SIAM SQUARE, JIM THOMPSON HOUSE, OVERNIGHT TRAIN FROM BANGKOK TO CHIANG MAI, THAILAND (DAYS 3 & 4)
This is day 3 and 4 of 20 days in Southeast Asia. Zach and I check out of our hostel, visit the Jim Thompson House Museum, buy backpacks at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, eat hotpot, visit Erawan Shrine, and see the Snake Farm. Later in the evening, we catch an overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. We explore Chiang Mai’s Old City, eat grilled tilapia, visit the Lanna Folk Art Museum and take a Thai cooking class in the evening.
So the night before we moved from our cute guesthouse in Chinatown to a hostel in the Siam Square area. Our plan was to spend the morning wandering around the neighborhood, eventually walking as far as the Snake Farm.
Here’s our route for our last day in Bangkok. We left Chao Hostel and just kept walking along Th Phra Ram I until heading to the Snake Farm. There’s a little preview of what you’ll see in this last day in Bangkok.
What did I pack in this bag? You can see my 3 week packing list here.
Checked out of Chao Hostel and left our bags. We ended up paying approx $27 each to share the double room. The dorms are obviously more economical.
We walked around the corner to Jim Thompson House Museum.
SO! Who is Jim Thompson? He was an American businessman and architect. After World War II, he was stationed in Thailand. He saw a business opportunity to restore a hotel in Bangkok along the Chao Phraya River to excite travelers to come visit Thailand. During that period, he “fell in love with Thailand” and decided he wanted to stay here permanently. He became super into traditional handwoven Thai silk and eventually established Thai Silk Company Ltd, owned 51% by Thai citizens, and 48% by foreigners. The company exported Thai handwoven silk goods and fabrics which appeared on Broadway and on screen in movies like Ben Hur. It was also used in foreign palaces and luxury hotels.
What does that have to do with this “house museum?” Why is it here?! What the heck is it?! I shall elaborate.
This is the house and property of Jim Thompson. He purchased six traditional Thai-style teak structures and brought them to this location from all over Thailand. In 1959 he completed his house by combining six of the structures into one.
The mysterious thing is in 1967, he was on a holiday with friends in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia when he disappeared. He was out on a walk and never came back…
Our tour group gathered and we started outside learning a bit about the history of the house and who Jim Thompson was. Though this area of Bangkok has huge skyscrapers and tons of malls and shopping complexes, it wasn’t always like that. When Jim Thompson built this house right on a waterway (you can still see the boat dock on the property) it was a good place to be—close to the water where folks sold wares from their boats, and was also across the waterway from Ban Krua, a traditional weaving village.
Jim Thompson also collected art from his travels around Southeast Asia and brought objects back to display them. It was a interesting to hear our guide’s perspective—especially with regard to the many Buddha heads and broken Buddha sculptures he collected. She said it was very bad luck to have broken Buddha heads especially displayed. Buddha images were and are regarded as sacred items, NOT for decoration. We couldn’t photograph inside the house, but he also broke some Thai architectural traditions…I think all of this plays into the mystery of where he went, why and how he vanished…etc.
The traditional Thai-style house is raised on stilts. This was to provide open airy spaces that would be protected during monsoon/flooding seasons. The space beneath the house could be used for storage or shade in the warmer months. Another amazing thing is that there were NO nails uesd in construction—the house could be disassembled and taken down and reassembled somewhere else with relative ease.
Found this brand called “Katji” made by 2 Thai designers. Everything was so cute, so many cute bags in cute colors guhhh. I found a website where you can buy some of their bags here.
Zach bought a new backpack too. Our drawstring bags we brought from the states weren’t going to cut it anymore (I already was overstuffing my bag and was getting marks from the thin string straps on my shoulders). We stopped in the middle of the art center to change backpacks. So happy!
Erawan Shrine! This is a Hindu shrine that was built in 1956 as the Erawan Hotel was being constructed. The hotel’s construction kept being delayed because of a series of unfortunate events (injuries, bad budgeting, material loss) and that particular intersection had once been used to put criminals on display. Lots of bad karma there. So a statue of Brahma was commissioned and the shrine was built. The hotel was completed with no further incidents.
This site was also unfortunately the site of a 2015 bombing that took the lives of 20 people. The bombing was suspected to be related to Thailand’s deportation of Uyghur terrorist suspects to China instead of allowing them to travel to Turkey for asylum (according to Wikipedia).
I saw this in the guide book and couldn’t resist checking it out. The Queen Saovabha Memorial institute Snake Farm!
The Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute was started as a center of vaccine production and vaccination against rabies. It transformed into a place to resesarch medicine and today produces anti-venom for snake-bite victims across Thailand.
We thought we were going to see the venom extraction demo, but we missed it unfortunately. We got there in time to see snake handling. (For your reference, venom extraction is at 11 AM and snake handling demo is at 2:30 PM)
So! Sadly, I lost a memory card’s worth of photos at this point. LUCKILY as we were traveling I was sending photos to my phone from the camera, so I have a few here and there from the lost card. I can tell you what we did for the rest of the day and if I have a photo I happened to send myself…I’ll make sure to add it!
I must say…I’m so devastated I lost the photos, I really have no idea what happened. I was really good about organizing my memory cards and photos into folders on my drive. But, I will say that of all things to lose, this is okay…mostly in-transit photos and photos in Chiang Mai of an area that we ended up walking through a few more times.
So! Around 4pm we decided to catch a taxi back to Chao Hostel to grab our bags. While we were there we talked to the Chao hostel front desk dude and he saw our tickets for the overnight train were at the old station farther out from where we were in the city. He called the train station for us and asked if we could get on a station earlier, they explained ‘yes’ but for an extra few baht. Done!
We headed to Hua Lamphong Railway Station. Inside there were some vendor stalls and a small market. We purchased some deoderant, toothpaste, and some snacks for the train journey.
If you’re curious about traveling by train in Thailand, we used the website Seat 61, lots of really good information about the trains. We learned which trains were most recently added to the “fleet.” 9 and 10 are the newest trains that run between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. There are pictures on his site so you can see what to expect.
The time table from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. We were supposed to get on at Don Muang at 18:57 but ended up paying a little extra to get on earlier at Hua Lamphong at 18:10 aka 6:10 PM.
Found our seats! We used an online booking service where you give your preference and they book for you. We booked in the 2nd class area. We were a little confused why I was seated across the aisle from him, but later we realized why.
It was approximately 13 hours on the train, but of course you were sleeping for a majority of that. I woke up with a few of the mountains as we were slowly rolling closer and closer to Chiang Mai station.
Arrived in Chiangmai! Woohoo! At this point the attendant had come by and coverted the trains back to regular looking train cars. We were all packed up, I washed my face and brushed my teeth in the little bathroom, and we were ready to hop off the train as it rolled into the station at 7:15 AM.
Photo credit. Here’s what Chiang Mai station looked like. It was much quieter and more peaceful. At this point I only had the name of our guesthouse and the address. We (stupidly) went to the info desk where a man told us he could take us to the guesthouse HIMSELF personally for 300 baht. We said no thank you and went outside. I remember being super overwhelmed because it was pretty early, we were pooped, and literally 20 or 30 drivers were all there to get customers from the overnight train. We realized pretty quickly that the red taxis (songthaews) would be the best option, and we were offered 150 baht a person to be taken to our hotel. We later learned that that’s still not a great price BUT at least it wasn’t double that.
We got to our guesthouse, the Tri Yaan Na Ros Colonial House and checked in. We were taken to this room that had a bedroom, living room area, bathroom and powder room and an extra bedroom. It was HUGE I had no idea when I was booking it that’d be so beautiful and elaborate. We paid $111 for 3 nights. (Is knowing prices helpful? In case you’re planning your trip just thought I’d throw it in). But yeah! The hotel set up little towels in the shape of kissing swans, very overwhelmingly nice.
We left the guesthouse with a map we picked up at the train station. We noticed on the map that there was a used bookstore. We were hoping we could pick up another small guidebook or more detailed map there so we went in search of the bookshop. As we were leaving we took note of “Kuti Cafe” as our nearby landmark in case we couldn’t figure out where to go to find our guesthouse again.
Chiang Mai means “New City” and was named that as the new capital of Lan Na when it was founded in 1296. The Lan Na or Lanna Kingdom covered most of Northern Thailand until it was invaded by Burma in the 16th century. In the 18th century, with the help of Siam, the Lanna drove out the Burmese and the Lanna Kingdom became part of Siam in 1892. Siam became known as Thailand in 1949. Briiiief history from this site. Part of what makes Chiang Mai so amazing is you can feel the energy of it being a major Thai city, but it also has these old city walls that are still intact.
How many google maps screenshots will I throw in here, you’re wondering? Last one, for now. I promise. Chiang Mai is much larger than just the old city, but you can see on the map the red marker is our guesthouse and the square above is the old city.
We finally found the Lost Used Bookstore and purchased this map of Chiang Mai by Nancy Chandler. In the book shop was an older English gentleman who was like, “Your first time here? I came and never left…”
We walked from the bookshop intending to visit Wat Pan Tao and Wat Chedi Luang but walked past it until we were standing outside of Wat Phra Singh. Whoops! But it was a happy mistake. Wat Phra Singh has three main structures, including the Lai kam assembly hall built in 1345.
We had the grilled tilapia. Lert Ros serves Northeastern Thai food. It was so delicious, especially loved the spicy chili dipping sauce and the soup.
Lanna Folklife Museum. The museum focuses on the lives, history, and culture of the Lanna people of Northern Thailand. The museum covers art and craft (textiles, painting, music) and offers some displays of what life would have been like, including food and worship.
We got picked up in a little van with a few other people already inside. We booked the half day evening class with Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School
We started in their garden at the school looking at the ingredients growing fresh. We learned about the different kinds of ginger we’d be using (and yes I got tumeric all over my hands and face haha).
I originally wasn’t sure if I wanted to do a cooking class, seemed maybe too touristy? But we leaned into it and had a great time. Now I feel like I could *potentially* make my own at home. We walked away with a printed recipe book too.
*Whew!* We’ve made it to the end of Day 3 and 4 of our trip. I hope the combo day wasn’t too long? I can avoid putting days together if this was just way too long…just let me know!
Read day 5 here, we visit an Elephant Sanctuary and the Saturday Night Market.
Check out all my “Waldo in Southeast Asia” travel posts including a packing list and planning here.
Much love friends.