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The Backdoor Trip to Bangkok

Thailand has long held Westerners’ imaginations as a land of exotic beauty, rich culture and tropical heat – once upon a time, it was known as Siam. Thailand has an abundance of sights, sounds, tastes and textures to offer travelers and there’s no city more than stunning Bangkok, a city brimming with over 11 million inhabitants, magnificent temples, majestic palaces and an infamous nightlife.

With about 12 distinctive neighborhoods, a thriving fashion market, canal tours up and down the Chao Phraya River, Bangkok is world-class, while still retaining the traditions and culture passed down for centuries. There are major sights all over the area to which tourists flock, but some of the best gems in the city, whether lesser-known or just downright outrageous are, in short, perfect for a “backdoor” trip to Bangkok. You’ll find, it’s a city of contradictions and it will only make you love your time travelling in Bangkok even more, from sightseeing to even sleeping!

Palaces, Temples and Shrines

The top palaces most tourists visit are the Dusit Palace and the Suan Pakkad Palace, but the mansion Tamnak Yai, part of the grounds of Sra Pathum Palace (“The Lotus Pond” Palace) is worthy of a visit. It was opened in 2008 as a museum by HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn., who wished to celebrate the memory of another royal female, Queen Savang Vadhana, the president of the Thai Red Cross and a servant to the public health of the country until her death in 1955. It’s a marvelous and intimate tribute to a woman who influenced politics, economics and education, as well as a look into her private, quiet time.

Wat Suwannaram is a little-known and little-visited temple in the neighborhood of Thonburi, nearby the Royal Barges National Museum. It’s open from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. and offers visitors a rich, historic experience; for example, it was once used as an execution site for Burmese prisoners. It has been restored a few times but most come to see the 19th century murals depicting the story of Lord Buddha.

The Chao Mae Tuptim shrine, a cheeky spot in the Nai Lert Park Hotel on Sukhumvit Road, features hundreds of, well, phallic offerings, made of horn, bone, ivory, wood and metal, in an array of sizes (some as big as 10 feet tall). No one knows the actual history of the shrine, but it honors Tuptim, who is perhaps, because of the close association of her name with that of the Thai word for pomegranate (“taptim”), a fertility goddess of some sort. Women have left offerings of flowers and coins in the hope that it will help them conceive.

Inexpensive Sleeping Accommodations

If you’re looking for your own palace-away-from-home, a place to worship the gods of sleep or a shrine to comfort, Bangkok is a surprisingly affordable city with very good options for about half of what you might pay at home. The Buddy Boutique Inn, with its bar and restaurant and in-room massage service is a great choice in a central location. The Boonsiri Place is another wonderful choice, in the same Rattanakosin district. Staying here includes breakfast (plus a 7-Eleven on the ground floor) for a grand total of 1,000 baht (roughly $32) per night.

Museums and Food

Well-rested? Onto the museums and the eating. The Forensic Museum is one of a few locations within about a block of each other on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. The Forensic Museum has preserved bodies, body parts and other macabre things having to do with death and illness. Along the same vein, the Corrections Museum is a free trip to witness the painful and horrendous executions and punishments meted out, Thai-style, to criminals; it’s open Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.

So:  who has an appetite now? Fabulous, funky and a little strange is the Flying Chicken Restaurant in the BITEC neighborhood, where your poultry literally soars through the air before resting on your table. If you’re worried about Bangkok’s somewhat naughty reputation, head to Cabbages and Condoms, a chain restaurant which nonetheless serves up a strange post-meal send-off: packaged condoms. The idea was to promote health and family-planning and to make “condoms as common as cabbages.” The food is a good introduction to Thai food (nothing too seriously authentic) but really, most people are there for the stunning – and safe – décor.

This article was provided by Stacy Michaels who recently made an incredible trip to Bangkok with her family and hopes to return within the next year.