A Rather Quirky Side Of Bangkok

travel

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How does the joke go? A monk, a schoolgirl and a nurse walk into a hospital...

Except this isn't an ordinary hospital. I'm in the Siriraj area of Bangkok and the taxi driver has just entered the middle of a large hospital complex at which the beloved King of Thailand is firmly ensconced. We've passed cardiology buildings and outpatient wards and we're speeding towards the place dubbed the "museum of death" or Siriraj's Medical Museum which serves as a place for doctors or nurses in training and the curious (hence the monk, nurse and the schoolgirls).

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There's little signage and the taxi driver gestures that I am now to alight. His hands points towards the other direction when I ask him where I need to go. I wander around a little until I find a sign for "museum" which is a laneway perpendicular to the main hospital thoroughfare and follow the signs. I  sign in downstairs with the cheery English speaking guard who bellows "Hello!" and then head upstairs to the second floor.

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Entry to the museum is just 40THB or $1.35AUD and it is open from 9am-4pm every day. There is an option to rent a portable device that explains some of the exhibits for 100THB/$3.39AUD and I'd recommend this unless you can read  Thai because while some exhibits are self explanatory others are not and are entirely in Thai. I walk into one room and I can see immediately that I've entered the congenital defects room. About a dozen fetuses are suspended in formaldehyde and they range from a little mermaid girl whose legs are joined together to conjoined twins, babes with hydrocephalus (water on the brain), a tiny infant with a light coating of hair-the little one has cyclopia and proboscis (a large, long nose much like an anteater) and there's also one with gastrochisis where the abdominal contents protrude outside the baby's body. Twin Thoraco-omphalopagus babies look as if they're hugging sweetly from one angle. It's all so fascinating and sad.

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The parasitic room is like Disneyland gone morbid with all of it's lifelike statues and talking displays. I point the voice control at the red button and a voice starts on the liver fluke parasites that are present in sushi-indeed the first thing that greets you is a display of sushi and how humans can contract it from eating raw or undercooked fish. If this was a little disturbing, that's nothing on the next room: Forensic Pathology. Here skulls, bones and shudder inducing images cause your eyes to widen and your stomach to somersault involuntarily. Pictures of corpses, decapitations, stabbings, blast force injuries, suicides and weapon or propeller blade injuries line the wall-this is after all a training museum for doctors and nurses. I realise why I had heard this called the "NCIS museum".

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Mummified remains of a cannibalistic serial killer were originally displayed as a means of deterring others. There is also the story and stained evidence from a rape and murder victim's case. An urn shows a little boy who died in the urn-the theatre that he was in caught fire and he hid in a water urn and wasn't  able to extricate himself in time and the water boiled him to death in what has been called "Asphyxial death burn". As morbid as this sounds, it is one of Bangkok's most recommended tourist destinations.

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If medical deformities aren't your sort of thing, another quirky museum is the Bangkok Corrections Museum which is located on Maha Chai Road on the former site of what remains of the maximum security prison after partial demolition. Part of the site has been transformed into Rommani Nart Park and the Corrections Museum sits in one corner of the small park. The Corrections Museum also sits near the fantastically vibrant Chinatown area so it's a good idea to go later and wander around the area which comes alive at night around 6-7pm. Here are some dining options on Maha Chai road.

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This museum delights in the gory too with graphic displays. The museum is divided into two sections, one is Cell Block 9 where displays behind bars start with a rattan ball with long 4 inch nails pointing inwards. Prisoners were crammed into these balls and an elephant would kick the ball around spiking the prisoner repeatedly. There are also restraints which would hold prisoners-the easiest way to remove the prisoner's feet was to cut their heels off. Many of these methods of torture were outlawed in 1908 with the Thai penal code reform.

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In another building, you take your shoes off and don slippers and walk past the images showing the various ways of execution including one particularly gruesome one wherein the prisoner's flesh was cut off from the still alive prisoner and then fed to them in a self cannibalistic ritual. There you can see displays such as instruments of torture and incarceration as well as life sized dummies demonstrating an execution by rifle. Entry fee is by donation of your choice.

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A pet goose at Chatuchak market

For some quirky weekend shopping, Chatuchak market is a pilgrimage for many tourists and locals and the 30 odd acre site sells everything from clothes, pets, homewares and pretty much anything you can think of. It's huge, mostly undercover and confusing although the "streets" have numbers to them (soi or street 43/2 is particularly interesting with winsome, quirky clothing, jewellery and shoes). You may find yourself wandering around the aisles that fit two people through them maximum - you need to pause if the person in front of you stops to look at something and there's someone going the other way. There's plenty of food there too and massages for the shopping weary but watch your change at Chatuchak-our experience everywhere else was that the locals were very honest but less so at Chatuchak.

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If you're looking for a slightly different market, the Taladrdodfai or "Rod Fai" train vintage markets are a distance away but worth seeking out if you are after something slightly different. Accessing it may be a challenge. It used to be conveniently tucked next to Chatuchak but an unexpected demolition of the site meant that it had to relocate to bigger premises quite far outside of the centre of Bangkok.

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Travelling to Rod Fai Market takes about 30-45 minutes from the CBD and is best approached relatively late when there's less traffic. The best instructions are to ask the taxi driver to take you to Seacon Square which is a well known location. From there follow the crowds as it sits behind Seacon Square. It starts at 5pm and goes until around midnight on Saturday and Sunday but get there earlier if you want to see the actual vintage stores which close a bit earlier.

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The location is an old abandoned railway station and the genuine vintage stores are the first stores you will see. There aren't many bargains, everything is priced appropriately and they know their worth. This is also where you'll see tattoo parlours, guys with rockabilly pompadours and large black ear gauges. Pets are a popular accessory for carrying.

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Whilst there weren't many Westerners when we visited, everyone is friendly and the crowd skews towards the young and possibly hipster but without the attitude. There is a mix of new market items like clothing and shoes but heading outside to the outdoor area, past the food and then there are the vintage cars and more vintage knick knacks. People also seem to bring their personal collections of things and we pass stands with vintage BMXs, toys and dolls. There's also plenty of street food here and our only regret this late Saturday night is not making it in time before the adjacent Makura Cat Cafe closed. Here people can take a seat on the floor, order drinks and food and stroke one of the many cats in the cafe. There is also another cat cafe closer to the centre of Bangkok in the Sukhumvit area on side street 53 called "Purr" although we didn't have time to visit this.

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A few years ago, I fancied myself as a bit of a detective. I've watched countless episodes of Law & Order SVU and tried to guess the perp and I even bought myself a Law & Order video game. If you've ever had the same armchair detective fantasy then Escape Hunt might be for you. The newest attraction in Bangkok, just three weeks old at the time of our visit in August 2013, the idea behind Escape Hunt is to channel your inner Sherlock Holmes.

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Located in the B2 level of the Interchange 21 building in Sukhumvit, we enter the waiting room which is decked out Sherlock Holmes style. The idea is that you and your group or team enters a room and tries to solve the murder using clues and this will lead you to escape the room. The aim is to do this in under an hour. There are two themed rooms, one Asian and one English and the mysteries are different for each although at a similar level .The record for escape is 43 minutes in the Asian room although they tell us that the group that did this also completed the English room so were at an added advantage.

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The cost isn't cheap, particularly for Bangkok standards although prices have since been revised down. At the time that we visited it was priced per room at just over 2000THB/$70AUD per room so it's best done within a group as it can be expensive for a couple for an activity that lasts just over an hour. Ideal group sizes are between 2-5 people. Now prices depend on the time visiting - weekdays are cheaper than weekends and it is now better priced for couples visiting. I won't spoil the fun because you may want to do it but we get a quick briefing and then our game master dressed in Sherlock Holmes attire leads us into the room. He stays there the entire time and offers gentle hints. In the room are the clues and a clock which shows you how much time you have left. We managed to name the murdered and get out with just three minutes to spare!

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I have to admit that I absolutely loved finding the clues and I appreciated that it was suitably difficult and would have booked the English room within a heartbeat if it weren't for the cost-with just the two of us it was a bit expensive but if we had a group of four or five it would have been much more reasonable. After that, a cup of tea or coffee is offered and then there are costumed photo opportunities where we don Sherlock Holmes outfits. If you escape within the time limit you also get to bang the gong with your photo on their facebook page. The outfits are adorably cute and I can't help but drop another 2000THB/$70AUD on the costume for Halloween.

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Photo credit: Escape Hunt

Within the nearby Sukhumvit area, Terminal 21 is an airport themed shopping mall where floors are broken up into sections like Tokyo (women's clothing), London (men's clothing), Instanbul (homewares) and Paris and San Francisco for food. The brands are on trend Thai brands although there is the occasional international label and prices for the Thai shops are reasonable.

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Can something touristy still be considered quirky? Well if it can be, then Condoms and Cabbages certainly is. A restaurant in the busy Sukhumvit area off soi 12, Condoms and Cabbages proclaims that "their food never caused pregnancy". it seeks to raise consciousness of safe sex and condoms with a sense of humour. All proceeds from the restaurant go towards the activities of the The Population and Community Development Association (PDA) which is the family planning association of Thailand. You walk through the fairy light canopied entrance and past the gift shop where you may not find family gifts (although I guess that really depends on your family ;)). There is also an outdoor section and an indoor section and a Captain Condom bar.

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We take a seat inside as that's the only section that is open. A Mona Lisa hangs on one wall framed by blown up condoms. There are tourists from all over the world eating here and service isn't particularly fast. We peruse the very long menu which starts with an explanation of ingredients and there's also a whole section with vegetarian options. An amusing section contains dishes for "pretty eyes" or "perfect beauty face" which looks like salad artfully rolled like sushi. Other offerings are similar to what you might get at most Thai restaurants with salads, soups, curries and stir fries.

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Condom salad 150THB/$5.23AUD

We had to order the condom salad given the name of the establishment and the translucent rolled up noodles do resemble prophylactics. There's shreds of chicken breast, prawns and cabbage amongst this sweet and spicy salad.

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Som Tum Thai 120THB/$4.19AUD

We've been spoilt for choice with Som Tum Thai-I've had it every day thus far and sometimes twice a day. Items such as Pad Thai and spring rolls are items that Thais rarely eat but som tum is a firm local favourite. We've ordered it at street stalls, casual restaurants and from carts and they've all been excellent without exception. This one is different though, with an unusual flavour to it and I prefer the street food version.

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Crispy banana flower and prawn salad 

This was a chef's recommendation and it's essentially battered and deep fried banana flower with a couple of prawns on top with a chilli dressing. It's not bad but I didn't realise that it would be deep fried and assumed that it was a fresh salad. I should have perhaps realised that crispy is code for deep fried.

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Chicken skewers on lemongrass

This was a tender chicken skewer perfumed with lemongrass as it was grilled on a lemongrass skewer. Unexpectedly, this came with a selection of steamed and buttered vegetables including baby corn, carrot, broccoli and beans.

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Feeling a  bit underwhelmed, we take our complimentary female and male condoms and pay our bill. We decide to go back out onto the streets for some dessert which we find soon after. There's a street vendor scooping coconut ice cream into a hollowed out coconut and we order a serve. It's six scoops of coconut ice cream topped with crunchy toasted peanut and sweetened condensed milk. Mr NQN happily finishes this off along with the coconut at the bottom. Our hearts and stomachs clearly belong to the food on the street...

So tell me Dear Reader, would you visit the Medical or Corrections Museums? And have you ever tried anything like Escape Hunt and do you enjoy those sorts of games?

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NQN travelled to Bangkok and a guest of Qantas and the Como Metropolitan Hotel. All experiences and meals in this post were independently paid for

Siriraj Medical Museum

Siriraj Hospital, 2 Prannok Rd. | Siriraj, Bangkok Noi, Bangkok 10700, Thailand

http://www.si.mahidol.ac.th/museums/en/index.htm

Tel: +66 2419 2618-9

Bangkok Corrections Museum

Part of Rommani Nart Park, Maha Chai Road, Bangkok, Thailand

http://www.correct.go.th/museum.htm

Tel: +66 967-3311

Rod Fai Market

Behind Seacon Square, Srinagarindra Rd, Seacon Square, Prawet, Bangkok 10250, Thailand

Escape Hunt

Level B2, Interchange 21 Tower (Citibank Building), Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok, 10110, Thailand

http://escapehunt.com/

Tel: +66 2 611 2828

Cabbages and Condoms

10 Sukhumvit Soi 12, Bangkok 10260, Thailand

http://www.pda.or.th/restaurant/

Tel: +66 02 229 4611