The traffic in Bangkok is as excruciating as I remember it to be. The arteries of this metropolis are clogged with cars, all moving at a glacier pace amidst a darting mess of motorbikes. In these times, two wheels are certainly better than four. But from the comforts of my plush Mercedes S300 ride, it is easy to stay zen. With a bottle of chilled Perrier at the ready, a copy of the Bangkok Post, and in-car Wi-Fi, distraction comes easy.
"It is just the morning traffic, but we will arrive soon," says Apichai, the driver ferrying me to the InterContinental Bangkok. He has the patience of a monk and intuition of a fussy grandmother. As I squint at the skyscrapers above, he draws the shades down to soften the light.
Apichai is the first person from the hotel that I encounter on my trip and he sets the tone for the days to come. I'm here to experience a bespoke itinerary the Club InterContinental Bangkok team has crafted based on my interests, a gesture that's only all too familiar for a team that's constantly tracking the preferences of their club guests.
Over afternoon tea at the hotel's Club InterContinental lounge — one backed with sweeping views of Bangkok's sprawling skyline thanks to its 37th floor perch — I wonder if old guards the likes of the InterContinental Bangkok are finding it hard to compete with younger properties sprouting across both sides of the Chao Phraya river. During my stay, it becomes clear that while the latter might have swank and design-forward bells and whistles, they certainly don't possess the qualities that come with age — intuitive service and a firm grasp of what travellers are truly looking for.
A hotel is only as good as the people who run it, and meeting Bhantitra Mahapaurya, InterContinental Bangkok's Personal Club Assistant, gave me a good feel as to what was trending in Bangkok. Going beyond mere pleasantries, Bhantitra became my passport into the buzzy undercurrent of this city's gritty cool. Noting that I enjoyed nothing better than a good gin, he pointed me towards Teens of Thailand, a local gin bar lying on the fringe of Chinatown. "From there, you can cross over to Tep Bar for homemade ya dong (Thai herbal whiskey) while musicians play traditional Thai music." For a taste of authentic Thai food, he recommended Erawan Tea Room, a 1960s legend and favourite of the late Jackie Kennedy, located just five minutes away from the hotel.
Below, the highlights of my trip, all of which go beyond the well-trodden path of gilded temples and riotous night markets.
A trip back in time
Yes, museums are the haunting ground of infinitely slow-moving culture vultures, but not the Museum of Siam. With campy recreations of Thai food trucks, psychedelic lights, and an impressive revival of a '60s rockabilly café straight out of a Wes Anderson set — it almost doesn't take itself too seriously. If tracing the arc of history is what you're after, you'll walk away with a firm grasp of how Thai culture has evolved over the years, too.
Where the wild things are
For hipster-spotting over a cup of artisanal coffee, the Jam Factory is where you'll expect to find cooler-than-thou millennials in mismatched flannel and kicks from Common Projects. This multi-hyphenate space packs in a bookstore (mostly Thai reads), art gallery, café, and retail store selling Thai-made furniture and home décor items that wouldn't look out of place in Kinfolk.
A boozy turn-down
Forget chocolates. Gin is the way to my alcohol-fuelled heart. So finding a bottle of this botanical goodness — crafted right in the heart of Bangkok — complete with an arsenal of tonic water and sliced fruit, certainly tops a streak of perfect matches on Tinder.
Fire up the grill
With its marble floors, stately dark wood, and perfectly starched linen stretched over the table — Fireplace Grill is every inch the classic steakhouse. Established in 1966, the restaurant is Bangkok's — and some say Thailand's — oldest steakhouse, and this grand dame of pure carnal pleasures still remains one of the top restaurants in the city. The Caesar salad, a signature on the menu, is made from scratch right by your table. But of course it's the steak that's the pièce de résistance and you can't go wrong with the crossbred Wagyu cooked to classical textbook perfection.
The Spa InterContinental is where knotty shoulders and stiff necks come to die. A fragrant cup of chrysanthemum tea marks the beginning of bliss, while spotless, modern treatment rooms make for perfect cocoons. I'm booked in for the Lanna massage — an off-menu treatment that's really the concierge's best-kept secret. The session combines a warming herbal compress massage together with firm waves of pressure from a traditional Thai massage. Once my muscles were well kneaded and softened by the heat, the therapist picked up a mallet and hammer made of tamarind wood and proceeded to deliver gentle blows that reverberated deep into my muscles. Whoever said money can't buy happiness was wrong. A visit to the spa should be an essential part of any modern traveller's diet. Plus, you get fed Thai coconut cookies and ginger tea while you figure out how to deal with the real world after.
To discover more about InterContinental Bangkok, click here.