and landscaping are inspired by a Thai-Buddhist aesthetic (and indulgent comfort), the holistic approach of the programs are, by design, universal in appeal. Though there is no liquor on the property, the resort offers delicious “mocktails” and a weekly mocktail party.
The colonial-styled Thanying (a favorite of Tommy Tang’s, No. 10 Thanon Pramuan @ Silon 17-19) has delighted patrons since 1986 with spicy-but-sophisticated specialties like roasted duck, noodle, sun-dried beef and deep-friend sea bass dishes through just the right amount of sauce and heat. Highly recommended Thai restaurants in the Sukhumvit, Soi 24 area include Lemon Grass, touristy-but worthy Seafood Market and Sorn-Thong Ponchana.
Greyhound, regarded as the Armani of Thailand (sleek, geometric, simple), proves Thailand is not defined by bright silk attire and beachwear. Like Armani, Greyhound also has a respected upscale Greyhound Café (www.greyhoundcafe.co.th) with “Thai Nouveau” fare and interior design.
Although there are many alluring street food stalls everywhere you turn, the international food court at MBK Center is worth a visit. In a pleasant air-conditioned environment with a colorful cast of cooks, mix and match items from different Thai stations, as well as others offering Indonesian, Japanese, pan-Asian seafood, Chinese, fresh juices and smoothies and even Halal-Middle Eastern!
Bangkok’s Cocktail Scene
At Bangkok’s elegant “SkyBars,” including SkyBar/Le Dome at the State Tower (a shooting location for Hangover 2) and RedSky at Centara World, cocktail prices are on the high side (comparable to Los Angeles or New York City), but well worth it for flavor and presentation that take good advantage of local fruits, spices and unusual combinations of ingredients.
A more local scene can be found at the combination bar of Jameson’s Irish Pub/-5 Ice Bar in the Silom neighborhood. British expat Ian Harriss is at the helm of this wonder-bar, and creator of the most interesting ice cream and sherbet drinks! The Bed Supper Club, in the jumping Sukhumvit, Soi 24 neighborhood, is popular with a younger, dance-driven crowd.
Bangkok While “touts” on bike taxis may try to lure you into stores set up for tourists, bargain hunters more interested following the local lead will want to head to Chatuchak Weekend Market.
Fashionistas who like their shopping indoors will find Siam Square seductive and overwhelming. The best way to make the most of your time is to select a destination mall or block compatible with the way you shop. Siam Paragon is a conglomeration of domestic and international chain stores in an arrangement similar to American malls. Gaysorn Center is Bangkok’s answer to Fifth Avenue and Rodeo Drive. Edgy Thailand clothing, accessories and decorator goods can be found Siam Discovery.
Siam Center, a diminutive mall credited with starting the whole Siam Square explosion, is now is the spot to find Thailand-based fashion designers on the rise. Labels worth obsessing over include gorgeous hand-crafted leather handbags from Tango (www.tango.co.th), and signature boutiques from Thailand’s young designers, including 27 November, Rebecca, Jaspal and Kloset.
Downtown Hua Hin bustles after hours with its own night market, carpeting several downtown blocks with street food indulgences, inexpensive souvenirs and rolling cocktail bars. There are also some interesting buried treasures when it comes to fashion hunting, including Findig Shoes, which carries inexpensive but beautifully made leather sandals with floral cutouts.
The crew at Chiva Som recommend and swear by Cicada Market (www.cicadamarket.net), ja ten-minute walk from the property. Staged only on weekends, this upscale alternative to the traditional Asian night market features handcrafted jewelry, shoes, home textiles, clothing and objets d’art sold by their creators in a tidy maze of open air boutiques, alongside live jazz performances.
Thailand’s historic aesthetic blends seamlessly into fashion and home design, and nowhere is this more evident than with Jim Thompson, credited for transforming Thai silk into a global industry. The Jim Thompson House (www.jimthompsonhouse.com) an exquisite residence-turned museum, pays homage to the lost design great who disappeared in Myanmar in 1967.
Though Thailand’s most impressive historical venues (including the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Arun, Lumphini Park and the museums filling out the Rattanakosin Island and river districts in Bangkok), should not be missed, active temples and city parks you may encounter by chance are worth visiting as they are defined by the same distinctively Thai architectural and historic hallmarks.
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