Pum Lefebure, graphic designer and co-founder of award-winning design agency Design Army, was born and raised in Thailand. So though she now lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and 8-year-old daughter Sophie, she goes back to visit her homeland every winter. The itinerary? Bangkok, of course, where her family lives. “I like to spend an evening with my mom in our home and talk until 3 in morning,” says the 38-year-old. “We might have a Thai beer called Singha along with some mango and sweet sticky rice and catch up.” She also heads to the beach town of Krabi in southern Thailand, where it’s a perfect 75 to 80 degrees in the dead of winter. “I love being in the ocean and on the beach at Krabi, one of the most beautiful places in the world,” says Lefebure. “It brings me back to my childhood days, especially as I watch Sophie enjoying the sand.”
Here, Lefebure gives us an insider’s look into what to do and see in Bangkok.
* Must Visit: The Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok’s riverside terrace. To be outdoors on the Chao Phraya River in December is pretty special. The service is incredible, the atmosphere is beautiful, and the Bamboo Bar is a great place to hang out and listen to jazz music.
* Must Buy: I love to shop for jewelry in Peninsula Plaza, where local Thai artists sell jewelry that’s beautiful and inexpensive. At Mungkara Jewelry, I’ve purchased unique pieces with amethyst, rubies and emeralds and lots of bracelets. And though I bring all my beauty products with me, I do buy the local Thai shampoo since it’s made for Asian hair.
The Chatuchak Weekend Market, also known as Jatujak Market, is one of the world’s largest markets. It’s famous for antiques, clothes, food, furniture, plants, pets and more. Everyone has a shop there. It’s easy to get to by BTS, Thailand’s Metro system. My advice is to wear light clothes and drink a lot of water — it’s hot in there.
* Must Eat: We plan to try La Table de Tee, a new foodie place recommended by a friend. It’s Bangkok’s first “Chef’s Table,” where Chef Tee Kachonklin creates a daily changing tasting menu.
* Must Do: I must go to Wat Pho, home to the reclining Buddha, for a two-hour Thai massage at least twice. An hour-long, deep tissue massage is not even $10, and it’s the real deal. I’m sore for a few days afterwards, but it feels so good, and I return to the u.S. refreshed.
For a more high-end experience, try the Oriental Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok. It’s located across the river from the hotel, and they have a boat service to take you there.
* Best Local Hole-in-the-Wall: Khao San Road is a famous backpacker street where you can find authentic Thai food that’s inexpensive. It’s a perfect street for travelers to experience the food and feel of Thailand, and the locals make communication easy there.
* Best Lunch Spot: Greyhound Café is a great place to pop in and eat. It’s a mix of Thai and Western food. Each location has a different décor and artist’s work on display. I like the Thai noodle dishes and Sophie can still have a sandwich. You can get spaghetti with Thai anchovies, for example — very creative food. The owner used to be a creative director at an ad agency so everything about it is very design savvy.
* Best Tourist Attractions: Grand Palace is the symbol of Thailand — you have to see it when visiting Thailand.
Also Amphawa with its floating market is really popular. All food is brought in by boats. It’s a great place to hang out and experience Thai culture. You can also find a lot of homestays, the name they use for the “hotels” along the river because you feel like you’re staying at someone’s home.
* Best Nightlife: The Vertigo restaurant and Moon Bar at the top of Banyan Tree Bangkok have spectacular views. I also like Patravadi Theatre. This cozy little theater on the Thonburi side of the river is a great spot to catch a performance of traditional Thai dance, or even a modern dance troupe, while enjoying some delicious Thai dishes, though it’s limited to weekends only.