Keep an eye out for the striking white domes of Wat Prayoon. (Photo: Alamy)
Often ranking as one of the world’s most visited cities, Bangkok is far from a well-kept travel secret. On the other hand, most tourists stick to the well-trodden streets of the Khao San District or the halls of the Grand Palace, while a spate of more obscure attractions sit hidden in plain sight.
From the trio of spiritual sites on the Chao Phraya River and a unicorn-filled café (yup, you read that right) to a massive temple whose design is as fascinating as its backstory, Bangkok is more undiscovered than you think.
Traipse Through Thonburi
The island of Rattanakosin is the heart of Bangkok’s Old City, but for a quieter, more local experience, take a boat over the Chao Phraya River (the one from Wat Pho to Wat Arun is the most easily accessible) into Thonburi. Once there, you’ll find a spate of interesting attractions.
Keep an eye out Wat Prayoon — the white temple’s dome looks particularly striking on a day with blue skies; it’s also worth heading toward the dusty-pink Portuguese-colonial Santa Cruz Catholic Church. Meanwhile, there’s also an unnamed (but fascinating) Chinese shrine for whose ornate stone sculptures and fragrant incense hearken back to pre-Mao China.
Prance Around a Posh Palace
No, not the Grand Palace, but the lesser-known Phaya Thai Palace, a European-style royal residence built several hundred years after its more famous cousin. Located a short walk from the Victory Monument BTS station, the palace is popular among Thai visitors but delightfully removed from the international tourists crowding more popular locales within the city.
Enjoy its red-roofed, Victorian-looking spires or take an organized tour to learn about how — and why — King Rama had the palace built on what was then an empty rice paddy. End your trip to Phaya Thai Palace with a Thai iced coffee or tea at Cafe de Norasingha, the attached eatery that also makes its home in a Rama V–era historical building.
Sample Street Food at a Trendy “Train Market”
Most travelers head to popular Chatuchak Weekend Market to shop (more on that in a second) and sample street food, but if you want to rub elbows with Thai hipsters as you chow down, head to the so-called “Train Market,” also known as Ratchada Night Market, located near the Thailand Cultural Centre station of the MRT underground. In addition to delicious street eats, the Train Market is a hip place to throw back Singha beer or, yes, to shop for trendy souvenirs and clothing.
Discover Deals at Platinum Fashion Mall
While your less-enlightened tourist brethren shop name brands at the CentralWorld shopping complex, walk farther north on Ratchadamri Road, then hang your first left to arrive at Platinum Fashion Mall. Although its name suggests high prices, the “platinum” aspect of this mall is that high-quality men’s and women’s apparel, shoes and accessories can be yours for pennies on the Thai baht.
One small caveat: You’ll need to bargain in order to get the best prices. Don’t be timid. Most sellers speak enough English to make a deal with you.
Worship with the Dhammakaya Crowd
Type the words “Wat Phra Dhammakaya” into your Uber app (or to go more local, the hometown Thai “Grab” app) and in less than an hour you’ll arrive at a temple whose appearance is so bizarre that locals refer to it as the “UFO Temple.”
Because of its appearance, and questions regarding the funding of this extremely large space (by some accounts, it’s the largest temple in the world), many people here believe Dhammakaya is linked to a cult. Don’t be put off — it’s well worth a visit: The highlight of it is the Stupa of One Million Lord Buddhas, whose surface is actually covered in one million small Buddha statues!
Unleash Your Inner Unicorn
Want to eat a “Unicorn Burger” or drink “Unicorn Blood” in Bangkok? The good news is that even if you only want to be in the presence of (stuffed) unicorns, the Unicorn Cafe just off Sathorn Road (BTS Bangkok SkyTrain: Chong Nonsi station) is your dream come true. It’s painted in rainbow colors and features dozens of unicorn plushes and figurines as well as unicorn paraphernalia you can purchase.