Why Go To Bangkok Now
Thailand’s famously bustling capital is a powerhouse of creativity.
Time travel is real in Bangkok, where you can rise with the sun to witness ancient rituals at mirror-clad Buddhist temples, then spend the day exploring the roots of the contemporary Thai design scene around the waterfront Bangrak district. The city is an explorer’s dream: Follow one of the Chao Phraya River’s many tributaries and you’ll discover wing-tipped wooden houses and cacophonous floating markets. Snaking alleyways lead to meals whose flavors will sear your memory as well as your tongue, as well as insider-only shops proffering a kaleidoscope of original, endearing souvenirs.
Here are four reasons why Bangkok, where Rosewood Bangkok opens this month, should be on your travel radar now.
The art and design scenes are having a global impact—and are eminently shoppable.
Bangkok joined the international art ranks this year with the Bangkok Art Biennale, which completed its debut edition in February. (Sponsors have already lined up for 2020 and 2022.) International artists like Marina Abramović and Yayoi Kusama made headlines, but the show also shed light on Thai talents like Sanitas Pradittasnee, with her fantastical landscape installations, and the female collective Muslimah, whose five multimedia artists shed light on the lives of women from Thailand’s southern provinces.
Bangkok is also home to a dynamic class of design-minded entrepreneurs, most clustered in the Creative District at the southern swoop of Charoen Krung Road. Ground zero for this inventive energy may be Thailand Creative & Design Center, a co-working space housed in the former Grand Postal Building, a 1940 modernist building along the Chao Praya. Along with Bangkok’s next great innovators, you’ll find an art gallery, café, library of 70,000-plus design tomes, and an ever-changing program of exhibitions and thought-provoking discussions. Nearby is Warehouse 30, a block of World War II–era storehouses converted by one of Thailand’s best-known architects, Duangrit Bunnag, into a hive of design studios and fashion boutiques.
You could say that contemporary Thai design stems from the 1970s, when an artisan named Javid Rangthong, inspired by the upcountry Thai farm tools used to slash through rice paddies, decided to leave the handles of his stainless steel cutlery unpolished. Those humble utensils earned a spot in the collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art and are still for sale at Thai Home Industries, owned by Rangthong’s descendants. In a classic Thai house near the river, under an elegant upturned roof clad with mirrored shingles, the store’s display cases also offer natural indigo cotton farmer pants, seashell housewares, and festive woven placemats.
The city’s museums bring Thailand’s treasured heritage to life.
If the elegant Wat Arun, the iridescent riverfront temple that may be Bangkok’s best known landmark, inspires further exploration of artisanal Thai heritage, these three gorgeous museums are worth a visit:
Dwarfed by the surrounding skyscrapers, M.R. Kukrit’s Heritage Home comprises five traditional sloped-roof houses on stilts, former residence of the 1970s prime minister. Inside, visitors can browse the politician’s private collection of hand-painted masks and serene Buddha statues, while outside, the gardens are bountiful with tropical plants and imported bonsai trees.
Founded in 1904, the Siam Society is housed inside two meticulously restored 19th-century teak houses. Under royal patronage, the museum’s century-old mission is to encourage appreciation of the art, science, culture and history of Thailand and its neighbors.
At Prasart Museum, authentic Thai pavilions hover over manicured gardens on the outskirts of Bangkok. The rare Sukhothai-era (13th- to 16th-century) ceramics here come from the Thai royal collection, and the teakwood main house is an exact replica of the late Queen’s residence.
Restaurants—new and decades-old—serve Asia’s most cutting-edge cooking.
Bangkok’s eight million inhabitants—and 20 million annual visitors—have a wealth of options for eating out, from traditional Thai hot spots to award-winning fine dining. Humble Soi Polo may have rickety metal chairs for seating, but its finger-licking chicken, generously doused with deep-fried garlic sprinkles and served with shredded papaya salad and delectable sticky rice, is considered Bangkok’s best, and has earned a Bib Gourmand from the Michelin Guide. Also legendary: restaurant Eat Me, which opened in 1998 but is still fresh on all fronts. American-born chef Tim Butler travels regularly, resulting in dishes like tom yum Maine lobster and Wagyu tartare laab with coriander and Thai chili. Newer to the scene is 100 Mahaseth, whose eight rough-hewn wood tables reinforce the rustic vibe of northern Thai dishes: sai ua pork sausage in a brioche hot dog bun; grilled goat ribs; charcoal-roasted bone marrow dusted with perilla seeds, scallions, palm sugar, lime, and lemongrass. Meanwhile, newcomer Sorn revives “lost” recipes from Thailand’s 14 southern provinces—like morning glory cabbage with coconut rice and baby shrimp slow-cooked in a claypot—using ingredients sustainably sourced from farmers and fishermen.
But your first priority should be Gaggan. Chef Gaggan Anand has announced that his much-lauded Indian restaurant will shutter its doors next year, so 2019 is your last chance to try his spherified Yogurt Explosion; the deconstructed, fennel-infused samosa shaped like a bird’s nest; and sea urchin ice cream.
A new Rosewood is opening its doors.
The new Rosewood Bangkok, in bustling Ploenchit, rises 30 stories in twin connecting skyscrapers. Its sloped exteriors draw inspiration from the wai, the quintessentially Thai gesture of palms pressed together. Inside, 159 guest rooms showcase modern yet authentically Thai style, mixing marble, metals, and leather with traditional wood carvings and textiles. Four restaurants and bars offer contemporary takes on global cuisine, from the European-style Lakkorn brasserie to Nan Bei, serving food from both northern and southern China. Throughout the hotel, views of Bangkok are will catch your eye, be it from the indoor-outdoor saltwater pool or the top-floor, speakeasy-style cocktail bar Lennon’s.
Sanitas Pradittasnee: 15 Soi Pradipat 17; +66 2-279-1118
Thai Home Industries: 35 Charoen Krung Road, Soi 40; +66 2-234-1736
Thailand Creative & Design Center: Central Post Office, 1160 Charoen Krung Road; +66 2-105-7400
Warehouse 30: 52 60 Captain Bush Lane; +66 88-244-2241
Prasart Museum: 4 A Krungthep Kritha Road; +66 2-379-3601
M.R. Kukrit’s Heritage Home: 19 Soi Phra Pinit, South Sathorn Road; 662-286-8185
Siam Society: 131 Asoke Montri Road; +66 2-661-6470-3
Soi Polo: 137/1-2 Soi Polo; +66 2-655-8489
Eat Me: 1 6 Convent Road; +66 2-238-0931
100 Mahaseth: 198/3 Mahaseth Road; +66 2-235-0023
Sorn: 56 Soi Sukhumvit 26; +66 99-081-1119
Gaggan: 68/1 Soi Langsuan, Ploenchit Road; + 66 2-652-1700