Think you know Bangkok? If you’ve already hit the headline attractions, like the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, given your credit card a workout in the malls, and stuffed yourself on street food in the vibrant City of Angels, you may be surprised to learn that Bangkok has many more lesser-visited places that are sure to delight. Especially great if you’re into budget travel, as many of Bangkok’s secret spots are free to enjoy. From temples depicting hell in all its gruesomeness and macabre museums filled with corpses to surprising patches of greenery and traditional communities, see more of Bangkok with these off-the-beaten-track and hidden jewels:
If you’re seeking a little respite from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, check out the tranquil, green, and leafy Bang Krachao. Featuring lush orchards, mangroves, gardens, traditional homes, and a troop of macaque monkeys, take it easy with some leisurely walking, biking, or kayaking. Worlds apart from the rest of the city, don’t be perturbed if locals are a little surprised at seeing a foreign face strolling around; when I visited, a young kid was so intrigued, that couldn’t stop staring, and actually rode his bicycle right into a metal fence!
Another peaceful spot just outside of the city centre, Koh Kret is home to ancient Mon communities who still make traditional clay wares, gleaming temples, a leaning white stupa, verdant greenery, and a slow pace of life. The best way to explore is by hopping in the saddle of a rented bicycle and cycling around the small island’s different tracks. There’s a large weekend market, which attracts many local Thais, but if you visit during the week you’ll likely be one of just a handful of curious tourists.
Black May Memorial
Located near the backpacker magnet of Khao San Road, the 17 May 1992 Memorial is a painted wall alongside a parking area. Depicting angry scenes of violence, the detailed artwork remembers those who died during military interventions to quell protests in the capital in May 1992, an event that is now often known as Black May. It provides a glimpse into Bangkok’s turbulent past and political history.
Behind the back of the Swisshotel Nai Lert Bangkok, you might be shocked to stumble across a huge collection of penises! Yes, the Tuptim Shrine is home to hundreds of phalluses in all colours and sizes, proudly displayed around a small central shrine. Honouring, Tuptim, a spirit of fertility, this may be a great place to visit if you’re trying to conceive or, alternatively, if you simply want to see one of Bangkok’s quirkiest sights.
Wat Phuet Udom
Take a leisurely stroll through hell in this temple on the outskirts of Bangkok. You might just shiver when you see the gruesome punishments meted out in the afterlife for earthly sins and transgressions. Filled with statues that leave nothing to the imagination, it will certainly add something different to your holiday photos!
Wat Maha But
A fairly regular Thai Buddhist temple in most respects, the out-of-the-way Wat Maha But is home to a particularly interesting shrine: the Mae Nak Shrine. Local lore says that Mae Nak died during childbirth whilst her husband was away at war, returning later with her child as a ghost to resume normal family life on her husband’s homecoming. Upon finding out he was living with ghosts, however, her husband freaked out and fled, causing Mae Nak to wreak havoc on the local community. The shrine is to keep the spirit happy, and many people seek blessings for an easy childbirth and to evade military service.
Add Wat Pariwat to your long list of temples to visit in Bangkok and you’ll not only see somewhere that relatively few other people bother with, but you’ll also be treated to the rather unusual sight of David Beckham’s face peering at you from the row of golden mythical statues that decorate the temple’s interior wall. The small statue might not look exactly like the images in glossy magazines but … it’s still David Beckham in a Thai temple! Need I say anything else?!
Bang Nam Pheung
Visit the low-key and laid-back floating market of Bang Nam Pheung to escape the tourist crowds of the more famous floating markets and to see a traditional and rural side of Bangkok. You can buy a range of goods from both waterside and boat vendors and watch as a range of delicious Thai goodies are cooked up before your eyes. I’d recommended trying the khanom buang, tasty little crepes that look adorable and create a sweet explosion in your mouth! The rotis are good too.
Another lesser-known floating market in Bangkok, Taling Chan is well worth a visit one weekend. You’ll find heaps of great food, including plenty of enticing seafood, and can even chill out in the shade of the overhanging trees and indulge in a soothing foot massage as you watch the world go by. Could there be any better way to spend a lazy Sunday?!
Watch as superstitious and spiritual Thais search through thousands of small talismans and sacred objects at the large amulet market of Talad Phra Chan, hoping to find the perfect item to bring them luck and offer protection. With lots of intricate religious trinkets, from small phalluses and daggers to statues of figures from Buddhism, Hinduism, and Animism, you might even be tempted to buy your own good luck charm!
Pak Klong Talad sells a wide variety of colourful and fragrant flowers, both grown within Thailand and imported from overseas. Beautiful blossoms line the narrow walkway, and you can admire gorgeous arrangements that have been made with skill and precision. From lilies and lotuses to jasmine, orchids, roses, and sunflowers, if you love all things floral, this is the place for you!
Siriraj Medical Museum
Probably not a great place if you’re squeamish and travelling alone, the often-overlooked Siriraj Medical Museum is home to one of Bangkok’s most spine-quivering displays: a collection of real corpses and body parts! Deformed fetuses, stuffed bodies of infamous murders, displays all about germs and parasites, skeletal remains, and dissected body parts are just a few things you can gaze upon with a mixture of awe, morbid fascination, and revulsion. Are you brave enough to visit the so-called Museum of Death?!
Museum of Counterfeit Goods
If you’ve ever wondered about the lengths people go to when creating forgeries and fakes, the Museum of Counterfeit Goods will be right up your alley. From clothing, music, and electronics to currency and medical supplies, would you be any good at spotting phony goods? You’ll find this unusual hidden gem within the local law firm of Tilleke and Gibbins, though you do need to make an appointment first.
For a peek into Thailand’s more traditional side, visit Baan Bat, an authentic bowl-making village near Wat Saket. These aren’t just any old bowls, though; the craftspeople produce special lacquer bowls for monks to use when collecting alms. You’ll hear the loud sounds of hammering reverberating through the air as you get closer to the action.
A top place to learn more about traditional Thai arts, Baan Silipan is also referred to as the Artist’s House. Containing heaps of attractive cultural items and large colourful puppets, the old Thai-style wooden house sits in a peaceful location right on a canal. A highlight of your visit will likely be seeing one of the captivating puppet shows.
Add more to your Bangkok discoveries with these travel tips and recommendations, and see a side of the energetic city that is often hidden from view.