“Bangkok, though, is a rejuvenating tonic; the people seem to have found the magic elixir. Life, a visitor feels, has not been wasted on the Thais.” - Bernard Kalb
Like New York, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong, Bangkok is one of the worlds great cities. It is a city which bustles with energy around the clock.
To the uninitiated it offers an assault to the senses; a culture shock that few other cities can match.
The wall of heat and humidity when you first leave the airport is unforgettable, so too the unrelenting thrum of tuk tuks and the ever-present smell of incense and Thai street food.
It’s difficult to fully describe, but to get a sense of what it’s like, grab a bowl of your favourite Thai curry, light the joss-sticks and, while fully clothed, stand in your shower with the heat turned to the max with a friend or relative hammering pots and pans while shouting “TUK TUK!?” down your lughole every 20 seconds or so.
For many years, despite being a ‘city person’, I found the experience to be just too much.
I’d escape as soon as possible by grabbing a connecting flight to the greener, more mountainous, area of Chiang Mai, or the drier climates of the beaches in Ao Nang in the south.
Until, on one trip, I had no choice but to stop in Bangkok. Heavily jet-lagged, a friend and I took a walk around Bangkok’s streets at 5am in the morning.
We found ourselves at the aromatic Pak Khlong Thalat flower market. Thailand’s largest wholesale flower market is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week, but is at its most frenetic from 3am to 5am. If you're a flower lover it's a must see.
Having grabbed a tuk tuk, and with sun beginning to rise, we walked around the area surrounding the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew and the beautiful Wat Pho.
Hawkers were replaced by barefoot Buddhist monks in saffron robes on their morning alms round, a cool breeze present instead of searing heat.
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” - Saint Ambrose
And it was during this trip that I learnt to do as the locals do. Don’t pound the streets. Walk slowly. Take your time; if you’re late or behind schedule, ‘mai pen rai’ (it doesn’t matter).
You’re in foodie-heaven, eat deliciously cheap street food rather than western food at chains. Grab the skytrain rather than a taxi. Even more preferable, a boat along the Chao Phraya River.
"It was perfectly true, he just rather liked being at Shangri-La. Its atmosphere soothed while its mystery stimulated, and the total sensation was agreeable." - James Hilton, Lost Horizon
From the Chao Phraya the Shangri-La Hotel stands regally. Unlike the strikingly modern skyscrapers it neighbours, the 5 star luxury hotel offers an elegance of design associated with a quickly vanishing era.
It has the exotic majesty I associate with travel of the early jet setters; the type of place you would not be surprised to find Roger Moore’s James Bond milling about, cocktail in one hand, pretty woman in the other (thankfully there was no sign of Nick Nack, Scaramanga's dwarf manservant, during our visit.)
The rooms, while relatively compact, are beautiful. Thai silk walk coverings and curtains and golden chandeliers offer a hint of ostentation not present in more modern hotels.
The hotel has two wings; the larger and slightly less expensive Shangri-La wing, and the Krungthep wing. The latter is my preference and recommendation.
Guests of the Krungthep wing have access to both swimming pools, and the breakfast buffet is a noticeably more relaxed affair.
The rooms have private balconies with views of the Chao Phraya.
The hotel neighbours the lively Bangrak Bazaar.
Bangkok is home to nearly 10 million people. Watching the plethora of Bangkokians going about their daily business in the city can be endlessly fascinating.
Street food sellers pushing their carts down busy roads, oblivious to the fast approaching road traffic careering around them.
Tuk tuk drivers taking a nap at a busy intersection. The maze of electricity cables which overhang every street.
"But here, at Shangri-La, all was in deep calm." - James Hilton, Lost Horizon
The hotel and its gardens on the bank of the river offer an oasis of calm from the frenetic goings on around it.
CHI, The Spa at Shangri-La, offers further levels of serenity and relaxation.
Making prime use of its location, the hotel offers an international buffet and great views by night aboard the Horizon Cruise ship.
And a complimentary river shuttle service is offered to the nearby open-air mall, Asiatique The Riverfront; a great place to grab a bite-to-eat and to spend a couple of hours.
Other dining choices at the hotel include a Chocolate Boutique(!), and the excellent Shang Palace for authentic Cantonese cuisine.
For Thai fare there is Salathip Restaurant where Thai classical dance is performed each night.
"He liked the serene world that Shangri-La offered him..." - James Hilton, Lost Horizon
Bangkok is a labyrinth of ever-increasing madness, but having a place like the Shangri-La to retreat to makes it a beautiful and enjoyable madness.
3 to 5 days spent in the city are often the highlight of trips to Thailand.
Cocktail Saturdays' things to see and do during a 3 day visit:
Day 1: Visit Wat Arun at sunrise. Hop over on a short boat ride to the Grand Palace and have a massage at the wonderful Wat Pho. If you prefer an even more luxurious treatment, spend the afternoon at CHI Spa at The Shangri-La. Then watch the sun go down over a cocktail at Sky Bar rooftop at Lebua State Tower.
Day 2: Visit Pak Khlong Thalat early in the morning, then visit The Jim Thompson House. Spend the afternoon milling around Siam Paragon Mall and Gaysorn Mall. Take a dinner cruise on the Chao Phraya river.
Day 3: Join the locals for early morning yoga in the beautiful Lumpini Park. Take a boat trip along the Chao Phraya and Bangkok's numerous khlongs. Climb Wat Saket (Golden Mountain Temple), and reward yourself with dinner at Raan Jay Fai (327 Maha Chai Road) - Bangkok's most expensive, and Michelin Star winning, street food - try khai jeaw poo (crab omelet.)
Photos contained in this review are shot with the excellent Fujifilm X-T2. I have recently been testing various Fujifilm cameras; many thanks to Fujifilm UK for providing me with equipment to review.
Photography by mahon.photo