Interesting Places to Visit in Bangkok
In 1984 the British musician and actor Murray Head, along with the Swedish singer Anders Glenmark, proclaimed that “one night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster”. Now, even though the Mass Communications Organization of Thailand banned the song in 1985 due to its negative connotations of the city, there is some truth to this lyric. The capital city of Thailand is a flourishing center of vast contrast and is predicted to be the city with the most international visitors in 2013, according the Global Destination Cities Index forecast.
From culture to shopping and to spirituality, take your pick of what draws your attention the most.
The Robot Building
Yes, you read that correctly. Bangkok might not be Tokyo in regards to unusual and futuristic references to technology, but with this architectural piece from 1986 certainly has the charm. Located in Bangkok’s business district Sathorn, the building has played host to the United Overseas Bank since 2005 and was originally commissioned by the Bank of Asia. Its architect Sumet Jumsai na Ayudhya was in fact, unsurprisingly, inspired by a toy robot belonging to his son. If you are a bit pressed for time and still want to see an unusual sight, see if you can make a small detour over a road tangent to it.
The Elephant Building
After the Robot Building, this one doesn’t come by quite as shocking. Partially located in the North Bangkok Business District and in Chatuchak – a district that will be mentioned again at a later point – the Elephant or Chang Building is so distinctive that it was placed fourth in CNNGo’s top 20 list of the World’s Most Iconic Skyscrapers in 2011. But the question is, why an elephant? The elephant, specifically the Asian elephant, is Thailand’s national animal and symbolizes good luck, wisdom, power and peace. Although to elaborate on the importance of the elephant in Thai culture would be a bit excessive, just know that they are of great importance to the history, culture and religion of Thailand. The Elephant Building won’t be the first depiction of the animal you’ll see in Bangkok and certainly not the last.
Hawker Stalls and Restaurants
Let’s talk about one of the most beloved past-times in Southeast Asian culture: food! Covering a city that occupies over 600 square miles, just thinking about all the places to visit is going to make you hungry at some point. A great advantage of cities like Bangkok is that you literally can find food on every corner. If it isn’t in the form of a restaurant, then most definitively in that of a hawker stall. They all vary in what they have to offer, ranging from traditional Thai to international foods, sweets, pastries, and even drinks. Most unusual, at least to tourists, among what is offered would be the stalls offering to stir-fry fresh insects of your choice. Now, you don’t have to necessarily go ahead and try one of the crispy fried creepy crawlies, even if the vendor is most enthusiastic about offering them to you, but taking a peek is interesting and really doesn’t hurt – promise!
Fashion isn’t necessarily dominated by the French and Italians. Siam Square is the main home of independent Thai fashion, and several native designers have set up shop there. Located near the central Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok’s shopping mecca is not really a square, but a small area filled with shops and malls, mainly catering to young adults due to its close proximity to the university.
Jim Thompson House
James Harrison Wilson Thompson was an Office of Strategic Services operative who is best known for being the co-founder of the Thai Silk Company and for his vanishing act in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands. He came to Thailand was after Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II and was involved with the organization of the local OSS office. After leaving the army in 1946, Jim Thompson became involved in reviving the Thai hand-woven silk industry and founded the Thai Silk Company with George Barrie. For the Thai people, the company’s success, which reached full acknowledgement when its products were used for the costumes in the musical The King and I, meant that thousands could escape poverty. Most importantly for the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok, he was a collector of Thai structures and worldly and religious Asian art that now can be found at this museum.
Even though Wat Kalayanamitr is a bit off the classic tourist trails, it can still be easily found as it is located on the river bank and in the old port district. The temple, besides being interesting in architecture, houses three national records. One being the biggest sitting Buddha, which is why it also has the highest roof finial and Thailand’s biggest bell. The sitting Buddha statue is 45 feet wide and 147 feet tall. Put into relation, the Buddha statue is as wide as the Hollywood sign is high and just a bit shorter than half a football field.
The Temple of the Reclining Buddha belongs to Bangkok’s biggest temples. The name of this temple is accurately chosen: the complex houses a 45 foot tall and 138 foot long reclining Buddha covered in gold leaf. This impressive statue alone is a good reason to visit Wat Pho. In the hallway just after the entrance, where you can buy a bowl of coins, you’ll find 108 bronze bowls to drop coins in.
Yaowarat – Chinatown
When you’re exploring the north of the Old city, you can’t miss entering Chinatown. The entrance is marked by a large and very classical ceremonial Chinese gate, and beyond, you’ll feel like you’ve entered another world.
Technically, a Lak Mueang (city pillar) can be found in almost every city in Thailand and contains a shrine in honor of the city spirit deity. Although beautiful in classic Thai architecture and of historical value due to most likely being built by King Rama I in 1782, what makes the Lak Mueang of Bangkok really interesting for you to take a longer look than the usual building photography trip are the traditional dances held at regular intervals. Traditional dances, categorized into classic and folk, are considered a major art form in Thailand. The dances you can see in a Lak Mueang are of the classic style and here you’ll see the performance of an excerpt of a slower dance called Lakhon Chatri, which has its roots in traditional Malay dances.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
Should you be looking for something to bring back home other than the boring tourist t-shirt and really don’t want a friend wearing that “My friend went to Bangkok and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”, then the Chatuchak Weekend Market is the place to visit. Noteworthy traditional Thai crafts found in stores there are cutlery from forged steel, shadow theater puppets, brassware, Thai silk, and woodcarving. Most importantly, you won’t have to worry about buying a product that just came off a factory production line quite as much.
Bangkok Art and Culture Center
To get a look at how contemporary Thai art is progressing, be sure to visit the Bangkok Art and Culture Center. Due to its central location in downtown Bangkok, it’s easy to find and visit, not to mention hard to overlook with the current huge statue of what is described as a space woman displayed in front of it. The BACC aims to be a place where culture is easily accessible to everyone through programs for all media: music, theater, art, film, and design. Additionally, it houses an art library. Also, it regularly plays host to events of cultural and educational nature.
The Traditional Thai Puppet Theater
Shadow theater, or Nang Yai in Thai, is another long standing drama tradition in Thailand, going as far back as the fifteenth century. Though it was on the verge of vanishing from people’s consciousness in the shadow of the modern movie. That might be one of the reasons why the Traditional Thai Puppet Theater is under the patronage of the Royal family today. Similar to a movie, a large white screen is used. A light is placed behind this screen, traditionally a fire, and the performers use large and heavy puppets made from buffalo hide. The performance is accompanied by a band, and the story is told in form of songs and chants. The main source of the story is the Thai national epic “Glory of Rama”, which is based off the Hindu Ramayana, and you might be familiar with several depictions of singular scenes because it is a wide-spread topic in traditional Thai art.
The Floating Markets
You’ll remember seeing references to one of the Floating Market in quite a few movies. Narrow long boats with one or two passengers wedged between piles of fresh fruits, vegetables, and food, which is sometimes even cooked on the boats, all trying to maneuver along a narrow river road. In and around Bangkok you’ll find four major floating markets: the most popular ones, Damnoen Saduak and Amphawa, and the remaining two, which are considered to be more authentic, Taling Chan and Khlong Lat Mayom. Whichever you prefer, you’ll experience each the best in the morning hours, when it isn’t quite as hot and the most vendors are floating along.
Wat Arun/Chaeng – The Temple of Dawn
The iconic architecture of the Temple of Dawn will very likely feel very familiar to you. Located on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, the Buddhist temple paints an exotic and majestic picture with colorful decorations of colored glass, seashells and porcelain adorning its spires, of which the over 210 foot high one on the bank is considered to be a world-famous landmark. According to legend, King Taksin arrived at the temple upon the break of dawn in the mid-18th century, after fighting his way through the Burmese army in Ayutthaya.
The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew
Located in the Old City, the Grand Palace and the nearby Temple of the Emerald Buddha are Thailand’s most sacred locations and are the top places to visit, especially if you’re in Bangkok for the first time. Even if the palace hasn’t been the home of the Royal family, nor host of the royal government, since the 20th century, it is still used for ceremonies and celebrations. Part of the complex is the former buildings of the Thai ministry, the state departments and the mint. Besides the imposing appearance of the palace itself and varying architectural styles of the other buildings, Rattanakosin Island, upon which the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew are to be found, is decorated with beautiful gardens, courtyards, and pavilions.