Top 10 Things To Do In Bangkok

Travel guide to planning a vacation or visit to Bangkok, including an overview of the top attractions, museums and historical sites.

The bad news is that you've just found out you only have enough vacation days to spend a week in Bangkok, the capital of Thailand. The good news, though, is that if you put the following ten attractions at the top of your must-see list, you'll have time to spare for sampling spicy Thai cuisine, shopping for souvenirs, and understanding the history behind this exotic locale.

Visitors are advised, however, that many of Bangkok's most popular attractions are governed by a strict dress code reflecting the country's religious practices and its ongoing censure of "Western" influence. Shorts, tank tops, tube tops, mini-skirts, flip-flops and T-shirts bearing vulgarities will result in denial of entry. Theater lovers may also recall that not only was the original musical "The King and I" banned as offensive by the Thai government because of its depiction of the King of Siam but that the recent remake film starring Jodie Foster was regarded with the same hostility and was forbidden to be shown in its movie houses.


Want to start out with a crash course in Thai culture? Make Muang Boran your first stop. This open air museum spans over 350 acres and is laid out to resemble the country of Thailand itself. Whether you opt to join a group or embark on a self-guided tour, the expansive grounds are a living history experience in which you'll find reproductions of temples, houses, castles, and early cities as well as crafts people and performers doing demonstrations of folk art, performing dances and songs, and introducing visitors to a typical day in the lives of their Thai ancestors.


This is one of the most photographed spots in the city"┬Žand with good reason. The palace was built over the course of 3 years at the end of the 18th century by King Rama I and is the official residence of the current monarchy. This is also where you will see the temple of Wat Pra Kaeo housing the 15th century Emerald Buddha whose robes are rotated three times a year by no less than the Thailand's king himself. The king, in fact, is the only person who is allowed to touch the statue. When you visit this""and other places of worship throughout Bangkok""be sensitive and respectful of those who have come to pray. That means no photography, no laughing, no loud talking, and no interrupting services that are in progress. Both the palace and the temple are open year round to the public from 8:30 to 4:30, closing for lunch between the hours of 12 and 1.


When we think of traditional statues of Buddha, the image that generally comes to mind is one in which he has assumed the lotus position. At Wat Pho, however, you can one in an uncharacteristic pose: lying down. The Reclining Buddha is covered in gold leaf and faces his viewers, propped up on one elbow with the back of his head resting on his hand and a blissful expression on his countenance. He measures a little over150 feet long. And don't forget to check out his soles, which are meticulously inlaid with mother of pearl representing the indisputable signs of a true spiritual leader. Wat Pho is the largest and oldest temples in the city of Bangkok. It also has the distinction of being the country's first university as well as the most popular place in the world to learn the art and techniques of Thai massage. For all the walking around you're going to be doing on this trip, you may want to consider an hour of relaxing indulgence at the hands of an expert.


Life on the rivers of Thailand has changed very little with the passage of centuries. Entire communities conduct trade by boat, subsist on fish and snakes caught in the coffee-colored canals, and participate in tourism by offering their boats for hire at the docks near the River City shopping complex and at the pier by the Grand Palace. The Klongs, as they are called, are a glimpse at life in the slow lane of Bangkok. Multiple generations live on the sampans and use the waters for their bathing, swimming, laundry and, yes, sewage. In contrast to the extreme poverty, however, is the proliferation of bright color found in the flowers that the boat people use to decorate their habitats and their boats.


The temple of Wat Sutat is interesting for its connection to an unusual ceremony designed to show appreciation to the gods for a bountiful rice harvest. A giant teak swing, erected just outside the temple entrance, was ridden by daring young men who would not only see how high they could go but also try to catch bags of coins with their teeth. Suffice it to say, a number of these zealous thrill seekers fell to their deaths every season, a circumstance that finally prompted the city to put an end to it in 1932. All that remains of this "swing time" is the teak arch.


In March of 1967, an American architect and CIA operative named Jim Thompson disappeared without a trace in the Cameroon region of Malaysia. His teak house, however, very much puts forth the suggestion that he has only stepped out for lunch and will be returning at any moment. Thompson's claim to fame was his passion to reinvigorate the Thai silk industry and encourage merchants to beat a path to Bangkok's door for hand-woven goods. The house itself is noteworthy in that it is actually a combination of six smaller dwellings that were transported from outside Bangkok and reassembled along one of its canals. Thompson's reputation as an art connoisseur is reflected in an impressive collection of Asian art and sculpture throughout his former home and landscaped gardens. Tours are available from 9 until 4:30 every day.


If your visit to Muang Boran whet your appetite for Thai art and archaeology, the city's National Museum is a place you won't want to miss. Open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 until 4, the museum offers a mix of artifacts from the private collections of early rulers as well as rotating regional exhibits. A large variety of rooms and separate pavilions in what is Southeast Asia's largest museum complex will enhance your knowledge of Thailand's social, religious and political structure. Of particular note is the museum's collection of chariots still used to this day to transport deceased members of the royal family to the crematorium.


Outdoor enthusiasts will find it hard to tear themselves away from Bangkok's Lumpini Park. Jogging paths, bicycle roads, picnic and chess tables, Tai Chi classes, plenty of shade trees, weight-lifting, and rowboats for rent on its pair of lakes offer plenty to do and all the time in the world to do it. Lumpini is also known for its concerts and art shows in the park and year round festivals. And if you should finish that book you were reading while your kids were playing Frisbee, there is even an onsite library where you can go find something new.


Elephants have long played a significant role in the lives of the Thai people. Revered for their strength and their intelligence, they are not only used to move the trees that are used for construction but have been employed in the more perilous task of removing debris wrought by catastrophes such as the recent tsunami and helping to locate the victims buried beneath. The Royal Elephant Museum located within the Parliament compound is a video and artifact testament to the value of the largest land animal and to the beliefs surrounding its participation in religious ceremonies. It is open to the public every day from 8:30 to 4:30.


Although it is no longer a royal residence, Vimanek Mansion continues to be used for state receptions and banquets. Entirely made from teak""one of Southeast Asia's most precious exports"" it is filled with photographs, artwork, furniture, and personal memorabilia hailing from the 19th century reign of one of its late kings. It also goes without saying that your kids probably won't be the only ones to wonder if anyone was ever tempted to slide down that long teak banister! The building itself is open for tours from 8:30 to 4:30. A stroll on its grounds just before dusk is a photo memory you'll want to carry home.

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