Bangkok may not be for everyone. The high heat, humidity, congestion and air pollution may be too much to take for some people. There are so many attractions, including Wats, that a tourist could spend several weeks in Bangkok and still not see everything. It is hard to define the allure of Bangkok. At first glance it is a busy chaotic, polluted city – that is true; it is all of these things. However, once one delves into the history, attractions and starts meeting people perceptions may change. I find short visits are the best – 2 to 4 full days at a time.
Every time I leave Bangkok and I come back I feel refreshed and ready to see more of this city. There is so much to see that you should not try to see everything at once. Pick out a few of the highlights. If you have a couple of days and you are a first time visitor to Bangkok I recommend seeing at least the Grand Palace, Wat Po, Wat Arun and another attraction or two. Some of the attractions we visited in and around Bangkok are alphabetically listed below:
Bangkok Art & Cultural Center is located across from the MBK shopping mall (nearest Skytrain Stop is National Stadium). This is a fairly new huge gallery is free to enter. It contains several levels of galleries which contain most eclectic modern art. Often art students from Thailand colleges will display their works of art in here.
Other media is also often on display. For more information visit: www.bacc.or.th
Dusit Zoo is located in the sizable Khao Din Park near the Dusit Palace (within a 10-15 min walk). The zoo is about a 10-15 minute drive from Victory Monument (depending on traffic). Look for all the painted images of animals on the walls surrounding parts of this park. This is the oldest zoo in Thailand – observant visitors will notice a Air Raid Shelter on the grounds that dates from the early 1940’s (to protect visitors to the zoo during World War II).
This is not a small zoo – features over 1,600 species of animals with a focus on tropical species but contains a wide diversity of animals from around the planet. Highlights include the reptile exhibits and the nocturnal hall (with a number of glass enclosures housing animals that are active during the nighttime). Nice display of hippos – strategically their pond is located directly next to the viewing window giving visitors an extremely close up view of these African animals. One of the hippo’s has been living at the zoo since 1967! For a small fee visitors can opt to explore the zoo from a mini train – hopping on and off as needed. Total train ride lasts about 25 minutes. Or if you prefer to explore by water – many ‘water bicycles’ are available to rent for a nominal fee.
Ever seen an elephant ATM? Only at the Dusit Zoo! Restaurant on site as well as a number of food and drink vendors scattered throughout the grounds. For more information visit: www.dusitzoo.org
The original swing on site was originally built in 1784 (and yes people did use it as a swing during official swinging ceremonies). Lightning hit the swing and it was restored in 1920 and moved to its current site. The swing was restored again in 2005/2006. The original supporting wood beams are now housed in the nearby National Museum.
The swing is certainly impressive and you truly realize it’s great height when you stand next to it.
Wat Suthat, sits next to the swing – admission for foreigners is 20 baht and features a large golden Buddha.
Jim Thompson’s House – For a place of quiet, calm and relatively clean air (due to the jungle like setting) be sure to visit Jim Thompson’s House located at 6 Soi Kasemsan 2, Rama 1 Road. His home isn’t impressive like some of the Wats downtown – however it is quite appealing because of its simplicity and the location is clean and quiet. Jim Thompson was an American OSS officer (precursor to today’s CIA) and a businessman who moved to Thailand and started a silk manufacturing empire.
He mysteriously disappeared in Malaysia in 1967. Speculation as to what caused his disappearance can be found on his website listed below. The tour guides are women – they all dress in purple. I chose the English tour (tours were available in English or Thai) but I thought I was accidentally assigned to the Thai tour. It was very difficult to understand my particular tour guide; most of the other tour guides seemed to have a better grasp of the English language. The tour winds its way through the interior of Mr. Thompson’s teak house.
There is no air-conditioning here except in one room which contains rare pieces of pottery and other artwork given to him by royalty and other famous personalities. (Charlie Chaplin visited here once!).
The tour is informative and highlights many of Mr. Thompson’s pieces of art and furniture. The tour ends in Mr. Thompson’s personal bedroom. Note the several inch high wood “bumps” in all the doorways. These were originally put in to keep the rats and other animals from being able to walk from room to room. Photographs are not allowed in the house, but are allowed in the small homes outside the main house which you can tour at your own convenience after the main tour.
After the tour you are free to walk around at your own pace in the personal gardens. Note the many pots filled with water – usually covered with lily pads. Upon closer inspection you will note that most of these contain little colorful fish. Watch out for the big fish in a few of the small pots – these tend to be cannibalistic and they will jump at your finger if you put it in the water!
There is a clean well maintained store on the premises that sells replicas of artwork, clothes, and other knick knacks as well as an excellent selection of silk items – the air conditioning is quite good here! Food is also available in a small cafe. If you are taking the Sky Train you will want to get off on the National Stadium Station along the Silom Line. A Jim Thompson Tuk-Tuk will pick up and drop off guests at the Skytrain stop (advertised as operating every 15 minutes but during our latest visit it seemed to operate more often then this).
For more information about Jim Thompson and his house please visit the official Jim Thompson web site: www.jimthompsonhouse.com
Koh Kred is a small Island just north of Bangkok in the middle of the Chao Phraya River. Only seasoned Bangkok tourists or locals typically visit this island as it is not a major tourist destination and usually is not listed in many of the guidebooks. Saturday and Sunday are the big days to visit this island – don’t bother with the week days.
Mon tribes people from Myanmar (Burma) settled on this Island several hundred years ago. Today you can walk among the villages and temples. The villages typically are shopping areas setup for tourists and sell a variety of knick knacks including pottery and ceramics which is this island’s claim to fame. You can walk around the island if you so choose – round trip distance is about 6 kilometers.
You can either get to this Island from Bangkok by taking the Koh Kred Cruise every Sunday with the Chao Phraya Express Boat. This is not the cheapest way to get there by any means but can be a bit faster than other methods – takes about 30 minutes from pier to pier and is 300 baht per person. For more information about the Chao Phraya cruise option visit: www.chaophrayaboat.co.th
You can also take a public AC or non AC bus for 7 to 18 baht one way – catch bus number 32 along Samsen Road or along the bus route near the Chao Phraya river. Depending on traffic this trip can take between 60 and 120 minutes.
You will get off the bus just after it turns around and starts heading back. There is a bus stop where everyone who is left on the bus gets out. Then you have to cross over the road toward the river – and you can pay 15 or 20 baht for a bicycle rickshaw to take you to the pier where you catch a boat for a few minute ride to the actual island.
Lastly traffic depending you can take a taxi for probably around 200 to 300 baht one way – this will take about 35 minutes to 1 hour.
Also note on the weekend there is a tourist boat that gives trips all the way around the island of Koh Kred.
Lumpini Park is best visited quite early in the morning – say from 4:30am until 6:30am. The reason for this is that these are the times when the park is usually the busiest. People get up early to run around the road on the inside of the park, to practice their Tai Chi, and other exercises. Often you will see groups of people congregated around a radio or other speakers all unanimously doing their exercises together. One of the more interesting exercises you will is see is a group of people simultaneously yelling quite loud. For “westerners” it may be a bit of an unusual experience to watch this!
This sizable and well-loved park is located at the junction of Rama IV and Ratchadamri roads. The shores of the man-made Lumpini Lake are popular spots to hang out. Easy waking distance from either the Silom or Lumpini Metro stops.
Pat Pong is the somewhat risque section of town located between Suriwong Street and Silom Street. At night this is a mix of hawker stalls, scantily clad women, night clubs, bars, bar girls, tourists and those trying to get you to see the shows. We saw one note at a hotel that said, “Bangkok Ping Pong show change my life”. Not really, but women doing things with ping pong balls commonly perform at any of a number of the nightclubs here.
The souvenirs and other items sold here are extremely high priced and after bargaining down some of the prices as low as the vendors would go, we still found the prices too high in comparison to other locations in the city. For example when asking about the prices of generic photos of Thailand (same photos sold by several vendors), the price would start between 650 to 750 baht and would end up around 100 baht before we walked away).
Soi Pat Pong during the day (as experienced during several visits) was remarkably empty.
River Dinner Cruise – Chao Phraya River. This is something fun to do in the evenings. Typically the cruise will last 2 hours and will motor along the Chao Phraya river – dining is often on the upper deck so you can see all the lighted up temples as you pass by.
One such company offering river cruises is appropriately named Chaophraya Cruises – they offer nightly dinner cruises from 7pm to 9pm leaving from the River City Pier just west of the Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel. They hold 290 passengers – top deck and downstairs dining available. For more information and to reserve seats online visit: www.chaophrayacruise.com or email: email@example.com or Phone: (02) 541-5599
Another river dinner cruise lasting about 2 hours is the Riverside Bangkok – visit their website at website www.riversidebangkok.com (site is in Thai). We have been on this one and its an open air dining deck – good food especially seafood, a very relaxing river cruise.
Rare & Exotic Fresh Fruit – Bangkok and Thailand is a mecca for rare and exotic fresh fruits. S.E. Asia seems to have a high proportion of the world’s rare fruit and if the fruit was originally from another part of the world, chances are it has been imported and also grows in Thailand! I saw and sampled the following fruits in Bangkok; Durian, Logans, Rambutan, Jak fruit, Mango, Green Papaya, Dragon Fruit, Pineapple, Snake Fruit, Leechee Nuts, Watermelon, Custard Apple (Noina in Thai), Mangosteen,
Salacca (snake-fruit), several varieties of Bananas, Guava, and several other fruits that remain unidentified. There are some markets in hard to find alleys tucked away in Bangkok that have excellent varieties of fruit. I’m sure some of the vendors thought it was strange to see a westerner shopping solely for fruit! There are several places in which are many fruit vendors; one was along Ratchadamri Road near the World Trade Centre and the other place was along the Chao Phraya River at the numerous pier stations (the pier stations are where the river boats arrive and leave from – there tends to be quite a few fruit/vegetable vendors gathered around these areas).
Fruit out of season such as Mangosteens and Rambutans used to be priced extremely high and found in only select parts of the city. These fruits have come down in price significantly in the off season and can be found in select high traffic areas of the city including parts of Sukhumvit and near major shopping malls.
For poster photos of rare and exotic fruits visit this site: These posters are also available for sale here. http://secure.cartsvr.net/catalogs/catalog.asp?prodid=278966&showprevnext=1
Siam Ocean World is located in the basement of one of South East Asia’s largest shopping malls, Siam Paragon. The Skytrain runs right in front of Siam Paragon and you can either get off of Siam or the Chit Lom stops on the Sukhumvit Line. A raised Skytrain pedestrian walkway connects you to Siam Paragon from either stops (the walk fromthe Chitlom stop may be a few minutes shorter than from Siam). Once inside the mall proceed down the escalator or elevator to the basement and head to the ticket counter.
A 4d movie experience plays every 30 minutes and is included with the cost of the general admission. You wear special dark glasses to maximize the effect – mist, air, seat movement and other special effects are part of this movie experience. This is a great show for all ages.
Ocean World contains a plethora of marine exhibits which include creatures from all the world’s oceans. Each exhibit is organized by type of marine life. The highlight is a glass tunnel in which you are surrounded by water on all sides except the floor. Additional highlights include common household appliances which are filled with water containing fish – and even a car is full of water with fish swimming inside! Ask about the “Walk with the Sharks” experience.
For an extra fee you can go on the glass bottom boat which involves the guide pulling on a wire so that your boat moves around a large tank. Several sharks, sting rays and other fish tend to follow the boat hoping for a handout. Total time in the boat is about 10 minutes. For more information visit: www.siamoceanworld.co.th
Snake Farm & Museum (Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute) is located off Rama IV Road next to the prominent looking Thai Red Cross National Blood Centre building – within a short walk from Lumpini Park. PHONE: 252 0161. The Sam Yan metro stop is a short walk away or a further walk is from the Sala Daeng Skytrain stop. This is a world class research facility – snake venom is used for snake-bite antidotes which is provided for the entire country. Tourists can watch the “milking” of the snakes for venom from the small amphitheater, slide shows about individual snakes, and there are large snake skins contained in displays (these make for great photo backdrops!).
In 2008 a 5-story building replaced the prior building and a number of other improvements on site were made (we visited both prior and after this major upgrade). Today a number of outdoor exhibits contain live snakes including some extremely venemous ones. Indoor exhibit also contain many snakes.
The Snake Museum is open from 8:30am to 11:30am and then again from 1pm to 4pm on weekdays. Venom extraction takes place at 11am daily. and admission is 200 baht. Visit: www.saovabha.com/en/snakefarm_service.asp
Suang Luang Rama IX . The park opened in 1987 in honor of the King of Thailand’s 60th birthday – it is Bangkok’s largest park. To get here, take the Skytrain to Udom Suk station on the Sukhumvit Line – exit #3 and immediately at the bottom of the stairs, look for taxis to take to the park. Total taxi fee should be around 70-80 baht. Bring your walking shoes if you intend to explore much of the park – the center is a large lake where you can rent small paddle boats for additional exploration. Much of the park is open but there are several formal gardens, a desert section, and a tropical type aviary. Mornings often see groups exercising – there is a play area and an outdoor gym next to the northern parking lot. Bathroom use is 3 baht. Entrance to the park is a very reasonable 10 baht! With so much space – this is a great place to take families.
Thai Boxing is called Muy Thai and there are two main viewing locations in Bangkok for this sport. Expect to pay somewhere between 200 and 1000 baht per eight fights of which there are 5 rounds each. Never believe anyone but the actual ticket vendors if they try to tell you the performance is sold out.
Sanam Muay Lumphini is located on Thanon Phra Ram IV ner Thanon Sathon Ti – near Lumphini Park. Visit: www.muaythai.com for more information or call PHONE: 0-2252-8765
The other location is Sanm Muay Ratchadamnoen is located on Thanon Ratchadamnoen Nok.
Tubtim Goddess Shrine . This, perhaps is where you take visitors after you’ve seen all the major attractions that Bangkok has to offer. This is a fertility shrine focusing on the male appendage – with a display of hundreds of penises. Unfortunately in 2015, the Swissotel Nai Lert closed after 36 years in business and the Tubtim Shrine was no longer accessible to the general public.
As a result the shrine was moved to a public location – but unfortunately nearly all the penis statues were not moved. As a result, a visit here is highly disappointing especially if you had a chance to see the original shrine before it was moved. Today this small shrine only contains several penis statues. Hopefully the shrine will accumulate more statues as time goes on. Closest skytrain stop is Chitlom (about a 15 minute walk).
Vimanek Teak Mansion is located on the grounds of the Royal Dusit Palace and is the world’s largest golden teakwood building. It is 3 stories and contains 81 rooms. It is not a particularly old building (constructed in 1868 moved to current location in 1900) but it is worth visiting not only for the ornate construction and beautiful teak wood but also for the art, jewelry, and other royal treasures contained within – especially the fine china, glassware and ceramics.
English and Thai tours are given. Because this is royal property you must wear long pants to enter. Sandals are ok. No cameras are allowed inside – although after the tour you can retrieve your camera from the lock box (20baht fee for storing items). You must remove your shoes and use the storage lockers before you enter. Foreigner entry price differs from Thai entry price. Vimanmek closes at 3:30. It is easy to miss the “royal gift shop” which is located near the storage lockers. All proceeds from sales at this shop benefit the Royal Family’s personal non profit projects in Thailand.
The “Royal Honey” sold in containers that look like they should hold Shampoo is worth a taste – as well as the “milk” tablets. Also note the foot-spray sold here works wonderfully!
There are other things to do here besides tour the Vimanmek Teak Mansion. There is a large marble building, another wood building, a royal carriage museum (free) and a museum housing the current King’s photography. Dusit Palace is located off of Thanon U-Thong not too far from Khao San Road and the Banglampu district. Best reached by taxi. About a 12-15 minute taxi ride from Victory Monument (depending on traffic). For more info call: (02) 628-6300-9.
NOTE: the mansion has been closed since July 2016 due to extensive renovation. We will update this review once we have new information.Visit: www.palaces.thai.net/index_vm.htm