Bangkok’s old town of Rattanakosin Island, so called because it was surrounded by a number of former canals until they were filled in to make roads, is a highlight for many visitors to Thailand’s capital. Our newly launched walking tour, The Rattanakosin Story, lets you soak up the history of this old royal district and some of its most famous landmarks.
Rattanakosin Island became Bangkok’s royal and administrative centre in 1782, when King Rama I – the first monarch of the current Chakri dynasty, of whom current King Bhumibol is the ninth – relocated Thailand’s capital city from just across the river in Thonburi. Since then, it has been Bangkok’s historical and ceremonial heart, and it is the home of many of the well-known landmarks that visitors come to Bangkok in search of. These include the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and the Sanam Luang recreation ground where ceremonies take place including the Royal Ploughing Ceremony and celebrations to mark the birthdays of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit.
Our walking tour, The Rattanakosin Story, passes sights and landmarks including the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, the amulet market, Thammasat University, Wat Mahathat, Sanam Luang, the City Pillar Shrine, the Ministry of Defence, Wat Ratchapradit, the Pig Memorial, and Saranrom Park. But if you want to explore further on your own, here are our suggestions.
Located just a short walk from Wat Pho and the Tha Tien river boat pier, Museum Siam takes a hands-on approach to exploring Thai history, the idea of Thainess, and what it really means to be Thai. It’s an interactive museum that is great fun for adults and children alike – better still, admission is often free during Thailand’s many festivals and public holidays, as well as for entry every day after 4pm.
Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-6pm; adults, 200 baht (Thai nationals, 100 baht); students over 15, 50 baht; under-15s free; 4 Sanamchai Road (Tha Tien river boat pier); www.museumsiam.org
There are plenty of restaurants, coffee shops and cafés around the Rattanakosin area but, for one that still feels like a secret, head down this quiet street almost opposite Museum Siam, and you’ll find Vivi The Coffee Place at the very end, hugging the Chaophraya river. After a weary day of exploring temples and other sights – or if your feet need a rest after walking The Rattanakosin Story with us – it’s the perfect spot to hide away for a quiet coffee and soak up the unbeatable view of Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn, directly opposite on the Thonburi side of the river.
Daily, 10am-8pm; Soi Pansuk, Maharat Road; www.aurum-bangkok.com
At Wat Saket temple, scrambling up the 300 or so steps to the top of the Golden Mount affords some impressive views out over the old city and further across Bangkok. The temple itself, a 58-metre chedi containing relics of the Buddha, dates back to the period when Ayutthaya was the capital of what was then Siam, and was renovated extensively during the time when King Rama I moved the capital from Thonburi to Rattanakosin; around this time, Wat Saket still served as the capital’s main crematorium. The Golden Mount comes to life during the Loy Krathong festival, which usually falls in October or November; the temple is draped in an enormous red cloth that is first carried through the streets in a large-scale parade. Fairground rides and plenty of food complete the carnival atmosphere at this temple fair, making it a great time to visit.
Daily, 9am-7pm; 20 baht to climb the Golden Mount (free to enter Wat Saket temple; free for Thai nationals); Boriphat Road (Phan Fah canal boat pier)
A short hop from the Sanam Luang recreation ground is Phraeng Phutton square, home to an annual arts and crafts festival in December, and nestled close to the Ministry of Defence in an area that stands out for its beautifully restored colonial-era architecture. It’s also something of a hub for great old-fashioned Thai food, including the well-hidden Nuttaporn ice cream shop, where you’ll find irresistible dairy-free sherbet in flavours like mango, coconut, chocolate and even durian – all made with coconut, rather than cow’s milk. It’s a steal at 25-40 baht for four small scoops, and you can jazz up your ice cream with traditional Thai toppings like sweetcorn kernels, nuts, and condensed milk. Just next door is the stunning boutique guest house The Bhuthorn, with just three bedrooms lovingly restored by the respected architect owners; the interior of the hotel itself is also gorgeous, and perhaps the highlight is the romantic private breakfast courtyard. Meanwhile, at two different shophouse restaurants across the square, you can tuck into a hearty bowl of Thai-Chinese pig’s brain soup, loaded with offal, fish and pork balls, and deep-fried fish skin, and heavy on the pepper and chilli. It’s certainly different, but it’s one worth trying if you dare! If you want to eat something different just wander arond the surounding streets of Thanon Tanao and Thanon Dinsao, where during the name you will find endless great food options.
Nuttaporn, daily, 8am-4pm; 94 Phraeng Phuthon; The Bhuthorn, 96-98 Phraeng Phutton; www.thebhuthorn.com; Tom Yum Tom Samong Moo (Pig’s Brain Soup), Monday-Saturday, 9am-4pm; 11 Phraeng Phutton; Samong Moo Thai Tham, Monday-Saturday, 7am-2pm; 28/1 Phraeng Phutton
Wat Ratchabophit is one of our favourite temples in Bangkok, if for no other reason then for the peace and tranquility to be found in its gardens. Built during the reign of King Chulalongkorn (King Rama V), it’s the ideal place to hide yourself away from the hustle and bustle that pervades even in old-town Bangkok, and instead to soak up its unusual, eye-catching design that includes a circular courtyard linking the prayer hall and ordination hall.
Daily, 9am-6pm; free entry; Ratchabophit Road (Tha Tien river boat pier)
Have you visited our recommended attractions in the Rattanakosin Island area? Where are your favourite hidden spots in Rattanakosin, or elsewhere in Bangkok? Let us know in the comments!
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay close to all the action that Rattanakosin Island has to offer, good options for unique hotels include The Bhuthorn, Baan Dinso, The Atsadang, Aurum The River Place, and the Old Bangkok Inn. Click here for more suggestions of unique hotels in Bangkok.
Photos by Expique; Jorge Láscar; Chris Wotton; Mark Fischer; Chris Brown; Chris Wotton; Chris Wotton