Bangkok is, in a word, overwhelming. The traffic is insane, the malls are gigantic, there are people everywhere, and there’s always something new to discover.
Many first-time tourists focus on the main sites, like the shimmering Grand Palace, the endless stalls of Chatuchak Market, or the backpacker haven of Khao San road. But if you’re a repeat visitor, sometimes you want to see something a little different, and in a city known for its nightlife and chaos, it might feel like there’s nothing that raises an eyebrow. After all, some of the weirdest things to do in Bangkok are among its busiest attractions.
Oh sure, there are the themed cafes where you can dress up as a unicorn and the optical illusion “museums” where you can take selfies, but those are getting to be a dime a dozen, especially in Southeast Asia. Visitors snap the same photos, and then there’s not much to do but post on Instagram (or TikTok now, I guess). But what about places to experience Bangkok off the beaten path?
I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve been through Bangkok, and we try to find something new to do every time we’re there. After many stops, these are some of the most interesting and lesser-known spots we’ve visited, all sure to please the Atlas Obscura-loving traveler. If you’re looking for non-touristy things to do in Bangkok, start with these!
- The Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in Bangkok
- Even More Unusual Things to Do in Bangkok
The Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in Bangkok
1. Nightingale-Olympic Department Store
Back in the 1960s, in a very different Bangkok where many of the houses were still built with bamboo, Nightingale was the city’s first department store. The building’s Brutalist design is an eyesore by today’s architectural standards, but at the time, it was the height of modernity.
The glitzy new department store was filled with all sorts of luxury items from Europe, like tennis racquets, musical instruments, and some of the weirdest massage chairs you’ve ever seen.
So what makes an old department store one of the most unusual things to do in Bangkok? Absolutely nothing has changed since its grand opening in the 60s! The owner, who is in her late-90s and has worked there her entire life, wants to preserve the memory of what Nightingale once was, and it’s become a living museum to its former grandeur.
All those items that must have seemed so novel and fancy 50 years ago look like things you’d find at a thrift shop today. Between the architecture and the products, the store feels frozen in time – so frozen that no one seems to be doing much to maintain it; dust blankets just about everything, and at least half the light fixtures have burnt out.
The store’s bizarre stock of vintage items could be a photographer’s paradise, but the owner feels gawking tourists and snap-happy instagramers would sully the store’s former glory and has posted No Photography signs throughout the store.
While the rule isn’t too strictly enforced, don’t come here with a DSLR set-up; there’s enough security wandering around that you’ll be pushed out pretty quickly. Not that I advocate violating posted signs, but you might be able to get a few stealth shots with your phone.
With a plethora of high-end shopping malls like EmQuartier and Siam Paragon lining Sukhumvit Road, there’s little reason for anyone to do their actual shopping at this dusty old department store, so you’re not likely to run into many other people there.
Location: 70 Tri Phet Road, near the Sam Yot stop on the MRT
Cost: Free, unless you buy something
2. Sathorn Unique Tower
Often referred to as the Bangkok “Ghost Tower,” the 49-story Sathorn Unique building is one of the city’s most haunting architectural pieces. Ground broke on the tower in the early ‘90s, but construction was halted in 1993 – when the real estate developer funding it was arrested on charges of plotting to murder the president of Thailand’s supreme court. The case dragged on for 15 years, resulting first in a conviction, and then an acquittal on appeal a couple years later.
Investment in the tower dried up after the developer’s arrest, and when the Asian Financial Crisis hit in 1997, construction all over Bangkok came to a halt. While many other projects have since been completed, the developer’s stubbornness in financing the tower under its original terms has prevented any further construction.
Some residents of the surrounding community believe the tower is cursed, and that the unfinished structure’s shadow has cursed the neighborhood.
In the absence of building tenants or maintenance crews, much of the tower’s interior is crumbling, with walls and floors reduced to rubble and large pieces of rebar sticking out at all angles. The deterioration makes it a favorite with urban explorers, and one of the reasons it’s among the weirdest things to do in Bangkok.
In past years, the tower was much more accessible – search for Sathorn on YouTube and you’ll find plenty of videos taken by foreigners who’ve climbed its 49 floors for a chance at some of the most spectacular views of Bangkok. While urban exploration was not officially sanctioned, squatters (and later, guards) could be bribed for around $20 to let you take a look around.
The police are cracking down, though, as more foreigners try to climb the tower. Since I’m completely opposed to spending even one night inside a Bangkok jail cell, we just wandered around its base instead.
Oh, if this tower looks familiar, it’s because the nearby State Tower, which has a similar architectural style, was used for the rooftop bar scenes in The Hangover Part 2.
Location: Charoen Krung Road, just up from the Saphan Taksin stop on the Silom Line of the BTS
Price: The cost of bribing a security guard (~500 baht)
3. Siriraj Medical Museum
Siriraj Hospital’s Medical Museum, sometimes called the “Museum of Death,” is just a short boat ride across the Chao Phraya River from Bangkok’s more popular National Museum – but it could not be more different. While the National Museum features on most Bangkok itineraires, the Siriraj Museum is only for those with an iron stomach and a high tolerance for the grotesque (and I’m not messing around when I say that).
So, what’s so horrifying at Siriraj? The museum is separated into several sections, so let’s start with the forensic medicine exhibits. It’s where you can see the mummified remains of a serial killer and the skulls of dozens of murder victims, many with bullet holes in them.
Over in the parasitology area, you can learn about the meter-long flatworms that are native to Thailand and how they can build a home in your intestines (a reminder that your street food needs to be served piping hot!). Inside the anatomical section of the museum, you can peruse displays of human hearts, kidneys, and all sorts of other organs. And I’m leaving out the more disturbing exhibits.
All of this begs the question – why? Is this simply for voyeuristic curiosity? Not at all.
The museum, housed in the country’s largest and oldest public hospital, was designed as a learning tool for Thai medical students, and student groups are its main visitors. As for the average tourist visiting the museum, I think many of us have a distant relationship with death and sickness, and it’s an eye-opening experience to see them in such a raw form.
There’s also no photography allowed inside the museum, which keeps some of the more disrespectful Instagrammers out. Admission to the museum includes an audio tour, which isn’t the best, but explains some of the exhibits that are lacking signage in English.
Location: 10700 Krung Thep Maha Nakhon, reachable by a boat taxi from any of the ferry terminals on the east side of the river
Price: 200 baht
4. Papaya Design Furniture and Studio
This one’s pretty far off the beaten path in Bangkok, and it’s a bit of a trip to reach – but I promise you, it’s worth the journey. Like Nightingale-Olympic, Papaya is something of an antique shop. It might feel more like someone’s storage shed than an actual store, but everything’s for sale. And all of it is incredibly weird – like shelves upon shelves of rotary telephones or a life-sized Jar Jar Binks figurine – that level of weird.
Wandering Papaya’s cavernous halls can take hours, and even when you think you’ve seen everything, there might be a rickety staircase that’ll take you to a room filled floor-to-ceiling with old bicycles, or a little hallway that’s populated with grandfather clocks. Every inch of this building is an experience.
Unlike at Nightingale, photography isn’t prohibited – but it is heavily restricted. Only phones and point-and-shoots are allowed; DSLRs and other larger cameras have to be stored in lockers near the entryway. You can, however, pay to conduct a full-on photo shoot in the store. The building’s third floor has several studio spaces, where photographers can grab anything from the store and configure the room however they wish.
Although everything at Papaya is for sale, almost none of it is priced. If you’re interested in an item, you have to take a photo of it to show the manager to find out the cost.
Location: Soi Lat Phrao 55/2, Lat Phrao Road, Wang Thongland, two miles from the Lat Phrao BTS station
Price: Free to browse, but you should at least buy a coffee in the cafe.
5. Tuba Design Furniture and Restaurant
The people behind Tuba must be connoisseurs of unusual things to do in Bangkok – because they run Papaya as well. Tuba takes the eccentric decor out of the warehouse and plops it down in a lounge.
Step inside, and you’ll be greeted by a life-sized Incredible Hulk, then walk past a soda fountain counter that’s straight out of the 1950s, and settle in for a tasty cocktail on a sofa that looks like it came from your grandma’s basement; an impressive row of Jesus statues will silently judge as you imbibe.
Tuba is a quirky spot that’s popular with expats and young Thais, although not too many tourists make it there. The living room furniture and laid-back atmosphere make conversation a little easier than at a loud and crowded bar or club.
The food is an okay, if not a little overpriced, mix of Thai and Italian dishes. The cocktails aren’t cheap, but they are rather large, and there’s a two-for-one in the early evening.
Like at Papaya, everything you’ll see at Tuba is for sale – for the right price. The rules about cameras are a bit more lax here, since they make plenty of money off food and drink and don’t have to worry about tourists wandering in just for a free photo tour. That said, no one will appreciate you busting into their happy hour to get a shot of the Santa figurines just over their shoulder, so just be respectful of the other patrons.
However, you should definitely save some time to explore after you’ve had a drink or a curry; the upstairs offers a pool table and more lounge space, with plenty of eccentric art to enjoy.
Location: 34 Ekkamai 21 Alley, Khlong Tan Nuea, Watthana, near the Khlong Tan stop on the Airport line
Price: 300 baht for a cocktail, but they’re two for one during happy hour (5:00-8:00pm)
6. Erawan Museum
Ride the Skytrain’s Sukumvit line toward Bangkok’s southern suburbs, and you’ll have a hard time missing the 150-foot-tall elephant statue that is the Erawan Museum. This museum was the brainchild of Khun Lek Viriyapant, an eccentric Thai millionaire who owns the Mercedes-Benz factory across the street from the museum. He also founded two other unique attractions in Thailand – Ancient Siam on the edge of Bangkok and the Sanctuary of Truth Museum in Pattaya.
Erawan consists of three levels: one inside the elephant, one inside the elephant’s pedestal, and a basement that sits below the pedestal. Most visitors come mainly to see (and take selfies on) the grand staircase that occupies the pedestal. The ornate stairs are covered in dragon’s heads, gods, and goddesses, and everyone needs an Instagram with it.
Above the stairs is another staircase (or an elevator) that will transport you to the top of the elephant, where a Buddhist shrine is located. As this is a sacred area, there won’t be anymore selfie snapping; it’s incredibly peaceful, and there’s some beautiful art depicting the universe.
What really surprised me, though, is what’s in Erawan’s basement – a collection of Chinese vases from the Ming and Qing dynasties that are up to 600 years old. Antiquities like that wouldn’t be out of place in a proper museum, but the entrance to the basement is barely visible to wandering tourists – we almost missed it completely – and the displays holding these precious objects look like a high school gym’s trophy case. The panels explaining the vases are of limited use to English-speaking tourists.
Getting out to the giant elephant is a bit of a trip, and the 400 baht admission fee is pretty steep compared to Bangkok’s other attractions. So this museum may not be for everyone – but it’s an interesting look at what an eccentric businessman with millions of dollars will build to preserve his country’s heritage.
Location: 99 Bang Mueang Mai, 20-minute walk from the Chang Erwan stop on the BTS Sukhumvit line
Price: 400 baht
7. Amulet Market
Anyone who’s traveled around Bangkok in a tuk-tuk knows it’s a risky endeavor. You’re bopping through insane traffic in a vehicle with about as much crash protection as a go-kart, narrowly avoiding collisions by just a few feet.
As a passenger, the dangers are infrequent (don’t most tourists use ride-sharing apps now, anyways?), but the drivers look death in the face multiple times each day. Having a little bit of luck could go a long way towards staying alive, and where does one find such luck? Why, at the Amulet Market, of course.
Despite being wedged between the Grand Palace and the river, the Amulet Market isn’t on most tourists’ itineraries. Maybe that’s because there’s no English language sign announcing its presence, or because there’s no rhyme or reason to the layout or to the meaning of the amulets sold there.
You have to decide for yourself which trinkets will bring you luck, safety, and prosperity. It could be a Buddha figurine for your dashboard, maybe a brass medallion to hang from your neck, or perhaps a string of beads adorned with a phallic pendant – you’ll know it when you see it.
While many of Bangkok’s markets feel like they’re cleaned up to attract tourists, most of the stalls in the Amulet Market are crammed into dimly lit corridors, where shopkeepers and buyers flip through dusty price lists and animatedly haggle.
If you collect travel souvenirs, this is an excellent spot to pick them up. Not only do most of the amulets cost less than $1, but what better story to tell than how you snagged an authentic tuk-tuk driver good-luck talisman in Thailand?
Location: 1 Sanam Phra, near the waterfront between the National Museum and the Grand Palace
Price: Free to browse, and amulets are usually inexpensive.
Bonus: Cabbages and Condoms
Cabbages and Condoms is hardly un-touristy or off the beaten path in Bangkok. It’s a popular restaurant and a top attraction that’s rife with opportunities for selfies and social media posts. But still, it’s one of the most unusual things I’ve seen anywhere, and it supports a good cause, so I’m going to mention it here anyway.
We’ve had a few friends from home visit us in Thailand, and Cabbages and Condoms is inevitably one of the first places we take them. This contraceptive-themed restaurant/social enterprise is one of Bangkok’s more convenient oddities to access – just down the road from the Asok BTS stop or the Sukhumvit stop on the MRT.
You’ll know you’re in for an experience as soon as you reach the entrance, where you’re greeted by several mannequins in outfits made entirely of condoms – Santa Claus, a police officer, superheroes, even a phallic-shaped cartoon character. An entertaining video plays nearby, demonstrating some alternative (and occasionally ill-advised) uses for condoms like waterproof shoe covers, rubber bands, and of course, water balloons.
It’s not all for laughs, though. The noodles and curries at Cabbages and Condoms are a good introduction to Thai food, and the main dining area is inside a beautiful courtyard with walls carpeted in verdant plant life. There’s just one small variation in the dining experience – there are no after dinner mints with your bill, but rather a handful of condoms.
A gift shop near the restaurant’s entrance is filled with all sorts of giggle-inducing souvenirs, like condom bouquets and ties bedecked with colorful condom cartoons. But all of the restaurant and gift shop’s profits go toward public health programs run by the Population and Community Development Organization, so you can feel good about your ridiculous souvenirs.
Location: 10 Sukhumvit 12 Alley, near Asok stop on the Sukhumvit line of the BTS or the Sukhumvit stop on the MRT
Price: Entrees around 250 baht
Even More Unusual Things to Do in Bangkok
There are still so many other places to experience Bangkok off the beaten path. These are just a few of the spots on our list for future trips:
Bang Krachao: This man-made island in the Chao Praya River feels a world away from bustling Bangkok. Referred to as the Green Lung of Bangkok for its forested interior, its leafy dirt paths make for an excellent cycling adventure, free from the city’s notorious traffic.
Wat Hua Krabeu: This Buddhist temple is dedicated to the legacy of the water buffalo, once a symbol of Thai agriculture. A tenacious monk there has made it his mission to construct a tunnel of buffalo skulls for visitors to walk through, along with an educational memorial focused on this majestic mammal. It definitely sounds like one of the most unusual places to visit in Bangkok!
Somdetchaopraya Psychiatry Museum: Didn’t get enough medical history at Siriraj? Somdetchaopraya is less gruesome, focusing on the mental health side of medicine and how Thailand has incorporated traditional practices into what has been a largely Western-dominated field.
Wat Samphran: This 17-story pink tower outside of Bangkok seems entirely out of place among its largely rural surroundings. Designed as a place of study for Buddhist monks, adventurous visitors can climb the massive dragon-shaped staircase that encircles the tower (or just look up at it from below!).
Airplane Graveyard: A favorite among urban explorers, this plot of land halfway between the city center and Bangkok’s main airport plays host to three abandoned jet aircraft. Squatters have taken refuge inside the planes, so you’ll need to pay them a small fee to have a look inside.
Click here for an interactive version of the map!
If you’re a frequent visitor to Southeast Asia and have had your fill of standard temples and glitzy malls, these are just a few of the places that can reinvigorate your love for Bangkok. Really, quirky attractions like these are what make the city such a fun place. All you need to do is pop into a random alley, and there’s a good chance you’ll find something unexpected.
Know of other non-touristy things to do in Bangkok? Share them in the comments!