Bangkok - Attractions
Chinatown is the most fascinating district in Bangkok. It's noisy and smelly and exhilarating. It's an area of dark laneways and traffic-choked roads, of bright, cheap markets and enticing foodstalls as far as the eye can see. Despite its grungy style Chinatown offers a wonderful glimpse into 300 years of cultural development.
Chinatown offers the visitor an astonishing array of jewellery, hardware, wholesale food, and automotive and fabric shops - and almost all at cheaper prices than anywhere else in Bangkok. Site of antiques (some of them real!) and an annual Vegetarian Festival, Chinatown has been a permanent Chinese-Thai residential area since 1782. One hundred years later there were 245 opium dens and a huge number of pawnshops, gambling houses and brothels. These days the area is a little tamer, but you can still find many pawnshops and even a few brothels if you look in the right (or wrong) direction. There's not much opium, but there's plenty of its nasty cousin: heroin.
Jim Thompson's House
The former abode of New York architect, WWII spy, silk entrepreneur and all out mystery man, Jim Thompson's House is a great spot to visit for authentic Thai residential architecture and South-East Asian art. Some of the houses are centuries old; all are built without nails and set in lush tropical gardens punctuated with lotus ponds.
Thompson was a New York architect who served as a spy in Thailand during WWII. After setting up house in Bangkok, he gradually built up worldwide clientele for a craft that may otherwise have died out. Each wall of Thompson's house has its exterior side facing the building's interior, exposing the wall's bracing system to residents and guests.
In 1967, Thompson disappeared mysteriously in Malaysia; that same year his sister was murdered in the USA. This fuelled various conspiracy theories. Who killed Jim Thompson - spies, rivals, or a man-eating tiger? Perhaps the answer lies in his ancient Siamese horoscopes: a table at the front sells copies of these horoscopes so you can see for yourself.
Southeast Asia's biggest museum was originally built in 1782 as a palace then turned into a museum by Rama V in 1884. Its treasures include the enormous, elaborate funeral chariots which carried the ashes of royalty, Chinese weaponry, and fat Sukhothai coins said to have magical properties.
It also holds a wonderful collection of Thai art. All styles and periods are represented, from Dvaravati to Ratanakosin, and good English-language descriptions are available.
Permanent collections focus on traditional musical instruments from Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia, ceramics, clothing, woodcarving and textiles - highly recommended free English-language tours that take in all of these exhibits are available.
In the grounds of the facility you will also find the restored Buddhaisawan Chapel, which was built in 1795 and contains some well-preserved murals.
Bangkok is a cultural melting pot and there's no better evidence of this than Pahurat, on the edge of Chinatown. A wide variety of Indian goods are available in this small area, ranging from an astonishing array of silks to Thai shoulder bags. The choice is amazing, the haggling is fierce and the bargains can be unbelievable - if you're good enough, that is. Head down little alleys into the 'bowels' of this area and you'll find foodstuffs, household items and a thriving culture that might ordinarily pass by unnoticed. Pahurat lies west of Chinatown towards the river.