Confused on where we are? I’m catching up on the black hole of content from May of 2016 to April of 2017, when I jumped forward to blog the summer of 2017 as it was happening. This is my first post from January 2017. I can’t wait to turn my detailed notes and journals into more blog posts Thailand and Bali next. My apologies for any confusion with the timeline, and thanks for sticking with me.
Regular readers of Alex in Wanderland know that I love Bangkok — and I also go there all the time. So when my younger sister visited for a hectic and fun holiday season and tried to get me to come up to Bangkok with her for her last few days, I begged her to just stay on Koh Tao and relax the rest of her time. But she really wanted to go to Bangkok instead, so we compromised… and we went to Bangkok.
Ha! Little sisters, am I right?!
We booked our trip very last minute for what is absolutely peak season in Thailand, which left very few affordable or enticing hotel options. After doing a double take I finally settled on Dream Hotel, which wasn’t exactly on my Bangkok Bucket List, but it was in a good area and had a rooftop pool.
The hotel had colorful, oft-fun, occasionally bizarre decor that you just get used to in Thailand. I loved the mosaic temple in the lobby, but LOLed at the hot pink jaguar in the restaurant.
It kinda felt like they were going for Vegas’ Cosmopolitan-level of “just the right amount of wrong,” but missed the mark.
I splurged on the Premier Room category as a friend who’d stayed there before told me that the standard rooms were claustrophobically tiny, and we certainly had enough room to scatter everything we each owned across every corner of the hotel floor, per the usual Baackes Sister Routine.
Despite our very short trip, we managed to sneak in a few hours by the rooftop pool. While it wasn’t one of Bangkok’s finest, someone did leave a swan pool float behind that we had a good time bopping around on.
Now, Olivia’s favorite thing to do in all of Thailand — superseding time with her big sis, even, and not by much competition — is go shopping at Chatuchak Market, the largest in the country. She’d been known to buy a whole new suitcase while she’s there and fill it to the brim.
Unfortunately, our short trip did not overlap with a weekend, so we were restricted to more traditional retail therapy options. Namely, malls. As a very generally very staunchly anti-mall person, even I must admit the malls in Bangkok are some of the most fun in the world and I happily waste away a day there a few times a year. We set off for a few hours in Platinum, which is like an indoor version of a Thai side-street lined with vendors, and I left with a ridiculous suitcase-full of silly Wonderfruit wares. Ah, there’s little I love more than shopping for a festival!
Next, we hopped over to the other end of the Bangkok-mall-spectrum of glamour for a food court dinner at Siam Paragon. Wandering around this literal buffet of indulgences — and I mean it in every sense of the word, as for mall food this place ain’t cheap — is one of my favorite Bangkok activities.
With constant pop-ups and turnover, you never know what treats you might find!
Now, this led seamlessly into quite possibly my all-time favorite Bangkok activity, which very much tracks with the fact that I called Koh Tao, a tiny island with nary a theater in sight, home for so long: going to the movies.
I’m a hardcore cinephile, and look for fun and funky movie theaters pretty much everywhere I go, from Phnom Penh to Singapore. There’s just something about heading into a dark theater and slipping into another world for a few hours.
Bangkok has a dizzying array of choices for popcorn addicts like me: from vintage art-deco theaters to single-screen art house cinemas to blockbuster-showing multiplexes, this city boasts it all. And when it comes to the latter, one stands out above all others: Paragon Cineplex.
At Paragon, there are multiple theaters housed under one roof, the most lavish being the Enigma Theater. I’d been interested in checking it out for a while, but in Bangkok, the fancier the theater, the more likely they are to play nothing but low-brow action movies. (To see what’s playing, switch the language to English on the link above and scroll down until you see the Enigma logo — it’s a little tricky to find and doesn’t work on mobile.)
To be clear, it’s the “action movie” part of that that offends me, not the “low brow” bit. I feel there were a few years of my adolescence where I personally kept Barnes and Noble afloat through my non-stop purchases of chick lit novels that English professors wouldn’t use to blow their noses on, so no hate towards fluff entertainment from my end.
Moreover, I was wary of the 2,000B per person price tag (most movies in Bangkok cost around 150B). If I’m going to pay $55 for a movie, I kind of want it to be screened in the director’s personal home theater. But my sister has a way of inspiring me to indulge — when we saw La La Land was playing, I knew this was my shot to solve the mysteries of the Enigma Theater.
Like almost all movie theaters in Bangkok, there was pre-assigned seating, and we chose our spots when we bought our tickets. Unlike most theaters in Bangkok, the seats were actually plush two-person beds with blankets and pillows and personal outlets, and remote controls to shift them into the optimum angles. Allegedly, there’s one three person bed in the theater too, but I didn’t remember seeing it.
We got to the Enigma lobby and found we had the place to ourselves — it was just us and one other couple. I wasn’t overly shocked that people were still hibernating on January 2nd, but I’ve since read the place is almost always a ghost town, unsurprising at the price. We were a little confused about what was included, which is not unusual in Thailand, but I’m pretty sure that we were authorized to order one alcoholic drink, one non-alcoholic drink, one food item, and one popcorn.
Since this info isn’t available anywhere else on the internet that I could find and someone considering a cinematic splurge of this magnitude might be curious, the menu included cocktails (made from middle-shelf booze like Absolute Vodka, Havana Rum, and Beefeater Gin), juice (orange, pomegranate, cherry berry, fruit punch), soft drinks (Coke, Coke Zero, Sprite), and red and white wine (Jacob’s Creek Shiraz Cabernet, Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay). The food menu included sweet, salty or cheesy popcorn, plus a bizarre menu of cheese sticks, stuffed chicken wings, deep friend salted chicken wings, “cocktail snack,” “cocktail salad,” spicy salmon salad with cucumber, deep friend shrimp cake, stir fried spicy spaghetti with seafood.
We sat briefly in the included massage chairs sipping our cocktails before being ushered into our beds. We got all settled and cozy when the first notes of the National Anthem cued up, as they do at the beginning of every movie screening across Thailand, and we scrambled to stand up with our hands over our hearts, a sweet reminder we were far from the movie theaters we’d grown up in.
On the way home, we did a full analysis of the experience. We loved La La Land. Enigma, we were less sold on. I’m not sure I’d do it again. Unfortunately, the cocktails were the normal boring cocktail menu you would find at any bland lobby bar in the world, and the food was so unappealing we didn’t even eat it. While included popcorn and soft drinks are always a plus, I’m much more apt to head to neighboring Blue Ribbon Theater, which is half the price, and includes a real fifteen minute massage instead of massage chairs. The beds were very dope though.
Hey, at least now I can say I’ve tried it.
We’d checked off movie-going, rooftop-pooling, and mall-hopping. What could be left to complete our badass Bangkok weekend? A spa, of course!
I’d read about this incredible co-working space with onsite massages at Hive Spa, so the next day we bolted there, only to find it still closed for the New Year (….on January 3rd, because Bangkok knows how to party.) Wandering around the parking lot we stumbled upon Organika.
Tucked in the penthouse of an unassuming looking high-rise, Organika is a spa and café, and hands down one of the coolest places I’ve ever wandered into in Bangkok. Like seriously, what is this city?! One minute you’re wandering around aimlessly in a hot sweaty concrete prison of a parking lot, the next you’re trying to hide your knock-off flip flops in a one-percenter treehouse.
We kind of choked at the price of the Organika Spa menu, especially after the previous night’s indulgence, but in retrospect we should have just gone for it. We ended up going back to the spa at our hotel and it was the definition of mediocre. Ah well, hindsight is 20/20, right? I’ll go back someday.
We did, however, sit down for a charming and creative meal, squirming at how under-dressed we felt among Bangkok’s hi-so (local slang for high society) glitterati in our Havianas and Singha singlets. We hadn’t expected to be eating somewhere fancy!
We overcompensated for dinner, where I’d made an always necessary reservation at Above Eleven, a rooftop Japanese Peruvian fusion hotspot which I’d been wanting to try forever.
The front of the menu was very sushi heavy and Olivia was glancing it over while I squealed over the view and exclaimed how happy I was to finally be there. “Yes, this menu looks amazing!,” she nodded distractedly. When I rattled off a few things I was thinking of ordering, she snapped to attention. “Where do you see that stuff?!,” she demanded, and I turned the menu over to reveal the other side. “Oh my gosh, I’m so relieved!,” she said, “That all looked gross.” So sincere. We both cracked up.
I definitely recommend Above Eleven if you want to get a taste of the “see and be seen” crowd in Bangkok. The views are gorgeous, the food is fabulous, there’s great people watching, and you’re right on Soi 11, the perfect location for post-dinner bar hopping.
And so we did just that. After dinner, Olivia and I headed to Havana Social, which was for a while my go-to Bangkok spot for a good time. You’d call a special number to receive the night’s password, and then sidle up to a pay phone down a dark side street where punching in the code would open a door to reveal a live salsa band and a mojito menu for the ages inside. Late night, an empanada stand parked in the alley out front.
Sadly, it’s gone tragically downhill since they started charging a huge cover charge on weekends. The cover does buy you a drink ticket for a standard well drink, but you can’t even use it towards one of the mojitos or specialty cocktails the bar is famous for. I didn’t go to Havana Social for crappy vodka sodas — that’s what Banyan Bar was for! Ha. Anyway, a huge line outside while people wait to pay a badly organized cover fee and the payphone sits unused doesn’t exactly keep with the whole “speakeasy” vibe.
Overall, it was a fun weekend with the perfect blend of old favorites and new discoveries. Our hotel was nothing special, and we swung and missed with the spa, but the fun movie night and new restaurant finds made it a winner. Another takeaway? Two nights is way too short for Bangkok. Three is the new minimum! Regardless, I knew I’d sent my sister off in style.
PS: This post has again inspired me that it might just be time to write a Bangkok companion to my Koh Tao ebook. Especially now that my travels are grounded, it might be the perfect time to bite off a new project. What do you guys think? Should I go for it?
Bangkok, I love you!