Bangkok has a fantastic array of glittering temples that are sure to keep you busy during your stay. But the temples tend to run together, especially after you’ve been out in the blistering heat and humidity for a while. Temple fatigue is real. If you need a break from the bling, check out these alternative things to do in Bangkok that will take you off the beaten path and away from the crowds.
Alms Bowl Village
Every morning, Buddhist monks ply the streets of Thailand with alms bowls in hand. Buddhist faithful worshipers put food in these bowls to making merit. As with everything lately, most of the bowls are mass produced in China. But if you know where to look, you can find alms bowls that are handmade in Bangkok. Ban Bat Village is home to a handful of craftsmen who produce high-quality lacquer bowls for the monks. After wandering around the alleys, I followed the sound of hammering to two families at work. They pounded the steel bowls into shape before sealing the seams with copper and applying a finishing glaze. I bought a small bowl for 700 baht (around 24 USD) in an effort to help preserve this dying art.
While many Asian markets are often tourist traps selling overpriced t-shirts and tacky souvenirs, Bangkok’s amulet market offers a more interesting experience. Amulets are essentially good luck charms. This is serious business with some amulets fetching high prices, and they are often carefully examined before being purchased. Other items at the market include prayer beads, carved animal tusks, Buddha statues, and eerily lifelike was figures of monks.
This impressive royal palace is made almost entirely of teak wood. It was built in 1900 and is European in style. Visitors can access around 20 rooms of the palace on informative guided tours. The manicured grounds, known as Dusit Palace Park, include a ceremonial throne room and several smaller museums, including one on the royal elephants.
Abhisek Dusit Throne Room showcases local handicrafts. It is worth visiting just to admire the intricately carved and painted Victorian ceiling hidden behind the Moorish facade. Also worth a stop is the Royal Elephant National Museum. Housed in the former elephant stables, the museum contains the tusks of the three white elephants once kept there as well as, oddly, their pickled hides. The grounds of the park are lovely to explore and there are several small museums showcasing royal photographs and Thai textiles. Just watch out for the resident water monitor lizards and be sure to wear appropriate attire; the dress code is strictly enforced.
Pink Elephant Statue
I came across one of my favorite sights en route to see Bangkok’s City Pillar monument, located behind the Grand Palace off Th Sanam Chai. It’s a long walk considering the palace walls stretch for two miles around, but once I got to the back wall and crossed the street, I had the most unbelievable view of Wat Phra Kaew and its many chedi. It was dusk and the setting sun had turned the sky a beautiful swirl of pink and purple. But the thing that had me grinning from ear to ear was the gorgeous pink elephant statue in the intersection. The sculpture was made in 2011 in honor of King Bhumibol’s 84th birthday. The City Pillar monument was interesting, but it’s the pink elephants that really stuck in my memory.
Royal Barges Museum
The Royal Barges National Museum houses the king’s collection of golden river boats. Once used as the main form of transportation, the barges are only brought out of dry dock for special ceremonies. The museum was unfortunately closed for renovations during my visit, but a long-tail boat driver said I’d have a pretty good view of the outside from the boat so I went for what was supposed to be an hour-long ride.
A sudden downpour lasting nearly 30 minutes caused the driver to pull over in a presumed effort to keep me dry while he alternately ate his lunch and bailed water with a metal saucepan. During the wait, a monitor lizard swam by, the highlight of the morning! After the rain stopped, we queued up with the other boats waiting for the dyke to open before zipping through the Thonburi canals at breakneck speed. I’m not sure if the driver was trying to make up time or if they always go that fast. Either way, it was not an enjoyable ride.
Do you know of any other Bangkok off the beaten path attractions? Share them in the comments!