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: 4.2 Km or 2.6 Miles
Author: valery
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • The Grand Palace
  • Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)
  • Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)
  • Bangkok Wat Sutat ( Great Swing )
  • Wat Saket (Temple of the Golden Mount)
  • King Prajadhipok Museum
  • Khaosan Road
The Grand Palace

1) The Grand Palace (must see)

The 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)

2) 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
Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)

3) 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
Bangkok Wat Sutat ( Great Swing )

4) Bangkok Wat Sutat ( Great Swing )

The Giant Swing is a religious structure and one of Bangkok's top tourist attractions. Set in front of the Suthat Temple, this huge Chinese-red colored frame was part of an annual ceremony whereby young men would try to swing up in the air in order to get a sack full of gold tied to a pole, some 75 feet high. After many men died during such an attempt, the ceremony was finally banned in the 1930s.

The Swing Ceremony was one of the 12 royal ceremonies held each month of the Thai Lunar calendar. At the height of 21.15 meters, from base to top, this giant swing is a great memorial to an abolished tradition in the history of Thailand and a true landmark of Bangkok. Its presence in front of the temple is an illustration of the once strong influence of Brahmanism in Thailand. The original swing was built only two years after the establishment of Bangkok as a new capital in 1782. Its story began when a Brahman, named Kratai, was granted audience with King Rama I (1782-1809) and asked for permission to uphold Brahmanism in Siam, i.e. to build a Brahmanic temple and a swing to conduct Brahmanic ceremonies. The King agreed and soon after not one but three Brahmanic temples and a swing appeared in the center of the city in 1784.

In the early 19th century, a huge 25-foot tall Phra Sri Sakyamuni Buddha statue was brought from Sukhothai by boat. To house that gigantic Buddha image, the Wat Sutat, one of Bangkok's tallest wiharns, was built in a large cloister. Its outer wall is lined with more than 150 Buddha images originally shipped from China, as a ballast, in rice boats. They are now displayed in the courtyard between the Buddha gallery and the wiharn. The walls are painted with murals depicting the last 24 lives of Buddha. The columns are also painted with murals showing the early days of Bangkok.

The original height of the swing is not confirmed to date. After over 100 years, when the old swing had decayed, it was replaced with a new one made of teak in 1920, during the reign of King Rama VI. That swing was renovated twice, in 1947 and 1970, and for 36 years had stood elegantly as one of Bangkok's major landmarks. After its condition had deteriorated again, it was replaced with another replica in 2006.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8.30am - 9.00pm
Wat Saket (Temple of the Golden Mount)

5) Wat Saket (Temple of the Golden Mount) (must see)

Wat Saket is a Buddhist temple and a famous landmark in Bangkok, dating back to the Ayutthaya era. The towering gold chedi of Wat Saket, once the highest point in the city, is notable for its spectacular views, much as for hosting the annual Loy Krathong festival.

A steep hill with a shiny dome inside the Wat Saket compound, covered in small golden squares reflecting the sun, is called “Golden Mount”. As such, the Golden Mount is not a natural mountain but an artificial one, and was constructed under King Rama III when the latter attempted to build a chedi which collapsed because of the soft soil beneath. The king, thus, ordered that a sturdy mound of mud and bricks be made to support the structure. For about half a century, the mound was left alone until it took the shape of a natural hill and was overgrown with weeds, and was thenceforth called "Phu Khao". King Rama IV built a small chedi on top of it and put nearly 1,000 teak logs, all along the shore, to prevent the structure from sinking into the swampy ground. Finally, Rama V completed the chedi that stands here today housing a Buddha relic brought from India. During World War II, a set of concrete walls were added to prevent the hill from eroding and the structure from collapsing.

From late October to mid-November (for 9 days around the full moon), Wat Sakhet hosts Bangkok's most important temple fair, part of the Loy Krathong festival. During this event, a red cloth is wrapped around the Golden Mount and a carnival starts with many food stalls, theatrical performances, freak shows and animal circuses. This festival also includes a candlelight procession up to the Golden Mount, during which worshipers place flowers and light candles near the temple.

To reach the Golden Mount's peak, 318 steps must be ascended, but it is well worth the effort as the panoramic view of Bangkok, opening from the top, is truly spectacular!

Why You Should Visit:
Bangkok is a pretty flat city, so to be able to scale the only hill for miles around and see a lovely temple on top, from which to admire the view... is quite great!

Go early in the morning to avoid the heat and the crowds.
If it's hot and sunny, be sure to have a hat or some sort of parasol, as you'll be exposed to the sun most of the way up.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 7:30am-5:30pm
King Prajadhipok Museum

6) King Prajadhipok Museum

King Prajadhipok Museum presents the life and history of the King Prajadhipok’s reign. The museum has nine permanent exhibition halls covering various subjects. King Prajadhipok’s personal effects are displayed including items on films, music, sports and writings that reveal his personal tastes. The exhibition shows his life before he was crowned, his life after abdication and his final years in England. On display are photos of the coronation ceremony, the celebrations of Bangkok's 150th anniversary and the revolution.

Prajadhipok was not destined to be king and planned to serve in the military. However, when King Rama VI died without heirs, he became Rama VII. King Prajadhipok rule marked the end of the absolute monarchy and changed it into constitutional monarchy.

The neoclassic building of the museum was built in 1906 towards the end of King Rama V's reign. Designed by a Western architect, the three-storey concrete edifice is decorated with Greco-Roman motifs and reliefs with a dome-shaped tower topping its front hall. 

M. Charles Beguelin, a French-Swiss architect, designed the museum building. Concrete is mostly used for its construction. In 1995, the building was recognized as a national heritage site by the Fine Arts Department. Conservation and renovation project was completed in 1999 and the building was converted into Museum in 2001. The museum has three floors. Temporary exhibits, the museum shop and café are on the ground floor and permanent exhibits are on the second and third floors.

The museum building was completed in 1908 after six years of construction work. It originally housed the John Sampson Store which sold Western high fashions and tailor made suits. But the building changed hands and sold construction materials bearing the name the Suthadilok Store. In 1933, the Public Works Department acquired the building and started using it as its headquarters. In 2001, King Prajadhipok Institute received the sanction of the Public Works Department for use of the building as the museum.

Do not forget to visit this museum as it is an enlightening source of information on Thailand during the significant period of King Prajadhipok. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm
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 reminder about the old days when this area in central Bangkok was a major rice market. Over the last 40 years, however, 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. According to the Khao San Business Association, the road sees 40,000-50,000 tourists per day during the high season, and some 20,000 per day during the low.

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 like.

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) of 13–15 April, water splashing that usually turns into a huge water fight.
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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