Bangkok abounds in cultural and historical sites reflecting Thailand’s long history and unique culture. For a start, one may include various palaces, such as the Grand Palace and Suan Pakkad Palace, or major temples, including Wat Phra Kaeo (the Temple of the Emerald Buddha), Wat Arun (the Temple of the Dawn), and Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha), or other noteworthy sites around the city, such as the Shrine of the City Pillar and the Giant Swing.

Besides touring historical and cultural sites, tourists can also spend an enjoyable time riding bicycles or trams around Rattanakosin Isle, the heart of the original city, or taking a boat cruise to view the landscape and lifestyle of the people along the Chao Phraya River and the busy Bangkok Noi and Bangkok Yai canals. Readers of Condé Nast Traveller have voted Bangkok as the best tourism city in Asia for several consecutive years. Criteria for ranking includes neighborhoods, culture, friendly atmosphere, places to stay, eateries, and shopping places, all of which Bangkok has in spades.

Tourist Information: Tourism Authority of Thailand , Bangkok Office, First Floor, 1600 New Phetchaburi Road, Makkasan, Ratchathevi , Bangkok 10400, Tel. +66 (2) 250 5500, Fax. +66 (2) 250 5511, E-mail Address: The Tourism Authority of Thailand Tourist Assistance Center is at Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue (Tel: 281-5051, 282-81290). There are also good tourism booths at the Bangkok airports. The office is open Monday through Friday from 8;30am to 4:30pm. The TAT Call Centre (tel: 1672) is open daily 8:00am to 8:00pm. Tourism Police: Dial 1155 anywhere in Thailand, then press 1 for police or 2 for tourist information. The bi-lingual Tourist Police office is adjacent to the Thailand Tourism Authority office in Bangkok. Guides: “Bangkok Guide” (Australian-New Zealand Women's Group) is put together by longtime residents of Bangkok and offers good insider tips on restaurants and shops. It is available at newsstands in Bangkok. Website:

Phra Sumeru Fortress (on the Chao Phray River at Phra Athit Road and Phra Sumeru Road, between the Phra Piu Klao Bridge and Rama VIII bridge) was constructed in the reign of King Rama I in 1783 along with 14 other fortresses and battlements surrounding the capital. Approximately 5.000 Vientiane people were recruited by King Rama I to build this Fortress. The shape of the fortress is an octagonal one with three levels. Inside the walls there are steps leading up to the fortress. All together, there are 38 rooms for ammuni¬tion and weapon storage. The roof collapsed during the reign of King Rana IV or V but was restored by the Fine Arts Department in the early 1980s using old photographs as a guide. There is now a small park surrounding the fortress and you can walk along the river all the way to Phra Pinklao Bridge. The walk is particularly pleasant.

Jim Thompson's House (near Siam Square on the banks of Saen Saep Canal, five kilometers east of the Grand Palace ) is a lovely traditional Thai-style mansion made almost completely of teak. The home of the famous Thai silk entrepreneur, who disappeared mysteriously while on vacation in Malaysia's Cameron Highland in 1967, the mansion is comprised of six antique wooden buildings that were transported from northern Thailand to Bangkok in 1959 and reassembled according to Thompson's instructions.

The rooms of the house contain extraordinary carved teak furniture and paneling and Thompson's collection of Thai, Chinese and Khmer antiques and art, the oldest of which dates back to the 7th century. There is also a restored tropical garden and receiving courtyard with bellboys that greet you as you emerge from your taxi and jazz bar next to a canal and, of course, an outlet for the Jim Thompson Silk Company. Be careful touts operating scams are active in the area.

Location: The Jim Thompson House is located on Soi Kasemsan (2) Song, opposite the National Stadium on Rama I Rd. Jim Thompson House, 6 Soi Kasemsan 2, Rama 1 Road, Bangkok, Tel: (662) 216-7368 Fax: (662) 612-3744. Hours Open: Open everyday from 9:00am to 5:00pm. Guided tours around the house are compulsory. The last one is at 5:00pm. Admission: Adults 200 baht; children 100 baht. Getting There: Located in the center of Bangkok, it is conveniently reached by car, taxi, tuk tuk, or the BTS Sky Train (the National Stadium stop). Website: website: ,

Ban Kham Thieng (131 Soi Asoke (So 21) Sukhumvit Road) is a 200-year-old classic northern-style teak house, brought from Chiang Mai and reconstructed in Bangkok. Donated to the Siam Society by its owners, the house was owned by a worker and shows the simplicity of rural life in the north during the last century. It contains a collection of traditional implements used by farmers and rice field fishermen. A large variety of Thai flora can be seen in its garden. Hours Open: Also on display are items used daily by Thai farmers and fishermen. It is open daily except Sundays and Mondays from 9.00am to 5.00pm. Admission: There is an Admission fee. Website: Tel: 661-6470-7

Chao Phraya River and Bangkok’s Canals

Chao Phraya River is a busy waterway filled with long-tailed boats (known locally as “hang yao”), open-air passenger ferries, expensive private boats, tour boats that "look like floating temples" and water crafts of various sizes and shapes. In the old days, when Bangkok was known as the "Venice of Asia," the river was like a main highway and the klongs were its side streets. But those days are long gone. Stretches along the banks are pedestrian only on Sunday. The impressive-looking Rama VII Bridge opened in 2002. Its geometric array of support cables look as if they can be plucked like a harp.

Bangkok’s Canals are known as klongs. Bangkok used to be laced with them. They followed streets, ducked under superstructures and were crossed by bridges. By one estimate a third of the city’s residents in the mid 19th century lived in stilted or floating houses along the canals or the river. Until a few decades ago they were so were so crowded and full of boats that policeman were used to direct traffic. Over the years many of Bangkok’s klongs have been paved over to widen streets and make room for houses and other buildings.Many of remaining klongs are foul and dirty. Some are filled with black oily water. Others are stagnant pools covered by smelly green scum and filled with garbage.

Klongs have traditionally provided an important mode of transportation in parts of central and southern Thailand. According to “Cities of the World”: "Although most canals in Bangkok have been filled in, or are no longer navigable, water-taxi routes starting from points along the banks of the Chao Phraya River link the capital city to the large number of klongs in the countryside. Water taxis and small motorboats provide a low-cost and efficient means of transporting passenger and light-cargo traffic, and are a pleasant way to explore a style of Thai life not visible from the roads. These boats do not carry life jackets."

Some klongs are quite scenic. Ones visited by tourists have floating hyacinths and lotus flowers, small houses with garden and fluttering laundry. In some places you can still find monks floating in the water in inner tubes, women in broad woven hats and sarongs using sampans to buy groceries and, floating shopkeepers and deliverymen. In recent years there has been a campaign to free the paved over klongs to attract tourists to places they otherwise wouldn’t go and provide better drainage.

Boat trips and klong (canal) tours can be arranged. These include taxi rides on the Chao Phraya River, and "long tail" boat trips through the klongs. Visitors can see many traditional Thai stilt houses. Cruises on converted rice barges also are possible. For around $15 to $25 an hour, you can hire a boat and visit the klongs of your choice. From the water you get a close-up look at the shacks, houseboats and beat up teak mansions that people live in. For a few baht you can take a crowded 21-meter water bus that carries uniformed school girls, office workers in neat suits and monk in saffron robes to their canal-side destinations.

Dinner Cruise Along The Chao Phraya River: 1) Dairy Queen, Tel: (02) 921-8670-5, From Dairy Queen Restaurant near, Phra Nang Klao Bridge to Wat Arun 8.00-10.00 p.m. every day, 70 Baht per person for the boat cruise; dinner costs as ordered.. 2) the Khanab Nam Restaurant, Tel: (02) 433-6611, (02) 424-8453-4 . From Khanab Nam Restaurant Krung Thon Bridge to Rama IX Bridge, 8.00-10.30 p.m. every day, 70 Baht per person for the boat cruise; dinner costs as ordered.. 3) Loy Nava (Thasaneeya Nava, Tel: (02) 437-4932, (02) 437-7329, From the Oriental Hotel Pier to Tha Wasukri 6.00-8.00 p.m., 8.00-10.00 p.m. twice daily 880 Baht per person including dinner. 4) Manohra 1Tel: (02) 476-0021-2 From Marriott Royal Garden Riverside, Hotel to Tha Wasukri 7.30-10.00 p.m. every day 950 Baht per person including dinner. 5) Riverside Co., LTD., Tel: (02) 434-0090-3 From Riverside Plaza Hotel near Krung Thon, Bridge to Rama IX Bridge , 8.00-10.30 p.m. (Sun-Thu) 8.30-11.00 p.m., (Fri-Sat), 70 Baht per person for the boat cruise; dinner costs as ordered. 6) the Yok-yor Marina Restaurant, Tel: (02) 863-0565, (02) 863-1708. From Yok-Yor Restaurant Dank-of Thailand to Rama, IX . Open 8.30-10.30 p.m. every day, 140 Baht per person excluding dinner.

Famous Bangkok Wats

Wat Benjamabophit (across from Dusit Palace on the corner of Si Ayutthaya and Rama V Roads) is a screen temple built of Carrara marble in 1899 during the reign of King Rama V. The last royal temple constructed in Bangkok, it features a collection of bronze Buddha images in the cloister, representing every period of religious art found in Thailand. Wat Benchamabopitr is a good example of modern Thai religious architecture. Also known as the Marble temple, it features European details such as stained glass windows and classical Thai architecture. Open from 8:00am to 3:30pm. Admission: 20 baht.

Wat Saket (Ratchdamneon Avenue, near the Democracy Monument about two kilometers east of the Grand Palace) encompasses the Golden Mount, a 58 -meter-tall, wall-like stupa surmouned by a goldeb cupola started in the third reign and completed in the forth reign of the original Siamese kings. Restored by King Rama I, it was for many years the highest structure in Bangkok. It reportedly holds holy ashes of the Lord Buddha. Visitors climb 318 steps to the cupola for a fine view of the Grand Palace area and of the city. Thais leave flowers and lit candles as offerings before the Buddha images. A popular fair featuring performances of traditional theater is held here every November. Hours Open: 7:30am to 5:30pam. Admission: 50 baht. Tel. 0-2621-0576.

Wat Trimit (at the intersection of Yaowarat and Chareon Rds in Chinatown near Hualamphong station) contains a famous 5½- ton Buddha that is 40 percent gold—the largest gold Buddha in the world. Constructed in a Sukhotai style in the Ayutthaya period and said to glisten more brightly than other gold object, the 3½-meter-high golden image was discovered inside a huge stucco Buddha in the 1950s after its outer covering cracked when it fell from a crane while being moved to a new building. Inside the temple Thais make offerings and westerners sit in the lotus position meditating. Sometimes followers of Transcendental Mediation come here to try and fly. Often the air is heavy with incense smoke. Large camera-toting tour groups sometimes take over the place. Hours Open: open everyday from 8:00am to 5:00pm. Admission: 40 baht. Museum: 100 baht extra

Maha Uma Devi Temple (on Silom Rd near the Pan Rd intersection) is a Hindu temple. Built by Tamil immigrants in the 1860s, it boasts a six-meter high facade comprised of colorful Hindu deities, including elephant-headed Ganesh and Shiva’s consort Shakti, and topped by a gold-platted copper dome. Around noon on most days a Brahman priests presides over a ceremony in which he sprinkles holy water on the hands of worshippers who then in turn pass their hands through a lamp flame for purification and stick their fingers in colored powders and make prayer marks on their foreheads. The main Indian district I located near Chinatown in Pahurat.

Wat Thammamongkhon (east of Bangkok on Soi 101, Sukhumvit) is a 95 meter-high chedi that resulted from a monk's vision. While meditating in 1991, Phra Viriyang Sirintharo saw a giant jade boulder; at around the same time a 32 tonne block of solid jade was discovered in British Columbia, Canada. Viriyang raised over a half million dollars and purchase the block, which was carved by Carrara sculptors into a 14-ton Buddha sculpture. The massive chedi built to honor the statue contains a hair of the Buddha, was presented to Thailand by Bangladesh's Sangharaja (the head of a Theravada monastic order). The tallest chedi in Thailand, it has an elevator that takes visitor to the top. A leftover 10- ton chunk of jade was carved into a figure of Kuanyin (the Chinese Buddhist Goddess of Mercy). Smaller left overs - a total of nearly eight tonnes - were made into amulets and sold to worshippers for US$20 each, to raise money for 5000 day care centres throughout Thailand. [Source: Lonely Planet]

Wat Suthat

Wat Suthat (on Bamrung Mueang Road, near the Democracy Monument about two kilometers east of the Grand Palace) is one of the most important temples in Bangkok. Inaugurated by King Rama I and completed by King Rama II, it contains a superb Sukhothai-period (1238-1438) bronze Buddha—the largest in Thailand—originally brought to Bangkok from Sukhothai by King Rama I. Considered one of the most beautiful Buddha images in Thailand , the 6.25-meter-high image is eight meters tall including the base. The temple took nearly three decades to build.

Described by Somerset Maugham as having the most beautiful roofline in Bangkok, Wat Suthat also contains fine murals from the reign of King Rama I, a collection of gilded Buddha images, and elaborate wood door panels carved by King Rama II. In front of the temple is the Giant Swing, used in the old days in Brahma religious ceremonies. Nearby is Wat Rajbopit features an impressive five-color porcelain mosaics in the main stupa and mother-of-pearl inlays and bas reliefs of the window and door panels of the main chapel. Hours Open: Open 9:00am to 8:00pam. Admission: 20 Contact: Tel. 2229-4026, .

Wat Ratchanadaram

Wat Ratchanadaram (intersection between Ratchadamnoen Klang and Maha Chai Road, in Phra Nakhon district) is one of the most unusual temples in Bangkok. Started during the reign of King Rama II and completed only recently by the Fine Arts Department, it contains a 36-meter-high pyramid-shaped, pink Loha Prasat (metal-spired pagoda) with 36 surrounding, symmetrically arranged spires, inspired by a shrine in Sri Lanka. In front of this temple there is a memorial for King Rama III, a welcoming Pavilion for visiting heads of state and the Mahakala Fortress, part of the ancient city wall.

Founded at the home centre of Rattanakosin Island, this is one of Thailand’s six most important temples. King Rama I wished to make it the central temple of Bangkok when construction began in 1807. Construction was completed, according to schedule, in the reign of King Rama III in 1847. King Rama III gave the temple its name, “wat Suthat Thepwararam”.

The most important Buddha is Phra Sri Sakyamuni. Cast in the “Marn Wichai” posture, the image was previously enshrined at Wat Mahathat, Sukhothai Capital. A stone inscription reports that King Phra Mahathammarachalithai who reigned during the Sukhothai period, ordered the image cast as a principal image in Phra Wihanluang Mahathat. Phra Puttatri Lokachet was cast in alloy in the Subduing Mara position during the reign of King Rama III. Eighty 80 disciples stand in front of the Buddha.

Phra Wihan Luang is a copy of Wat Mongkolbophit in Ayutthaya. The central pair of doors were designed by King Rama II,who began the carving. The murals are considered to be the most beautiful work of the Rattanakosin period. Ubosot is the longest, most beautiful chapel built in Thai architecture style during the reign of King Rama III. It is decorated with Chorfah,Bairaka, and glazed green ceramic. Phra Wihan Kod was built in the reign of King Rama III, and surrounds the Phra Wihan Luang on all four sides. There are 156 Buddha images enshrined inside. The door frames are decorated with lacquered images of Sio Kang. Location: no.146, Ti Thong 1 Rd., Bamrung Mueang Rd., Unakan Rd, Khet Phra Nakorn, Tel. 0-2224-8807, 0-2225-5749. Hours Open: 8:00am to 5:00pm. Admission: is free. Getting There: It can be reached by bus no., 10,12,19,35,42 or Air conditioned bus no.: 8 , 12.

Giant Swing

Giant Swing (in front of Wat Suthat) is a religious structure formerly used in an old Brahmin ceremony in which participants swung in larger, larger arcs in an attempt to grab a bag of gold supported on the top of 15 meter bamboo pole. The ceremony was discontinued in 1935 after several fatal accidents. The original swing was constructed in 1784 in front of the Hindu Devasathan shrine by King Rama I. During the reign of Rama II the swing ceremony was stopped after the swing was damaged by lightning. In 1920 the swing was renovated and moved to its current location and the ceremony was again performed. [Source: Wikipedia]

A major renovation of the swing was completed in 2006 and dedicated in royal ceremonies presided over by King Bhumibol in September 2007. Six teak tree trunks were used. The two used for the main structure of the swing are over 3.5 meters in circumference and over 30 meters in height. The remaining four are used for support and are 2.30 meters in circumference and 20 meters in height. The timbers of the original swing are preserved in the National Museum.

The Ceremony of Tri-yampawai or the Swing Ceremony was one of the 12 royal ceremonies held in each of the months of the Thai lunar calendar. The ceremony was a Bhramin new year's ceremony and lasted for 10 days. According to an ancient Hindu epic, after Brahma created the world he sent Shiva to look after it. When Shiva descended to the earth, Naga serpents wrapped around the mountains in order to keep the earth in place. After Shiva found the earth solid, the Nagas moved to the seas in celebration. The Swing Ceremony was a re-enactment of this. The pillars of the Giant Swing represented the mountains, while the circular base of the swing represented the earth and the seas. In the ceremony Brahmins would swing, trying to grab a bag of coins placed on one of the pillars.

Khao San Road: Backpacker Haven of Bangkok

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.

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).

Places in Bangkok's Chinatown

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.

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

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.

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.

Last updated August 2020

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