Rattanakosin Island, Bangkok Old Town: The Best Things to Do
Bangkok has the nicest Old Town in South East Asia. The first time we went to Thailand’s capital was 20 years ago. We fell in love instantly! We’ve been back countless times and seen the city change over the years.
Today, massive towers and fancy contemporary architecture dot the city. There are so many things to do in old and new Bangkok that you could spend months in the city. Actually, that’s what we did the last time we visited!
We set base in Rattanakosin Island, the heart of the Old Town. From there, we explored the entire city. However, this post is about the Old Town. The area is so beautiful and full of heritage that it deserves your full attention.
Where to Stay in Bangkok’s Old Town
Bangkok, including the Old Town, has some of the best hotels in the world. The center is where to stay in Bangkok for sightseeing. Our favorite hotel in the Old Town is Casa Vimaya, next to a canal.
The elegant property is an oasis of peace within walking distance of everything. It’s got a restaurant overlooking the canal and a rooftop pool with views. The plush rooms are big. The best ones have a balcony with canal views.
The Centra by Centara just opened. The sleek property is in a beautiful area within walking distance of the Old Town. The rooms have big balconies and extra comfy beds. It’s got a gym, pool, and a fantastic restaurant.
Where to Eat and Drink
You won’t go hungry or thirsty in Bangkok, especially in the Old City. For food and drinks, head to Khao San. Avoid Khao San Road itself. The restaurants on Rambuttri alley are much better. Our favorite bar is there, Kalanbatu Reggae Bar.
For traditional Thai dinners, go to the night street food market next to the roundabout in front of Wat Bowonniwetwiharn. There’s a delicious vegan and vegetarian restaurant next to the market, Mango. On that same street Thanon Tanao, is our favorite coffeehouse, Arelomdee.
We usually eat at Duklong Café on Banphanthom Alley next to the canal. There’s a bar on top of the same building with views. To eat with fantastic views over the Chao Phraya River, go to Coco, next to Phra Sumen Fort.
Moving around the Old Town
The best way of moving around the Old Town is walking. It’s probably the best area in the city to walk. You can walk next to the canals, from temple to temple, and next to the river.
You can’t leave Bangkok without riding a traditional Tuk Tuk. If it’s too hot to walk, hire one to go to the temples. Metered taxis are a great way of moving around at night. You won’t get stuck in traffic.
The closest metro station to the center is MRT Blue Line Sam Yot. From there, you can walk next to the canal to the temples. There’s a big boat terminal on the Chao Phraya River, south of Phra Sumen, with services everywhere.
Things to Do in Bangkok’s Old Town
Visit the Royal Palace
The Royal Palace in Bangkok is one of the nicest in the world. Locals call it the Grand Palace. It’s in the center, next to the river. It opens every day from 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM. Remember you can’t enter in shorts or crop tops.
You can rent clothes to cover up at the entrance. Tickets can be purchased with credit cards. Don’t go late. The palace is so big that you need several hours to enjoy it. It can get very hot inside, so wear a hat and sunscreen.
The palace was completed in 1782. Amongst the many gorgeous buildings inside the palace, the Temple of the Emerald Budha stands out. The museum is fantastic too. There’s a historic pier next to the palace. Take a boat and enjoy the views.
Visit Wat Pho
Wat Pho is the nicest temple in Bangkok. It’s the massive compound south of the Royal Palace. It opens from 8:30 AM to 6:30 PM every day. Again, it’s pretty big, so don’t go late, and remember to dress appropriately.
The temple is one of the oldest in Thailand. However, in 1788 King Rama I built the temple we can see today over a previous one. His ashes are inside. There are 1000 Buddhas, 91 stupas, and two bell towers inside the compound.
King Rama took the Buddha statues from the temples in Ayutthaya and Sukothai and brought them here. The iconic reclining Buddha is inside the temple. It’s a massive 150 feet (50 m) long golden statue. King Rama III had it built in 1832.
Rest in a Beautiful Park
Saranrom Palace Park is the nicest green area in the center. The gorgeous park is behind the Royal Palace. You can walk there from the Palace and Wat Pho. The park used to be the gardens of Saranrom Palace.
Today, you have to cross Saranrom Street to access the garden. The first building you will see is the Privy Council Chamber. Walk east and check out Wat Rajapradit Sathitmahasimarama. The 19th-Century temple features pagodas, mosaics, and intricate roofs.
Once in the park, search for Queen Sumada’s Monument, the band pavilion, and Phan Loha Fountain. The park overlooks a canal. You can walk next to it too. Cross the Saphan Bridge to reach Wat Ratchabophit temple and cemetery.
Learn History in the City’s Museums
You have to visit three museums in Rattanakosin. The biggest is the National Museum of Bangkok. The building used to be a fort palace from 1887. Today, it hosts one of the largest collections of Thai and regional objects in the world.
The Siam Museum is inside a 19th-Century building next to the river and south of Wat Pho. The museum opened in 2005 to instant acclaim. It’s fully dedicated to Thai culture and arts. People from all over the country visit it.
The Rattanakosin Exhibition Hall is next to the Democracy Monument. It’s a modern and interactive museum with a fantastic library. The views from the top floor and the glassed coffee shop will take your breath away. The Ratchadamnoen Contemporary Art Center is next door.
Explore Bangkok’s Defense Towers
The first fortifications in the city were built in the 15th and 16th Centuries during the Ayutthaya and Rattanakosin periods. When the former fell, new structures were built from the late 18th to the mid-19th Century. Of these, only 4 stand.
Phra Sumen Fort was built in 1783 to protect Bangkok. It’s the big white structure next to the river and a canal with epic views of King Rama Bridge. A lovely park surrounds the fort. The Bang Lamphy Museum is next to the park.
Mahakan Fort is our favorite in Bangkok. The entire area is beautiful. The statue of King Rama I and a lavish Royal Pavilion are in front. You can have coffee in the park with memorable views over the Golden Mount Temple.
Enjoy the Best Views of the Old Town
For the best views over Bangkok, head to the Golden Mount Temple viewpoint. Dating to the Ayutthaya period, it’s one of the oldest in the city. It’s an easy climb through lush plants. Go in the afternoon to enjoy killer sunsets.
The views from Wat Ratchanatdaram are equally beautiful. It’s the massive complex in front of Mahakan Fort. There are 37 stupas inside! The iron Loha Prasat spire is in the center. The views from the 118 ft (49 m) top level will leave you speechless.
For cocktails with views over the Old Town, head to The Press Skybar, one block south of the Democracy Monument. To dine with views over the center, go to Phra Nakon Bar and Gallery. The food is as good as the views!
Get Lost in the Streets of the Old Town
The best place to take a leisurely walk in Bangkok is the Old Town. There are sidewalks almost everywhere. Fortunately, there are not that many cars. Besides, you can walk next to the river and the canals.
One of our favorite walks is from Phra Sumet Fort to the Golden Mount temple. You walk next to a canal while admiring small hidden temples and historic architecture. You can continue further to Sam Yot metro station, which connects you to the entire city.
Another great walk is from Phra Thorani Shrine all the way to the flower market. On your way there, stop by Chao Pho Suea Shrine, a cute Chinese temple. From there, it’s a short walk to the Ministry of Interior, a former royal palace.
Visit Wat Suthat Thepwararam Ratchaworahawihan
This temple is as big as its name! Locals call the 19th-Century temple Wat Suthat. This beauty is one of only 10 Royal Temples in the city. Together with the attached monastery, it’s also one of the biggest.
King Rama II ordered its construction in 1808, but it took almost 4 decades to complete. There are 28 pagodas inside the temple. Notice the wooden doors and ceilings over the Buddha statues. The ordination hall with the Setthamuni Buddha is striking.
The Giant swing in front of Wat Suthat is an icon in Bangkok. People from all over the country visit to take pictures. It’s actually a Brahmin religious site. King Rama I had it built in 1784. Entirely made of wood, it’s 65 feet (20 m) tall.
Stroll along the Ong Ang Walking Street
As much as we love Bangkok, we have to be honest. It’s not the best city to walk about. That’s why we love walking along Ong Ang Walking Street, one of the few pedestrian stretches in Bangkok. The street is next to Ong Ang Canal.
Begin your walk on Damrong Sathit Bridge, one block east of Sam Yot Metro station. Restaurants, shops, coffee houses, bars, and all types of eateries line this colorful street. It goes on for 0.7 miles (1.5 km) on both sides of the canal.
The shops and restaurants open at 4 PM. Most start closing at 9 PM to 10 PM. Young couples, friends, and families come to the street to take pictures, eat, and socialize. The whole place is so much fun! There’s cool graffiti, flowers, and art installations.
Visit the Flower Market
Pak Khlong Talat is the famous flower market in Bangkok. Thailand is blessed with stunning flora! Locals use all types of flowers to decorate their temples and to offer the Buddha. You will see jaw-dropping flowers and plants here.
The market is next to the Chao Praya River, a block from the King Rama I monument. It is open 24 hours every day! Everything is fresh and smells good. There are a couple of coffee houses where you can sit and enjoy the vibe.
Exit the market and walk along the Yodpiman River Walk. It’s a great place to take pictures of the river and the temples. You can take the ferry there, cross the river, and visit Wat Kalayanamit. There’s a huge sitting Budha inside the 1825 temple.
Places close to the Old Town Not to Miss
Wat Arun is our favorite temple in Bangkok. It’s not in Rattanakosin island. However, you can see it from Wat Pho. The best way to reach it is by crossing the river by ferry from Tah Thian terminal in front of Wat Pho.
Go in the morning to Tah Thian and you will see the sun rising and illuminating Wat Arun pagodas. The temple is huge, so you will need a couple of hours to discover it. It opens from 8 AM to 6 PM.
Remember to dress appropriately and wear socks. You have to take your shoes, and it can be scorching hot during the day. Though the temple is from the 17th Century, its majestic spire is from the 18th. You will love it!
Chinatown is like no other neighborhood in Bangkok. The area is just off the Old Town, east of the Flower Market. You can walk there from Phra Sumen Fort. It’s a 45-minute walk next to some of the city’s biggest attractions.
You can buy anything you ever dreamed of in Chinatown. You can also eat just about everything here, including delicious Chinese and Thai food! Though you can visit all day long, Chinatown comes alive at night.
There’s plenty of food and tons of stalls in the Sampheng Night Market on Ratchawong Street. Everyone comes to eat, shop, and have fun! During the day, you have several temples to visit. Our favorite is Wat Samphanthawong, south of Chinatown.
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