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Dive into Bangkok’s Culture Posted by on Sep 8, 2015 in Culture, Travel

It’s been all Bangkok here for the past few months, and for good reason – there’s a lot to love about the Thai capital. In the wake of the tragic bombing this past month, the city could definitely use some love. So far, we’ve explored the city’s sparkling temples, quirky markets, culinary treasures, and the wild nightlife. The fifth and final aspect of Bangkok that we’ll delve into ties all of the above together and then some – the city’s rich culture. Apart from what’s already been covered in recent posts, here are a few more things to love about Bangkok’s culture:

Tradition Meets Modernity

Old and new in BKK.

Old and new in BKK.

There’s no doubt that Bangkok is a thriving, modern metropolis – just look around in any direction and you’ll see shiny new skyscrapers mixed in with high-end shopping malls, boutique hotels, and trendy restaurants. Yet although it’s certainly an international city, Bangkok manages to retain much of its traditional identity and culture. One need not look very far to snap a shot similar to the ones above – a luxury hotel or ritzy high-rise apartment complex in the back and a Buddhist shrine in the foreground. Unlike some Asian mega-cities, which are quick to abandon tradition in favor of a rush to modernization, Bangkok manages to do both at the same time and do it well. One fine example is the Erawan Shrine, which was the target of the heinous attack last month. Smack in the middle of one of the city’s major commercial and tourism areas, it remains an important place of worship in a country that is 95% Buddhist.

Gathering in Public Places

Lumpini Park

Lumphini Park

Although Bangkok is very much a concrete jungle, there are plenty of green, public places where people love to gather. One such place is Lumphini Park (สวนลุมพินี), where on any given day you’ll see tons of locals playing sports, dancing, or just hanging out. Should you find yourself there at 6 PM, you’ll notice another unique aspect of Bangkok’s culture – everyone comes to a standstill while the national anthem is played.

Go fly a kite.

Go fly a kite.

Another great spot to take in the local culture is the large park, called Sanam Luang (สนามหลวง), just opposite Wat Phra Kaew. With the sun going down and the intense heat of the day finally dissipating, many locals like to come here to relax and perhaps fly a kite. Watching people chatting and laughing with friends and seeing the detailed kites flying in a sea of orange and blue with the city’s most famous temple in the background is an experience not to be missed in Bangkok.

Great Museums

Tons of culture at the National Museum.

Tons of culture at the National Museum.

Everyone knows about Bangkok’s fantastic temples and markets, but be sure to budget some time to take in at least a few of the many museums that are on offer in the city. There’s the National Museum, which just so happens to be the largest in all of Southeast Asia. Featuring a wide array of artifacts and exhibits on Thai art and history, you can easily spend half a day there. Free tours are offered in many languages, so be sure to check the schedule and take advantage. Sometimes you’ll even find cultural performances going on in the evening, where you can get a taste of traditional Thai music and dance.

Jim Thompson house.

Jim Thompson house.

Another can’t-miss museum is the Jim Thompson House, former home of an American businessman who had a deep fascination with Thai culture, especially traditional teak-style houses. He collected many of them from different parts of the country and set them up in Bangkok to house his vast art collection. Mr. Thompson disappeared on Easter Sunday in 1967 while traveling in Malaysia, and this remains a great mystery to this very day.

Former royal residence, current museum.

Former royal residence, current museum.

A lesser known but still worthwhile museum is the Suan Pakkad Palace (สวนผักกาด). Once the residence of Prince Chumbhot Paribatra, grandson of King Rama V, it served as a place to display his extensive collection of artifacts. In 1952, the prince and princess opened it to the public as a museum. Interestingly enough, the Thai name actually means “cabbage patch,” which is precisely what the land had been before it became a royal residence.

Siam Niramit

Get your cultural fix at this great show.

Get your cultural fix at this great show.

If you’ve only got one night to try and take in as much Thai culture as humanly possible, you probably want to catch the Siam Niramit performance in Bangkok. Before going into the show, you can wander around replica villages, catch a bit of dancing, and even see elephants. The show boasts over 150 performers donning as many as 500 costumes, and it’s an impressive display taking you through Thailand’s history and providing a great insight into the country’s fascinating culture.

BACC

BACC

BACC

Opened in 2008, the Bangkok Art and Culture Center (or BACC for short) houses a variety of galleries, bookstores, cafes, and exhibits. The center aims to be a hub for art, design, music, photography, theater, and film. Although it definitely has a way to go until it’s a fully thriving artistic space, it’s a great idea and well worth supporting by making a short stop there. Conveniently located just under the National Stadium BTS, it’s easy to drop in for an hour or so in between other sightseeing.

Shop ’til You Drop

One of many giant malls in Bangkok.

One of many giant malls in Bangkok.

I’m the kind of guy who absolutely loathes going to shopping malls – just ask my wife and she’ll tell you how miserable I am to visit a mall with. For some reason, though, that all changes in Bangkok. Perhaps it’s the stifling heat that makes me rejoice at the chance to go in an air-conditioned oasis. Either way, I can appreciate the giant shopping malls of Bangkok, even if I don’t end up buying anything in them. Going to the mall with friends and family is obviously one of the favorite pastimes of Bangkok residents, and more power to them – it’s understandable why you’d want to get out of the heat and off the crowded roads to shop, eat, and be entertained.

 

With plenty of excellent museums, open public spaces for gathering, art, music, cultural shows, and yes, even shopping malls, there really is a lot to love about the culture of Bangkok.

 

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.