Guide to Bangkok

Bangkok is a heady mix of beautiful cultural architecture, skyscrapers, mega shopping malls, bustling markets, vibrant nightlife and interesting tourist streets. There is no end to the sightseeing, especially when you include the museums and day trips. If you can see past the traffic jams, humid weather and vast urban sprawl it really is a city that deserves the 2008 Travel & Leisure Magazine’s award as the world’s best travel city.  

Bangkok ’s foremost cultural and architectural highlight comes in the form of the neo-Baroque king’s palace and the associated Wat Phra Kaew temple, which houses the revered Emerald Buddha. The Grand Palace can be found in the historic Rattanakosin district, near Chao Praya River and Khao San road, and although the admission fee is quite steep, it is a must-visit.

People come to visit Wat Po temple to see the massive reclining Buddha statue and to learn Thai massage. The temple complex is located next door to the Grand Palace and features several beautiful buildings, including the 130-foot long reclining Buddha, one of the world’s largest. The ancient school of massage is also onsite and admission is thankfully cheap.

Situated across the Chao Praya River not far from Wat Po, ancient Wat Arun has a fabulous river setting and is one of the most charming and the oldest temple in the city. It features a 270-foot spire and can be climbed to a reasonable height, although taking care with your footing is a must. Wat Arun is never as busy as the other major temples in the city due to its positioning across the river and is a lovely sight at sunset.

Iconic Khao San road is the major backpacker hangout in Asia ; a pedestrianised street of terraced cafés, guesthouses, bars and street markets. Constant streams of visitors wander this tourist haven to engage in people-watching, chilling out, marathon reading and street-side haggling. This is the place to get dreadlocks and tattoos as well as pick up a cheap selection of CDs and clothes.

Bangkok ’s Chinatown was made for walking only and you will see why when you discern the level of traffic in this compact area of the city. Come here to get away from the main tourist spots, for the best Chinese food in the city, or to buy some gold. Chinatown also displays the typical Chinese look, with tight markets and script shop signs, and you will also find the obligatory collection of Chinese herbal medicine outlets.

Siam square is right in the thick of it, located along Sukhumvit road, Bangkok’s main street, and featuring no end of mega shopping malls. A bustling cosmopolitan area of tourists and beautiful people, this is the place to head for designer gear in luxurious malls like the new Siam Paragon as well as Emporium. For phones and electronics, the nearby MBK centre is a better choice. Siam square has a good collection of hotels, from five-star luxury to humble backpacker-oriented places.

There are Red Light districts  in Bangkok are Patpong, Nana plaza and Soi Cowboy. Patpong is the main red light district, encompassing an unassuming row of markets selling all sorts of goodies by day and night, as well as the obligatory sex. It is in the go-go bars here that you can check out the infamous ‘ping pong sex shows’, but beware being ripped off at every turn. The ever so slightly more respectable Nana Entertainment Plaza , near Nana Station, and Soi Cowboy, farther along Sukhumvit, are a bit more relaxed. Cheap rooms can be found in the Nana area.

If you’re after a bargain and don’t mind tight spaces and haggling, then Chatujak Market is for you. It is a labyrinth of market stalls featuring Thai handicrafts and second-hand clothing, to tacky souvenirs and more. Head here in the morning, as wandering the stalls during the heat of the day is not a nice experience.

The more discerning traveller and those into art will want to check out Bangkok ’s National Museum , which features an important collection of Thai art and Southeast Asian antiquities. Some of the Buddhist art here goes back to the 5th century and there are also impressive displays on the history of Thailand . The National Museum is conveniently located near the Grand Palace .

Located near Siam square and the National Stadium BTS station, Jim Thompson’s House is a major Bangkok sight which was made all the more popular after the disappearance of the American self-made entrepreneur. He managed to revive the Thai silk industry, and his Bangkok home is a stunningly-preserved example of a traditional Thai home. Inside is a fine collection of art and antiques from the Southeast Asian region.

The Vimanmek Teak Mansion is the world’s largest teak building, located within the Dusit Palace , is a well-preserved, all-wood structure featuring impressive architecture and a wealth of art. Included in the many collections is the photographic collection of King Bhumibol, which lends insight into the lives of the monarchy.

Located near Hualampong Station, Wat Traimat famously holds a 10-foot high, five-ton solid gold Buddha. The marauding Burmese missed this gem when they looted the rest of the city, as it was hidden beneath a stucco cover and lay there for hundreds of years until it was accidentally discovered in the 1960s. Wat Traimat gets busy so it is best to arrive early.

Lumpini Park offers the perfect respite from an overcrowded hot and humid city and lies smack-bang in the heart of Bangkok . The park is ideal for walking or jogging in the daytime and also boasts a lake in its centre where you can go for a short cruise. There are also loads of restaurants here as well as the odd monitor lizard, but refrain from wandering around the park at night.

The Thonburi canals once earned Bangkok the nickname ‘ Venice of the East’ as the canals covered huge swathes of the city and were the main mode of transport centuries past. Today, they still encompass a huge network and offer a laid back look at the city’s inner workings. Boats leave from all piers and many tourists tend to take the Chao Phraya Express.  


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