What to See & Do in Rattanakosin Island – Bangkok’s Old Town

Written by: Simon Philipp | Published: January 27, 2021

Rattanakosin is Bangkok’s “old town” and historic centre. It is often know as Rattanakosin Island, because it is surrounded by canals and the Chao Phraya River. Here you will find many of Bangkok’s main attractions. However, despite being a place where where tourists flock, it is full of charm.

In this article we will share our top tips on what to see and do around Rattanakosin.

Note regarding COVID-19: While we do try to keep our content up to date, please be aware that due to the impact of COVID-19, restrictions may impact our recommendations, and businesses may temporarily or permanently close. Please double check.

The History of Rattanakosin Island

The Rattanakosin Story, Bangkok - photo by Expique

Rattanakosin Island became Bangkok’s royal and administrative centre in 1782, when King Rama I. Rama I was the first monarch of the current Chakri dynasty, of whom current king is the tenth. He relocated Thailand’s capital city here, from just across the river in Thonburi, as it was considered better for both expansion and defence.

At the time, the Rattanakosin area was a settlement for many of Thailand’s early Chinese immigrants. However, they were moved to where Chinatown now is. Upon relocating the capital to Rattanakosin, a series of canals and 14 forts were built to protect the capital from invasion. The canals remain but only 2 forts still exist.

Whilst, several temples, including Wat Pho, existed from the Ayutthaya period, many were rebuilt to represent their new importance and Royal connections. Of course many new temples were built, with each king of the Chakri Dynasty leaving their own marks on the area.

It remains Bangkok’s historical and ceremonial heart, and it is the home of many of the most well-known landmarks. 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 The King, and his predecessors.

What to do and see in Rattanakosin

tourists visiting temples in Rattanakosin

Visit The Grand Palace and Temples

The Grand Palace (and Temple of The Emerald Buddha) is unquestionably the number one attraction in this area.

Other temples of note are: Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha), Wat Suthat, Wat Saket (The Golden Mount), Wat Benchamabophit (The Marble Temple), City Pillar Shrine.

Additional less famous (but equally fascinating Royal temples) in the area include Wat Ratchapradit, Wat Mahathat, Wat Ratchabophit, and Wat Bovorn.

You can get some more ideas in this article on our favourite temples.

Take a Walking Tour of Rattanakosin

Our own 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, Saranrom Park, Ratchadamnoen Avenue, Democracy Monument and the Giant Swing.

Museums in Rattanakosin

Museum Siam - photo by Chris Wotton

Museum Siam: 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.

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

The National Museum: Located in the former palace of the vice king (or Front Palace), and facing Sanam Luang. It features exhibits of Thai art and history. Visit their official website for more details.

Climb to the top of the Golden Mount

Aerial view of Wat Saket (The Golden Mount)

At Wat Saket temple, scrambling up the 344 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.

Daily, 9am-7pm; 50 baht to climb the Golden Mount (free to enter Wat Saket temple; free for Thai nationals); Boriphat Road (Phan Fah canal boat pier)

Markets in Rattanakosin

There are several markets that are worth exploring in the area. Of these 3 that each give a unique insight into local life are:

The Flower Market: This 24-hour market is known locally as Pak Khlong Talad. It is the centre of wholesale flowers in Thailand, with the bulk of the produce being used for offerings. You can find out more about The Flower Market here.

Nang Loeng Market: This is a really authentic food market area in one of Bangkok’s oldest communities. Best time to go is between 10am and 2pm. You can find out more about the market here.

The Amulet Market: Amulets are an important part of Thai Buddhist culture, and in this market you will find all sorts of amulets and spiritual items.

What about Khao San Road?

Khao San Road is a street in Rattanakosin area, which became extremely popular in the 1990s as the backpacking centre of Bangkok. Even before COVID-19, it still had its reputation for backpackers and bar, and was often on people’s lists of places to visit. As of writing, many places in Khao San Road have shut down due to the impact of COVID-19 and it is to be seen in what form it will come back to life.

Eating and Drinking in Rattanakosin

The best cafes in Rattanakosin

In recent years cool instagrammable cafes have popped up all over Bangkok, and Rattanakosin is no exception. Especially in the small streets around Tha Tien new cafes are opening all the time.

Some of our favourite places include:

Thai food delights

Mango ice cream at Nuttaporn in Bangkok, Thailand - photo by Chris Wotton

Street Food and Local Shophouses: For great authentic local food options we suggest options around Thanon Dinsao, Phraeng Bhuton, Nang Loeng Market.

Mid to High End Thai:

Enjoy a drink with a view of Wat Arun

View of Wat Arun

A popular early evening activity is to watch the sunset over Wat Arun from a roof top bar (even if the sunset is not always great!). Good bar options include:

  • Sala Rattankosin – a great 360 degree view of both Wat Arun and Wat Pho.
  • The Deck – this is the original bar in this area and while the newer ones often have a 360 degree view from the rooftop, this still makes our list.
  • Eagles Nest – a small bar located between Sala Rattanakosin and The Deck.
  • Riva Arun – of the bars with a great view, this is probably the most underrated of all of them.

Places to Stay Around Rattanakosin

If you’re looking for somewhere to stay close to all the action that sights, Rattanakosin Island has some good options. Most of the hotels are small to medium sized as building restrictions in the area prevent tall buildings. Options include:

Plus there are endless hostel and guest house options (if they survive COVID).



Explore Thailand with Expique

At Expique our mission is to help people discover the real Bangkok (and beyond) and the local cultures. Our current focus is to provide the best content available to plan a trip and discover Thailand.

Prior to COVID-19 our focus was on offering a range of experiences in Bangkok including our award winning Bangkok Night Lights Tuk Tuk Tour. These have now been temporarily suspended.

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