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So you've got a day to kill in Bangkok? It's not much time, especially when it's easy to be overly ambitious in the Thai capital, setting out to do a million and one things only to find that the traffic, the heat and the crowds thwart you. But here's a relatively slow-paced itinerary focused on the Sukhumvit-Siam Square stretch for those on a not-too-tight budget wanting to savour a bit of the city's cosmopolitanism. Think eating, shopping and relaxing with a touch of sightseeing thrown in.
You've got to start early if you've only a day, so begin with roast pork/fresh noodle soup or pork and rice on the street, on the corner of Sukhumvit Soi 33, outside the 7-eleven. This place has been running forever and is a great spot for observing all the well-dressed Thais on their way to work, snapping up take away bags of food from the multitude of vendors in the area.
Afterwards, it may not be Pak Khlong Talaat, but browse the pretty flowers and fruits on display outside nearby Villa supermarket. We swear the same dude has been manning that stall since at least back in 1998.
Now one thing Bangkok is good at is getting you groomed and looking good. One thing it's not good at: early opening shops. While cooling your heels waiting for Emporium to open, duck into TenTen hair and nails spa for a quick blow dry (from 200 baht), manicure (from 500 baht) or wax (half-leg 550 baht). It's up a few flights of stairs and a world away from the traffic just outside. While not the cheapest place in town, it's convenient and opens from 09:00.
Emporium, once the most fabulous mall in a city of too many malls, and these days still looking pretty glitzy, opens from 10:00. What to buy here? There's a good range of wooden kids toys in the department store and local designers such as Fly Now and the inexplicably named It's Happened to Be A Closet feature in the store while the range of men's ties here is pretty neat too. Kinokuniya is one of the best places for books in the city, with a special emphasis on design books; a neat range of Thai-inspired homewares lies on the top floor.
Hungry again? The food court is just around the corner from homewares. A hundred baht in food coupons will get you stewed pork and egg over rice with a healthy pile of fresh garlic cloves on the side (one of our favourite quickie Thai dishes), as well as a (very) sweet Thai iced tea. If you've already pigged out earlier (geddit?!), the usual vast array of Thai fare is on offer, at prices higher than the streets but less than the surrounding restaurants.
Backtrack now to Urban Retreat across the road from Emporium, where you'll be able to succumb to a therapist for an hour's Thai massage with aromatic herb poultice for 350 baht. This ain't the cheapest massage in town but it's great value considering the lovely surrounds, and you won't waste time in traffic.
Now it's time for a walk east down to Asok intersection. Get a sense of the massive construction taking place in the city with the vast building sites on the corners of Soi 27. It's a bit empty around here shopping wise, but the old school shops remaining give you a sense of what the area used to be like; open-air shophouses still act as rice warehouses and closed ones hawk air-cons, spectacles and floral arrangements.
Cross the road to Exchange Tower and head upstairs to retro-styled Boran for Thai-style tea and coffee, dumplings or rice and noodle dishes (if you didn't eat at Emporium), else Chu, run by the same owner, where you can sip on a luscious Mexican Chilli Hot Chocolate for 100 baht. It's liquid gold, my friends. Also: free WiFi, a rarity in this part of the city.
Head back to Asok BTS and catch the Skytrain down to Siam Square for some low budget browsing around the mostly clothes and trinket-y shops at street level. These are popular with students — think 250 baht dresses with questionable synthetic provenance but edgy style — though it's not all budget stuff. I managed to step into bespoke shoe store Money Clip, where I spied a lovely handbag. Initial price quoted? A cool 16,500 baht (I guess you need a full Money Clip to make a stop worthwhile). Shoes here are around 4,000-5,000 baht a pair (kids shoes around 2,500 baht) and you'll have to wait around 3 days for them to be made.
Other finds? We like the flirty beige dresses at Rotsaniyom, and you can stop for another coffee at lovely little hole-in-the-wall Yingdaew Homemade opposite afterward.
Hit all the vast malls around here if you'd like to truly empty your wallet, else now's the time for a touch of sightseeing: jump in a tuk tuk or wear out some shoe leather walking the short distance to Jim Thomspon House, one of our favourite sites in the city. Enjoy the architecture, the history and the general beauty of the hushed city retreat.
Sukhumvit is your oyster for dinner but one place generating buzz is Soul Food Mahanakorn, where a changing Thai menu is on offer along with strong drinks aimed to complement the spicy cuisine and a convivial atmosphere. We are yet to try this spot; we were in Bangkok on a Monday just prior to the restaurant opening Mondays, but the reviews from friends are uniformly positive.
A good dessert option in the general area is Spring, lounging around on their outdoor lawn or inside in air-con. Energy for a nightcap? Bits of Sukhumvit get decidedly seedy at night, but consider old favourites Q Bar, Bed Supperclub or Cheap Charlie's if you're not on a crack-of-dawn flight. Unfortunately, we were.
HI Bangkok Centre
Those on a tighter budget should head to HI Bangkok Centre, an international youth hostel that gets it right. Rooms at this four-year-old joint are bright and clean, with a choice between dorms and single, double or triple rooms. Expect to pay 300-1,300 per night.
A long running backpacker haven within convenient stumbling distance of Cheap Charlies. We've personally had mixed experiences at Suk 11, but it boats a legion of fans, so they're doing something right.
This very hip independent hotel is tucked away in a great location off Sukhumvit. Rates are around 3,000-4,000 baht a night for the seven colour-themed rooms, which is not bad for such a beautifully designed operation. Park yourself here and you're ready to explore Sukhumvit on foot.
Browse the selection of Bangkok hotels and guesthouses that can be booked online via our online reservation partner Agoda.com.
Boran/Chu: 2/F, Exchange Tower, 388 Sukhumvit Rd T: (02) 663 4554
Jim Thompson House: Soi Kasemsan (2) Song (opposite National Stadium on Rama I Rd). T: (02) 216 7368. Open 09:00 to 17:00 daily, last tour at 17:00. http://www.jimthompsonhouse.com
Money Clip: Siam Square Soi 3. T: (02) 658 4478
Rotsaniyom: Siam Square Soi 5. T:(0813) 042 198
Soul Food Mahanakorn: 56/10 Sukhumvit Soi 55 (Soi Thong Lor). T: (02) 714 7708. http://www.soulfoodmahanakorn.com
Spring Summer: Sukhumvit 49/11. T: (02) 392 2747
TenTen Hair and Nails Spa: 2/F TenTen Building, 593/2 Sukhumvit Rd. T: (02) 259 3510
Urban Retreat: BTS Phrom Pong branch. T: (02) 204 1042-3 http://www.urbanretreatspa.net
Yingdeaw Homemade: Siam Square Soi 5. T: (02) 658 0148
By Samantha Brown
Last updated on 26th May, 2015.