Category Archives: attractions

Christmas in Bangkok

CentralWorld Christmas Tree
Although Thailand is mostly Buddhist, Christmas is a special time in the country. After the monsoon has departed and the city has recouped from the lashings of rain, it is the December peak season that marks the return to normality for the big Mango. As you can imagine with Bangkok, the Christmas holiday is not something that is going to be underplayed.

So where to go and what to do for Christmas in Bangkok? For backpackers the Khao San Road areas still remains the centre of the city. All the bars in Khao San are filled with people celebrating. Many of the bars have live bands. The crowds are spilling out on the street. It is a good atmosphere that comes to a premature end at 1 am. Just because it is Christmas there is no special dispensation. Naturally, there are plenty of legal and illegal drinking options after 1 am both around Khao San and Sukhumvit Road.

For those looking for traditional signs of Christmas there are some impressive light displays around Sukhumvit. The most famous lights are to be found at the Peninsula Plaza on Rachadamri Road. It is the most popular location for Christmas lights in the city. The display usually features such details as a gingerbread house and reindeer barn. Other big hotels in the same area with impressive Christmas lights include the Grand Hyatt, the Intercontinental and the Erawan Hotel.

The largest Christmas tree in Bangkok is to be found outside CentralWorld. There are also beer gardens set up which have nightly concerts. This is a great spot to take the kids and have a well earned drink at the same time. And of course nearby are some fantastic shopping opportunities at MBK.

A modern and tropical take on Christmas decorations is provided at Siam Paragon. They have palms festooned with purple lights.

At night the river is a place to go as it lit up with the lights from the party and restaurant boats going up and down the river. You might even find a Christmas boat package that takes your fancy.

Naturally nearly every hotel and guest house catering primarily to Westerners throw on special Christmas dinners or lunches. They are often pretty good. Some hotels make you pay for a Christmas dinner when you book accommodation. It is a money spinner and a rip-off if you have made other plans.

One of the best Christmas meal experiences is at the Millennium Hilton Bangkok (123 Charoennakorn Road, Khlongtonsai, Khlongsan, Bangkok 10600). Reviews on Trip Advisor rave about the Christmas buffet.

If elegant and more boutique dining is your thing there are a few excellent options available which will need to be booked in advance. These include home dining at Nang Gin Kui, Bo.Lan in Sukhumvit and Eat Me in Silom. Indeed, although Michelin stars haven’t really made it to Bangkok, elegant dining definitely has. And since it’s not cold and wet outside you can really enjoy sophisticated al fresco Christmas dining in Bangkok.

Christmas is all about treating your loved ones. Not only does Bangkok hold a dizzying array of places to get Christmas presents for all the family but it also offers some fun nights out for the family. If you’re in Bangkok around Christmas time with your family then a great treat is to go to a show. There are a number of options. To avoid disappointment we include links for you to book online. The tours include hotel pick up and drop-off as well as English speaking guide.

Siam Niramit

Siam Niramit
Siam Niramit is one of the largest shows in the world. The show features over 100 performers and showcases traditional Thai culture. For 80 minutes the audience is treated to an entertaining overview of Thai history and culture. The show includes a buffet dinner. There is also a recreation of a Thai village to explore as well as elephant rides. Siam Niramit is recommended by www.bangkok4children.com.
book tour of Siam Niramit

Calypso Cabaret

For couples there is the Calypso Cabaret at the Asia Hotel. It is a lady boy (katoey) extravaganza with 50 different performances stretching over 4 hours. The highlight of the show is the ‘Stars of Calypso’ performing a Michael Jackson / Tina Turner spoof.
book tour of Calypso Cabaret

Rose Garden and Thai Village Show

Rose Garden and Thai Village Show
Families will enjoy the Rose Garden and Thai Village Show. It is set in the Rose Garden Riverside Resort that features 20,000 rose bushes. The show presents a little of everything from, Muay Thai (Thai boxing), Thai festivals and Thai dancing. It provides a real insight into ‘Thainess’ ; as well as being fun.
book tour of Rose Garden and Thai Village Show

Sala Rim Nam Restaurant

Salad Rin Nam
A perfect romantic Christmas evening can be spent at the Sala Rim Nam Restaurant on the Chao Phraya River opposite the world-famous Mandarin Hotel. Here you get to try Thai royal cuisine. This is truly some of the most refined food you will ever try. While enjoying the food, the lavish Thai pavilion and the sights on the river, guests are treated to a traditional Thai dancing show. This is a glimpse of how Thai royalty live, and a fine way to treat the special one in your life.
book tour of Sala Ran Nim
Christmas in Bangkok can be whatever you want. There are nightclubs, restaurants, shows and bars galore to experience. The city is also shopping heaven. What is important to make your Bangkok Christmas special is to spend a little time considering your options so as to avoid being disappointed.

Samut Prakan Crocodile Farm & Zoo

There is something uniquely Thai about Samut Prakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo. I am not sure that the animals are abused as such, but they are certainly not treated with ‘reverance’ in the way that Western zoos apsire to. Infact, this isn’t a zoo at all. It’s a farm. There are around 40,000 to 100,000 crocodiles at any time, depending on whose figures you believe. Eventually they will all be processed into handbags, shoes and steaks. All of which can be purchased on site, including on a plate in the restaurant.

Opening the farm to the public, holding shows and the addition of other animals, is a sideline. Farmers in the West are only just waking up to the need to diversify, this is diversification Thai style.

Anyway, no shortage of visitors to this attraction. Its about 28kms from central Bangkok. To get there take a taxi, a tour, or a bus – from On Nut BTS station buses 25, 507, 508 and 511 will take you right to the entrance. It opens daily from 8am to 6pm and costs 300 Thai Baht ($10) for adults and 200 Thai Baht ($6.7) for children.

The main attractions are the crocodile wrestling shows and the elephant shows. They take place throughout the day for a duration of approximately 30 to 40 minutes a show. The crocodile show involves young Thai men putting various body parts in the crocodile’s mouths, picking them up and other stuff generally considered inadvisable with large dangerous reptiles. The elephant show has the large beasts doing tricks including playing football and walking the tightrope.

The ‘zoo’ covers 3,000 acres. There is a mini-train which takes visitors around the various enclosures. The animals on show include tigers, lions, chimpanzees, leopards, pythons and camels. If you still crave more interaction with the animals then you can get in the enclosures with the crocodiles. Well, OK, one crocodile to have your photograph taken. You can also feed the crocodiles. It costs 20 Baht (67 cent) for a chicken carcass.

Depending on your perspective this is either a good day out, a slightly weird experience, or a lesson in how South East Asian people tend to view animals. Thailand never fails to be thought provoking, and the crocodile farm is likely to make you think. Bring a peg for your nose. It smells, and not of roses.

If you want to go on a tour of Samut Prakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo Isango do one. They pick you up at your hotel at 1pm. The tour lasts 4 hours and includes entrance fees and english speaking guide. The tour costs $30 a head. Click on the button below to find out more.

Jim Thompson House

Jim Thompson House

Not the biggest attraction in Bangkok, but to my mind one of the best.

The Jim Thompson House is a wonderful example of Thai architecture right in the centre of commercial Bangkok. The house is made up of a collection of traditional Thai teak wood buildings lovingly reconstructed on the canalside near Siam Square. The 6 structures each come from different parts of Thailand with the oldest building dating back to the early 19th Century.

The house was created by American businessman Jim Thompson in the 1950s. The project owes much to Jim’s early career as a New York architect. When the Second World War broke out Jim embarked on a new career in the service of the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, undertaking intelligence activities all over the world. When the war ended Jim ended up in Bangkok and after a stint redesigning the Oriental Hotel he started a business exporting Thai Silk. He is credited with turning Thai silk into an international brand and the Jim Thompson Company remains today a major exporter of Thai silk products around the world. There is a shop at the Jim Thompson House where you can buy high quality silk products.

During his time in Bangkok, Jim Thompson was a major player in the local social scene. The house was built as a setting for his famous dinner parties attended by the rich and famous, great and good, as they passed through Bangkok. The house is a major throwback to the romance of colonial Indo-China. It is now a museum kept in pretty much the same state as when Jim left it. He disappeared under mysterious circumstances in the Malaysian jungle in 1967 adding to the legend of Jim Thompson.

Jim Thompson was a voracious collector of art and antiquities and they adorn the house. He also gave careful thought to the garden which I can only describe as being uniquely Asian and jungle-like.

There is a pretty good restaurant at the Jim Thompson House as well,which is fitting considering his preoccupation with throwing dinner parties. It’s open for lunch from 11am to 5pm and dinner from 7pm to 11pm. You have a choice of sitting inside or on the verandah by the pond.

To get to the Jim Thompson House take the sky train to National Stadium BTS station. It’s a short walk from there. The address is 6 Soi Kaseman 2, Rama 1 Road. It’s open from 9am to 5pm and costs 100 Thai Baht for adults ($3.3) and 50 Thai Baht for children and students.

If you fancy seeing some nice Thai architecture, and fulfilling your dreams of experiencing the glamour of colonial Indo-China, it’s well worth the trip.

Vimanmek Palace

This is one of Bangkok’s more low key attractions. A beautiful wooden building in a large garden with not too many tourists around. I find the Vimanmek Palace a nice antidote to the hectic nature of much of Bangkok.

The Palace was constructed in its present location, the Dusit Garden, in 1900. Originally the palace had been built on the island of Koh Sichang. The King at the time liked to visit this island which was thought at the time to be a very healthy location. The King stopped visiting after an incident in which the French army briefly embarked on a military occupation of the island following a trade dispute. No longer in use, the building was brought to Bangkok and served as the Royal Place in the early part of the 20th Century.

The building is the world’s largest golden teak wood structure. It has three storeys and 81 rooms, many of which are open to the public. The design of the building is an interesting mix of European neo-classical design and traditional Thai architecture. This mix of styles is carried on in the interior – there is an eclectic range of antique furniture, glassware and porcelain. As is so often the case, the art and architecture reflects the spirit of the time. This is nowhere more true than the Vimanmek Palace which reflects the opening up of Siam to the outside world at the beginning of the 20th Century.

The Palace fell completely into disuse in 1932 following a military coup which put an end to absolute monarchy in Thailand. The transformation of the Palace into a functioning attraction occurred in the 1980s under the patronage of the current Queen of Thailand. Inside the Palace there are now a series of exhibitions and memorabilia relating to King Rama V. These exhibits dedicated to one of Thailand’s most important kings (he made lots of social reforms) were intended to revitalize the building and add more interest for visitors.

We say pay it a visit. It’s a 20 minute walk from Thewet Chao Phraya Express Boat pier. You can pick up the Express Boat at any of the piers along the river, although if you are coming by Skytrain go to Saphan Taksin BTS station to transfer to Sathorn Pier. Probably though you will want take a taxi unless you are short on funds. To get in it costs 100 Thai Baht ($3.3). Its open 8.30am to 4.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday (closed Sunday and Monday). Slightly oddly you have to join a free compulsory tour around the Palace. When you have finished the tour hang around in the garden and enjoy the traditional Thai dancing which happens daily at 10.30am and 2pm.

One last thing, dress smartly. They won’t let you in shorts, short skirts, ripped jeans or t-shirts. This is a Royal Palace after all.

Koh Kret

Koh Kret is something of an oddity. A traditional community, no roads, no traffic, and yet in Bangkok. Its an oasis of calm in a frenetic city.

Koh Kret in an island in the Chao Phraya river, about 20km north of central Bangkok. It was created in 1722 by the creation of a canal where there is a wide bend in the river. This new island was settled over time by people from the Mon community under the encourage of the Thai government.

Koh Kret hasn’t developed at the same rate as the rest of Bangkok. Whilst tourism has started encroaching on what has been for centuries an isolated community the island retains a lot of its rural charm. It doesn’t have any roads and cars. There are some concrete paths and concrete by the ferry port but that’s it. You need to walk or cycle to get around and bikes are available to hire. People live in smaller houses like they do in the countryside.

The Mon people have a distinctive cultural identity. They are famous for their pottery and this is the main industry on the island. There are lots of pottery shops on the island and a pottery museum which is open from 9am to 5pm. They also have a distinctive cuisine. Notable dishes are deep fried flowers and a Mon version of tempura served in a banana leaf bowl.

Koh Kret is fairly small covering an area of approximately four square kilometers. It’s roughly square with each side around 2kms long. You could walk all the way around the island in 1.5 to 2 hours. This is a nice stroll and it takes in the island’s main sights. There are several temples constructed in a distinctive Mon style. The main temple is Wat Poramaiyikawat and there is a small arts and crafts museum next door. The other temples though are perhaps more interesting as they are older and one has a large reclining Buddha.

Getting to Koh Kret from central Bangkok is a bit of a trek, although well worth the effort. The best way to get there is to take to the river. Pick up the Chao Phraya Express Boat from any of the piers along the river. If you are coming by skytrain go to Saphan Taksin BTS station which is adjacent to Sathorn Pier for the Express Boat.

If you get up early enough in the morning you can get a boat virtually all the way. ‘Green Flag’ express boats run to Pak Kret Pier from 6.15 am to 8.15 am. After that time the boats stop one pier earlier at Nonthaburi Pier.

From Pak Ket Pier it’s a short walk to another pier at Wat Sanam Neua for a quick 2 Thai Baht ferry ride to Koh Kret island. If you have to get off at Nonthaburi Pier we advise getting a taxi. Simply tell the driver you want to go to Koh Kret and they will take you to the ferry pier for the island, its not far.

Return Chao Phraya Express Boats run from Pak Kret Pier from 3.30pm to 6pm. A much easier journey than it may sound, and not at all expensive.

If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a day then a trip to Koh Kret is ideal. It is also possible to find basic accommodation on the island. Thankfully, there are no big hotels, just small mom-and-pop guest houses.

Wat Saket and the Golden Mount

Wat Saket is one of my favourite temples in Bangkok. Its on the top of a man made hill, known as the Golden Mount. The hill took a fair bit of effort, and several attempts, to build. The first attempt, in the early 19th Nineteenth Century collapsed. The land in this part of Bangkok is low lying and consequently water logged and soft. Another attempt was made at the end of the century and with the addition of some concrete support stayed in place.

The temple itself is not what people come here for. It’s small without much of note inside, although the Chedi (which is an Indian style spire) is pretty cool. It’s covered in thousands of old mosiac tiles. The Chedi is a recongisable landmark clearly visible from ground level. The panoramic view is what makes the temple great. For a long time it was the highest point in Bangkok, and is still the best vantage point in ‘Old Bangkok’.

Like all the best temples, its a bit of a trek to get there. This a good or bad thing depending on your perspective and your frame of mind. Before you even consider climbing the mount you need to get there. It’s not on the skytrain or metro system, although it is on the Canal Taxi network (Khlong Saen Saep) which we have written about previously. The temple is located inconveniently between the modern Siam Square area and the Khao San area. If you are relatively fit you can walk from the Khao San Road, otherwise it requires a  taxi journey to get there, or a local bus trip.

Once you get there the trek doesn’t stop. You have 318 steps to climb to ascend the 80 or so metres to the temple on the top. Probably best to avoid the midday heat if you aren’t properly acclimatized. Once you get there you need to pay 10 Thai Baht to go through the temple to get to the observation deck.

This is a working temple. 300 or so monks live in the temple grounds at the base of the temple. On your way up pause for a little while to take in the small details in the jungle style gardens at the entrance. There are lots of small shrines. Apparently lots of people have been buried here over the years. Some of the graves are meant to be plague victims. We can’t verify this, but we reckon there must be families of the dead still living in the area as people regularly bring offerings and flowers.

The temple is open 8am to 5pm. Except for early November when there is a festival to mark Loi Krathong, which is broadly speaking the Thai version of Christmas, involving a candlelight procession up the stairs at night. It is a great thing to see if you get the chance. There is a small fair and fantastic atmosphere for a week.

If you only have a short time in Bangkok and want to see Wat Saket as well as a number of other important cultural and historical places  we recommend doing the Isango ‘Buddhist Temples and Klongs Tour’. You are picked up at 8am from your hotel  and returned to your hotel at 5 pm. All fees are included as well as lunch and an English speaking guide. The tour takes you to the Grand Palace, the emerald Buddha, Wat Pho, Wat Arun and Wat Saket. It also includes a canal tour. It is a full day out and great value for $100 per person. For more details or to book now click on the button below.

Siam Niramit Show

Siam Niramit is one of the world’s largest stage shows with a cast of over 100 performers. This award winning show ranks as one of Bangkok’s major attractions. The 2,000 seater theater is filled nightly.

The Theater is is located to the north of the Sukhumvit Road. The closest public transport station is the Thailand Cultural Centre MRT (Metro) Station. It is about a 20 minute walk from the Metro station to Tiamruammit Road where the Theater is located.

Shows start daily at 8pm and run for approximately 80 minutes with no intermission. The cost is 2,000 Thai Baht ($66.7) for ‘Golden Seats’ and 1,500 Thai Baht ($50) for ‘Standard Seats’. For an extra 350 Thai Baht ($11.7) you have a buffet meal of Thai and Western food before the show. Guest reviews suggest the buffet is actually quite good, and beer and wine is on sale.

The doors open at 5.30pm and there are other attractions in the grounds of the theater that are worth visiting. The big attraction is the ‘Village of the Four Regions’ which has examples of wooden homes from the four regions of Thailand. There are performers demonstrating traditional crafts. There are also small shows put on outside, such as dance performances. The children will really enjoy the elephant shows which are put on every night. Elephants rides are available for a small additional cost.

The show itself is split into three distinct acts, each featuring several set changes and numerous special effects. The idea, which they have achieved pretty successfully, is to give an overview of Thai History, culture and spiritualism and demonstrate how beliefs and superstitions play a central role in Thai life – a big task in 80 minutes, and this is how they achieve it:

Act I: Journey Back into History -Depiction of life in Ancient times in each of the four regions of Thailand

Act II: Journey Beyond Imagination – Depictions of the three spiritual realms of ‘Fiery Hell’, ‘Mystical Forest of Himapaan’ and ‘Blissful Heaven’.

Act III: Journey Through Joyous Festivals – Examples of Merit Making festivals re-enacted such as the Loy-Krathong celebration.

If you prefer you can go with a tour to see Siam Niramit. Isango have tours at competitive prices. They pick you up at your hotel at 6pm and bring you back after the show. The tour costs $74. To book or find out more click on the button below.

book tour of Siam Niramit

Train spotting in Bangkok

Thailand is a great place to travel by train and there are lots of opportunities for train spotting in Bangkok. There are many types of tain in operation, from the ultra modern trains used in the sky train network, to the steam trains used on special routes such as the trip from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi.

Hualampong Train Station

Hualamphong Train station is the main train station for Bangkok. It has its own MRT metro stop making it easy to reach. The station itself opened in 1916 designed by Italian architects Mario Tamagio and Annibole Rigotti. The station is in my opinion magnificent, and a visit provides a glimpse of a vibrant slice of Thai life.

The station has 14 platforms with around 130 trains arriving and departing every day. The station is also the terminus for the Eastern & Orient Express plying the route to Singapore.

One of the great features in the station is the massive stain glass window at the end of the platform. Go for a visit even if you aren’t travelling somewhere by train.

Thonburi Railway Station Musuem

Located on the other side of the river from the main train station, this is the place to visit to see steam engines. You can get there by public transport via the Chao Phraya Express boat. Get off at the Railway Station Pier.

You will find this locomotive house near Siriraj Hospital. It is walking distance from the river bank. The museum is on the site of the former Thonburi railway station built in 1900. This station was destroyed during the Second World War, and the Thonburi station was rebuilt 1km to the east in 2003. This new station is the starting point for the line to Kanchaburi.

What remains of the old station is now a storage/maintenance shed for 5 fully functional steam engines owned by the State Railways of Thailand. These magnificent Asian steam engine are still used for special occasions and specific routes. Tourists are more than welcome to visit.

Wat Maharat

Wat Maharat means Temple of the Holy Relic in the Thai language. Every city in Thailand has a Wat Maharat, however, the Wat Maharat in Bangkok is the most important of these in Thailand.

Wat Maharat Yowarajarangsarit Rajaworamahavihara, to give the temple its full name, is one of ten Royal palaces of the highest class. It is very much a working temple, at the head of Thailand’s largest monastic order – The Mahanikai School. The head of the order (‘The Supreme Patriarch’) resides at the temple.

Built during the Ayutthaya Period (1350 – 1767), Wat Maharat came to prominence in 1788 under the patronage of the first king of Siam, Rama 1. The temple buildings were then expanded by Rama IV, who had studied here as a young monk before ascending to the throne. The growth of the temple carried on with the establishment in 1889 of the first institute of higher education for the monkhood in Thailand. In 1997 this institute became a public university.

Foreign visitors are welcome to come and share this learning with Vipassana meditation classes held daily at 7am to 10am, 1pm to 4pm, and 6pm to 8pm. Classes are free, and it is possible to stay in temple while studying also for free, although a donation to the upkeep of the temple is normally required. If you would like to attend telephone +66 (0)2 222 6011. Please note that students are expected to dress in white clothes, and observe the eight precepts of Buddhism, during their period of study.

As a tourist you are welcome to visit the temple. Visitors will appreciate the opportunity to visit a functioning temple. The temple is open from 7am to 6pm every day. Admission is free. The temple is not close to either Skytrain or Metro stations. You can however reach the temple by catching a Chao Phraya Express Boat. The closest pier is Tha Chang Pier. If you are coming by boat, the entrance to the temple (on the Maharat Road) is a 10 minute walk from Tha Chang Pier. If you are coming from Sukhumvit, Silom or Siam Square you can connect with the Chao Phraya Express Boat by taking the BTS (skytrain) to Saphan Taksin station, which is adjacent to Sathorn Pier.

Pak Klong Talat (Bangkok Flower Market)

Video courtesy of TENFACE hotel.

Pak Klong Talat is Bangkok’s largest flower market. It is located near the river in Chinatown, just South of Wat Pho on the Chak Phet Road. The easiest way to get there, unless you take a taxi, is to go by the Chao Phraya Express boat which you can pick up from Sathorn Pier by the Saphan Taksin BTS (sky train) station. The closest stop to the market is Rajinee Pier. Be sure to take the ‘no flag’ boat, as the other boats with green or blue flags don’t stop at Rajinee Pier.

The market is open 24 hours a day, every day except Mondays. For the very dedicated the best time to visit is between 3am and 4am when the deliveries come in.

Pak Klong Talat means ‘Mouth of the canal market’ in Thai. The first market on this site, in the reign of Rama I (1782 – 1809), was a floating market literally in the mouth of the canal. Over time the market migrated to the banks of the river where the main product for sale became fish. By the 1950s the fish wholesale business had moved to a market on the outskirts of the City and the market changed to a centre for flowers and vegetables.

The market is a wonderful, vibrant and colorful place to visit. It is by no means a tourist attraction – this a busy functioning market frequented by florist, purchasers from the hotels, housewives through to the poor of Bangkok who come here to buy garlands for sale on the street.

The majority of the market, which spans across several streets, is wholesale flower stalls erupting in vivid colours. There are also shops selling flower related items like vases and imitation floral displays. In addition there is an amazing variety of fruit and vegetables on sale. Everything here is generally sold for a very cheap fixed cost – great for those weary of bargaining.

Visitors will enjoy going to the market for as much of a cultural experience as for the shopping. Flowers play an important part in Thai culture. At the market you will find all kinds of arrangements for everything from weddings to funerals to other religious ceremonies. There are designs from different parts of Thailand and designs from different strata in society, including some ‘royal’ designs. The range of products is bewildering as are their different meanings. If you can find a helpful Thai person to take you around and explain all these different purposes and meanings this will give you a fascinating insight into Thai culture.