Our first impression of Bangkok was exceptionally positive. This was largely due to the fact that our room at Silom Art Hostel happened to be about eight times the size of our Singapore hostel — and half the price. Plus, it had character: colorful paint flicked haphazardly on the walls, a sewing table modified into a desk, travel magazine articles mounted on the ceiling of the shower and a sink faucet operated with a twist of a bronze chipmunk fixture. Once the door to our little studio closed, I broke out into my “happy dance,” inspecting, photographing and announcing each feature aloud.

And Bangkok continued to impress, revealing glittering temples, world class shopping, oddball museums and delicious, ridiculously cheap dining options (we paid the equivalent of US$4 in an alley for the best, freshest pad thai we’ve ever had).

For 100 Baht each (approx. US$3.25), we joined a guided tour of Jim Thompson’s House, a canal-side, traditional Thai home built in the 1950s by said Mr. Thompson. Thompson is a fascinating character. He was born in 1906, studied architecture at Princeton and practiced in New York City until enlisting in World War II. He saw much of the world while serving as part of the Office of Strategic Services, a forerunner to the CIA, and fell in love with Thailand. From his base in Bangkok, he managed to rebuild the country’s silk industry (his silks were featured in the original “The King and I” film) and amass an impressive collection of Southeast Asian art and antiques, many of which are on display in the museum. Thompson lived in his beloved Bangkok house for eight years — until he disappeared without a trace during a vacation to Malaysia in 1961.

Although no one knows for sure how Thompson met his demise, one theory suggests he was struck by a vehicle while walking, and the driver disposed of his body. Sounds rather extreme, doesn’t it? Actually, death by motorized vehicle seems quite plausible for pedestrians in Southeast Asia. Traffic lanes are merely a suggestion and cars, buses and overloaded scooters drive every and any which way they can. At least Bangkok features an extensive network of elevated walkways, which, combined with an inexpensive elevated train system and a flotilla of longtail and tourist ferries, makes exploring the city quite easy. We employed each of these modes of transportation in sequence when venturing to the Grand Palace (400B).

When entering Bangkok’s Grand Palace, particularly if doing so around the Chinese New Year, simply embrace the deja-vu experience of the last time you visited a Disney theme park. I’m convinced the abbreviated time frame allotted for palace audio guides is merely a ploy to funnel tourists across the grounds as quickly as possible. In addition to marveling at the mosaic-ed temples, the impressive Angkor Wat model and the Wat Phra Kaew Temple’s diminutive Green Buddha (the “Green Yoda,” according to Him), you’re going to want to schedule time to dip into the weapons and royal regalia galleries. And don’t forget to snap a photograph of your traveling companions mugging next to the palace guards. These guys are even more stoic than their British counterparts and just a tad intimidating.

Just next door to the royal palace is Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha (100B). The magnificent 150-foot-long, gold-plated Buddha on display may appear uber-relaxed, but he’s actually flashing his “Nirvana” pose, the one he used when drifting into complete blessedness. Be sure to walk around the statue to examine his feet, which are inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

Wat Pho is considered the birth place of Thai massage, but if you’ve never indulged in a professional massage, I would not suggest selecting Thailand to lose your massage — ahem — virginity. Sure, the spas are cheap (we’re talking $10 an hour cheap) and certainly plentiful, but they’re hardcore. And I’m not even referring to the massage parlors offering that kind of massage. Read about my own run-in with traditional Thai massage.

For an unconventional museum visit, try Bangkok’s Siriraj Medical Museum (40B), home of the horribly horrific. Here you’ll find insanely graphic photographs of train crash victims, preserved body parts, stained murder weapons and the pickled remains of Si Quey, an infamous Thai serial killer who murdered and then ate the remains of at least 30 children in the 1950’s. Lonely Planet warned that the exhibits would be graphic but we couldn’t guess just how graphic. Perhaps the green-hued frat boys departing as we arrived should have tipped us off.

“Is that the way to the forensic and pathology museum?” I asked as the trio crossed our path in the hospital.

“Yep,” one said. “Good luck. It’s pretty gruesome.”

We had imagined the museum would be somewhat tasteful and maybe arty– like those traveling Body Worlds exhibits are said to be. Instead, the florescent lighting, tiled floor and rows of stark display cases created the impression of a repurposed hospital mortuary. I felt nauseous as soon as I glanced at the photograph labeled “post-operative deformity of brain after head injury in traffic accident.” The air was thick and stagnant. I sank onto a bench and slowly lowered my head to knee height. A few minutes passed before I could regain my composure and look up once more. And then I saw the slumped, gelatinized form of Si Quey displayed within a cabinet directly in front of me.

My head lowered again.

“Oh God,” I moaned. “I’m going to pass out, catch some contagion, and end up in one of these tubes as a mummy.”

Though we witnessed a handful of children touring the museum with their parents, we were quite flabbergasted about their presence. The material presented is enough to trigger a lifetime of nightmares and bed wetting — and I’m referring to adult visitors.