Eccentric Bangkok: top 5 sights

Oliver John shares the weird and wonderful sights not to miss on your next trip to Bangkok

7 mins

(Oliver John)1. Step back into old Bangkok

Nightingale-Olympic – Pahurat’s time-warped department store

Long before Thailand’s headlong rush towards globalisation came Nightingale-Olympic, the country’s first department store, selling fine imported goods to the city’s elite.

However, the years have not been kind to the once-grand emporium and with its crumbling facade it’s something of an anomaly in a city now dominated by gleaming mega-malls. But, against the odds, octogenarian owner Aroon Niyomvanich has kept it open, thanks to a small band of loyal customers.

To everyone else, it’s a bizarre forgotten realm, with flaking mannequins modelling 1960s fashions, and hilariously outdated products (wooden tennis racquets, rusting musical instruments) on display, and still for sale. Look past it’s undeniable weirdness and you’ll see a genuinely touching monument to a more sedate, innocent era.

70 Triphet Khwang Wang Road, opposite Old Siam Plaza

Take the Chao Phraya Express Boat to Saphun Phut pier, or ask a taxi driver to take you to ‘Old Siam’

2. Visit Khlong Lod market

Vendors, many of them homeless, set up stall from dawn until three in the morning alongside a stagnant canal (it’s best to visit in the evening when the canal is less ‘fragrant’) to sell virtually anything they can get their hands on, including items scavenged from rubbish tips.

Among the garbage though are often great finds such as out of print books, old film posters and a huge selection of Buddhist amulets and other curios.

Khlong Lod runs past Thanon Rachini,a stone’s throw from the tourist attractions of the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha temple

3. Experience the Thai appetite for the macabre

Ostensibly a teaching resource for medical students, Siriraj Medical Museum treads a fine line between the educational and the truly grotesque, with grisly specimens such as conjoined twins, a halved head showing the path of a bullet, the lungs of a person who drank acid and even the mummified corpse of notorious 1940s cannibal, Si Quey.

The museum is spread over six departments dealing with different fields of medicine, one of the more informative being the parasitology section, with plaster models of the unfortunate victims of various tropical diseases.

2 Prannok road, Bangkoknoi, Bangkok 10700 Thailand 9am-4pm (closed Sunday)

Bus No. 19, 57, 81, 146, 149, and 157 Chao Phraya Express Boat: Prannok Pier

More info:

A spirit house (nist6dh)4. Embrace Thai superstitions

Thais are obsessively superstitious and go to great lengths to avoid contact with ghosts – from ubiquitous spirit houses and amulets to bizarre innovations like electric ghost-repelling machines. There is an encyclopaedic list of Thai spirits and Wat Mahabut has a shrine devoted to one of the most feared: Mae Nak – a woman who, her husband away at war, died in childbirth and returned in human form to live at home with her unknowing spouse, killing anyone who threatened to reveal the truth.

Take the BTS to On Nut station, then a taxi or a motorbike taxi to ‘Wat Mahabut’. There are signs directing you to the shrine

5. Sample north-eastern rural life

Without the seven hour drive or blistering heat...

At one of Bangkok’s nightclubs playing Lukthung (lilting country songs about the hardships of rural life) or Mor lam (earthy songs about unrequited love, often with sultry female vocals). One of the most popular clubs is Tawan Daeng, a cavernous barn-like structure open seven nights a week, often hosting well-known bands like Carabao.

The drinking is done Thai style – accompanied by food with the clientele seated at tables, and waiters constantly on hand to fill your glass. Despite the distinctly Thai flavour, there’s a very foreigner-friendly atmosphere.

462/61 Rama 3 Rd.,Yan Nawa, Bangkok, 10120

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