If you are not a fan of the well-trodden path trampled over by millions of visitors, marred by unsavoury mass-tourist behaviors, welcome to the club.
Every year, Bangkok is visited by millions of visitors, making it the top destination in Asia. In fact, it was the most visited city in 2016, having received 21.5 million tourists in the year alone. With such high traffic, most people would be hard-pressed to stumble upon an attraction that hasn’t already been overly trodden. If flashy malls and overpriced attractions are not your cup of tea; if you are looking to experience Bangkok in a more authentic setting, free of hard-selling viagra-peddlers, tuk-tuk drivers, sexy masseurs and ping pong show promoters, I have compiled some of my choices and personal favorite places to see Bangkok. Raw, quirky, and often overwhelming for the senses.
Khlong Toey Market
Be prepared for an assault of the senses. Animal carcasses, pig hearts for sale, livestock stench, murky water puddles and friendly faces. Very bloody, rather stinky, and totally authentic. This is not something you will see back in most home countries. To quell your senses, head over to the fruits section for some cheap, tasty Thai mangoes and other tropical fruits.
The frenzied pace and unsparing display of animal parts in the hectic wet market can be shocking and disconcerting for all of your senses. And that is exactly why it attracts me. This is a place of pure Thai/Asian authenticity.
Keep your wits around you and your belongings safely-guarded. So goes the advice when the locals hear that you are visiting this market located near the notorious Khlong Toey slums.
How to get there:
Take the MRT to Queen Sirikit National Convention Center (QSNCC) station. Take exit 1 and from there, head southwards for 5 minutes where you will come across a major road junction. The market is just right across, access it by taking the overhead bridge.
Opening Hours: All-day (Busiest in the afternoons and Sundays)
Monks, mistresses, mafia and minders all come here to look for magic.
Located in the old city, this arcane market spreads over a few parallel alleys and over both sides of a section of the Maha Rat road sandwiched between Thammasat University and the Grand Palace. The century-old market caters almost exclusively to a local clientele, and a growing number of foreign believers. You will find a sea of amulets, statues, talisman, religious trinkets and bizarre magical charms like the nine-tailed lizard.
Saturday mornings, the bazaar comes alive with hordes of faithful men and women coming armed with magnifying glasses on a treasure hunt. Weekday late mornings are also a good time to explore this fascinating marketplace. The visit can be combined with our next recommendation for a half-day excursion into the strange and peculiar dimension of Bangkok.
How to get there:
Situated along Maha Rat road just 10 minutes to walk from the Grand Palace. Easiest way to access is via tuk-tuk or taxis.
Opening Hours: Daily 8am to 6pm (Closed on Sundays)
Sriraj Medical Museum
A boat ride from the pier behind Amulet market takes you to the Sriraj Hospital, situated across the other side of the river. Here, you will find the much-talked about but not-often visited Sriraj Medical Museum.
Depending on how you look at it, the visit can be educational or deeply unsettling. There was a small local tour group studying the exhibits during my visit, who looked like medical professionals. I reckon the museum was founded on the beneficial intentions of science, rather than shock.
The exhibits are housed in 2 separate buildings with 4 of the museums housed in the more modern block and the Congdon museum on the creaky wooden floors in another block. The signage will take you to the main building where you will pay for tickets. Siriraj Museum also includes the tame but larger Bimuksthan Museum that housed exhibits on the history as well as development of modern medicine in Thailand. Admittedly, I skipped it because I was there mainly for the shock.
After a visit to Sriraj Medical Museum, your life may never be the same again.
How to get there:
If you are staying in the Khao San area, the best way to get here is by boat across the Chao Phraya river. Alight the boat at Wang Lang Road pier (local boat) or the hospital pier (Chao Phraya express boat). From there, just head towards the Sriraj Hospital compound and look for signs to the Sriraj Medical Museum.
Opening Hours: Daily 10am to 5pm (Closed on Tuesdays)
Admission: (For Medical Museum only) 200 baht for adults (over 18), 25 baht for children
Chatuchak Weekend Market Pet Section
The Chatuchak weekend market has the honor of being the largest market in Thailand, and possibly the world. It’s a paradise for shoppers and foodies alike. I love going through the musky vintage clothing section and the countless food stalls lined around the market. The place does feel oppressively hot in the summer afternoons so it’s not a particularly pleasant experience for some people (e.g. ME). But there are tiny spots to sit down for a cup of cold coffee and must-try coconut ice-cream to combat the heat.
For me, the real highlight of the market is the pet section. First off, this is not a place for vegans or animal activists. In a nutshell, you can think of the section as a petting zoo with no entry charges, albeit less desirable conditions for the animals. Expect to see heaps of cute dogs, cats and hamsters. But also iguanas, porcupines, rare tortoise species, fighting fishes and other exotic animal sightings.
Don’t forget to sample a serving of fried crickets and spiced worms on your way out.
How to get there:
Chatuchak weekend market is easily accessible by sky train (Mo Chit station) or the subway (Chatuchak park). The pet section is located nearer to Jatujak Plaza (air-conditioned mall) to the back of the main market.
Opening Hours: Weekends 9am to 6pm
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Veer off the tourist trail and experience Bangkok in its rawest glory. See what makes Bangkok unique, and oftentimes, seemingly bizarre. This is an article in-progress and I will continue to add to the list. If you have a recommendation, do let me know via comments below or contact form and I will be thrilled to check it out. Happy tripping!