THE ROYAL AND ANCIENT; from Sky-High Dining F It for a Prince to Ruined Buddhist Temples, Bangkok Is a City of Dramatic Contrasts, Finds ANDY HARRIES

Daily Mail (London), May 16, 2009 | Go to article overview

THE ROYAL AND ANCIENT; from Sky-High Dining F It for a Prince to Ruined Buddhist Temples, Bangkok Is a City of Dramatic Contrasts, Finds ANDY HARRIES


Byline: ANDY HARRIES

INTENDING to walk, intending to walk, intending to walk,' intoned the monk before taking a single, graceful step. We tried to do the same, lurching forward together like some ghastly slow- motion line dance, before repeating the mantra, the hum of the classroom fan louder than our barefoot shuffling.

We were being taught to walk as part of a fascinating and faintly surreal lesson in the art of meditation at Bangkok's Buddhist University.

We had already been given a Powerpoint presentation by the senior monk, whose wizened face and traditional orange robes belied his dexterity with a laptop computer.

After providing an outline of the different forms of Buddhist meditation, and despite the apparent silliness of being taught how to walk, we were soon zoned out in the lotus position, focused purely on our breathing and the monk's hypnotic incantation 'riiiiiising, faaaaaalling, riiiiiising, faaaaaalling'.

Outside in the bright Bangkok sunshine, my classmates seemed suitably serene, with the exception of one curmudgeon who complained that he hadn't been able to take the lesson seriously. Buddha will probably see fit to have him reincarnated as a slug.

I practised my new meditations skills that evening, bored almost catatonic as we sat on a coach outside the Centara Grand Hotel, attempting to join the choked traffic on Rama 1 Road.

After inching along all of 20ft in half an hour, we did what all sensible people do in Bangkok: avoid driving at rush-hour. A quick walk to the Skytrain station at Siam, we hopped off four stops later at Asok and walked to the imposing Column Tower for dinner at the city's uber-fashionable Long Table restaurant.

On the 25th floor and with great views over the city, the Long Table is hip, happening, and very, very dark. A slab of marble running the length of the bar is engraved with the city's proper name (Krung thep Maha Nakorn, Amarn Rattanakosindra, Mahindrayudhya, Mahadilokpop Noparatana Rajdhani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan, Amorn Piman Avatarn Satit, Sakkatultiya Vishnukarn Prasit), a 167- letter mouthful best left to the experts.

The Long Table is just that and runs the length of the room with space to seat 70. But it's more than just a novelty; the Thai food here is very, very good and while the up-close-and-personal dining with strangers might not be everyone's cup of green tea, it makes for a lively evening.

The next day we took a bus and short ferry trip to Ko Kred, an island split by a canal from Bangkok's Chao Phraya river as Discover relaxing getaways holiday it winds north out of the city.

The island is a refuge for Thailand's Mon tribes who have a retained a distinct cultural and religious identity, as well as their skills as craftsman with their distinctive Ko Kret pottery.

Ko Kred has no proper roads but wide pathways bordering the island make for a great cycle route. You can hire bikes and a slow circuit, with stops at the grand but crumbling temples, takes about 45 minutes.

We rode past banana plantations, potters busy at work, down narrow paths between traditional Thai houses, the locals quick to offer a smile and cheery hello: 'Sawatdee khrab!' Back at the Centara, the lifts whisked us to the hotel lobby, curiously on the building's 23rd floor. It was time for more high-rise dining, this time at the hotel's amazing and appropriatelynamed Red Sky bar.

Here, on the 55th floor, we sipped cocktails and drank in the extraordinary view across the city, before heading inside for dinner.

The restaurant has a growing reputation, so much so that the crown prince of Thailand, Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, other family at co. uk was dining there that evening.

Thais revere their royal family, so Prince Vajiralongkorn's visit was hugely important to the hotel - and obviously a joyous occasion for the staff.

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THE ROYAL AND ANCIENT; from Sky-High Dining F It for a Prince to Ruined Buddhist Temples, Bangkok Is a City of Dramatic Contrasts, Finds ANDY HARRIES
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