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Asia travel

The designer guide to Bangkok: where to stay, eat, shop and stroll

From converted riverside warehouses to hip hotels, Bangkok has a flourishing design scene. The creative team at Bangkok-based design consultancy Farm Group share their insider tips for a break in the Thai capital.

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 March, 2016, 3:01pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 March, 2016, 12:45pm

Editor’s note: all hyperlinks now working.

BEAUTIFUL STAYS: Bangkok doesn’t suffer from a lack of hotels. Creative director at Farm Group, Vorathit Kruavanichkit (‘Tap’ to his friends) has three favourites, the first of which is The Cabochon, which he describes as “small, tasteful and with great service. ” It’s a secret retreat with the architecture of a Shanghainese colonial villa (although it’s a new build) with interiors that are a riot of Victoriana curiosities and well-curated antiques. There’s a cosy library bar full of design books and an excellent small restaurant serving E-San and Laotian dishes. Book early because there are only eight rooms.

At the other end of the scale is the Edward Tuttle-designed, 210-room Sukhothai – a five-star old-school paean to the elegance and culture of Thailand’s ancient capital with rooms of teakwood and courtyards of Chedis and water features. It’s one of the older hotels in town and over the years has built up an international following of loyal guests.

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If you’re after something more modern, then the W Bangkok’s blazing disco glitz and glitter awaits. The hotel’s real draw, however, is The House on Sathorn – a 1914 standalone mansion in front of the main hotel and formerly the Russian embassy. Meticulously restored over three years, it now houses a fine restaurant, lounge and central outdoor space run by Chef Fatih Tutak. The poetic menus are a mix of his favourite dishes found travelling the world, with specials added daily. In a city not short of fantastic food, it remains a highlight and is justifiably popular.

Fashionable foods

Among Tap’s favourite haunts is Knock Kitchen and Kicks, a narrow building in the scenic Thonglor district, which opens up as you ascend the staircases. “I love the concept of the place, on one floor it’s a sneaker shop and then on another there’s a restaurant,” says Tap. The sneakers in the store are often sourced outside Bangkok, many of them from Japan, meaning their selection is unique for the country. Chef Chalee Kader’s menu in the downstairs restaurant is devoted to American comfort classics with a bistro twist.

Surface, in the same area feels initially like walking through a street-art filled garden centre. “You will find me hanging out and having dinner here regularly. It’s somewhat hidden and private, but the food is amazing, the drinks are well prepared and the staff are super friendly.” It gets very popular on the weekend with their family brunches.

For the last five months, Farmgroup have been working on the overall design and decoration for Mellow at EmQuartier: “It is something we are very proud of. We tried to mimic a masculine pad with a feminine touch. Rugged yet warm, cheeky yet pleasant.” The food on offer is Mediterranean-influenced including Surat oysters, pastas, fish dishes and a good cocktail list, which is handy as it doesn’t close until 11pm.

For local food, Tap’s designer Gift Boonchamnan recommends The Never Ending Summer. Situated under the soaring ceiling of an old warehouse, it’s part of The Jam Factory, a new hip riverside community. “The restaurant’s design is a perfect balance of old and new, rustic and sophisticated,” she says. “And a restaurant that serves traditional Thai food in a modern setting is difficult to find now in Bangkok. There’s a great menu, featuring some amazing crab dishes.”

Shopping destinations

Malls take pride of place in Bangkok’s shopping culture. The two newest are the best designed – Central Embassy and EmQuartier. The latter features a wide selection of local labels in amongst its tropical forest walkways and three elegant stories of food options. Don’t miss Another Story there, for an eclectic mix of Thai and international lifestyle, fashion and home decor items.

Other multibrand stores Tap recommends exploring are Next to Normal, in the Central World mall, which caters for international, excellently curated fashion and lifestyle items; The Selected, in Siam Centre mall, which is great for exploring modern Thai design and SOS (Sense Of Style) at Siam Square mall which is another good store where you can support local young designers.

Beyond mall-land, it’s worth planning a visit to Papaya Vintage Shop, a big warehouse where you can roam freely with many items ranging from old school desks to 70s’ Scandinavian furniture and vintage Vespa motorcycles. There’s also the huge weekend market, Jatujak, where you’ll find a lot of young designer boutiques plus many kinds of goods including furniture, products and clothes.

Design districts

“Thonglor is full of young and passionate artisans, specialists, designers, artists and makers,” says Tap, whose office is located here. “It’s also full of many small, boutique and inspiring places.” One of them is Studio Lam, which is where you’ll him having a drink with his creative team after work on a Friday. “The design is humble, cosy and honest. It is a home for creative new music that exists outside of the mainstream. Their drinks and cocktail offerings are creative, tasty and original.”

“Chinatown is one my favourite places in Bangkok,” adds Tap’s coworker, artist Top Changtrakul. “The streets here are very wide compared to the rest of Bangkok and it has a lot of neon lights. At night, it makes you feel like you are walking in an art installation and in the day time all the shop houses will make you feel like you are visiting a Kung Fu movie set.” Due to lower rents, it’s also a place to find new upcoming art galleries.

“For me, Jam Factory is a great place to go,” says Boonchamnan. “It’s the newest art & design community in Bangkok. The famous Thai famous architect, Duangrit Bunnag, transformed a cluster of old warehouses along the river into a design office, bookstore and coffee shop, restaurant and bar, gallery and furniture showroom. Because it is a renovation project, there is a good combination of old structures and new materials.”