Bangkok is a city of contrasts, where modernity coincides with tradition. This bustling Southeast Asian city is renowned for its street food, markets, and nightlife.
Tuk tuks whizz by at top speed, and modern buildings tower overhead, creating a captivating cityscape. There is so much to discover in Bangkok by meandering along the city streets and through the neighbourhoods, each one distinctive.
Amid the hustle and bustle, the Chao Phraya River offers visitors a calmer side of the city to explore.
Riding Along the River
Once known as the Venice of the East, Bangkok has over 1600 canals along the Chao Phraya River, which have played an integral role in commerce over the centuries. Gliding along the river is one of the best ways to experience local life and peel back the layers of this diverse city.
Sathorn Pier is the perfect starting point to hop on the public express boat. Stop at the city’s Grand Palace, which was once home to the Thai royal family and is now used for ceremonial purposes. The palace houses Ramayana murals, collectively the longest wall painting in the world, as well as the 15th-century Emerald Buddha statue, carved from green jasper.
Not far from the Emerald Buddha is the famed Wat Pho temple with a massive reclining Buddha covered in gold, measuring an impressive 15 metres tall and 46 metres long. Wat Pho is the birthplace of natural Thai medicine and massage, and a traditional Thai massage can be booked at the school.
Another must-see along the Chao Phraya River is the Buddhist temple of Wat Arun. You can’t miss it jutting up toward the sky as you travel the river. Try to get there at sundown and bring your camera. Keep in mind that you can’t enter the temple sleeveless and your shoulders must be covered.
The Jim Thompson House Museum
The name Jim Thompson is synonymous with silk. An American businessman and architect who played a pivotal role in reestablishing Thailand’s silk industry in the 1950s, Thompson enlisted in 1941 during the Second World War and was stationed around the globe. He ended up settling in Thailand, where few years later he came across a group of Thai silk weavers.
With his background in design, Thompson knew he had to get the silk into the hands of the who’s who of the fashion world, so he sent the silk to New York. His business thrived, and he opened his first shop in Bangkok in 1950. Silk wasn’t the only thing Thompson was passionate about. Over the years he amassed a large collection of Thai art that he displayed in his magnificent custom-designed home.
Mysteriously, while on holiday in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands in 1967, Thompson went for a walk and never returned. Several theories have surrounded his disappearance over the years, yet it remains unsolved.
Guests can enjoy a guided tour of the Thompson home surrounded by its lush tropical grounds. Stop in the silk shop and Jim Thompson Art Center after your visit.
The Heat Is On
In the heart of Bangkok at Pink Chili Thai Cooking School, Pimmy, the owner, will teach you to make four authentic Thai dishes in four hours. The class includes a stop at the local market to learn about the fresh ingredients used in Thai cooking and the important role spice plays in the cuisine.
Back at the school, be ready to grind red chilies into the perfect paste (no easy feat) to add to your dish. You will even fire up a wok to make delicious pad thai. If your palate isn’t accustomed to lots of spice, take a bite of one of Thailand’s favourite treats: mango and sticky rice. All classes include take-home recipes so you can show off your cooking skills when you return.
The Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok at Chao Phraya River is an urban oasis. Next to the river and on the city’s oldest street, the hotel was designed by Jean-Michel Gathy. Elements of nature and water are incorporated at every turn, creating a calming place that makes you forget you are in a city.
The culinary experience at the Four Seasons Bangkok is exceptional. Open only since December 2020, restaurant Yu Ting Yuan, known for its Cantonese style cuisine, has already snagged a Michelin star. Be sure to sip and savour a cocktail at the BKK Social Club.
Hotel guests can enjoy complimentary yoga classes or Muay Thai boxing and visit the Four Seasons art gallery, which showcases local artists’ work. Head down to the waterfront at dusk to enjoy a ride along the river in the hotel’s wooden boat, which is free for guests. The boat runs every hour and stops at the Sathorn Pier and Iconsiam, one of the world’s best luxury shopping centres.
There has never been a better time to visit Bangkok, with Air Canada’s new direct flights leaving from Vancouver starting in December.