Once a stop-over enroute to Europe (or one of Thailand’s many islands), Bangkok is now an exciting destination in its own right. Asia’s equivalent to New York city, with the River District making the same transformation as New York’s Meat Packing District. New restaurants, roof top bars, emerging street art, a local design and fashion offering are just a few of the reasons you need to spend time in Bangkok.
I love Bangkok. It is one of my favourite cities in the world. It’s as intoxicating as it is diverse; a melting pot of exotic aromas, interesting sights and a vibrancy that’s contagious. It is as fast as it is calm. Expensive imported cars share the busy roads with man-powered tuk tuks. Streets stalls neighbour exclusive shopping malls, and all this cacophony performs on the banks of the country’s main river, Chao Phraya.
The Chao Phraya River is a intricate tapestry and an integral part of the Thai lifestyle, which is closely aligned with the life-giving waterways. More deals are made and products traded on the river than on dry land. Still today, the river and canals are bustling with barges, longtail ferries, floating markets and make shift wooden rafts. All constantly moving up and down the river as people make a living, commute to work or enjoy the sights.
Each side of the river is flanked with an eclectic display of modern and ancient architecture, rich and poor homes, shiny new shopping malls and monumental temples. A block back from the river, along the historic Charoen Krung Road there’s a myriad of small streets and alleyways, ducking and weaving and offering a whole new perspective of Bangkok. The area is undergoing a renaissance as street food vendors are joined by Michelin star restaurants, traditional crafts sit beside bold contemporary art, and tiny stalls selling handcrafted wares are displayed next to shops bursting with designer labels. Such a dichotomy. This is Bangkok!
The Revival of the River
The evolution of the River district has been attributed to many things, depending who you ask. A vibrant community passionate about the restoration of the river, COVID forcing the return home of a lot of Thai creatives living in London, Paris, Rome, or Milan. A change in government restrictions allowing colourful street art and murals to be painted on bare walls. Or the investment by developers restoring old and building new, exquisite properties, including the new Four Seasons Hotel.
I suspect it is the sum of all of this that has bought a breath of fresh life to the area.
A freshness that excites all of the senses…
Where to Stay
Traditionally tourists choose the city with easy access to Thailand’s longest road, Sukhumvit road, which is a Pandora’s box of food, nightlife, shopping and Bangkok up-close and personal, warts and all. However, I’d say visit the city but stay on the River. Specifically at the new Four Seasons!
It is located along the open riverfront, and just 40 minutes from Suvarnabhumi International Airport. It is big, yet personal, with 299 (over-sized) rooms, a jaw-dropping 3 bedroom Master Suite (complete with infinity pool and spectacular river views), as well as a number of restaurants, indoor and outdoor lounges, event spaces, the (now) famous BKK Social club and an urban wellness centre. Which we will get to in a moment.
Forgive my lack of wordsmith here. But just WOW! This is a stunning property dangling its toes into the river. The short drive-way off the busy Charoen Krung Road hides this sprawling haven. While you have everything just a short walk back up the drive-way at your door step, once you enter the front gates and step into the foyer of the Four Seasons hotel, you may not want to leave.
Like the city of Bangkok, our new Four Seasons is full of surprises, whether it’s the breath-taking river views, the rich design details, the perfect cocktail or a striking piece of art,” says general manager Lubosh Barta.
Attention to detail goes beyond the room layout and amenities, the books on the side-tables, or the logo-stamped on the crystal clear ice-cube in your cocktail poured into a hand-selected-beverage-appropriate glass. The attention to details extends to the staff as well. In typical Thai style, nothing is too difficult, smiles are genuine and generous, and service is attentive without being smothering. Hospitality at its finest.
Food & Drinks
While Bangkok is home to some of the best restaurants (and street food) in the world, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to food and beverages at the Four Seasons, Bangkok. You must start your morning (after the gym) at Riva Del Fiume. Fresh and vibrant by day, a swanky Italian fare by night. Big tip, if you have zero will-power, maybe get breakfast delivered to your room so you don’t have to be exposed to, or tempted by the most incredible breakfast offering you will ever see. House-made breads and pastries, an egg station that is worthy of a medal, imported cheeses and meats and all manner of cuisines to cater to the international guest lists. That said, everything is fresh, seasonal and organic where possible, you can also have vegan dishes, fresh tropical fruit, cold pressed juices or a special menu based on any diet needs.
Also, a special mention is the Michelin-starred Yu Ting Yuan, the hotel’s Cantonese restaurant. The large open kitchen provides a front-row seat as the chefs perform ninja-like knife-skills and wok tossery to create refined and exciting traditional dishes! For something more low-key and relaxed, you can opt for pool-side dining or sit by the river at Cafe Madeleine enjoying a quiet brew with a Parisian vibe. And of course, carry on that feeling ‘I could be in Paris’ at the river side French Brasserie Palmier. The Seafood Tower and Tuna Tartare are oh lala!
After a busy day exploring, shopping, or temple hoping or for an occasion in its own right, is a cocktail at the BKK Social Club. Already voted Thailand’s best bar, number 10 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars for 2022 list and voted in the top 50 cocktail bars in the world. The art-deco, transport you to a 1950’s movie set BKK Social Club is a five-sensory experience. At the helm is Berlin-born Philip Bischoff who discovered his passion for mixology at the age of 23. Simply tell him how you’re feeling or what flavours you like and he will shake-up a bespoke cocktail just for you… and it will be perfect. Or choose one of his signature mixes that has positioned him as one of the world’s best. Sip like you’re a glamorous star in a bygone era. Am I in Bangkok or in Buenos Aires?
While separated by half a world, the cultures of Buenos Aires and Bangkok have a true passion for life, good times and great drinks,” says Bischoff. “The menu emphasises this and brings guests on a journey of the people, places and parties during the yesteryear of Buenos Aires. Rounding out the beverage menu, our signature bottled cocktails, alongside a curated list of cigars and Champagnes, perfect to get the night started”, says Bischoff.
As an aside, one of the highlights (and there were many) of my stay at the Four Seasons, was a night out with Bischoff, where he took us to his favourite Bangkok bars. Each a stand out for very different reasons. While you may not get the guided tour by Bischoff, with his passion for a good cocktail and in support of the burgeoning scene in Bangkok, he will happily share his favourite bars other than the BKK Social Club (obviously).
Just don’t book a 7am Muay Thai class the next morning… like I did.
Spa & Wellness
Ok, we are here! The Four Seasons Urban Wellness Centre.
There are Hotel Spas, and then there are next level integrative, wholistic wellness centres that just happen to be part of the hotel. The Four Seasons fits into the later. While a good hotel spa is something we have come to expect at 5 star properties, I have to say hotels in Asia take it to the next level.
Wellness is much more than a signature massage and a herbal tea served afterwards. A true wellness centre will offer a sanctuary to escape to and restore your health. You can have fully integrative therapies from Traditional Thai or Chinese medicine with health diagnosis and a corresponding program created, or you can lean towards the more relaxing therapies such as reiki, Bamboo massage or sound healing.
The Urban Wellness centre integrates three streams: Mind (Spirituality); Body (Spa); and Work (Fitness). There is a separate wing of the hotel housing the 2,500m2 Urban Wellness Centre that sprawls two floors, arranged around the Palm Courtyard and dedicated 30-metre fitness pool. There’s also guest suites here away from the main hotel, for those who are undergoing treatment, post-op recovery or on a wellness holiday who want the Four Seasons service with privacy.
The Wellness Centre features designer movement studios offering yoga, pilates, aerial yoga, paddle board, friction board, TRX, HIIT and Spin classes, as well as rehabilitation and muscle specific classes – all conducted by fully certified fitness professionals.
Then there’s a Muay Thai boxing ring for one-on-one sessions with a qualified coach. I highly recommend doing a class, even if you have never done any form of boxing prior. You will awakened sleeping muscles, not to mention blow the dust off your coordination and in a weird unexpected twist, you will relax your mind and destress… you can only think about blocking the hit so you don’t take one to the chin. I learnt the hard way what happens when you let your mind drift!
Recover in the vitality pools and steam or sauna room, and then enjoy one of the many treatments in the nine treatment room Spa.
There are a number of consultation rooms and a lifestyle area, as well as an aesthetic offering (slowly expanding) including a hair and nail salon, and old-fashion barber shop with leather chesterfields and bronzed rimmed mirrors.
The Wellness offering also includes a variety of meditation classes in the dedicated mind and body studio. Definitely experience the Full Moon meditation. Under the aura of the full moon, you will be taken through a guided meditation to bring awareness to your mind, body and breath. As well as a Tibetan singing bowl sessions where the vibrations from the bowls provide powerful healing frequencies leaving you feeling much calmer and aligned. Over and above this, there are a number of in-depth workshops and holistic treatments with visiting wellness practitioners.
The Urban Wellness Centre is also open to non-hotel guests.
On the River
As I mentioned, the Bangkok River district has really had a new lease of life and worth exploring. In fact, it is almost a crime to come to Bangkok and not do a walking tour through the Creative district. Right out front of the Four Seasons is a ferry terminal making it easy to head up and down the river. You can jump off at the enormous ICONSIAM Shopping Mall. Not only every possible shopping experience, you can also enjoy live music, performances and a prolific choice of eating spots. Head further down the river towards Chinatown and disembark at Talat Noi, the top of the creative district. Weave through the streets and be delighted by the colours, smells, cafes, Spas and culture.
If you’re staying at the Four Seasons Bangkok, they can organise a walking tour for you. Highly highly recommend.
For more information on where to eat, sights to see, places to visit and best shopping check out our Bangkok Destination Guide.
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