Ko Ratanakosin, Banglamphu & Thonburi
Welcome to Bangkok's birthplace. The vast city we know today emerged from Ko Ratanakosin, a tiny virtual island ('Ko') made by dredging a canal around Mae Nam Chao Phraya during the late 18th century. Within this area you'll find the glittering temples and palaces lhat most visitors associate with the city. Ko Hatanakosin's riverfront setting is also home to several museums, markets and universities. All these sights are within walking distance of each other and are best visited early in the morning before the day comes to a boil.
Adjacent Banglamphu suffers from an ex-treme case of bipolar disorder, encompassing both the most characteristically old-school Bangkok part of town as well as Th Khao San,a brash, neon-lit decompression zone for in-ternational backpackers. Depending on which one you fancy, it's not difficult to escape the other - another of Banglamphu's charms. The bulk of Bangkok's classic buildings art-found in this area, as well as lots of authentic Bangkok cuisine and culture.
Directly across the river is Thonburi, which served a brief tenure as the Thai capital after the fall of Ayuthaya. Today the area along the river is easily accessed from Bangkok's cross-river ferries, and there are museums and temples here that are historical complements to those in Ko Ratanakosin.
Despite the abundance of attractions, both areas are still isolated from the more modern forms of public transport. The'Chao Phraya River Express is probably the most efficient way of reaching the area, and the klorng (canal; also spelt khlvng) taxi along Khlong Saen Saeb is another convenient option if you're coming from Siam Square or Sukhumvit. The closest Skytrain station is Ratchathewi. If you're planning on doing some extensive exploring in the area, consider borrowing one of the tree Green Bangkok Bikes (see the boxed text, opposite) available at eight stations around the district.
Mangkok's biggest and gaudiest tourist sites float regally on this artificial island. The river ferry pier at Tha Chang is the most convenient access point.
Wat Phra Kaew & Grand Palace
Also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Phra Kaew : is the colloquial name of the vast, fairy-tale compound that also includes the former residence of the Thai monarch, the Grand Palace.
This ground was consecrated in 1782, the first year of Bangkok rule, and is today Bangkok's higgesl tourist attraction and a pilgrimage destination for devout Buddhists and nationalists, The 94.5-hectare grounds encompass more than 100 buildings that represent 200 years of royal "history and ar-chitectural experimentation. Most of the ar-chitecture, royal or sacred, can be classified as Ratanakosin (or old-Bangkok style).
Housed in a fantastically decorated boht and guarded by pairs ot yakslui (mythical giants), the Emerald Buddha is the temple's primary at-traction. It sits atop an elevated altar, barely-visible amid the gilded decorations. The diminutive figure is always cloaked in royal robes, one for each season (hot, cool and rainy). In a solemn ceremony, the king (or in recent years, the crown prince) changes the garments at the beginning of each season. For more details about this sacred statue, see the boxed text, opposite. Recently restored Buddhist murals line the interior walls of the boht, and the murals of the Ramakian (the Thai version of the Indian epic the Ramayana) line the inside walls of the temple compound. Originally painted during the reign of Kama I (1782-1809) and also recently reslored, the murals illustrate the epic in its entirety, beginning at the north gate and moving clockwise around the compound.
Except for an anteroom here and there, the buildings of the Grand Palace (Phra Bororn Maharatchawong) are now put to use by the king only for certain ceremonial occasions, such as Coronation Day (the king mostly ' resides in Hua Hin).
Borombhiman Hall (eastern end), a French-inspired structure'that served as a residence for Rama VI, is occasionally used to house visiting foreign dignitaries. In April 1981 General San Chitpalinuv used it as headquarters for an attempted coup. The building to the west is Amarindra Hall, originally a hall of justice but used today for coronation ceremonies.
The largest of the palace buildings is the Chakri Mahaprasat, the Grand Palace Hall. Built in 1882 by British architects using Thai labour, the exterior is a peculiar blend of Italian Renaissance and traditional Thai architecture. It's a style often referred to asffrrang sai chd-duh (Westerner in a Thai crown) because each wing is topped by a mon-dop - a heavily ornamented spire representing a Thai adaptation of the Hindu mandapii (shrine). The tallest mon-dbp, in the centre, contains the ashes of Chakri kings; the flanking mon-dop enshrine the ashes ot Chakri princes. 'Thai kings housed their huge harems in the inner palace area, which was guarded by combat-trained female sentries.
Last, from east to west, is the Ratanakosin-style Dusit Hall, which initially served as a venue for royal audiences and later as a royal funerary hall.
Guides can be hired at the ticket kiosk; ignore anyone outside. Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace are best reached either by a short walk south from Banglamphu, via Sanam Luang, or by Chao Phraya Express boat to Tha Chang. From the Siam Square area (in front of the MBK Center, Th Phra Ram I), take bus 47.
The admission charge for the complex includes entrance to Dusit Park ,which includes Vimanmaek Teak Mansion and Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall.
You'll find significantly fewer tourists here than at Wat Phra Kaew, but Wat Pho : is our personal fave among Bangkok's biggest temples. In fact, the compound incorporates a host of superlatives: the largest reclining Buddha, the largest collection of Buddha im-ages in Thailand and the country's earliest centre for public education.
Almost loo big for its shelter, the genuinely impressive Reclining Buddha, 46m long and 15m high, illustrates the passing of the Buddha into nirvana (ie the Buddha's death). The figure is modelled out of plaster around a brick core and finished in gold leaf. Mother-of-pearl inlay ornaments the feet, displaying 108 different auspicious Uk-sa-nu (characteristics of a Buddha).
The Buddha images on display in the other four wi-hdhn (sanctuaries) are worth a nod. Particularly beautiful are the Phra Chinnarat and Phra Chinnachai Buddhas, both from Sukhothai, in the west and south chapels. The galleries extending between the four chapels feature no less than 394 gilded Buddha images, many of which display Ayuthaya or Sukhothai features. The remains of Rama I are interred in the base of the presiding Buddha image in the boht.
Wat Pho is also the national headquarters for the teaching and preservation of traditional Thai medicine, including Thai massage, a mandate legislated by Rama III when the tradition was in danger of extinction. The famous massage school has two massage pavilions without air-con located within the temple area and air-con rooms within the training facility outside the temple. Nearby stone inscriptions showing yoga and massage techniques still remain in the temple grounds, serving their original purpose as visual aids.
The rambling grounds of Wat Pho cover 8 hectares, with the major tourist sites occupying the northern side of Th Chetuphon and the monastic facilities found on the southern side.
rnrwHf; info rimm ifnpi This equal parts bizarre and fascinating market claims both the sidewalks along Th Maharat and Th-Phra Chan, as well as a dense network of covered market stalls near Tha Phra Chan. The trade is based around small talismans carefully prized by collectors, monks, taxi drivers and people in dangerous professions. Potential buyers, often already sporting tens of amulets, can be seen bargaining and flipping through magazines dedicated to the amulets, some of which command astronomical prices.
Also along this strip are handsome shop-houses overflowing with family-run herbal-medicine and traditional-massage shops, and additional street vendors selling used books, cassettes and, oddly enough, dentures.
Often touted as Southeast Asia's biggest museum, the National Museum : is home to an impressive collection of religious sculpture, best appreciated on one the museum's twice weekly guided tours ( 9.305m Wed & Thu, in Inglish, German, Japanese & French).
Most of the museum's structures were built in 1782 as the palace of Rama I's viceroy, Prince Wang Na. Rama V turned it into a museum in 1874, and the current museum consists of three permanent exhibitions spread out over several buildings.
The history wing has made impressive bounds towards mainstream curatorial aesthetics with a succinct chronology of prehistoric, Sukhothai-, Ayuthaya- and Bangkok-era events and figures. Gems include King Ramakamhaeng's inscribed stone pillar, said to be the oldest record of Thai writing; King Taksin's throne; the Rama V section; and the screening of King Prajadhipok's movie The Magic King.
The decorative arts and ethnology exhibit covers every possible handicraft: traditional musical instruments, ceramics, clothing and textiles, woodcarving, regalia and weaponry. The archaeology and art history wing has exhibits ranging from prehistoric to the Bangkok period.
In addition to the main exhibition halls, the Buddhaisawan (Phutthaisawan) Chapel includes some, well-preserved original murals and one of the country's most revered Buddha images, Phra Phut Sibling. Legend says the image came from Sri Lanka, but art historians attribute it to 13th-century Sukhothai.
Museum of Siam
This fun new museum : employs a variety of media to explore the origins and culture of the Thai people. Housed in a Rama Ill-era palace, the exhibits are superinteractive, well balanced and entertaining; highlights include the informative and engaging narrated videos in each exhibition room, and an interactive Ayuthaya-era battle game. The buzz runs low on steam as you reach the latter exhibits, but it's still a worthwhile destination, particularly for those travelling with children.
Lak Meuang (City Pillar)
Serving as the spiritual keystone of Bangkok, Lak Meuang : is a phallus-shaped wooden pillar erected by Rama I during the founding of the new capital city in 1 782. Today the structure shimmers with gold leal and is housed in a white cruciform sanctuary. Part of an animistic tradition, the pillar embodies the city s guardian spirit (Phra Sayani Thewathirat) and also lends a practical purpose as a marker of the town's crossroads and measuring point for distances between towns.
The pillar was once one of a pair. Its taller counterpart, carved from chai-ya-preuk (tree 01 victory; laburnum wood), was cut down in effigy following the Burmese sacking of Ayuthaya during 1 767. Through a series of Buddhist-animist rituals, it is believed that the felling of the tree empowered the Thais to defeat the Burmese in battle. Thus it was considered an especially talismanic choice to .mark the founding of the nevv royal capital. Two metres of the pillar's 4.7m total length are buried in the ground.
If you're lucky, a la-kongaa ban (commissioned dance) may be in progress. Brilliantly costumed dancers measure out subtle movements as thanks to the guardian spirit for granting a worshipper's wish.
The royal district's green area is Sanam : which introduces itself to most visitors as a dusty impediment to Wat Phra Kaew and other attractions. The park's more appealing attributes are expressed during its duties as a site for the annual Ploughing Ceremony, in which the king officially initiates the rice-growing season. A large kite competition is also held here during the kite-flying season (mid-February to April). Most recently, the park was the setting for the elaborate cremation ceremony of Princess Galayani Vadhana, the king's older sister. On a daily basis Sanam Luang is home to a large number of Bangkok's homeless population, as well as, at night, streetwalking prostitutes.
The humble National fiaHery : belies the country's impressive tradition of fine arts. Decorating the walls of this early Ratanakosin-era building are works of contemporary art, mostly by artists who receive government support. The permanent exhibition is rather dated and dusty, but the temporary exhibitions, held in spacious halls out back, can be good.
Although slightly less grand than its neighbour, Banglamphu's sights are a window into the Bangkok of yesterday, a city that's largely starting to disappear.
Even if you're wat-ed out, you should take a brisk walk to Wat Saket . Like all worthy summits, the temple's Golden Mount (Phu Khao Thong), which is visible from Th Ratchadamnoen, plays a good game of optical illusion, appearing closer than its real location. Serpentine steps wind through an artificial hill shaded by gnarled trees, some of which are signed in English, and past graves and pictures of wealthy benefactors. At the peak, you'll find a breezy 360-degree view of Bangkok's most photogenic side.
This artificial hill was created when a large stupa, under construction by Rama III, collapsed because the soft soil beneath would not support it. The resulting mud-and-brick hill was left to sprout weeds until Rama IV built a small stupa on its crest. Rama V later added to the structure and housed a Buddha relic from India (given to him by the British government) in the stupa. The concrete walls were added during WWII to prevent the hill from eroding. Every year in November there is a big festival on the grounds of Wat Saket, which includes a candlelit procession up the Golden Mount.
If you're coming from the eastern end of the city, the Golden Mount is a short walk from the klorng boats' western terminus at Tha Phan Fah.
Wat Suthat & Sao Ching-Cha
Brahmanism predated the arrival of Buddhism in Thailand and its rituals were eventually integrated into the dominant religion.
This temple : is the headquarters of the Brahman priests who perform the Royal Ploughing Ceremony in May. Begun by Rama I and completed in later reigns, Wat Suthat boasts a wi-hahn with gilded bronze Buddha images (including Phra Si Sakayamuni, one of the largest surviving Sukhothai bronzes) and incredibly expansive jataka (stories of the Buddha's previous lives) murals. The wat also holds the rank of Rachavoramahavihan, the highest royal-temple grade; the ashes of Rama VIII (Ananda Mahidol, the current king's deceased older brother) are contained in the base Wat Suthat's priests also perform rites at two nearby Hindu shrines: Thewa Sathaan (Deva Sathan), which contains images of Shiva and Ganesh; and the smaller Saan Jao Phitsanu (Vishnu Shrine), dedicated to Vishnu.
The spindly red arch in the front of the temple is Sao Ching-Cha (Giant Swing), as much a symbol of Bangkok as Wat Phra Kaew. The swing formerly hosted a spectacular Brahman festival in honour of Shiva, in which participants would swing in ever-higher arcs in an effort to reach a bag of gold suspended from a 15m bamboo pole. Many died trying and the ritual was discontinued during the reign of Rama VII. In 2007 the decaying swing was officially replaced with the current model, made from six specially chosen teak logs from Phrae Province in northern Thailand.
The temple is within walking distance of the klorng boats' terminus at Tha Phan Fah.
Founded in 1 826, Wat Bowonniwet : is the national headquarters for the Thammayut monastic sect. King Mongkut, founder of this minority sect, began a royal tradition by residing here as a monk -in fact, he was the abbot of Wat Bowonniwet for several years. King Bhumibol and Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, as well as several other males in the royal family, have been temporarily ordained as monks. The ubosot (chapel) has some interesting wall murals . Because of the temple's royal status, visitors should be particularly careful to dress properly for admittance to this wat - no shorts or sleeveless shirts.
Across Th Mahachai from Wat Saket, Wat Ratdianatdaram : dates from the mid- 19th century and today is home to a well-known market selling Buddhist prd pirn (magical charm amulets) in all sizes, shapes and styles. The amulets not only feature images of the Buddha, but also famous Thai monks and Indian deities. Buddha images are also for sale.
Th Bamrung Meuang
One of the city's earliest thoroughfares the street was originally an elephant path leading to the royal palace, today the stretches of the Th Bamrung Meuang that extend directly wot and east of Wai Suthat form an open air shopping centre tor all manner ol religious paraphernalia. In the shops, the contents of which pour out onto the street, you'll see care packages that are typically bought and donated lo temples, models ol iamous monks, monk robes and other devotional items. The large Buddha statues that are wrapped in plastic art particularly photogenic.
Ban Bant (Monk's Bowl Village)
Just when you start to lament the adverse effects of tourism, pay a visit to this handicraft village. This is the only surviving village established by Rama I to make the haht (rounded bowls) thai the monks carry to receive food alms from faithful Buddhists every morning. Today the average monk relies on a howl mass-produced in China, but the traditional technique survives in Ban Baht (hanks to patronage by tourists. About half a do/en families still hammer the bowls together from eight separate pieces of steel representing, they say, the eight spokes ot the Wheel ot Dharma (which symbolise Buddhism's Eightfold Path). The joints are lusetl in a wood lire with bits ol copper, and the-bowl is.polished and coaled with several layers of black lacquer. A typical output is one bowl per day. II you purchase a bowl, the craftsperson will show you the equipment and process used.
One of the first striking landmarks you'll no lice on your way into Banglamphu is this large Art Deco monument occupying the avenue's traffic circle. It was erected in 1932 to commemorate Thailand's momentous transformation from absolute to constitutional monarchy. Italian artist Corrado Feroci designed the monument and buried 75 cannon balls in its base to signify the year Buddhist Era. Before immigrating to Thailand lo become the nation's "father of modern art', Feroci designed monuments for Italian dictator Benitu Mussolini. In recent years the monument has become a symbolic spot for public demonstrations, most notably during the antimilitary,
October 14 Memorial
This peaceful amphitheatre : commemorates the civilian demonstrators who were killed on 14 October 1973 (remembered in Thai as sip-see Jii-lah. the date of the event) by the military during a prodcmocracy rally. More than 200,000 people assembled at the Democracy Monument and along Th Katchadamnoen to protest the arrest ot political campaigners and to express their discontent over the continued military dictatorship; more than 70 demonstrators were killeo when the tanks met the crowd. The complex is an interesting adaptation ot thai temple archi-tecture lor a secular and political purpose. A central chedi (stupa) is dedicated to the fallen, and a gallery of historic photographs lines the interior walls.
It's calm enough on the right bank of the Mae Nam Chao Phraya to seem like another province - because it is! The attractions here are relatively few, but I'tfng ton is a great area for aimless wandering among leafy streets.
Striking Wat Arun : commands a martial pose as the third point in the holy trinity (along with Wat Phra Kacw and Wat Pho) of Bangkok's early history. After the tall of Ayuthaya, King Taksin ceremoniously clinched control here on the site of a local shrine (formerly known as Wat Jaeng) and established a royal palace and a temple to house the Emerald Buddha. The temple was renamed after the Indian god of dawn (Aruna) and in honour. If the literal and symbolic founding of a new Ayuthaya.
It wasn't until the capital and the Emerald Buddha were moved to Bangkok that Wat Arun received its most prominent characteristic: the 82m-high prang (Khmer-style tower). The lower's construction was started during the first half of the 19th century by Kama II and laler completed by Rama III. Nol apparent from a distance are the ornate floral mosaics made from broken, multi-hued Chinese porcelain, a common temple ornamentation in the early Ratanakosin period, when Chinesse ships callings at the port of Bangkok used tonnes of old porcelain as ballast.
Also worth an inspection is the interior of the boht. The main Buddha image is said to have been designed by Rama II himself The murals date from the reign of Rama V; particularly impressive is one thai depicts Prince Siddhartha encountering examples of birth, old age, sickness and death outside his palace walls, an experience that led him to abandon the worldly lire. The ashes of Rama II are interred in the base of the presiding Buddha image.
Cross-river ferries run over to \Vat Arun ever)' few minutes (3.50B per person) from Tha Tien to Tha Thai Wang.
Sunset views of the temple compound can be caught from across the river at Tha Maharat or fro'm the riverfront warehouses (hat line the street of the same name. Another great viewpoint is from the elevated patio ' restaurant at the Deck.
Royal Barges National Museum
The royal barges are slender, fantastically ornamented vessels used in ceremonial processions along the river. Fhe tradition dates back to the Ayuthaya era, when most travel (for common-ers and royalty) was by boat. Today the royal barge procession is an infrequent occurrence,most recently performed in 2006 in honour of the 60th anniversary of the king's ascension to the throne. When not in use. the barges are on display at this Thonburi museum.
Sitphannahong, the king's personal barge, is the most important of the boats. Made from a single piece ol timber, it's the largest dugout in the world. The name means 'Golden Six an', and a huge swan head has been carved into the bow. Lesser barges iealure bows that are carved into other Hindu-Buddhist mythological shapes such as ihiga (mythical sea serpent) andgtintcfm (Vishnu's bird mount). Historic photos help envision the grand processions in which the largest ol the barges would require a rowing crew of 50 men, plus seven umbrella bearers, two helmsmen and two navigators, as well as a flagman, rhythm keeper and chanter.
The most convenient way to get to the museum is by taking a taxi (ask the driver to go to rt'ti'U pra tec nimg) from Tha Saphan I'hra Pin Klao. Another alternative is walking from the Bangkok Noi train station (accessible by ferrying to Tha Rot Via), but the walk is tricky and unpleasant and you'll encounter uninvited guides who will charge for their services. The museum is also an optional stop on long-tail boat trips through Thonburi's canals.
Church of Santa Cruz
Dating back to 1913, this Catholic church : holds relatively little interest unless you visit on a Sunday. But the surrounding neighbourhood, a former Portuguese concession dal-ing back to the Ayuthaya period, is worth a wander for its old-school riverside atmosphere and Portuguese-inspired cakes, ka-nom fti'rang.
Chinatown & Phahurat
Bangkok's Chinatown (called Yaovvarat after its main thoroughfare, Th Yaowarat) is the urban explorer's equivalent ot the Amazon Basin. Unlike neighbouring Ko Ratanakosin and Banglamphu, the highlights here aren't tidy temples or museums, but rather a complicated web of tiny alleyways, crowded markets and delicious street stalls. And unlike other Chinatowns around the world, Bangkok's is defiantly ungentrifled, and getting lost in it is probably the best thing that could happen to you. However, if you do need a guide, you can always refer to our walking tour of the area .
The neighbourhood dates back to 17S2 when Bangkok's Chines; population, many of them labourers hired to build the new capital, were moved here from today's Ko Ratanakosin area by the royal government. Relatively little has changed since then, and you can still catch conversations in various Chinese dialects, buy Chinese herbal cures or taste Chinese dishes not available elsewhere in Thailand. For those specifically interested in the latter, be sure to check'out our food-based walking tour of the district .
Getting in and out of Chinatown is hindered by horrendous traffic, and the Chao Phraya Express stop at Ratchawong was previously the easiest way to reach the district. However, the advent of the Metro has put the area a brief walk from Hualamphong station.
At the western edge of Chinatown is a small but thriving Indian district, generally called Phahurat. Here, dozens of Indian-owned shops sell all kinds of fabric and clothes.
With nearly two centuries of commerce under its belt, ‘ New Market’ is no longer an entirely accurate name for this market. Essentially it's a narrow covered alleyway between tall buildings, but even if you're not interested in food the hectic atmosphere and exotic sights and smells culminate in something of a surreal sensory experience. Be sure to get there early, ideally before Sam, and always keep an eye open for the motorcycles that are constantly squeezing through tbe crowds.
While much of the market centres on cooking ingredients, the section north of Th Charoen Krung (equivalent to Soi 21, Th'Charoen Krung) is known for selling incense, paper effigies and ceremonial sweets -the essential elements of a- traditional Chinese funeral.
WAT MANGKON KAMALAWAT
Clouds of incense and the sounds of chanting form the backdrop at this Chinese-style Mahayana Buddhist temple
Dating back to 1871, it's the largest and most important religious structure in the area, and during the annual Vegetarian 1'estival, religious and culinary activities are particularly active here.
The attraction at Wat Traimit : is undoubtedly the impressive 3m-tall, 5.5-tonne, solid-gold Buddha image, which gleams like, well, gold. Sculpted in the graceful Sukhothai style, the image was 'discovered' some 40 years ago beneath a stucco or plaster exterior, when it fell from a crane while being moved to a new building within the temple compound. It ha been theorised that the covering was added to protect it from marauding hordes, either dur-ing the late Sukhothai period or later in the Ayuthaya period when the city was under siege by the Burmese. The temple itself is said to date from the early 13th century.
Donations and a constant flow of toursts have proven profitable, and the temple is currently building an immense golden stupa that, when finished, will tower over Chinatown.
Bordered by the river, Th Songwat, Th Charoen Krung and Th Yotha, this ancient neighbourhood is a fascinating jumble of tiny alleys, greasy machine shops and traditional architecture. Located opposite the River View Guest House,SanJaoSienKhong is one of the city's oldest Chinese shrines, and also one of the best areas to be during the annual Vegtarian Festival.
Hidden behind the new and astonishingly out of place India Emporium mall is Phahurat Market, an endless bazaar uniting flamboyant Bollywood fabric, photogenic vendors selling paan (betel nut for chewing) and several shops stocked with delicious northern Indian-style sweets.
In an alley off Th Chakraphet is Sri Gurusingh Sabha, a large Sikh temple reminiscent of a mosque interior, devoted to the worship of the Guru Grant/1 Sahib, the 16th-century Sikh holy-hook, which is itself considered to be a living' guru and the last of the religion's 10 great teachers. Reportedly, the temple is the second-largest Sikh temple outside India. Visitors are welcome, but they must remove their shoes.
Silom, Sathon & Riverside
The business district of Th Silom has only a handful of tourist attractions scattered among the corporate hotels, office towers and wining-and-dining restaurants. As you get closer to the river, the area be-comes spiced with the sights and smells of its Indian and Muslim residents. Moving north along Th Charoen Krung, the area adjacent to the river was the international mercantile district during Bangkok's shipping heyday. The odd crumbling Victorian building and several of Bangkok's luxury hotels now occupy this neighbourhood of tributary sois.
Traffic is notorious in this part of town, but the Skytrain, subway and Chao Phraya Express provide some transport relief.
SRI MAHARIAMMAN TEMPLE
Standing out, even among Bangkok's golden wat, this Hindu temple : virtually leaps oft the block. Built in the 1860s by Tamil immigrants in the centre of a still thriving ethnic enclave, the structure is a stacked facade of intertwined, full-colour Hindu deities. In the centre of the main shrine is Jao Mae Maha Umathewi (Uma Devi, also known as Shakti, Shiva's consort); her son Phra Khanthakuman (Subramaniam) is on the right; and on Ihe left is her other son, elephant-headed Phra Phikkhanet (Ganesh). Along the left interior wall sit rows of Shiva, Vishnu and other Hindu deities, as well as a few Buddhas, so that just about any non-Muslim, non-Judaeo-Christian Asian can worship here.
Thais call this temple Wat Khaek - kaak is a colloquial expression for people of Indian descent. The literal translation is 'guest', an obvious euphemism for a group of people you don't particularly want as permanent residents; hence most Indians living permanently in Thailand don't appreciate the term.
M R KUKRIT PRAMOJ HOUSE
Author and statesman Mom Ratchawong (M R, an honorary royal title) Kukrit Pramoj once resided in this charming Thai house, now open to the public as a museum. European-educated but devoutly Thai, M -R Kukrit surrounded himself with the best of both worlds: five traditional teak buildings, Thai art, Western books and lots of heady conversations. A guided tour is recommended for a more intimate introduction to the former resident, who authored more than 150 books and served as prime minister of Thailand.
QUEEN SAOVABHA MEMORIAL INSTITUTE (SNAKE FARM)
Snake farms tend to gravitate towards carniva-lesque rather than humanitarian, except at the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute. Founded in 1923, the snake farm prepares antivenin from venomous snakes - common cobra, king cobra, banded , Malayan pit viper, green pit viper and Russell's viper. This is done by milking the snakes' venom, injecting it into horses, and harvesting and purifying the amivenom that they produce. The antivenoms are then used to treat human victims of snake bites.
The leafy grounds are home to a few caged snakes (and a constant soundtrack of Western rock music), but the bulk of the attractions are found in the Simaseng Building, at the rear of the compound. The ground floor houses several varieties of snakes in glass cages. Daily and snake-handling performances are held on the 2nd floor.
Siam Square & Pratunam
Commerce, mainly in the form of multistorey mega-malls, forms the main attraction in this part of town, hut there are a couple of sights that don't involve credit cards. Skytrain and Ihe klorng taxis provide easy access to most attractions here.
JIM THOMPSON'S HOUSE
Jim Thompson's House : is an unlikely but stunning outpost of Thai architecture and Southeast Asian art.
The leafy compound is the former home of the eponymous American silk entrepreneur and art collector. Born in Delaware in 1906, Thompson briefly served in the Office of Strategic Services (forerunner of the CIA) in Thailand during WWII. Settling in Bangkok after the war, his neighbours' handmade silk caught his eye and piqued his business sense; he sent samples to fashion houses in Milan, London and Paris, gradually building a steady worldwide clientele.
In addition to exquisite Asian art, Thompson also collected parts of various derelict Thai homes in central Thailand and had them reassembled in their current location in 1959. One striking departure from tradition is the way each wall has its exterior side facing the house's interior, thus exposing the wall's bracing system. His small but splendid Asian art collection and his personal belongings are also on display in the main house.
Thompson's story doesn't end with his informal reign as Bangkok's best-adapted foreigner. While out for an afternoon walk in the Cameron Highlands oTwestern Malaysia in 1967, Thompson mysteriously disappeared. That same year his sister was murdered in the USA, fuelling various conspiracy theories. Was it communist spies? Business rivals? Or a maneating tiger? The most recent theory - tor which there is apparently some hard evidence -has it that the silk magnate was accidentally run over by a Malaysian truck driver who hid his remains. Jim Thompson: The Unsolved Mystery, by William Warren, is an excellent book on Thompson, his career, residence and subsequent intriguing disappearance.
This atmospheric community between Khlong Saen Saeb, Th Phayathai and Th Phra Ram I is one of Bangkok's oldest Muslim neighbourhoods, and its skilled silk weavers allegedly inspired Jim Thomspon to start selling the .stuff abroad. Today production has largely moved elsewhere, but the area retains its Muslim character, and at least one of the original family outfits, Phamai Baan Krua, is still weaving silk on old teak looms.
A seamless merging of commerce and religion occurs at all hours ot the day at this bustling shrine. Claiming a spare corner of the Grand Hyatt Erawan hotel, the four-headed deity Brahma (Phra Phrom) represents the Hindu god of creation and was originally built to ward off bad luck during the construction of the first Erawan Hotel. The shrine was later adopted by the lay community, as it gained a reputation for granting wishes.
LINGAM SHRINE AT NAI LERT PARK
Clusters of carved stone and wooden phalli surround a spirit house and shrine built by millionaire businessman Nai Lert to honour Jao Mae Thap Thim, a female deity thought to reside in the old banyan tree on the site. Someone who made an ottering shortly thereafter had a baby, and the shrine has received a steady stream of worshippers rnostly young women seeking fertility - ever since. To get here if facing the entrance of the hotel, follow the small concrete pathway to the right which winds down into the bowels of the building beside the car park. The shrine is at the end of the building next to the canal.
More time will be spent here eating, drinking and perhaps sleeping (as there is a high concentration of hotels here) rather than sightseeing. The S-kytrain is the primary public-transport option.
An engaging house museum : Han Kamthieng transports visitors to a northern Thai village complete with informative displays of daily rituals, folk beliefs and everyday household chores, all within the setting of a traditional wooden house. This museum is operated by and shares space with the Siam Society, the publisher of the renowned Journal of the Sitirn Society and a valiant preserver of traditional Thai culture.
KHLONG TOEY MARKET
This wholesale market : one of the city's largest, is inevitably the origin of many of the meals you'll eat during your stay in Bangkok. Get'there early, and although some coiners of the market can't exactly be described as photogenic, be sure to bring a camera to capture the stacks of clurians or cheery fishmongers.
THAILAND CREATIVE & DESIGN CENTER
Modern design is all the rage in Bangkok and this new museum : hosts rotating ex-hibits, houses a cool shop and cafe, and for members has a design library stocked with books, computers and other resources.
Lumphini Park & Th Phra Ram IV
The main attraction in this hyper-urban part of town is the city's single largest green zone. The Metro, with stops at Lumphini, Silom and Th Phra Ram IV, is the best way to reach this area.
Named after the Buddha's place of birth in Nepal, Lumphini Park : is the best way to escape Bangkok without leaving town. Shady paths, a large artificial lake and swept lawns temporarily blot out the roaring traffic and hulking concrete towers.
One of the best times to visit the park is before 7am when the air is fresh (well, relatively so for Bangkok) and legions of Thai-Chinese are practising taijiquan (t'ai chi). The park re-awakens with the evening's cooler tempera-tures - aerobics classes collectively sweat to a techno soundtrack. Late at night the borders of the park are frequented by streetwalking prostitutes, both male and female.
Central Bangkok covers a lot of land, but a minimum ol visit-worthy sites. The most worthwhile area is Dusit, the royal district of wide streets, monuments and greenery.
WANG SUAN PHAKKAT
An overlooked treasure, Lettuce Farm Palace : nearThRatchaprarop is a collection of five traditional wooden Thai houses that was once the residence of Princess Chumbon of Nakhon Sawan and before that a lettuce larm - hence the name. Within the stilt buildings are displays of art, antiques and furnishings, and the landscaped grounds are a peaceful oasis complete with ducks, swans and a semi-enclosed garden.
The diminutive Lacquer Pavilion, at the back of the complex, dates from the Ayuthaya period and features gold-leaf jataka and Ramayana murals, as well as scenes from daily Ayuthaya life. The building originally sat in a monas-tery compound on Mae Nam Chao Phraya, just south of Ayuthaya. Larger lesidential structures at the front of the complex contain displays of Khmer-style Hindu and Buddhist art, Ban Chiang ceramics and a very interesting collection of historic Buddhas, including a beautiful late U Thong-style image.
You might recognise this temple : from the back of the 5B coin. Made of white Carrara marble, Wat Ben, as it's colloquially known, was built in the late 19th century under Rama V. The large cruciform hoht is a prime example of modern Thai wat architecture. The base of the central Buddha image, a copy of Phiisanulok's Phra Phuttha Chinnarat, contains the ashes of Rama V. The courtyard behind the boht exhibits Buddha images (33 originals and 20 copies) representing famous figures and styles from all over Thailand and other Buddhist countries.
DUSIT PALACE PARK
Following Rama V's first European tour in 1897 (he was the first Thai monarch to visit the continent), he returned home with vi-sions of European castles swimming in his head and set about transforming these styles into a uniquely thai expression, today's Dusit Palace Park. The royal palace, throne hall and minor palaces for extended family were all moved here from Ko Ratanakosin, the ancient royal court. Today the current King has yet another home and this complex now holds a house museum and other cultural collections.
Originally constructed on Ko Si Chang in 1868 and moved to the present site in 1910, Vimanmaek Teak Mansion contains 81 rooms, halls and anterooms, and is said to be the world's largest golden-teak building, apparently built without the use of a single nail. The mansion was the first permanent building on the Dusit Palace grounds, and served as Rama V's residence in the early 1900s. The interior of the mansion contains various per-sonal effects of the king and a treasure trove ol early Ratanakosin art objects and antiques. Compulsory tours (in English) leave every half-hour between 9.30am and 3pm, and last about an hour. Free performances ol Thai classical dances are staged in a pavilion on the side of the mansion at 10am and 2pm.
The nearby Ancient Cloth Museum presents a beautiful collection of traditional silks and cottons that make up the royal cloth collection.
Originally built as a throne hall lor Rama V in 1904, the smaller Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall is typical of the finer architecture of the era. Victorian-influenced gingerbread architecture and Moorish porticoes blend to create a si riking and distinctly Thai exterior. The hall houses an excellent display of regional handi-work crafted by members of the Promotion of Supplementary Occupations Related techniques (SUPPORT) foundation, an organisation sponsored by Queen Sirikit.
Near the Th U-Thong Nai entrance, two large stables that once housed three white el-ephants - animals whose auspicious albinism Automatically make them crown property - are now the Royal Elephant Museum. One of the struc-'ures contains artefacts and photos outlining the importance of elephants in Thai history and explaining their various rankings according to physical characteristics. The second stable holds a sculptural representation of a living royal white elephant (now kept at the Chitlada Palace, home to the current Thai king). Draped in royal Vestments, the statue is more or less treated as a shrine by the visiting Thai public. Because this is royal 'property, visitors should wear long pants (no capri pants) or long skirts and shirls with sleeves.
RAMA V MEMORIAL
A bronze figure : of a military-garbed leader may seem like an unlikely shrine, but Bangkokians are flexible in their expression ol religious devotion. Most importantly, the figure is no forgotten general - this is Rama V (King Chulalcmgkorn; 1868-1910), who is widely credited for steering the country into the modern age and for preserving Thailand's independence from European colonialism. He is also considered a champion of the common 'person for his abolition of slavery and corvee (the requirement that every citizen be available for state labour when called). His accomplishments are so revered, especially by the middle class, that his statue attracts worshippers (particularly on Tuesdays, the day of his birth), who make offerings of candles, flowers (predominantly pink roses), incense and bottles of whisky. The statue is also the site of a huge celebration on 23 October, the anniversary of the monarch's death.
The domed neoclassical building behind the statue is Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, today a part of Dusit Palace Park , which was built in the early 1900s by Italian architects in the style of European government houses. Used today for ceremonial purposes, the throne hall also hosted the first meeting of the Thai parliament until their meeting place was moved to a facility nearby. Visitors with a ticket from the Dusit Palace Park can explore the architecture of the building and view rotating exhibits.
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