While my numerous Thailand trips had helped me list out my favourite things to do in the country (you can read here), its capital city had still been a mystery. To begin with, Bangkok is very easy to reach. There are hundreds of daily arrivals by plane, train, and boat. However, nearly all my Bangkok trips had been either transits or airline night halts. I have never stayed there at a stretch nor explored the city as a traveler. Undoubtedly a very exciting city, I always found Bangkok coming alive in the evenings, staying lively till midnight and then shutting down until 8 the next morning. Mornings were slow, and I always found Bangkok looking drab until noon.
Horrendous traffic made noon Bangkok explorations a pain and its muggy weather left me panting. Having said all that, I did however manage to explore the city in bits, sometimes as a solo wanderer and twice in small group tours. Both times were enjoyable and I still have quite a long Bangkok wishlist.
I will start with my wishlist which is in itself a pretty tedious read, before rushing headlong into my Bangkok travel experiences. The list of “must try in Bangkok” has been put together with the help of my local friends and other intrepid travelers can try them too. Topping it all is the train track market experience. Located on the railway tracks of Samut Songkram/Mae Klong province (70 kilometers away from Bangkok), this Thai Talat Sod or open-air colourful fresh produce market is very unique. Vendors line the tracks and you can walk along them too, only to move away at a distance and watch a spectacle unfold when a train approaches. Locally known as “Talat Rom Hup” market, shopkeepers scramble to retract their awnings whenever a train passes. This trip, I have been told is best organized with a small group tour agency.
Being a flea market lover, I am very keen of paying the Rod Fai a visit. Located just behind Seacon Square, it is a huge open-air market set beside an abandoned railway track and best accessible by MRT or taxis. Start at Kamphaeng Phet Station and walk for about 5 minutes, in the opposite direction of Chatuchak Market. Rod Fai market pulsates with a cool hippie vibe and is an excellent hunting ground for kitsch lovers. Antique furniture, cool vintage fashion, old (some original) cameras, bikes, electronic appliances, auto parts, Japanese anime toys and Mao collectibles are sold from sheets spread on the road and the market makes a great photo walk too.
For budding Gordon Ramsey’s or photographers Tor Kor Market is unmissable. Ranked as the 4th best fresh produce market, Tor Kor consists of rows and rows of incredible variety of exotic fruits, vegetables, seafood, flowers and meats. It is located next to the famous Chatuchak Market and has a good in house food court too. Duck noodles, oyster pancakes, pad thai etc are available here at a slightly higher price than the rest of Bangkok. Tor Kor is in reality an upscale food market of the Thai rich and powerful and beauty along with rubbing shoulders with tycoons do not come cheap.
Papaya Vintage is not a market but high on my wishlist. A warehouse, located in the suburbs of Bangkok Papaya is like a shop you have never seen before. A seemingly decrepit warehouse, its messy corridors are stacked with thousands of vintage toys and collectibles. A sort of museum, I have been told that Papaya also sells its vintage eclectic collection at a hefty price and charges more to allow photography. However its huge expansive space and bored staff do help in taking a few sneak peeks with a mobile phone camera. At present, it’s the most “IT” photo studio for fashion photographers and the third floor is always buzzing with stunning models in straight off the ramp garbs.
Thai House and Museum is a place that I am dying to visit. Known as the “House that was the Talk of the Town”, it is the home of James H.W. Thompson, the founder of the world renowned Jim Thompson Thai Silk Company. A self made American entrepreneur, Thompson was awarded formally the Order of the White Elephant, a decoration given to foreigners for rendering exceptional service to Thailand, for his contribution to the development of Thai silk industry and brought him fame as the ” Legendary American of Thailand”. His was one of the most successful postwar stories of Asia and his house still carries his legacy. Somerset Maugham was a guest at Thompson’s house and it contains his extensive antique collection of porcelain, sculptures, paintings etc. Thompson’s legacy came to a mysterious end when in 1967, he disappeared from a walk in the Cameroon Highlands of Malaysia never to be heard or seen again. Mystery, art, history and literature, Jim Thompson’s house is a must visit for legend lovers, art buffs and classical literature book worms.
For those dazzled by the mystical East and its jewels, head for the Gems Market in Amphoe Bor Rai. It is famous for stunning collections of gems for sale, especially the the Siamese rubies. These rubies are renowned all over the world for their clarity and deep red colour. Three major markets, Hua Thung, Sa Yai and Nong Bon form this famous Gems bazaar, but there are other smaller gem markets like, Ban Nong Bon, Ban Sai Yai and Ban Ta Ngam around. A lot of unsavoury gem scams riddle Bangkok jewel markets and it is best to research, do your home work before investing in these expensive baubles. For a more extensive gem hunt, visit Chanthaburi. Located 250 kilometers away from Bangkok, it is a small town, a major trading center of gems in SE Asia and an estimated 80% of the world’s rubies and sapphires change hands there. Still a cottage industry, Chanthaburi gem market known as Talad Ploy is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11-6 in the evening.
Back in the city, the Thai Air force Museum (behind Don Muang airport, daily 9 am-4 pm, free entry), the grisly Bangkok Forensic Museum (Monday-Saturday 9 am-4 pm, paid attraction), the phallic shrine of Goddess Tubtim (with its offerings of flowers, incense and wooden penises, location-grounds of Swissotel Nai Lert hotel, Chitlom), Wat Leng Noi Yi ( the beautiful Thai Chinese temple in the heart of Bangkok’s Chinatown) and the lovely Monk Bowl Village (on Soi Baan Bat off Thanon Bamrung Meuang) are on my Bangkok by day wishlist.
For more earthy pleasures I have listed the Pak Khlong Talad photo walk (Old City open air flower market on Chak Phet Road near Saphan Phut or the Memorial Bridge), cruising around the Klongs/ canals of Chao Phraya River for the real stilted traditional teak housed Bangkok life, taking a green breather at Rama IX Park (maybe in December for its flower festival) and finally say cheers to life lustily from the sparkling heights of the expensive Vertigo and Moon Bar (P.S there is a strict dress code policy).
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE