Image: Loaded down in Thailand
Rungroj Yongrit  /  EPA file
A Thai couple loaded with goods ride on a motorbike in central Bangkok, Thailand.
Special to
updated 6/25/2007 10:37:38 AM ET 2007-06-25T14:37:38

For years the traffic problems of Bangkok were so grave that they discouraged many travelers from going there. Be it known that the new elevated motorways, which crisscross the city, have eased the problem greatly, and it’s now possible to visit this fascinating and important city in relative ease. And in this kaleidoscopic metropolis, there’s no end to the adventures you may have. 

8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.: Indulge your latent “King and I” fantasies at the Grand Palace . Yes, Anna — the tutor to the children of King Rama IV — lived here, and once you roam the impressive grounds (the buildings are usually closed to the public), you’ll understand why that hoop-skirted belle was so awed by the place. Be sure to make time to see Wat Phra Kaeo , also on the grounds. This magnificent temple houses the much-revered Emerald Buddha, covered in its seasonal robe. So important is this statue that the King himself changes those robes in a solemn ceremony three times a year.

Morning alternative: Discover how limber you are (or aren’t) with a Thai massage . Kind of like a guided yoga session in which your limbs are twisted, turned and stretched into various pretzel-like configurations, it can be a fascinating if slightly painful experience, although most end up feeling refreshed. Head to Wat Po , the city’s most famous massage school, for your “rub down.” Stay on to explore the temple, with its massive reclining Buddha (110 feet long and 50 feet high, swathed with gold leaf).

12:30 – 1:30 p.m.: Fast doesn’t mean flavorless in Bangkok, which has some of the finest fast-food restaurants and street-food stands on the planet. And it doesn’t get speedier (or tastier) than at Roti Mataba , where in minutes you’ll have an addictive flat bread in front of you, stuffed with your choice of chicken, beef, fish or veggies. Just as masterful are the dessert rotis, bathed in sweetened condensed milk.

1:30 - 4 p.m.: Head next to the largest museum in southeast Asia, Bangkok’s National Museum . While bigger isn’t always better, here the size is justified, as this is a vast storehouse of Thai artistic and architectural treasures. Among the highlights are the Red House, once owned by Princess Sri Sudarak and filled with many of her original 18th century furnishings (along with other period pieces); the exquisite Buddhaisawan Chapel (1787);and the bling-bling jewelry collection, some owned by the royal family, in the main museum.

Afternoon alternative: If you’ve already explored the historic side of Bangkok, indulge yourself with a shopping spree, in this world-class “wrap-it-up-and-charge-it” city. There are maze-like open markets to explore; dozens of knockoff stores, where the fakes are indistinguishable from the famous label fashions they’re aping; fine craft and antique stores; and of course, silk emporiums , where you can buy the soft stuff in every color of the rainbow.

5:30 – 8 p.m.: Though the name may not sound appetizing, the food at Cabbage and Condoms certainly is: classic Thai food, served in a large complex of rooms (sit outdoors among all the twinkling lights). Profits from the meals here go to the Population and Community Development Association, a nonprofit group that supports AIDS education, population control and a number of rural development projects.

8 - 11 p.m.: Witness a high-drama, fast-moving Thai boxing match. Along with the fight (which involves both kicking and punching), the fun is in watching the live-music acts that punctuate the action; and the spectacle of dozens of hyped-up gamblers, shouting wagers into their cell phones as the matches unfold.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommerguides in bookstores now. Her book, Pauline Frommer's New York, was named Best Guidebook of the Year by the North American Travel Journalists Association.

The Grand Palaceis located near the river on Na Phra Lan Road near Sanam Luang; phone 02222-8181Admission is approximately $5. That price includes Wat Phra Kaeo and the Coin Pavilion inside the Grand Palace grounds, as well as admission to the Vimanmek Palace (near the National Assembly). Open daily, 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Important: You must be properly attired to gain admission. That means no shorts or short-sleeved shirts. Skirts and long pants are fine.

Wat Phra Kaeois within the grounds of the Grand Palace, phone 02222-0094. Admission to the Temple is included in the $5 charge you’ll pay to get into the Palace grounds.

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Wat Po, Maharat Road, near the river, phone 02222-0933. The temple is open daily from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., though massages are offered until 6 p.m. You’ll pay about 50 cents for admission and $5 for a massage.

Roti Mataba, Phra Athit Road opposite Phra Sumen Fort, phone 02282-2119.

National Museum, Na Phra That Road about two-thirds of a mile north of the Grand Palace, phone 02224-1333. The museum is open Wednesdays through Sundays, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is approximately $1.

There are a number of stores in Bangkok where you can buy silk, but some of the most well-respected include Jim Thompson Thai Silk Companyat 9 Surawong Road, near Silom (phone 02632-8100); T. Shinawatra Silk at 94 Sukhumvit Soi 23 (phone 02258-0295) and H. M. Factory Thai Silk at 45 Promchai, Sukhumvit Soi 39 (phone 02258-8766).

Cabbage and Condoms, 10 Sukhumvit Soi 12, phone 2229-4610. Reservations recommended.

Thai Boxing matchestake place primarily at two major stadiums. The Ratchadamnoen Stadium (Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue, phone 02281-4205) hosts fights on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Lumphini Staduim (Rama IV Road, phone 02251-4303 is where you go on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets are about $23 ringside, $20 for second-class seats and about $13 for partial-view, nosebleed seating. Most nights, about 15 pairs of fighters will face off.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommerguides in bookstores now. Her book, Pauline Frommer's New York, was named Best Guidebook of the Year by the North American Travel Journalists Association.

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