Girls just wanna have fun

AMY COOPER
Last updated 05:00 26/01/2014
Bangkok
SUKREE SUKPLANG/ Reuters

LIGHT IT UP: Bangkok's a colourful city at the best of times, but when there's a fireworks display it's positively pretty.

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Women are multi-taskers and proud of it. But when it comes to travel, our urge to achieve everything at once and fast can be challenging - especially when we're moving as a pack.

When four busy women managed to come together for a long-awaited overseas city break, we needed a destination capable of delivering a whopping fix of retail, pampering, edible treats and cocktails suitable for our varying budgets and very tight time frame.

We chose Bangkok. With direct flights and an embarrassment of female-friendly treats in a compact area, the Thai capital got a big silk tick in every box.

THE HEADQUARTERS

If you want to maximise your playtime and minimise your schlepping time, there's no better base than right in the bullseye of the city centre. Plaza Athenee Bangkok is a wallet's throw from the mega retail heaven of the Siam/Chidlom area, with endless spa and bar temptations close by. And here's the extra drawcard: this hotel is the home of the finest chocolate in Bangkok.

THE STORES

We want to shop for gifts, bag bargains and hunt down local specialities such as silk and tailored clothes. Not everyone's into markets; some prefer the airconditioned comfort and fixed prices of Bangkok's many multiple malls.

Immediately after checking in, we're walking the short five minutes from Plaza Athenee to CentralWorld, a retail utopia whose gargantuan 830,000 square metres boast more than 500 stores and 100 restaurants and cafes.

I'm keen to see ZEN department store, which burned down in Bangkok's 2010 political unrest and has recently reopened with an award-winning new facade. Inside are seven floors of covetable fashion from Dior to David Beckham, and a host of cool Thai designers, too. You can find great pieces (in Western sizes) for about 60 per cent of what you'd pay back home.

Another short stroll away is Amarin Plaza, a source of silks and handmade goods. Its first three levels feature market-style outlets that allow you to snap up bargain artisan items without the heat of a full-blooded Bangkok market.

One of the best-kept secrets of frequent travellers (the walls are covered with airline flight crews' business cards) is Tou Shop on the third floor; an Aladdin's cave of stainless steel kitchenware and tableware, much of it handcrafted and some surplus items from luxury hotels.

Amarin also contains some of the city's best Thai silk shops and tailors. Off the peg I buy a simple ivory silk spaghetti strap sheath gown for the equivalent of $32. It's gorgeous enough to wear for a beach wedding.

For convenience, you can't beat these malls and their neighbours Siam Paragon, Gaysorn and Erawan; they're connected by walkways and open until 10pm.

THE MARKET

For the two youngest in our group, nothing but an authentic, haggle-your-heart-out Thai market will do for sourcing unique fashion statements. The girls aren't interested in the tat and knock-offs of PatPong. They want stuff they'd be happy to wear in Bondi.

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Fortunately, we're here for the weekend and that's when Chatuchak Market, a city-sized cool-hunter's paradise in Chatuchak district, bursts into chaotic life.

It's not for the faint-hearted: 110,000 square metres of loot organised (loosely) in more than 15,000 shops and stalls in 27 sections. From vintage to upcoming Thai designers, ceramics to livestock, jewellery to fruit, everything plus the kitchen sink (section nine, Household Appliances) is here.

Our brave huntresses emerge with "upcycled" vintage bomber jackets, slogan T-shirts and braided leather jewellery.

THE SWEET TREATS

Some hotels do views, some boast beaches or art. The Plaza Athenee does chocolate.

Every night there's a little delight in Belgian chocolate on your bed - an elephant, mini fruits infused with the real thing, even a chocolate CD.

These treats all emerge from a special, back-of-house chamber: The Chocolate Room.

Inside, amid a fragrance so heady you could swoon, three specialist pastry chefs, trained in the art of chocolate-making and sculpture, spend their days creating the figurines, flowers, fruit and fantastic constructions for which the hotel's patisserie is famous.

We like this room so much the chefs fear hotel security may be required to remove us. Instead, they suggest high tea. Placated, we settle upstairs in Glaz Bar around towering stands of chocolates and scrumptious little pastries while an obliging bartender whips up a Bangkok Smile cocktail - vodka and lychee with a sugar and chilli rim shaped like a smile.

"It will make you feel life is fantastic," he says.

He's right.

THE PAMPERING

We all want something more indulgent than the rough-and-ready rubdowns available all over Bangkok but not everyone wants to fork out top hotel prices.

A delightful solution is right on our doorstep. Thann Sanctuary, on level two of CentralWorld, has all the low-lit luxury of a top-notch spa and is voted by locals and visitors alike as one of the city's best massage spots. Best of all, the excellent traditional Thai massage costs 2000 baht (approximately $74) for 120 minutes.

Two of our group opt for this while the others go a little further afield to the Oasis Spa, two stops on the Skytrain from our hotel. It's a short walk from the station but Oasis believes in ease and sends a complementary car. We're transported into a beautiful secret garden behind high walls, filled with ancient trees, waterfalls and a gracious old colonial house.

I choose a four-handed massage with fragrant oils infused with gold. By Bangkok standards it's pricey at 2500 baht (about $90) for 90 minutes but my skin retains a subtle golden glow for the rest of the trip.

THE APRES-SHOP

"Bubbles and food with friends" is the slogan of hip new nightspot L'Appart. They're singing our song, so we head to the rooftop of Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit, just a few blocks from our hotel, and check out the 19th century Paris-inspired restaurant and bar.

It resembles a decadent aristocrat's party pad, with a library, lounge, open kitchen and vertiginous outdoor terrace which becomes even more dizzyingly spectacular after a few sips from the absinthe fountain. Bowls of punch for four suit our celebratory mood and we sample the extensive list of champagnes. Life again feels fantastic.

The writer was a guest of Thai Airways.

- Sunday Star Times

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