Hey guys, I lived in Bangkok for about 6 months, and am up in eastern Thailand traveling around a different part of the country. Starting in Siam Square means being surrounded by a lot of what Thailand has to offer – plenty of shopping and exploring to do.
I should warn you upfront: unless you intend to remain inside a mall or your hotel, it’ll be impossible to *completely* avoid poor service and the seedy side of Bangkok. That said, there’s plenty to see and find. For museums, you’ll have to make a special effort to reach the Museum of Counterfeit Goods. Bangkok’s a haven for them, and this museum is put together by a law firm that’s out to enforce copyright and such. It’s a little out of town and only open a few special times a week, but it’s free, and you get the guided tour gratis. The Siriraj Medical Museum is great for all the medical oddities (including the famous Siamese twins from a century ago), and the Museum of Contemporary Art (codenamed MOCA) is worth the visit. There’s plenty to see and do around Bangkok – take a peek at my blog over at oneweirdglobe.com when you get the chance =)
All about Western Bangkok
Depending on when you arrive, this might be the 25th or 26th. If you’ll have more time to travel on the 25th than the 28th, call the 25th day 1.
Since your dates are already firmed up, make a reservation for a visit to the museum on the 27th. Do this now – don’t wait until you get to Thailand as they request some advance notice.
You’ll note I’ve included addresses (mainly for the benefit of taxi drivers and completeness) and GPS coordinates for your smartphone. These’ll help you find the place you’re going on a street that might not have a proper sign – or numbers!
Today is all about Western Bangkok.
Start at the Grand Palace (only open 8:30am-3:30pm – a strict dress code applies), and ignore the tuk-tuks and scammers that pervade the area. The Emerald Buddha is a favorite, and the palace as a whole is worth a couple of very touristy hours.
Address: Sanam Chai rd., Khwaeng Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Khet Phra Nakhon, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10200 (GPS: 13.750304, 100.491551)
When you’re ready to get off the beaten path a bit, point yourself towards the river west of the palace for an awesome Amulet Market most tourists miss. Pick up some incredibly cheap amulets and rings (5-10 baht to start, or 15 to 30 US cents) for friends and family. Also, keep your eyes out for some lunch – these little hole-in-the-wall places are as authentic as they come.
From here, you’re really close to the Tha Phra Chan Tai pier – making the Chao Phraya river a great way to get around. Take a cruise up or down the river as you like, then grab a taxi once you get back to land.
Address: along Maha Rat road, Khwaeng Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Khet Phra Nakhon, Krungthep Mahanakorn 10200, Thailand (GPS: 13.753407,100.489486)
After a coffee most anywhere around town, head up to Pantip Plaza, arguably the source for most anything that requires a plug. Make this a stop for all those cheap computer gadgets you didn’t know you needed – or for Christmas shopping for the geek or photographer in your life. It’s easy enough to tell the genuine from the knock-off and the legitimate from the pirated. There are some deals to be had here; just make sure you get what you expect, and negotiate! There’s a very good chance someone else is selling the same exact thing nearby. Official imported stuff will likely be more expensive than your home country. It’s the third-party stuff that works just as well that’s a fraction of the price
Address: Along Phetchaburi Road (AKA Thanon Phetchaburi), Bangkok (GPS: 13.750932,100.537481)
At night, head up to Victory Monument, but please keep your ear to the ground on this one. This area has been the home of many anti-government protests this year, and naturally I can’t predict what will be happening during your visit (if I could, I wouldn’t be writing itineraries!).
The monument itself is almost secondary to the shops that now surround it. Erected in June 1941, the landmark celebrates Thailand’s victory over the French colonies in Indo-China. This victory was a minor one at best, but didn’t stop the Thai regime from celebrating it, even after the end of World War II forced Thailand to return some land. Today, it’s one of the busiest hubs for buses and minivans around the country, and an excellent spot for working-class Thais to shop and eat. Consider this your chance to take in the local scene at reasonable prices.
While here, check out Saxophone (GPS: 13.763662,100.53813) for some of the best live jazz in the city (look for it down a side street north of the BTS station before the Monument. Go the other way to find the Jazz Skytrain Rooftop Bar just south of the big mall connected to the BTS (GPS: 13.761374,100.536521).
Address: Thanon Ratchawithi, Bangkok (GPS: 13.764938,100.538224)
I won’t bore you with information about the culture and history that you can read on Wikitravel – instead, check out a few of my quick pro-tips at the bottom.
Today is all about Central Bangkok
Jim Thompson House: It was on March 26th, 1967 that Jim Thompson disappeared. Call this the Amelia Earhart story of the east – at least one book (available in the bookstore) has been written about what could have happened. To this day it remains an unsolved mystery – however, it’s the house and everything inside that’s worth focusing on. In 1948, Jim Thompson founded the Thai Silk Company, and created a home for himself. Six teak buildings were joined to one fairly cohesive unit, complete with a nice blend of east Asian style and some comforts from the Western world. The guided tour is the only option, so take in the overpriced souvenir shop if time allows.
Address: 6 Soi Kasemsan 2, Rama 1 Road, Bangkok (GPS: 13.74915,100.528426)
From the Jim Thompson house you can walk to Siam Square. This square block or two holds some of the best shopping in town – and as a bonus it’s right by the Novotel. Within walking distance is the Siam Paragon, Gaysorn, and the MBK Center – three huge shopping malls that could easily dominate your day.
After shopping, retreat to your hotel and drop off any purchases, then find some lunch if you haven’t already. Your next museum is a choice: mainstream or off-beat?
Mainstream: Museum of Contemporary Art (codenamed MOCA) While a bit north of Bangkok’s chaotic traffic, the MOCA will make you feel underdressed if you come in wearing an oversized t-shirt and ripped shorts. Thai and Asian artists you’ve probably never heard of have created some profound works you won’t soon forget. No photos inside, but five floors of art and an excellent coffee shop await.
Address: 499, Kamphaengpet 6th Road | Lad Yao, Chatuchak, Bangkok 10900 (GPS: 13.852143, 100.562965)
Offbeat: The Siriraj Medical Museum – ostensibly used as a fundraiser for the hospital, and features some of the more unusual oddities to enter the world of the living. It presents a rather gruesome look at what might happen to your body if your body stands out in some extraordinary way. This is NOT for the kids or the squeamish, but it is an awesome look at the human body you never got in biology class. Pictures not officially allowed inside.
Address: 2nd floor Adulayadejvikrom Building, 2 Prannok Road, Siriraj Hospital, Bangkok (GPS: 13.758956,100.485031)
For dinner and an excellent place to see a microcosm of Bangkok, head over at Terminal 21 (connected to Asok BTS / Sukhumvit MRT). Hopefully you’re not already malled out, as the Terminal has some cute themes relating to travel throughout. Be sure to get your picture with the big British bus.
Address: Intersection of Sukhumvit and soi 21 AKA Asok st. (GPS: 13.737509, 100.560495)
Ready to party? Head west to Sukhumvit soi 11, a 10 minute walk away. My personal favorite is Cheap Charlie’s (you’ll see it on the left) – unpretentious drinks with a good mixing of locals and non-locals. Alternatively, cross the street from Terminal 21 to Soi Cowboy for a wilder sort of nightlife. Either way, remember that not everything with breasts is a woman…
Museums and shopping
Your first destination today requires being a bit early – you did make that reservation, right? =)
The Museum of Counterfeit Goods – IMPORTANT: admission by appointment only – typically Monday afternoons after 2pm and Thursday mornings around 10am. Depending on when you Contact Pinta at (0)2-653-5555 or Pinta.P AT tilleke DOT com to set up an appointment – the further in advance the better.)
Address: Tilleke and Gibbins, Supalai Grand Tower, 26th Floor, 1011 Rama 3 Road, Chongnonsi, Yannawa (GPS: 13.683418,100.547582)
Another fun museum is the Bangkok Seashell Museum. Shells of all colors and sizes from around the world span three stories of a surprisingly large collection. Naturally, it’s all within a wonderfully air-conditioned museum. For artsy folks, enjoy the patterns and shapes nature blesses us with, and see if you don’t approach a project with something you saw there!
Address: Silom Road next to Soi Silom 23, Bangkok (GPS: 13.722523,100.518285)
A nearby alternative is one of Bangkok’s more unusual temples: Wat Yannawa. Made in the shape of a Chinese junk, the wiharn (a building that houses Buddhist images) is the most distinctive element here. Originally constructed during the Ayutthaya period (1350-1767 AD), it was during the reign of King Rama III that trade with China bloomed – and naturally, Chinese junks were bringing those in. As the old junks were slowly replaced by steam ships, the king wanted folks to remember the boats that served the kingdom. This ‘boat’ would never float, of course, partially because it’s made with concrete, and partially because there are two chedi (pagodas) instead of masts.
Across the street is a tourist destination best seen but not entered – the Sathorn Unique. It’s an unfinished 49-story tower that was under construction when the 1997 Asian financial crisis took its toll.
Address: 40 Jaroenkrung Rd., Yannawa, Sathorn, Bangkok (GPS: 13.717095,100.51431)
Take in Thong Lo for dinner and to cap off the night. Plenty of Japanese restaurants and legitimate Thai massage shops are around; keep walking to find the excellent Beirut Restaurant in the “Eight” building and some good Mexican across the street. Brotzeit offers up fine German beers and gives the hi-so’s a place to congregate. The side streets off of Thong Lo have plenty of other options, but soi 13 has some of the best around. Check out Belon (oyster and raw bar), Bonchon (Korean chicken), Mr. Jones Orphanage (brunch), and Brew (beers and ciders). If you’re on a budget, there’s plenty of street food along the sidewalk, and the 7-11’s offer plenty of walking beers.
Protip: this can be a bit of a walk, but motorcycle taxis are plentiful. Tell the driver which soi (side street) to stop at – 13 is seep-sahm. Expect to pay 20-30 baht per ride.
Before you go
Since I’m not sure exactly when you’re leaving, feel free to move things to another day. If you have more time, try taking both of these in!
Choose a market – mainstream or off-beat.
Mainsteam: Chatuchak Market
Also spelled Jatujak Market or JJ Market, the market is (mostly) covered and fairly easy to navigate, which makes this a great place to come on one of the hotter days of the year. The variety astounds, no matter who you are – Halloween costumes, toilet signs, massage oils, tie-dyed clothes, jewelry, framed art, mannequins with eyes closed blowing kisses, Thai boxing gear, and plenty of street food. Get some lunch while you’re here.
WARNING: Keep your party together – this market is huge, and it’s difficult to find someone if you’ve lost them!
Address: Kamphaeng Phet 4 Rd, Lat Yao, Chatuchak, Bangkok (GPS: 13.799282,100.548653)
Off-beat: Papaya Vintage Market
An eclectic warehouse of antiques, set pieces, carpets, toys, furniture, and so much more. While most of what you see is indeed for sale, the market is better thought of a display area for the oddball offerings. It’s clear the place has been well kept-up – and well organized, despite the size. Some local pro photographers use this three-story indoor market as a place for their photo shoots. As you’d expect, the selection changes daily – during my most recent visit, there were eight life-size Jar-Jar Binks doing the conga.
Address – 306/1 Soi Lat Phrao 55/2, Lat Phrao Rd, Wang Thonglang, Bangkok (GPS: 13.794239,100.597225)
Cool down! Duck into any convenience store or mall for a quick burst of air-conditioning. Whether you need some bottled water or just need to ‘look’, heat stroke is nobody’s idea of fun.
At 8am and 6pm …the national anthem is played across Bangkok’s loudspeakers, and everyone will come to a halt. Stand respectfully still for the minute it plays. No need to put your hand over your heart or salute.
If you decide to see a movie, stand respectfully for the King’s Anthem before the movie starts (a message in English will precede the royal song). It’s actually a pretty song.
Respect the King and anything to do with royalty. Don’t hear – or listen to – any badmouthing, period. Thailand has some of the strictest lese majeste rules on the planet, and Thais universally adore the king regardless of the political turmoil.