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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Bangkok "The Thai capital with most attractive cultural sites"



Bangkok is excess in all of its unrestrained glory. Bigger, better, more: the city is insatiable, a monster that feeds on concrete, shopping malls and diesel exhaust. The city demands that you be in the present and in the moment, not necessarily for a religious epiphany, but because the city is self-absorbed and superficial, blissfully free of wrinkle-inducing self-reflection. Smiles and sà·nùk (the Thai word for ‘fun’) are the key passports into Bangkok society. A compliment here, a joke there – the demands of social lubrication in this megalopolis are more akin to a small village than an anonymous city and a necessity for survival.

As Bangkok forcefully kneads out of you all demands for order and predictability, you’ll understand the famous Thai smile. It is the metaphorical brakes on the urban overdrive. Packed into these concrete corridors are religious spectacle, unapologetic consumerism and multi-flavoured hedonism – corrupting and purifying souls within footsteps of each other. A tragicomic confluence of human desires and aspirations best viewed through a detached smile.

Of the famous and infamous attractions, Bangkok’s best feature is its intermingling of opposites. A modern world of affluence orbits around a serene traditional core. Step outside the four-star hotels into a typical Siamese village where taxi drivers knock back energy drinks and upcountry transplants grill chicken on a streetside barbecue. Hop the Skytrain to the glitzy shopping malls where trust-fund babies examine luxury brands as carefully as the housewives inspect produce at the open-air markets. Or appreciate the attempts at enlightenment at the city’s famous temples and doorstep shrines, or simple acts of kindness amid the urban bustle.

You can jump between all of these worlds – wining and hobnobbing at a chic club, eating at a streetside market, getting plucked and pummelled into something more beautiful, or sweating profusely on a long unplanned march. Bangkok is an urban connoisseur’s dream come true.

Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew

Located in the grounds of the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew is among the top attractions, attracting tourists with its stunning temples, towering golden chedi, ornately decorated interiors and the much reverred though diminutive Emerald Buddha. The palace, although not as impressive as the surrounding temples, is an interesting example of new-Baroque architecture. Fine murals are also on display, and there is a decorations and coins museum on site. It’s the one site all tourists get to while in Bangkok.

Wat Po

Located beside the neo-baroque Grand Palace, Wat Po is a complex of stunning temples with intermingling spires of intricate and ornate design. The most outstanding attraction is the massive, 40 meter reclining Buddha which is one of the most impressive and certainly the largest in all of Thailand. Also noted for its ancient school of massage.
Location: 2 Sanamchai Road, Phra Nakhon, (02) 225 9595, open daily 08:00 to 21:00, fee: Thais: free, foreigners: 50 baht, after 6pm. fee: Thais: 50 Baht, foreigners: 200 baht.

Wat Arun

with its spectacular river side location and the soaring 82 meter spire set right in the centre of the temple, Wat Arun is another of Bangkok’s top attractions. It’s also one of the oldest, pre-dating the founding of Bangkok when the original capital was set up in Thon Buri across the river. Makes an excellent sunset backdrop from river boats. Located opposite Wat Po, catch boats from Tha Tien pier behind the Grand Palace.
Location: 34 Arun Amarin Road, Wat Arun, Bangkokyai, (02) 891 2185, open: daily except Wed. and public holidays, 08:30 to 17:30, fee: Thais: free/ foreigners: 50 baht.

The National Museum

Home to a large and impressive collection of Thai art spanning many eras. It’s probably one of the most important repositories of Southeast Asian antiquities in the world with many impressive items on display covering Buddhist art spanning 1500 years. There are also displays on the history of Thailand, with information in English. Large enough to keep you occupied all afternoon, the museum has a wide ranging collection of artefacts covering all aspects of ancient and recent Thai history.
Located beside the Grand Palace opposite the Sanam Luang ground. Na Phrathat Road, Phra Borommaharatchawang, Phra Nakhon, (02) 224 1333, open: Wed. to Sun. 09:00 to 16:00, fee: Thais: 30 baht, foreigners: 200 baht.

Vimanmek Teak Mansion and Dusit Throne Hall

The world’s largest teak construction, located within the complex of the Dusit Palace. The impressive architecture, design features and exemplary works of art are some of the finest examples in the country, while the photograph collection of King Bhumibol is an interesting insight into the lives of the Thai monarchy. Well preserved, it offers a good glimpse into Royal life during the reign of King Chulalongkorn in the late Nineteenth Century when Siam was at its zenith. Located opposite Dusit Zoo, in the leafy Dusit suburb, easily reached from Khao San Road and the Grand Palace. The adjacent neo-classical Throne Hall was one of King Chulalongkorn’s European inspired fancies and is used for ceremonies, such as the King’s 60 year reign celebrations where hundreds of thousands packed the arcade in front, it looks impressive but is off limits to the public.
Location: 16 Ratchowithi Road, Dusit, (02) 628 6300-9, ext. 5120-5121, open: daily 09:30 to 15:30, fee: Thai: adult 75 baht/children 20 baht, foreigners 100 baht.

Jim Thompson’s House

Jim Thompson is credited with the international revival of the Thai silk industry. His Bangkok home is one of the best preserved examples of a traditional Thai residence, with an outstanding collection of art and antiques from throughout Southeast Asia. Located near Siam Square (National Stadium BTS station).
Location: 6 Soi Kasemsan 2, Rama 1 Road, Siam Square area, (02) 216 7368, open: daily 09:00 to 17:00, fee: Thai and foreigners. adult: 100 baht, students: 50 baht.

Royal Barges Museum

This museum is home to the spectacular barges that are used by royalty for very special ceremonies. They are astoundingly ornate and more curious in appearance than beautiful, but certainly worth a look. Riverfront, near Pingklao bridge.
Location: Arun Amarin Road, Siriraj, Bangkoknoi, across the river, (02) 424 0004, open: daily 09:00 to 17:00, closed: 31 Dec. to 1 Jan. and 12 to 14 April, fee: Thai 20 baht, foreigners 100 baht.

Thon Buri canals (trip)

Trip along Bangkok’s canal is one great way to see a number of the major sites from an interesting perspective, without the hassle of having to navigate Bangkok’s city streets. A leisurely cruise along one of Bangkok’s water ways affords passengers a glimpse inside the daily life of locals. Boats can be boarded from any pier along the canals. The Chao Phraya Express boat passes many of the city’s major sites. The quiet canals of Thon Buri, across the river are a world away from modern Bangkok and show how Bangkok once was when it was described as the ‘Venice of the East’ a century ago.
Organised tours (boat trip): 1 hour: Thai - 1,000 baht/boat (6 people) / foreigner – 600 baht/person. 1.30 hours: Thai - 1,300 baht/boat (6 people) / foreigner – 800 baht/person. 2 hours: Thai - 1,500 baht/boat (6 people) / foreigner – 1,000 baht/person.

Chinatown

For some of the best in Chinese food, a bustling and diverse market and fine examples of architecture, Chinatown is an experience not to be missed. Although the streets are jam-packed with stalls and shops and crowded with people at the best of times, the sweat lost will be worth it for a truly new experience. Chinatown has the biggest concentration of gold shops in the city, but you will also find a host of ornaments, whole sale jewellery, textiles, antiques, musical instruments and ancient Chinese medicine shops. There are some good and not so good guesthouses and hotels. Trty wandering down some of the quieter lanes to witness an unchanged Bangkok. (Hua Lampong Metro station and some walking). Open: 24 hours, admission: free

Khao San road

This is the bohemian and backpacker capital of Asia. There is a constant flow of tourists from every conceivable corner of the world as well as ‘out there’ Thais who come and go in a never ending stream. People watching is taken to a new extreme here with 24-hour performances from random passers-by. The area is packed with tourist agents, bars, restaurants and nightclubs, while the street stalls offer a good selection in cheap clothing and counterfeit goods. If you really want to go the whole hog while travelling, Khaosan is the place to have your fake dreadlocks sewn on.
Located near the Grand Palace. Open: 24 hours, admission: free
More on the Khao San road

Siam square

A modern cosmopolitan area which makes a good effort at being the ‘Times Square’ of Bangkok. The bustling hub is packed full of large shopping malls with the best in designer names, upmarket outlets, restaurants and bars, cyber cafés and fast-food outlets - you name it, Siam square’s got it. It’s a popular hangout spot for the young and trendy, who use the area as a large catwalk. (Siam BTS station). Open: daily, admission: free

Patpong

Despite being one of Bangkok’s original red light districts, Patpong attracts loads of tourists to its market with its vast array of fake designer goods and prices that are hard to beat. The goods are of decent quality and most people will probably only realise their lacking authenticity on close inspection. It’s an excuse for the more curious to pop in on the go go bars and ‘ping pong sex shows’ upstairs, most leave them disappointed by the boring shows and expensive beer.Silom area, (Sala Daeng BTS station.) Open daily: 18.00 to 01.00, admission: free

Red Light districts

It is not certain why so many tourists feel that it is a must to check out the seedy red light districts that Bangkok has become so famous for, but it is common for all types of tourists to hit some sort of sex show while in town. There are three distinct areas, including Patpong, Nana plaza and Soi Cowboy, which at night turn into centres for all sex related activities, (Sala Daeng, Nana and Asoke BTS stations respectively). Open: from early evening to early morning, admission: free

Chatujak weekend market

This crammed labyrinth of market stalls is hard work, but it’s completely worth it for the range of offerings and jaw-dropping bargains to be had. With everything from Thai handicrafts and souvenirs to the hippest of second-hand clothing, Chatujak is the place to fulfil your heart’s shopping desires. Drink plenty of water, take regular breaks and you Open: Saturdays and Sundays, 06.00 to 17.00, admission: free may just be able to keep going until you’ve shopped the place bare, (Mo Chit BTS station). Open: Saturdays and Sundays, 06.00 to 17.00, Admission: free

Suan Pakkad Palace

A curious little museum tucked away in pretty gardens among the bustle near Siam Square. Meaning Cabbage Patch Palace, Suan Pakkad was built as a residence for a Rama V era princess and has been well preserved as an indication of regal Nineteenth century Thai living, containing many interesting items form the era, along with an interesting collection of Thai musical instruments from Prince Paributra. Conveniently located, a good time filler, (BTS Phaya Thai).
Location: 352-354 Sri Ayudhya Road, Rajathevi, (02) 246 1775-6 #Ext. 229, open: daily 09:00 to 16:00, fee: Thai adults 50 baht, children 20 baht / foreign adults 100 baht, children 50 baht.

Wat Suthat and the Giant Swing

This is one of the more important impressive of Bangkok’s many temples and a chance to experience a temple compound without too many tourists. Nearby is the recently renovated Giant Swing - a bizarre and unique sight used in Brahman rites festivals. In the Grand Palace vicinity near the Democracy monument., Open: 08:00 to 18:00 daily, admission: free.

Golden Mount

This was once the highest point in the city until skyscrapers arrived in the second half of the twentieth century. Built on the remains of a collapsed giant pagoda, this elevated temple offers magnificent views of the city, and is attached to Wat Saket, it supposedly holds a Buddha relic. Open: 08:00 to 17:00 daily, admission: 50 baht.

Wat Traimit

yet another temple, noted for its 5 tonne, three meter tall solid gold Buddha which curiously lay hidden beneath a stucco cover for centuries, saving it from marauding Burmese. The gold was accidentally discovered 40 years ago while it was being moved and became damaged. Gets busy with tourists.Location: near Hua Lampong station (Metro station), 661 Chaoren Krung Road, Talad Noi, Samphanthawong.Open: 08:00 to 17:00 daily, admission: free.

Lumpini Park

Located in the heart of the city, this expansive area is a nice escape from the city madness. Early morning in the park, you will find hundreds of residents out for their morning yoga, tai chi or jog. There are a number of Thai restaurants and boats are available for hire for a peaceful cruise on the lake in the heart of the park, (Lumphini Metro station).
Location: Rama IV Road, Wangmai, Pathumwan, (02) 252 7006, open: 08:00 to 21:30 daily, admission: free.

Outskirt Bangkok
Floating Market

Most tours include the delightfully chaotic Floating Market on itineraries but its an early start to get to the area in Damnoen Saduak, an hours drive southwest of the city and an organised tour is the best option. The sights, sounds, smells and array of goods on offer can be slightly overwhelming, but you won’t find this experience many places in the world. Although quite touristy, it reflects a typical central Thai market that uses the many canals instead of streets for commerce.
Tel: (032) 241 392, admission: free, one hour boat trip 50 Baht per person.

Ancient City

Offers tourists a step back in time and almost perfect replicas of Thailand’s most historically renowned sites and monuments. In some cases original structures have been moved here and others were rebuilt from plans, to recreate originals that have long since disappeared. This open-air museum is located amid tranquil lakes and beautiful gardens and is a great way to see historical sites from all over Thailand without travelling!
Located in Samut Prakarn, an hour south of the city by taxi, but worth it - highly recommended. 296/1 Sukhumvit Road, Bangpoo, Samut Prakan 10280, (02) 709 1644, open: daily 08:00 to 17:00, fee: foreign adults 300 baht, children 150 baht, Thai adults 150 baht, children 75 baht.

Koh Kret
About an hour’s drive from the city centre, Koh Kret is a small, picturesque island and a place of great historical value, dating back to the Mon settlement of the 6th century. It is the perfect getaway from the overwhelming buzz of Bangkok, with ceramic artists who open their workshops to visitors and sell their beautiful designs on-site.
Open: always
admission: free

Get Around
By car
Bangkok is notorious for its massive traffic jams, and rightly so. In addition, traffic is chaotic and motorcyclists seemingly suicidal. Therefore, most tourists consider driving in Bangkok a nightmare, and it is highly recommended that you stick to public transport and not try to drive yourself around.

By skytrain
The Bangkok Skytrain (BTS, pronounced bee-tee-et in Thai but also rót fai fáa or just skytrain) deserves a visit simply for the Disneyland space-ageness of it. Built in a desperate effort to ease Bangkok's insane traffic and pollution, the Skytrain covers most of downtown and is especially convenient for visiting the Siam Square area. There are two lines: the light green Sukhumvit line which travels along Sukhumvit road and then goes up Phayonyothin to northern Bangkok, where it terminates near the Chatuchak Weekend Market (N8), and the red Silom line, which travels from the Silom area, interchanges with the Sukhumvit line at Siam Square (C) and ends at National Stadium, right next to MBK. There isn't, unfortunately, a station near Banglampu District (aka the Khao San Road area), but the river ferry connects between Tha Banglampu and Tha Sathorn, served by Saphan Taksin (S6) on the Silom line from the morning till around 6-7PM.
You must have 5 or 10 baht coins to purchase Skytrain tickets from the vending machines near the entrance, so hold on to them. Fares range from 15 to 40 baht depending upon how many zones you are traveling. Consult the map (in English) near each ticket machine. If you do not have coins, queue for change from the staff at the booth. If you are in town for several days (and/or going to make several visits during next 30 days), weigh your options and consider a rechargeable stored-value card (from 100 baht, with a 30-baht refundable deposit and a 30 baht non-refundable card cost), a "ride all you like" tourist pass (from 120 baht/day) or a multiple ride pass of 20 trips or more to any zone (20 trips cost 440 baht, plus 30 baht refundable deposit for a rechargeable card valid for 5 years). They will certainly save you time, scrambling for coins, and maybe even money. Check for information with the English speaking staff.
Four stations are fully accessible to wheelchair users, plus one station, On Nut, is accessible only on the arrival side. The other fully accessible stations are Asok/Sukhumvit, Siam, Chong Nonsi and Mo Chit. To proceed to concourse level in these stations, you can use the lift - press the call button and an attendant will come and get you. At On Nut stations on the departures side, the attendant will help you also to get to platform level through the escalator since the elevator can be used only to get to intercourse level. Siam Station is also accessible independently through the linked Siam Paragon department store.
For more information, contact the Bangkok Mass Transit System at Tel: 0 2617 7340, 0 2617 6000 or visit

By metro
Bangkok Metro (MRT, pronunced em-ar-tee in Thai but also rót fai tai din) finally opened in July 2004. The Blue Line connects the central Hualamphong railway station (1) to the northern Bang Sue station (18), with interchanges to the Skytrain at Silom/Sala Daeng (3/S2), Sukhumvit/Asok (7/E4) and Chatuchak/Mo Chit (15/N8). You can also transfer to north/northeast-bound SRT trains at the northern terminus Bang Sue. The metro is much less used by tourists than the Sky Train but can be very useful. The terminus at Hualamphong station provides good access to Chinatown and many of the main tourist sites. The Silom station is about 200 meters away from the "Patpong" market and nightlife area.
Metro tickets are not interchangeable with Skytrain tickets. Rides start from 15 baht and are based on distance; pre-paid cards of up to 1000 baht are also available. For single ride fares, a round plastic token is used. It's electronic: simply wave it by the scanner to enter; deposit it in a slot by the exit gate leave.
The metro stop for the Chatuchak Weekend Market is not Chatuchak Park but one stop farther at Kamphaeng Phet (16). The latter drops you right inside the market.
All metro stations are fully accessible to wheelchair users. If the elevator has been put out of service, just ask the security staff present at every station and an attendant will come and get you to help you to deal with all the process of buying tickets and get to the train platform level.
For more information call 0 2624 5200 or visit for further information.
Note that at present bag-checks take place at the entrance to each station, although it is usually nothing more than a quick peek inside unless you are looking particularly

By Boat
Canal boats also serve Khlong Saen Saeb, one of Bangkok's many canals (khlong). They're cheap and immune to Bangkok's notorious traffic jams, but mostly used by locals who use these water taxis to commute to work and school and shopping, so you get to see the 'backside' of the neighborhoods, so to speak. They're also comparatively safe--just watch your step when boarding and disembarking (they don't stop at the pier for long) and do not let the water get into your eyes.
To prevent splashes, the boats are equipped with little curtains that you can raise by pulling on a string, but they have to be lowered at every stop so people can clamber on board. Pay the fare (14-22 baht) to the fearless helmet-wearing ticket collectors who clamber around on the outside of the boat, ducking at bridges, as it barrels down the canal. The canal runs parallel to Petchaburi Road, and provides the easiest access from the city center to the Golden Mount. There's a boarding pier across from the Central World Plaza under the bridge where Ratchadamri crosses the khlong near Petchburi, and piers now even have (tiny) signs in English. Be aware that for journeys going beyond Pratunam, passengers have to change boats at Pratunam. Hold on to your ticket.
The only station missing a sign in English is the stop at The Mall in Bangkapi, and it's not obvious that it's a mall from the canal boat!


Typical "long tail" river taxi
Finally, for trips outside the set routes, you can hire a long-tail river taxi at any major pier. These are fairly expensive and will attempt to charge as much as 500 baht/h, but with haggling, they may be suitable for small groups. To circumvent the mafia-like touts who attempt to get a large cut for every ride, agree for the price of the shortest possible ride (30 min), then negotiate directly with the captain when on board.

By taxi
Taxis are a quick and comfortable way to get around town, at least if the traffic is flowing your way, but be warned that Bangkok taxi drivers are notorious for finding ways to run up the fare; insist that the meter is used, and if the driver claims that your destination is closed, that he doesn't know where it is, or if he tries to take you elsewhere just get out of the taxi. All taxis are now metered and air-conditioned: the hailing fee is 35 baht and most trips within Bangkok cost less than 100 baht. There are no surcharges (except from the airport), even at night; don't believe drivers who try to tell you otherwise. A red sign, if lit, on the front window means that the taxi is available.
When the meter is switched on you will see a red '35' somewhere on the dashboard or between the driver and you. Be sure to check for this at the start of the ride, as many drivers will "forget" to start the meter in order to overcharge you at the end of your trip. Most will start the meter when asked politely to do so (meter na khrap/kha (male/female)); if the driver refuses to use the meter after a couple of attempts, simply exit the taxi.
In some cases, late at night and especially near major tourist districts like Khao San or Patpong, you will need to walk a block away to catch a meter cab. The effort can save you as much as 150 baht. This is often also the case for taxis that park all day in front of your hotel. There are only two reasons that they are there: to take you places where they can get their commissions (Jewelry stores, massage parlors, etc,) and to overcharge you by not using the meter.
Your best bet is to walk to the road and catch an unoccupied metered taxi in motion (easier than it sounds, as Bangkok traffic tends to crawl the majority of the time, and one car out of four is a taxi). Avoid parked taxis altogether, and if a taxi driver refuses to turn the meter on, simply close the door and find one who will. Keep in mind that it is illegal for them to have unmetered fares. Be smart and give your money to honest drivers, not touts. The only reason that they get away with this so frequently is that foreign tourists let them.
Be sure to either know the correct pronunciation of your destination, or have it written in Thai, as taxi drivers in Bangkok are notoriously bad at reading maps, and most drivers speak limited English. Most hotels and guesthouses will happily write out addresses in Thai for you. While most drivers will recognize the names of tourist hot spots, even if grossly mispronounced, it is often difficult to properly pronounce addresses in Thai, a tonal language. If your mobile phone works in Thailand, it is sometimes useful to phone your hotel and ask the staff to speak to your driver in Thai. In addition, try to get your hotel's business card to show the taxi driver in case you get lost.
If you are pinching pennies or fussy about your means of transportation, you may wish to avoid getting into one of the (very common) yellow-green taxis. They are owner-operated and of highly variable quality and occasionally have rigged meters. All other colors belong to large taxi companies, which usually enforce their standards better.
On some routes, the driver will ask if he should use the Tollway--this will usually save a lot of time. You have to pay the cost at the toll booth (not in advance and not at the end of the journey). Watch how much the driver really pays, as many try to keep the change.
When getting out, try to have small bills (100 baht or less) or expect problems with change. Tips are not necessary, but are certainly welcome; most local passengers will round up or leave any coin change as tip.

By tuk-tuk

Tuk-tuks on the prowl
Finally, what would Bangkok be without the much-loathed, much-loved 'tuk-tuks? You'll know them when you hear them, and you'll hate them when you smell them — these three-wheeled contraptions blaze around Bangkok leaving a black cloud of smog in their wake. For anything more than a 5-10 minute jaunt or just the experience, they really are not worth the price — and, if you let them get away with it, the price will usually be 4 or 5 times what it should be anyway (which, for Thais, is around 30% less than the equivalent metered taxi fare). On the other hand, you can sometimes ride for free if you agree to visit touristy clothing or jewelry shops (which give the tuk-tuk driver petrol coupons and commissions for bringing customers). The shops' salesmen are pushy, but you are free to leave after five to ten minutes of browsing. Visitors should beware though, sometimes one stop can turn in to three, and your tuk-tuk driver may not be interested in taking you where you need to go once he has his petrol coupons. Also, with Bangkok's densely congested traffic it is sure to spend hours of your time.
In case you actually want to get somewhere, and you're an all-male party, be careful with the tuk-tuk drivers, they will usually just ignore your destination and start driving you to some brothel ("beautiful girls"). Insist continually and forcefully on going only to your destination.
There's also a less-heralded, less-colourful and less-touristy version of the tuk-tuk that usually serves the back sois in residential neighborhoods. They usually have four wheels instead of three and resemble a tiny truck / ute / lorry, and they run on petrol instead of LP. The maids and locals tend to use them to return home from market with loads of groceries, or for quick trips if they're available. Negotiate before you get in, but don't expect to go much beyond the edge of that particular neighborhood.


By bicycle

Recreational Bangkok Biking
Go cycling! It may sound crazy, but it certainly is not. Away from the main roads there is a vast system of small streets and alleys. Cyclists are treated as pedestrians, so you can use your bicycle to explore parks, temple complexes, markets and the more quiet residential areas of eastern Bangkok. In more crowded places you can cycle on the sidewalk. Exploring the town by bicycle has all the advantages of going by foot, combined with a much greater action radius and a cooling breeze when cycling.
If you want to experience Bangkok hideaways and countryside, leisurely cycling through green paddy fields, colorful orchid farms, peaceful lotus fields and touched by the charm of Thai way of country life at personal level, bicycle is a great way to do it.

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