Today we’re going to avoid temples, do some shopping and rub shoulders with both ordinary Thai folks and high-society types. We’re going to visit the former home of Bangkok’s most famous foreigner and end the day with sunset cocktails at one of the most breathtaking locations you’ve ever seen. Chok dee! (Good luck!)
START: If it’s Saturday or Sunday we’re going to Chatuchak Market, so take the metro to Mo Chit or Kampaeng Phet. If it ís a weekday, get a taxi to Sampeng Lane in Chinatown.
1. Chatuchak Market, commonly known as JJ. Said to be the world’s largest flea market; perhaps half a million people visit every weekend. Situated in the northern suburbs of the city and with no less than 15,000 stalls, it covers an area equivalent to five football fields. JJ is a maze of merchandise with a cacophony of characters and an unexpected twist at every corner. You can find everything here—from clothes, plants, and household goods to live snakes, exotic fish, Buddhist art, herbal medicine, CDs, and hill-tribe handicrafts. Every possible type of Thai food is for sale—some of it still alive and twitching! If you have an eye for antiques, look around the stalls close to the entrance at BTS SkyTrain station, Kamphaeng Phet. Note that the Children’s Discovery Museum, the Queen Sirikit Park and the Botanical Garden adjoin Chatuchak Market on its northern side, so there are alternatives for family members.
Hop the MRT to Hua Lam-phong and then walk to:
2. Sampeng Lane. (Also known as Soi Wanit.) Not as good a shopping experience as Chatuchak by any means, but a great chance to experience the hustle ‘n bustle of a Thai market and see the strong work ethic of the local people. This is Chinatown, one of the original foundations of Bangkok. Sampeng Lane is a sheltered alleyway about 1.5km long. Pedestrian traffic is slow and labored and you’ll have to squish and squeeze your way past shops and stalls selling sweets, dried fruit, cheap jewelry, gold and gems, clothes, toys, steaming dim sum, and much more. It’s a kaleidoscope of chaos and a feast for the senses. Sampeng Lane. Daily 6am–9pm.
Ride the BTS SkyTrain: National Stadium. Walk to 6 Soi Kasemsan 2, Rama I Rd.
3. The Jim Thompson House. American Jim Thompson was head of the OSS (fore-runner to the CIA) in Thailand in 1945. He became enamored with Thailand and, in particular, silk. He founded the first Thai silk export company and was a celebrated socialite in Bangkok until his mysterious disappearance in Malaysia in 1967. His former home, a complex of six traditional teak houses, has been preserved and now acts as a museum, housing his collection of antiques, artwork, and elegant furniture. There's also a restaurant, exhibition space, and shop.
Walk to 6 Soi Kasemsan 2, Rama I Rd.
4. Siam Paragon. This mega-luxurious shopping mall has something for everyone. First, there are outlets for Jimmy Choo, Hermès, Versace, Gucci, and many other design-ers. There are Jim Thompson silk retailers, beauty parlors, IT, sports and bookstores, and several boutiques on the fourth floor selling chic Thai crafts and furnishings. On the top floor you’ll find an entertainment center with cinemas and tenpin bowling. And, best of all, you can visit Siam Ocean World , a tunneled aquarium with 3000 species of exotic fish and sea animals.
5. Harrods Tea Room. Just to show you really have entered another world at Siam Paragon, at the luxurious Harrods Tea Room you can enjoy a British afternoon tea complete with finger sandwiches, scones and clotted cream. It’s popular venue with locals and Asian tourists wanting a taste of old England in Bangkok! Ground Floor, Siam Paragon, Siam Square.
Walk to the Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok, at the intersection of Ratchadamri & Ploenchit rds, Pratunam
6. Erawan Shrine. You’ve already seen your fair share of temples in Bangkok, but this strange little altar—sandwiched between shopping centers and towering hotels—is nonetheless quite magical. The shrine itself represents the four-headed Hindu god of creation, Brahma, and was erected in 1956 after a series of fatal mishaps befell the construction of the original Erawan Hotel. Suddenly, all mishaps ceased, the hotel’s business started booming and devotees began to flock in droves to the shrine in mystic reverence. As you approach the busy junction where the Erawan Shrine stands, you will smell the billows of incense and might hear music, as those whose wishes come true pay respect by hiring traditional dancers. For the non-Buddhist/Hindu visitor, it’s a colorful photo op, if not a mind-blowing sight with pin-striped businessmen praying for success, university students hoping for romance, and housewives imploring the gods for winning lottery numbers.
7. Thai boxing. Thailand’s national sport is muay Thai, a bloody contest of kickboxing, often fought by wiry little 50kg guys whose power and flexibility are remarkable. Thai boxing draws huge crowds who are as much part of the spectacle as the fighters. Screaming, betting, drinking, and jumping up and down in excitement are all par for the course. An evening usually involves eight bouts each with a maximum of five rounds, accompanied by traditional Thai music and some Sumo-esque rituals. Follow this link for the top places to see Thai Boxing, along with information on directions.
Hop the BTS SkyTrain to Saphan Taksin or the ferry to Oriental pier (N1).
8. Cocktails at Sky Bar. Precariously situated like a diving board over a swimming pool on the 63rd floor of the lebua Hotel is the Sky Bar. The spine tingling views of the city below require that you have a glass of wine or a martini….just to keep your knees from turning to jelly.
Walk the few blocks to 8 Oriental Ave, Bang Rak:
9. The Mandarin Oriental: Author’s Lounge. For years the Oriental was acknowledged as “The World’s Greatest Hotel” and many, including myself, would argue that it has lost little of its time-less charm. Even if you are not staying at the Mandarin Oriental (see p ###) you will still want to take a look at it. Walk through the cool and tropical—but not ostentatious—lobby, past the boutiques and you’ll come into a lounge with ceiling fans, French windows and a Kip-lingesque air of British-Raj India. This is the Author’s Lounge, where many of the greats, including Joseph Con-rad, W Somerset Maugham, and Noel Coward, penned their works. Soak up the atmosphere with coffee and cake or high tea and scones served on pristine china.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.