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Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
The Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is an escape from the Western-style shopping malls of Bangkok and a glimpse into the past, revealing the centuries-old way of life of the residents whose stilt-houses perch on the canals and make their living selling fruits, vegetables and flowers. Visitors can explore the market with boat trips and sample the wares of local farmers as they do so. They can also enjoy the experience of floating through one of Thailand's many river villages.
Royal Grand Palace
The Royal Grand Palace is a popular Bangkok attraction. Construction of the palace began in 1782 and was completed in time for the coronation of King Rama I, and opened in 1785 to signify the end of the Burmese invasion of Thailand. The palace itself is made up of a complex array of smaller buildings, most notably the Wat Mahatat (the Palace Temple) and the Wat Phra Keow (the Royal Chapel), which houses the famous Emerald Buddha sculpted from a single piece of jade, one of the most revered objects in Thailand.
Royal Barges National Museum
The Royal Barges National Museum houses several decorative royal barges, the earliest of which dates back to 1357. Most of the barges served as War Vessels at one point, and were subsequently used on royal or state occasions on the Chao Phraya River. Due to their age the barges are now rarely used, but their intricate designs reflecting Thai religious beliefs and local history are of great importance to the country's heritage. The barges were last used at the end of 1999 to celebrate the king's 72nd birthday.
Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho)
Situated adjacent to the Royal Grand Palace, Wat Pho is Bangkok's oldest, largest and most famous temple, recognised by the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme. The grounds of Wat Pho contain over 1,000 statues of Buddha, and the temple houses one of Thailand's most spectacular sights, the Reclining Buddha: a 157-foot (48m) long and 49-foot (15m) high statue that is gold-plated and inlaid with Mother-of-Pearl on the soles of its feet. In the 19th century King Rama III turned Wat Pho into a centre of learning and is considered the birthplace of the traditional Thai massage. Visitors today can still have a massage and learn about the ancient art of Thai Medicine.
Jim Thompson's House
American silk entrepreneur Jim Thompson deserves most of the credit for the current popularity of Thai silk around the world. Having travelled to Bangkok with the US Army in World War II, Thompson was struck by the beauty of Thai silk and began marketing it to US buyers in 1948, establishing the Thai Silk Company Limited. His fame increased when, in 1967, Thompson disappeared in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia under mysterious circumstances. He has never been heard of since. The house itself is an excellent example of Thai residential architecture, and inside is a display of his Oriental art and antique collection, as well as an array of his personal belongings.
Eighty miles (130km) west of Bangkok, the town of Kanchanaburi has secured its position of infamy as the original site of the , where during World War II allied prisoners of war were used by the Japanese to build the Death Railway, killing thousands in the process. With its modern hotels and welcoming air, Kanchanaburi seems an unlikely setting, but the bridge is still in use and the graves of the Allied soldiers are testament to the town's unfortunate past. Worth a visit is the JEATH (Japan, England, Australia/America, Thailand and Holland) War Museum in Kanchanaburi, which recounts experiences in the Japanese POW camps during the War. The Sai Yok Yai Waterfall in the Sai Yok National Park is a place of idyllic beauty and makes a good excursion from Kanchanaburi; the falls are widely celebrated in Thai poetry and songs.
Temple of the Golden Buddha (Wat Traimit)
Dating back to the 13th century, Wat Traimit stands nearly 10 feet (3m) tall, weighs over five tons and is believed to be solid cast gold, the largest gold statue in the world. It was discovered by accident in 1957 when an old stucco image was dropped by a crane, shattering the plaster shell to reveal the brilliantly shining gold underneath. The statue is breathtaking and is thought to have come from Ayutthaya covered in plaster to hide it from the Burmese invaders.
Bangkok National Museum
Originally built in 1782, the Bangkok National Museum is located within the grounds of the Royal Palace, just a 15-minute walk from the palace of the Emerald Buddha, and displays thousands of artefacts ranging all the way from Neolithic times to present day. It is known as Thailand's central treasury of art and archaeology. Many of the actual buildings are works of art themselves, surrounded by brightly-coloured pavilions and boasting some of Southeast Asia's most ornate jewellery and historical treasures. A visit to the museum is a must for anyone who wants a better understanding of Thailand's rich culture and history. Guided tours are conducted daily on topics including religion, art and culture.
Wat Suthat and the Giant Swing
Wat Suthat is among the oldest and largest temples in Bangkok and is home to the beautiful 13th-century Phra Buddha Shakyamuni, a 25-foot (8m) tall bronze Buddha image that was brought from Sukhothai and containing the ashes of Kind Rama VIII. It is also known for its exquisite wall paintings, done during the reign of Rama III. The enormous arch made of teak outside the wat is all that remains of an original swing which was used to celebrate and thank Shiva for a bountiful rice harvest. Teams of men would ride the swing on arcs as high as 82 feet (25m) into the air, grabbing at bags of silver coins with their teeth. The swing ceremony was discontinued in 1932 due to countless injuries and deaths, but the thanksgiving festival is still celebrated in mid-December after the rice harvest.
Wat Benchamabophit (The Marble Temple)
Wat Benchamabophit, also known as the Marble Temple, is constructed of white Carrara marble (even the courtyard is paved with polished white marble) and is known as one of Bangkok's most beautiful temples . The temple's name literally means 'The Temple of the fifth King located nearby Dusit Palace'. Built of Italian marble and designed by Prince Naris, a half-brother of the king, it is unique in that, unlike older complexes, there is no wihaan or chedi dominating the grounds. The temple houses many Buddha images representing various regional styles. Inside the ornate Ordination Hall (Ubosot) is a Sukhothai-style Buddha statue named Phra Buddhajinaraja, and buried under this statue are the ashes of King Rama V. The site also contains the Benchamabophit National Museum.
Vimanmek Mansion Museum
Built by King Rama V in 1901, the exquisite golden teakwood mansion, also known as Vimanmek Palace, is located in the Dusit Palace complex. It was restored in 1982 for Bangkok's bicentennial and King Rama IX granted permission to transform Vimanmek Mansion into a museum to commemorate King Rama V by displaying his photographs, personal art and handicrafts, and to serve as a showcase of the Thai national heritage. The informative hour-long tour takes visitors through a series of apartments and rooms, a staggering 81 in total, in what is said to be the largest teak building in the world. It is now a major tourist attraction and a definite must for anyone visiting the intriguing city of Bangkok. Visitors to the Vimanmek Palace are required to dress modestly, meaning men must wear long pants and women must wear skirts or pants below the knee and have their shoulders covered. Sarongs are available to hire if you need to cover up, but they occasionally run out.
The Chatuchak Market (also known as the JJ Market) is said to be the largest flea market in the world. 'Organised' along narrow grid lines under tin roofs, this enormous market is packed tight with all of Thailand's wares. Around 15,000 stalls are loosely categorised into clothing, crafts, food, and animal sections and it is easy to become disoriented quickly. Some of Thailand's illegally-traded animals are sold here and vendors are quick to spot signs of oncoming raids. However, a host of legal but bizarre goods are also traded; cock-fighting roosters, monkeys, fake designer gear and antiques are just the tip of the iceberg. The market is only open on the weekends from 8am to 6pm and on Fridays for wholesalers. It is easily reached by the sky train from the Mo Chit station and by subway. Visitors should keep in mind the import restrictions of their home countries when shopping at Chatuchak Market, and buy accordingly.
Fight fans will get a kick out of Thailand's national sport Muay Thai. The matches can be best watched at the Rajadamnern stadium but be warned, the prices for foreigners or are much more than local's. Usually fewer than 10 matches are arranged for a night but the brutality of the style means that some of these result in quick knockouts. The events are a mix of traditional Thai music and traditional pre-match customs before the hard hitting fight that utilises elbows, knees, fists, and shins to knock out the opponent. Several types of tickets are available, the more expensive fight floor, and the more rowdy informal gambling area on the second tier. Tourists should watch their hand movements as they can be interpreted as willingness to bet. Fights can be seen on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays in the evening. Lumpini Park also showcases fights to a more touristy audience.
A once in a (possibly short) lifetime chance to pet tigers can be arranged from the travel agencies in Khaosan in Bangkok or from nearby Kanchanaburi. Visitors are guided to a large dirt quarry where several grown tigers and a host of cubs lie relaxing along with several monks and guides. Visitors, separated by a thin single chain, are led past, one at a time, to sit with and pet the tigers. Rumour has it that the tigers are given sedatives although some argue they are under the meditational spell of the monks or just used to humans. None of it is apparently enough to guarantee safety as an occasional mauling has been known to happen, however the experience is definitely unforgettable.
Lopburi Monkey Temple
An easy day trip out of Bangkok is the two and half hour, 100-mile (150km), train ride to the Monkey Temple in the town of Lopburi. Legend has it the temple was founded by a fallen arrow of Hanuman, the Hindu Monkey God. The animal kingdom hierarchy is reversed here as the temple gives the monkeys free roam and food. Often novelty turns into nervousness as visitors are followed by crowds of the impolite inhabitants. Visitors can buy packs of sunflower seeds for THB 10 to feed the monkeys, but keep watch of loose items like glasses, purses, and especially food as the monkeys are keen pickpockets and they bite. November is the Monkey Festival in Lopburi but it is interesting to visit year-round.
Ayutthaya is the former capital of Siam, from 1350 until mid-18th century, and at one time was one of the largest cities in the world. The capital was relocated to Bangkok in 1768 when the Burmese army destroyed much of Ayutthaya. Today tourists needn't imagine too much to experience splendour of the old capital as many of the enormous structures are still there, and the ruins of Ayutthaya have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Multiple buses (a trip that takes a bit over an hour) and trains arrive daily from Bangkok and a boat up the Chao Phraya River to Ayutthaya can be organised through travel agencies. Although many organised tours in Thailand can be a frustrating experience, a tour guide here can give some fascinating history to the already impressive wats. This is an easy way to experience some of the ancient history of Siam as Bangkok is relatively new.
Bangkok Children's Discovery Museum
Featuring eight different sections, the Children's Discovery Museum in Bangkok encourages hands-on experience in science, nature, culture and society. Featuring galleries themed Body and Mind, Culture and Society, and Technology, children can learn about a multitude of sciences in an interesting and enjoyable way. The best times to visit are in early morning and late afternoon, in order to avoid large school groups. *Note: the Bangkok Children's Discovery Museum is temporarily closed.
Built by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) as his private garden adjacent to the royal palace, the Dusit Zoo is Thailand's oldest zoo. The zoo boasts an animal hospital, zoo museum and educational centre, sightseeing train, activity ground and cafeteria. Kids will love exploring everything that the Dusit Zoo has to offer and meeting rare animals like the White Bengal Tiger and Albino Barking Deer, along with others such as monkeys, penguins and camels.
Siam Ocean World
Located in the Siam Paragon Shopping Centre, the Siam Ocean World is one of the largest aquariums in Southeast Asia and features seven different zones; from weird and wonderful and deep reef, to living ocean and rocky shore. The aquarium features 30,000 marine animals, including Oriental Small-Clawed otters, ragged-tooth sharks, stingrays and giant groupers. Children will simply love Siam Ocean World, where they can watch live shows, have a shark encounter, ride in a glass-bottom boat, or enjoy a 5-D cinema experience.
Snake Farm (Thai Red Cross Farm)
Originally set up to for research and to extract the venom from snakes to make anti-venom, the Snake Farm is a great place to take the kids if they're interested in these slithering creatures. Featuring Malayan Pit Vipers, King Cobras, Banded Kraits and Russell Vipers, the Snake Farm educates the public on snakes and safety surrounding them. Venom-milking and snake-handling shows are held daily at 10:30am and 2pm on weekdays, and 10:30am on public holidays.
Bangkok Butterfly Garden and Insectarium
Located between the Queen Sirikit Gardens and the Children's Discovery Museum, this massive enclosure with rockeries, plants, ferns and a waterfall features some of the most dazzling beautiful butterflies in Thailand. Boasting dozens of species, including rare butterflies, looking up at the dome at any given moment, visitors to the Bangkok Butterfly Garden and Insectarium can see more than 500 types of butterflies, such as the Golden Birdwing or Siam Tree Nymph. The Queen Sirikit Gardens are a wonderful place to take a walk and feature magnificently coloured flowers, mazes, ponds and shady trees. Visitors who come here can enjoy a wonderful day of stunning gardens and scenery, butterfly spotting and even picnicking.