Emma Sebrof (43)
Managing Director of Fandango Tapas and Wine Bar
How often do you travel to Bangkok and who do you fly with?
I travel there once a month and stay for two nights. It’s just a two-hour flight so I go with the budget airlines because I don’t need a movie or a meal. I check Jetstar, Tiger and AirAsia for the best deals but Tiger usually has the best offer.
One thing everyone ought to know about Bangkok:
If you observe the way Thai people interact, you’ll find that everyone is very respectful of one another.
How quickly can you get a visa?
British nationals and many other nationalities don’t need a visa for stays up to 30 days. If you do require one, you can get it on arrival.
Fastest way to get into the city:
It really depends on where you’re staying in Bangkok. If you stay in Silom, the CBD area, like I do, I would recommend taking the train. The train system in Bangkok is very efficient. There’s an airport rail link express train that takes you straight into Bangkok in 20 minutes for about 150 baht ($7). From there, you can transfer to the BTS Skytrain or the underground MRT to go to whichever station you want.
Taxis aren’t very expensive, it’s probably 350 baht ($15) to get into the city but you can get caught in bad traffic. Regardless of the taxi brand, you must insist that the taxi uses the meter, especially if you’re getting one from a touristy area like Silom, or they’ll rob you blind.
Once in the city, you might be tempted to take a tuk tuk to weave through traffic, but always negotiate the fare first. The downside is that you’ll be breathing in traffic fumes the entire ride so isn’t as pleasant as you might imagine.
I don’t want to make it sound like everyone in Thailand is out to rob you but because so many tourists go through there, you can’t really blame them for wanting to make a dollar where they can.
When are the good and bad times to visit Bangkok?
I would say the worst time to go is during the rainy season from June to October but rarely does it rain all day. The good thing about the rainy season is the drop in temperature. What you gain in losing a few degrees, though, you make up for by having to take an umbrella with you.
I love visiting during Songkran, the Thai New Year. This water festival is usually in April with the main celebrations taking place at Khao San Road, the backpackers’ area. You literally can’t go three feet without getting soaked. It’s fabulous fun if you’re in the spirit of it; it would be an absolute nightmare if you were trying to get to a meeting.
Any good hotels to recommend?
Right at the corner of Silom Road is the Dusit Thani Hotel (+66 2200 9000). In my opinion, it’s the poshest hotel in Bangkok and is sort of like a landmark. I’ve never stayed there but it’s absolutely stunning.
I never stay in a five-star hotels; I’m never in there long enough to use any of the amenities. What I do is visit the Agoda website and have a look to see which hotels have good deals. My favourite is Glow Trinity Silom Hotel (+66 2231 5050) on Silom Road. It’s very minimalist with white pillows and a funky little restaurant. Another hotel that’s a pleasure to stay in is The Heritage Baan Silom (+66 2236 8388). It’s an amazing old colonial building, like something out of a fairytale, but with all the modern amenities. And if you’re a fan of the Shangri-La or that sort of hotel, they are plenty of big chain hotels too.
What’s the dress code for meetings?
I would say smart casual. I tend to favour business dresses. For men, I wouldn’t recommend a suit jacket or tie unless, of course, it’s a super high-end banking meeting. The weather in Bangkok is definitely a few degrees hotter than Singapore most of the time.
Any cultural or business etiquette to be aware of?
For Thai people, greetings are very, very important. If you only learn to say one Thai phrase, it should be “Sawadee Krap” for the men and “Sawadee Kha” for the women. And do it with the wai gesture of your palms pressed together and a slight bow. It’s not rocket science, just a simple sign of respect. Then you do the handshake and everything goes back to being Western.
You are taking a client to lunch or dinner, where do you go?
Nearly always Sukhumvit Soi 11. It’s a fantastic street to go to, especially with the two iconic bars Bed Supperclub (+66 2651 3537) and Q Bar (+66 2252 3274) located there. As a result, Soi 11 is very well known. The streets are easy to navigate; it goes Soi 1, Soi 3, Soi 5 on one side and the even numbers on the other side.
Because I own a tapas bar, I like to try out other tapas bars to see how I measure up. I would recommend Tapas Café (+66 2651 2947) on Soi 11. They have reasonably priced set lunches and happy hours for drinks. Another tapas place, Catalana (+66 2651 0220) is good too. It’s more of a sleek wine bar than a traditional tapas place. Venture around and you’ll find lots of other eateries like a pizzeria and a Mexican restaurant on this street.
Casual bars to go for a drink with clients where you won’t get hassled?
Although I don’t stay in the big chain hotels, I like going to their rooftop bars. Views from rooftop bars in Bangkok are different from those in Singapore; in Singapore you can see where the city lights end and there are dark patches in the distance. In Bangkok, the lights go on forever. Vertigo and Moon Bar in the Banyan Tree Hotel has a telescope. Another good rooftop bar for pre-dinner drinks is Lebua (+66 2624 9999) on State Tower. However, be prepared to pay Singapore prices for food and drinks in such places.
Pat Pong is the red-light district where touts are in your face, trying to bring you into one of the sleazy clubs. One less sleazy area, the kind where you would go if you were on a stag night, is Soi Cowboy.
For a bit of old-world New York glamour head to the outdoor terrace at The St. Regis Bar. Every evening at 6.30pm on the dot, a butler wielding a traditional sabre lops the top part of the bottle and the cork off a bottle of champagne. It’s also worth sampling the bar’s long menu of the Astor family’s famous Bloody Marys.
Any unsafe areas to avoid?
I have never felt physically threatened in Bangkok but I would never put my handbag on the back of my chair there. You just need to be aware of your surroundings all the time. If you leave your bag or phone unattended, there’s a good chance someone will pick it up and if they do you will never see it again.
You have some spare time, what’s the must-see?
If you’re a first time visitor to Bangkok, you have to see the Grand Palace; it’s beautiful and breathtaking. Another grand temple I’ve visited is the Wat Arun, known as the Temple of Dawn.
A creepy place to go is Mansion 7 (+66 2692 6311), a “haunted” shopping mall on Ratchadapisek Road. The entire mall, including the restaurants and shops, is themed as a haunted house with an actual haunted house trail you can visit for 180 baht. I’ve heard it’s got something to do with the owner’s daughter dying so it’s totally weird and way out there! It’s a five-minute walk from Huai Kwang MRT station.
Gifts to take home for family and friends?
My family has now got every Thai souvenir imaginable so I don’t bring anything back anymore. But gifts are best at Chatuchak weekend market. It’s one of the biggest markets in the world and it continues to expand every year. You can literally buy anything from clothes and furniture to antiques and tableware. Just be prepared to negotiate. Take a train there and follow the crowd when you alight; you can’t go wrong. The locals refer to it as JJ (Jatujak) Market.
How long before your flight do you really need to be at Suvarnabhumi airport?
Oh wow, at least two hours. A couple of trips ago in April, it took me two hours to get through immigration and I barely made it onto my flight. To give them some credit, the airport has done renovations and opened up more passport booths recently so it’s a littler quicker but I still try to be there more than two hours beforehand. If you are lucky and end up with lots of time, there’s lots of duty-free shopping and your last chance for Thai food. But of course, the biggest crowd is always at Burger King. Maybe after being in Thailand for two weeks, tourists just need their burger fix!