View Comments
Spectacle and spirit in Bangkok
Stephen Scourfield Chinatown, Bangkok.

THE GRAND PALACE

Visitors simply must start with the aptly named Grand Palace. This spectacular compound was established in 1782, and the royal residences, throne rooms and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha resonate in the memory. The mirrored pagoda, built by Rama I between 1782 and 1784, and the golden pagoda of Rama IV are something travellers will always remember. It is worth spending time following the beautiful mural telling the story of Ramakien. It is appropriate to wear long sleeves and long trousers, and shoes must be removed.

WAT PO (OR PHO)

Wat Po is one of the most significant Buddhist temples in the country. A long building contains the big Reclining Buddha built during Rama III's reign. Covered in 24-carat gold leaf, it has an exquisite face. The stories of incarnations are told by the mother-of-pearl on the soles of his feet. Exchange a donation for a small dish of coins, and walk the row of round metal bowls, dropping them in rhythmically and making your wishes.

NATIONAL ROYAL BARGE MUSEUM

The eight spectacular barges are brought out only occasionally, but are well housed in the museum, and there are historic images. During the Ayutthaya period, when the river was the primary means of transport, there were thousands of royal barges.

KLONG BOAT TRIP

A ride down the Chao Phraya River and the klongs (canals) of Bangkok is inexpensive and will give you a traditional view of the city.

CHINATOWN FLOWER AND VEGETABLE MARKETS

Love long-stemmed roses? Well, this is the place for you. It's worth a very early start to see the flower markets in the perfumed morning, and to walk through the vegetable market and see ingredients for local dishes.

JIM THOMPSON HOUSE MUSEUM

Jim Thompson fell in love with Thailand and traded its silk. An American, he is said to have taken it back to New York City in the 1950s, and his silks were used in the original movie of The King and I - orders poured in. His cluster of traditional Thai wooden houses is open to the public, along with his collection of Asian artworks that includes paintings on cotton, the oldest of which is 400 years old. Thompson was born in 1906, the Year of the Horse, which meant 1967 was going to be a bad year for him. He disappeared without trace in Malaysia.

PATPONG

If you want to walk the streets and try the bars of Patpong, don't bother going until late - things generally liven up around 11pm. Locals tell me to pay for drinks before they are consumed, rather than running up a tab and later being asked to pay a "non-member price".

MUAY THAI BOXING

Rajadamnern Stadium and Lumpini Stadium have regular bouts. It's a spectacle - a mix of formality, tradition and Thunderdome.