15 November 2018Last updated


The five stars of Bangkok

Bangkok’s charm is famously diverse, from awe-inspiring temples to charismatic night markets and all-night Khao San Road parties. But peel back another layer, and you’ll find the buzzing city has a luxurious and alternative side too, as Faris Al-Jawad finds out

By Faris Al-Jawad
1 Jul 2015 | 12:00 am
  • Bangkok.

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  • Central Embassy Mall is built on the former grounds of the British Embassy in the heart of Bangkok’s shopping district.

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  • Central Embassy Mall.

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  • The Sky Bar was featured in The Hangover II.

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  • The Jam Factory is a hip restaurant/art gallery.

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  • The Art and Culture Centre hosts an eclectic mix of artwork.

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  • Centara Grand Hotel offers stunning views of Bangkok through floor-to-ceiling windows.

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Central Embassy Mall

Located in the heart of Bangkok’s shopping district, and just a short mosey from Siam Square, this year-old mall takes ultra-luxe shopping to the next level, quite literally. Built on the former grounds of the British Embassy, this futuristic-looking shopping centre is anything but colonial, carving its way dramatically upon Bangkok’s skyline with its eight floors of luxury lifestyle shops and a soon-to-be-opened 37-storey Park Hyatt Hotel attached to it.

Inside, a minimalistic design style has been chosen, with white spiralling floors and ceilings that create a calm and infinite effect. Aside from your Guccis and Pradas, on the third and fourth floors are pretty collections of unique contemporary shops with products from local Thai designers.

Those wishing to try authentic Thai cuisine should be sure to pop down to EatThai on the ground floor. With mini food stands emulating street stalls found across the country, this food court offers bona fide Thai dishes; from the classics to rare southern-style curries. Perfect for those who want a taste of real Thai grub without the hassle, hustle and bustle of street food stalls.

What’s particularly interesting about this area of Bangkok is the juxtaposition of luxury malls and the rustic Thai markets that fill the streets. You can enter Central Embassy to browse high-end brands, then step outside, grab a drink from a 7-Eleven, and walk along an endless array of buzzing night-market stalls that line the bustling Phloen Chit street. It’s a symbolic contrast that is representative of Bangkok’s ability to constantly develop and move forward, without losing sight of its cultural grassroots.

Art and Cultural Centre

A short stroll from Central Embassy along Phloen Chit street is the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC). Located just opposite Siam Square, this hip creative centre is a breath of fresh air away from the bustling streets and high-end malls that line the area.

On entering, you’re met with a choice of charming cafés. Stepping into one, with trendy students sipping organic tea at the bar and hippy tracks from The Beatles playing softly in the background, it almost feels like you’ve slipped into a Murakami novel.

Up on the third floor are a number of indie fashion stores selling products from local designers, including quirky handmade jewellery and smart leather accessories. Head one floor up and you’ll find an inviting bookshop where you can nestle into a sofa and get lost for a few hours.

The highlight, however, is on the top floor, where regular exhibitions of contemporary Thai art are displayed. An eclectic mix of artwork is shown here with both a fascinating insight into modern Thai culture as well as guest exhibitions from South-East Asia to America, depending on when you visit.

The Jam Factory

For a touch of something fresh, trendy, and off the beaten track, Bangkok explorers should take a boat over the Chao Phraya river to The Jam Factory. Located on the other side of the Chao Phraya, and a short walk from the Hilton hotel, this chic little hipster hangout was converted from a factory warehouse to an urban restaurant/art gallery by star architect Duangrit Bunnag, who opened the Factory in December last year.

Bunnag’s distinctive linear style, as well as his ability to incorporate the outside environment into his work, makes this contemporary urban-meets-country den a truly delightful place to chillax, with wide green spaces juxtaposed against the rough, crude lines of the Factory’s huts.

A highlight is the open-spaced restaurant The Never Ending Summer. Its rustic and industrial-style design inside, with tall, wooden beams, bare-bricked walls, and high ceiling windows that flood the restaurant with natural light, is reminiscent of trendy hangouts in London’s Shoreditch. But with authentic and upscale Thai cuisine on offer from chefs preparing dishes from scratch in the open kitchen, you’ll feel pretty far from London’s East End, and Dubai for that matter.

Outside, the tranquil garden and riverside deck are a perfect place to kick back and soak up the Thai vibe while the giant, docile Bodhi trees hang serenely overhead. Behind the restaurant, the gallery showcases modern and innovative artists from all over Asia, while the Factory’s shop offers trendy garments from Thai designers.

This funky little hideaway is something new and exciting for Bangkok, and with regular farmers’ markets, live music and original exhibitions, it is well worth the pretty and memorable jaunt over the river to get to it.

Centara Grand Hotel

Almost exactly midway between Central Embassy and the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre on Phloen Chit street is the deluxe Centara Grand Hotel, which towers over the Siam shopping district like a great-white shark out of water with jaws locked open. Inside, the five-star hotel rooms offer stunning views of Bangkok with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over the multi-layered buzzing city. In addition to the award-winning spa and lavish outdoor swimming pool, the hotel rooftop bar, Red Sky, offers breathtaking and tremor-inducing views of the city.

Sky Bar at Lebua

A short cab ride from Phloen Chit street is the idyllic Sky Bar at Lebua, a rooftop bar in the heart of Bangkok that boasts arguably the best views the city has to offer. Stepping out on to the expansive terrace, the opulent decor and gorgeous layout are initially blindsided by the unforgettable views of the Chao Phraya river and city skyline beyond.

The bar was made even more popular after featuring in the comedy The Hangover II, showing off Lebua’s dramatic vistas of South-East Asia’s most iconic city.

Walking down the roman-style steps, you reach the circular bar, which hangs over the edge of the hotel, jutting out over the city like a cliff edge. Looking back at the golden dome-like peak of the hotel, you can’t help but feel like you’re in the coolest place in the city.

By Faris Al-Jawad

By Faris Al-Jawad