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Bangkok

Erawan Shrine

Located on a corner of central Bangkok's busiest intersections, the shrine is a symbol of faith for thousands and a major tourist attraction. A festival vibe permeates the area. The narrow sidewalks around are choked with flower vendors selling their colourful fragrant merchandise from makeshift wooden stands. In the centre of the iron-fenced area, under a glittering canopy sits a four-faced, four-armed statue of Brahma (or Than Tao Mahaprom to the Thais), the Hindu god of creation. The air is redolent with incense and the strident sound of the ranad ek (Thai xylophone) accompanied by a throbbing drumbeat provides a lively soundtrack for the traditional dancers dressed in colourful outfits and ornamental headgear. Worshippers surround the deity, eyes closed, heads bowed in prayer. Later they burn joss sticks, offer flowers, food and other gifts hoping their petitions for fortune and success in love, career and education will be heard; the ones whose prayers have been buy a traditional dance as a thank you. On the way out they sprinkle themselves with holy water from one of the burnished copper urns that stand in the enclosure.

The shrine was built in 1956 to appease the supposed evil forces that were taking the lives of construction workers and causing other calamities during the construction of the government-owned Erawan Hotel. After being plagued by cost overruns, injuries and death, and even the loss of a shipload of marble, an astrologer was consulted who said that the foundation was laid on an inauspicious date. His advice was to build a shrine to stop the bad karma. After it was built, the hotel construction proceeded unhindered and the shrine earned a reputation as a place where wished were granted. In 1987, the hotel was demolished to make way for what is now the Grand Hyatt Erawan and whose design carefully incorporated the shrin

Jim Thompson House

Hugging the Saen Sab Canal, the beautiful teakwood house stands at the end of a nondescript lane in central Bangkok, encompassed by a 'jungle landscape' of tropical trees and shrubs. Once it was home to Thailand's most famous American resident, adventurer, entrepreneur and art collector James H W Thompson, who as founder of the now legendary Thai silk company named after him, is credited with reviving Thai silk – a dying cottage industry at the time – and introducing it to fashion capitals of the world.

His sprawling residence, in reality a complex of six traditional Thai-style teak houses, was acquired by him in different parts of Thailand and then transported by barge to Bangkok; the oldest house, now the living room, is 175 years old, while the rest range between 75-150 years.

Architecturally, they are in the simple style of Thai homes of the time, broader at the base and slightly tapered at the top, increasing the stability of the house and aiding ventilation. And like any traditional house no nails were used in the construction. Instead the wall sections were hung together on the wooden frames using only wooden joints and pegs. It took skilled Thai craftsmen 11 months to ensure that seamless interconnectivity transformed the six separate entities into the sum total of an elegant dwelling that sits elevated in the lush garden Thompson fondly referred to as his "jungle".

Today, with Thompson's eclectic collection of art, artefacts and antiques within, it echoes his love affair with Southeast Asian, and in particular Thailand's, art and cultural heritage, making it a key pit stop on the tourist map.

The Ananda Samakhom Throne Hall

The broad boulevard rolls right up to the majestic two-tiered confection of Carrara marble, German copper, Milanese granite and Viennese ceramics topped by a large central dome surrounded by six smaller ones, before skirting the elaborate wrought iron gate and fence that hem in the well-manicured lawn and neatly trimmed shrubs.

With its Renaissance and Neoclassical architectural style, the Ananda Samakhom Throne Hall is reminiscent of the multitude of historical buildings that dot Europe, so standing in front of it, it's easy to forget you are in the Thai capital, Bangkok.

Covering an area of 5,600 sqm, it was commissioned in 1906 by King Chulalongkorn as a reception hall for the Dusit Palace, with the design and decoration executed by a team of Italian architects, engineers and artists. While the exterior is truly magnificent, it is the interior that takes your breath away. An ornate gate of gold leads to a grand foyer with marble walls and flooring lined with plush carpets. Past it, under the striking 40m-central dome is the ornately decorated main throne hall with the throne and two multi-tiered royal umbrellas; along the balcony that runs its length are art nouveau depictions of European ladies holding garlands of flowers. All the domes feature exquisite murals, by Italian masters Professor Galileo Chini and Carlo Riguli, which trace the history and exploits of the first six kings of the Chakri Dynasty.

Muang Boran

A fascinating microcosm of Thailand's rich heritage and culture, this open-air museum sprawls over 320 acres in the Samut Prakan province just outside Bangkok. The creation of Lek Viriyaphant, the man also behind the the Erawan Museum in same area and the Sanctuary of Truth in Pattaya, the park is shaped like Thailand and features over 109 replicas of the Kingdom's most famous architectural sites, monuments, and palaces with each one placed approximately in their geographical positions.

Each reproduction was carefully selected and constructed at a third of their original size. Detailed research by top art historians has ensured the authenticity in the reconstruction and where the original structures were destroyed, they relied on historical documentation. Your journey begins at the southern end of 'Thailand' before moving up through the narrow neck of the peninsula to the rest of the country. Important stops along the way include Dusit Maha Prasat Palace in the Grand Palace, Sanphet Prasat Palace in Ayutthaya, Prasat Phimai in Nakhon Ratchasima, Prasat Phra Viharn (Preah Vihear) in Si Saket, Chedi of Cham Thewi and much more.

In one section, old houses from the Yananawa district in Bangkok were taken apart and rebuilt here to create an old community that includes shops selling arts and craft, souvenirs and deserts. At the recreation of the floating market there are several small restaurants that serve local delicacies.

Muang Boran is great day out for a family or group of friends that want a slice of Thailand in one go.

Siam Niramit

The lights dim and you are transported back into time to the ancient Lanna kingdom in northern Thailand. Performers dressed as the King and Queen of that time lead a lantern-lit procession to pay homage to Buddhist relics enshrined in the Chiang Man Temple, while their maids of honour dance gracefully and the Royal Guards show off their swordsmanship. Using stunning sets and costumes, coupled with enhanced special effects and advanced technology and a gigantic stage (now listed in the Guinness Book of World Records), this three-act 80-minute audio-visual extravaganza that is a must-do for families takes you on a whirlwind tour of the Thailand's history and mythology.

The large cast of performers that include elephants, flying angels skilfully whisk the audience from the ancient Lanna and Ayuthaya kingdoms and other regions of the country to the legendary Himapan forest that surrounds the base of Mount Meru that according to Hindu mythology is the abode of the gods, and the realms of heaven and hell. A re-enactment of traditional festivals brings down the curtain on the show.

Before the show, wander through the cultural complex that features traditional villages from Thailand's four regions for a glimpse of traditional Thai lifestyles and the arts and crafts.

Phuket

Phuket Aquarium

With over 30 tanks holding a wide assortment of marine life, you don't even have to get your feet wet for a glimpse of life underwater. Perfect for a day away from the beach, it will have the kids and adults alike stare in wonder and the fascinating variety of animals that make up part of our world. Like the giant Arapaima, one of the world's largest freshwater fish. Or, the razor fish, the moray eels, lion fish, bat fish, angel fish, crabs, shrimp. A nature trail near the main viewing gallery lead to pools filled with a variety of turtles. Information is both in Thai and English with fascinating details the creatures, their habitats as well as conservation projects. The main attraction here though is walk-through tunnel where instantly you are surrounded by rays, snappers, groupers, a huge Napoleon wrasse, jacks and blacktip and leopard sharks. Families can make this a day out.

Phuket Mining Museum

In the past tin mining was an integral part of the economy and development of Phuket and this museum is a fascinating showcase of the industry and its effects. Built in the same Sino-Portuguese style of the old mansions in Phuket town, it is has an open courtyard and is filled with photographs and dioramas depicting mining techniques and processes that will keep families with children engaged. Other exhibits educate about the beginning of the world and the formation of minerals, the way of life during the tin mining era, the journey of Chinese merchants and a reconstructed village complete with shops, Chinese opera and even and opium den.

Thai Hua Museum

Located on one of the island's historical streets, this stunning 74-year old mansion, which blends European styles with Chinese touches, was the first Chinese school on the island. Today it attempts to keep a record of the Chinese people in Phuket. Covering two floors and 13 rooms of the building, the museum traces the arrival of the Chinese in Phuket and the early organization of the community. Using both photographs and video it also showcases the mining industry, local costumes, Sino-Portuguese architecture, local foods, the traditions and culture of Phuket. The front gate made from cast iron was imported from Yates, Haywood & Co, London. The building also features a beautiful courtyard and a garden that displays the heavy tools and machine for the tin mining era. Take the family

Phuket Weekend Market Naka

Located close to Central Festival, this market only open on the weekend is similar to Bangkok's sprawling Chatuchak market with a maze of stalls selling clothes, shoes jewellery and other accessories, phones, watches, toys, DVDs and CDs, sports goods as well as local handicrafts. This is the place to show if you are looking for souvenirs and gifts for the folk back home.

And since food has a high priority in Thailand, there is whole section serving up one-dish meals, delicious bowls of noodle soups, fishcakes, grilled chicken, local spicy sausages, all complemented by cold brews from one of the Volkswagen vans tricked out as bars. Take the family along, or go with friends, though couples will also enjoy a stroll through.

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