OLD BANGKOK CITY WALKING TOUR
The sun sparkles on the surface of the canal that encircles the city. Boats approach Phan Fa Lilat Bridge, which connects Ratchadamnoen Klang (Central Ratchadamnoen) and Ratchadamnoen Nok (Outer Ratchadamnoen), leading the way to the city wall. This area is also home to Mahakan Fort, one of 14 citadels that defended the old walled city, dating back to the reign of King Rama I (20 March 1736 – 7 September 1809), built when the King ascended to the throne and established Bangkok as the capital city.
STORY & PHOTOGRAPHY
I pick this area as my starting point for my trip around the Old Town or Rattanakosin, a name which came about in 1977 to mark the major renovation.
Initially, Rattanakosin was divided into two parts. The first part was Inner Rattanakosin occupied a space of about 1.8 sq km, surrounded by the Chao Phraya River and Khlong Lod. This part included the Grand Palace. Outer Rattanakosin was a 2.3 sq km space after Khlong Lod and Khlong Rob Krung. To explore every nook and cranny of Rattanakosin in one day would be impossible. There’s a lot of history, art, culture, communities, and food to indulge in. I narrow down my scope so that I can spend more time at each place. I start at the Phan Fa Lilat Bridge on Ratchadamnoen Klang and continue to the Phan Phiphop Lila Bridge before entering Khlong Rob Krung into Assadang, Ratchabophit, Bamrung Mueang, and Mahachai Roads, before making my way back to Maha Jessada Bodin Square on the opposite side of Mahakan Fort. The distance is about 4km.
At Maha Jessada Bodin Square is the Memorial of King Rama III (31 March 1787 – 2 April 1851) who built Wat Ratchanatdaram, the temple of his reign, which is right behind the memorial. The square enhances the beauty of the Metal Castle, or Loha Prasat. Alongside Ratchadamnoen Avenue are beautiful buildings designed to impart Eastern-style grandeur, using geographic shapes. Not too far from Maha Jessada Bodin Square is Nitas Rattanakosin, an unconventional historical museum depicting history, art and culture of Rattanakosin. Here, you can learn more about Rattanakosin through technology, 4D media, interactive media and animation, presented in nine exhibition rooms. Each session takes about two hours. Don’t forget to take pictures of the city from a unique angle at Rattanakosin Skyview on the 4th floor.
Another place worth visiting is Ratchadamnoen Contemporary Art Center, which maintains its original exterior, but the inside has been renovated. It is a space exhibiting contemporary art by Thai artists. On the third floor is Asean Cultural Center where you can learn about Asean cultures.
My next stop is the Democracy Monument. If you’re in the mood for traditional royal cuisine, there’s Methavalai Sorndaeng at the corner, but if you want something contemporary, check out Ban Dinsor. Continue to Rim Kob Fah bookstore where you can find old history books and reference books. Not far from it is Bangkok City Library, which can be accessed using your ID card (or passport). Inside, it is spacious and dazzling, packed with books ranging from children’s books to novels, as well as chronicles, royal compositions and magazines.
I keep walking and find myself at Sanam Luang, where I take a left turn into Assadang Road. Here, there are various shops selling musical instruments, uniforms and camping supplies. If you haven’t eaten, visit Yong Seng Lee and try stir fried chicken in red sauce or noodles in herbal soup. After fueling up, continue to the Ministry of Defence building, which is a beautiful neoclassical building in bright yellow colour.
Walk along the canal and you will reach Wat Ratchabophit Sathit Maha Simaram. The Royal Cemetery is located at the western side of the grounds of this temple. King Rama V (20 September 1853 – 23 October 1910) built the Royal Cemetery for his wives, children and descendants. The cemetery is surrounded by beautiful architecture in various styles. The highlight is the four golden chedis with rhyming names: Sunantanusawari, Rangsi Wattana, Saowapha Praditsathan, and Sukhuman Naruemit.
Cool down from the heat at Suang Ngern Mee Ma Café on the opposite side of the temple’s entrance. This café is also a bookstore which sells handmade crafts and health food. From there, you can explore little shops along Ratchabophit Road, such as Suksapanpanit and Doi Kam. On Tee Thong Road, you can see a long stretch of Wat Suthat Thepphawararam’s wall, and at the far end of this strip is the Giant Swing in bright red colour.
While on Bamrung Mueang Road, you can see two-storey buildings dating back to the reign of King Rama V. At Samran Rat Intersection, cross to Mahachai Road, and you will see a long line forming outside Jay Fai restaurant, recently awarded prestigious a Michelin star in the Michelin Guide Bangkok 2018. Another restaurant worth visiting is Bib Gourmand restaurant Thipsamai Phad Thai, known for its delicious phad Thai. Seeing the long line, it reminds me that there’s also Thipsamai Phad Thai at King Power Rangnam, and the line is not as long.
To wrap up my day as a Bangkok tourist, I take a tuk-tuk to King Power Rangnam to get my dose of Thipsamai Phad Thai. I rest my tired legs at Glen Bar inside Pullman Bangkok King Power Hotel and sip on Saneh, a special drink that mixes roselle with rum.
*Travel information: www.bangkoktourist.com; Nitas Rattanakosin: www.nitasrattanakosin.com; Ratchadamnoen Contemporary Art Center: www.rcac84.com; Bangkok City Library: www.bangkokcitylibrary.com