If you are walking from the National Stadium Skytrain Station, follow Rama I Rd away from the direction of Phayathai Rd and the National Stadium will be the first building you see on your left. Also known as Prathunam Stadium, this is Thailand’s main arena for soccer and other sporting events. Thais are enthusiastic followers of soccer, especially the English Premier League, and a professional football league was started in 1996. The white, stylised art deco frontage of the stadium is quite elegant and on closer look, incorporates some interesting Thai motifs.
Jim Thompson’s House
With the National Stadium on your right, Járórács walk along Rama I Rd and turn left into Soi Kasem San 2. Jim Thompson’s House will be on your left at the end of this narrow laneway. Thompson was instrumental in reviving the Thai silk industry after World War II, and in 1959 built his own home from a number of traditional Thai houses which he brought down to Bangkok from Ban Khrua and Ayutthaya. These were then reassembled in an unconventional layout, with some of the walls even turned inside out to better highlight their craftsmanship.
The small garden is densely planted and overlooks a narrow stretch of the busy Khlong San Sap which also used to be a centre of traditional silk weaving. Thompson was a knowledgeable collector of Southeast Asian art and antiquities and the house contains some fi ne stone carvings, Buddha heads and traditional Thai paintings. There is an easy informality to the whole place – it feels almost as though Thompson himself has just popped out for a moment. In reality, this was what he did in 1967, except that he never came back – while on a walk, he disappeared without a trace in Malaysia. Access to the house is not permitted without a guided tour. There is also a gift shop and café, in a Thai-style building, located just inside the gates.
Retrace your steps down Soi Kasem San 2 until you emerge onto Rama I Rd again, then turn left and follow it until the junction with Phayathai Rd. Siam Square is across this junction to the left. This isn’t a square in the usual sense, but actually a grid of small sois between Chulalongkorn University and Rama I Rd. Located just opposite the Siam Centre, one of Thailand’s first shopping centres, and beside a number of popular cinemas, this open-air square is packed with small shops and stalls selling music, books, accessories and clothing. A number of young Thai designers also sell their work here. This area has become something of a new city centre of sorts, being the Skytrain interchange.
Across Rama I Rd from Siam Square there are a number of upmarket shopping centres, including the older Siam Centre as well as the newer Siam Discovery Centre and Siam Paragon complexes. Siam Paragon is also home to Siam Ocean World, a massive aquarium which is a huge attraction especially during weekends for families with children. Besides the obligatory underwater tunnel, there is a massive eight-metre-deep tank with a coral reef. A smaller tank also offers visitors the opportunity to touch sea creatures such as starfish.
Wander the different sois of Siam Square at will, and when you’re ready to leave, go back out onto Phayathai Rd and turn left. There, Chulalongkorn University takes up most of the left hand side of the road after Soi Chulalongkorn 62. Enter the campus by the gates overlooking the park and lake. Founded in 1916 by Rama VI, and named in honour of his father King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), Thailand’s oldest and most prestigious university covers two blocks of the city’s downtown. The university’s central gardens, between Phya Thai and Henri Dunant Rds, are the site of several attractive buildings, many of which are in the Rattanakosin-style, an attractive hybrid of Thai and Western architecture, and there is a large lake which is often used during the Loy Krathong festival.
Home to a number of museums and galleries, the university also contain an auditorium, which is mainly used for classical concerts. It is a pleasant place to stroll in, especially during term time when the neatly uniformed Thai students can be seen milling around the grounds.
Wat Pathum Wanaram
Wander around the Chulalongkorn University campus at will, exiting via Henri Dunant Rd and turn left. Walk all the way to the end of the road and turn right onto Rama I Rd and you will see Wat Pathum Wanaram on your left. This temple, with its delightful cluster of buildings asymmetrically arranged among mature trees and shrubs, and sitting overlooking a small canal, is unlike any of the others in the city. It does not feel urban or hemmed in despite opening onto a busy road and being overlooked by the Skytrain and surrounding skyscrapers. It is home to the Phra Meru Mas, which is a reconstruction of the late Princess Mother’s crematorium. Supposed to represent Mount Meru, the mythical home of the gods, it is a rare example of ancient craftsmanship, featuring ornate stencils and lacquered sculptures. Following the Princess Mother’s cremation at Sanam Luang in 1996, her remains were transferred here in an elaborate procession. She was particularly revered, for although being born a commoner she was the mother of two kings, Rama VIII and his brother, the current king, Rama IX.
Leaving the temple complex, turn left onto Rama I Rd and the Erawan Shrine will be across the busy junction of this and Ratchadamri Rds. This garish L-shaped shrine is one of the best known in the city, mainly because of its prominent location on a busy corner outside the Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel. It dates from the 1950s when a number of accidents occurred while building the hotel, so a shrine to Brahma and Erawan (his elephant mount) was erected to try and appease the bad spirits. The accidents stopped, causing the shrine to rapidly gain a reputation as a place to seek divine intercession.
Busy day and night, the faithful come to light incense and pray. Devotees who have had their prayers answered often pay the colourfully dressed temple dancers to perform in thanksgiving. It is interesting to observe that even passing motorcyclists temporarily abandon their handlebars to make the traditional wai of respect as they pass at full speed! For a good view of the shrine, climb onto the elevated pedestrian walkway crossing this busy junction.
With your back to the Erawan Shrine, walk up Ratchadamri Rd, cross the bridge over Khlong San Sap onto Ratchaprarop Rd and you will see the Prathunam Market on your left. This popular market occupies a maze of covered stalls and takes up most of this city block. Prathunam means ‘water gate’ in Thai and refers to the canal lock which used to be located on Khlong San Sap here. Also known as Chalermlok, the market is a favourite shopping place for the locals as it stocks a range of general domestic items. It is a particularly good go-to spot for cheap Indian fabrics and sewing accessories. Should hunger pangs hit after all that shopping, Prathunam Market is also popular as a late-night eating haunt. Long after the nearby bars and cinemas have closed, its myriad noodle shops and food stalls stay open, serving up supper and snacks.
Baiyoke Tower II
Continue along Ratchaprarop Rd and take the first roadway to your left where the 309-metre-high Baiyoke Tower II looms ahead. The Baiyoke Towers I and II were designed by Bangkok-based Plan Architecture, and the balconies on the first tower have been painted a rainbow range of colours that seem to dissolve into one another as they ascend the building. The Baiyoke Tower I was once the tallest structure in the city, but it was quickly surpassed by the number of newer developments that sprang up in the area. However, its follow-up namesake, the Baiyoke Tower II, has the distinction of being the tallest building in Thailand. Though its pinnacle could have been a little more elegant, the Baiyoke Tower II remains an impressive sight nevertheless.
The 400-room Baiyoke Sky Hotel occupies the 22nd to the 50th floors and offers guests a birds-eye view of the cityscape. But for truly hard-tobeat panoramic views, the observation deck at the 84th story is the place to be, especially on a haze-free day. The glass-panelled access lift that rapidly climbs one of the building’s corners is
another source for an aerial thrill.
Now head to the nearby plush bar at the Sky Hotel to enjoy a cool refreshment and savour the experience of this wonderful Bangkok Walking Tour.
Written by Leon Phillips. Bangkok resident and senior contributor to www.toasia.net [http://www.toasia.net] the leading travel Guide to Asia.