Nat is not your run of the mill tour guide. A popular blogger, keen Instagrammer and passionate foodie, today she’s showing us another side of Bangkok. Nat is young with jet black hair and a ready smile, and we click instantly because she starts her tour with coffee. Good coffee. We’re at Chata Specialty Coffee, which is hidden amid the crumbling backstreets of Bangkok’s Chinatown known locally as Yaowarat, a cafe so tricky to find my taxi driver had to do laps of the narrow streets in search of it.
Eventually, we find it hidden in the grounds of heritage hotel Baan 2459, which has a history that can be traced to the period of King Rama VI. It’s here I meet Nat, a guide with TakeMeTours, Thailand’s largest online marketplace for private tours, with more than 20,000 local experts in 55 cities. TakeMeTours matches travellers with guides who share the same interests, which is how we wind up on Nat’s Hipster Chinatown tour.
Nat shows me the beautiful glasshouse with an exposed brick wall shared by the neighbouring Buddhist temple where the cafe roasts its beans. We sit down with a perfectly crafted flat white and coconut meringue tart.
From there we dive in, exploring Chinatown’s labyrinth of streets lined with colonial buildings and hundreds of stalls selling everything from lotus flower seeds, tiny crabs, stinky durian and floral tea to glistening roast ducks hanging in a row. We take a shortcut through Yaowarat market alley, ending up at Bangkok’s largest Chinese Buddhist temple with its sweeping tiled roofs adorned with ubiquitous Chinese dragon motifs, the waft of incense in the air.
We watch young monks in saffron robes file out for lunch before Nat announces it’s time for us to eat, too. She leads us to a popular hawker stall with no name, where we tuck into noodles served with slices of pork in chicken stock and a tasty rice-flour pancake.
A tuk tuk takes us to the edge of the Old Town, where a cluster of new bars, including Teens of Thailand (a minuscule gin bar), and cool cafes are transforming the heritage streets. Down a side lane is Oneday Wallflowers, one of Bangkok’s most Instagrammable cafes. At street level is a florist where Thai staff busily prepare bespoke bouquets, barely glancing up as we enter. Upstairs is a whimsical cafe and beyond that a hip rooftop bar that overlooks the busy streets below.
Bangkokians love hanging out at trendy cafes on weekends, Nat tells us. “The third wave coffee movement has definitely arrived in Bangkok. Some baristas are sticklers for tradition; others love creativity and may add salted eggs or orange oil.” Thankfully we’re here on a quiet afternoon so take our time over the prettiest carrot cake I’ve ever seen, served with an iced oolong and lychee tea.
That night we back up for dinner at Le Du, where celebrity chef and owner, Ton, interprets traditional Thai dishes in a contemporary way. Nat’s eyes light up as she excitedly explains the local dishes that inspired our four-course degustation menu. My favourite is the grouper with crispy skin, local melon, shiitake mushroom and preserved lime – chef Ton’s take on a traditional spicy and sour fish soup.
Spilling out into the balmy night, we hug Nat goodbye. We’ve sipped and supped our way through the city’s coolest cafes, restaurants and hawker stalls guided by one of Bangkok’s most fashionable and knowledgeable young women; parting as fast friends in a way that comes when you meet someone on the same wavelength.
Sheriden Rhodes was a guest of Accor Hotels and Resorts, Qantas and the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
TakeMeTour’s six-hour Hipster Chinatown tour with Nat starts from $92 including transportation and admission fees (meals extra). See takemetour.com/local-expert/natthawan-s
Rooms at Sofitel So Bangkok are themed in metal, wood or earth and cost from $250 per night. See so-sofitel-bangkok.com