Serenity, peace, reflection … three words often never used about the dizzying city of Bangkok, writes Scott Armstrong.
However they can be found hidden away in this bustling metropolis, and are perhaps all the more powerful because of the unbelievable contrasts that are the foundations of the City of Angels.
Few places on earth are so comfortable being so many different things at the same time, this is a schizophrenic city of multiple identities, all of them engaging in different ways.
Whatever you travel to Bangkok expecting to find, it’s the little slices of heaven, the moments of peace away from the madness that stand out the most.
Amid the golden spires of the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is one such moment. Having ploughed through the city traffic (in an incredibly reasonable priced taxi cab), weaving between high rise offices and low-rise shanty dwellings, the utter calm to be found in this centuries-old treasure is breathtaking.
For nothing can be finer that simply wandering around this sprawling royal complex, comprised of around 100 buildings, jaw slack as you gawp at majestic temples, intricate carvings or giant statutes of fearsome warriors. It’s all so visually stunning that even in the midst of a madding crowd of (usually Chinese) tourists the noise slips away as you soak up the scene.
This is one of those times that you’ll want to take some pictures, but keep the selfies to a minimum, put the camera phone back in your pocket and concentrate on burning this experience in to your memory (rather than your memory stick).
Quick tip, if someone wearing a tourism police t-shirt outside the palace tells you it is shut, ignore him, it’s a scam, just keep walking.
Talking about walking, once you’ve had your fill of the Grand Palace (if that is possible) it’s a pleasant 10-minute meander to the similarly impressive Wat Pho, otherwise known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. This huge golden statue (15m high and 46m long) has to be seen to be believed and is well worth the stroll whatever the weather.
Again ignore anyone telling you it is shut, Wat Pho is not just a one trick pony as the grounds are as stunningly serene as those of the Grand Palace. In some ways almost nicer for this is a temple in which to explore little alleyways to discover more carvings, statues and gorgeous architecture which seems straight from a fantasy novel.
Take a short ferry ride across the Chay Phraya River to Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn, for another dose of soul-stirring peace. Again beautiful grounds hold a host of treasures including the huge Khmer-style colourful tower of tiles or the fat golden Buddha (Chinese style, Thai Buddhas are slimmer).
To truly cement a powerful morning of reflection jump back on the ferry and on the riverside near Wat Pho you’ll find a number of hidden away eateries offering the chance to sit, enjoy a local brew, great food and watch the busy waterfront traffic perform for you – Bangkok after all is called the Venice of the East.
After all that serenity you might be in need of an adrenaline shot and none can be more exhilarating than a Tuk Tuk motorcycle taxi ride back through the city traffic to your hotel. While this will possibly be twice the cost of a normal cab this breakneck speed thrill is the fastest way to get back to where you have laid your hat.
In a city such as Bangkok accommodation choices abound, but few offer that bewildering cocktail of contrast more than the Siam Kempinski Hotel, which offers a resort slap bang in the heart of the city’s premier shopping and entertainment district of Rama 1 Road.
This beautiful hotel is an oasis of calm, seemingly holding back the noise and frenetic chaos of the city beyond its walls, looking inward on a huge garden and pool complex one might expect to find at a beach resort. It even has cabana rooms with private access into the pool to increase that feeling of being a million miles from the city, it’s a grand illusion but it works.
As luxury hotels go the Siam Kempinski is an impressive affair featuring a jaw-dropping lobby to rival any found in the Gulf’s uber luxury offerings.
Acres of marble, including pillars which stretch up into the skies, greet the arriving traveler. All that sumptuous stone is warmed by huge brass sconces intricately carved with Thai designs which throw out light in the shape of lotus flowers.
Warmer still is the greeting from the hotel team, who clasp their hands together, smile and give a slight bow whenever you pass. This hospitality is so ingrained in every member of staff that it is impossible not to feel welcome at the Siam Kempinski.
A modern Thai style waits in the rooms, with wooden floors and comforting carpet setting a soothing tone, a difference to the marble one customary finds in the GCC. Pick a deluxe residence in the Royal Wing and you’ll get a pool and city view, complimentary mini-bar and wifi, a spa-esque bathroom with bath and shower, and of course a sprawling bed.
Dining options are in plenty of supply in Kempinski, which has one of the finest choices of restaurants in Bangkok. Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin offers modern Thai fine dining cuisine and is the concept of renowned chef Henrik Yde-Anderson, whose Kiin Kiin restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark has held a Michelin star since 2008.
Slightly more relaxed is Brasserie Europa, which offers all day dining and an informal European a la carte menu while Niche offers a more intimate, yet still relaxed, atmosphere.
Another bonus at staying at the Siam Kempinski, apart from the utter luxury of it all, is that it is connected via a sky bridge to the adjacent Siam Paragon mall. This is high-end shopping at its best so if you are looking for Jimmy Choo, Prada, Gucci and the like then you are in luck (top tip fly Air Asia X into Bangkok and the money you save you can splurge in the shops).
It’s impossible to leave Bangkok without being slightly changed by this astonishing city even if you spend just 24 hours there. For so extreme are the contrasts, high octane energy alongside deep spirituality, it stretches the soul, making you more open to change and frenetic chaos than you thought possible.
Despite all that exhausting hustle and bustle, Bangkok leaves you feeling revived and just slightly more alive than when you arrived.