The stunning Wat Arun is one of the most recognizable buildings in Bangkok for its large, central prang (Khmer-style tower). The morning sunlight reflects off the roofs pearly surface which lends it the name “Temple of the Dawn.” Much of this color comes from the seashells and bits of Chineses porcelain which have been laid in the prangs. You can climb to the terraces for excellent views of the city and there are also fantastic sculptures of animals, soldiers, demons, and Hindu gods.
You can, of course, have spiritual experiences at any temple in Thailand, and some cater specifically to foreigners who would like to learn and practice meditation. There are free meditation classes in the International Buddhist Meditation Centre inside Wat Mahathat. The Wat Pho is home to the world’s largest sculpture of a reclining Buddha. The temple also offers courses in Thai massage designed for tourists.
A ride on the Chao Phraya River is a great way to get acquainted with Bangkok and see the city’s many beautiful palaces and temples on the river banks. Services on the river inlcude the cheap Chao Phraya River Express ( a commuter service with frequent stops,) blue-flagged tourist boats offering English commentary, and nighttime buffet dinner cruises. The latter are very popular, so make a reservation.
Homosexuality is generally accepted in Thailand and there’s a very active gay community in Bangkok concentrated in Silom’s Soi 2 and Soi 4 and on nearby Surawong Road. There’s also a small lesbian community along Royal City Avenue.
A famed icon of Thai queer life are the kathoeys, or ladyboys – pre- and post-operative transsexuals. Kathoeys have been part of Thai popular culture for ages, as evidenced by the popular “Ladyboy Shows” – cabaret acts combining singing, dancing, glamour, costumes, and comedy. Calypso Cabaret, at Asiatique, The Riverfront is one place to see the shows.
Fighting fans will relish the opportunity to see Muay Thai boxing up close at one of Bangkok’s two boxing venues: Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Silom and Ratchadamnoen Stadium in Rattanakosin. Contestants are allowed to use any part of the body – feet, elbows, knees, shoulders – to attack. Matches can stretch out all evening and often the best fights take place at the end of the night. Sessions are also usually accompanied by traditional music.
The lush Queen Sirikit Park is lovely retreat from the hustle and bustle of busy Bangkok streets. It was built in 1992 to commemorate the 60th birthday of its namesake Queen. It is richly designed with ponds, fountains, a botanical garden, a lotus and water lily yard, and even a banana garden that’s home to 70 different varieties.
Lumphini Park is another urban oasis, a vast area of green near the gay district, with a lush forest area, elegant palm and bamboo gardens, and a bird sanctuary. There are also sports/recreation facilities, Sunday music concerts in the park from 4:30-8pm, and "Dharma in the Park" food offerings to Buddhist monks and talks, each last Sunday of the month, 7-9am. The park can be quite cruisy, especially during dusk to closing hours.
Follow the Deptartment of Environment website links above for information about other Bangkok parks.
Thailand’s sumptuous royal palaces are among the country’s finest buildings. The Grand Palace is the official residence of the royal family and is so huge that you could easily spend a whole morning or afternoon wandering around its rooms and grounds. The grounds contain Wat Phra Kaew, the most sacred temple in Thailand, and home to the Emerald Buddha. Your ticket to the Grand Palace also gives you entrance to the Dusit Palace, which contains the Vimanmek Museum. Vimanmek was the former royal mansion, influenced by western architecture, that was the royal family's cool getaway from summer heat -- now a museum dedicated to the former King Rama V, with photographs and artifacts. The beautiful building is the largest in the world made from golden teak.
Museum complex and art center, once the home of American expat Jim Thompson. He collected regional art and designed his distinctive dwelling beside a Bangkok canal, set in a lush natural-style tropical jungle garden. The house consists of a complex of six traditional Thai-style houses, teak structures brought to the present location from various parts of Thailand. Construction was completed in 1959.
Born in Delaware, educated at Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania, Thompson led an active social life in the 1930s, sat on the board of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, and was a New York City architect until 1940. He served in WWII and was recruited to the OSS (precursor to the CIA), becoming station chief for Bangkok after the war. Deciding to settle in Thailand, he helped revive the Thai silk trade, by encouraging a cottage industry of handmade fabrics in vibrant colors, and selling them to his New York fashion contacts. In doing so, he raised many Thai families out of poverty. He was also one among the group who rescued and transformed the Oriental Hotel, visited by famous guests, from writers and entertainers to heads of state --now considered one of the world's finest luxury hotels.
Most of Jim Thompson's art collection was found on his Sunday afternoon strolls in the alleyways of Nakorn Kasem, and on trips to Ayutthaya, at a time when such objects were virtually unknown in the West, and not highly valued by most Thais. Hoping to preserve some of the country's treasures he amassed an extensive art and antique collection, predominantly of Asian origin, of sculptures, paintings, and porcelain. Somerset Maugham, a dinner guest at the house, wrote: "You have not only beautiful things, but what is rare you have arranged them with faultless taste." Gregarious and single (his one marriage attempt ended after nine months), he and his pet cockatoo often entertained, and his house became a must-stop for visiting artists, writers and interesting people of all kinds, friends old and new.
In 1967 Jim Thompson took a vacation with friends in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia. Setting out for a walk in the surrounding jungle he never returned. No evidence of his death was ever found, dispite the efforts of hundreds who searched, (many of them expert trackers), and large rewards offered. A foundation set up to administer his estate after his disappearance now opens the house to visitors, where evenings can include terrace performances of Thai classical dance. It also manages the museum and art center exhibits, and schedules readings and events. A restaurant and bar at the house bears his name, -- tribute to 'Bangkok's leading farang host.' The restaurant is operated by the Thai Silk Company he helped found, along with their other restaurants and retail stores around Bangkok and beyond.