Exploring Thailand away from the tourist crowds
To all theater lovers, I always recommend not to be missed “real” performance when in Bangkok, and by real I mean those that are shown to non-tourists, outside of buses brining crowds for a mediocre dinner and Thai Dance-“light.” And for that, one should head to the National Theater http://www.finearts.go.th/ (very close to the National Museum) and see, preferably, the Siam Niramit performance, perhaps the most elaborate and “largest stage show in the world.” It is definitely one of the most amazing and intriguing. But any traditional Thai dance shows would do, though I always prefer Khon dancers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-OWBs48qUuA.
A Very Very Unusual Museum: Samut Prakan’s Erawan Museum
It is a bit outside the city but easy to get to by a cab. It is really worth the experience because you go inside that gigantic three-headed elephant. What you see defies any comprehension and collector’s logic: inside the elephant’s belly and beneath it there are levels that symbolize the Thai cosmos, filled with an amazing fusion of incredible Eastern antics collected by late business tycoon Lek Viriyapant. The collection of ceramics is equally amazing. The gardens are great too. http://bangkokforvisitors.com/museums/erawan-museum/index.php
For those who LOVE airplanes…
We did not go there and I think Alex still regrets it: Thai Royal Airforce Museum http://www.bangkok.com/magazine/air-force-museum.htm
I do not remember the restaurants , but everything we ate was terrific. We had a friend who was at that time a head of the UN office stationed in Bangkok, and we followed her restaurant suggestions. My criteria always is to stay away from tourists places and eat where I can really understand or begin my journey to understanding local culture, because I do believe we are what we eat!
In the City of 300 Temples…one should meet with monks…
For some reason, visitors get hooked on trekking through the jungle and going to markets and shopping (and I am all for that too! We did shop our way through Thailand and bought great artifacts and very nice clothes; we even did some trekking on elephants) Many forget they are in the capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom.
In the silversmith district of the old town there is a remarkable architectural find: a temple made from silver! Called Wat Srisuphan, it is not visited by many outsiders. I hope that they still offer “Monk Chats.” In our time, the chats were on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You do need a translator (a guide) to go with you. But this is a great way to learn about Theravada (“a way of the ancients”) Buddhism, the purest and the strictest form of Buddhism.
Beware of tourists visiting the Temples of Chiang Mai…
For there are sooo many of them, bus load after bus load and all of them want to do it fast and furious and go shopping right after: they climb the steps and take pictures and you feel like you are in a NYC subway during rush hour. Do not miss the highlights though that your guide undoubtedly will be showing you BUT ask him/her to bring you to Wat Umong which is a very quiet temple complex, located in the foothills of Suthep Mountain. Umong means tunnel in Thai; you walk through these tunnels, you discover shrines and hidden altars, and the shadows are cast not by crowds but by giant trees and moss-covered walls. The lake is nearby and you can feed the birds there if you brought some bread from your hotel.
Many recommended a restaurant called…
Dash Teak House http://dashteakhouse.com/
I heard about it from friends whose taste I trust! (and I wrote it down for future visits). They serve you a traditional Lanna-style meal. I think it is a modern take on tradition but should be great because the owner (a native from Chiang Mai) worked many years (and studied) in the US and is a certified Le Cordon Bleu cook.
Visit a Hill Tribe village
But please do ask your guide to take you to an authentic experience. For example, the little town Baan Ton Lung will be charming and amazing at the same time: it is inhabited by the Lisu people who came from Tibet.