A Brief Guide to Bangkok’s Rattanakosin Island
In historical Thai terms, Rattanakosin is the name that signifies the ruling dynasty in the kingdom of Siam in the 18th and early 19th century.
In Bangkok terms, the actual region of the city known as ‘Rattanakosin Island’ is actually a man-made area that is designated as an ‘island’ due to the fact that it is separated by canals on one side and the Chao Phraya River on the other.
The Rattanakosin period of Thailand’s past is deemed historically significant, which is why this particular area of the city is where you’ll find most of Bangkok’s best-known landmarks, temples and various other cultural attractions.
Probably the most famous of the attractions in the area is the Grand Palace, which was actually where the King of Siam resided when the capital was first moved to Bangkok from Ayutthaya. Needless to say, Rattanakosin is featured on the itinerary of the majority of visitors on the Bangkok tourist trail.
This is the region of the city largely referred to as the Old Town as well. It is close to the river, just north of Bangkok’s Chinatown. It is far removed from the modern, over-developed and densely-populated central city areas of Bangkok like Siam, Sukhumvit and Silom.
You won’t find much by way of glitzy shopping malls, more an authentic aspect of the city that has yet to escape the full onslaught of modern development. It is where you’ll find a few interesting and unique features of Bangkok based around or near to the river.
Aside from ancient temples and the riverside scene, this is also the vicinity which includes the famous Khao San Road and the even more famous Ratchadamnoen Boxing Stadium.
The pavements are some of the best you are likely to find in the entire city, being well-laid and wider than in most other areas. This means if you don’t mind the heat you can take a pleasant enough stroll close to the river between the various attractions in the area.
So let’s take a closer look at some of the various attractions and other amenities in this brief guide to Bangkok’s Rattanakosin Island.
Location and Getting There
Other than going by taxi or car (using the Grab app is recommended for going by road anywhere in Bangkok), you won’t be able to access the area by BTS or subway directly. You can get to Sathorn Pier by BTS and then switch to a River Boat that will bring you here though.
A River Boat is another way to get close to most of Rattanakosin’s attractions via the Chao Phraya River. There are actually a couple of stops that will drop you fairly close to The Grand Palace and Wat Pho (Tha Chang Pier, N9).
The Chao Phraya Express Boat stops at all of Rattanakosin’s piers, and the Sathorn Pier (CEN) is where you’ll also find the BTS station.
Some of the Main cultural Attractions in the Area
- The Grand Palace was originally constructed by King Rama I in 1782. Today, the Grand Palace remains one of Bangkok’s most visited cultural tourist attractions, and once inside of the grounds you can also access to Dusit Palace along with a selection of temples, the main one being Wat Phra Kaew — home to the sacred Emerald Buddha.
- Wat Pho is just along the road from the Grand Palace, and is often referred to as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, due to the huge, 160ft golden statue of the Buddha housed there. It is also where you can find the Wat Pho Thai Massage School, which was Bangkok’s massage school. The school still operates today and runs training courses in Traditional Therapeutic Thai massage.
- Wat Saket, otherwise known as the Golden Mount, is a Buddhist temple built on a man-made hill during the Ayutthaya era. The temple is within distance of the other attractions and offers some impressive panoramic views of Bangkok.
- Wat Suthat is another, slightly less crowded temple in the area, although it is quite large and within walking distance of the Grand Palace. You can find it just across from another of the area’s landmarks — The Giant Swing – which is located opposite the temple grounds.
- Wat Ratchabophit is also just a short walk from the Grand Palace, and this is in fact the temple that houses the Thai Royal Cemetery, a fact made more obvious by the various monuments and memorials in the grounds of the temple.
Other Attractions in the Area
- Sanam Luang is a large green area in front of the Grand Palace. It is a public space that has been the prime location of various important ceremonies and events for centuries. It’s a decent place to stop off for a breather if you are on a walking temple tour of the area. Keep an eye out for scammers in and around the whole area though – it’s better to not buy anything or accept anyone’s offers or suggestions in what is one if not the most touristy area of the city.
- Bangkok National Museum is apparently the largest museum in SE Asia, and is host to various exhibits related to Thai history, culture and art. Some of the exhibits also offer insights to the arts and cultural aspects of other SE Asian civilisations.
- King Prajadhipok Museum is a museum dedicated to the reign of King Rama VII, who was actually the last absolute monarch in the country before transitioning to government. Here you’ll find a range of exhibits related to Thai history between the late 19th century and the start of World War II.
- Saranrom Park is a nice and well-kept park not too far from the Grand Palace. It originally served as the grounds of one of King Rama IV’s palaces, a fact still apparent from the layout. Again a nice stop-off if you find yourself wandering around the area.
- Amulet Market is the place to check out if you are at all interested in the very ‘Thai’ fascination with Buddhist amulets. It is actually very close to the Tha Chang Pier where the Express River Boat stops to drop off visitors to the Grand Palace. Check out one of our previous posts on the amulet market for more details.
- Muay Thai at Rajadamnern Stadium is something that needs to be experienced at least once for anyone visiting Bangkok. And this venue is one of two places to catch the best of it in the city. Fights are held on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays from 6:30 pm onwards. Check out our previous post on the Best Muaythai Stadiums in Bangkok for further insights including pricing etc.
Eating in Rattanakosin
Certainly you won’t have a problem finding something good to eat around the Rattanakosin area. Like most regions of Bangkok there is always plenty of street food to be found wherever there are people.
You can also find some exquisite riverside restaurants with decent views of the river and its various features on the skyline. And this is also the area in which it is possible to find a few well-established places selling various Thai classic dishes such as Pad Thai Phatupee’s which has been around for more than 50 years.
You’ll also find a decent range of impressive cafes and coffee shops in and around this area, some of which have been around for a while and a fair few trendy-looking, more recent additions.
Either way you won’t be stuck if you fancy a bite to eat, a good coffee, or both when you are making your way around the vicinity of Rattanakosin Island.
Accommodation in Rattanakosin
You’ll find plenty of accommodation options in and around this area if you fancy staying here on a trip to Bangkok.
Whether 4 and 5 star hotels overlooking the river and Wat Arun are your thing, or budget hostel lodgings — it’s all here in this neighbourhood. The range of accommodation options are always growing and changing in Bangkok, not least of all in areas frequently visited by tourists.
So you have all the usual top range choices like the Sala Rattanakosin and the Riva Surya Hotel in close proximity to all the area’s attractions. You also have a range of Boutique Hotels, Guest Houses and Hostels, not to mention a growing range of Airbnb-style apartment rentals that are increasingly becoming a popular choice for Bangkok visitors.
Check out the Golden Mountain Hostel, The Region Hostel and Au Bon Hostel if you are on a budget, or Villa Phra Sumen and Fueng Nakorn Balcony for a slightly more budget, 3-star hotel option.
Nightlife in Rattanakosin
If you are looking for something interesting to do of an evening in the area, it is worth noting that the majority of Rattanakosin’s nightlife is found around the Khao San Road just a short walk from Ratchadamnoen Avenue. Drinks are reasonably cheap, although the bars are usually crowded with tourists and a smattering of Thai locals.
Phra Athit Road, may also be worth checking out just to the north of Khao San and many of the area’s best bars, restaurants and other venues can be accessed during operation hours of the boats (until around 6 pm) from Phra Athit Pier (N13).