Going Off The Beaten Track In Bangkok
Consider the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew accompanied with a city view from the Baiyok Sky restaurant and boutiques of Siam Paragon to be the real Bangkok? Then it is high time to visit the banks of Chao Phraya River again and dispel all these touristy stereotypes.
It is not an easy task to go off the beaten track in a city with the population of 8M people, but we know how to spice your standard itinerary with a dash of mystery, history, and gilt.
The Rattanakosin Island, the cradle of the contemporary Bangkokian era, glitters with splendour of the famous temples and palaces. But just around the corner, in Thanon Maharat, the amulet market is bustling with activity. Potential buyers, often already spotting many amulets, can be seen bargaining hard. Satisfied and excited customers then exchange their money for powerful mascots.
A couple of stops by riverboat bring the adventurous souls to the goriest Bangkok’s institution – Songkran Niyomsane Forensic Medicine Museum. If the variety of appendages and remnants of famous murderers do not spoil your appetite, go on with testing your stomach in the adjacent Parasite Museum. The entire complex is located within the premises of Siriraj Hospital.
Few are in the know that right in the centre of the city – and absolutely free of charge – you can witness an unusual ceremony of gratitude to the guardian spirit of the city, Phra Sayam Thewathirat. Brilliantly costumed dancers measure out subtle movements of the ritual dance, lakhon kabon. It all happens by Lak Mueang, or the city column, which is a part of the animistic traditions and also functions as a Zero mile marker of the country.
Wat Saket, known as Golden Mount, is without any doubt the most well-known sight of Banglamphu. But make a few steps further afield and you will hear the ringing of metal in Ban Baat, the only surviving village established by Rama I to make baht for pindapata. If some words from above sound too alien, it is just another reason to make a closer acquaintance with the village. If you purchase a bowl, the craftsperson will show you the equipment and process used.
You can hardly avoid dealing with temples during a walkabout in Bangkok, and you actually should not. Even if Wat Bowonniwet is by no means the most prominent temple of the capital, it is the national headquarters for the Thammayut monastic sect (not a Masonic Lodge, but sounds mysterious, too). The order was founded by Rama IV, and even Mongkut was once the abbot of the temple. Enter the boht, and the murals will tell you a lot about the Thai perception of the Western life. The majority of the depictions were copied from the 19th century magazine illustrations.
The complicated web of tiny alleys of Yaowarat, Bangkok’s Chinatown, is the urban explorer’s equivalent of the Amazon Basin. Find here the Chinese dialects, herbal cures, dried frogs and ginseng root, the Chinese cuisine flavours and as much authenticity as possible. If you want even more originality, on Saturday night come to the neighbouring flee market, Talat Fai Chai. Do bring a flashlight!
If you consider the business district of Sathon with its office towers and wining-and-dining restaurants of minor interest, mistaken you are! The silk tycoon Jim Thompson was not the only admirer of Thai architecture for the personal use. Kukrit Pramoj adorned the five teak buildings of his charming complex (Soi Phra Phinit) for 20 years, and now they contain a variety of art objects. The garden is famous for beautiful bonsai trees. And well, you are sure to know who the owner of this home was, are you not?
To fill the gap in your knowledge of Thai architecture and history, head to Mueang Boran, which is located in Samut Prakan. The Ancient city is one of the Thai contemporary wonders. It is the largest open-air museum in the world and the most convincing model of the scaled history of the country through different epochs. Rural pastorals peppered with ancient temples alternate with sumptuous palaces and wats, which are replicas of still existing Thai structures. The territory of the museum is so vast that you can easily get lost and enjoy the wonders of Siam in seclusion.