Eight Places to Know about Bangkok’s Thonburi District
Thonburi is an old part of Bangkok that was actually the capital in its own right at one point in the past. It’s on the western side of the city and doesn’t actually get that many visitors, although it has a few interesting aspects.
The tourists who do head in the direction of Thonburi are usually visiting or staying close to the riverside stretch of Bangkok’s Old Town. This is an area of the city with some impressive hotels along the river.
And of course one of the Thai capital’s most iconic images, the historic Wat Arun Temple, is also in the vicinity. And there are a fair few landmarks in the region of Thonburi which might feature on a tourist trail or two.
Yet Thonburi has much more to offer discerning Bangkok visitors. It is in many ways one of the few areas that remains reminiscent of the more traditional way of life of the city’s residents. You can find quaint local villages and markets still untouched by the onslaught of modern development continuously wreaking its way through the city.
Some of the few existing narrow waterways are also around this area of Bangkok. The city was once famous for its canals and waterways, although this is much less the case today. In the past they functioned as the main form of transport before the Thai king began laying some of the first roads, many of which covered the smaller canals.
Today, the khlongs (canals) still run boats for transportation on the broader waterways, mainly servicing commuters who need to get across the city by boat. The canals in Thonburi definitely give more insights into what you might call a ‘local’ side of Bangkok.
You are much more likely in this area of the city to catch sights of families still living in wooden homes, especially if you are gliding by on a canal boat. You’ll see families eating together children playing in and around the alleys. These sights are not so familiar in other areas of Bangkok in the present day, which many people feel is the result of over-development and the constant influx of strangers.
You can access some of Thonburi’s famous landmarks by using public transport like the BTS Skytrain. But many people would agree that the best way to get to this stretch of Bangkok is by river, usually on the Chao Phraya Express Riverboat service.
So if you want to get away from the main tourist spots of central Bangkok and its materialistic shopping mall trail and find a more authentic glimpse into the city, head west. You might find a few more interesting aspects of what the city has to offer.
Let’s take a deeper look into some of the sights and sounds of Bangkok’s Thonburi district.
Temples in Thonburi
Thonburi has its fair share of temples like any other region of the city, including some of the most famous. But it doesn’t stop there by any means.
Wat Arun is Bangkok’s landmark temple. It is one of the oldest in the city, and is set on the Thonburi bank of the Chao Phraya River. Wat Arun is also known as ‘The Temple of the Dawn’, and is definitely not to be missed on any visit to the city. Because of its age the temple is also quite unique in design, and stands out quite significantly from many of the other temples that you may be likely to see around the city.
Wat Arun is an unmistakable part of the riverside skyline and is particularly stunning as evening falls and it becomes lit up as the sun sets. It is comprised of colourfully decorated spires and has a majestic kind of presence next to the water. It can get quite busy with tourist, especially during peak season, and early morning is the best time to visit.
Location: 158 Wang Doem Road, Wat Arun, Bangkok Yai, Bangkok 10600, Thailand
Open: Daily from 8am to 5.30pm
Phone: +66 (0)2 891 2185
It’s true that Wat Arun is the main temple in this region of the city that people go to visit. But there are certainly others worthy of a visit often overlooked by tourists.
If you head to Wat Kalayanamit, you will find an altogether more tranquil and much less touristy alternative to Wat Arun. It is a Bangkok temple definitely worth checking out though, and is significant in that it has a huge golden Buddha inside the main building.
Location: New Arun Amarin Rd, Wat Kanlaya, Thonburi, Bangkok 10600, Thailand
Open: Daily from 8pm to 5pm
Another less well-known Bangkok temple in Thonburi is Wat Prayoon. It dates back to the 19th century and the reign of King Rama III in the 19th century, and is quite impressive to behold.
The central white chedi is the focal point, and it stands out significantly from the other surrounding mini spires. The architecture is impressive, and there is a turtle pond at the back of it surrounded by trees.
The temple is located more towards the Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya River, next to the Memorial Bridge (Saphan Phut).
Location: 24 Prajadhipok Rd, Thon Buri, Bangkok 10600, Thailand
Phone: +66 (0)2 466 1693
And a Church…
Santa Cruz Cathedral
Now this building is something of an unusual site along the lines of the river. It is an impressive-looking Catholic church dating back to the time when Thonburi was the capital in the 18th century. The Portuguese were particularly prevalent in Thailand at that time, and the fact that the king gave them permission to build the church signified the close ties they had.
The modern version of the church has undergone various restoration projects over the years, but Santa Cruz Church stands on the banks of the river as an interesting symbol of some of the more diverse aspects of Bangkok.
Location: 112 Soi Kudeejeen, Wat Kanlaya, Thonburi, Bangkok 10600, Thailand
Open: Daily from 8am to 6pm
Phone: +66 (0)2 472 0154
Other Attractions in Thonburi
It’s not all temples (or churches) that Thonburi has to offer though, and there are quite a few other points of interest in the region.
Three Sixty Lounge Bangkok
One of the prominent hotels in the area is the impressive Millennium Hilton Bangkok. The hotel overlooks the river and has some great views of the river and the city.
But some of the best views come from the bar on the 32nd floor of the hotel. The Three-Sixty Lounge has its name for good reason. It covers 2 areas by way of both a large open-air space and an amazing 360-degree cupola on a slightly higher floor.
The cupola has quite a different atmosphere to that of the open deck with its carpets, moody tones, and dimmed lights. This is one of the best spots to get some excellent views of the Chao Phraya River and the various vessels moving along the waterway or shuttling from bank to bank. This is even more so due to the wide panoramic windows.
This is undoubtedly one of the best spots on the river for fireworks, and obviously attracts a lot of attention during times like Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Three-Sixty Lounge Bangkok allows the opportunity to view lots of significant buildings in the area that you would otherwise not be able to see so easily. You might notice the old Bangrak Fire Station, the Sino-Portuguese buildings, and even the normally well-concealed Portuguese Embassy.
Then there is the equally magnificent Assumption Cathedral of Bangkok, and the impressive First Siam Commercial Bank, all of which look the grander from such an elevated viewing position.
The wines and cocktails ae unlikely to be the cheapest that you’ll find in the city, but the glasses are a generous size, and stopping by this amazing spot even for an hour will make your night that much more interesting.
Location: Millennium Hilton Bangkok, 32nd floor, 123 Charoennakorn Road, Klongsan, Bangkok 10600, Thailand
Open: Daily from 5am to 1am
Phone: +66 (0)2 442 2000
Baan Silapin (Artist’s House)
So Baan Silapin translates as Artist’s House, and that’s exactly what this 200-year-old wooden house is. Located right on the on the water’s edge, the house exhibits various types of art including paintings, clothes, masks, puppets, carvings and statues. The Artist House is a little off the beaten track in terms of the average trail, and so goes under the radar of many visitors to the area.
It’s worth checking out though if you are remotely interested in Thai and Bangkok culture, and there are a couple of interesting features to the house. Amazingly, there is a chedi (temple spire) hidden away in the middle of the house that apparently dates back 600 years!
Traditional Thai puppet shows are presented, usually on a daily basis, on a small wooden stage in the house. There is also a small restaurant coffee shop on the premises.
Location: Soi 28, Wat Kuhasawan, Thonburi, Bangkok Thailand
Open: Daily from 10am to 6pm
Phone: +66 (0)2 868 5279
Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market
This is one of the closest traditional floating markets to Bangkok. It is about 10 km east of the city, and not too far from Thonburi’s Wongwian Yai BTS Skytrain Station. (You won’t be able to get the way there this way though, and may need an additional Grab car or taxi).
This local market is nothing like some of the more famous ones on the tourist trails in terms of size. It does give some authentic insights into local culture though, and is fun and cheap. You’ll see many different variations on the theme of Thai food in a place like this, and although you are unlikely to encounter anyone who speaks your language here, you will find the charm of an authentic, local, Thai floating market.
The canal at Khlong Lat Mayom is actually quite narrow. This means just a handful of boats next to the bank, right below a bridge that is pretty low. Some of the boats prepare meals, and patrons sit at low tables on the waterfront. Some people sit on small wooden stools and order various dishes cooked on the boats.
Some of the fare available is along the lines of noodle-based dishes such as boat noodles, pad Thai, and kanom jeen (cold rice vermicelli). There are also various omelettes and other ‘fast food’ type dishes. It certainly won’t be expensive, and there are usually drinks being sold by a cart vendor.
There is another, larger section to the market which is on the land, with fresh fruit and vegetables on one side, and all manner of snacks, desserts, and freshly-prepared food on the other. You’ll find the highly colourful stocks of tropical fruits quite exotic-looking, and inside the market there are other items like cheap clothing, home accessories, toys, and even fresh flowers.
There is another similar market within less than 5kms’ range of the market. It is at Taling Chan, and many people who make the trip to Khlong Lat Mayom often go on to the other on afterwards to make it more worthwhile.
You can get to Taling Chan by hopping on a long-tail boat, and you will get further insights to the local life in the area, getting away from the thrall of Bangkok at the same time.
Location: 15 30/1 Bang Ramat Rd, Bang Ramat, Taling Chan, Bangkok 10170, Thailand
Open: Saturdays–Sundays from 8am to 5pm (closed on weekdays)
The Royal Barges Museum
This is the museum where you can take a closer look at some unique and impressive-looking Thai barges. Eight Royal Barges are on display here, and they are in fact still used in various important ceremonies, including the Royal Barge Procession.
Each boat is made from teak wood, and has intricate and mythical-looking designs and artistry meticulously carved into it. The barges are finished in bright shades of painted gold, red and blue, giving them a distinctly ‘Thai’ look. The museum is located close to the Phra Pin Klao Bridge, and is not too difficult to find.
Location: 80/1 Rim Khlong Bangkok Noi Arun Amarin, Bangkok Noi, Bangkok 10700, Thailand
Open: Daily from 9am to 5pm
Phone: +66 (0)2 424 0004