Bangkok's new draws

Bangkok's new draws

Some cities may need official tourist arrival figures to get an idea of whether more or fewer foreigners are coming to visit.

But not Bangkok. For a true gauge of whether people are avoiding the Thai capital because of recent political skirmishes, just check out the reservations book at local health spa Let's Relax.

Let's Relax is like tourist massage central - a foot reflexology session or body massage at its Terminal 21 branch seems as compulsory as getting your passport stamped at Suvarnabhumi.

Forget about getting an on-the-spot appointment - savvy tourists book in advance, leaving the staff to smile sympathetically and say "sorry, fully booked" in a lilting voice to every bedraggled foreign walk-in with sore, Teva sandal-clad feet.

It's a little different these days. Pockets of idle time mean you can actually pop in unannounced, or be slotted in within a couple of hours.

It's still busy, just not overwhelmingly so - which may well sum up Bangkok's attempts to get its tourism groove back now that it's under military rule.

Even though low-key Thai voices are no longer drowned out by the jarring cacophony of jumbled accents that used to assault your eardrums anywhere from Phrom Phong to Siam station on the BTS, Bangkok is no tourist ghost town.

Apart from the occasional appearance of soldiers in hotspots such as Chatuchak market, the city hasn't stopped buzzing - from the drone of interminably choked traffic to the blitz of on-trend eateries and lifestyle concepts that never fail to catch your eye with their distinctive Thai design aesthetic.

The latest playground for Thais and travellers alike opened in May, offering much-needed glitzy distraction from the city's troubles.

Central Embassy is the most ambitious retail concept in Bangkok in a long time - a massive temple to luxury shopping and hospitality right in the heart of the city's shopping district.

Located at the junction of Wireless Road and Ploenchit, the complex sits on a whopping 144,000 sq m of prime land that was part of the British Embassy's grounds and comprises two buildings - the retail complex and the uncompleted Park Hyatt hotel - intertwined to form an infinity symbol.

Central Embassy is the crown jewel of the Central Group - which already owns the Central World and Central shopping complexes on the same stretch - and completes its mission to cater to every category of shoppers from the youth-oriented Central World to the more mature crowd at its flagship Central.

Chart Chirathivat, managing director of Central Embassy and third-generation scion of Thailand's richest family, says that the rationale for having all three Central shopping centres close to one another stems from their location in "the prime shopping mile in Bangkok which most tourists visit".

The proximity means that "tourists can enjoy a wide range of brands and ambiences to suit their needs, which are all within walking distance".

The star attraction of Central Embassy, adds Mr Chirathivat, is that "30 per cent of the over 200 brands are either making their debut in Thailand or have developed a new concept just for Central Embassy".

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