City of Treasures Gracing the Ocean. That’s Thonburi Si Mahasamut, the capital of Siam as ruled by King Taksin the Great after the invasion of the Burmese and fall of the Ayutthaya Kingdom. Here, the settlements along Bangkok Noi and Bangkok Yai canals became part of – and perhaps gave name to – the modern-day capital.
Today, Thonburi locale covers five districts on the west bank of the Chao Phraya and is considered Bangkok’s historical and cultural quarter. While central Bangkok offers endless sois of cheap food, sights, shopping, and nightlife, Thonburi is genteel and relaxing: think dark little shops that open onto water, art studios basking in sun-drenched alleys, and the aroma of street food tempting you around every corner.
With cheaper accommodation and connections by BTS Skytrain or water taxi, this is the perfect location in Bangkok for going beyond the usual shopping or partying. In fact, after staying here, I saw the city in whole new light – and I’m sure you will too.
Eat Street Food…Or Rather, Khlong Food
In order to eat khlong food you must first enter the khlongs. Khlong is Thai for “canal”, and Bangkok’s old city was once nicknamed “Venice of the East” for its labyrinthine system of locks and waterways transporting people, goods, and even garbage. These days, it’s the best way to avoid the gridlock on the roads and get to places a tourist could never find on foot.
The best way to find cheap and delicious khlong food is to get on a longboat tour – you can’t go wrong asking the local boatman/guide to show you his favorites. My guide from the Anantara Riverside Bangkok conjured up an assortment of kuay teow reua (boat noodles), miang kham (one-bite wrap), and khao tom (sticky rice wrapped in banana leaf), which I polished off in delight.
Learn Meditation at Wat Paknam Phasi Charoen
Wat Paknam is home to Maharatchamongkol Great Pagoda, which contains all manner of Buddhist relics and has the most psychedelic interior I’ve ever seen. Seriously:
The late abbot of Wat Paknam, Phra Mongkhonthepmuni, dedicated his life to teaching Dhammakaya meditation and till today the temple is renowned for its meditation lessons, so much so that junior monks serve as interpreters for the teachers, allowing foreigners to join in.
Even if meditation isn’t your thing, the pagoda and temple, with their grand architecture and priceless treasures, are worth a visit.
Open 8am-6pm daily; pagoda elevator operates only on weekends.
Visit Artist’s House, Khlong Bang Luang
Baan Silapin, or Artist’s House, is probably the hippest attraction in Thonburi. This collective art studio-slash-gallery is where artists paint, craftspeople embroider silk, and puppet-masters lovingly create their wooden children.
Each day at 2pm (except Wednesdays) the sun-drenched courtyard and performance area welcomes visitors to watch a traditional Thai puppet show reenacting the Ramakien, a national epic derived from the myths and legends of the Hindu Ramayana. You can also get hands-on and try making your own Thai handicrafts, or head to the second floor of the 200-year-old wooden house to admire the works exhibited here.
Open 9am-6pm daily.
Find an Undisturbed Reclining Buddha at Wat Ratcha Orot
Also known as Wat Ratcha Orasaram, this secluded temple is in fact a first class royal monastery that has existed since the Ayutthaya period. Intriguingly, you won’t find any nagas or garudas here; instead, the temple roofs and interiors feature Thai-Chinese motifs as preferred by Rama III when he renovated the temple in the 17th century.
The temple also houses a reclining Buddha like the one at Wat Pho, but you can admire this one at your leisure since tourists here are few and far between.
Open 8am-5pm daily.
Shopping Withdrawal? Head to Wang Lang Market
With aisles upon crammed aisles of street food, Wang Lang market is a favorite among local students and the perfect place to fill up on a dime during a long day of exploring Thonburi. There’s also a section called Talad Naew Naew where you’ll find cheap togs and hipster-chic trinket stores.
Open 10am-sundown daily.
If you have to check off the popular attractions, make sure to make time for Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), ideally at dawn or dusk when the temple basks in glowing light (Open 8.30am-5.30pm daily). There’s also the Royal Barges Museum where you can get a glimpse of the exquisitely carved and painted barges used in rare royal barge processions.
Unlike the cacophony of central Bangkok’s mapped roads, Thonburi’s streets will lose you in the pleasant hum of local life. But don’t worry and take your time – there are plenty of tuk-tuks and taxis here to take you wherever you want to go.
When to Go
October to March. April-July are the hottest months!