Bangkok’s popularity as a tourist destination has led to many parts of the city becoming more gentrified in order to appeal to the millions of foreigners that come to visit the city every year. Still, you can find areas where traditional Thai culture manages to thrive – a grittier, more authentic side to the city that hasn’t yet managed to be overrun by commercialism and polish. These areas may be off the beaten path, but you’ll come to find that they’re as lively and beautiful as the attractions typically recommended by the guidebooks. Below are some of our top picks:
Pak Klong Talad
Bangkok’s preeminent source for all kinds of flowers, plants and other flora is Pak Klong Talad, or simply Bangkok Flower Market. Like many of the top attractions in Bangkok, it comes alive after midnight, and is most active between the pre-dawn hours of 3 and 4 AM, though the market is open 24 hours. Rows of colorful, fragrant flowers make up the façade of many stalls, spilling right into the walkways. Vendors sell both local Thai flowers as well as imported flowers at rock-bottom prices, usually in bundles of 50 or 100 blooms in each pack. Many stalls also offer custom flower arrangements, bouquets, cone-shaped flower offerings called baisri that consist of chrysanthemum flowers, banana leaves and pandan leaves, and phuang malai garlands used as religious offerings, gifts, and souvenirs. You can also find a wide selection of fresh fruits and vegetables here, as well as incense and candles, fake flowers, and other flower-related paraphernalia.
King Rama IX Park
Conveniently located in Bangkok’s Prawet District, Suan Luang Rama IX or King Rama IX Park is 200 acres of welcome green and open space in a city that could really use some decongesting. It features many botanical gardens that are lovely places for a leisurely walk if you happen to be checked into any of the hotels near Suvarnabhumi Airport. The park also has a beautiful lake where you can enjoy a scenic swan boat ride, vast patches of grass perfect for late afternoon picnics, and a grand pavilion that contains art and photo exhibits that honor the king the park was named for.
Papaya Studio is a multi-functional space that serves as a vintage store, photo studio and museum all in one. It’s impossible to define with a single word, but it truly reflects the eccentric personality of its owner and founder, Supoj Siripornlertkul, also known as Mr. Tong. He’s a reclusive character who tends to avoid the spotlight, only adding to the mystique and charm of his three-storey space crammed full of thousands of vintage items and antiques. “Organized chaos” is the best way to describe Mr. Tong’s arrangement of his collection – items are typically grouped by category or item, style, function, or era. Vintage Vespas, pinball machines, life-size figures of comic book characters, Victorian-style furniture, old sound systems, and musical instruments are some of the items you can find here. To call it a “store” is to use the word loosely – there are no price tags on any of the items and Mr. Tong might refuse your offer if he can’t bear to part with that piece of his collection. It’s a popular space for taking photographs, but even if you aren’t interested in that, walking around from room to room just discovering various curiosities is still an incredibly visceral experience. Find it on Lat Phrao Road.
Buddhism and Hinduism feature largely in Thai culture, and there’s an air of something arcane and magical in Bangkok’s Amulet Market, located near Tha Phra Chan Pier. Many Thais believe that wearing an amulet can ward off ill fortune and evil, bring good luck or improve one’s health, protect your harvest, or even get you a girlfriend. At the Amulet Market, thousands of these charms are available for sale, and men come in droves armed with magnifying glasses to sift through the piles in the hopes of finding something of real value. Many sellers will claim that their wares have been made or were blessed by a respected monk in order to assure you of their efficacy, regardless of whether the statement is true or not. It’s more of a one-of-a-kind experience for non-believers, and even if you aren’t looking for a magical boost to get more dates, it’s a great spot to people watch and glimpse a bit of the gritty aspects of daily life in the city.
Housed in a meticulously preserved late Modernist building at the Siam Square shopping area, the Scala was opened in 1969 and has stood the test of time, still open today as the last standalone single-screen cinema in Thailand. People come here for the Art Deco interiors – likewise beautifully intact – and stay for the screenings. It shows a variety of independent and foreign films that typically get passed over by the more modern cineplexes in Bangkok and offer a uniquely retro viewing experience. With a seating capacity of 1000, it has been the site for many events and film festivals. Tourists tend to miss this spot completely, but it’s worth a look, even if it’s just to admire the stunning architecture.
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