A Bangkok Layover
Bangkok, Thailand is the perfect layover city. First, there are extremely cheap flights on major carriers to the city and then even cheaper flights on low-cost carriers to elsewhere in Asia. Second, it’s not an expensive city. Third, it’s a cool, interesting city. Despite all of that, however, my first several layovers were uninspired. I generally stayed at the Novotel that’s connected to the airport, which is fine but there’s usually a long wait to check in, or in random parts of the city where I wasn’t comfortable and didn’t explore enough.
And then I discovered the secret. It came from a Facebook post where I asked my friends for a new hotel recommendation for an upcoming layover. The unanimous choice: The Peninsula Bangkok. It’s a little further from the airport, but it’s absolutely worth the 35-minute taxi ride. And I’ve found myself actively routing trips through Bangkok just to stay at the hotel again, most recently with my 9-year-old when we were heading to the Maldives this past summer.
So what does my perfect layover entail?
The Peninsula Bangkok
I love everything about this hotel, including the perfect service and location, but there are four specific things that I look forward to:
The breakfasts at the Peninsula are my favorite in the world, with French-quality pastries, the best mango I’ve ever had, dim sum, excellent coffee, perfect omelets, and lots more. But it’s as much about the location as the food, sitting overlooking the Chao Phraya River as the Peninsula ferries zip back and forth and traffic heads up and down the river. I could easily sit there for an hour as they continually refill my coffee – and I do.
This is my happy place. I even mentioned it last year as one of my eight favorite places in the world. I love getting one of the cabanas (traditional Thai salas), opening a book, ordering lunch, and relaxing for hours. Sometimes I swim!
I’m cheap, and the lure of a $10/hour massage in Bangkok is strong. I’ve gotten several over the years, but they’ve never been perfect. Some have been painful. Some have been mediocre. And all have been in settings where I’m not quite sure if my wallet is safe while I’m on the table. So now instead of heading off and searching for a cheap massage, I splurge on the spa at the Peninsula. Every massage I’ve had there has been excellent. At $100 or so it’s a lot more expensive than the dime-a-dozen places, but the spa is gorgeous, the massages are better, and it’s a lot easier.
I always like a little culture, even on quick layovers. At the Peninsula Bangkok they have the Peninsula Academy – specially-designed cultural activities for guests. Thus far I’ve done a visit to a local market with a Peninsula chef followed by a Thai cooking class (mango and sticky rice, yum!), a tour of an older area of Bangkok down the river (with all transportation on the Peninsula boats), and a morning alms offering to local Buddhist monks.
Just up the Chao Phraya from the hotel is Wat Pho and its famous Reclining Buddha. Every visit I take the Peninsula boat across the river and hop on one of the express boats that constantly run up and down the river. Several stops later I get off at the Grand Palace and walk south to Wat Pho to explore. One of my favorite temples in the world.
Caturday Cat Cafe
My son wanted me to include this one! From Wat Pho we jumped in a taxi and headed to the Caturday Cat Cafe. The food was decent but the main attraction is the cats, and it was a far better experience than in Budapest where the cats seemed to hate being touched. Go early to avoid a wait.
This post definitely isn’t supposed to cover everything to do in Bangkok! The activities above easily occupy me for two days or so until I fly onto my next city. But Bangkok has thousands of temples, the Grand Palace, Chinatown, Jim Thomson House and far more. Asiatique is an entertainment complex down the river from the hotel that can be fun for an evening. And have dinner or drinks at one of the numerous rooftop bars around the city. Traffic can be bad, but across the river from the Peninsula is a Skytrain station (Saphan Taksin on the Silom Line) and you can reach much of Bangkok from there – quickly, easily and inexpensively.
The Peninsula Bangkok has to be one of the least expensive amazing hotels in the world. Every time I’ve stayed there rates have been around $250/night – maybe $270/night with breakfast. A taxi is $10-15 from the airport.
What’s your favorite place in Bangkok? What should I add to my next layover?
How do you add layovers without increasing the cost of travel significantly? We are considering hong kong or singapore and would love to add a stopover to see the great wall.
Eric Stoen says
Because one-way tickets are so inexpensive in Asia right now that it’s no longer necessary to try to book an entire itinerary on one ticket. For this most recent trip we booked a “round-trip” ticket from California to Bangkok and back from Singapore. Then we booked a one-way from Bangkok to Male, and another from Male to Singapore.