Bangkok Old City Walk, Bangkok

Bangkok Old City Walk (Self Guided), Bangkok

The Thai capital Bangkok emerged in the 15th century as a small trading post in the Chao Phraya River delta. The origin of the name “Bangkok” is unclear and was likely a colloquial adopted by foreigners, in which Bang is the Thai word for “village on a stream” and Ko means “island”, referring to the city's watery landscape. Another opinion is that it may be shortened from Bang Makok, with Makok being the name of a local olive-like fruit.

Officially known as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon or simply Krung Thep, the city also bears a ceremonial name which consists of 168 letters and comprises Pali and Sanskrit words translating as “City of angels, great city of immortals, magnificent city of the nine gems, seat of the king, city of royal palaces, home of gods incarnate, erected by Vishvakarman at Indra's behest” – the Guinness World Record for the longest name of a geographical location.

In the course of history, Bangkok has seen many events, including the modernization of Siam, renamed Thailand in the late-19th century, numerous coups and uprisings, followed by rapid growth of the 1960s-1980s and the investment boom of the 1980s-1990s. Nowadays, a regional force in finance and business, as well as a center for arts, fashion and entertainment, the city is known for its street life and cultural landmarks.

Situated just north of Bangkok's Chinatown, the Old City (Rattanakosin) houses a glittering array of spectacular and revered temples, historic palaces and ancient architecture. Important highlights in Bangkok Old Town include the regal Grand Palace, the awe-inspiring beauty of Wat Phra Kaew, as well as the traditional learning center Wat Pho. To explore these and other top tourist sights in Bangkok's Old City, follow this guide to kick off your trip!
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Bangkok Old City Walk Map

Guide Name: Bangkok Old City Walk
Guide Location: Thailand » Bangkok (See other walking tours in Bangkok)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.8 Km or 1.7 Miles
Author: valery
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)
  • The Royal Grand Palace
  • Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)
  • Lak Mueang (City Pillar Shrine)
  • Sanam Luang Square
  • National Museum Bangkok
  • Khaosan Road
Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)

1) Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) (must see)

Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha) is the oldest Buddhist temple in Bangkok, located behind the splendid Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and is one of the city's largest. Built around 200 years before Bangkok became Thailand's capital, the temple is mainly famous for housing the huge Reclining Buddha statue along with the largest number of Buddha images within. The Wat was almost entirely rebuilt during the reign of Rama I, when the capital was moved to Bangkok.

The highly impressive gold-plated Reclining Buddha is 46 meters long and 15 meters high, and is designed to illustrate the passing of the Buddha into nirvana. The feet and the eyes are engraved with mother-of-pearl decoration. The bottoms of the Buddha's feet are intricately decorated with 108 auspicious scenes in Chinese and Indian styles.

The Wat Pho complex consists of two walled compounds, bisected north-south by Sanamchai Road running east-west. Reclining Buddha and a massage school are found in the northern walled compound. People visit mostly this section which comprises a large temple hall enclosed by 394 bronze Buddha images. There are also 91 chedis of varying sizes around the ground. The library, impressively decorated with figures and pagodas made of porcelain, is also present nearby. The large grounds of Wat Pho contain more than 1,000 Buddha images in total, most brought from the ruins of the former capitals Ayuthaya and Sukhothai.

Wat Pho is also famous as Thailand's first university, as well as the birthplace and training center of traditional Thai massage. Stimulating rather than relaxing, and incorporating yoga style postures to relieve stress and improve blood circulation, traditional Thai massage is quite different from the other forms of therapeutic massage. Wat Pho is a good place to try it – many of the rich and famous are known to have come here specifically for that. Try and see if you like it!

Traditional Thai dance and music are also taught within the temple, on Sundays. Astrologers and palm readers are likewise available for consultation. For a very small donation, that helps to maintain the temple, you can also receive a blessing from a monk.

Make sure to bring exact THB amount for the entry tickets because, for some weird reason, they won't give any change.
It takes about 2 hours to just go round and make photos, but you can easily spend 4-5 hours in this huge complex altogether.
The admission ticket comes with a bottle of water and there are refill stations with cool clean water inside.
Women and men must wear long pants (covering knees) and shirts with long sleeves.
To enter the sanctum sanctorum, you'll have to take your shoes off.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8am-6:30pm
The Royal Grand Palace

2) The Royal Grand Palace (must see)

The Royal Grand Palace, a building complex in Bangkok, served as the official residence of the Kings of Thailand from the 18th century onwards. King Rama I ordered the construction of a magnificent new Palace in 1782 when he moved the capital from Thonburi to Bangkok. The chosen area was, however, occupied by Chinese merchants whom he asked to relocate. The Palace has been constantly expanded and many additional structures were added over time.

Originally the palace consisted of several wooden buildings surrounded on four sides with a high defensive wall, 1900 meters in length and enclosing an area of 218,400 square meters. The Palace is rectangular in shape with the western side next to a river, the royal temple situated to the east side and all structures facing north. The King ordered the construction of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha as a royal temple and as his personal place of worship. Around the turn of the 20th century, Thai Kings stopped living in the palace. Today, the palace is used for all kinds of other ceremonial and auspicious happenings including royal funerals, marriages and state banquets.

The palace is divided into three quarters: the outer quarters, the middle quarters and the inner quarters. The Outer Court housed the government departments in which the king was directly involved including civil administration, army, and the treasury. The Temple of the Emerald Budha takes up one corner of the complex next to the outer court. In the middle is the Central Court, where the residence of the king and the halls for conducting state business were located. Behind the central court was the inner court where the king's royal consorts and daughters lived. It was like a small city entirely populated by women and boys under the age of puberty.

The Grand Palace with its beautiful architecture and intricate details is living proof of the creativity and craftsmanship of Thai people. Today, the complex remains the spiritual heart of the Thai Kingdom. The Grand Palace with the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is Thailand's most sacred site. All visitors must be properly dressed before being allowed entry to the temple. No bare feet and no see-through clothes are allowed.

Definitely the city's most famous landmark, the dazzling and spectacular Grand Palace is one must-see sight. Your visit to Bangkok would not be complete without visiting it.

Come early – the place gets quite crowded around 12pm.
They offer free English tours at 10am, 10:30, 1pm, 1:30pm or an audio guide for other languages (200 THB).
Entry fee is 500 THB, which includes the ticket to a theater play (like a Thai musical). Pick-up and drop to the theater from the Grand Palace are also included.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8:30am-3:30pm
Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)

3) Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) (must see)

Wat Phra Kaew, commonly known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is located on the ground of the Royal Palace in Bangkok. It is the most respected Buddhist shrine in Thailand, and is so primarily for the 2-feet tall dark green statue, known as Emerald Buddha, housed in the temple.

Some historians believe that the Emerald Buddha was brought from Sri Lanka, while others reckon it was crafted in Thailand in the 14th century. An associated legend suggests that the statue was once hidden, covered in plaster, inside a monument in Chiang Rai until, in 1434, a lighting storm revealed the Buddha image underneath.

In the course of history, several wars have been fought because of this Buddha image. It was brought to Bangkok in 1782 and has since been considered a talisman of tremendous significance for Thailand. Together, Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and the adjoining Grand Palace form, perhaps, the greatest attraction of Bangkok well worth looking at.

Why You Should Visit:
The Grand Palace is already something unique and amazing; the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is like a cherry on top of a beautiful cake.

Visit when the doors open, around 8am, to avoid crowds; come dressed appropriately (no exposed knees or shoulders), and enjoy a walk around.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8:30am-3:30pm
Lak Mueang (City Pillar Shrine)

4) Lak Mueang (City Pillar Shrine)

Lak Mueang are the so-called city pillars that are present in most cities throughout Thailand. Usually, they are placed in a shrine that accommodates the city spirit deity, Chao Pho Lak Mueang. This ancient tradition is rooted in a Brahman custom involving the Held ceremony (Held “Lak Muang”), whereby a single pillar made of acacia wood, called Chaiyaphreuk (which literally means the "tree of victory"), was erected, as a spiritual center – “soul” – of the city, before its proper construction began. The pillar was then venerated by citizens who sought prosperity and success, as well as to avoid misfortune.

King Rama I installed the city pillar here, on 21 April 1782, after moving his capital from Thonburi to Bangkok. The shrine was the first building in the new capital, constructed even ahead of the royal palace. Bangkok's pillar shrine (known locally as San Lak Muang) is one of the most ancient, sacred, and magnificent shrines of this sort in Thailand.

The first pillar stood 470 centimeters (190 in) high, buried 200 centimeters (79 in) deep, and measuring 74 centimeters (29 in) in diameter. Inside it there was a horoscope for Bangkok. In the mid 19th century the original shrine was rebuilt and the pillar refitted with a fresh horoscope. In 1852, another pillar was added – 5.115 meters (201.4 in) tall, 47 centimeters (18.8 in) in diameter at the bottom, with a base of 180 centimeters (71 in) wide. The refurbished pavilion, with a spire (prang) modeled on the shrine of Ayudhya, was inaugurated on 1 May 1853.

According to the In–Chan–Mun–Kong legend, the construction required a sacrifice of four people following the proclamation of the words "in–chan–mun–kong" ("in" to the north, "chan" to the south, "mun" to the east, and "kong" to the west) around the city. Anyone who responded was captured, brought to the ceremonial location, and buried in a hole. Their spirits were believed to be guarding the city. No documented evidence, however, supports this myth.

People usually use three incense sticks, one candle, gold foil, two lotuses, two flower garlands, and one three-colour taffeta to worship at this shrine.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Sanam Luang Square

5) Sanam Luang Square

Sanam Luang is a public field in front of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Originally known as Thung Phra Men (the royal cremation ground), the location's prime designation, since its inception under the reign of King Rama I, was to hold cremations of the kings, queens and princes.

During the reign of King Rama III (1824-1851), amid the war against Vietnam over the Cambodian border, in order to project the image of Thailand as a fertile and flourishing country, the area was cultivated as a rice plantation.

In 1855, King Rama IV changed the field's name to Thong Sanam Luang, which has since been commonly shortened to Sanam Luang. The king also set up a place for the Royal Ploughing Ceremony, establishing a hall for the image of Buddha, a number of pavilions and a stage for the ritual of propitiating the gods.

His successor, King Rama V, pulled down these structures and enlarged Sanam Luang to create space for the centennial celebration of Bangkok, in 1897. Following a visit to Java, and being impressed with the sultan's palace gardens, he also ordered to plant two rows of tamarind trees around the field.

Over the years, Sanam Luang has been used for a variety of purposes including as a ground for kite flying, racetrack, and a golf course. In addition to the Ploughing Ceremony and Calling of the Rain in May taking place every year, the Bi-Centennial Celebration of Bangkok in 1982 and the grand celebration of the Golden Jubilee Royal Ceremony in 1996 were held here.

Notwithstanding these, Sanam Luang continuously serves as a royal cremation ground: in 1950 for King Ananda Mahidol, Queen Savang Vadhana in 1956, Queen Rambhai Barni of King Rama VII in 1986, Princess Mother Srinagarindra in 1996, Princess Galyani Vadhana in 2008, and Princess Bejaratana Rajasuda in 2012.

Following the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, on 13 October 2016, massive crowds flooded Sanam Luang to pay their respects to the late king. His cremation took place on 26 October 2017.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
National Museum Bangkok

6) National Museum Bangkok

The National Museum Bangkok features exhibits of Thai art and history all the way back to Neolithic times. Opened in 1874 by His Majesty King Rama V, this is the first public venue to display the royal collection of King Rama IV and other objects of general interest. The museum occupies the 18th-century Wang Na Palace, which had previously been the residence of the Prince Successor. Originally, it was intended to exhibit the antiques and gifts bestowed to Rama V by his father.

First named the Bangkok Museum, opened by King Rama VII in 1926, the institution had subsequently been transformed, under the direction of the Department of Fine Arts, into the National Museum Bangkok by 1934. Initially a non-organized gathering of dusty relics, it now features exhibits arranged into three areas consistent with Thai history. A good English-language description is provided for all artifacts.

The Thai History Gallery, covering the periods from Sukothai to the Rattanakosin, is found at the front of the Sivamokhaphiman Hall. The Archaeological and Art History Collection features items from the prehistoric period to the modern Kingdom, including many ancient sculptures. Decorative Arts and Ethnological Collection showcases Chinese weaponry, gold treasures, precious stones, masks and many items of historical importance from all over Southeast Asia. Other exhibits include a funeral chariot hall, featuring carriages used for royal cremations, along with many excellent examples of Thai architecture.

There are excellent free tour guides in English, French (Wed, Thu), Japanese (Wed) and German (Thu) at 9:30am.

Opening Hours:
Wed-Sun: 9am-4pm
Khaosan Road

7) Khaosan Road

Described as "the place to disappear" or "a short road that has the longest dream in the world", Khaosan (or Khao San) Road is indeed short – only 410 meters long. It was constructed in 1892 under the reign of Rama V. The word "Khaosan" translates as "milled rice", a reference to the old days when this area was a major rice market.

Over the last 40 years, Khaosan Road has evolved into a world-famous "backpacker ghetto" offering cheap accommodation, ranging from "mattress in a box" kind of lodgings to reasonably priced 3-star hotels. The road sees 40,000-50,000 tourists per day during the high season, and some 20,000 per day during the low season.

In this small area one can observe the interactions and groupings of disparate characters, such as uneducated young Westerners on extended leave from affluent society, high school graduates on gap year travels, Israelis fresh out of military service, university students on holiday or sabbatical leave, young Japanese in rite-of-passage attire, ordinary holidaymakers, (ex-) volunteers from various organizations, and the likes.

Khaosan shops sell handicrafts, paintings, clothes, local fruits, unlicensed CDs, DVDs, a wide range of fake IDs, used books, and other useful backpacker items. After dark, bars open, music is played, food hawkers sell barbecued insects and other exotic snacks for tourists, and touts promote ping pong shows. The area is internationally known as a center of dancing, partying and, just prior to the traditional Thai New Year (Songkran festival) on 13–15 April, water splashing that usually turns into a huge water battle.

A Buddhist temple under royal patronage, the centuries-old Wat Chana Songkram, is directly opposite Khaosan Road to the west, while the area to the northwest contains an Islamic community and several small mosques.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

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