In the midst of dynamic growth as a fast paced modern commercial center, Bangkok manages to preserve its cultural heritage to a marked degree. The soaring roofs and gleaming spires of the Grand Palace and the city’s many historic temples: Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Temple of Dawn and other shrines present the visitor with a picture of medieval Oriental wonder; as in an Eastern fairytale.
Metropolitan Bangkok covers 612 sq mi of southern Thailand, and is located in the center of the most fertile rice producing delta in the world. A network of natural and artificial canals crisscross the city. They feed to and from Thailand’s hydrological lifeline, the broad Chao Phraya River, which winds through the city providing transport for passengers and cargo.
With an easy access to the river provided by the new skytrain, travelers who stay in the city now have easy access to the highlight of any visit to Bangkok, a boat cruise along the Chao Praya River.
Bangkok is divided in two by the main north-south train line. Old Bangkok, where a large number of the city’s temples and palaces and its Chinese and Indian districts are found, lies between the river and the railway. East of the railway, comprising the main business, tourist and sprawling residential districts, is ‘new’ Bangkok. Outside of these general classifications, Bangkok sprawls in all directions with a mixture of commercial, industrial and residential areas.
Outside the city center are new high-rise neighborhoods where most of the city’s approximately ten million inhabitants reside. Bangkok is the region’s most exotic and, at the same time, most noisy and most chaotic capital city.
Bangkok is both an ancient and a modern city, where the network of klongs (canals) offset a steady stream of automobile traffic, where giant outdoor markets compete with glittering shopping malls, and where modern buildings rise in the city that grew around the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It is the financial capital of one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Bangkok continues to prosper in spite of a major economic setback in 1997, and the ongoing problem of some of the worst air and water pollution in the world.
Boats of all sizes and shapes cruise the Chao Phraya River day and night. Ferries run up, down, and across the river, carrying commuters to work, children to school, and saffron-robed monks to temple. Rice barges pull mountains of rice, gravel, sand, lumber, vegetables, and the countless families who make them their homes. The Royal Barges, long, graceful, gilded crafts, usually seen on display only in museums, make appearances on parade once or twice each month to celebrate the arrival of visiting dignitaries or to herald other special events.
The strangest, most frequently seen boat on the river is the hang yao, or long-tailed water taxi, a long, thin, graceful vessel, powered by an automobile engine connected by a long, exposed shaft (tail) to the propeller.. These water taxis carry passengers throughout the maze of klongs and are vital in transporting fresh food from upriver farms and fresh fish from coastal villages to Bangkok.
Shopping is a popular activity in Bangkok. The best known market is the one held on Saturdays and Sundays at Chatuchak from 7 in the morning to 5 or 6 in the afternoon. Even if you have nothing on your shopping list, it is still worth the trip to see what is offered. An amazing array of items can be found, such as: military surplus, clothing, crafts, jewelry, art work, live animals, antiques, old books, the list is endless! And it is only a short trip by Sky Train from the city. If you have time, take a day to visit the authentic floating market at Damnoen Saduak, about 48 miles southwest of Bangkok in Ratchaburi Province.
Bangkok offers unrivaled shopping for Southeast Asian handicrafts, antiques, silk, and jewels. It also provides a vibrant, exciting nightlife with Thai classical dance, jazz, discos, caberets, pubs, and dinner cruises.
Bangkok has one of the greatest concentration of luxury hotels of any city in the world, and, as the capital of Thai cuisine, offers some of the best dining options. Visitors find that in the midst of the masses of people, cars, and constant activity, there is a tradition of a gracious welcoming of them; of special kindness and friendliness to children; of caring and taking time to help them feel at home.
The intertwining of Thailand’s many cultural influences manifests itself in everything from the architectural splendor of the ornate palaces and temples to the delicate lines of the ancient arts. Indian, Khmer, Chinese, European, and Thai histories collide in the design of the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaeo, and Wat Po, as well as in the superb collection of priceless items on display at the National Museum. There are gardens and other outdoor attractions to explore that will delight even the youngest members of the family. The zoo, Marine Park and Safari World are just a few examples.
Everywhere one travels in this city of contrasts, the senses and the imagination are heightened by the great beauty and vivid color of the landscape, by the grace and gentle spirit of the culture, by the strength and resilience of the silken threads that run through the fabric of the masterpiece that is Bangkok.
Things to do
Some useful terms:
bot: the central shrine in a Buddhist temple.
chedi: a memorial mound, usually bell-shaped, containing sacred objects
wat: Buddhist temple or monastery with religious and other buildings. Wats are usually separated from the secular world by 2 walls. Between these walls are found the monks’ quarters and sometimes a bell tower.
(Khao Din Zoo)
Rama V and Ratchawithi rds.
The Dusit (also called Khao Din) Zoo is in a lovely park between the Chitralada Royal Palace and the National Assembly. Besides admiring the many indigenous Asian animals (including royal white elephants), you can rent paddleboats on the pond. Children can ride the elephants while their parents rest and snack at one of the zoo’s cafés under broad shade trees.
Jim Thompson’s House
Soi Kasemsan 2
On a small soi off Rama I Rd., opposite the National Stadium
Jim Thompson was a New York architect who served in the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, now the CIA) in Thailand during World War II and afterward settled in Bangkok. Almost single-handedly he revived Thailand’s silk industry, employing Thai Muslims as skilled silk weavers and building up a thriving industry.
(The Siam Society)
131 Soi Asoke
Tues-Sat 9am-noon and 1-5pm
North of Sukhumvit on Soi 21
The 19th-century Kamthieng House, on the grounds of the Siam Society Headquarters, is a rice farmer’s teak house transplanted from the banks of Chiang Mai’s Ping River. Its collection, organized with financial help from the Asia and Rockefeller foundations, is oriented toward ethnographic objects illustrating the culture of everyday life.
Lak Muang (City Pillar Shrine)
Sanam Chai Rd.
About a quarter mile northeast of the Grand Palace on the southeast corner of Sanam Luang
The “City Pillar,” northeast of the Grand Palace complex, near the Defense Department Building, is a small but delightful shrine, said to be inhabited by the spirit that protects Bangkok. Rama I erected a wooden pillar,), a symbol of Shiva to mark the heart of his new city. During the reign of Rama V the site was improved and other idols erected. Lak Muang was recently renovated, and countless locals come in supplication and with offerings for the guardian deity. Some pay professionals to dance in homage or thanks, and you can often see beautiful young women in ornate costumes performing classical lakhom chatrii, usually a little before noon.
Queen Sirikit National Convention Center
Ratchadaphisek Rd. off Rama IV Rd.
Just south of Sukhumvit Rd. & Soi 21
Call for the schedule of each show
The center is the venue for many new exhibits and art shows open to the public, as well as the pivotal point for Bangkok’s fastest-growing neighborhood.
Red Cross Snake Farm
1871 Rama IV Rd.
At the corner of Rama IV Rd. and Henry Dunant
For a short, entertaining, and enlightening show, stop by the Thai Red Cross Snake Farm (the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute) in the heart of Bangkok opposite the Montien Ho Established in 1923, the farm was the second facility of its type in the world (the first was in Brazil). There are slide shows and snake-handling demonstrations weekdays at 10:30am and 2pm; on weekends and holidays at 10:30am.
The Grand Palace
Near the river on Na Phra Lan Road near Sanam Luang
Daily 8:30am-11:30am and 1-3:30pm
One of King Rama I’s earliest accomplishments was to move the capital from Thonburi to a more defensible site on the opposite bank of the Chao Phraya. He chose the center of the Chinese community, which was then moved south to Sampeng, the current Chinatown. He intended to reproduce the destroyed capital of Ayutthaya. The construction of the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo were the first phase of his grand goal, though both were added to and rebuilt in subsequent reigns.
The palace as it appears today was greatly influenced by Western architecture, including colonial and Victorian motifs. Anna, tutor to the son of Rama IV and the central figure in the story The King and I, lived here. The royal family moved to Chitralada Palace after the death of King Ananda in 1946, but it was here, in 1981, that General Chitpatima attempted to overthrow the government in an unsuccessful coup.
The National Museum
Na Phra That Rd
Free English-language tours: Buddhism culture, Wed 9:30
Art, culture, religion, Thurs 9:30am;
call the museum or check a newspaper for more details and current schedule
About a half mile north of Grand Palace
Trace Thailand’s long history, beginning with the 5,000- to 6,000-year-old ceramic utensils and bronzeware of the Ban Chiang civilization, then acquaint yourself with one of the world’s best collections of Southeast Asian art.
Ferry Ride on the Chao Phraya River
Boats leave every 20 minutes between 6:15 AM and 8 PM.
Long-tailed boats and ferries ply the Chao Phraya and the city’s klongs (canals), providing a scenic escape from the Bangkok’s traffic. One good trip-past waterside temples, traditional houses, the Royal Barge Museum, and Khoo Wiang Floating Market-starts at the Chang Pier near the Grand Palace.
On Klong Bangkok Noi, north of the Phra Pinklao Bridge, Thonburi
Take a taxi over the Phra Pinklao Bridge or take a ferry to Tha Rot Fai (“Railway Landing”), walk west along the street parallel to and between the tracks and the klong until you come to a bridge over the klong, cross the bridge and follow the wooden walkway
Open daily 8:30-4:30.
These elaborately decorated sailing vessels, the largest over 50 yards long and rowed by up to 60 men, are used by the royal family on state occasions or for high religious ceremonies.
Suan Pakkard Palace
66 New Rd
Open Mon.-Sat. 9-4.
The five houses of this serene palace, built high on teak columns, sit among perfectly kept undulating lawns, shimmering lotus pools, and lush shrubbery. The main attraction, the Lacquer Pavilion, contains gold-covered paneling with scenes from the life of Buddha; other houses display porcelains, Khmer stone heads, old paintings, and statues of Buddha.
Thai Classical Dance Performance at the Chalermkrung Royal Theatre
Performances held Tues. and Thurs. at 8 PM.
A troupe of 170 dancers performs the Khon Masked Dance, with stunning light effects and high-tech sophistication. English translations are printed in the programs and on screens above the stage.
West bank of the Chao Phraya, opposite Tha Thien Pier
Reached by water taxi from Tha Tien Pier (near Wat Po) or cross the Phra Pinklao Bridge and follow the river south on Arun Amarin Rd
The 260-foot-high, Khmer-inspired tower, the centerpiece of the “Temple of Dawn,” rises majestically from the banks of the Chao Phraya, across from Wat Po. This religious complex served as the royal chapel during King Taksin’s reign (1809-24), when Thonburi was the capital of Thailand.
Wat Benchamabophit (the Marble Wat)
Si Ayutthaya Rd., south of the Assembly Building near Chitralada Palace
Tourists call this the Marble Wat because of the white Carrara marble of which it’s constructed. It is an early 20th-century temple designed by Prince Narai, the half brother of Rama V. It’s the most modern and one of the most beautiful of Bangkok’s royal wats. Unlike the older complexes, there’s no truly monumental wihaan or chedi dominating the grounds.
Phra Sumein Rd., north of Ratchadamnoen Klang Rd. near the Democracy Monument
Free admission, Donation requested.
Visitors can wander along the paths between the monks’ quarters and the waterways, used by the king for water purification ceremonies. Several kings and princes have been monks here, including King Bhumibhol, the present king, and his son Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. Prince Mongkut, later King Rama IV, who served as abbot here for 14 years and founded the Thammayut order, for which the wat is the national headquarters.
Of the two Buddha images inside the bot, the smaller one in front was cast in bronze in Sukhothai in 1257 to celebrate the country’s liberation from Khmer rule. Several murals depict farangs (foreigners) in Thailand. The English are shown at a horse race, Americans are depicted as missionaries trying to pull the people away from Buddhism, Germans are shown prospecting for minerals.
Na Prathat Rd., near Sanam Luang Park, between the Grand Palace and the National Museum
Built to house a relic of the Buddha, Wat Mahathat is one of Bangkok’s oldest shrines and the headquarters for Thailand’s largest monastic order. Also the home of the Center for Vipassana Meditation at Buddhist University, the most important center for the study of Buddhism and meditation, Wat Mahathat offers some programs in English.
Wat Phra Kaeo (Temple of the Holy Jewel Image)
In the Grand Palace complex
Daily 8:30-11:30am and 1-3:30pm
Take the Chao Phraya Express Boat to Tha Chang Pier, then walk east and south
Admission included in the Grand Palace fee.
The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is the royal chapel and probably the shrine most revered by the Thai people. It sits within the grounds of the Grand Palace, surrounded by walls more than a mile long, and contains some of the finest examples of Buddhist sculpture, architecture, painting, and decorative craft in the country.
Maharat Rd., near the river
Daily 8am-5pm; massages offered until 6pm
About a half mile south of the Grand Palace
Wat Po (Wat Phra Chetuphon), the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, was built by Rama I in the 16th century and is the oldest and largest Buddhist temple in Bangkok. The compound, divided into two sections by Chetuphon Road, is a 15-minute walk south of the Grand Palace entrance. The northern area contains the most important monuments, and the southern portion is where resident monks live.
Most people go straight to the enormous Reclining Buddha in the northern section. It’s more than 140 feet long and 50 feet high, and was built during the mid-19th-century reign of Rama III. The statue is brick, covered with layers of plaster, and always-flaking gold leaf; the feet are inlaid with mother-of-pearl illustrations of 108 auspicious laksanas (characteristics) of the Buddha.
Wat Saket (The Golden Mount)
Ratchadamnoen Klang and Boripihat Roads
Admission to the Wat is free;
admission to the chedi, separate small donation
Wat Saket is easily recognized by its golden chedi on top of a hill near the pier for Bangkok’s east-west Klong ferry. The wat was restored by King Rama I, and 30,000 bodies were brought here during a plague in the reign of Rama II. The hill, which is over 200 feet high, is an artificial construction begun during the reign of Rama III. Rama IV brought in 1,000 teak logs to shore it up because it was sinking into the swampy ground. Rama V built the golden chedi to house a relic of Buddha, said to be from India or Nepal, given to him by the British. The concrete walls were added during World War II to keep the structure from collapsing.
Wat Suthat and The Giant Swing
Sao Chingcha Sq., near the intersection of Bamrung Muang Rd. and Ti Thong Rd. 02/222-0280
This temple is among the oldest and largest in Bangkok. It was begun by Rama I and finished by Rama III. Rama II carved the panels for the wihaan’s doors. It houses the beautiful 14th-century Phra Buddha Shakyamuni, a Buddha image that was brought from Sukhothai, and the ashes of King Rama VIII, Ananda Mahidol, brother of the current king, are contained in its base. The wall paintings for which it is known were done during Rama III’s reign.
Wat Traimit (The Golden Buddha)
Traimit Rd., West of Hua Lampong Station, just west of the intersection of Krung Kasem and Rama IV Roads
Walk southwest on Traimit Rd. and look for a school on the right with a playground.
The wat is up a flight of stairs overlooking the school
Wat Traimit, which is thought to date from the 13th century, is known for its astonishing Buddha, which is nearly 10 feet high, weighs over 5 tons, and is believed to be cast of solid gold. It was discovered by accident in 1957 when an old stucco Buddha was being moved from a storeroom by a crane, which dropped it and shattered the plaster shell, revealing the shining gold beneath. This powerful image has such a bright, reflective surface that its edges seem to disappear, and it is truly dazzling. The graceful seated statue is thought to have been cast during the Sukhothai period and later covered with plaster to hide it from the Burmese or other invaders. Pieces of the stucco are on display in a case to the left.
Vimanmek Mansion Museum
193/2 Ratchavitee Rd. Dusit Palace grounds 02/281-8166
Classical Thai dance, folk dance, and martial art demonstrations are given daily at 10:30am and 2pm.
Opposite the Dusit Zoo, north of the National Assembly Building
Admission charged; free if you already have a 125B ticket to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo
Built in 1901 by King Chulalongkorn the Great (Rama V) as the Celestial Residence, this elegant, golden teakwood mansion was restored in 1982 for Bangkok’s bicentennial and reopened by Queen Sirikit as a private museum with a collection of the royal family’s memorabilia. An intriguing and informative hour-long tour takes you through a series of apartments and rooms (81 in all) in what is said to be the largest teak building in the world. The original Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall houses a display of Thai handicrafts, and nine other buildings north of the mansion display photographs, clocks, fabrics, royal carriages, and other regalia.
Wang Suan Pakkard (Palace of the Lettuce Garden)
352 Si Ayutthaya Rd.
Open daily 9am-4pm
Transportation: Between Phyathai and Ratchaprarop Rds
Admission includes material for a self-guided tour of grounds and collections
Wang Suan Pakkard is one of Bangkok’s most delightful retreats. This peaceful oasis was the home of Princess Chumbhot of Nakhon Sawan. Five 19th-century teak houses were moved from Chiang Mai in 1952 and rebuilt in a beautifully landscaped garden on a private klong, separated by a high wall from the tumult of Bangkok’s streets. The Lacquer Pavilion (actually an Ayutthaya house, moved here in 1958) was a birthday present from the prince to the princess.
Soi 6, Siam Square.
Resembles a theme park more than a nightclub, with various entertainment zones, including Club La Femme, sporting suggestively padded walls, for women only. Admission price depends on the night’s entertainment.
Soi 4, Silom Road.
Long-running hardcore dance club, decorated to give an underground look. Free, except Fri & Sat cover includes one drink.
Chart-sound dance club, popular with travellers and Thais. No cover. moderate drink prices.
90-96 Soi 4, Silom Road.
Once the city’s leading gay nightclub, now one of its most fashionable mixed venues (except gay night on Thurs). Drag show every midnight, good sounds and sound system, and a large dance floor. Cover includes one drink.
Soi 26, Sukhumvit Road.
Well-designed place, which encompasses on its various levels a balconied disco with plenty of room to dance, eateries and a pub with live bands; dress up. Cover.
Themes for Thai dance drama are taken from the Ramayana. A series of controlled gestures uses eye contact, ankle and neck movements, and hands and fingers to convey the stories’ drama. It is accompanied by a woodwind called the piphat, which sounds like an oboe, and percussion instruments.
Chalernkrung Royal Theatre
66 New Rd., 02/222-0434
A troupe of 170 dancers now performs the Khon Masked Dance, with stunning light effects and high-tech sophistication. English translations are printed in the programs and on screens above the stage. Performances are held Tuesday and Thursday at 8 PM. Your hotel can make seat reservations.
Various restaurants offer a classical dance show with dinner.
Baan Thai (Soi 22, Sukhumvit Rd. 02/258-5403) is a popular one for those staying at hotels in the eastern part of Bangkok.
The Sala Rim Naam
Oriental Hotel, 489 Charoen Nakom Rd
Show and buffet of Thai food.
Na Phra That Rd.,
PHONE: 02/221-5861 or 02/224-1342,
Performances are given most days at 10 AM and 3 PM, and special performances are held also on the last Friday of each month at 5:30 PM.
These two-hour evening cruises on the Chao Phraya River are strictly for tourists, except the one run by Yok Yor (Wisutikasat Rd. at Yok Yor Pier (next to Bank of Thailand, 02/281-1829 or 02/282-7385 which is likely to be all Thai. Boats like the Wan Foh 02/433-5453 built to look like a traditional Thai house. Cruise starts at the Mae-Nam Building near the Shangri-La Hotel. A Western/Thai dinner is served .Your hotel staff will make reservations.
departs at 7:30 PM
Also offers a cruise on the river while serving its guests dinner.
Day Trips from Bangkok
Samut Prakan Crocodile Farm
The compound is open daily from 7.00 a.m.-6.00 p.m.
This large farm with over 60,000 fresh and saltwater crocodiles is some 30 kilometers from Bangkok. Daily shows featuring crocodiles are staged at hourly intervals. There is also a Dinosaur Museum where various species of life-size creatures of dinosaurs and their skeletons are on display.
Km 33 on Sukhumvit Highway
open daily from 8.00 a.m.-5.00 p.m.
The Ancient City’s office in town also organizes day tour to the museum.
Contact (02) 2241057, 2261936 for further information.
Essentially an open-air museum, this more than 200-acre complex contains scale replicas of religious complexes, monuments and buildings found throughout Thailand.
Nakhon Pathom Thai Human Imagery Museum
Located at Km.31 on Borom Ratchonnani Road on the way to Nakhon Pathom,
The museum is open from 9.00 a.m. – 5.30 p.m.
The museum houses life-sized fiberglass sculptures of former monarchs, ecclesiastics and rural folk, created by a group of Thai artists after 10 years of their intensive study and hard work.
Rose Garden Country Resort
32 kilometers west of Bangkok on Phetkasem Road.
The resort is open daily from 8.00 a.m.-6.00 p.m.
It boasts large, beautiful, and well-maintained gardens. In the resort, there is a Thai Cultural Village where an attractive show commences daily. Thai folk dancing, Thai boxing, sword fighting demonstrations, and an elephant show.
Samphran Elephant Ground & Zoo
Located just one kilometer from the Rose Garden
open daily from 8.00 a.m. – 5.30 p.m.
This 60 acre farm is another interesting attraction housing many different wild animals and thousands of crocodiles. Fascinating performances such as crocodile wresting, magic show, and elephant theme show everyday.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
This popular floating market is located some 80 kilometers southwest of Bangkok via Samut Songkhram province, accessible by regular bus from the Southern Bus Terminal. Everyday hundreds of vendor boats crowd the market area in the early morning till noon. Visitors can also travel around by boat to see local villages, and local way of life in the countryside.
Bang Pa-In Summer Palace Visitors can take either a bus or a train from Bangkok to the palace. The ground is open everyday from 8.00 a.m.- 4.00 p.m.
The palace is about 1 hour drive from Bangkok. Built in the reign of King Rama V, the palace consists of various styled buildings. Thai, chinese, Italian, and Victorian styles predominate. A Thai pavilion in the center of the small lake is regarded as one of the finest examples of Thai architecture.
Bang Sai’s Royal Folk Arts and Crafts Center
The compound is open daily (except Mondays) from 8.30 a.m.- 4.00 p.m.
Farmers from Ayutthaya as well as from other rural areas undergo training in folk arts and crafts here. Visitors can have a glimpse of how farmers in different regions of Thailand live and work, and how their products of art and craft are produced. These handicrafts including weaving basketry, carving wood, artificial flowers, hand-woven silk and cotton, and miniature Thai dolls are on display and on sale.
Take the express boat to Pak Kret in Nonthaburi. From Pakkret pier take a short walk to Wat Sanam Nua where a river ferry leaves for Ko Kret regularly from 6.00 am-9.00pm.
This is a tiny island in the Chao Phraya River, not far from Pak Kret District Office. It is inhabited by a community of craftmen famous for their distinctive style of pottery which dates back many centuries. Ko Kret pots are known for their fine, red-black glazed surface and intricate design. The islanders are the descendants of the Mon people, and they have managed to retain the skills of their forefathers.
Express boats are long white boats with a pointed bow and a large number near the front. They carry the Chao Phraya Express logo on the side, and have bench seats and open sides. Don’t confuse these with the smaller, cross-river ferries, distinguished by their squatter shape and rounded bow.
Boats pull up and pause for just a moment, so boarding passengers must move quickly. Fares are based on distance. The onboard ticket taker will ask your destination and charge accordingly for the trip.. To exit, move to the back of the boat and be ready to hop off. As on any public conveyance in Bangkok, keep a close hold on your belongings. Both express boats and ferries operate daily between 6am and 6pm, with boats arriving every 10 minutes or so.
Long-tail boats–slender, noisy, motorized gondolas–provide ferrylike transportation through the inland klongs on the Thonburi side, leaving when full from the Tha Ratchawong, Tha Thien, Tha Chang, and Tha Maharaj piers. Allow an hour to ride on one, just to see the fascinating neighborhoods across the river. The fare should be 5B to 10B (15Ē to 25Ē). Get off at any stop and take another boat back.