The first thing you notice as you transit the orderly street grid of Bangkok is a row of pushcarts doubling up as food stalls. These tarpaulin-sheathed stalls peddle everything from deep-fried chicken feet to fermented pork; exotic ingredients from the country's seafood repertoire also find their way here.
You can't go wrong with impromptu meals in Bangkok. From banana flowers, bean sprouts and curry pastes to fish sauces, you find it all here. Home to a large number of ethnic groups including Thais, Chinese, Japanese, Europeans, Indians, Arabs and Africans, this ethnic diversity is reflected in the cuisine as well.
Just like other travellers who make a pilgrimage to this foodie haven, I was eager to eat my way through steaming plates of phat thai noodles and aromatic bowls of tom yam soup. However, that would have to wait for another holiday. This trip was meant for feasting on cutting-edge food in the swish Tower Club, Lebua. This is an all-suite property, almost hugging the edge of Chao Phraya River.
Sirocco offers jaw-dropping sights of the city
Walk any distance in Bangkok and you are likely to set your eyes on towering buildings that block your view and reduce the skyline to a tiny blue speck. So, it was not until my cab hit the Charoen Krung and Silom Road corner that I actually saw the gigantic golden dome perched atop the 64th floor of the Tower Club.
On Silom Road, wall-to-wall traffic gives way to an enchantingly-lit walkway leading up to the hotel's lobby. Here, three-tiered chandeliers with teardrop-shaped lamps are instant pick-me-ups. Inside the hotel, I negotiate my way through a maze of plush upholstery to arrive at the reception where two futuristic- looking elevators greet me. The Tower Club's 221 suites are spread over eight floors starting at the 51st and are accessed with a custom-made key card. Inserting the card into an elevator slot is the only way one can enter floors above the 50th level. For the charmed set that enters these enchanted precincts, the sky is indeed the limit.
Clearly, the Tower Club at Lebua is the accommodation of choice for the luxury and business traveller. Covering an area between 66sqm and 266sqm, the suites have Bvlgari amenities, LCD television with video-on-demand and a nonalcohol mini bar. Guests can relax at the Tower Club Lounge, a swimming pool with tropical landscaping as well as massage rooms offering treatments that range from Oriental foot massages to deep tissue massages. To top it all, there are colonnaded balconies with every suite to acquaint you with the sheer visual extravaganza that is Bangkok.
The 25m neon-lit Sky Bridge at Breeze
Legend has it that Bangkok became the new capital of Thailand when King Rama I, decided to relocate from his palace at Thonburi which was threatened by the swelling Chao Phraya River. The king hopped east across the fabled waterway to set up his new base. Thus was born Bangkok, a city modelled on the former capital of Ayutthaya, and dotted with wats or Buddhist temples that are often libraries, schools and religious centres rolled into one.
Both the historic wats and the natty shopping malls of the city are worth a look. And a great place to do so is the sky bar at Sirocco, the Mediterranean restaurant at Lebua. Perched on the 63rd floor, the highest alfresco restaurant in the world offers glorious views of the city. As the city lies spread out some 200m below, I enjoy my dinner with a side order of live jazz and sips of vintage wine. Of course Sirocco is not the terminal destination on my culinary trail.
In fact, it's just one of the pit stops enroute to attaining gastronomic nirvana. The city's obsession with good food is visible in Mezzaluna, Lebua's signature fine-dining facility. Conjuring up some serious culinary spectacles here are twin chefs Thomas and Mathias Suhring, who are constantly experimenting with the freshest of produce sourced from as many as 15 countries. The Suhring brothers have trained with three-star Michelin chefs like Sven Elverfeld, Heinz Beck and Jonny Boer and love playing around with textures and exotic ingredients.
The Mozu bar accessorised with stained glass lanterns
Once I pass through the doors of Mezzaluna, these devotees of haute cuisine present me with a soft-as-butter Rhone lamb saddle with rooted parsley mash, a Pacific dory sliver doused in dashi broth and a parmesan dish paired with Ossetra caviar. After tucking into the elaborate spread, I understand why this restaurant has an edge over some stiff competition.
| Things to do|
Getting there: Tower Club at Lebua is a 40-minute drive from Suvarnabhumi and a 10 minute walk from the BTS (Bangkok Transit System) Sky Train's Saphan Taksin station.
Address: 1055 Silom Road, Bangrak, Bangkok 10500, Thailand
For reservations log on to www.lebua.com
Getting around: The Sky Train weaves its way through most of the popular destinations while hopping on a bus is a cheap and easy way to get familiar with the city. Although English is barely spoken, communicating is never a problem when travelling in buses, taxis and tuk tuks.
A paradise for tipplers, Thailand boasts of some very funky watering holes. Lebua too is a part of the buzzing pub scene of Bangkok with its upscale drinking dens Distil, Ocean 52 and the Sky Bar. The hotel recently entered into a collaboration with liquor major PernodRicard. So now the bars of Lebua will offer high-octane labels including Royal Salute 62 Gun Salute, G.H. Mumm Rene Lalou and Havana Club. Distil, one of the prized bars of the property is a delight. In this leather and wood environment, it's easy to knock back a few drinks. The oyster bar located here serves up everything from the Eagle Rock and Pacific Premium to Kumamoto and Fines de Claire oysters.
The living room of the two-bedroom suite
After feasting on a few of these juicy molluscs, I finally head to Breeze, the contemporary Asian dining outfit of the hotel. Located on the 51st and 52nd floors, Breeze concentrates on perfectly-executed seafood dishes. But what takes my breath away, as I step out into the sultry tropical night, is the 25m neon-lit Sky Bridge connecting the indoor and outdoor dining areas of the restaurant. The men behind the inspiring Asian menu are Sam Leong and James Ho, whose patrons include people like Queen Elizabeth II and Bill Clinton.
By the time I leisurely polish off the delectable dessert at Breeze, it is already a long way past midnight. A gust of wind blows in from the Chao Phraya River, bringing in wafting scents of coconut milk and a medley of spices.
Somewhere on the streets, a meal is still being served to a hungry soul with a generous dose of bird's eye chilli and fish sauce. But soon, the faint fragrance of Thai condiments wafts away and I realise that my food trail in Bangkok has finally come to an end.