Bangkok may be one of the most chaotic cities, but it's also easy to fall in love with, and there are few more exciting places in southeast Asia to visit on business
Step out of the air-conditioned comfort of Bangkok’s airport and you are straight into one of the most chaotic, congested cities in southeast Asia, a frenetic metropolis of more than 10 million people, all seemingly trying to get somewhere at the same time. But it is also one of the most exciting places on earth.
It is hard to believe when you first arrive, but the traffic congestion actually used to be far worse than it is now. If this is your first visit you may not immediately appreciate the new expressway, which sweeps beyond the tower blocks to the city centre, and the elevated SkyTrain metro system, running on routes between the river and the main business and tourist districts, but they have made a huge difference to travelling around this notoriously congested metropolis.
Dodge the tuk-tuk drivers extolling the virtues of their three-wheeled motorised scooters, and opt for an air-conditioned taxi for the trip to your hotel. Many are down by the Chao Phraya river or right in the centre of town, in and around Sukhumvit Road.
Don’t even think about renting a car in Bangkok: the traffic is chaotic and there’s really no need. Instead, use the relatively cheap taxis (you pay slightly more for air-conditioned ones) or, if you are going across town, take the SkyTrain on its elevated trackway above the traffic.
Top business hotels
Grand Hyatt Erawan
This is the place to choose if you want to be right in the centre of town, in the thick of all the action. It’s within walking distance of some of the city’s main business centres, restaurants and all the entertainment you could wish for. Step into the cool and lofty lobby and you feel you have walked into a Thai palace of a bygone age. The best-kept secret here is the fifth floor, where you will find the spa, a lagoon-style swimming pool, tennis courts and even a jogging track.
This is another excellent central choice for a business trip. It’s within walking distance of many of the main commercial centres, not to mention some of the city’s best shopping, much of which can be found along Sukhumvit Road, one of the main thoroughfares running through the centre.
A superb choice if you like to combine your business trip with some decent views. In this case, they're mainly of the waterborne life on the Chao Phraya river, which runs through Bangkok. This relatively modern hotel has every facility you could wish for in a business hotel.
And one for your time off
Mandarin Oriental Bangkok
Equally good for leisure and business, this grand old hotel is the queen of them all, and was once the only place to stay for Europeans doing the grand tour. The original building is now the Authors’ Wing, almost hidden beside the modern tower of the present structure. The terrace is still the perfect vantage point for breakfast by the river as the fast long-tail boats make their noisy way upstream with their cargo of sightseers.
Where to eat and drink
There are plenty of options for eating out in the city, and don’t be put off by the chaotic look of some of Bangkok’s local restaurants: many serve outstanding food at prices you will hardly notice. Try, for example, the Seafood Market and Restaurant on Soi (side street) 24 off Sukhumvit Road, where you can choose your own fish and seafood and then have it cooked as you like. Or simply take pot luck and try some of the sate and other delicacies on offer by the street hawkers you will find on almost every street.
If you're staying in the Grand Hyatt Erawan, you need go no further to find outstanding restaurants, particularly Spasso. A chic Italian eatery by day, it undergoes a metamorphosis each evening to become one of Bangkok’s liveliest nightclubs, with dancing to live bands, a magnet for ex-pats and the local smart set alike.
There are literally hundreds of bars in all parts of Bangkok, and they change so often that to list them is pointless. Just make sure that you know what’s on offer before you enter establishments in some of the raunchier parts of town.
Pretty similar to that you find in the UK, though you may get a sense that timing is rather more flexible than that you may be used to. Suits are the norm for business meetings, though many will shed their ties at the first opportunity, as the working day merges into after-work drinks time.
When it comes to sightseeing there is simply so much to cover it is difficult to know where to start. Take a trip by long-tail boat (named after the long propeller shafts linked to the vast truck engines that speed the boats along) through the klongs or small canals that criss-cross the western part of the city, the perfect way to see another, more traditional, side of Bangkok life. Look out for the wooden houses on stilts in which many families still live.
Visit the temples; the night market at Patpong with its market stalls selling fake designer clothes, watches and the like; Lumphini Park; and the Snake Farm, where the reptiles are kept to produce anti-venom serum.
A visit to the flower market, where women sit, their babies next to them in baskets, making offerings for worship at the “spirit houses” and temples that can be found all over the city. And be sure to see Wat Po, with its Reclining Buddha, and the Grand Palace, with more gold leaf than you will have ever come across before. Sit in the presence of the Emerald Buddha and feel very calm and part of something special.
Need to know
- Currency is the Thai Baht.
- Office hours are generally Monday to Friday, 9am-5.30pm, but can be very flexible.
- Goods on sale in the street markets are very cheap but watch the quality; it has been known for the “gold” on some watches to rub off even before you get back to your hotel room.