Travel Postcard: 48 hours in Bangkok

BANGKOK Fri Oct 15, 2010 5:48am EDT

Tourists visit the Wat Phra Kaeo (Emerald Buddha Temple) in Bangkok January 20, 2010. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

Tourists visit the Wat Phra Kaeo (Emerald Buddha Temple) in Bangkok January 20, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Chaiwat Subprasom

BANGKOK (Reuters Life!) - With its gilded temples, tuk-tuk taxis, spicy cuisine and racy nightlife, Bangkok is full of contradictions, congestion and centuries-old exotic allure.

Here are some suggestions from Reuters correspondents with local knowledge to help you make the most of a 48-hour visit:

FRIDAY

6:00 p.m. - First, get the big picture. Head to Sathorn for a sundowner at Banyan Tree Hotel's Vertigo Grill and Moon Bar (www.banyantree.com).

Perched on the 61st floor, the open-air roof-top bar is not for the those inclined to dizziness, offering a spectacular panoramic view of Bangkok. Get there early to secure a table at the edge. Its chic lounge is popular with the cocktail crowd, drawing the rich and the beautiful. Strictly no shorts or flip-flops. Opening hours: 5 p.m. - 1 a.m. (weather permitting)

8:00 p.m. - Fuel up with a traditional Thai dinner at Ruen Mallika, a converted 19th-century teak home with a mammoth menu specializing in dishes for royal families. (www.ruenmallika.com) Sit on the floor upstairs slung around low tables and enjoy delicacies like deep-fried flowers and chicken wrapped in banana leaves. Bring a map to find this spot in an obscure corner of the Asoke neighborhood off busy Sukhumvit Road. 10:00 p.m. - Stroll down Sukhumvit, elbowing your way through teeming sidewalk markets selling knock-offs of just about everything, and then cool off with a drink in the Bed Supper Club (www.bedsupperclub.com), a futuristic white oval pod with a bar and lounge area with beds suspended from walls. Those looking to dance into the night can venture into "Q Bar," known for its good local and international DJs (www.qbarbangkok.com/).

SATURDAY

8:00 a.m. - If you're awake, start the morning off in style with a leisurely breakfast on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. The Mandarin Oriental's Riverside Terrace's all-you-can eat morning buffet is an institution. (www.mandarinoriental.com/bangkok/)

9:30 a.m. - Find your way to the nearest pier on the Chao Phraya River and take a riverboat (www.chaophrayaboat.com) to Tha Chang to spend a few hours in Bangkok's historic "Old City," an area rich with character and packed with golden temples, glittering palaces and Siamese architecture.

10:00 a.m. - Visit the Wat Pho Temple, the largest and perhaps most impressive temple in Bangkok, famed for its huge, gold-plated reclining Buddha measuring 46 meters long.

10:30 a.m. - Feeling sore? Wat Pho is also the birthplace of traditional Thai massage and is Bangkok's main training center for masseuses. Thai massage is a must while you're there. Cost is about 120 baht for half an hour or 200 baht per hour.

11:00 p.m. - Stroll nearby to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in the breathtaking Grand Palace. Inside is a shrine to Phra Kaew Morakot, a revered Buddha image carved from a jade block. Raised on platforms, no one is allowed near the sacred Buddha except Thailand's King.

12:00 p.m. - Lunch time. At Tha Chang pier you'll find dozens of mobile food stalls and small restaurants offering all kinds of authentic Thai dishes -- from noodle soups and curries to pad Thai noodles and spicy meat or vegetable dishes served on rice.

2:00 p.m. - Cater to your inner shopper at Chatuchak weekend market, a labyrinth of more than 5,000 stalls on a network of narrow paths over 27 acres, making it Thailand's biggest market. (www.chatuchak.org). On sale are jewelry, wood carvings, clothes, collectibles and plenty of reproduction antiques.

4:00 p.m. - Time for a drink in a chic art lounge. Take a taxi to the backpacking mecca of Khao San Road and head straight to Dali Bar on Soi Rambutree, popular with locals and tourists. Afterwards, stroll down Khao San Road, a former rice market packed with budget hotels, young travelers and market stalls.

7:00 p.m. - Need a break from Thai food? Try "Eat Me Restaurant," a hidden, chic eatery with walls hung with art and a romantic terrace on Soi Pipat off Convent Road. It only opens in the evening, offering contemporary Australian dishes with an Asiatic touch in candlelight to the strands of jazz. Good selection of Australian wines. (www.eatmerestaurant.com)

9:00 p.m. - Not far from Soi Pipat is Bangkok's biggest nightmarket and its most famous den of iniquity: the Patpong entertainment district. Check out stalls of clothing, DVDs, shoes and just about everything else, and get a glimpse into the heart of Bangkok's racy nightlife. Patpong became famous in the 1960s as a R&R stop for U.S. servicemen during the Vietnam War. It also includes a hip hop bar and several bars with live bands.

If you're looking for someplace quiet, Patpong is not it.

11:00 - For a nightcap and a bit of dancing, try Tapas on Soi 4 off Silom Road (www.tapasroom.net) with its three floors, each with a different DJ, including a second-floor live band-DJ combination that draws big weekend crowds.

SUNDAY

9:00 a.m. - After a Saturday night in Bangkok, a hefty dose of caffeine is in order. Lounge on sofas and plan the day ahead while sipping lattes at Kuppa Cafe & Restaurant on Sukhumvit Soi 16.

11:00 - Check out The Jim Thompson House, a complex of teak traditional Thai homes turned into a museum of antiques and Southeast Asian art. (www.jimthompsonhouse.com) The compound once belonged to American silk merchant Jim Thompson, who launched Thai silk to the West and was an avid art collector before he died mysteriously. The house is in a small lane next to Khlong Saen Saeb canal with an outdoor bar and restaurant.

12:00 p.m. - Sample the street food on Sukhumvit Soi 38. This Bangkok lane off the main Sukhumvit Road offers wonderful cheap Thai food in a bustling market, which comes alive at nights with dozens of stalls selling food ranging from duck noodles to chicken rice, papaya salad and marinated grilled catfish.

2:00 p.m. - To learn more about Thai history, art and culture visit Museum of Siam in an old Thai mansion just south of Wat Pho temple. For those interested in the 1960s, a section is devoted to icons, theater, art, and advertisements from that era. Cap off the afternoon with Thai iced tea in its lovely garden cafe. (www.museumofsiamproject.com)

5:00 p.m. - As the heat of the day eases, relax with a visit to Lumpini Park, one of the few patches of green in the city center. Find a shady bench and chill out or join the joggers as the sun sets and the city seems to pause for breathe before gearing up for another frenetic night.

(Additional reporting by Ploy Ten Kate, Martin Petty, Ambika Ahuja and Robert Birsel)