{travelogue} Eight Fun Things to Do in Bangkok

Last month, I hit up Thailand for a quick trip on the way to and from Bhutan. I had been forewarned that Bangkok was a big, messy, dirty place, but once I got a little beneath the surface, I found there was a lot to love about it. Here are eight fun things I recommend you try if you find yourself in Bangkok!

Eight Fun Things to Do in Bangkok

1. Strange Buddhas and Cheap Massage at Wat Po

Wat Po (aka Wat Pho) is a temple complex right across from the Grand Palace that is home to one of the best buddhas I have ever seen: the Reclining Buddha. This golden beauty’s official name is Wat PhraChettuphon Wimon Mangkhlaram Ratchaworamahawihan (say that 10 times fast! Or even just once!) and he is over 40 meters long and 15 meters high. The soles of the Buddha’s feet have gorgeous inlays of mother-of-pearl.

In the rest of the complex you will see many more buddhas, large and small, among the sculptured gardens and intricately tiled figures and temples.

Wat Po is also known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage. Just when your feet are starting to get sore from walking around, you can pop into the Wat Po Massage School for a cheap and effective rubdown with one of the friendly students. I had a wee baby with me, and one of the off-duty masseuses offered to hold him and entertained him while I got a Thai foot massage. Perfect for weary feet after walking the temple grounds.

2. Riled Up at a Muay Thai Fight

Muay Thai is a big sport for kids and adults in Thailand – and more varied and less violent than other kinds of boxing matches. It’s fun to head out to the stadium, have a few Singhas, and watch a couple of bouts.

One of the most special things about the Muay Thai fights is that there is a group of traditional Thai musicians who play a live soundtrack during the fight – and they alter the music’s tempo and urgency based on what’s happening in the fight. It is an incredible experience and a great way to see some local culture.

There are fights at Lumpinee Stadium and Rajadamnern Stadium. Between the two, there are usually fights to see almost every night of the week (you can find schedules by clicking on the stadium links in the previous sentence.)

TIPS for the Muay Thai fights:

  • The women in the front of the stadium offering to help with tickets are legitimate ticket sellers who work for the stadium – not scammers. They will help you figure out which type and price of seat you want and then lead you into the stadium to find you a good seat.
  • You can safely bring your camera and nobody minds if you take photos.
  • You can take the Skytrain to Lumpinee, but for Rajadamnern you’ll probably need a taxi.

3. Grand Palace Glitter

Across from Wat Po you’ll find the impressive Grand Palace complex. It’s probably the number one tourist site and definitely worth at least a quick visit and stroll through the grounds. The intricate and brightly colored buildings and temples are dripping with gold and mirrors, and some seem almost unreal in their grandeur.

TIPS for visiting the Grand Palace:

  • Both men and women need to have arms and legs covered, so if you’re not dressed properly you have to rent clothing to put on over what you’re wearing. This can take some extra time, especially if it’s a crowded day, so you may want to wear long pants and bring something long-sleeved in your bag so you don’t have to deal with the hassle.
  • There is a common scam here when you try to enter – a person in a uniform who looks very official may approach you and tell you the palace is closed, or closed to non-Thai people, and offer to take you to see other points of interest. THIS IS A SCAM. The palace does not close during the day.
  • The Emerald Buddha is much-touted here, but if there is a really long line don’t beat yourself up about missing it – it’s very small and made of jade, and while beautiful, it doesn’t quite live up to the hype.

4. Savoring Street Food

There is an incredible amount of excellent street food in Thailand; the issue is having the wherewithal to get over any fears you may have and start trying it. You might want to start with some street fruit as a gateway food, like the luscious pomegranates that are so refreshing on a hot day (which is pretty much every day, in Bangkok.)

Moving on from the fruit, you can try another of my favorites: the sticky rice with mango wrapped in banana leaf. We had these just outside the Muay Thai fight.

Of course, there is no end to the noodles and curries and snacks that you can get on the streets of Bangkok – and most Westerners who have tried it claim that the food is reasonably safe to eat and unlikely to make you sick, so you will have to decide how deeply you want to dive in.

5. Oasis of Cool at Jim Thompson’s House

Jim Thompson was an American entrepreneur and OSS agent who, after a lifetime of international travel, decided to settle in Thailand. He disappeared in Malaysia in 1967, but his klong-side former home is now a small museum. The grounds of the home are calm and cool despite being in the center of Bangkok – you can take a short guided tour and learn about Thompson, the home, and the art within.

I love small, focused cultural museumes, so this was a big hit for me. Bonus: after your tour, if you’d like to linger a little longer in the tranquility of this inner-city oasis, you can have lunch and beers at the excellent Thai restaurant on-site.

Skytrain: National Stadium. 

6. Food Court Frenzy at Siam Paragon

You might be giving the side-eye at this suggestion, but don’t knock it til you try it. The food court area in the Siam Paragon mall is one of the most outrageous, vast emporia of food offerings I’ve ever seen, and has some genuine delights within its mall basement bowels. Skirt the big Western chains and dive into the middle aisles and you’ll find such an array of delights as Hokkaido milk ice cream, a shop that only sells toast and boasts a 3 foot butter tower, Japanese burgers and fries, freshly fried Thai roti with toppings, and much more.

Find your way to Milk Solid – an ice cream shop that mixes your concoction with liquid nitrogen while you wait (and watch the show.) Fun for all and something for everyone!

Skytrain: Siam.

7. Modern Art, Thai Style, at BACC

The Bangkok Art & Cultural Center (BACC) is a hub for local artists and design boutiques. Shows vary, so check the website or just stop by. When we visited, there was an exhibition of modern Thai artists, so we were lucky to see some Alex Face pieces (including the sculpture below).

We also found great gifts to buy, like super-cool iPad cases made from recycled rice bags and hand-crafted wire earrings. Plus we got to sample some ice cream made to resemble a plate of tonkatsu from Icedea.

Skytrain: National Stadium.

8. Get Out of Town for Some Laid Back Beach Time in Pran Buri

Three hours south of Bangkok, on the Gulf of Thailand, lies the beachside resort of Hua Hin. A few more miles down the road you’ll find the up-and-coming Pran Buri area, a funky but charming strip of open-air cafes, hotels, and massage spots that rim the beach. The vibe is totally laid-back, the people are friendly, and it would be all but impossible not to relax there.

Food options are a bit limited, but thankfully they are also great. For example, you can get a whole fresh local fish with chilies and garlic for around 6 bucks at Tonto – or squish your toes in the sand while you eat a casual and friendly fusion meal at the adorable Pranberry.

We loved staying at the Aleenta, but there are other great options at a variety of price points. For something more affordable, check out the 2 cottages at Pranberry.

 

 

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1 comment

1 Rahul { 01.19.13 at 10:44 am }

I will also recommend climbing up Wat Arun – its tough to get up (and tougher to get down!) since its built Cambodian style. You will get good views of the Grand Palace on the other side of the river.
Rahul recently posted..[2013]: Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taipei

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