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The Ten Best Historic Sites To Visit In Bangkok, Thailand



While much of Bangkok is ultramodern, filled with skyscrapers, rooftop bars, and condominiums, there are plenty of sites of historical importance, all of which are well worth several days of exploration, to help get a sense of Thailand's historical, cultural, and traditional roots.  Leading the list is the most venerated historical and visited attraction, the opulent Grand Palace, which is also the home of Wat Phra Keo, better known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and these days somewhat of a living museum. 

Also worth checking out for their historical significance as well as a look into famous Thai figures are the astounding Vimanmek Mansion teak palace, the hidden and quaint M.R. Kukrit's House, the Suan Pakkad Palace, and the historical home of silk legend Jim Thompson. 

Many of the historical spots are temples and palaces, but you can also discover plenty of Bangkok's past in spots such as the old alleyways of Chinatown, which should be a priority on any visitor's sightseeing list, and to further appreciate it all, you should make sure to pay a visit to the National Museum, Thailand's largest, where every piece of Thai history, art, and culture can be unearthed and explained.

 

 


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While not a historic site in and of itself, just about everything in it is. Thailand's national museum is the main home of Thai art, history, and culture. Set in the former Wang Na Palace just near the famed Grand Palace, the museum has a great ethnological collection, with items such as classical dance costumes and khon masks, shadow puppets, and traditional musical instruments. There are also sculptures and busts from the Ayutthaya and Sukhothai periods as well as other prominent eras in Thai history. The museum is housed in 6 different buildings, one of which includes the Buddhaisawan Chapel and its stylish murals and revered Buddha image, and most Thais can be found paying respects in the Sivamokhapiman Hall history gallery, which houses the famed Inscription #1 from King Ramkamhaeng.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: For an in depth look at Thai history, art, and culture, don't miss the National Museum.

Dave's expert tip: free tours in English are available on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 9am and are well worth it to make sense of the rather sprawling displays.

Read more about National Museum →


Vimanmek Mansion


Part of the Dusit compound of royal residences is the Vimanmek Mansion, the former royal palace and world's largest golden teakwood mansion, an incredible feat of architecture and handicraft, which also functions as a living museum. Vimanmek was built in 1900 by King Rama V and in 1982 opened as a museum to the public. The mansion, which combines a blend of exquisite Victorian and Thai architecture, shows off Rama V's handicrafts, photos, and memorabilia, and features items like the first Thai language typewriters, teapots made of ostrich eggs, the telescope collection of Rama V, and the first shower in Thailand, in addition to the ponds, fountains, and gardens surrounding the former palace.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: For some of Bangkok's most fantastic old architecture, the Vimanmek Mansion is well worth a trip.

Dave's expert tip: Plan a long afternoon here, as there are fourteen other museums and various exhibitions in the complex which can be visited on the same ticket, including the imposing Ananda Samakhom Throne Hall and the beautiful Moorish styled Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall. Entrance is 100 baht, but if you already have a ticket from the Grand Palace, it includes entry to Vimanmek.

Read more about Vimanmek Mansion →




Historic Wat Phra Keo is part of the Grand Palace, Thailand's most revered site, and the Emerald Buddha is the most revered place on the palace grounds. This temple is Thailand's most important, where the green jade Emerald Buddha is housed. Dating to at least the mid-1400s, it's just over 30 inches tall and sits high up on an altar, so getting up and personal is not an option. As ornate as they come, with pounds of gold leaf on the numerous statues, the temple is a must see and the murals are wonderful in their own right, too.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: For Thailand's most revered and important site, the Emerald Buddha temple of Wat Phra Keo is a must see.

Dave's expert tip: Ignore the legions of tuk tuk drivers and other "may I help you" wannabe's outside the temple who try to tell you it is closed or want to give you a free tour et al. This is one place you should get to and do on your own.

Read more about Wat Phra Keo →


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Rattanakosin Island, surrounded by the Chao Phraya River and canals, is the old historic Bangkok, and well worth a wander. Every Bangkok tourist will get to this area, just because it contains most of the major sightseeing spots, such as the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Keo, as well as Wat Pho, the National Museum, and many other gorgeous temples. Not only are the major sightseeing monuments and palaces here, but there is plenty of charm, as Rattanakosin is the one area of the city that has been spared the developer's sword, and you won't find high rise condominiums nor fancy shopping malls in these parts. Especially nice is the area known as Saochingcha, or the Giant Swing. The large red swing itself was formerly used for royal ceremonies, but the neighbourhood around it is quaint, with small mom and pop restaurants that serve one or two famous dishes each, most of them in business for over 50-60 years! This is one of the few areas in Bangkok that it is pleasant to walk in, and there are some interesting footpaths along the canals as well.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: To see Bangkok's traditional and historic district, there is no place like Rattanakosin Island.

Dave's expert tip: None of the sky train or metro lines run here (although the MRT is building stations in the Chinatown area that will be up and running sometime in 2015 or 16 presumably). The best way to get here is via the river ferry on the Chao Phraya, getting off at Tha Chang or Tha Thian pier and walking in.

Read more about Rattanakosin Island →




A former New York architect who came to Thailand as a soldier in WWII, Jim Thompson is known for re-establishing the Thai silk industry. His beautiful traditional home, renovated from several up-country buildings, house a fine and priceless collection of Asian art, silk, and pay homage to the man who received the royal Order of the White Elephant and who mysteriously disappeared in the jungles of Malaysia. His house, which has changed little since he vanished in 1967, is a series of six traditional teak wood homes, with curved roofs and naga mythical serpent motifs, set amidst pleasant gardens. The Thompson House also features an art center that has ongoing exhibitions, multimedia presentations, and guest lectures.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: For a glimpse into the Thailand of old, the Jim Thompson House teak villa is well worth an excursion.

Dave's expert tip: The Thompson House is best reached via the BTS Skytrain and is just across from the station at National Stadium. Guided tours of the mansion are compulsory.

Read more about Jim Thompson House →


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Wat Pho is the largest and oldest (although it has been completely rebuilt) temple in Bangkok, and it is famed for its giant reclining Buddha, which is over 150 feet long. The giant sculpture is completely covered in gold and is noteworthy for its giant feet, which have the 108 auspicious signs of the Buddha inlaid in mother-of-pearl. The spacious grounds of Wat Pho contain over 1000 Buddha images, many from the ruins in the ancient capitals of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai. Wat Pho is also home to one of Thailand's most esteemed schools of traditional massage. Many of the country's rich and famous have come here for treatments, and you can follow in this tradition, with an invigorating body rub down or foot reflexology treatment to relax with after a long hot day of sightseeing.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: Wat Pho was established in the 16th Century, making it a must see for anyone interested in Thai history.

Dave's expert tip: A massage at Wat Pho will cost THB 250 an hour, and don't forget to leave a 50-100 baht tip. The best way to reach Wat Pho is by using the Chao Phraya River ferry to Tha Tien Pier, and walk up from there.

Read more about Wat Pho →


M.R. Kukrit's House
Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis


Most visitors to Bangkok never make it to Baan Kukrit, the heritage home and museum of one of Thailand's most interesting and many talented individuals. Not only is this quiet spot an amazingly green oasis, it is also an architectural gem, an informative museum, and an excellent place to while away an afternoon. Kukrit (who was an artist, newspaper owner, writer, and prime minister among other things!) built his heritage home from five traditional Thai houses in Ayutthaya which were completely dismantled, transported, and reassembled on the present site in Bangkok. The homes show off classical Thai architecture, featuring an open ground floor, lush Khmer style gardens, a lotus pond, and sculptured miniature mai dat trees, which are similar to Japanese bonsai.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: M.R. Kukrit was one of Thailand's most unique figures, and his historical home should be on every traveler's visit list for its beauty and legacy.

Dave's expert tip: The Kukrit Home is best reached by taking the BTS to Chong Nonsi and walking south on Narathiwas Road, crossing Sathorn, and then turning left onto Narathiwas Soi 7 which leads to Prapinit.

Read more about M.R. Kukrit's House →


Suan Pakkad Palace


This relatively unknown gem was the former palace of Prince Paribatra, grandson of King Rama V, and is a series of eight traditional reconstructed Thai houses which are full of memorabilia of the Prince's artistic collection, including musical instruments, glass and laquerware, and paintings. In addition to the beautiful traditional homes, the museum also houses pottery from Ban Chiang. Ban Chiang is a UNESCO World Heritage site in northeastern Thailand, where pottery shards were discovered by an American archaeology student who accidently tripped on a root while returning from a dig in the mid 1960's, and came face to face with ceramic pieces that ended up dating back to 2000 BC, one of the most ancient Bronze Age cultures in the world.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: For a lesser visited and unique segment of Thai history, Suan Pakkad is worth a trip.

Dave's expert tip: Don't miss the murals hidden inside the Laquer Pavilion, the most beautiful home in the Pakkad complex. It is easy to reach Suan Pakkad by taking the BTS Skytrain to Phayathai and walking down Sri Ayutthaya Rd

Read more about Suan Pakkad Palace →


Chinatown
Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis


Bangkok's Chinatown is full of history, mazes of tiny alleyways to get lost in, find great food, markets, temples, and one of the few places in the city where it is actually pleasant and preferable to walk. Highlights include the giant Wat Traimit Temple with its 700 year old 5.5 ton Buddha image, the largest in the world, along with Wat Mangkon Kalawat, Chinatown's busiest temple. consistently filled with incense smoke and worshippers waving joss sticks. Besides this, there are old shophouse lanes, the outdoor seafood restaurants on the corner of Yaowarat and Soi Padungdao, the Sampeng Lane alley market and the Trok Itsaranuphap wet market with produce and spices.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: For a glimpse of Bangkok past and present, historical Chinatown is a must see.

Dave's expert tip: If you ever come through this area at night especially around any festival time, there is a high chance you will see local Chinese opera troupes performing streetside, a beautiful, but seemingly dying art, as the audience consists only of old folks.

Read more about Chinatown →




Started by King Rama I in 1792, and then home to both the King and the Emerald Buddha, this stunning spot should be on every visitor's historical Thai site list. The Grand Palace is Thailand's most venerated and glittering sight, home to the country's most visited temple, Wat Phra Kaew, more commonly known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and is the most revered spot in Thailand, packed with merit making locals on weekends. Make sure not to miss the Emerald Buddha. It may only be 31 inches tall, but it is the most worshipped statue in the country. You can buy joss sticks, candles, and gold leaves if you wish to join the pilgrims in the temple making their offerings. Proper attire is required, appropriate attire is required, no singlets, shorts, skirts, sandals, or revealing clothing of any nature is allowed,although if you forget there are sarongs available for use.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: The Grand Palace contains Thailand's most stunning architecture and is the most historically significant site in the country, not to be missed.

Dave's expert tip: Beware of tuk tuk drivers or local con men, often dressed in official-looking clothes, who will try to convince you that the palace is closed and that you need to buy tickets from them. Just go straight to the entrance and purchase a ticket inside.

Read more about Grand Palace →


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Meet Dave Stamboulis

Dave Stamboulis is a travel writer/photographer based in Bangkok. Born in Athens, Greece and growing up in the U.S., Dave first discovered Bangkok while on a 45,000-kilometer bicycle trip and...  More About Dave

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