Bangkok - Sightseeing
For many, Bangkok has the edge on even Hong Kong for full on shop-til-you-drop magic. Thai people take their shopping seriously – and strike a hard bargain whether they’re out for provisions for the evening meal, or about to get measured up for a formal suit. Even in glitzy malls the pace is frantic, and a wink and a nudge can get you a ‘one time only’ price. Make no mistake, you’ll have no trouble finding ways to part with your Baht. Fine local crafts, weaving, jewellery, top brand-name items (or, more likely, deceivingly well-made copies) and food markets – all offer great value and even greater entertainment.
Antiques, images of Buddha or fine art can not be taken out of the country without the permission of the Fine Arts Department at Bangkok’s National Museum so, for hassle free shopping, chose instead ceramics, clothing and gems. But, another word of caution – only ever buy gems from reputable (i.e. longstanding) dealers. Genuine bargains can be found, but only from stores belonging to the Thai Gem and Jewellery Traders Association. If it seems too good to be true, that’s because it is. Shop around, use your common sense.
Amulet Market (Th Mahathat, 9:00am – 5:00pm)
Just outside Wat Mahathat, a clutch of street and soir (small shops) sellers parade intricately carved talismans, herbal medicine and traditional massage.
Nagi Arts (0 2253 2826 Th Withayu)
An antique palace stuffed with all manner of oddities, from royal robes to gilded cages, iconography to teak furniture. A must see.
River City Complex (Th Yotha)
A one-stop shopping mall for all things Thai: art, antiques, maps, prints, costumes and jewellery especially.
Central Department Store (0 2233 6930, Th Ploenchit)
This venerable old store might look a bit worn around the edges but it’s still a wonderful, and very much alive, Thai institution. Ideal for buying Thai and international cosmetics, fashions and electronics.
Johnny’s Gems (0 2224 4065, Th Fuang Nakhon)
Unset or set, these gems are shining examples of the art of the gem cutter and offer bargains for the knowledgeable. If the prices seem steep compared to the street traders that’ll be because these gems are real.
Chatuchak Weekend Market (Talat Nat Jatujak, 8:00am - 6:00pm Sat-Sun)
The biggest and best. A sprawling, uncontrolled city within a city, where (with a little haggling and a lot of patience) you can buy almost everything. Take a day, keep taking refueling breaks – at the excellent food stalls – and surrender yourself to the chaos. Don’t forget that pickpockets are rife in all Thai markets, but don’t let that put you off.
Flower Market (Pak Khlong) (Th Chakkaphet)
Wonderfully cheap, deliciously fragrant roses, orchids and more exotic blooms – fruit and vegetables too.
Wat Saket (0 2223 4561, Th Worachak 8:00am - 5:00pm)
You can see the gleaming gold chedi at the heart of the Wat Saket compound long before you arrive at the hill from which it rises (appropriately enough called the Golden Mount). At 58 metres, it’s an impressive sight. Climb the 318 steps to the cupola and enjoy magnificent panoramic views of Bangkok.
Monk’s Bowl Village (0 2223 7970, Soi Ban Baht 10:00am - 8:00pm)
A lovingly curated handicraft village churning out traditional rounded bowls that monks use to receive their food rations. Each bowl is hammered out from eight separate pieces of metal.
Dusit Park (0 2628 6300 – 100Bt adults/ 50Bt children)
Wonderful traditional Thai architecture, carefully scrubbed gardens and plenty of shady spots for a picnic, Dusit is a much needed green lung in the centre of the city – with occasional outdoor performances of graceful Thai dancing. Within the grounds are the Elephant Museum, an Ancient Cloth Museum, Teak Mansion (the world’s largest golden teak building) and a Photography Gallery. Entrance to the park includes access to all these attractions.
Wat Mangkon Kamalawat (Neng Noi Yee, 9:00am – 6:00pm)
An ancient Chinese temple packed with hushed worshippers lighting incense and making offerings
Wat Traimit (0 2623 1226, Th Yaowarat 9:00am - 5:00pm)
The stunning centrepiece here is the hefty, solid gold Buddha, weighing in at five and a half tonnes.
Must See Sights
The city can be divided into two by the north-south railway and by the banks of the Chao Phraya River. The slice between river and rail is the old town – an intoxicating procession of holy temples, crowded markets and traditional shops. North from here is Banglamphu and the tourist heartland of Khao San Road while fanning out from the railway terminal is Chinatown and Ko Rattankosin – the stunning Royal Palace complex.
East of the railway is Bangkok new town – all gleaming skyscrapers, seedy massage parlours, international embassies and anodyne shopping malls.
Ko Rattanakosin District
Wat Phra Kaew & Grand Palace (Na Phra Lan Road) Open: Daily 8:30am-12:00pm and 13:00pm-15:30pm.
With acres of gold and glass dazzling in the sun, this fabulous complex can’t – literally – be missed. Built 1782, the palace contains the sumptuous Temple of the Emerald Buddha, a royal chapel, extensive murals and grand ceremonial rooms. The largest palace room, the Chakri Mahaprasat was built by British architects, but looks more Italianate (or even French) than Thai. Strict dress code applies. No shorts, spaghetti straps or sockless feet.
Wat Pho (0 2221 9111, Th Samanchai 8:00am – 5:00pm)
Most visitors head straight for the massive reclining Buddha – and he’s certainly not something you should ignore. At 46 metres long and 15 metres high you’d have a job to anyway. But check out the subtle, more human scale Buddha images in the temples’ other rooms. Try to visit in the early morning. Here too is the famous Wat Pho massage school - perfect for easing big city stress.
Wat Arun (0 2466 3167, Th Arun Amarin 8:00am – 5:00pm)
Temple named after the Indian God of dawn (Aruna) featuring an 82 metre high prang (decorated tower) encrusted with Chinese porcelain. Inside, the murals - depicting the various stages of life – are particularly interesting.