Breathtaking Bangkok: Exploring the Thai capital

The city’s unwholesome reputation belies its rich culture and hospitality. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 14 January 2020

Breathtaking Bangkok: Exploring the Thai capital

BANGKOK: I traveled to Bangkok with a certain level of apprehension — all I knew of the place was what I had seen in the movies and read in the press, all of which made the city seem, to be generous, kind of seedy.

The fact that my hotel was based in the city’s Sukhumvit district — where Thailand’s longest road starts, and where much of its seediness resides — didn’t bode well either.

But the Sukhumvit district is also home to popular air-conditioned malls, some fantastic street food, a wide selection of tailors who will make you a suit for $165 in less than five days and the Skytrain (BTS), which will whisk you away to some of the city’s more-salubrious areas for less than $2.




The city’s Sukhumvit district is where Thailand’s longest road starts. (Shutterstock)​

I’m a big fan of markets, and Bangkok’s are fantastic. The Thai capital is home to numerous markets littered across the city, tucked away among its vast urban sprawl — each crying out for its own Insta Story.

If you’re there at the weekend, it is well worth spending a few hours at the Chatuchak Market. Open only on Saturday and Sunday, it boasts thousands of stalls divided into numerous sections. There’s a map at the entrance, but if you’re not in a rush then this is the perfect place to lose yourself down the narrow lanes selling just about everything you could possibly want, and more besides.

The food at Chatuchak is fresh, cheap and tasty. The restaurants have a high turnover, so there’s no real risk of any nasty bugs.




The Thai capital is home to numerous markets littered across the city. (Shutterstock)

Food is a big deal in Bangkok — there’s a multitude of restaurants on most streets, selling everything you’d expect in a place where East meets West, but it is well worth trying the street food: Look for the places where you can see it’s cooked fresh and frequently.  

I went several times to a restaurant called Krua Khun Puk, initially because of its close proximity to my hotel, but after the first instance to work my way through a number of their mouth-watering dishes. I ate tom yum goong soup, a green curry and, later in the week, chicken in coconut milk. Each dish was cooked to perfection and delicious.

It’s worth also visiting Jay Fai, which gained attention when it became Thailand’s first street-food restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star. The place doesn’t look like much. It is located in an open-fronted shop in the Samran Rat district of the city. They advise you to book in advance, but you can turn up and queue (although this can take up to four hours). And, be warned, it is not cheap. I paid $33 for the famous crab-filled omelet and nearly $20 for a rich, fragrant bowl of tom yum soup. The food was undeniably great, although personally I preferred Krua Khun Puk.




Jay Fai gained attention when it became Thailand’s first street-food restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star. (Shutterstock)

That might just be me, though. When I went to Jay Fai, two members of the Backstreet Boys were sat at the table next to me and they seemed very content with what they had. (I didn’t actually find out they were Backstreet Boys until they’d left.)

Bangkok is a place built for wandering, so yes, go see the reclining Buddha, ride the river boats past the stunning Wat Arun Temple, and definitely visit the King Power Mahanakhon Tower to see the city from up high, but it’s also worth buying a travel pass and riding the BTS to wherever it takes you.

I did this and I found myself getting off at stations where there were narrow markets where the locals shopped — vibrant and filled with fantastic Instagram moments. At one station I wandered down the road and found a street-food restaurant filled with Thai families, where they served cockles cooked to perfection.




The food at Chatuchak is fresh, cheap and tasty. (Shutterstock)

The Skytrain is a cheap way to spend the day and filled with endless places to jump off and wander around. It’s also a very simple way to navigate your way across the city, rather than paying through the nose for a tuk-tuk or cab.

One of the city’s less well-known attractions is the Red Cross snake farm at the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute. There you can see snakes doing what snakes seem to do a lot — i.e. not much. The real fun is the live show when the handlers bring out a selection of the slithery reptiles, including a king cobra.

Bangkok is one of those places that offers a vastly different experience to each person, because there is so much to do. Despite my initial doubts, my experience was great, and it’s a place I would happily return to.


This new Azzedine Alaia exhibition in Paris is not to be missed

A shared retrospective on Azzedine Alaia and Cristobal Balenciaga opened in Paris on Jan. 21. (File/AFP)
Updated 25 January 2020

This new Azzedine Alaia exhibition in Paris is not to be missed

  • Held under the direction of Olivier Saillard, the new exhibition will run until June 28, 2020
  • The exhibition marks the first time the two couturier’s designs are showcased alongside each other

PARIS: A shared retrospective on Azzedine Alaia and Cristobal Balenciaga, a designer whom the late Tunisian couturier admired, opened in Paris on Jan. 21 and will run until June 28. The six-month long exhibition, entitled “Sculptors of Shapes,” is the second parallel retrospective curated by Association Azzedine Alaia, following the success of last year’s “Adrian and Alaia: The Art of Tailoring.”

The shared retrospective was curated by Olivier Saillard. (Photo: Arab News)

Held under the direction of  Olivier Saillard — who curated “Azzedine Alaïa: Je suis couturier” and “Adrian and Alaia: The Art of Tailoring”— the new exhibition features 56 garments designed over the course of their respective careers in an effort to spotlight the similarities in the couturier’s tailoring, choice of fabrics and cuts.

Alaia was an avid collector of Balenciaga’s work. (Photo: Arab News)

It is the first time the two couturier’s designs are showcased alongside each other. The striking designs are presented in a white labyrinth of white mesh panels that was designed by American multimedia artist Kris Ruhs.

According to Carla Sozzani, a close friend of the late Tunisian couturier and the president of Association Alaia, it was one of Balenciaga’s protégés, Hubert de Givenchy (who died in 2018) who proposed the idea of a duet show on a visit to Alaia’s Marais studio.

Alaia was an avid collector of the Spanish designer’s work. It is said that the late couturier had collected over 400 pieces from Balenciaga over the years, including garments, furniture and art.

The exhibition marks the first time the two couturier’s designs are showcased alongside each other. (Photo: Arab News)

It was almost by chance that the late Tunisian couturier began collecting Balenciaga’s work. Shortly after the Spaniard shuttered his eponymous fashion house in 1968, Alaia was contacted by the deputy director of Balenciaga at the time to take the liberty of cutting new models from the dresses stored in the defunct workshop. However, a young Alaia chose to keep them intact and thus began building up an archive that would mark the beginning of a great collection.

  It was one of Balenciaga’s protégés, the late Hubert de Givenchy, who proposed the idea of a duet show. (Photo: Arab News)

The exhibition comes over two years after the passing of the late couturier, who died of heart failure in November 2017 in Paris.

The Association Azzedine Alaia, which was founded by Alaia, Carla Sozzani and Christoph Von Weyhe in 2007, hopes to organize three exhibitions a year featuring Alaia’s work and his extensive collection of fashion, furniture and photography.