Sarah Purchase enjoys a girls’ weekend and experiences a taste of both Bangkok’s colonial past and its fast-paced present.
Stepping into the past
A girls’ trip for a group of mums who would otherwise be looking after young kids should contain four elements: the glam factor of a luxurious hotel, a spa, some retail therapy and a night out on the town. With only 72 hours in Bangkok to fit all of this in, we would need to act fast.
A ride into the city in the Mandarin Oriental’s chauffeur-driven 7 Series BMW made for the perfect start, and it didn’t take long for us to slip into a world that we all left behind five or six years ago – travelling effortlessly minus the baby bags and huge travel cases.
Bangkok might have started as a small trading port on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, but today the city is a sprawling metropolis. Still, along the river there are still glimmers of the old Bangkok.
A photograph that my sister took of the foyer in the Author’s Wing of the Mandarin Oriental put this famous hotel firmly on my bucket list, and when an opportunity to travel to Bangkok with friends arose it took less than a nanosecond for me to say, “Let’s go!”
Walking into the foyer, it felt like I was stepping into that photograph, with the sunlight streaming in through the windows, white cane furniture, a grand piano, lotus flowers and orchids surrounding us. For almost 130 years, the Mandarin Oriental has been an essential stop for travellers to Bangkok. It has blissful suites, a world-class spa, culinary delights and a rich history that can be felt throughout the hotel, including butlers and bellboys dressed in colonial hats, and beautiful cream Bentleys parked at the entrance.
Travelling with friends always brings an interesting dynamic to a trip, especially when everyone has a different “must do” suggestion. Thankfully, we were able to reach a consensus on visiting the Grand Palace. After avoiding the conmen (who had told us it was closed in the hope of diverting us to a market instead), we arrived while rain clouds were building up ominously.
Immediately, a guide offered his services, and Jo, my seasoned-traveller friend, quickly negotiated a price that fortunately included an umbrella. Deal done, off we headed into the palace grounds, which opened up a world of gilded temples against a backdrop of grey storm clouds, the Jade Green Buddha in ornate seasonal attire, trays of lotus lilies on silver platters and the faint smell of incense offerings – plus a strong sense of the affection that the Thai people feel towards their king.
The Grand Palace is easily reached from the Mandarin Oriental via a quick trip in the local water taxi along the Chao Phraya River – it’s easy to catch and a ticket costs just 20 baht (less than one Singapore dollar).
When in Thailand, eat!
The country’s flair for flavour, colour and spice is evident in all its restaurants, from the cheap-and-cheerful places to the more expensive eateries with their cool ambience and fantastic service.
For local street food, we suggest the food hall in the MBK shopping centre, or the row of shophouses across the road from the Grand Palace, where you can order all your Thai favourite dishes and wash them down with fresh young coconut water while watching the buzzing street life.
Well-known restaurant Eat Me is popular among Westerners for well-conceived dishes that fuse global and Thai flavours; it’s ideal for a casual night out with friends. Don’t miss the amazing cocktails, either. Eat Me is a bit difficult to find, so do write down the directions and the full address, as some taxi drivers will struggle to get there, even though it’s just 20 metres off the main road.
For the ultimate glam factor, opt for high tea in the Author’s Wing of the Mandarin Oriental or a fine-dining meal overlooking the river at the hotel’s iconic eatery, Lord Jim’s, which brilliantly combines fresh seafood and Thai flavours. The night setting on the river, with lit-up boats drifting slowly by, is like a scene from a movie.
Shopping and nightlife
A girls’ weekend in Bangkok also means – of course! – shopping, and Bangkok offers it all, from stylish malls to the sprawling Chatuchak market. A maze of over 8,000 stalls, Chatuchak can be overwhelming. Our recommendation for conquering the place is to try to learn in advance which sections have the things you’re interested in. (Clothes are in sections 5 and 6.) And, as in all markets, don’t forget to bargain for lower prices. Chatuchak heats up as the day moves on, so do plan just a few hours there – and, most importantly for market shopping, if you see something you like, buy it straightaway as the market is huge and you aren’t likely to find the same stall twice.
No girls’ trip would be complete without a night on the town. The iconic Sirocco, set 63 floors above the capital, high above the noise and chaos of the Bangkok traffic, is a stunning multi-hued bar and restaurant, and a great destination for a buzzing party atmosphere. Later, we returned to the Mandarin Oriental’s Bamboo Bar to have cigars and whiskey, celebrating our 72 hours of independence.
As with anything in life, a short break in routine and change of scenery is so good for the soul. Arriving home after just a short holiday, we three mums felt rejuvenated and refreshed
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