Bangkok - Interesting places to see
At a first glance, Bangkok appears to be little more than a huge concrete jungle. However, in between the skyscrapers, elevated highways and shopping centres are some of the most awe inspiring temples and monuments in South East Asia. Bangkok’s night time skyline is beautiful too, with the many neon-topped five star hotels and office blocks soaring above the trails of car headlights winding away into the distance.
Due to the scale of Bangkok it can seem like a daunting task to navigate your way around the maze-like streets to try to find all of the sights by yourself so you may want to consider signing up for some organised tours of the city.
If you don’t want to embark on a full-blown city tour, one fun way to see a number of the city’s sights in a relatively short space of time is to embark on a canal trip; at any pier side location such as Tha Chang, near the Grand Palace, or Saphan Thaksin BTS station you can sign up for a boat trip which lasts about 90 minutes and will take you along Bangkok’s backwaters into areas you’d never otherwise see.
These boat rides are interesting in their own right, allowing you to get a glimpse of old-style Bangkok canal side life, and you’ll also get the chance to stop off, or get dropped off, at one of Bangkok’s many temples. In fact, Bangkok was once known as the ’Venice of the East’ for all its canals, but most have now been filled in to make way for streets, and other have become sewers.
Temples and Monuments
The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew
Perhaps the first place that will be on any itinerary is the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew complex. The ‘Temple of the Emerald Buddha’ is the number one tourist attraction in Bangkok, and with good reason – it is absolutely stunning. More details on the Grand Palace.
Not too far from the Grand Palace, and usually visited on the same trip, is the impressive Wat Pho. This is the largest ‘wat’ (Buddhist temple) complex in Bangkok and it will take you a fair amount of time to cover the entire grounds and marvel at every ornately decorated spire and each majestic, elegant temple monument. It is most famous for its enormous reclining Buddha.
Another beautiful temple, Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) is one of Bangkok’s most famous temples. This imposing, eye-catching Chedi complex is one of the tallest in Bangkok and is intricately and ornately decorated. It is also one of the oldest, having been built before the city was properly established as the capital city.
Museums, Galleries, parks and other ‘quiet spots’
If the noise, pollution and general chaos of Bangkok streets is getting too much for you, you’ll be pleased to hear that there are plenty of quiet retreats in the city, calm oases allowing you to escape from the hustle and bustle outside.
Jim Thompson’s House
Jim Thompson was a silk trader and collector who built this lovely tradition teak Thai-styled house in the forties and the area has now been all but swallowed up by high rises. It remains a quiet oasis not far from Siam Square with a wonderful display of Thai artefacts and is well worth seeing.
The National Museum
The largest of its kind in southeast Asia, this huge former palace is packed with Thai cultural items and antiquities. It is located near the grand palace and well worth a visit to appreciate the legacy of ancient Siam.
Royal Barges Museum
Located across the river, this museum houses the magnificent royal barges that are used occasionally for ceremonies and are unique in their design and appearance. It’s an often over-looked but interesting peep into the pomp and ceremony of Thailand’s royal processions.
Suan Pakhad Palace
Also very interesting and situated on the chronically busy Si Ayutthaya Road is the peaceful contrasting atmosphere of Suan Pakhad Palace. Translated literally as ‘Lettuce Farm Palace’, although there are no lettuces to be found here these days, Suan Pakhad is a collection of traditional wooden Thai houses set in beautifully landscaped gardens which now house a museum and an art gallery. On Si Ayutthaya Road, near the Phaya Thai Road intersection. Entrance: 100 Baht.
Vimanmek Teak Mansion & Dusit area
There are several good reasons to visit the peaceful Dusit area of Bangkok with its wide tree-lined avenues and important mansions, but the most graceful of the buildings here are found near the zoo, where you will find the neo-baroque National Assembly Hall and the impressive Vimanmek Teak Mansion behind it. The latter was built in the reign of Rama V and is the world’s largest teak structure. Toda,y it is a museum to the lifestyle of one of Thailand’s most important kings. Also in the grounds are lovely gardens, several small former royal residences and the unusual- styled Abhisek Throne Hall.
The largest park in Bangkok, Lumpini Park is a great place to simply relax and get away from it all for an afternoon. Many people use Lumpini Park for more energetic activities; joggers can frequently be seen and there is a small, rudimentary outdoor gym in one section of the park. The park, with its big convoluted lake, can be accessed by Lumpini MRT station or Sala Daeng BTS station.
People watching, city life
Busy, colourful and lively, Chinatown makes for an interesting morning / afternoon browsing all the traditional Chinese remedy stalls and gold shops. Good, inexpensive food can be found here too, especially Chinese and Indian. It’s a good place to get a glimpse of how Bangkok once was, especially if you wander down some of the small lanes, It’s located south east of Banglamphu (where Khao San Road is), directly west of the city centre and can also be accessed from the river, by hopping off a ferry at Tha Ratchawong pier.
Khao San Road
For people watching of an entirely different kind, head to backpacker central, Khao San Road. Here you’ll discover another world, a cornucopia of free-spirited culture, commercialism and young traveller’s hedonism. Almost anything is available here, from fake university degree certificates to cheap clothing and pirate DVDs. It’s a lively place by day or night and offers plenty of places to eat, party, meet people or simply find a tour agent and internet café.
Some of the most interesting places to catch a glimpse of real Bangkok life are at the many markets in the city. There are many night markets, and no trip to Bangkok is complete without a visit to the Chatuchak weekend market.
The Suan Luam Night Bazaar is a good place to start your shopping odyssey. Its modern and intimate stalls are home to a good range of products shipped in from all corners of Thailand. Another great feature of this night market are the beer stalls and restaurants dotted around it. Visitors can rest their weary legs and enjoy a much needed cold beer while listening to some of the live music on offer here. The food available here ranges from Thai and Vietnamese to Italian and Middle Eastern cuisines.
The Pratunam Market Complex, situated near to the famous Pantip Plaza is a great place to seek out those designer goods. Huge amounts of stalls offer a large range of handbags, accessories, T-Shirts and fashion. This indoor market enjoys the cooling relief of air-conditioning. As well as this indoor market, the surrounding streets are full of interesting stalls that also have a good range of designer goods such as handbags and purses. The inside market is open 24 hours a day.
Patpong Night Market is very popular with tourists. Situated within the notorious district of Patpong, a place of sex shows and go-go bars, the Patpong Night Market is full of stalls selling fake designer good at rock-bottom prices. Bargain hard and visitors can bag themselves a very cheap ‘Rolex’ watch or ‘Armani’ handbag. The goods here are of decent quality but tend not to be the real thing. You will unfortunately be on the receiving end of some hard sell in this area, both from stall owners and proprietors of the notorious bars whose glittering neon lights dominate the landscape.
The Banglamphu area of Bangkok is home to the backpacker mecca of Khao San Road, which is lined with some great stalls and markets. There is a huge amount of goods on offer here, all at reasonable prices. From swimming shorts to gold, Khao San Road is a great place to pick up some bargains and soak up the atmosphere at the same time. Books, CD’s, movies, trainers, flip-flops, bags and traditional Thai goods can all be found here. Stalls here tend to close around 1:30am.
Buanglamphu Market is also positioned within the area. Mainly used by locals, the market is a good place to buy food and clothing. Another notable market near here is Bo-Be Market, a bustling place that is great for wholesale clothing and fabric.
At Chatuchak Market there are around 15,000 shops in the market and once you get stuck into the browsing you can soon become overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the place. It’s become a tourist attraction in Bangkok and well worth a visit even to simply window shop and people watch! Many of the stalls sell souvenirs and handicrafts so it’s a great place to stock up before you return home; reams of luxurious Thai silk are on sale at rock-bottom prices; fake designer clothes can be bought which are barely distinguishable from the genuine articles; jewellery, ornaments, watches, DVDs, CDs... the list is endless and if you want to seek out every potential bargain perhaps you’d better come to the market on both Saturday and Sunday!
Red Light Districts
The infamous red light districts of Patpong, Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy, in a similar way to Amsterdam, have now become an attraction for curious visitors who want to know exactly what goes on behind the neon lights and black curtains.