Bangkok is a city of fantastic ironies. Animated street life intertwines with luxurious shopping malls. Cheap markets inhabit unremarkable residential streets. Fiery scents of street food mingle with intense urban fumes. Epic Muay Thai kickboxing bouts and Buddhist monasteries co-exist like old friends. Busy riverine canals lead to floating markets and obscure villages. These quirks lend the city an irresistible personality, a potpourri of sharp aromas. With so much to do, it’s easy to miss out on all the little hidden joys the city has to offer. So, we’ve compiled a list of the best offbeat things to do in this fiercely unique city called Bangkok.
- Papaya Studio: Part antiques store, part museum of curiosities, the Papaya Studio houses several random yet unique objects in its collection. Including but not limited to life-size superhero action-figures, dolls and toys, antique furniture, old televisions, and more. Sadly, many of these interesting objects on display at this multi-storey store aren’t available to be bought; a rule enforced by the owner, the eccentric Mr Tong.
- Bangkok Puppet Shows:
The centuries –old Thai tradition of puppetry has ebbed and flowed through periods of proliferation and disuse, but a few theatre companies continue to foster this beautiful art. A typical performance depicts stories from the Ramayana, with three-four puppeteers operating each ornately decorated puppet. The art form is best witnessed in an intimate setting at the free-for-all afternoon shows at the Artists’ House, or you may attend a show at one of the bigger arenas, by excellent puppet companies like the Joe Louis Puppet Theatre.
- Rama IX Park: The city being a heady cocktail of automobile exhausts and people and street stalls, it is hard to find a quiet corner here. And much harder to find a green, quiet one. Fortunately, the outskirts of the city are blessed with some sprawling verdant parks. Sadly, they still remain obscured from the eyes of most tourists. You could go cycling in the Bang Krachao Park, or stroll and observe local life at the Lumpini Park. Our favourite is the Rama IX Park, the largest green area in Bangkok, built to commemorate the late king Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 60th A sprawling botanical garden, lake, pavilions and lotus ponds, are punctuated by smaller gardens built to represent major countries of the world. So, there is a park with colonnades and statues for France, a modern domed one with a small desert for the US, a walled one with tiny lotus ponds to represent China, and many more.
- Museum of Counterfeit Goods: The 26th floor of the Tilleke and Gibbins law firm is taken up by a quirky Museum of Counterfeit Goods. The museum houses a curious collection of fakes and genuine objects of a staggering variety- from automobile parts, calculators and shoes, to detergent powders and biscuits. Your tour guide will diligently walk you through the history and geography of this pandemic of fake goods, and illuminate you on some best practices. Do seek a prior appointment; it’s a private museum owned by a leading law firm fighting this issue.
- Chatuchak Market:The Chatuchak market, a proper Thailand tourism landmark, is a gigantic weekend market, home to over 8000 shops over any typical weekend. Previously only of interest to wholesalers and retailers, the several thousand shops now sell almost everything under the sun, including clothes, books, food and beverages, art and handicrafts, furniture, and quite a bit more. It is advisable to buy a map beforehand; newbies stand a great chance of getting lost here.
- Scala Cinema: Across the road from the enormous Siam Paragon mall, the Scala Cinema preserves the old-world charm of going to the cinema. The name of the current movie is still hand-mounted in big scarlet letters. The staff still dresses in bright yellow jackets and bow-ties. The tickets are still cheap and hand-torn, and the booths are like the old ones you see in, well, movies. Upon entrance, you’re welcomed by a low-hanging chandelier and a sculpture exhibiting the country’s brief history. Gorgeous art deco flowers adorn the grand domed roofs. The theatre itself is huge, with a 1000 red velvet seats. The whole experience is preserved as if in a time-capsule.
- Experience Muay Thai:Muay Thai, a phenomenal martial art in the manner of kickboxing, is the national sport of Thailand and a medium for many youngsters to seek success and glory. The bouts happen multiple times through the week in enormous stadiums and arenas, the biggest being the Lumpinee and Rajadamnern stadiums, the hallowed grounds for thousands of young prospects. Witness a few bouts with the fervour reaching fever pitch. Or if you’re of a more athletic kind, you may choose to take a few Muay Thai training sessions here. Some of the most elite combat athletes and mixed martial artists of the world come to train in the gyms here. The Banchamek Gym, Master Toddy’s Muay Thai Academy and the Meenayothin Muay Thai Gym are some of the best ones.
- Kra Thon, the Flying Chicken Restaurant: While chickens are generally incapable of flying for any considerable distance, you’d see chicken flying here for long distances at a ferocious pace, at this aptly-named restaurant. Mainly because the staff here performs this attractive ritual of catching flying fried chickens fired from catapults, while riding unicycles. To add to the appeal, the food is delicious and quite affordable, and they serve a good range of liquor too. Do feel free to try other items off the enormous menu, some of them made of wild boar, frogs and ostrich.
- Khlong Tour: Unlike other rivers flowing through major cities, the Chao Phraya River snaking through Bangkok is central to the city’s daily life. Take a ride on a long-tail boat through the various khlongs (Thai for canals) of the river and make your way back in time to a Bangkok more peaceful and less frantic. Watch stilted shacks, wooden houses beside luxury homes built more recently, observe commuters, traders and hawkers going about their daily life, and contrast the rustic leisurely pace of life of the Bangkok of the western banks with the ‘always-on’ modern Bangkok. The best way to embark on this journey is through a guided tour.
- Damnoen Saduak Floating Market:Over an hour’s drive from Bangkok, Damnoen Saduak, Thailand’s most popular floating market is a bustling confluence of fruits and flowers, street food and fancy apparels, memorabilia and more. The overcrowded ruckus created by the converging sellers and shoppers can be an onslaught on your senses, but therein lies the floating market’s appeal, a general element of all Thailand travel actually. From cheap ‘I Was Here’ Thailand tourism souvenirs to some great cuisine, fresh local produce to some wacky products, there is a lot to try and buy. You could also visit the Orchid and coconut farms that lie on the road journey here.