Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Offbeat Bangkok: Top Five Tips

Beyond the glitz and glamour of down-town Siam; the grunge of Khao San Road; the dubiousness of Silom; the hustle and bustle of Chinatown; the serenity of Lumpini Park and the majesty of the Chao Phraya River, lay a few less-travelled Bangkok paths. Here listed for you are five offbeat things to amuse, delight and enthral in the Big Mango.

Fans of the macabre will enjoy visiting the friendly confines of the Siriraj Medical Museum (aka Forensics Museum), on the west bank of Bangkok's Chao Phraya River. Here, you will find six museums within a one-block area dedicated to death and illness, with all manner of preserved bodies, body parts and ephemera. Most of these exhibits are not for the weak of heart or stomach but the whole project is a fascinating, unblinking look at the subjects. Much of the signage remains in Thai, but it’s not hard to connect the dots. The most compelling exhibits are in the Pathological, Forensic, and Parasitology museums. This is undoubtedly a macabre yet educational experience well worth a visit for those in search of something a little different in the City of Angles.

·        Take the Chao Phraya ferry to Tha Wang Lang (No.10) pier on the western side of the river. Exit and walk due west, then walk left into the hospital grounds and follow the signs (arrows) to the Adulyadaejvikrom Building.
·        Open Monday to Saturday, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
·        Baht 40 entry, photos not allowed.

Beyond the flea markets, mega-malls, street stalls and ma and pa joints, Bangkok is a trove of vintage gems. The king of the heap is none other than the Rachada Night Market, famed for its secondhand offerings. This is where local hipster Thais (and in-the-know farang) come to see and be seen; whilst scavenging over drool-worthy retro items. Here you can find any and everything, from old cassette tapes and classic aviators to vintage flares, Rolleiflex cameras, chrome lamps, classic-car spoilers, obscure vinyl records and rotary dialphones. The charm of this place is the browsing down cramped aisles overloaded with goodies and haggling for the best deal with store owners more interested in a good yarn than a ruthless sale. But not everything here is old, or for sale, so be on your guard.

·        Corner of Ratchada and Lad Phrao roads.
·        Take the BTS to Mo Chit and then 5 min taxi or get out on the doorstep via MRT Lad Phrao.
·        Open Saturdays only, 7:00 p.m. till late.

According to their website, the Ancient City (Muang Boran) is “…a door opening to the heritage of Thai wisdom”. In reality this translates into 320 acres of land, roughly in the shape of Thailand, housing reproductions and originals (about 100) of important and significant (e.g. temples, houses, shrines) buildings from around the Land of Smiles; aimed at preserving Thai cultural heritage. Located beside the capital’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport, the park is easily accessible and well worth a pleasant trip, especially for tourists with kids and lovers of history and architecture. As it does take the better part of a day to see the park, you'll be needing lunch. There are ample snack bars spread throughout the park, but the place for lunch is the recreation of a quaint Thai floating village.

·        For those with a car, take the expressway as far as the Samrong-Samut Prakan exit. Turn left along old Sukhumvit Road (towards Bangpoo) and travel onwards some 33km. The park is on the left-hand side.
·        For public transport, take air-conditioned bus No. 511 (Pinklao-Paknam) to the end of the line. From here, take mini-bus No. 36. It passes the entrance.
·        Baht 400 (adult) and 300 (child) entry.
·        Tel 027-091-644.
·        Open daily 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Located in the BITEC neighbourhood of Bangkok, the Flying Chicken Restaurant (Suan Aharn Kraton) is one of those places that has to be seen to be believed. The clue’s in the name: order said airborne fowl and you witness the pre-roasted bird being set aflame, propelled across a stage and retrieved by an acrobatic spike-wearing waiter on a unicycle (often with a child on his shoulders). The bird eventually lands on your table bolt upright, with a flag where its head should be. Set outdoors in a garden complete with a slightly decrepit play-area, this far-flung eatery makes a great backdrop for rowdy drinking sessions, but don’t expect gourmet dining. If all that wasn’t enough, the joint also has a commanding stage where mediocre karaoke singers belt out off-key tunes to their heart's content.

·        99/1 Bangna Trad, Bangna (opposite Royal Dragon and BITEC)
·        Tel 023-995-252
·        Open daily for dinner only

Last, but not least, on our list is the amazing Snake Farm (the largest producer of anti-venom serum in Asia). Here inquisitive guests are given a lecture about different varieties of poisonous snakes and how anti-venom is processed. The lecture is a little dry, but the presenters do try to make it humorous and interesting. Following this is the ‘show’, where various snakes, such as the cobra, mamba and banded krait, are displayed and in some cases you are even allowed to touch them (not the cobras though, obviously). Be warned, the kamikaze young showmen like to scare the audience, and amuse themselves, by pretending to throw the snakes into the crowd. Altogether a fantastically educational experience, if you have a fear of snakes, this isn't the place for you!

·        1871 Rama IV Road (opposite Suriawongse Road, near Pan Pacific Hotel).
·        Take the BTS to Sala Daeng and walk from there.
·        Tel 022-520-161.
·        Daily show at 11:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. weekdays and 11:00 a.m. on holidays.
·        Bht 70 entry.

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