It’s easy to go big in Bangkok – the guys in The Hangover 2 are proof of that. In a city of over 10 million people, MONICA PITRELLI steps off the tried-and-true tourist path to discover that in large cities, bigger doesn’t always equal better. I’ve been to Bangkok more times than I can count. Hua Hin, Chang Rai, Koh Samet – haven’t seen any of them. Sukhothai just doesn’t seem to top the wish list of visiting friends and family.
Last month, I found myself en route to The City of Angels (or Krung Thep, as the Thais call it) for yet another visit. But this time, temples, dinner cruises and floating markets were not on the agenda. This time,there was no agenda.
I’ve stayed in everything from huge, corporate hotels to a family guesthouse in the ‘burbs – each superb in its own different way. But this time, I sought out a happy medium at Hansar Bangkok – a brand new, downtown, all-suite property that belongs to the prestigious Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
My home away from home for the weekend is Hansar’s Urban Suite, which to my delight is decidedly un-urban. A unique interior wall of plants and flowers at the room’s entranceway brings a touch of the Thai islands to the urban jungle. An inventive use of mirrors reflects the wall into every area of the suite, granting the living room, daybed nook and adjoining bedroom a relaxing garden view. I know nothing about feng shui, admittedly, but I’m sure this room has a lot of it; everything about it just feels right.
With only 94 rooms, the hotel never feels full, though I heard that it was. I have no trouble making an appointment at the spa or making dinner reservations at Eve, the hotel’s upscale northern Mediterranean restaurant. Above all, the breakfast buffet is breezy and not packed – a pet peeve of mine, as fighting through a throng of elbows vying for picked-over food is not the way I like to start the day.
Steering clear of the massive temples and tourist hotspots, I spend the weekend meandering through neighbourhoods searching for artwork and bits of home décor. The exception is a stop at The Jim Thompson House for a quick tour through the Thai silk entrepreneur’s former home. The house has an attached restaurant, and while I’m a big fan of Jim Thompson’s restaurant in Singapore, I’m in the mood for something more intimate for the evening meal.
Bangkok traffic is legendary for being unbearable, but it’s Saturday night. And I’ve heard so much about a restaurant in town, Soul Food Mahanakorn, that I decide to brave the bumper- tobumper grind for a taste of nahm prik, a savoury Th a i d i p t h a t the restaurant’s owner, American food writer Jarrett Wrisley, laments as being shamefully under-represented outside of Thailand.
Though relatively new to the Bangkok scene, Soul Food is a small restaurant with a big following. The place is packed, but I shimmy my way to the bar for a cocktail. I let Jarrett order for me carte blanche. The result is a tableful of fresh, wholesome food, such as gaeng hang lay (Burmese pork curry with tamarind and spices), southern Thai samosas and smoked duck larb with a side of organic red sticky rice.
Heading home from the weekend without so much as a glimpse of a rooftop bar, emerald Buddha or splendiferous palace, I have no regrets at all. Exploring Bangkok’s softer side has opened up an entirely new city for me,