East meets West: Expat living in Bangkok
The gateway to the East is a frantic place where street food vendors, tuk-tuk drivers and backpackers from all cultures collide in a kind of crazed choreography, as relentless as it is mesmerising. Bangkok, Thailand’s capital city, is fast becoming an attractive destination for expats looking for a new life. So let’s take a closer look at ‘Expat living in Bangkok’.
Many choose to settle in the exclusive Sukhumvit area, where one of the world’s longest roads stretches through its middle, towered over by the Skytrain. While it may be known for its international restaurants, fancy bars and high end shops, you can still find mango on a skewer, curbside massages and all the “same same, but different” philosophy so central to the soul of the city in these streets.
French national and Sukhumvit resident for many years Stéphane Junca is Managing Director of boutique hotel collection Secret Retreats. For him there’s something to discover in the city every day: “I have lived in several countries in Asia, but Bangkok offers a great balance of Asian traditions and modernity, energy and peaceful temples, parks or alleys, efficiency and organised disorder… It is a city that is tolerant, open and integrating every culture to create its own.”
Here’s a mini guide to the area for anyone looking to take up residence.
Where to stay: Cabochon Hotel & Residence
Tucked down an unassuming side road off the main boulevard, this member of the luxurious Secret Retreats family is a French colonial property comprising just four suites and four studio apartments for both short and long stays. A rooftop pool offers welcome relief from the heavy coat of humidity that rests its mantel over the city; a silent observation point from which to admire the skyline away from ground-level chaos. With every detail expertly curated and a team that will greet you with a smile however long you stay, this polished gem truly does live up to its name.
Bedrooms are sophistically decorated with vintage pieces that recall a bygone era. Breakfast is served amongst tortoise shells, model planes and typewriters in the ground floor bar, where the owner’s penchant for the antiquated is most pertinent. Staff will gladly take you through the exotic fruit on offer (dragonfruit, mangosteen, longan) and more importantly, save you face by demonstrating how to properly prepare and eat it. Alongside continental items such as croissants, bread and jam, more adventurous guests can order a traditional Thai breakfast, which includes a clear broth, sticky rice and grilled mackerel.
Those wishing to try authentic Chiang-Mai, E-San and Laotian cuisine will not be left disappointed by the hotel’s own Thai Lao Yeh restaurant. When you’re ready to stop ogling at the details in the dining room – the 100-year old timber walls salvaged from a local village, the birdcages hanging from the ceiling, the veined surface of the marble tabletops – go for the Massaman Curry – but don’t let the delicate porcelain it is served in escape your attention.
14/29 Sukhumvit 45, Klongton Nua, Wattana, Bangkok
Tel : +66225928713 | www.secret-retreats.com/cabochon
Where to eat: Bo.lan
Australian-Thai chef couple Dylan Jones and Duangporn Songvisava and their elegant fine dining restaurant are the embodiment of the area’s east meets west mindset. Faultless Thai cuisine is served in elegant contemporary surroundings as the chefs’ international experience, not least at Nahm, seeps through in the details. Minimal décor mirrors perfect presentation on the plate. The gentle nature of the staff comes with a side of the fluffiest jasmine rice imaginable. But the best thing about Bo.lan is that every bite is bursting with its own surprise.
The Bo.lan Balance menu, which changes every 2 months, is packed with the unimaginable. This culinary voyage sets off with a jolt as ya dong grachai dum is served with pandanus juice and local sour fruits; a local home-brewed herbal whisky with quite a punch that shakes up the palette for what’s to follow. From there on the assault on the senses is relentless. Sticky rice crackers crackle when loaded with red curry; fiery sauces are brought to the table and poured over a pristine bed of noodles and tender shredded chicken; lake prawn from Songkla releases its potent flavour just as its spicy dressing starts to dance on the tongue. Salt-fried quail shares plate space with sweet pork, cooked chili relish of shrimp paste, edible flowers and peculiar balls of a bright purple colour which turn out to be tiny Thai aubergines.
Each dish is packed with normally underused ingredients and unexpected textures. You’ll experience taste sensations you never knew existed. And that’s all before the pièce de résistance arrives; a tray laden with petit fours, or more accurately a variety of strange shapes bursting with colour, served with Bo.lan blend tea. Seemingly glowing in the darkened dining room the little bites of gelatin, tapioca, fresh fruit and Thai chocolate are a feast for the eyes before the journey’s final leg, the unavoidable ride home.
24 Soi Sukhumvit 53 (Soi Pai dee ma dee) Klong Toey Nua, Wattana, Bangkok
Tel: +6622602961 | www.bolan.co.th
Where to relax: Devarana Spa
Translating as “garden in heaven” in Thai-Sanskrit, the award-winning Devarana Spa is hidden on the top floor of the Dusit Thani hotel. Glimmering with silver and gold décor, natural stones and water features with a trickling of traditional music, it offers a tranquil respite from the chaos below from the moment you step over the threshold.
The spa’s Signature Massage marries age-old Thai practices with more recent Western methods. Whilst traditional Eastern massage therapies focus on clearing and balancing the body’s energy pathways, Western methods focus on muscle treatments. The signature massage blends the notoriously strong pressures of Thai, Ayurvedic and Shiatsu massages with softer Swedish and Aromatherapy techniques.
After a refreshing herbal drink in reception during which the oil is selected (choose from relaxing, energising or sensitive) the treatment begins with the release of tensions in the back through rocking motions and aromatic hot compresses. Fingers, toes, limbs and torso are stretched, pulled and rotated whilst oil is applied; muscles are kneaded, pressed and willed into submission by the skillful masseuses. Over the course of 90 minutes, mind and body are willed into a relaxed stupor. Don’t be embarrassed if you start snoring; “all our customers fall asleep,” whispers the receptionist on our way out.
9th Floor, The Dusit Thani Building, 946 Rama IV Road, Silom, Bangrak, Bangkok
Tel: +6626363596 | www.devaranaspa.com