Bangkok See And Do
For 417 years, this ancient city was the capital of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, whose territory once extended beyond present-day Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar. Foreign visitors described the three palaces and more than 400 temples along the Chao Phraya River as the most glittering city on Earth. Conquered by the Burmese in 1767, the still impressive remains are a UNESCO World Heritage site. Visitors who make the 45-minute trip from Bangkok can tour the 17th-century Bang Pa In Palace built in 1878 in the English Gothic style as well as more traditional Thai temples like Wat Pananchoeng, constructed in 1324 to shelter a huge sitting Buddha given by the emperor of China. Travelers with the means and time should consider cruising the "River of Kings," aboard the Manohra Song and the even more spacious Manohra Dream, two exquisitely restored teak rice barges. The overnight boat trip departs from the Bangkok Marriott Resort & Spa.
Whether by public ferry or private water taxi, leisurely cruises down the Chao Phraya River guarantee great views. Better yet, get off the river and explore some of Bangkok's extensive network of khlong, or canals—hence the city's former nickname, the Venice of the East. Long-tailed boats—Thailand's distinctive elongated canoes with giant diesel motors roaring at the stern—depart from Tha Chang Pier by the Grand Palace and from most of the riverside hotels, such as the Mandarin Oriental. There are several boat companies that operate along the river, but the largest is Chao Phraya Express Boat (66-2-623-6143; www.chaophrayaboat.co.th).
Th. Na Phra Lan
Tel: 66 2 623 5500
One of Thailand's most impressive sights: 54 acres featuring a collection of palatial buildings, golden stupas, sculpted nine-foot demons, and richly ornamented wats (temples). The architecture spans more than 200 years, and the highlight is undoubtedly the glorious Wat Phra Keo, the most sacred Buddhist sight in Thailand. The Wat is a complex of buildings culminating in the Chapel Royal, home to the venerated Emerald Buddha. As at all Thai temples, you must dress modestly (no bare knees or shoulders, no flip-flops) and remove your shoes before entering. The object of all the prostrations inside the Ubosoth, or Assembly Hall, is a tiny jadeite Buddha. Just two feet tall, the statue is so sacred that the king himself changes its clothing for each new season.
Ticket booth closes daily at 3:30pm; grounds at 4:30 p.m.
6 Soi Kasemsan 2, th. Rama I Road
Tel: 66 2 216 7368
James H.W. Thompson was perhaps the most legendary expat in all of Thailand (rumor has it that letters addressed simply 'Jim Thompson, Bangkok' reached him in a city of over three million). An American adventurer and entrepreneur who came to Bangkok during World War II as a U.S. spy, Thompson later returned to settle down and single-handedly reinvent the Thai silk industry. He not only made the country's silk famous throughout the world, he also collected an amazing array of Asian artifacts including traditional Thai paintings, sculpture, and porcelain dating back as far as 6th century A.D., which he used to decorate the buildings and gardens of this gorgeous, idealized (and subtly Westernized) version of a traditional Thai home on a back khlong. He held court like a latter-day maharaja until 1967, when he disappeared during a trip to the jungles of Malaysia. The main branch of his renowned silk shop still operates in Bangkok to this day.
19 Soi Phra Pinit
South Sathorn Road
Tel: 66 2 286 8185
Former Thai prime minister Mom Rajawongse Kukrit Pramoj lovingly assembled these five traditional teak stilt houses over the course of 20 years. Ceramics, handpainted masks, and Buddha images fill the intimate spaces while serene gardens overflow with tropical plants and flowers plus Kukrit's beloved imported bonsai-style trees. Surrounded by skyscrapers, the traditional compound is less well known than the Jim Thompson House and offers a respite amid the bustling metropolis. Although you can take tours, the grounds are also a great place to just escape the city and linger for a few hours.
Open Saturdays and Sundays and by appointment.
Th. Na Phra That/Sanam Luang
Tel: 66 2 224 1333
Everything you ever wanted to know about Thailand—its history, art, religions, culture, and more—in a complex that includes a former royal residence and chapel. The artifacts here (everything from sacred Buddha images, royal emblems and precious stones, to costumes, weapons and musical instruments) cover Thai history from Neolithic times through the 20th century, and are a treasure trove of artistic (and academic) riches, plus. Make the effort to get up early and get here for the free guided tours in English on Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 9:30 a.m.
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
The buying and selling frenzy at this market starts around 2 am when boats on the Chao Phraya River begin to dock with a cornucopia of fresh cut flowers, fruits, and vegetables. In order to find the frenzy, follow your nose from Wat Pho along Maharaj Road with the Chao Phraya River on your right-hand side. The bounties of orchids make an excellent photo opportunity but don't forget to stop and smell the lotus flowers, marigolds, zinnias, jasmine, and roses. Be sure to get there earlyby late morning, all the blooms will have made their way to the city's hotels, restaurants, flower shops, and funeral parlors.
9 Krung Thep Kritha 4A Lane
Krung Thep Kritha Road
Tel: 66 2 379 3601
This teakwood house is an exact replica of the former queen's house and much of the museum's Thai art and antiques come from the royal collection. Located on the outskirts of Bangkok, visitors wander through authentic Thai pavilions set amid perfectly manicured gardens dotted with Sukhothai-period terra-cotta ceramics. The affable owner lives adjacent to the museum and can often be spotted roaming the grounds of this center, which he opened to educate those interested in Thai antiquities.
Open Thursdays through Sundays 10 am to 3 pm.
Th. Thai Wang or Soi Chetuphon
Tel: 66 2 225 9595
Just south of the Grand Palace complex near the Tha Chang pier, this temple, which was also Thailand's first public education center, was originally built by King Rama I in the 18th century, and today covers 20 acres. In one pavilion lies the enormous reclining Buddha (150 feet long and 49 feet high), a golden figure with an enigmatic smile and soles inlaid with mother of pearl. The hallway around this big Buddha is lined by smaller statues, fronted by tiers of candles that burn during Buddhist holidays, and fluttering with little squares of gold leaf stuck on by supplicants. Wat Pho is also home to Thailand's most famous school of massage. Although you may have to wait half a day until a therapist is available, it's worth it: A fantastic 60-minute full-body massage costs less than $8.