Many visitors to Thailand breeze right through the capital, stopping only long enough to shake their jetlag before hopping a bus, train, or plane to the kingdom’s many glorious beaches and hill towns. Those who skip the big city miss out on so much more than temples and tuk-tuk tours; the city’s amazing food, dirt-cheap massages, and dazzling markets could keep you occupied for days, weeks, or even years. If you’re one of those time-strapped travelers with a 24 hour window for food and adventure in the Thai capital, this photo-fueled guide’s got your name written all over it.
You’ve slept in, done your morning yoga routine in your hotel room. You’re ready for your morning juice so you head straight for Mango Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurant and Art Gallery in the Kao San Road district. The expansive, intriguing menu features a variety of tempting beverages to kickstart your day. Control freaks like me will appreciate the chance to design their own blends. I recommend the beet-guava-ginger mélange, followed by a sweet-and-savory papaya salad breakfast.
Bangkok is paradise for self-pampering; Beauty boutiques and low-key spas offering facials, manicures, foot rubs, and the best Thai massages are plentiful throughout the city, and especially in the Phra Nakon district sidling up to the Chao Praya river. At Yor Ying Massage & Spa (174 Soi Samsen 4), you’ll be greeted by a friendly staffer bearing a cool cup of tea and an invitation to sit and peruse the spa menu. Choose from a variety of massages (200 baht per hour, or roughly $6.50, plus tip) or splurge on a body scrub (750 baht), and allow yourself to be pampered like a Thai princess.
A five-minute walk from Yor Ying brings you to the Thamna Hometaurant (175 Samsen Rd.), where the food is fresh and creative and the service is super-friendly. Portions are huge, so if you can, reel in the desire to order everything on the menu. The tempura oyster mushrooms are addictively crunchy and not the slightest bit oily, and the salads and curries can be prepared to meet your desired level of hotness. Bring on the fire!
You’re fueled up and your tongue is on fire; now, it’s time to explore the temples that abound in this neighborhood. The Grand Palace and its enormous reclining Buddha is a must-see, but also take the time to explore the smaller temples, including Wat Mahathad and Wat Ratchanada, with their pleasant kitty-filled grounds, golden buddhas, and saffron-robed monks.
You’re not quite ready for another round of food, so you hit the streets looking for a few treasures to bring home to friends and family. Avoid the crowded, past-its-prime Kao San Road if you can and steer toward one of the bar-lined side streets where a young coconut drink or an ice-cold Leo beer await.
If it’s a Saturday night, you’re in luck; May Kaidee’s (59 Tanao Rd.) offers a 150 baht, all-you-can-eat vegan buffet that’s a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. Spring rolls and fried vegetables, brown rice and coconut curries, papaya salad and sautéed vegetables, and mangoes with sticky rice for dessert are just a sampling of the treats that await you. If you’re as dazzled by the food as I was, you’ll probably be tempted to take one of the many cooking classes on offer to learn how to make this fresh food chez vous.