There are plenty of things to see and do in Bangkok, leaving neighborhoods like Thonburi oftentimes unvisited by tourists. Other than the historic temple of Wat Arun, many cannot seem to understand why anyone would want to visit this part of town. Though it may be lacking nightlife and top attractions, those with extra time should certainly try to include this district on their itinerary. Here’s why.
Where is Thonburi?
Thonburi is a riverside community located on the western banks of the Chao Phraya River. Thonburi was the capital of Thailand for a short time in 1768, after Ayutthaya was destroyed by the Burmese. After the capital was moved across the river, Thonburi became a separate city, but now it is one of many districts that make up the city of Bangkok.
Thonburi sits near Banglamphu, a neighborhood known for its epic party and foodie scene. The riverside neighborhood can be reached via a handful of BTS Stations, or by boat, which is oftentimes a faster and more authentic way to see the city. Exit from Talat Phlu, Pho Nimit, or Bang Wa (although not technically part of Thonburi, it is very close to the Artist’s House, one of the top sites in the neighborhood).
Talat Phlu is one of the stations furthest along the BTS Skytrain. The area seems pretty destitute, though there are a few reasons to hop off at this particular stop. For one, there is a quaint mall here with a handful of restaurants and shops worth browsing, and it is much cheaper than the luxurious malls downtown. There is also one road (Soi Chai Boonmee) that lets visitors get a glimpse of local Thai nightlife, and a handful of drinking venues so local that the names are not written in English. Those who need to refuel should stop at No. 16 Love Cafe. The menu is not extensive, but it has delicious homemade yogurts, smoothies, and caffeinated beverages.
The quiet area of Pho Nimit is almost eerily so. It mostly serves local Thais who work, live, and go to school here. Otherwise, visitors will find the temple Wat Pho Nimit, a few Thai bars and restaurants, and that is about it.
What to See and Do
Thonburi is fairly spread out, so visitors will have to utilize all forms of transportation to get from one point to the next. Unfortunately, the train does not get too close to any of these, but apps such as Grab make it cheap and easy to visit all sites in the area.
Otherwise known as the Temple of the Dawn, Wat Arun is at the top of tourists’ itineraries. Maybe it is because of the five rising prangs, or towers, that overlook the mighty Chao Phraya River. Maybe people are drawn to the colorful tiles decorated with foliage, and the pieces of porcelain covering the temple. Regardless, this is a must-see place in Thonburi. The main prang is currently undergoing construction, and while it may prevent visitors from getting that perfect photograph they were hoping for, the temple is stunning all the same. Entrance into the temple is ฿50 (US$1.50).
Wichai Prasit Fort
The stark, white fort that sits on the edge of the Chao Phraya River was built in 1688, in the hopes that it would protect what was then the capital city of Ayutthaya from attackers. It is now used by the Royal Thai Navy.
The Artist’s House, otherwise known as Baan Silapin, is one attraction that sits along the sleepy khlongs (canals). It is a creative hub where people can come to work, fuel up on caffeine, and catch a traditional Thai puppetry show while they are at it! The house is equipped with a unique gift shop filled with handmade goods and souvenirs. The house itself is over 200 years old, and it is a great place to spend an afternoon.
This 200-year-old temple is a must-see religious structure for those visiting Thonburi. Many tend to skip over or simply neglect to see this majestic temple as they are drawn towards its more popular neighbor, Wat Arun. In addition to having its own pier, making it easy for visitors to get to, it also sees fewer visitors in general, especially compared to Wat Arun.
Santa Cruz Church
The Santa Cruz Church was built during the reign of King Taksin, in the 18th century. The church, otherwise known as the Church of the Holy Cross, is the oldest Catholic church in the capital. One of the best ways to photograph this church is from across the river at sunset.
The Tonson Mosque is the oldest mosque in the capital. It is believed to have been built during the Ayutthaya period, in 1688. It was originally made of teak, but was later renovated in 1954 to look as it does today. It is used as both a religious structure and a tourist destination, as it is stunning.
Tonson Mosque, Bangkok Yai, Bangkok, +66 2 466 5326
The Death Museum
The Siriraj Medical Museum, otherwise dubbed the Death Museum, is not one but six different museums, most of which are slightly terrifying. It’s actually not meant to scare visitors, but rather inform them about things like parasitology and human anatomy. Because most of the information is in Thai, it can be hard for visitors to get past the babies floating in formaldehyde to appreciate the wealth of knowledge there is here.
The Siriraj Medical Museum is open from 10 am to 5 pm daily, except Tuesdays and official holidays. The Sood Sangvichien Prehistoric Museum and Laboratory are closed on the weekend.
Amita Thai Cooking Class
Those hoping to take some delicious Thai recipes home with them should check out Amita Thai Cooking Class. Participants will find themselves cooking along the banks of the Chao Phraya River after picking ingredients from Amita’s herb garden. From mango sticky rice to spicy prawn soup, there is a dish for everyone at this school. Be sure to book ahead.
Want to be closer to the river than on its murky banks? Then try a dinner cruise with Manohra Cruises, one of the most authentic dining experiences on the River of Kings. The dining deck is small and intimate, making for a romantic evening on the water. The cruise takes about two hours and leaves at 7:30 pm. The price is ฿2,300 (US$66.50) for adults and ฿1,400 (US$40.50) for children.
Intertwining all of these top attractions are the khlongs, or the canals, of Bangkok. The city used to be known as the Venice of the East because of the many waterways that cut through it. Most were eventually filled in as the city expanded and modernized. Many of the top sites in the area (like the Artist’s House) can be found along these canals, and are decorated with cool spots to sit and have a Thai coffee or enjoy a delicious meal at a local restaurant.