|Bangkok Travel Guide|
Chinatown offers the visitor an astonishing array of jewellery, hardware, wholesale food, and automotive and fabric shops - nearly always at cheaper prices than anywhere else in Bangkok. Site of antiques (some of them real!) and an annual Vegetarian Festival, Chinatown has been a permanent Chinese-Thai residential area since 1782. One hundred years later there were 245 opium dens and a huge number of pawnshops, gambling houses and brothels. These days the area is tamer, but you can still find many pawnshops and a few brothels if you're seeking them. There's not much opium, but there's plenty of its sinister cousin: heroin.
Jim Thompson's House
Thompson was a New York architect who briefly served in the Office of Strategic Services (forerunner of the CIA) in Thailand during WWII. After the war he found New York too tame and moved to Bangkok. Thai silk caught his eye and he sent samples to fashion houses in Milan, London and Paris, building a steady worldwide clientele for a craft in danger of dying out.
Thompson collected parts of various derelict Thai homes in central Thailand and had them reassembled in the current location in 1959. Although for the most part they're assembled in typical Thai style, one striking departure from tradition is the way each wall has its exterior side facing the house's interior, thus exposing the wall's bracing system.
On display in the main house are Thompson's small but splendid Asian art collection and his personal belongings. A plush bar overlooking the canal offers cold drinks and occasional live jazz. The khlong at the end of the soi is one of Bangkok's liveliest.
Other permanent exhibits include ceramics, clothing and textiles, woodcarving, royal regalia, Chinese art and weaponry. In addition to the exhibition halls, the museum grounds contain the restored Buddhaisawan (Phutthaisawan) Chapel.
Inside the chapel (built in 1795) are some well-preserved original murals and one of the country's most revered Buddha images, Phra Phuttha Sihing. Legend claims the image came from Ceylon, but art historians attribute it to the 13th-century Sukhothai period.
The museum buildings were originally built in 1782 as the palace of Rama I's viceroy, Prince Wang Na. Rama V turned it into a museum in 1884. Be aware that the museum isn't air-conditioned and that English signage is sporadic. Taking a foreign-language tour will contribute greatly to your appreciation of Thailand's rich artistic history.
A wide variety of Indian goods are available in this small area, ranging
from an astonishing array of silks to Thai shoulder bags. The choice is
amazing, the haggling is fierce and the bargains can be unbelievable -
if you're good enough, that is.
Off the Beaten Track
If you're an architecture buff on a brief stay, or just a lover of these sorts of educational theme parks, Ancient City is well worth the trip out of town. The attraction is south of the Thai capital, near the coast of the Gulf of Thailand. Depending on traffic, it can take as long as two hours to make the trip.
Ayuthaya Historical Park
You could add more temples and ruins to your itinerary by touring the city on a rented bicycle. An ideal transport combination for visitors who want to see everything would be to hire a bicycle for the central temples and charter a long-tail boat to take a tour of the outlying ruins along the river.
Chiang Mai's plethora of temples will probably exhaust you before you exhaust them. For variety, try a wander round the night bazaar, acquaint yourself with local culture at the musuems, or practice your Buddhist calm under a palm tree in the city's gardens.
The most popular beaches are Hat Chaweng and Hat Lamai: both have good swimming and snorkelling but are getting a little crowded. For more peace and quiet, try Mae Nam, Bo Phut and Big Buddha on the northern coast. The main town on the island is Na Thon.
Most of the beaches have plenty of rustic, thatched-roofed bungalows, but accommodation can still be hard to secure in the high seasons between December and February and July and August. The best time to visit is during the hot and dry season between February and June. There are flights from Bangkok to the island's Don Sak Airport. Several ferry and jetboat companies operate from Surat Thani: express boats take two and a half hours and jet boats take one and a half hours. Local transport comprises songthaews (trucks with two rows of seats in the back), though several places hire motorcycles.
Ko Samui's northern neighbour, Ko Pha-Ngan, is more tranquil, and has equally good beaches and fine snorkelling. Its renowned beach parties at Hat Rin are still popular with backpackers, although sadly, the beach has deteriorated recently with overuse and poor environmental controls. The island is a half-hour boat ride from Ko Samui.
Phuket is more about doing thinsg - or doing nothing at all - than it is about sightseeing. That said, there are some interesting markets, temples, examples of Sino-Portuguese architecture and nature reserves to check out when you can go no deeper shade of brown.
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