Bangkok’s Old Town, also known as Rattanakosin, is where you’ll find the most breathtaking and revered attractions in Bangkok. It’s the cultural and historical centre of the city, with glimmering temples, palaces, and ancient architecture on every corner. You’ll find most of Bangkok’s main attractions and some of the best places to visit in Thailand here. Yes, it can be full of tourists, but it’s also brimming with charm. Whether you’re interested in Bangkok’s history and culture or you simply enjoy admiring beautiful temples, exploring Bangkok’s Old Town is a must.
Below, we’ve compiled a list of activities you must do while you’re exploring Bangkok’s Old Town!
Visit the spectacular Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew
No visit to Bangkok would be complete without visiting the spectacular Grand Palace. Located in the heart of Bangkok, from 1782 to 1925, it served as the official home of Thailand’s kings. Although it’s no longer the official residence of Thailand’s Kings, it’s still used for official events. Today, it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in Thailand and for good reasons. People from all around the globe flock to the Grand Palace to witness its ornate design and beautiful architecture. In addition, it’s home to the most sacred temple in Thailand, Wat Phra Kaew or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
Since the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew contain some of the most sacred sites in Thailand, be sure to wear modest clothing. Men should wear long pants and shirts (no tank tops), while women should avoid bare shoulders, see-through clothes, and “revealing” clothing. Also, you need to be aware that there’s a common scam where someone dressed as a tourist guide or security tells you that “the Grand Palace is closed.” Don’t fall for this scam as they will offer you a tour of other temples “at a bargain,” while in reality, you might end up paying more.
You might also encounter someone telling you that you don’t meet the dress code, but this is another scam to get you to buy or rent sarongs. If you’re unsure if you meet the dress code, go to the entrance and wait for the official verdict. Sarongs are usually available for free.
Learn history in Bangkok National Museum
Bangkok National Museum sits at the former grounds of the 18th century Wang Na Palace, near the Grand Palace. The museum was opened by King Rama V in 1874 to exhibit relics bestowed on him by his father, King Rama IV. Today, it’s home to the most extensive collection of Thai art and artefacts in Thailand, making it a great place to visit for anyone who loves history and culture. Its collection spans various periods of Thai history, providing a great introduction to the country’s art and architecture. There are 3 permanent exhibitions here: Thai History Gallery, Archeological and Art History Gallery, and Decorative Arts and Ethnological Collection. Besides Thai artefacts, you can also see artefacts from all over Asia.
It’s best to visit the National Museum early in your trip to Thailand, so you’ll have a better understanding of the temples and ruins you see later in the country, such as Ayutthaya and Sukhothai.
See the beautiful design of Loha Prasat Temple
Loha Prasat Temple, or Wat Ratchanatdaram Worawihan, is a dazzling temple built-in 1846 at the request of King Rama III. The design of the temple was inspired by 2 other similar temples found in Sri Lanka and India. Standing 36 metres tall, the temple is easily identified by its 37 stunning golden spires. The 37 spires signify the 37 virtues needed to reach enlightenment. In the past, the temple was known as the metal castle or the iron temple since the spires were originally black. The gold leaf was however added recently.
The inside of the beautiful main temple is a small maze of pillars for you to explore. There’s a staircase that’ll take you several floors up, and each of the floors will provide a different perspective of the temple. Once you reach the top, you’ll get a striking 360° view of the city. At the very top of the temple, you’ll find a shrine that contains relics of the Buddha. People walk all the way up to this shrine to pray and pay their respects.
Take a closer look at the giant reclining Buddha in Wat Pho
Wat Pho is one of the oldest, most popular, and most important temples in Bangkok. Covering an area of 20-acre, it’s one of the largest temples in the city as well. It’s known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha because the highlight of this temple is the famous reclining Buddha that measures 46 metres long and nearly 15 metres tall. This gold-covered statue is one of the largest and most important reclining Buddhas in the world.
Most people come to Wat Pho only to see the reclining Buddha, so the rest of the temple is rarely busy. However, the temple has a lot more to offer. Besides housing the giant reclining Buddha, you can also find over 1,000 other Buddha images within the temple grounds. In addition, Wat Pho is the birthplace of Thai massage. Today, it’s still among the most important centres for studying traditional medicine.
Flowers Market in Pak Khlong Talat Bangkok Flower Market
Need a break from Bangkok’s famous markets and popular tourist attractions? Treat your senses at Bangkok’s colourful flower market, Pak Khlong Talat, for something completely different. Pak Khlong Talat is the biggest wholesale and retail fresh flower market in the capital. Here, you can find a wide range of flowers and flora-related items, from potted plants and buckets filled with freshly cut stems to all kinds of flower bouquets and arrangements. Almost all types of flowers grown around Thailand, as well as imported flowers, are available here.
In addition to the beautiful burst of colours, the flower market is also very aromatic. Sweet-smelling jasmines, bright yellow marigolds, and imported red roses, all kinds of flowers sit side by side in this flower market. Since Thailand is the biggest exporter of orchids in the world, you’ll also find orchids of all shapes and colours across the market. In certain seasons, Siam tulip, poinsettias, and large sunflowers are also available.
Stroll through Soi Rambuttri
Although Soi Rambuttri is located very close to Khao San Road, it doesn’t get all the hype and is more like a hidden gem in Bangkok. Many people argue that it gives you a taste of how Bangkok used to look before it became filled with skyscrapers. The atmosphere is very relaxing as opposed to most of Bangkok. It’s a unique place to visit, and the best thing is, you don’t have to spend too much money to have a great time here.
Soi Rambuttri Road offers a great mix of restaurants, guesthouses, bars, and street food stalls. It’s a great place to go if you want to try more authentic Thai food. From pork noodle soup and green chicken curry to Thai milk tea, numerous delicious foods are available here at a reasonable price. In addition to food, you’ll also find street vendors along both sides of the road selling all kinds of things, such as clothes and local souvenirs. You can even find plenty of massage chairs right along the street!
Admire the stunning Wat Arun
Wat Arun is another famous temple in Bangkok and definitely a must visit when you’re exploring Bangkok’s Old Town. Locally known as Wat Chaeng or The Temple of the Dawn, the temple is located on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. Thanks to its riverside location and incredible design, Wat Arun is easily one of the most beautiful temples in Bangkok. The main spire is tastefully decorated with small pieces of colourful ceramic tiles and Chinese porcelain placed in intricate patterns. It stands more than 70 metres above sea level.
You can climb the central spire if you want. However, be aware that the steps are very steep, so getting up and down can be tricky. Once you reach the top, you can see breathtaking views of the Chao Phraya River, Wat Pho, and the Grand Palace.
Although Wat Arun is stunning all day long, you might not register its beauty until you’ve seen it at sunset while the temple is lit up. That said, the best time to visit Wat Arun is early morning, close to opening hours before the crowds arrive. Remember that aside from being a very popular tourist attraction, Wat Arun is also an important place of worship for Buddhists. Therefore, always dress appropriately when you visit.
Have some fun in Khao San Road
Famously known as the Bangkok backpacker central, Khao San Road might have no historical sights to offer. However, it’s still a great place to visit during your Bangkok’s Old Town exploration. The 1km long road is full of budget guesthouses, mid-range hotels, bars, clubs, restaurants, market stalls, travel agents, massage parlours, internet cafés, tattoo parlours, and many more.
One of the best things to do here is sampling some delicious street food. You can find street vendors selling Pad Thai and Spring Rolls at the lowest price in the city. In addition to Thai food, you’ll also find hamburger joints, pizza parlours, and so many more. Khao San Road is also famous for its nightlife, so if you want to dance the night away, be sure to visit one of the many bars and clubs along the road.
Have a picnic in Sanam Luang
Sanam Luang (the Royal Field) or Thung Pra Meru (Royal Cremation Ground) has been around for over two centuries since the time of King Rama I. It was the site of royal ceremonies and functions, including the cremation of kings, queens, and high-ranking princes up until the reign of King Rama III, when the King decreed that all cremations should be held outside the old city walls.
Today, Sanam Luang is a gathering ground for a number of activities, such as kite flying. And a great place to enjoy an afternoon family picnic or an evening stroll. In the evenings, you can watch locals play sepak takraw, and children can enjoy feeding the pigeons. Surrounded by famous landmarks like the Grand Palace, the National Museum, and the National Gallery, this park is a fantastic spot to take a break from your sightseeing adventure in Bangkok’s Old Town.
Attend Loy Krathong Festival in Wat Saket
Also known as the Golden Mount or Phu Khao Thong, Wat Saket is a revered site for locals and a famous tourist attraction in Bangkok’s Old Town. It features an artificial hill crowned with a 5.8-metre tall golden chedi. The 80-metre-tall hill, with the chedi, was once the highest point in Bangkok before all of the skyscrapers filled the city. Climbing the hill is worth the effort as you can see beautiful bells and intriguing statues. From the top of the temple, you can enjoy spectacular panoramic views of Bangkok’s Old Town.
In November, the temple usually holds an annual temple fair. The fair lasts a week during Loy Krathong (or the Festival of Lights). A candlelit procession to the top of the Golden Mount marks the start of the celebration. Wat Saket is alive with colourful lanterns, decorative flags, fairground games, and food vendors during the festival.
Wander around Wat Suthat
Another temple you should visit in Bangkok’s Old Town is Wat Suthat. Wat Suthat Thepwararam is one of the most impressive Buddhist temples in Bangkok. It’s particularly popular for the red Giant Swing at its entrance. In the past, young men rode the swing high in the air during the Brahim thanksgiving ceremony. However, this practice was stopped in 1932. Today, the oversized swing has become the main attraction for tourists visiting the temple.
In addition to the Giant Swing, Wat Suthat also boasts a glorious prayer hall with impressive murals, sweeping roofs, and beautifully hand-carved teakwood door panels.
See beautiful Thai art in the National Gallery
Bangkok’s National Gallery used to be the house of the former Royal Thai Mint. Upon entering the gallery, you’ll immediately feel the old and classic atmosphere. There is a lot of classical artwork here, but you can also find numerous contemporary artwork. The gallery’s permanent collection focuses on artworks by Thai artists from the 17th century onward. These include ancient religious paintings and traditional paintings. In addition, the gallery also hosts a hall of sculptures where you can find sculptures of Thai historical figures. Aside from the permanent collection, the National Gallery also features a series of temporary and modern exhibitions in the garden.
Enjoy a drink with a view of the river and Wat Arun
One of the most popular activities in Bangkok’s Old Town is to watch the sunset over the river and Wat Arun. There are numerous rooftop bars with spectacular 360-degree views to choose from, such as Sala Rattanakosin, The Deck, Riva Arun, and Eagle Nest Bar.
With everything that Bangkok’s Old Town has to offer, it’s a fascinating place to visit whether you love history and culture or not. You can admire spectacular temples, try delicious seafood, or dance the night away in one of the many nightclubs. Exploring Bangkok’s Old Town is definitely a must do activity in Thailand! keep in mind that some of the tourist attractions listed in this article might be closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
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