A visit to Bangkok's Grand Palace is at the top of every visitors 'must-see' list. Built in 1782 by King Rama I who established Bangkok as Thailand's new capital, the Grand Palace became the Royal seat for 150 years.
The striking buildings within the palace complex reflect the spirit of each successive monarch and the era in which they ruled. While Thailand's current (and longest-reigning) monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej has never lived in the Grand Palace, the complex is still used to mark ceremonial and auspicious happenings. Deep within the Palace grounds you'll find Thailand's most sacred sight - Phra Kaew Morakot (the Emerald Buddha) contained within a beautiful temple (Wat Phra Kaeo). This highly revered Buddha sculpture is carved from a single block of jade and dates from the 15th century AD.
To make the most of your visit it is worthwhile hiring a guide who will help broaden your understanding of the Grand Palace and its colorful history.
The Temple of the Dawn - or Wat Arun - towers 260 ft (79 m) above the Chao Phraya river. With fabulous views of the rising and setting sun and of the city's main attractions, the temple is one of Bangkok's most visited sights after the Grand Palace.
Named by Bangkok's founder King Thaksin to signify the rise of the new kingdom (after Ayutthaya was destroyed), the Temple of the Dawn was originally much shorter until its expansion during King Rama III's rule (1824 - 1851). Local people donated the ceramic pieces that make up the temple's unique exterior decoration.
It is possible to climb the temple for views across the river to the Grand Palace and beyond but its narrow steps are not for the faint hearted.
The Chao Phraya River (or Mae Nam Chao Phraya) runs north to south through Thailand, whose most notable and densely populated cities lie along the river's main tributary.
In Bangkok, the Chao Phraya is a major transportation artery. A vast network of ferries and water taxis, known as long tails, ferry locals and tourists up and down the river, connecting with the city's main sights. For many, these boats are the preferred way of getting around Bangkok, whose streets are often choked with traffic.
Several boat lines compete for business on the river and its canals and you’ll find variations in price and distance traveled. If you start at Tha Sathon (accessible via sky train at Saphan Taksi), you'll chug sedately past (or be able to disembark at) Chinatown, Wat Arun, Wichai Prasit Fort and the Grand Palace. There’s no denying it - the Chao Phraya is a murky and sometimes smelly river, but even a short boat trip along it gives you a fresh perspective on the city.
Thailand’s Kanchanaburi province is home to the famous Bridge on the River Kwai and the beginning of the Thai-Burma Death Railway, both poignant reminders of the thousands of POW's and forced laborers who lost their lives in WWII. Made famous by the 1957 David Lean movie of the same name, the building of the bridge in 1943 was one part of a huge Japanese wartime project to link Thai and Burmese railway lines and create a direct route from Bangkok.
Due to illness, starvation and neglect, thousands of people lost their lives building the bridge and railway – you can visit the graves of nearly 7,000 POWs at the nearby Kanchanaburi war cemetery. Parts of the original bridge are now displayed in the War Museum here. You can walk along the restored railway bridge on foot or take a train specifically for tourists.
In a city and country known for its colorful markets, none stands quite so vivid as Bangkok’s Pak Khlong Talat Flower Market. The largest floral market in the Thai capital -- both retail and wholesale -- sits on the banks of the river just south of Wat Pho.
Open 24 hours a day, the market starts each day primarily as a vegetable and fruit market before giving way to the flowers. As you wander through, you’ll see flowers from around the world, piled high in stall after stall -- delicate orchids, bunches of colorful carnations, fragrant roses, lilies and forget-me-nots.
Chinatown - or Yaowarat - is a vibrant area, packed with shops, markets, restaurants and hotels, mostly concentrated along Thanon Yaowarat (Yaowarat Street). Markedly different from the rest of Bangkok, Chinatown is relatively untouched by modern development and has the highest concentration of gold shops in the city. There is also a smaller network of roads and alleys, which reveal markets crammed with anything from hair slides to cutlery.
Having been settled in the area since the 1700s, Bangkok's large Chinese community has a unique and fascinating history. You can now get a sense of that at the relatively new Yaowarat Chinatown Heritage Centre in Wat Trai Mit Witthayaram. The center details the evolution of Chinatown and its people, from their earliest migration from China to the present day.
Wat Kalayanamit is an elaborate Bangkok temple that sits on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. It’s located near the mouth of the Bangkok Yai Canal, although any time spent on this part of the river means you’re unlikely to miss it; the temple’s giant ochre-roofed viharn tends to stand out and demand attention.
While Kalayanamit’s viharn can be said to be traditionally Thai in architectural style, the temple’s other buildings and pavilions have a distinct Chinese influence. This is because Wat Kalayanamit was built in the first half of the 19th century when China was seen as the ideal counterbalance to the growing European influences in southeast Asia. As such, Chinese architecture, sculptures, and other decorative artefacts became increasingly popular. Inside the huge viharn, an equally huge Buddha statue almost fills the entire prayer hall, while the walls are painted with scenes from the time of the temple's construction.
Located at the end of Chinatown's Yaowarat Road, near Hua Lampong Station, Wat Traimit is home to the world's largest gold-seated Buddha. Measuring in at three meters tall and weighing over five tons, the Golden Buddha makes Wat Traimit a prominent stop on Bangkok’s temple trail.
This impressive statue attracts floods of visitors who come to marvel at its impressive size and gleaming golden surface, but was once hidden from invading armies by a covering of plaster. Pieces of the plaster that once formed its disguise can now be found on display in a case within the temple.
Sukhumvit Road is the longest boulevard in Thailand (with the Skytrain running along most of its length), and the surrounding neighborhood has become the city’s makeshift international zone, with expats and well-off Thais living on the small side streets, called sois, that intersect it. It’s a neighborhood where choices are endless. Luxury hotels stand beside budget accommodations, and the food scene from five star to street stand is top notch.
What Sukhumvit lacks in tourist attractions it makes up for in its buzzing shopping and nightlife scene. By day air-conditioned shopping malls offer just about anything under the sun and sumptuous days spas promise relaxation. By night the neighborhood comes alive with some of Bangkok’s top nightclubs (and a few notorious red light districts).
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Deep within the Grand Palace grounds you’ll find Thailand’s most sacred sight - the Emerald Buddha (Phra Kaew Morakot) contained within the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew or Wat Phra Keow). This temple is regarded as the most sacred Buddhist temple in the country and is an essential palladium of Thai society.
Within its walls is the highly revered Buddha sculpture, carved from a single block of jade and dates from the 14th century AD. Believed to have been crafted in Sri Lanka, the Emerald Buddha was transported and revered throughout Southeast Asia before being brought back to Thailand from Laos in 1552. It has sat in its present shrine within the Grand Palace walls since 1784 and remains an important symbol of the Thai nation.
The Golden Mount - or Wat Saket - was constructed by King Rama I shortly after the founding of Bangkok. Built just outside the original city walls and intended as a burial site, the mount has many thousands of bodies interned here - most of them dating from Rama II's rule when plague swept through the city.
Built on swampy ground, the hill was rebuilt by Rama III who added a chedi (stupa) which promptly collapsed due to the shifting foundations. Rama V built the golden chedi we see today on the rubble of the previous chedi. The golden chedi is rumored to contain some of Buddha's remains – including his teeth. Concrete walls were constructed during World War II to ensure the structure remains stable. The Golden Mount looks its best at night when it glows gold against the dark sky. It is worth visiting in the daytime too for fantastic views across the city.
A major destination among travelers in Bangkok, The Marble Palace is aptly named for its design, which is entirely made from Italian marble. Completed in 1911, the temple is the home of the golden Buddhist statue called Phra Buddhajinaraja and is still a live shrine, often filled with patrons who make offerings or light candles inside.
Buried beneath the statue is said to be the ashes of King Chulalongkorn and outside the main shrine in the gallery are more than 50 statues of Buddha depicted by several different cultures and variations of Buddhism in the region.
Located near to the Dusit Palace, the spacious complex on Si Ayudhya Road is built on the site of an older temple and was once used as the headquarters of Thai troops fighting against the Laotian army.
Budget travelers the world over go to Khao San Road to eat delicious, cheap street food, stay in budget digs, shop at the souvenir stalls and hang out in its open-air bars. So legendary is this Thai street, it even has its own website!
Only 20 minutes walk to the Grand Palace, Khao San Road started on its current incarnation in the early 80s, when Thailand fully embraced tourism. What began as a few budget travelers renting rooms in local houses, bloomed into a fully fledged backpacker mecca. As well as being an attraction in itself these days, Khan San Road is a good place to arrange ongoing travel within Thailand or its neighboring countries. Khao San Road is still as popular as ever and, love it or hate it, its irrepressible energy is infectious and hard to deny.
Situated to the west of Bangkok in Samut Songkhram, the Maeklong Railway Market is one of the most unusual markets in Thailand. At first glance it almost seems like any other local market, with vendors selling fresh vegetables, colorful fruit, and other foodstuff from tiny shops lining a narrow lane.
However, all is not quite as it seems at the Maeklong Railway Market. At regular intervals throughout the day, a loud train siren will sound and in a matter of moments, the shop owners will scoop up any stray produce, use long poles to hold up their awnings, and casually make way for the huge passenger train that chugs directly through the market!
Once the train has disappeared, the vendors will place their awnings back into position and the market will continue as usual. This occurs at the Maeklong Railway Market up to eight times a day, each and every day.
A top destination for visitors in Bangkok, the Jim Thompson House is a museum dedicate to the 20th century American businessman Jim Thompson, who almost single handedly reinvented the Thai silk trade. Housed in the former home of Mr. Thompson, the museum contains art he obtained while traveling in the region as well as very informative demonstrations showing the entire process of making silk, from how the silkworms are raised through to the production process.
The house is made up of six traditional Thai-style homes that were purchased one by one and formed into an elaborate mansion-like complex that includes a drawing room, painting pavilion, library, study and silk pavilion. Certainly a fan-favorite, the gift shop contains loads of great silk products as well as books and paintings showcasing the life of Jim Thompson.
Held in the Asia Hotel in Bangkok, the Calypso Cabaret is certainly a show with a twist, using traditional cabaret to parade Thailand’s famous transsexual culture. It’s filled with lots of great costumes, dancing and singing, and performers accommodate all nationalities, singing songs and acting in Japanese, English, Korean and Chinese.
Each show contains several fascinating acts, including that of Carmen Miranda, who rides ostriches on the stage while dancing in the bright lights, a very convincing Marilyn Monroe impersonator and the comedic styling of Geisha, who performs in Japanese, but is hilarious in any language.
The controversial nature of the event make perhaps do not make it ideal for family outings, but these highly professional shows bring lots of memorable moments, including from Korean songs of the Wondergirls and the fantastic and overwhelming finale—which we will not give away here.
The Bang Pa-In Palace is situated 60 kilometers from Bangkok and just a few kilometers from Ayutthaya. Originally built in the 17th century by King Prasat Thong of Ayutthaya, it was later destroyed by the Burmese and left abandoned for almost a century.
During the reign of King Mongkut (Rama IV) in the 1850s, part of the palace was restored, but most of the site seen today is down to his predecessor, King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), who restored and expanded the entire grounds. Today the palace is still used by the Thai royal family as a summer residence. The iconic buildings scattered across the complex each feature their own unique architectural style. For example, the Wehat Chamroon Palace was built using traditional Chinese materials and designs, while the Aisawan Tippaya Asna Pavilion, set in the middle of a lake, is typically Thai. Other buildings are clearly European in architectural style.
A weekend visit to Chatuchak Market is an absolute must-do. The snack stalls at the market's entrance selling deep fried insects give you a taste (quite literally if you are game!) of the unique Thai treats that await you within.
Only open on the weekend, Chatuchak is Bangkok's largest and most fun weekend market. You'll need a full day here to navigate the entire place, which bursts with stalls selling everything from reptiles, puppies, exotic food and souvenirs, to fake designer clothes and real designer furniture. Browsing at the market is a fantastic cultural experience but can be hot and exhausting. Start your day early and take advantage of the many bars and cafes within the market that are perfectly set up for people watching over a cold beverage. Western food is available but it pays to be adventurous and try a bargain local lunch at one of the many food stalls.
Phahurat Market is located in the Little India area of Bangkok in the Phra Nakhon district of the city, which has a large Sikh community. Just a stone’s throw from Chinatown, visiting the market and its surrounding areas means a discovery of smells, sights, sounds, and tastes—a true feast for the senses.
The market is so named due to the main road that connects it, where stall and shop owners sell all manner of Indian-style clothing, jewelry, and food amid a labyrinth of narrow alleyways. These crowded lanes are mainly filled with swaths of fabrics, as well as ready-to-wear items of clothing. The area also extends along Chakrawat Road and further along Sampeng Lane, where neighboring restaurants offer a range of Indian cuisine to choose from.
The Phahurat Market is a popular and often crowded place, where visitors can wander around and soak up the atmosphere, stopping to haggle for some fine silks or to nibble on a delicious Indian snack from a street cart.
Wat Suthat is one of the oldest and most revered temples in Bangkok. It is one of just six temples in Thailand classified as the “highest grade of the first class royal temples.” It houses an eight-meter tall bronze Buddha statue seated in the Mara position, as well as some intricate wall murals that depict the life of the Buddha.
However, Wat Suthat is perhaps best known for the giant red swing (or Sao Ching Chaa) that sits in front of it. The huge 20-meter-tall swing, which is made from teak wood, was built at the end of the 18th century when it was used as part of an annual religious ceremony. Inside the temple, magnificent wall murals portray the stories of the Buddha, while others depict scenes of daily life in the Rattanakosin era. Along with those found in Bangkok’s Grand Palace, these murals are considered some of the best and most extensive in the whole of Thailand.
This bustling local gem is the largest fresh food market in Bangkok, with stalls selling produce straight from rural farms, raw meat and seafood direct from the nearby fishing port. Khlong Toey is particularly crowded in early mornings, when locals arrive in search of the best fare but despite long lines the vibe is still pretty relaxed.
While travelers can find random items like batteries and electronics, the real draw here is food. Come prepared to sample fruits and vegetables straight from market shelves, or to tuck into steaming hot plates of green curry at one of the mom and pop breakfast and lunch stalls.
Prior to Bangkok becoming Thailand’s capital, Ayutthaya was the center of the Siamese Kingdom, from 1351 to 1787. Known throughout the world for its riches and open attitude towards foreign traders, the kingdom prospered for over 400 years before falling at the hands of the Burmese after a 15-month siege.
Once a majestic city with three palaces, 400 temples, a succession of 33 kings and numerous dynasties, Ayutthaya and most of its heritage (art, literature and historical records) was destroyed in the battle with the Burmese. Visitors can still get a good sense of Ayutthaya's former glory, however, in the ruins of the old city and what remains of the imperial palace.
Architecture and history buffs will enjoy the intriguing mix of architectural styles that clearly show a strong Khmer (Cambodian) influence. Such is the significance of this historic city and its surrounds, that it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum is a good time anywhere, but where it is always fun to see the likeness of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, the Bangkok branch also includes sculptures in the shape of some regional favorites.
Meet Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Dalai Lama and Chairman Mao Zedong, among several other current and historical political figures, or if you are an arts and science buff, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso and even the father of modern art in Thailand, Silpa Bhirasri, are on display. Among the museums large cache of wax pop stars, take your photo with Michael Jackson, Madonna, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber or shake hands with sports icons Muhammad Ali, Yao Ming or Serena Williams. Madame Tussaud’s in Bangkok is located on the 6th floor of the recently refurbished Siam Discovery in the heart of town.
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