Bangkok: exploring off the beaten track

Palace Museum

When we stopped off in Bangkok recently we were determined to have a relaxing time away from the overcrowded tourist hot spots such as the Grand Royal Palace as we still had another long flight to Milan ahead of us.

As usual we were travelling with hand luggage only (a bit of a challenge when you plan to be away for five weeks). So when we landed at Bangkok airport we didn’t have to stand around waiting for suitcases to be off loaded, and once through passport control were free to board the airport to city rail line. This is cheaper than a taxi and the best way to avoid the Bangkok traffic jams (which would make even an Aucklander weep).

Akara Hotel Afternoon Tea

Our hotel (The Akara) was just 160 metres from a station so it was only a short walk to get there. On the way we passed the first of many shrines around the city containing a larger than life size figure of the Crown Prince whose coronation was imminent. It was so hot and humid that by the time we got to the Akara we were dripping with perspiration, May is one of the hottest months in Bangkok and the temperatures often exceed 40°C in the afternoons.

Thai Crown Prince

The hotel staff were very welcoming and we were invited to take part in The Akara’s daily complimentary afternoon tea, open to all guests. Held in their Culinary Library, I was intrigued by bookshelves lined with large numbers of cookbooks by mainly European chefs. The afternoon teas are gorgeous, with a free drink and a large table laden with miniature decorated sponge cakes, club sandwiches, little pork satay skewers and plates of tropical fruits.

For the next few days we got around by foot and the rapid rail system checking out places we had not seen before. Our favourites:

The Siam Center is a vast and trendy shopping mall which includes many international brands as well as local designers. We took our time window shopping, very relieved to be in an air conditioned environment, before heading up to the fourth floor to have a meal in their food  ourt (lots of good food to choose from – and inexpensive).

BACC, the Bangkok Arts and Culture Centre, is housed in a large, modern building somewhat reminiscent of the Guggenheim. On the lower floors there are art and craft shops and a café (where we indulged in an iced coffee). On the higher levels are large gallery spaces. Here the annual White Elephant competition entries were on display which gave us an interesting overview of where Thai painters are at right now. It really surprised us that there were so few visitors in this building.

Jim Thompson’s house was the home of the late James H. W. Thompson, also known as the “Thai Silk King”. This American business man and architect lived here after WWII and helped develop Thailand’s silk industry. He vanished mysteriously while on holiday in a Malaysian jungle. As there was no request for a ransom it is surmised that a lion may have devoured him. You can’t just wander around by yourself but must be shown round by a tour guide. Ours was really informative and made the house and contents come alive for us.

The house contains his personal art collection of South East Asian art, very old wooden Buddha statues, paintings in different media and white and blue Chinese porcelain. However, I thought the most interesting part was the building itself, made up of six traditional Thai houses which Jim Thompson brought in from various part of Thailand. To make it more suitable for a Westerner he used his architectural skills to link them and made some alterations.

Palace Museum

The Suan Pakkad Palace we discovered by chance just up the road from our hotel. It was once the home of Prince and Princess Chumbhot but has now been converted into a museum. This was a great opportunity to see a royal home in a lush tropical garden setting. In this serene and tranquil place we spent a lovely hour or so wandering through the eight traditional Thai houses accompanied by our own guide. The members of the royal family who lived here were avid collectors of traditional musical instruments and their collection is on display as well archaeological artefacts from the prehistoric Ban Chiang era.

At the end of our stay the hotel shouted us a tuk tuk ride to the railway station which saved us from another hot and sweaty walk. We had really enjoyed our time in Bangkok and felt we had made the most of our time there. When we arrived at the airport it was the usual long wait before our departure for Milan.

Reviews by Lyn Potter

Parent and grandparent, Avid traveler, writer & passionate home cook

Read more by Lyn here.