Bangkok: a city that’s crazy beautiful. It’s a storm of colours and lights and signs and sounds; a clashing of elegant temples and looming skyscrapers; a collision of Buddhist grace and flashy capitalism.
It’s a city stitched together by narrow streets and a web of canals and bridges that are subjected to the constant flow of Bangkok’s eight-million residents. Tuk-tuks, skytrain, taxis, bicycles, buses, scooters: the streets are never still.
But within this weave of frenetic energy, quiet spaces do exist: pockets of calm where you can escape the noise and the bustle and the wonderful sensory overload that is Bangkok. And you don’t have to go very far, or miss out on Bangkok’s most-loved sights, to find them. Here are seven places to find solitude in Bangkok:
1/ Climb up Golden Mount
Come here if: You’d like to visit a Buddhist temple where you’ll have the time and space to appreciate being there.
If the stillness of a sacred place doesn’t lull you into a state of calm, then taking a slow walk up the 318 steps of the curved pathway that leads to the top of Golden Mount surely will. Although it’s listed as one of Bangkok’s main attractions, the Buddhist temple of Golden Mount – or Wat Saket – receives far fewer visitors than Wat Arun and Wat Pho, and if you go early in the day it’s easy to be far from the crowds here. The walk up to the top will take you past prayer bells and a path of water that falls softly over statues of Buddha.
Chill factor: 360-degree views across Bangkok inspire quiet contemplation.
How to get there: Take a longtail boat to Phan Fa pier, on Khlong Saen Seab.
While you’re there: Wat Ratchanaddaram, the peaceful Metal Temple, is a short walk away. Have a coffee or waffle at the Milkey Tree Coffee, in the temple complex.
2/ Explore Bangkok’s green belt
Come here if: You want some exercise, or to spend a day away from the city.
Tucked into a deep curve of the Chao Praya River is Bang Kra Jao, an almost-2000-hectare area known as Bangkok’s “green lung”. It’s literally across the river from the congested city, but you’d never know: out here the land is lush with coconut and papaya groves, and the temperature is a few degrees cooler than in the city. The area is criss-crossed with raised narrow concrete paths and only a few quiet roads – cycling here is a very laid-back way to catch a glimpse of chilled Thai life.
Chill factor: Head for Si Nakhon Khuean Khan Botanical Park, where you can string up a hammock or spread out a picnic blanket and just read.
Need to know: Hire a bicycle at the pier.
Getting there: Take a ferry across the river from Klong Toey or Bang Na piers.
While you’re there: Look out for Wat Bang Nam Phung Nok, a temple that is more than 200 years old. The Bang Namphueng floating market happens on weekends.
3/ Swim at Okura Prestige
Come here if: You need a break from the Bangkok heat.
Twenty-five storeys above the mayhem of Bangkok’s streets, the cantilevered rooftop swimming pool at The Okura Prestige hotel extends from a sleek glass façade towards the city skyline. And when you’re in the rim-flow pool or relaxing on one of the daybeds, you’ll feel like you’re suspended in mid-air. Spending a day here is a fantastic way to escape the street-level busyness, but still enjoy being in a city.
Chill factor: There are less than 20 daybeds at the pool, which is not very busy.
Getting there: Take the BTS to Phloen Chit station.
Need to know: Outside guests pay TBH700 to use the pool and gym facilities. A new building is being constructed a few blocks away, which may interrupt the peace for the next few months.
While you’re there: Enjoy a cocktail with a view at the pool’s bar, or indulge in a treatment at the Japanese-inspired Okura Spa.
4/ Have lunch at Na Aroon
Come here if: You’re vegetarian, or looking for a breezy place to while away the hours.
Na Aroon restaurant is a wonderful place to escape the craziness of many of Bangkok’s favourite shopping centres. It’s a short taxi ride from Central Chidlom and Central Embassy, and tucked into a beautifully landscaped garden at the end of a fairly quiet lane. Na Aroon is an organic vegetarian restaurant that forms part of Ariyasom Villa, a family home-turned-guesthouse that was built by the current owner’s grandfather in the 1940s.
Chill factor: High ceilings, tall windows, lush gardens outside – the restaurant oozes tranquillity.
Getting there: Take the skytrain to BTS Bangkok.
While you’re there: Book a post-lunch treatment at Som Sen Spa.
5/ Indulge in a massage at Wat Po
Come here if: Your body’s weary from a day’s sightseeing.
Almost any spa or massage centre offers a relaxing atmosphere, but the Traditional Massage School at Wat Po is quite unlike anywhere else. It’s situated in a quiet area within the temple complex at Wat Po, one of Bangkok’s busy, popular tourist attractions, and is renowned as one of the best places for massage in Thailand. From the early 1800s Wat Po became the centre of Thai traditional medicine and ancient knowledge, and teachings are still passed on to students here today.
Chill factor: The Wat Po Thai massage style is recognised around the world as being very therapeutic and deeply relaxing.
Need to know: To get to the massage school you have to first enter the Wat Po temple complex.
Getting there: The massage centre is on the outer perimeter of the complex, on Sanamchai Road.
While you’re there: Explore the temple complex – one of the oldest and largest in the city – and walk around the Reclining Buddha.
6/ Sit a while at Wat Ratchanatdaram
Come here for: A few hours of peace.
Wat Ratchanatdaram, or “the Metal Temple” is a beautifully quiet temple complex close to the heart of Bangkok. With its black roof and 37 spires, the Metal Temple is quite unusual – but it’s not often spoken about and very few tourists ever visit here. The grounds are beautiful, and if you’re here while monks are chanting, settle under a tree for a while and get lost in the peace of this place.
Chill factor: There is a temple museum here; find your way up to one of the spires, and stay here a while.
Getting there: The temple is at the intersection between Ratchadamnoen Klang and Maha Chai Road, in Phra Nakhon district.
While you’re there: Try one of the flavoured coffees at The Coffee Room, the cafe within the temple grounds.
7/ Hang out in the park at Ban Chao Phraya
Come here for: Chilled late-afternoon vibes. And a view of Rama VIII Bridge.
Two of the 14 watchtowers built during the reign of Rama I still exist and Pom Pra Sumen is now surrounded by a small grassy park – a lovely late-afternoon chill-out spot. Street-food vendors often surround the park, which has a good view of striking Rama VIII Bridge, and neighbouring Phra Athit Road is filling up with small restaurants and cafes loved by the city’s creative set.
Chill factor: People gather in the late afternoon at the park around the fort to read, and to catch up with friends.
Getting there: The fort is on Pra Athit road, near Pra Athit pier
While you’re there: Look out for Sheepshank, a bistro along the river. Excellent cocktails and tapas.
8/ Toast sunset at Sala Rattanakosin rooftop bar
Come here for: A romantic meal or sundowners.
During the day the Chao Praya River is a fascinating, chaotic waterway of longtail boats, barges and water taxis, and in the evening it becomes an enchanting reflection of the city lights. Sala Rattanakosin is an intimate riverside sanctuary from which to watch the daytime action and witness night fall. The restaurant and rooftop bar look across the river to Wat Arun, Temple of the Dawn, and the view that comes with their wide selection of cocktails and fusion menu is nothing short of spectacular.
Chill factor: Sala Rattanakosin is a small, airy and intimate eatery. The rooftop bar opens at 5pm, just before sunset.
Getting there: Take a boat to Tha Tian pier, or a taxi to Tha Tian market.
While you’re there: Cross the river and explore intricately decorated Wat Arun.
9/ Stay at LoogChoob
Come here to: Stay in central Bangkok, but away from the tourist hubs.
Renovated from what once were shophouses, LoogChoob is a tranquil family-run hotel that feels more like home than a guesthouse. It’s beautifully designed and decorated, with natural light casting shadows across walls painted in deep shades of maroon and blue. From the airy double-volume entrance and mezzanine level, which is lined with masks and a library of books, to the passages of art, you’ll know that you’re in a space that is much loved by the owners, who have lived in the building for more than 30 years. The two guest floors have communal lounge areas and a kitchen (with a freezer stocked with good food), perfect for when you fancy a quiet night in.
Chill factor: Spend early evening on a giant cushion up on the rooftop, and watch night fall across the city.
Getting there: Take a taxi to LoogChoob, which is on Luk Luang road.
While you’re there: To sample local life, take a walk along Phadung Krung Kasem canal to Nang Loeng market.
This feature was written for South China
Morning Post and published in
the newspaper’s 48 Hours supplement.