It might not be the most obvious choice of destination for the loved-up, but as long as you know the right places to go, Bangkok can deliver romance with the best
Let’s face it, Bangkok probably doesn’t come top of many people’s list of romantic capitals. Leaving aside the noise, the crowds, the pollution, and some fairly unappetising fellow tourists, there’s the basic fact that much of the city just isn’t very pretty. But if you know where to look, it’s still a place that can quicken the pulse of any romantic. Here are 10 spots where you can sample Bangkok at its most appealing.
The Chao Praya river
This is where Bangkok started, and it’s still the city’s main artery. Take the skytrain to Taksin bridge and then catch one of the boats along the river. For a few baht it will give you a panorama of historic Bangkok – temples and palaces, warehouses and embassies of the past, hotels, restaurants and riverside shacks. For a look at the fascinating network of small canals (klongs) that branch off the river, you can hire one of the long tail boats. And if it’s a romantic evening you’re after, there are cruising restaurants where you can eat on deck as the lights of the city slip past.
One of the most striking landmarks as you glide up the river is Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn. Its distinctive rocket-on-a-launch-pad shape makes it instantly identifiable. To get a sense of the river’s sweep, you can climb part-way up the central prang (tower), entirely decorated with small ceramic flowers made out of old crockery fragments.
Gardens aren’t that easy to find in Bangkok, but for just that reason they have a particular kind of romance, so this and the next two items are green escapes from the surrounding streets. Suan Pakkad, not far from the Phaya Thai skytrain station, was a palace that’s now been converted into a museum. The exhibits, especially the lacquer pavilion, are worth a visit in their own right, but it’s the setting that draws me back. There’s rarely more than a handful of people here, and you can sit on the terrace of one of the palace rooms, drinking in the tranquillity of this luxuriant garden. It seems to belong to another age – another world – from the churning life of the street a few yards away.
Jim Thompson’s House
Here we’re back in mainline tourist territory, but don’t let that put you off visiting the place. The home of the man who revived the Thai silk trade after World War II is a beautiful spot with a fine collection of Thai works of art. But again it’s the surroundings that hold much of the romance. Exotic plants and trees create a riot of vegetation leading down to the klong that runs past the end of the garden.
Kukrit’s Heritage Home
At the other end of the tourist spectrum, you can almost guarantee that you’ll have the house of the writer Kukrit Pramoj to yourself. Open only at weekends and public holidays, this traditional Thai house has an atmospheric garden, full of shrubs, trees and flowers that are beautifully laid out to provide the perfect setting. Sit undisturbed and enjoy.
Bangkok’s oldest temple and for me by far the most romantic. This vast, rambling structure has something of the atmosphere of a small village, with people eating, studying, chatting, buying and selling, and generally living their lives. At its heart is the enclosure that holds a massive 45-metre statue of the reclining Buddha. On my first visit, years ago now, I thought I was quite alone, until I heard a chinking sound from the other side of the statue. I walked round and found a Thai schoolgirl, no more than six or seven years old, making her way methodically down the line of 108 pots, dropping a small coin into each of them for luck.
Chinatown by night
Chinatown by day is busy, noisy, packed with stalls, shoppers, sellers, and strollers. By night it’s just the same, except that night in Bangkok adds a heady charge of romance to almost any street scene. Somehow the scents are more pungent in the warm night air, the food more colourful in the glow of the lights. It's an atmosphere that has an irresistible tropical intensity.
Cabbages And Condoms
OK, it’s not a name that breathes romance, but this restaurant set up by the condom king of Thailand really does fit the bill for a romantic evening. In a quiet side street off Sukhumvit Road, its garden has been hung with lights that give the whole place a magical appearance. The food’s as good as the atmosphere, so it pays to book ahead.
This aptly named bar and restaurant is 61 floors up, in the open air at the top of the Banyan Tree Hotel. The ideal place for a cocktail before you head out on the town, it has stunning views across Bangkok in every direction. The best time to be there is between 6 and 7 in the evening, as dusk falls and the lights begin to come on all round the city.
Hua Lamphong Station
Train stations are romantic anyway, but Bangkok’s central station, built on a grand scale in the early 20th century, has a particular kind of excitement. It’s not just the arrivals and departures and the buzz of intersecting lives, but the wonderful, messy variety of a scene that brings together travellers, tradespeople, officials, conmen, families, food-sellers and a whole mass of people who seem to be just passing the time.
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