This is the place to see a diverse mix of people from all walks of life ambling past each other on the same street, where excited British students mingle with Thai locals, where small children laugh and play with toys whilst famous Bangkok ladyboys strut their stuff, and where regal Buddhist monks browse stalls next to enthusiastic vendors. Take time to sit back and people watch when you arrive onto Khao San Road, and soak in the multifariousness of Thailand’s most lively walkway.
Situated beside the main strip of guesthouses in Banglamphu is the shopping bazaar of Thanon Khao San Market. Here you’ll find cheap, luminous t-shirts and chic, trendy purses alongside contraband items such as bootleg DVDs and fake ID cards. An Aladdin’s cave of homemade goods, quaint Buddha statues, fake leather and flimsy phone cases, be sure to barter for the best price, as some vendors are known to be dishonest when haggling with tourists. This is a top place to wander around and explore the brick-a-brac stalls of Bangkok, and if all this shopping has made you hungry, there are stalls offering refreshing orange juice and golden corn cobs on every corner.
Bangkok’s Ghost Tower is a structure boasting magnificent panoramic views and is an eerie, unfinished high-rise complex representing the dashed dreams of the city. The tower was eighty per cent completed when the 1997 Asian financial crisis hit, a devastation which left this and many other Thai skyscraper projects incomplete. Sathorn Unique Tower, as it is known by its proper name, was planned to house 47 storeys of luxury apartments, all designed by renowned architect Rangsan Torsuwan. A contemporary and modern feature in a landscape of ancient and golden temples, the haunting qualities of this desolate site draws tourists in droves and is a sad reminder of the innovation and sophisticatoin Bangkok almost achieved, but didn’t.
Thailand is not traditionally known for it’s museums, but the National Gallery just beside Khao San Road is a beacon of art and culture in Bangkok. This old colonial building once served as a royal abode during the reign of King Rama V, and is now the setting for a rotation of temporary exhibits aimed at illustrating the hardships and beauty of Thai life. Watch out for the old, monochrome photographs of Bangkok, as well as some stunning and intricately weaved ancient tapestries.
Admission 200 Bhat
Wat Chana Songkhram is a Buddhist temple with a name translating to “Temple of Victory in War.” Although it is not an especially famous temple example, it nevertheless has appeal thanks to its grand, golden interior and long history dating back to the 18th century. Here visitors will find shiny, gilded designs and well as ornate colourings, and remarkably, the place manages to maintain a serene atmosphere despite being across the road from notoriously noisy Khao San Road. A place of tranquillity and prayer for locals, a visit to Wat Chana Songkhram provides a perfect piece of peace and quiet away from the surrounding busy streets.
Address: Wat Chana Songkhram, Bangkok
Bangkok is brimming with beautiful Buddhist temples and so any trip here should incorporate a visit to one or two. Wat Bowonniwet is a top temple choice for its uniqueness; it acts as the residence for the Buddhist Mahamakut University, a royally affiliated monastery, and the national centre for the Thammayut sect of Buddhism. Still active and of national importance, the temple provided the setting for the ordination of the present king. Wat Bowonniwet exudes a casual, laid-back atmosphere, and the pretty murals here artistically illustrate the influences Westerners have on Thai life.
Any visit to Bangkok will require travellers to use the local transportation at some point, and if you don’t want to put your life on the line in a crazy tuk-tuk, a popular way to get to Khao San Road is via a Bao Phraya Express boat or a Klorng river vessel. These provide slow and relaxing rides along the water and offer visitors a great chance to experience the turquoise river of Chao Phraya, the lifeline running through the heart of the city. More than 15 boat lines operate here, and water taxis can also be hailed for ridiculously cheap prices.
Situated just around the corner from Khao San Road is a majestic memorial, a monument dedicated to those who died under the military dictatorship on October 14 1973, whilst demonstrating peacefully against the government. The event remains controversial, and the photographs on display sadly illustrate the deaths of more than 70 activists. The tranquil amphitheatre here is still a place where civilians gather for non-violent protests, and for travellers seeking a true taste of Thai culture and politics, this is a gloomy yet thought-provoking must-see.