Bangkok City Guide -> Sightseeing -> Temples and Museums
This is a walking  tour in the heart of ancient Bangkok that starts at Wat Suthat and ends at the National Museum and Vimarn Mek. This tour is started best around 9.00 am. To begin, take a taxi from you hotel (before you depart, ask the concierge to write down for you in Thai the word for "National Museum" and "Vimarn Mek") to Wat Suthat. Wat Suthat has not the biggest, but the tallest Viharn (sermon hall) of all Bangkok Wats and is one of the prettiest temples in the city. This Viharn houses a famous eight meter high golden  Buddha statue (Sri Sakyamuni) that was brought from Sukothai and dates from the  the fourteenth century - the Viharn was  actually built around this statue (and this is why the building had to be so tall - 30 meters). The inner walls are decorated with very vivid  murals in various shades of red that depict the last 24 incarnations of the man that later became the Buddha.  The large entrance doors of the Viharn are also noteworthy - have a look at the carvings, they were designed by King Rama II. The Wat is enclosed by a gallery with 150 gold-plated Buddha statues. Outside, in front Wat you`ll find the Giant Swing (Sao Chingsha), made of the stems of high red lacquered teak trees. Until the 1920s a special Brahmin ceremony, the Swing Festival (Tri Yanmbhava) was held here: pairs or groups of men propelled the swing up to the height of 25 meters so they could snatch a bag of gold from a bamboo pole 20 meters away with their teeth. As you can easily imagine, many fatal accidents occured and so this festival was halted.
 
Door of Wat Rajabophit
Door of Wat Rajabophit

From Wat Suthat, walk some steps to the  left, cross the street and continue to the left on Bamrung Road. Along the way are many interesting shops that offer all kinds of religious accessories like amulets, bronze Buddha statues in all sizes, saffron monk`s robes, alm`s bowls, and a lot more. Follow this road until the next intersection, turn left and walk ahead (about 200 meters) until you reach Rajabophit Road. Two interesting temples are located in this street: Wat Rajabophit and Wat Rajapradit.   Wat Rajabophit is the first you encounter, a veritable jewel box of a temple, decorated with blue and golden fayence mosaics on the walls. The gates are guarded by statues that depict soldiers from the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V.). The central Chedi is very original and the doors of the Bot (ordination hall) are decorated with beautiful mother-of-inlays. They depict the insignia of the five royal ranks of Thailand. The Bot is usually closed, but if not, look inside - it is decorated in a striking european gothic style - like a small cathedral.

After your visit to Wat Rajabophit return to the road and walk past a funny pig statue at the bank of a canal (after the statue, the road changes its name to Saran Rom Road). Cross the footbridge over the canal and soon you will find Wat Rajapradit on the left side of the road. This is a quiet little Wat, but interesting: all of its three Chedis represent a different Asian architectural style: The Bot is flanked by two Chedis, one Prang in the Ayuthaya-Style and one in Cambodian Khmer-style, and a third Chedi is built like a Singhalese (Sri Lankan) stupa. The inner walls of the Bot are decorated with splendid murals that depict the royal ceremonies for each month of the year.
 

National Museum
National Museum

Follow Saran Rom Road until the intersection with a much larger road: Sanam Chai Road (you should now be able to see the towers and roofs of Wat Phra Kaew behind a white wall). Flag down a taxi and show the driver your card with "National Museum" written on it in Thai. (You could also walk - the distance is only about 800 meters - but there is not much to see on the way). This is the most important and also most interesting museum in Bangkok (it is open every day with the exception of Monday and Friday). The oldest buildings of the museum date from 1782 and were then the residence of the Thai vice king. Here you can get a full overview of the culture and history of Thailand. To the left of the entrance is the Sivamokha Biman Hall, formerly a royal audience hall. Today it houses the museum`s prehistoric collection with artifacts of the Ban Chiang culture (see History of Thailand) - the exhibits are the originals, not copies. Located  directly behind the entrance is the small  Wat Buddhaisawan. It served as the vice king`s private chapel until the office of the vice king was abolished in 1870. Most remarkable are the murals - they count among the best in Thailand. They show scenes from the life of Buddha in superb detail and are, though partly faded, still dazzling. Also inside the chapel is a famous bronze Buddha in the style of Sukothai, the Phra Buddha Sihing that is much revered. Another interesting building is the Red House (Tamnak Daeng), that used to be the residence of an older sister of Rama I. A collection of furniture from the times of the first Chakri-Kings can be seen inside.

The main collections, however, are exhibited in the large central building. They include: documents and photos about the historic development of Bangkok, jewellery from the Ayuthaya period, fascinating collections of royal thrones, howdahs (elephant seats), and sedans, Thai music instruments, weapons, traditional Thai clothes, and of course lots of Hindu god and Buddha statues from various epochs and parts of the country.

If it is after your visit to the National Museum not later than 3 pm and you are interested in seeing yet another museum, take a taxi (it is too far away for walking) to Vimarn Mek ("Golden Cloud"), a large teakwood mansion and a former royal residence, now turned into a museum. King Chulalongkorn loved this palace and lived here, and the museum is full of  lovely furniture from his days, precious antiques, beautifully crafted china, and exquisite golden and silver dining sets. (You cannot wander around on your own but the 45-minute, English-language guided tours are included in the entrance ticket).  If you arrive before 2 pm you are can see a performance of classical Thai dances that is held every day.   

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Last Updated 10.02.2008