As a city, Bangkok is frenzied and at times mind-boggling, so small dens of escape are appreciated by native and visitor alike. The heat, traffic, and crowds force many a Bangkokian indoors or up into the stratosphere to enjoy a respite from the berserk. It’s one of the few places I’ve ever been where taking a cab just to enjoy the A/C and a place to rest your backside is not only common practice, it’s expected. Walk into any of the city’s most popular places to go–movie theaters, malls, restaurants, clubs—and it either feels like you’re walking into a refrigerator or scaling a metropolitan Everest, with uniformed hotel and bar staff serving as your ever-hospitable sherpas.
As a last hurrah before Natalie departed for DC, we went to Vertigo Bar, one of Bangkok’s famous rooftop bars. According to Wikipedia, Bangkok had over 1,000 registered skyscrapers in 2007, and it’s guaranteed that the past five years have seen that number climb faster than the city’s latest sky-rise development. Real estate comes at a premium and the mark of high style often goes hand in hand with high altitude.
Such is the case with the Vertigo Bar. Taking up the roof of the Banyan Tree hotel, it towers 61 stories over Bangkok, affording diners, drinkers, and scenesters unrivaled panoramas of the entire city. Suddenly, a city whose urban planning is nonexistent and whose sprawl otherwise feels overwhelming is transformed into a manageable landscape of color, lights, and activity. We could see from the elbow of the Chao Phraya river, where the Grand Palace stands, all the way to Bangkok’s southern fringes. Below, the highways’ congestion flowed like twinkling capillaries. Lumpini Park–seemingly right below us but in fact blocks and blocks away–was noticeable by the dark green wedge it took out of the electric crowdedness.
We enjoyed some specialty cocktails and took advantage of Vertigo’s free snack trays of fava beans, wasabi peas, cheese nips, and bagel chips. With my camera’s terrible nighttime photo settings, the vertigo felt all too real.
The views and setting made what was a bittersweet end to Natalie’s summer in Bangkok a dazzling spectacle. We were happy to return to ground floor, but in a city where terra firma can be as precarious and woozy as a 61st floor without guardrails, we probably could have used one more drink.