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OTHER ITA SITES:
With so much to choose from, any relatively brief selection of Bangkok attractions must inevitably be personal. The following includes some of the most celebrated sights in or near the city, as well as a few that might get overlooked in the course of a short visit:
No group of buildings in all the country better illustrates the splendour of Thailand's cultural heritage than this mile-square com¬pound containing the Grand Palace and its adjacent Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The earliest structures, in classic Thai style, date from the reign of King Rama I; extensive changes were made by later rulers of the dynasty, particularly King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), who added a number of impres¬sive Western-style buildings to the collec¬tion. Of special interest are the Dusit Maha Prasat, an audience hall with traditional multi¬tiered roofs and an elegant, gilded spire; the Amarin Vinitchai Throne Hall, which served a the residence of the first three Chakri kings; and the Chakri Maha Prasat, contain¬ing the present throne hall, a basically Euro¬pean edifice crowned by three Thai spires.
The temple, known as Wat Phra Keo, houses the famous Emerald Buddha, a small, much-venerated image of northern Thai ori¬gin whose jewelled robes are changed three times a year by His Majesty the King at the beginning of each season. The main chapel, as well as the numerous buildings and monu¬ments surrounding it, are dazzlingly adorned by a profusion of stucco, gilded carvings, mother-of-pearl inlay, glass mosaics, statu¬ary, and other classic Thai arts. (The Grand Palace is open daily, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
Popularly called Temple of Dawn, this dramatic complex overlooking the Chao Phraya River on the West bank dates from the Ayutthaya period and, during the Thonburi reign of King Taksin, was briefly the home of the Emerald Buddha. In those days its central, Khmer-style tower was only 15 metres tall, however; the present 104-metre creation was started by King Rama II of Bangkok and completed in the following reign. Known as a prang, the tower represents the sacred Mount Meru, a heavenly realm consisting of 33 layers. Wat Arun is noted for its spectacular decoration, consisting of thou¬sands of pieces ofThai and Chinese pottery set in an intricate mosaic of delicate floral patterns covering almost the entire structure. (Wat Arun is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Vimam Mek Palace
This magnificent palace, built entirely of rare golden Teak, was designed by a son of King Rama V at the turn of the century. It was originally intended as a place for the king to stay on visits to the island of Si Chang in the Gulf of Thailand but was moved while still incomplete to Bangkok. There it served for a time as the royal residence during construc¬tion of the nearby Dusit Palace. The octago¬nal building - reputedly the largest teak structure in the world - was restored by Her Majesty Queen Sirikit as part of Bangkok's Bi¬centennial Celebration in 1982 and since then has been open to the public. Vimarn Mek contains a fascinating col¬lection of Royal memorabilia, including old photographs, furniture, objets d'art, and such curiosities as a large copper bath and the first shower ever seen in Thailand. (Vimarn Mek is open Wednesday through Sundays, 9.30 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
Jim Thompson's House
This was the home ofthe famous Ameri¬can who came to Thailand as a military officer at the end of World War II and stayed on to revive the Thai silk industry as well as to form one of the finest private collections of art from Thailand and neighbouring countries.
The Thompson house, which he built in 1959, is actually composed of four complete old Thai-style teak structures and part of a fifth, artfully reassembled to form a single residence. The lofty, panelled drawing room, for example, dates from around 1800 and came from a community of silk weavers across the canal behind the house, while others were found in a village near A yutthaya. Some features, such as the enclosed stairhall and the modern bathrooms, represent departures from traditional construction, yet the essen¬tial Thai spirit has been carefully preserved.
The Weekend Market
For a comprehensive introduction to the real life of contemporary Thailand - its people, its culture, and its products both natural and man-made - few single places can equal the great public market held every Saturday and Sunday at Chatuchak Park. Here, late on Friday evening, thousands of vendors move in an amazing assortment of goods, and for two days the 31-acre area is packed with Thais of all classes in search of a bargain or just the pleasure of its colourful atmosphere.
Though mostly covered, the market can be hot for visitors and involves a good deal of walking, so wear your most comfortable clothes and shoes; plenty of open-air food stalls are scat¬tered around, however, offering a cool drink or a bowl of quick noodles for those whose energy flags. (The Weekend Market is open Saturday and Sunday, from dawn until nightfall.)
The Rose Garden
Located some 32 kilometres west of Bang¬kok on the bank of a picturesque river, this beau¬tifully landscaped park has a golf course, a modem hotel, and Thai-style bungalows for rent. Most people, however, go there for a day trip - often in conjunction with a visit to the nearby Floating Market at Damnern Saduak, -- and enjoy a few hours of strolling around the extensive gardens, eating in one of several restaurants, and seeing a cultural show performed every afternoon at 3 o'clock. Traditional village culture is the theme of the show, which includes folk dances, trained elephants, Thai boxing and sword fighting. (The Rose Garden is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.).
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