Thailand is known for health and healing, and its most popular city could make a pretty strong claim as the massage capital of the world. Traditional techniques are an ingrained part of the culture, and there’s easily as many options for wellness services as there are street food stalls. But where to start your own health and wellness journey through Bangkok? Let local health, wellness, and lifestyle blogger Anita Bye of Manao Soda lead the way. PS, this on-the-rise voice and Instagram darling is currently studying to become a doctor, too—so soon, she’ll be backing up all her lifestyle tips with a bonafide medical degree.
LUXURY RETREATS: You were raised in Norway by a Norwegian dad and Thai mother. How did you make your way to Bangkok, and then start your popular blog, Manoa Soda?
ANITA BYE: Growing up, my family used to visit Thailand every year, and I grew fond of it. I always dreamed about moving to Thailand. And I always knew I wanted to work in something health-related. When I decided I wanted to study medicine, I noticed some yearly courses offered by private universities in Norway where I could start building on a medical background at a distance—making my Thailand dream a reality. I met my boyfriend of four years here, and when I got news from my school about a new program allowing me to finish my pre-med/bachelor’s degree in medicine while being able to live in Thailand, there was no doubt that this was the right choice for me.
My boyfriend, Tom, is a travel and fashion photographer and was a big driving force when it came to getting my blog started. It started off in the direction of a fashion blog, but I quickly realized that it wasn’t me. I started sharing more about the things that I actually care about, covering topics like food, health, travel, and discoveries along the way.
LR: Where do you live in Bangkok, and what’s your favorite neighborhood in the city?
BYE: I live right in the commercial center of Bangkok, with an address in the middle of Sukhumvit road, a major road running through Bangkok. The best thing about my neighborhood is the street food and fresh fruit available, all day and night. As far as my favorite neighborhood, right now Soi Nana in Chinatown is the place to go. It’s a hip, cozy, artsy area where you’ll find something out of the usual sights in Bangkok. My favorite spots are Tep Bar, Ba Hao, and Teens of Thailand for drinks and nibbles.
LR: What are three places you frequent in Bangkok for healthy food, and what do you get there?
BYE: Vita Café Açaí & Superfood Bar has the best açaí bowls in Bangkok. All of them are delicious!
And I love Mix & Munch Cafe for a healthy combination of protein, carbs, and steamed vegetables topped with exciting Thai spices and sauces. You get to choose every part of the dish, so there’s something for everyone.
Also, I go to Broccoli Revolution for vegan food. They have popular Thai and Western dishes with a plant-based twist, and all are super-healthy and flavorful. I also love that this restaurant is aware about the environment, and has switched out plastic straws for natural morning glory straws.
LR: Is there any street food you absolutely can’t resist? What is it, and where do you get it?
BYE: Boat noodles. You can find the best near Victory Monument [just north of the monument is a spot known as “Boat Noodle Alley“]. And my favorite Thai food is Isan [from northeastern Isan region of Thailand]—it’s probably the tastiest Thai food you can get your hands on. A must is to have the som tam kai kem (papaya salad with salted egg), nam tok moo (spicy grilled pork), and gai yang (grilled chicken)—remember to get that with sticky rice. You can find Isan food anywhere along the street.
LR: And what’s your absolute favorite restaurant in the city—healthy or not? Where do you go and what do you eat when you want to treat yourself?
BYE: My biggest weakness is cheese-filled chicken nachos with jalapenos and guacamole. I just can’t say no! My favorites are served at Casa Azul. It’s a cozy little restaurant in the Ari neighborhood based on Frida Kahlo’s house in Mexico.
If I’m out to treat myself, I go for steak. The best is found at Cocotte Farm Roast & Winery.
LR: Do you have any favorite markets or shops you’d recommend, too?
BYE: It’s a bit of a ride out of Bangkok, but my favorite market is the Rot Fai market [train market] on Srinagarindra road. It’s full of vintage goodies that you won’t find anywhere else, and it’s an experience all on its own. There’s also plenty of food and cool places to sit down to enjoy yourself.
LR: What’s an absolute must-see in Bangkok for a first-time visitor?
BYE: There’s so many temples around Bangkok, but the must-see is Wat Arun, known as The Temple of Dawn. It’s a beautiful sight at sunset, too—watch over some food and drinks at The Deck at the other side of the Chao Phraya River.
LR: Where in the city do you go to relax, and why?
BYE: Benjakitti Park [in the Khlong Toei District of central Bangkok]. It’s clean, calm, and peaceful; a great place to disconnect and clear your mind.
LR: How about for spas or massages? As a local, what do you recommend?
BYE: For the perfect spa experience, the SO SPA at Sofitel SO Bangkok is on another level. If you want to spoil yourself this is the place to go. It’s at a beautiful location, with luxury products and great service.
And for the best authentic Thai massage in Bangkok, Tonrak Thai Massage & Spa in the Thonglor neighborhood is amazing.
LR: Where do you workout in Bangkok, and what do you do?
BYE: Right now I work out at Fitness 7, a 24-hour gym located on Sukhumvit 26. I mainly lift weights and work on my strength, but I am adding more functional training and cardio as well.
LR: Outside of Bangkok, where do you love to travel in Thailand?
BYE: I’ve fallen in love with every single place I have visited in Thailand, and I love the fact that every place is so different. But for the best island experience, I’d say island-hopping in the Trang province, and especially Koh Libong and Koh Kradan islands, as these two are still untouched by swarms of tourists. There’s crystal-clean beaches, serenity, and the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen.
When it comes to traveling within Thailand, [Tom and I] are very spontaneous and will go whenever our schedule allows. That’s the beauty of Thailand: It’s so easy to travel around here and you don’t have to plan for months in advance.