Ah Thailand, the land of smiles, painted with culture, complete with dramatic roads, 400 temples, an entertaining night life and gloriously spiced up street food. Best of all, it takes barely two and a half hours on a direct flight to get there from where we are. But surely those cannot be the only reasons why we return to Thailand time and time again? Here are some spots that are out of the purview of basic tourists.
1. Siriraj Medical Museum AKA Death Museum of Bangkok
Remember when we talked about going off the beaten track? Some people may go to the temples to give thanks for life, and others may take full advantage of the lush greenery in National Parks that we so sorely lack in Sunny Singapore; still others may venture to the death museum. Why not? Dark tourism is a thing, it is the exploration of death and tragedy. Spy exhibits of bodies of criminals, victims of unusual deaths, murder weapons and preserved foetuses. There will be a body of a man chopped cleanly in half by an axe, a child killed by a propeller, sheets of tatted skins, preserved, among others. It’s almost like the book—Working Stiff by Judy Melinek, come to life. There is also a space dedicated to the victims from the tsunami in 2004. Def not for the faint-hearted, so go after your meals.
Location: Thailand, Bangkok, Thanon Wang Lang
Opening hours: 10 am – 5pm; closed Tuesdays, Sundays and PH
Following the trend of squeamish things to do, here’s one thing we can be sure your friends haven’t done yet.
Fried insects are a dime a dozen and buying them is one thing, but it takes something else to eat them—perhaps nerves of steel. We think presentation can whet the appetite, tantalise the palettes, and Insects in the Backyard seems the best place to get you started. It has its little cult following, starred features and even made it onto Bloomberg, an intrepid eatery, melding aesthetics and skills. Think, pasta made from cricket flour, topped with fried crickets for extra crunch; or some water beetle ravioli, which apparently tastes like crab. It takes 20 beetles to create one such ravioli dish owing to the scantness of the insect’s flesh. In any case, this is a place you must visit, not just read about.
3. Amphawa Floating Market
In the last 60 years, floating markets in Thailand, traditionally served as central places for trade and exchange of agricultural products. There had been a few roads, and since people travelled by boats, floating markets were birthed providing fresh meals, for families who had no fridges. Today, we can experience that little slice of history—this one’s 90km away from Bangkok, so it only appeals to the most committed tourists, there you have a more localised experience. Here, shop snacks, sweets, souvenirs, grilled seafood
In recent years, shops have been more or less moored down, but you may take boats to explore the wooden village houses that have sprung up around the river. There are fireflies boat tours, usually more successful on rain days and at nights. Be warned that there is an entry fee for the market itself.
If the market is not quite your thing, stroll down to the elegantly manicured King Rama II Memorial Park, with Thai traditional buildings, a riverfront area that somewhat provides reprieve from the heat.
Location: Amphawa, Amphawa District, Samut Songkhram 75110.
Opening Hours: From 10.30 am
4. Ancient Siam (Samut Prakan)
An hour drive away from the city lies a 200-acre large outdoor museum, apparently the world’s largest too. A city in itself, it is constructed in the shape of Thailand and houses relics of different eras, from pre-historic to the 25th BE. With its vast expanse of land and a conspicuous lack of tourists, it feels nothing like central Bangkok. History buffs and architecture fanatics can expect to find temples, shrines, floating markets and even a Northern Thai village. You’ll also find over 100 and counting majestic monuments that the Thais believe are a representation of their rich history, including replicas, reconstruction of originals and even modern, localised creation in bridges.
If you’re all about sounds and environs, Ancient Siam is the only option for you, where lush greenery abound.
Location: 7 296/1 Sukhumvit Rd, Bang Pu Mai, Mueang Samut Prakan District, Samut Prakan 10280
Opening hours: 9 am – 7 pm
This is a great spot for some R&R after an entire day of malls, temples and food. Of course no one wants to while their precious holiday time away in a cinema, that is, you think you don’t until you see this. It’s all plush, armchair reclining seats in a lounge-like atmosphere—modern conveniences that we urban creatures are accustomed to and you also get ice cream and cakes. Pre-movie, you get to relax in a lounge and if you’re lucky, the masseuse will be there and your feet get a little pampering, although she rarely is. Obviously go with your other half as these seats are paired up. If the movie turns out overrated, at least the seats are great for a shut-eye, albeit a tad overpriced (from $22).
Location: Pathum Wan, Bangkok 10330
Opening hours: 10.30 am – 12 am
6. Wat Asokaram (Monastery of No Sorrow)
Whilst many people traipse off to the famed four-faced buddha temple, you can make your way to Wat Asokaram. Wat simply means enclosure, indicated that the temple itself is closed up from the secular world. An incredible structure with multiple elaborately carved spires, this creamy white temple was built in early 1960s. Your first step in will take your breath away—tall thin columns (sao) stretch up to embellished ceilings. Also keep your eyes peeled for the intricate vases, artful decorative wood carvings and celadon jade cups, making it a museum in its own right.
Apparently, heartfelt wishes are heard and often granted. In the main hall, on one of the floors above, uncremated remains of the great Thai teacher Ajahn Lee lies in a glassed in shrine. He dedicated his life to monastic living after killing a dog one day, and decided to make up for it. Rather severe in his practise, he shunned earthly pleasures and abstained from food in the evenings, which was not the norm during that time.
Morning chanting commences at 9.15am and afternoon chanting, at 4pm.
Location: 136 หมู่ 2 Tambon Thai Ban, Amphoe Mueang Samut Prakan, Chang Wat Samut Prakan 10280
7. Khao Yai National Park
Everyone knows how thrilled we urbanites get when we see animals, in the wild. Very thrilled. Dense foliage and natural wonders? Not so much, but animal sightings are enough to reduce us into the inner children that we are. So round up your kids to go on a hunt for an abundance of wildlife, including elephants, deers, otters, gibbons. Park-goers especially love following the trail to the peak, to enjoy a great sunset. There are also biking trails, but obviously choose a time when the weather isn’t insanely hot, otherwise, give this a miss altogether. UNESCO World Heritage site this is, it’s literally only for the most committed, considering the three-hour drive away from Bangkok itself.
To get the most of your time here, maybe arrange a stay in the hotels near by so you can get an early start the next day.
Location: Hin Tung, Mueang Nakhon Nayok District, Nakhon Nayok 26000,
Opening hours: 6 am – 6 pm all year round
8. Lumphini Park—the lungs of Bangkok
Don’t you love it when prime land is reserved for proper gardens, not tokenistic pavilions that only provide temporary respite? Urban parks should be central in urban planning these days, not mere afterthoughts. In any case, Lumphini is a great one, it’s the exact size of Hyde Park—not counting Kensington Gardens—a respectable 142 acres (360 rai). Constructed in the 1920s on royal property, the Thais have the then king, King Rama VI to thank. Initially a museum, it later became repurposed into the first park in Bangkok. The park houses a library, a dance hall and even annual concerts. Now, if you find yourself in need of an unusual vantage point, take a short hike here, after some shopping of course.
Location: Thanon Rama IV, Khwaeng Lumphini, Khet Pathum Wan, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10330,
Opening hours: 4.30 am – 9 pm
*Dogs not allowed