Bangkok’s Grand Palace complex figures at the very top of most visitors’ lists of what to see as it is the home of Wat Phra Kaew, the very beautiful Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The grounds of Bangkok’s Grand Palace are spread out, and while the buildings are spectacular, it’s usually very hot so it is best to go early and pace yourself. The Ramakien wall paintings on the walls of the temple are not to be missed and luckily they are both outside and under cover, as they are on the walls of a portico. The visit is going to take a large portion of a morning, especially the Grand Palace.
There is also Wat Pho, to the south of Bangkok’s Grand Palace, which has the famous giant Reclining Buddha statue measuring 46 meters long. Temple grounds contain buildings encrusted with mosaics and statue topiaries. The temple is known for its traditional Thai massage school, the first in the Kingdom, which offers massage sessions across Maharaj Street along the river. There are many little shops on the road that sell massage oils and herbal salves and compresses, along with wooden tools used for foot and hand massages.
Afterwards, if you want to cool off and revive, Vivi the Coffee Place is close to the Wat Pho massage center. It’s right on the river with an amazing view overlooking Wat Arun and they serve iced coffee, smoothies, and ice cream.
Just down Maharaj Road is the Museum of Siam, with historical exhibitions that interpret Thailand’s past. Some of the displays are interactive. The museum has a nice shop with books on Siamese culture and history and Thai handicrafts. A wider selection of books related to Thai and Southeast Asian topics can be found across the street at River Books. They have bags and scarves and eco-friendly products, too. It’s located right outside Chakrabongse Villa, an historic royal palace where you can stay or dine al fresco.
Another important museum in the area is the National Gallery. Once the Royal Mint, it now exhibits several centuries of Siamese and Thai art and temporary shows of contemporary work. Another really good place for art is Art-Center of Silpakorn, on the campus of the nation’s most famous art school, right across from the Grand Palace.
Thipsamai Pad Thai is an institution where some claim you’ll eat the best pad thai in the city. It’s only open in the evening. Flaming woks and droves of hungry people will tell you this is the place. Order a frozen coconut juice, too. If you want to stay in this neighborhood, Old Capitol Bike Inn is a unique place. It’s a small boutique hotel in an old converted house, and the owners give free nightly bike tours of Rattanakosin to their guests. Biking after the sun sets and in a group is the best way to take a ride in the old town.
–With Kiki Anderson