1 Wat Arun
Also known as the Temple of Dawn. This small but fascinating complex is the only major tourist attraction on the Chao Phraya River’s western bank, accessed via a short cross-river public ferry ride from Tha Tien pier near the Grand Palace. A curious, almost gaudy temple covered in flowers and other decorative motifs that use unusual materials like china plates. Hindu gods are depicted on top of three-headed elephants, while round the base Chinese statues stand next to buildings filled with Buddhist relics. Among this cultural mix pass an even greater jumble of cultures and nationalities, tourists and local Thais, all appreciating Wat Arun’s relaxed ambience. Open daily 8:30 AM – 5:.30 PM; admission THB50 ($1.40); watarun.net
2 JIM THOMPSON’S HOUSE
Catch the ferry back to the left bank, then jump into a tuk-tuk – those bastions of Bangkok street travel – for a THB100 ($2.80) blast through the vehicular chaos and within half an hour you’re in a small soi, or side street, that runs north from Rama I Road.
Hidden away in this “backwater” of the city center is Jim Thompson’s House, actually a collection of teak houses built alongside a small klong, or canal, in the traditional central Thai fashion. Thompson was a New York architect who spent World War II in Thailand working for the OSS (which became the CIA). He fell in love with the country and stayed on after the war, reviving and developing Thailand’s now famous silk industry.
A 30-minute guided tour through the main house – which is made almost entirely from golden teak and other tropical hardwoods, and filled with an exquisite collection of Khmer sculpture, Chinese porcelain, Burmese carvings and Thai scroll paintings – is a wonderful antidote to the noisy bedlam of the 21st century outside. At the entrance a large shop sells all manner of splendid silk products from the Jim Thompson Company, and there is now a bar and restaurant on site to serve the thirsty and hungry as well.
Soi Kasemsan 2 (opposite the National Stadium Skytrain terminus); open daily 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM; entry THB150 ($4.20); jimthompsonhouse.com
3 SIAM SHOPPING AND ERAWAN SHRINE
Back on Rama I Road, walk east and within a few minutes you’ll find yourself in Bangkok’s busiest shopping district. Huge shopping centers sell a bewildering array of souvenirs, jewelry, books, clothes, etc, running the gamut from budget to luxury products. While Siam Center is a warren of funky local brands, next door the prices soar in Siam Paragon, a vast seven-story mall boasting outlets for Chanel, Cartier, Givenchy and the like on one floor, and Zara, Gap and H&M on another. Downstairs is a food court of gargantuan proportions, catering to practically any gastronomic whim.
Farther down Rama I is Centralworld – almost as big as Siam Paragon – but once you arrive at the intersection with Ratchadamri Road, cross to the opposite corner where you’ll find the tiny but ever-busy Erawan shrine. Overshadowed by the sweeping concrete viaducts of two Skytrain lines, this incongruous Hindu shrine houses a small golden statue of Phra Phrom – the Thai representation of the Hindu god Brahma. It is worshiped by both Buddhists and Hindus, who stop by all through the day to light incense sticks and pray; though this was the site of a lethal bomb attack last year, it has not stopped the crowds, and is a wonderful place to people-watch.
Siam Paragon and Centralworld are open 10:00 AM – 10:00 PM but Siam Center closes at 9:00 PM; access to the Erawan Shrine is free and is open 6:00 AM to midnight; siamcenter.co.th, centralworld.co.th/en and siamparagon.co.th
4 LUMPINI PARK
A ten-minute walk south down Ratchadamri Road brings you to “the lungs of Bangkok” for some respite from the traffic and noise. Named after the birthplace of the Lord Buddha in modern-day Nepal, Lumpini Park is a refreshing expanse of greenery in the heart of the city. One of the city’s most peaceful locations, it encompasses nearly 125 acres of lawns, indigenous flora, a forest park, boating lakes and leisure facilities, including a well-used, meandering jogging track, tennis courts and workout areas. Locals love to come here in the late afternoon and evening to relax, reconnect with nature and escape the city stress. Admission is free, open daily 4:30 AM – 9:00 PM.
5 SUNDOWNERS AT THE DOME AT LEBUA
At the end of the day it’s time to head for a sundowner drink – and nowhere has a better panorama for this than the Dome at Lebua, located on top of the State Tower at the river end of Silom Road. A three-stop Skytrain ride (THB28/ $0.80) from Sala Daeng station to Saphan Taksin, followed by a five-minute walk, will get you there. Then it’s a long elevator ride to the 63rd floor and out onto an incredible terrace with stupendous views of the city. You can choose from new champagne bar Flute, a Perrier Jouet Bar, or the iconic Sky Bar – the world’s highest alfresco bar. There’s little to match sipping a cocktail around its chameleon-like circular bar (constantly changing color) while gazing down on the urban sprawl 820 feet below, as millions of lights turn Bangkok into a glittering nightscape. State Tower, 1055 Silom Road; open daily 6:00 PM – 1:00 AM; lebua.com.
By Jeremy Tredinnick