Sip on top of the world
Sirocco Sky Bar.
Sean Mooney gives new meaning to getting high — among the glam rooftop bars of the once troubled Thai capital.
The past few years have thrown up a fair number of challenges for Thailand's capital city. First there were violent political demonstrations in 2010, then devastating floods the following year. The axing of Qantas flights between Bangkok and London in 2012 was another blow. It looked as though Thailand had hit hard times, and that our previously hot and strong love affair with the country's capital could be going off the boil.
However, a look at the bigger picture reveals that the number of Australians travelling to Thailand has skyrocketed in the past decade. About a million of us now make the trip each year, a fivefold increase in a decade. Thailand's economy is thriving despite global financial gloom; a new building seems to appear in Bangkok every day; and the silhouettes of cranes dot the skyline. It's a city on the rise, a fact reflected not only by the attitude, but also the altitude of its luxury restaurants and watering holes. The hot spots are rooftops, with many new sky-scraping venues (often with sky-high prices) opening for business. Here's where to go to get a taste of Bangkok's high life.
Hangovertini at Sky Bar.
This new addition to the rooftop bar and restaurant scene has gone for the seriously obscure when choosing its food focus: Peruvian-Japanese fusion. It's called Nikkei cuisine and it's all about exotic tapas. In this case, served in an abstract-art installation on the 33rd floor of the Fraser Suites Sukhumvit. Think grass-covered walls, a garden maze and steel "trees". Above Eleven's quirkiness alone makes the trip worthwhile, but add the view and the Peruvian Pisco cocktails and it becomes a must-visit.
On the menu Avocado and crab-meat salad; sea bass and clams stewed in pumpkin broth.
Signature drink Park View (42 Below Feijoa vodka, elderflower syrup, ginger ale, mint, lime and apple juice).
French flavours have hit the big time in Bangkok, so the arrival of a rooftop venue that is more Parisian than the Champs-Elysees comes as no surprise. On the 32nd floor of the French-owned Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit, L'Appart has quickly developed a reputation as one of the best spots in Bangkok for Gallic wining and dining. The interior is styled like a Parisian penthouse, complete with libraries and fireplaces. The alfresco terrace is the place to enjoy a menu that changes according to what's fresh at the market but, if you're just there for the champagne, make sure you also sample the playful tapas, such as avocado candy with lemon confit.
On the menu Saffron tempura lobster with black-ink risotto.
Signature drink Champagne cocktails such as North by Northwest (champagne, Hendrick's gin, lemon juice, and absinthe) and Dark 'n' Bubbly (champagne, Havana rum, ginger syrup and lime juice).
Another new star on the city's skyline, Park Society tops the Sofitel So Bangkok, a luxury hotel next to Thailand's answer to Central Park: Lumphini Park. The views over the park's lakes, trees and temples are pretty special. It's all stainless steel and infinity mirrors inside the restaurant, but the real action is up the stairs in the HI-SO area ("hi-so" being the Thai term for someone from "high society" - and they're often found in one of the venue's private cabanas). An Australian chef, Paul Smart, has worked at the Ritz London and El Bulli restaurant, so everything from the a la carte offerings to the bar tapas is top notch.
On the menu The five-course chef's table experience.
Signature drink Lychee and rose-petal martini.
Drinkers flock to the colourful lights of this champagne and wine bar on the 25th floor of the Siam@Siam Design Hotel & Spa like moths to a bug zapper. The official line is that the bright reds and blues of this "industrial-hip" venue express the "bright and lively emotions of a happy lady". I'm not sure about that, but there are smiles all round when the champagne starts flowing - bubbles are brilliant at this altitude, especially with a 360-degree view of the city skyline. On the dining side, the restaurant allows patrons to cook their own food on red-hot volcanic stones. This is an exercise best attempted before any corks are popped.
On the menu Stone-grilled black Angus beef ribeye.
Signature drink Personalised martinis, as well as champagne cocktails using top drops such as Krug and Dom Perignon.
When the Sofitel Hotel Silom morphed into the Pullman Bangkok Hotel G in 2012, its 37th-floor bar was turned into the sister wine bar and restaurant of Hotel G Beijing's famous Scarlett. Bangkok's Scarlett can accommodate up to 160 guests (40 on the open-air terrace), and the communal tables, leather sofas and DJs make for a relaxed vibe. A comprehensive selection of cheeses is complemented by an excellent wine list.
On the menu Lobster and foie gras ravioli.
Signature drink The G Effect (Hendrick's gin, cucumber syrup and rosé champagne) and the Kaffir Diablo (kaffir-infused tequila, creme de cassis, ginger, lime and soda).
Sky Bar and Sirocco Restaurant
This is the highest of all the rooftop venues featured here, sitting on top (the 63rd floor) of the State Tower, the second-tallest building in Bangkok. And if it looks familiar, it might be because the lebua at State Tower is the hotel that features in The Hangover Part II. The dramatically designed deck, lit stairway and dome, and multicoloured bar make this a great movie location. Locals tell me they take international visitors there for the view, drinks and atmosphere, rather than the food and live jazz.
On the menu The chef's tasting menu; oysters, lobster and caviar.
Signature drink The Hangovertini (whisky, green-tea liquor, green apple juice, Martini rosso and rosemary-infused honey).
No surprise to find a fancy bar on top of a boutique property in one of Bangkok's most sought-after residential areas. But it was a gutsy move to turn the top two floors of Hotel Muse into a Prohibition-era-themed establishment called The Speakeasy. A bar that harks back to the days of booze bans? Strange, perhaps, but it works a treat. The Speakeasy is home to everything from an open-air bar to an intimate lounge known as the Blind Pig. The latter is dedicated to Cuban cigars and top-end spirits, while the rooftop is all green lawn, private domes, DJs and views of posh residential towers. You might have run into executive chef Purida Theeraphong during her time cooking up a Thai storm across northern Sydney.
On the menu Tuna cube in sesame crust with soya vinaigrette.
Signature drink Sazerac 1838 (Jack Daniel's, absinthe and bitters) and the Aviator (Broker's gin, maraschino liqueur, creme de violet and lemon juice).
Vertigo Grill & Moon Bar
This appropriately named establishment way up on the 61st floor of the Banyan Tree Bangkok Hotel was once used as a helipad. You wouldn't know it now, with its series of escalated platforms creating a dining courtyard, private party lounge and bar. Low, glass-panelled barriers help preserve what is arguably the best view in town. At more than a decade old, it's one of the city's oldest rooftop bars, but it's still well worth a visit.
On the menu Swordfish carpaccio, lobster spring rolls, roasted snow fish and French oysters with citron caviar.
Signature drink Moon Romance (vodka melon, creme de menthe, peach and lime juice served on ice).
BACK TO EARTH
Bangkok's best wining and dining is not all up in the clouds. There are exciting ground-level goings-on too.
Bangkok has never been big on wine — the high import duty has seen to that — but things are changing. Great wine, combined with European cheeses, meats and tapas, is becoming big business. A new place seems to pop up every month, but start with Opus (64 Pan Road, Silom), Opera Riserva (53 Soi 39 Sukhumvit Road, Wattana) or the WP Wine Pub (8/2 Rangnam Road, Thanon-Phayathai, Ratchathewi).
Chef Pongtawat "Ian Kittichai" Chalermkittichai has been a part of Bangkok's restaurant scene for several years, but last year he hit the big time as the star of Iron Chef Thailand. He also opened his flagship restaurant and lounge, the Issaya Siamese Club. I'd go back for the lamb shank massaman curry and kaffir-lime cocktails alone. Especially when you can enjoy them in a beanbag on the club lawn. 4 Soi Sri Aksorn, Chua Ploeng Road, Sathorn.
Put a Western-trained Thai-born chef in a simple street-side eatery and you get Uncle John restaurant. The owner serves Thai street food along with the type of five-star cuisine (with good wine) that he prepared as head chef at the nearby Sukhotai Hotel — all at decent prices. Get there before the secret gets out. 279/2 Suanphlu Soi 8.
The W Bangkok hotel opened in late 2012 on prestigious Embassy Row. The 31-storey glass building is all about cutting-edge design, but those in the know say its greatest drawcard will be the century-old former Russian embassy building on the grounds. Due to open later in 2013 after a thorough restoration, it will house duplex suites, private dining and entertainment areas and an exclusive bar. 106 North Sathorn Road, Silom, Bangrak.
Getting there Thai Airways has a fare to Bangkok for about $1010 low-season return from Sydney and Melbourne, including taxes. It is a non-stop flight of a little more than 9hr; see www.thaiairways.com. Australians do not require a visa for a stay of up to 30 days, provided they have a return or onward ticket.
Staying there Choosing a hotel under one of these rooftop venues means your bed is just an elevator ride away. Try Hotel Muse (hotelmusebangkok.com), Pullman Bangkok Hotel G (pullmanbangkokhotelg.com), Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit or Sofitel So (sofitel.com).
More information tourismthailand.org.
Sean Mooney travelled courtesy of Accor Hotels and Diageo.