CHINATOWN, MUSEUMS AND PARKS IN BANGKOK

MUSEUMS IN BANGKOK

Museums include the Royal Thai Decoration and Coin Pavilion (inside the Grand Palace), with fine displays of coins and currency, royal regalia, decorations and medals; Bangkok Doll Museum (855 Soi Ratchataphan, Soi Mo Leng, off Ratchaprarop Rd.), with a collecton of handmade and foreign dolls); the Stamp Museum; Science Museum (near the eastern Bus Terminal); and the Prasat Museum (No. 9 Krung Threp Kritha Road Soi 4, Ban Kapi, the eastern area of the city), a private museum with a good collection of porcelain and other objects from the early Rattanakosin period and examples of different kinds of architecture (admission is 1,000 baht or two people).

The National Art Gallery displays works by respected Thai and international artist, There is an exhibition of photographs and works by King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The Abbesik Busit Museum is a former throne hall converted into a handicrafts center under the patronage of the Queen Sirikit.

Royal Barge National Museum (on the Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya River near the Phra Piu Klao Bridge, about 1½ kilometers northwest of the Grand Place) displays the Thai Royal Barges, which were formally used as war vessels but are now used in Royal Family River processions. The royal barges are rarely used by the royal family these days because of their age. A few of them are now preserved in the Royal Barge National Museum on. The eight long, narrow boats on display are intricately gilded and each need between 50 and 60 rowers to take their oars. The figure on the bow of each boat signifies whether it carries the King and Queen or other members of the royal family. The most important barge is the Suphannahong, exclusively used by the King. It is used during the Kathin Ceremony, usually in October or November, when robes are offered to monks. Narai Songsuban Ratchakan Thai Kao is the most recently-built barge. It was constructed in 1996 for the King’s Golden Jubilee. The museum is open daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm. There is an admission fee. Address: Khlong Bangkok Noi, Bangkok, Thailand. Tel. (02) 424 0004. Website: www.thailandmuseum.com

Children’s Discovery Museum (inside Queen Sirikit Park) was established under the royal initiative of Her Majesty the Queen with the goal of making learning a pleasurable process for Thai children.The museum has exhibitions as well as fun activities for children related to human life, the sciences, culture, society, nature and the environment. The museum is closed Mondays and open during from 9:00am to 5:00pm weekdays and 10:00am to 6:00pm on weekends. It is located inside Queen Sirikit Park 810 Phahonyothin Road, Khwaeng Lat Yao, Khet Chatuchak, Bangkok, Tel. 0 2615 7333 ext. 102, 134, 148. Admission: Adults, 70 baht, Child, 50 baht. Website: www.bkkchildrenmuseum.com

Songkran Niyomsane Forensic Medicine Museum (Siriraj Hospital 2 Prannok Road Bangkoknoi) is not a place for the faint-hearted or people that get grossed out easily. Described as one of the weirdest places in Bangkok, it features dead, hand-dissected human beings with off their nervous and cardiovascular systems revealed. You can also see the preserved bodies of famous Thai murderers, suicide victims and accident victims. Among the murderes is Si Oui, a serial killer who ate the livers of his victims. In the Museum of Anatomy are embalmed legs, arms and internal organs from malformed humans. Don’t miss the Museum of Parasitology. The museum is free and open from 9:00am to 4:00pm on weekdays. Contact: Siriraj Hospital 2 Prannok Road Bangkoknoi Bangkok 10700 Thailand. www.si.mahidol.ac.th .

Suan Pakkad Palace (south of the Victory Monument on Ayutthaya Road) is a museum made up of five traditional houses containing murals with dancing angels and a fine collection of Ban Chiang pottery as well as numerous Dvaravati, Lopburi and Thai artifacts. The most impressive sight is the Lacquer pavilion, dating from the Ayuutthaya period, made entirely of gold leaf and black lacquer and surrounded by lsh vegetation. On the site of what was once a cabbage field (“suan pakkad”), Maj. Gen. HRH Prince Chumbhotpong Paripatra of Nagor Svarga and his consort, MR Pantip, built this palace as a weekend resort.

House 1 building contains images of the Thai Royal Family, model boats and six drums. The upper floor houses artifacts such as an image of the goddness Uma and Buddha images from the U-Thong period of Thailand, India and Myanmar. House 2 was originally a reception area. It displays personal possessions , such as ivory boxes and bowls inlaid in mother-of-pearl. In House there are Thai musical instruments, nielloware, Bencharong ceramics and a palanquin.

House 4 was originally a Japanese-style dining room. It features a mother-of- pearl inlaid door frame dating from the 17th century.On the lower floor is “the cave of Alibaba,” which displays Princess’s extensive mineral collection. The upper room of House 5 displays ancient Ban Chiang pottery. Downstairs are sea shell, rock and fossil collections. House 6 contains : Sawankhalok ceramics, ancient stone axes, earthenware utensils and figurines from the Sukhothai period. House 7 is the home of the Khon Museum with video presentations, masks, costumes, accessories, and a model of a Ramayana troupe playing a scene from the battle of Kumphakan.

The Lacquer Pavilion is regarded as the most exquisite building in Suan Pakkad Palace. Outside the pavilion are art carvings with lacquer patterns. Pictures in lacquer are inscribed inside the pavilion. The Marasi Gallery is located on the first floor of the Chumbho-Pantip Art gallery. Exhibitions are held regularly to promote contemporary art, photogragphy, ceramics, mixed media and performance art. The Ban Chiang Museum on the second floor features ancient artifacts and has an explanatory display about Ban Chiang art and culture. Suan Pakkad Palace is open daily from 9.00 am to 4.00pm. For more information call 66-2245-4934 , 66-2246-1775-6 Ext 229

Siam Niramit (on Tiamruammit Road, off Ratchada phisek Road, about 100 meters from the Thailand Cultural Centre) is a 2000-seat theater that presents an award-winning world-class spectacular show that highlights Thailand’s rich artistic and cultural heritage. Featuring a gigantic stage and state-of-the-art special effects, the theater shows an 80-minute performance staged in three acts: ‘Journey Back into History’, ‘Journey Beyond Imagination’, and ‘Journey Through Joyous Festivals’. The show starts nightly at 8:00 pm., but gates open at 5.30pm for access to the onsite restaurant plus pre-show attractions, which includes a traditional Thai Village where you can experience the ambience of rural Thai life. There are also elephant rides and feeding, and outdoor performances of traditional Thai music and dance. Open everyday from5:30pm - 22.00. Contact: Siam Niramit, 19 Tiamruammit Road, Huaykwang, Bangkok, Tel. +66 2649 9222.

NATIONAL MUSEUM

NATIONAL MUSEUM (on Na Phra That Rd. On the west side of Sanam Luang, opposite from The Grand Palace) is the largest and one of the finest museums in Southeast Asia. Housed in a palace used under King Rama I and Rama V, it displays over 1,000 artifacts, some of which date back to prehistoric times. Sculptures and murals make up the majority of the collection. English-language descriptions are available and free English tours are sometimes offered by volunteers.

The National Museum was established in 1887 by King Rama V. The foundation collection had previously been stored at The Grand Palace. The original building was formerly the palace of a vice-ruler. King Rama VII placed it under the administration of the Royal Institute of Literature, Archeology and Fine Arts which has evolved to be the Fine Arts Department. New buildings were constructed in 1967 and other historical buildings relocated to the museum grounds.

On the museum grounds is The Buddhaisawan Chapel, a structure built in 1787 to enshrine a revered northern Buddha image called Phra Buddha Si Hing. The interior has exceptional murals, while the building itself is a fine example of Rattanakosin religious architecture. Tamnak Daeng is another building that has been moved to the Museum. This Red House was originally the residence of an elder sister of King Rama I. Furniture and other items are from early Bangkok times.

The National Museum collection encompasses a wide range of religious and secular art found throughout the country. Items from pre-historic times, through the Srivijaya, Dvaravati, Khmer Kingdoms and the Sukhothai, Ayutthaya and Rattanakosin periods of Thai history. These include Neolithic tools, painted pots and bronze objects unearthed in the northeast. Thai Buddhist art exhibits feature images in stone, bronze and terracotta as well as illustrated scripture books manuscript cabinets and votive plaques. The Museum also has a large collection of miscellaneous items such as Thai and Chinese ceramics, theatrical costumes, palanquins, weapons and assorted items used in royal households.

Hours and Contact Info: Closed Monday and Tuesday. Open from 9:00am - 4:00pm. The admission fee is 40 baht. Contact: Next to Thammasat University Na Phrthat Rd., Phra BorommaharachawangSub-district, Phra Nakorn District,Bangkok 10200, Tel. 0 2224 1333, 0 2224 1370, www.thailandmuseum.com . Guided tours are given free by volunteers in English and French starting at 9.30am on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Tours are also given in German on Thursdays and in Japanese on Wednesdays of the first & the third week of each month. Guided tours in some other languages can be arranged. How to get there: The most enjoyable route is to take the BTS Skytrain to Taksin Station. From here take a Chao Phraya River Express boat to Tha Phrachan Pier. Walk straight from the pier to Sanam Luang Park and turn left past Thammasat University to the museum. By Bus No. 3, 6, 9, 15, 19, 30, 32, 33, 43, 53, 59, 64, 65, 70, 80, 84 Air Condition Bus No. 3, 6, 7, 38, 39, 80, 82, 91 Airport Bus No. A2 . Nearby Places and Attractions: Grand Palace (Wat Phra Kaew), Phra Athit Road, Khaosan Road

BACKPACKER AND SEX TOURISM SPOTS IN BANGKOK

Patphong Road (off Silom Road) is the center of Bangkok's sex and sin district. Here you will find massage parlors, hostess bars, karaokes, nightclubs with live sex shows, and sidewalk hustlers, who attempt to direct men in their clubs, where they are entertained by girls blowing ping pong balls, nerf frisbees and fire out of their private parts. In many cases while the men are distracted by the show, they are surrounded by a dozen or more girls with drinks in their hands, which the men are supposed to pay for. It is not unusual for a man to spend 20 minutes in one of these clubs and walk out $200 poorer.

Ultimately Patphong Road is a very sad place. Many of the girls are barely into their teens, and men who patronize them are very unappealing. AIDS has made the sex industry less vigorous than it once was. In recent years, Patphong Road has been taken over by conventional tourists. Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza are other sex districts. Lumpini Park is popular with prostitutes.

Khao San Road (north of Grand Palace) is the main backpacker area of Bangkok. It is filled with several hundred cheap guest houses with rooms that go for as little as $5 a night and have names like Nirvana and Sweety’s. There are also restaurants with banana pancakes and mango milkshakes; bars with young travelers and middle-aged drunks that play pirated DVDs and techno music from 10:00am to 4:00am; and Internet cafes were travelers catch up on their e-mail and locals play Korean computer games.

The cast of characters includes recent American college graduates on their first big traveling adventure; Israelis who have just completed ther military service; South African who have worked in Taiwan as English teachers; middle-aged English drunks looking for a fight; Australian backpacker couples with their kids in tow; Japanese students on their spring break; Germans on their way to Laos and Cambodia; and young Scandanvians making a pit stop before heading to the full-moon parties on Kho Phangan, which along with Khao San Road inspired the Leonardo DiCaprio film The Beach . Most visitors to Khao San Road don’t stay long but often return after completing a segment of their trip.

The first guesthouse catering to foreign backpackers, Bonny Guest House, opened in 1985. As is the case with successful tourism ventures in Thailand others jumped on the bandwagon and before long dozens of other guest houses opened along with cheap restaurants, travel agencies, pawnshops, laundry services, money changers, tattoo parlors, herbal massage centers, hair braiders and drug dealers that cater to the hedonistic but penny-pinching travelers. There are few prostitutes however because the guest houses frown on overnight Thai guest.

Over the years the Khao San Road area has grown into what is arguably the world’s largest backpacker mecca. Susan Orlean wrote in the New Yorker that these backpackers transformed Khao San Road “into a new sort of place—not really Thai anymore, barely Asian, overwhelmingly young, palpably transient, and anchored in a world by the Intenet, where there is actual time and no actual location.”

How do the locals feel about the all the backpackers? One woman who runs an Internet café told the New Yorker, “When I was in the seventh grade...the foreigners arrived. It happened so fast! It was a quiet place before. There were no foreigners. It changed like overnight, and I never went outside again.” She said the backpackers scared her parents and shocked them with the way they dressed and behaved. For Thais who live outside of Bangkok Khao San Road has become a place to come and gawk at the foreigners.

Banglamphu (near Khao San Road) is one of Bangkok’s oldest neighborhoods and is much nicer place than Khao San Road. It is situated on Rattanakosin Island, where many of Bangkok’s palaces are also located. It is close to the river and Thamasat University and surrounded by old mansions and features some good trendy restaurants..

BANGKOK’S CHINATOWN

CHINATOWN (around Yaowarat Road, 1½ kilometers east of the Grand Palace) is one of the largest Chinatowns outside of China. A bustling, crowded area where you can buy just about anything day or night, it features gold shops decorated with cranes and dragons, festivals with lion and dragon dances, restaurants with roasted ducks hanging in the windows and traditional Chinese medicine shops that sell herbs and dried animal parts. All kinds of goods are sold here. And even though the prices are ofte much cheaper than anywhere else you can still bargain the prices even lower.

The Chinese that established Bangkok’s Chinatown originally came from Shantou, Canton, Fuzhou and Hainan Island in China. They were moved to their present-day location from area near the Grand Palace in 1782 to make room for the new capital. A census in 1882 counted 245 opium dens, 154 pawnshops, 69 gambling establishments and 26 brothels. Pawnshops still exist today while other vices live on “tea halls” (massage parlors), back street drug dealers and illicit card and maj jongg games in the supper floors of some restaurants. Some of the super rich Chinese families that dominate Thailand’s economy got their start here.

Bangkok’s Chinatown is called Sampheng. The main entrance is the Royal Jubilee Gate across from Odeon Circle. A walk down East Trimit Road will take you to Wat Trimit, home of the world’s largest gold Buddha statue (See Wat Trimit). Along Yaowarat Road, the main thoroughfare through Chinatown, check out the Thien Fa Foundation Hospital known for its traditional Chinese herbal medicine.

Yaowarat Road is approximately 1.5 kilometers in length. It was built during the reign of King Rama V. On each side of the road, there is a network of streets and alleys lined with shops selling all sorts of things. In many of these streets, you’ll find shops side by side selling the same items. At the old fresh food market of Trok Isarnuphap leading chefs from all over Bangkok shop for the finest and freshest ingredients for their restaurant menus. At night you can take a stool at a food stall and watch your meal being prepared before you wash it down with tea or a cold beer. Some of the food stalls remain open until midnight. Book: Sampheng Bangkok’s Chinatown Inside Out) by Edward Von Roy (Chulalongkorn University Press,

Pow Tai Dispensary (572-574 Charoenkrung Rd., Yaowarat Rd. In Chinatown) is a traditional Chinese medicine shop which was opened in 1941. Located in an art-deco building with a glass and ivory counter, it is filled with jars of herbs and strange medicines. Open daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm. Tel. (02)-221-3585

Queen Victoria Statue (at the British Embassy) is where women who want babies but are having problems conceiving go to pray for a child.

Erawan Shrine (at Rajphrasong intersection, across from the Grand Hyatt Erawan hotel, near the Skytrain Chit Loom Station) contains a four-faced Brahma statue that is believed to have the power to grant any wish to anyone as long as they make an offering of an elephant (carved ones are available nearby from street vendors) or dance (a troupe of classical Thai dancers is on hand to dance for 30 minutes for around 100 baht). The length of the dance depends on how much money they are given.

People from all walks come here: expectant mothers who want a son, builders hoping to win a big contract, and ladies asking for advise on what lottery number to choose. The statue was erected after the builders of the original Erwan Hotel had a bad string luck (a boat with marble they had paid for sank, for example, and a contractor went bankrupt) and a spiritual advisor they hired suggested they install the statue. The spot became popular with locals, I assume, after the luck of the hotel owners changed. The original Erawan hotel was torn down. The current one is 22 stories high and has a disco and health club. Erawan Shrine is famous among tourists—particularly ones of Chinese decent those from Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.

PARKS AND ZOOS IN BANGKOK

Dusit Zoo (in the Dusit Palace area between Chitlada Palace ad the National Assembly Hall) covers 19 hectares, is home to 1,600 animals and welcomes 2.5 million visitors a year. Zoo. You can see monkeys, gibbons, banded langur and rare animals such as serow, gaur, banteng and rhinoceros as well as the only albino barking deer in Thailand. Among the 1343 species of animals, are 331 different kinds of mammals, 170 reptiles and 842 birds. In night-time wildlife tour you can see interesting nocturnal wildlife such as bats, binturong and brush-tailed porcupine, A monkey show, parrot show, macaw show, hawk show are held Monday – Friday : 11am, 1.30pm, 2.30pm and Saturday – Sunday : 11am, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm. The admission fee at the the zoo for foreigners is 100 baht for adults and 50 baht for children. The animals shows cost 20 baht for adults and 10 baht for children. Contact: 71 Rama V Road, Chitrlada Sub-district, Dusit District, Bangkok 10300, Tel. 0-2281-2000, 0-2281-9027-8 Fax 0-2282-9245, http://www.dusitzoo.org . The zoo is open 8:00am to 6:00pm everyday. Transportation: Bus No. 18, 28, 108, Air-conditioning Bus No. 528, 515, 539, 542.

See Sanam Luang

Lumphini Park (BTS Skytrain Silom Line, Sala Daeng Station or MRT, Lumphini Station and Si Lom Station) covers 360-rai (57.6-hectares, 142-acres) and is one of the rare open public spaces in Bangkok. The largest and most popular park in the capital, it embraces trees, playgrounds and an artificial lake where visitors can rent a variety of boats. Paths around the park totalling approximately 2.5 km in length are a popular with for evening joggers. In the morning Chinese gather to do tai chai and vendors set up tables for selling snake blood and herbal remedies. Kite flying and fighting is done from mid February through April. Officially, cycling is only permitted during the day between the times of 10am to 3pm. There is a smoking ban throughout the park, and dogs are not allowed.

Lumpini Park was created in the 1920s by King Rama VI on royal property. A statue of the king stands at the southwestern entrance to the park. It was named after Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha in Nepal, and at the time of its creation stood on the outskirts of the city. Today it lies in the heart of the main business district and is in the Lumphini sub-district, on the north side of Rama IV Road, between Ratchadamri Road and Witthayu Road. It has Bangkok's first public library and dance hall. During winter time, the Palm Garden of Lumphini Park becomes the site for the annual Concert in the Park festival featuring classical music by the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra and other bands.

King Rama IX Royal Park (Sukhumvit Soi 103 (Udomsuk) on the Eastern outskirts of Bangkok near Bangna) is expanse of gardens and paths surrounding a lake and buildings. Created to commemorate the 60th birthday of the king in 1987, the park has a peaked rotunda-style building that is dedicated to the king's work. The botanical gardens are a beautifully designed stretch of lawns and flowers surrounding this serene site, and the paths take you around the 200 acres of land. A lake within the park features a huge fountain, which can be enjoyed from afar on the bank, or up close in a paddle boat. The park features six different areas, including The Garden of the Great King, a wetlands area, and an open field where festivals and concerts are sometimes held. There are also seven international miniature gardens that were created with the help of experts from each of the regions represented.

The best time to visit is near the King's birthday in early December. During this time Rama IV Park hosts a Flower show. The flowers through out the park are so plentiful and gorgeous. Saturday and Sunday mornings, just outside the western entrance to the park (between the park entrance and Paradise Mall) is a locals market with all sorts of foods and goods. Entrance fees are low (5 baht for Thai or 10 baht for foreigners + 20 baht if you park a car there.)

Wachira Benjatat Park (Suan Rod Fai) and Queen Sirikit Park are two other Bangkok public parks. At Suan Rod Fai you can rent a bicycle and ride to the Hall of Butterflies and Insects at the far end of the park. Bicycles in all sizes and colors are available in front of the park and the rental fee starts from 20 baht. The bigger the bike, the higher the fee. Visiting the park in the early morning when it is not too hot is a pleasure. The Hall of Butterflies and Insects is housed in a giant dome with net cage on your left.

Wat Phairongwua (near Bangkok, next to a canal) is the home of Thailand's largest and most unusual sculpture garden. Describing it, Roger Warner wrote in Smithsonian magazine, "Wat Phairongwua is a disconcerting place, and the most unsettling thing about it was that its pieces didn't seem to add up to a coherent whole. Buildings in eclectic styles memorialize the landmarks in the Buddha's life, like the palace he lived in as a youth and the site of his first sermon, but the architecture is not in any apparent relation to the plan. Statues abound, some of them in metal, such as peasants toiling to push forward a wheel, and others made of concrete and painted in loud south-Indian colors.

"For me the most disturbing section of Wat Phairongwua is the one with figures called the pret , or "the damned," who suffer in the underworld for sins they committed on earth. The pret are deformed and in postures of agony, impaled on spikes or with their faces fused with their intestines. Larger statues nearby are similarly dramatic, like thorn trees on which men and women climb, bleeding, with a dog snarling at the base and an eagle waiting to devour them at the top."

Nonthaburi (10 kilometers north of Bangkok) can easily be reached by express boats on the Chao Phraya River from Bangkok. It is nice place to go to escape from Bangkok Attractions include traditional hun lakorn lek puppetry shows, and take boat trip through a network of canals to Kohh Kret, an island or artisans with a large community of Mon people.

Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute Snake Farm (MRT Sam Yan Station) is the second oldest snake farm in the world, after one in Sao Paulo. Founded in 1923 and formally known as the Pasteur Institute' Snake Farm, it contains thousands of some of the most venomous snakes in the world, including king cobras and all sorts of vipers, as is associated with the Red Cross and the royal family. Serums and antivenoms are produced from the venom that is extracted in the daily venom milking demonstrations at 10:30am and 2:00pm weekdays and 10:30 om weekends and holidays. The handlers also play around with pythons. There is also a museum, and lectures are given. Open 8:30 am to 4:30 pm on weekdays and 8:30 am to 12:00 noon on weekends.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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