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:
Ayuthaya used to be the largest and main city in Thailand before Bangkok. Its located about 90 minutes from Bangkok by bus. It is well worth seeing if you have a day. It takes most of the day to see this city when you count your travel and visiting time.
Ayuthaya is a mix of ruins in both a restored and un-restored state. These ruins are not all in one location – as a result you have to take transportation between each of the ruins. You will want to take the bus from the bus station located near the Mo Chit Sky Train stop.
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/en/aboutus.html
Crocodile Farm is worth a visit. With over 60,000 crocodiles residing here, it is the world’s largest crocodile farm! They also boast of having the world’s largest crocodile, Yai – at over 6 meters. For more information visit: www.discoverythailand.com/bangkok_the_crocodile_farm.asp
Forensic Museum Siriraj University This possibly disturbing museum is located in Building 28 on the grounds of Siriraj Hospital. You can reach the hospital by taking the Chao Praya River Express Boats – get off at Pier #10. From here it is about a 10-15 minute walk to reach the museum.
No photographs are allowed inside – probably for obvious reasons. The content is graphic and involves displays of terrible injuries including stab and bullet wounds. You may become nauseated after seeing jar after jar of perfectly preserved still borns or other children with various defects. Several rapists are on display – preserved through natural mummification. A tsunami exhibit shows the devastation and many injuries sustained during this natural disaster. There is also a separate display on parasitology and some of their effects on humans.
Giant Swing is located in front of the Wat Suthat Thepwararam. This was a historical swing for many years until it was replaced with a totally new swing in 2008. 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.
HoonTown brings together artists from Thailand and around the world to work with neighborhood groups in Bangkok to create performances for public presentation. Usually about thirty puppeteers, street performers, musicians and artists from all over the world work amongst themselves and with the surrounding Thai community to produce this unique festival. For more information visit: www.hoontown.com
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.
Businesses up on stilts along the Chao Praya River in Bangkok
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.
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. Click here for a Map of Koh Kred
Lumpini Park is best visited quite early in the morning – say from 4:30am until 6:30am and is located at the junction of Rama IV and Ratchadamri roads. 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!
National Museum is located near the Chao Praya River only several blocks away from Khao San Road – bordered by the following streets – Mahathat, Phra Chan Road and Na Phra That. This museum is composed of many separate buildings containing Thailand artifacts, works of art, and other treasured items. It is worth visiting if you like museums, viewing historical artifacts, and you are interested in Thai history and culture. Some of the buildings are air conditioned – most are not. There is a small very inexpensive cafe in the center of this museum.
At the ticket office be sure to pick up the “Brief Guide to the National Museum Bangkok” brochure. This is very informative and contains photos, a map and other directions for The National Museum. Note backpacks need to be checked in at the main gate.
There are a lot of historical items contained within each of the buildings at this museum. Compared to other Bangkok attractions there are few tourists here. If you do visit there are a couple of highlights. Be sure to see the Royal Funeral Chariots contained in building number 17. Some of these very old chariots were used within the last 20 years for royal events. Another highlight for me at this museum was the golden treasure display in building number 11 – the Wayusathan Amares Hall. This used to be the private residence of a the Prince Successor to Rama II. Shoes must be taken off at the bottom of the stairs leading up to this room.
Tickets are 40 baht (general admission) and are free to students in uniform and priests. This museum is open from 9am to 4pm Wednesday through Sunday. They are closed Monday & Tuesday and also on National holidays. For more information call: (02) 224-1370
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).
Patravadi Theatre is located mere minutes from the banks of the Chao Phraya River at 69/1 Soi Wat Rakang – Arun Amarin Road. This theatre company was founded in 1992 by a famous Thai Actress. Besides the theatre there is a nice restaurant, an art school, artists in residence and the art galleries are open free to the public. Please visit their website for the schedule of performances: www.patravaditheatre.com
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: firstname.lastname@example.org 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 Museum (Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute) is located on Thanon Phr Ram IV near Thanon Henri Dunant PHONE: 252 0161. 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, slide shows about individual snakes, and there are large snake skins contained in displays (these make for great photo backdrops!). The Snake Museum is open from 8:30am to 11:30am and then again from 1pm to 4pm on weekdays. Feeding time is around 3pm and admission is 80 baht.
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 – with a display of hundreds of penises. Oddly enough it is on the grounds of the Swissotel Nai Lert (about a 10 minute walk from the closest Skytrain station, Chitlom.
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. For more info call: (02) 628-6300-9