Relentlessly busy, noisy, smelly and stiflingly hot: it’s easy to see why for many, Bangkok is little more than a place for a brief stopover.
But dig a little deeper and you’ll find a burgeoning arts scene, a raft of new restaurants and elegant galleries.
Here’s how to spend 48 hours in the Thai capital…
Main attraction: The stunning Temple of the Dawn
We arrive in the Thai capital after a week on the idyllic island of Koh Lanta. If luggage isn’t too much of an issue, the sparkly new Airport Rail Link City Line runs every 15 minutes from inside the terminal, costs 45 baht (about £1) and takes just 25 minutes to the city’s central stations.
As a rule, getting around Bangkok by public transport is far less hassle than using taxis, which are notorious for scams. Our first stop is the Mandarin Oriental, the chain’s 140-year-old flagship property, affectionately known as La Grande Dame. It’s on the edge of the buzzy Silom district, a colonial era oddity in a city full of 1970s concrete blocks and glass skyscrapers.
Even if you’re not checking in, it’s worth taking high tea in the Authors’ Lounge. The hotel is famous for its writers-in-residence, from Dame Barbara Cartland to Somerset Maugham and Gore Vidal.
Golden glow: Wat Arun, one of the iconic temples in Bangkok
We head for a late lunch at The Jam Factory arts complex (dbalp.com), part of the city’s new Creative District. The Jam Factory is a converted factory – a collection of low-rise, industrial-style glass-and-steel buildings sit around a central garden courtyard.
At our restaurant, The Never Ending Summer, a Buddhist ceremony is going on in the garden. Monks wrap silk ribbons around huge trees, adding to the peaceful vibe.
The food is show-stopping: grilled catfish with sweet sauce and stir-fried glass noodles are musts.
Afterwards, we drop in to Santi Chai Prakan Park, the site of a blindlingly white 18th Century fort where at 5pm daily there is communal outdoor aerobics, yoga or dance classes.
Even if you’re not feeling quite that energetic, it’s brilliant to watch.
After a late breakfast, we go to the Artists House – otherwise known as Baan Silapin (facebook.com/Baansilapin) – in the trendy Thonburi district. This is ‘old Bangkok’: sleepy, wooden buildings and winding alleys that fringe the canals. It’s a bit off the beaten track but worth visiting.
The Artists House is a 200-year-old teak building. As you wander along the canal past little cafes serving stir-fried dishes, every now and then an elderly lady on a boat will pull up to sell skewers of barbecued meat.
You’ll probably not see too many tourists in this part of the city, bar the occasional boat-load being whisked along a canal.
The House itself is built around a 700-year-old Buddhist stupa, and at 2pm you can watch a traditional Thai marionette show. Children are invited to paint paper masks and participate in the event.
Fully prepared to get a bit lost, we head east over a footbridge and into the bustling streets around Soi Charan Sanitwong, where street vendors sell fried fish balls, noodles and sweet treats.
Relax: Visitors enjoy a street-side foot massage, which is perfect after a long flight
As the sun goes down, we stumble upon a night market – food, toys, electric goods and clothes are all for sale and cost next to nothing – then keep heading east to Wat Arun, one of Bangkok’s most iconic ancient temples, overlooking the Chao Phraya river. From there, a river taxi will take you back to the other side, where we drop into The H Gallery (hgallerybkk.com), which shows Thai art in a beautiful 125-year-old mansion.
In the evening, we head to Maggie Choo’s (maggiechoos.com), a subterranean bar, restaurant and live music venue beneath the Novotel which is famous for its must-see drag shows. Later, if you’re feeling brave, try a foot massage at one of the spas lining the streets.
Finally, there’s time for a nightcap back at our hotel’s cosy Bamboo Bar, where a live jazz band is in full swing. If you can survive the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, there are plenty of reasons to make this city more than just a one-night stand.
Jonathan Neal was a guest of the Mandarin Oriental, where double rooms cost from £385. For more information visit mandarinoriental.com/bangkok.