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Short Bangkok Tour
Must-See Sites in Bangkok if Time is Limited
"I've got only got a few days in Bangkok, what do you recommend?"
As someone who has lived in and extensively explored Bangkok, Thailand, I have the most helpful advice around and this lens will give you adequate resources to fully enjoy the few days you have and make the most of this beautiful city. I've pared down the extensive choices a traveler has in Thailand's capitol city to the most spectacular sites so that when you've moved on, you will have had an opportunity to experience both traditional Thai culture and the sophisticated modern-day Bangkok.
In this lens, you'll explore the most famous temples, palaces and museums, take a river taxi or canal boat, get a traditional Thai massage or spa treatment, immerse yourself in the local fine arts center, and some of the best shopping in Asia!
Start out with the most famous landmarks
GRAND PALACE/WAT PHRA KAEW
The first historical site you must visit in Bangkok, even if you have only a day to go out, is the Grand Palace. Inside the Grand Palace you'll see the famous temple Wat Phra Kaew, which houses Thailand's most sacred Buddha image, the Emerald Buddha.
The Grand Palace encompasses all of the traditional architectural styles and photo opportunities abound with statues of mythical creatures and beautiful gardens. There is a miniature version of Angkor Wat in Cambodia on site and around the perimeter of the grounds is a mural of the entire Ramayana epic.
There are several smaller museums at the Grand Palace. One is near the entrance and it houses ancient coins, jewels and costumes. Another museum houses weapons such as rifles, spears and swords of past wars.
If you get hungry or thirsty, there is a small cafe on palace grounds.
For more information about the Grand Palace, please see the
Wikipedia Entry for the Grand Palace. Be sure to check out the external link of the official website, as it is well done with extensive information and history about each building.
A short walk from the Grand Palace is the royal temple Wat Pho. Wat Pho is famous for its enormous golden reclining Buddha. The Buddha statue is highly detailed, especially the bottoms of the feet, which is enamel with mother of pearl inlay. The entire temple recently underwent restoration.
Another famous aspect of Wat Pho is the colorful chedi spires. The floral patterns are intricate in detail, made of individual bits of ceramic tile. The chedis remind me of fondant-style wedding cakes of various height - some are several stories high and some are rather short. All are very colorful and beautiful.
Lastly, Wat Pho is well-known for certifying practitioners of traditional Thai massage. A small building in one area of the temple grounds is designated for Thai massage with several dozen "stations" that have a futon mattress to lay on. There are only fans to cool the building, so it can get rather hot and sticky inside, therefore it may be a good idea to go in the morning. If you'd rather opt for a foot massage instead, that is offered as well.
Across the Chao Phraya River from Wat Pho is another spectacular Thai Buddhis temple, Wat Arun, or Temple of Dawn. From Wat Pho, walk to the Tha Tien Pier and take the ferry across to Wat Arun.
The Temple of Dawn is most famous for its central prang, the Khmer-style tower. For history and meaning of Wat Arun, please see the Wikipedia entry.
Upon arrival at the pier, you enter a Chinese-style pavilion flanked on either side by statues of mythical giants. The gardens are beautiful and then you see the temple itself. What's remarkable about this temple is all the ceramic plates broken carefully into floral shapes inlaid in an intricate mosaic. Photo opportunities abound here, so take your time and enjoy this feast for the eyes.
Two Small Museums with Easy Access
Each along the Skytrain route
SUAN PAKKAD PALACE
This peaceful little museum in a beautiful park-like setting was the home of Prince Chumbhotpong Paripatra and his wife. In 1952, the palace was converted into a museum housing Ban Chiang pottery over 4,000 years old and other Thai antiques. Four traditional teakwood homes make up the museum, with covered walkways in between. There are also four traditional salas, or pavilions, the most famous and ornate being the lacquer pavilion.
Suan Pakkad Palace is located off Sri Ayuttaya Road. An easy way to get to the palace is to take the Sky Train. Once you're on the train, just get off at the Phaya Thai station along the Sukhumvit line. On the linked map, you will see the Suan Pakkad Palace in the lower right.
JIM THOMPSON HOUSE
Jim Thompson House is the more popular museum and also a gem in the city complete with calming gardens, traditional teakwood homes and nestled up against a klong, or canal. Jim Thompson was an American business man who lived in Thailand in the 1950's and 60's and revived the Thai silk industry. During his time in Bangkok, Thompson collected many pieces of Southeast Asian antique artifacts and art, before it became popular. Included in Thompson's collection are pieces from Cambodia, Burma and Laos that he acquired during buying trips. The six Thai homes were shipped to Bangkok and came from various parts of Thailand. A Jim Thompson Silk gift shop and cafe are also on the premises and you see the museum via a tour. You are free to roam the gardens as you wish.
To get to the Jim Thompson House, simply take the Sky Train to the National Stadium station.Take Exit 1 down to the street and then turn right on the first small soi called Soi Kasemsan 2. There will also be signs showing the way and the museum is located at the end of this small street.
In addition, do not be bothered if anybody tells you that the Jim Thompson House is closed that day. These people are con-artists who run scams. Simply say Thank you and continue on. The operating hours are EVERY DAY 9:00AM to 5:00PM, the last guided tour at 5:00PM.
Jim Thompson Items You Can Get Now
The mystery surrounding Jim Thompson's disappearance in Malaysia sparked off what was to become a seven-year investigation. The subsequent media attention generated by the search triggered a number of theories, some proving to have rather sinister connotations.
In this intriguing book, the author seeks to evaluate most, if not all, of the speculative, and partially substantiated opinions which have been formed over the years. Communist conspiracy, suicide or simple misadventure? Only after reading this story are we in a position to decide.
Modern Shopping Made Easy
Check out some of the fantastic malls clustered in the central shopping district
Bangkok has come a long way in their central shopping district. There are malls ranging from the height of glamour and luxury to cheap and funky for Thai youth. The great thing about shopping in this area is the transportation convenience of the Skytrain and the walkability from center to center. And best of all, they are nicely air conditioned!
SIAM PARAGON (pictured at right)
Heralded as the 'Jewel of Asia' the Siam Paragon Shopping Center was opened in December 2005. It is an enormous and beautiful mega shopping complex with 300,000 square meters of retail space. Housing couture brands such as Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Versace, Valentino, Jimmy Choo, ChloÃ¨, Dolce & Gabbana, Balenciaga, Burberry and Hermes, Siam Paragon targets the Thai hi-so (high society) and tourists. It is the place to see and be seen and has put Bangkok on the map of international shopping destinations. Besides housing over 200 shops and 80 restaurants, Siam Paragon also hosts Siam Ocean World, the largest aquarium in South East Asia. The fifth floor Paragon Cineplex has 14 theaters and an IMAX theater and on the same floor is a classy bowling alley called Blu-O.
Both these shopping centers are listed together because that's how they are constructed, right next to each other. If you're craving some western food, Siam Discovery has an Au Bon Pain, several Starbucks and Outback Steakhouse. Asia Books has a branch here and a fun store to shop in is Loft, a Japanese gift store. There are some beautiful home dÃ©cor shops and the top floor has EGV Cinemas. The theaters are fantastic and this is where you can splurge on the Gold Class seating, a theater with ultra cushy reclining chairs and food and drink service. What a great way to see a movie!
Siam Center is the original and oldest mall in this area. It targets a younger shopper with clothing stores I never bothered to go into because Thai girls are far tinier than I, so it would just make me depressed seeing cute clothes I could never wear. There is a Body Shop there, next to Starbucks. There is a Sizzler here if you want farang food (they have good salad bars) and some delicious Japanese restaurants too. A good sized Boots pharmacy is on the ground floor for any of your personal toiletries needs.
Formerly the Mahboonkrong Center, this shopping mall spans 89,000 square meters and is considered the most popular shopping mall in Thailand, serving an average of 100,000 customers per day. Great bargains can be found, especially the fourth floor, dedicated to mobile phones and the like. In this mall, you can barter with the vendors, so if you don't want to deal with the heat of Chatuchak, come here. With over 2,000 shops, you're likely to find what you're looking for. The anchor department store is the four-storey Tokyo, which is popular in Japan and the only one in Thailand. You can get off the Skytrain at National Stadium, or walk a short distance from the Siam Central Station. A great more detailed overview of MBK with photos can be found here:
This was my favorite mall for a long time because it used to be far less crowded than other malls. CentralWorld mall is the largest in all of South East Asia, topping rival Siam Paragon at 800,000 square meters. It underwent extensive renovations in 2006 and was rebranded from Central World Plaza. It had been known for many years as the World Trade Center when it was constructed in 1990. The two anchor tenants are Zen and Isetan. Zen is known for its trendy, fun environment and products. Istetan is an established fine Japanese department store, catering to Japanese expats. Isetan has a great bakery called Sun Moulin next to the supermarket. The original Kinokuniya books branch is in Isetan too. Many of the western brands and shops mentioned at the beginning of this chapter are located here at CentralWorld, and you're more likely to find clothing in your size here. More information about Central World can be found at the link below:
This is the main cluster of shopping malls in the central Bangkok shopping district. Other malls nearby include Gaysorn, Central Chitlom, Amarin Plaza and the Emporium.
The Mother of All Markets!
Chatuchak Market: the largest outdoor market in South East Asia!
Also known as Jatujak, or JJ Market, this is the place to come to purchase just about anything you need. From souvenirs to household items, Chatuchak has it all. This enormous outdoor market covers 35 acres and has between 8,000 and 15,000 shops and stalls. It is open Saturdays and Sundays from 7:00AM-late, so start your day early and make it an all day event.
The way to make your excursion into Chatuchak market enjoyable and productive is to plan accordingly. You will be on your feet all day and it will be hot, humid and crowded.
Here are some tips to have a positive experience at JJ:
* Wear comfortable shoes and cool clothing.
* Keep money and wallet tucked away out of sight, not in a back pocket! Wear a money belt if possible.
* If you wish to bring a back pack, wear it on your front side.
* Bring a little plastic fan to cool your face. If you don't have one, you can buy one there cheaply. (Look at the photo - it shows fans for sale and the girl in the center is vigorously using hers!)
* Keep hydrated. If you don't have your own water bottle, you can buy water or other beverages easily.
* Ladies, bring some toilet tissue! There are restrooms in various locations.
* Information kiosks have free maps of the market - or if you purchase the Nancy Chandler map, mentioned above, it has a Chatuchak map included.
There are restaurants and cafes when you need to rest and grab a bite to eat. The nearby JJ Mall is a seven story air conditioned building with lots of small shops too, so if you get overwhelmed in the heat and humidity, you will still find a wide variety of goods at great prices in a comfortable temperature.
To get to Chatuchak Market, take either the skytrain (BTS) to Mo Chit station or the metro (MRT) to Suan Chatuchak station.
Get a Preview of What You'll See - Videos of selected sites in Bangkok
Books & Maps about Bangkok - Making your visit easier
Art & Antiques
From modern contemporary art to beautiful Thai antiques
(Pictured at the right). This is a new 11 storey contemporary art museum located across from MBK Center and Siam Discovery in the heart of the shopping district. The Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) has galleries, performance spaces, a library and meeting rooms. Admission is FREE and it is well worth it to see the magnificent architecture from the inside and get a good idea of what contemporary Thai artists are creating today.
Along the Chao Phraya River, this shopping complex has exquisite antique stores inside where you can find either souvenirs to take home or purchase a valuable statue seven feet tall to display in your library if you've got a house that big. There is a wide variety of beautiful things for sale and if you appreciate Asian decor, you will go nuts in this shopping complex. To me it felt almost museum-like in some of the shops and since I don't have a mansion to fill with seven-foot statues, I just browsed, which was also fun!
While you're there, stop for a coffee or have a delicious meal at one of the several restaurants at River City. Some of these restaurants have beautiful river views you can enjoy in the comfort of air conditioning. It's magical to watch the boats go by below as the sun sets in the distance.