Dubbed “Old World Siam”, Bangkok’s Old Town boasts a treasure trove of some of the city’s most iconic and revered spectacles. Among Bangkok’s 50 districts, Rattanakosin stands out, affording visitors and an unforgettable experience, within the beating heart of this vibrant metropolis. As old and new collide in a melting pot of culture and history, Bangkok’s Old Town overflows with an endless bounty of sights, sounds and activities, found nowhere else. We explore ten of the most extraordinary things to do in this historic corner of Thailand’s capital.
1.) See the Magnificent and Massive Reclining Buddha
Top of your list of extraordinary things to do in Old Bangkok must be paying a visit to What Pho, or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Measuring an impressive 46 meters in length, 15 meters high, and covered in gold leaf, this enormous reclining buddha takes centre stage among thousands of other sacred artefacts within the sprawling temple complex. Unwind in the serenity of this magical place and don’t forget to purchase a bowl of coins to drop into the 108 bronze bowls lining the walls – earning you all the good luck you’ll ever need.
2.) Head to Khao San Road for some Epic Fun
If you find your wallet a little light in the cash department, then Khao San Road is where you’ll want to be. Featured in the 2000 movie “The Beach”, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, the street has a reputation as the ‘centre of the backpacking universe’. Lined with affordable hostel accommodation, delicious food trucks, and stocked full of bars packed with fellow international travellers, Khao San Road offers unbeatable value for money and a genuinely good time to boot! If you happen to be in Bangkok during the Thai New Year (every 13-15 April), be sure to catch the Songkran Festival.
3.) Take a Breather in Soi Rambuttri
Barely a block away from the hustle and bustle of Khao San Road, Old Bangkok transforms into another world. Soi Rambuttri plays host to a relaxed, more laid back vibe with classic restaurants – like Bombay Blues and Madame Musur – and a sophisticated atmosphere. Sample the endless street food offerings, sip a cocktail at a street bar or rest up while you enjoy a Thai roadside foot massage.
4.) Work Up a Sweat at Saranrom Park
After filling up on so much sumptuous food, where better to go for a run than among the serenity of Saranrom Park to burn off those calories? Popular among locals as an outdoor exercise space, the park is a veritable oasis within Old Bangkok. Lush vegetation frames meandering waterways, with footpaths and quaint bridges winding between quiet lawns and landscaped embankments. Head out early to find your nirvana among the morning birdsong and fresh air.
5.) Step Back in Time at the Old Fort
Pom Mahakan, also known as the Old Fort, remains as one of the few surviving 18th-century fortresses within the city. A visit here brings so much more than merely a museum experience. The surrounding community has a rich and storied history associated with the historical structure. Facing government pressure, the locals finally lost a 25-year battle against eviction recently, adding to the allure of this place. The surrounding area has been developed into a tourist-friendly mecca today, and the Mahakan Fort is now a beautifully preserved historical landmark.
6.) Climb the Golden Mount
The Golden Mount is, without doubt, a must-see when in Old Bangkok. At the very top of the hill sits Wat Saket, one of the city’s oldest temples. The mountain itself is actually the remains of a collapsed chedi upon which the temple is built. You’ll need to take on 300 steps to get to the top, but the effort is worth it. Enjoy stories of plague victims and ghost gates at one of the rest stops en-route to the summit. Once you arrive, you’ll be treated to breath-taking panoramic views of the entire city. Try to head up around sunset for an unforgettable experience.
7.) Pay a visit to Thailand’s Most Sacred Site – The Grand Palace
For almost 240 years, Grand Palace has held vigil over Bangkok. Revered as the spiritual heart of the Thai Nation, this spectacular complex continues to play a fundamental role in Thailand’s society. Having served as the royal residence, and the administrative seat of government throughout its storied history, the Grand Palace is a must-see. Nestled among the intricate architecture and pristine detail of this famous monument lies Wat Phra Kaew or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The temple is regarded as the most important Buddhist site in the country, and houses the beautiful Emerald Buddha, carved entirely from a single block of green jasper (not emerald, a common misconception) – truly a sight to behold! As you meander through the glittering halls, courts, and buildings of the Grand Palace, remember to visit the Royal Reception Halls, The Central Court and the stunning Dusit Hall. Strict dress codes apply, so ensure that you arrive looking presentable.
8.) See Live Muay Thai at the Rajadamnern Thai Boxing Stadium
In the mood for one of the most brutal sports in the world? Then head over to the Rajadamnern Thai Boxing Stadium to catch some thrilling ringside action! Muay Thai, considered Thailand’s national sport showcases some of the oldest and most respected combat competition in Asia. One of only two Muay Thai stadiums in Bangkok, Rajadamnern Thai Boxing Stadium offers locals and visitors alike an atmosphere like no other. Choose ringside tickets for some point-blank action or grab a seat among the locals in the 2nd and 3rd class areas for a more authentic experience. An evening here gets you nine bouts featuring local fighters battling it out for glory.
9.) Immerse yourself in Thai Dance at the Sala Chalermkrung Royal Theatre
For almost 90 years, the Sala Chalermkrung Royal Theatre has been central to Bangkok’s rich entertainment heritage. Operating as a movie hall for 60 years, the theatre was conceived and restored in the early 1990s. Since then, Sala Chalerm Krung has played host to classical Thai dance on stage. Seating up to 600 people, the theatre offers visitors a breath-taking experience into its most popular performances – Khon. Blending masked dancers, with rich storytelling, don’t miss this exciting night out at the theatre when in Old Bangkok.
10.) Discover the Hidden Streets of Old Bangkok on a Bike Tour
Escaping the crowds and bustling streets, head into the lesser-known side of Old Bangkok on a bicycle. Guided by a seasoned local guide, dive into the unseen side of Thai life, taking a moment to appreciate and reflect on this authentic society. Take in the beauty of quiet lanes and pathways, free of traffic, as you pass gardens, canals and hidden temples in the sunlight of Old Bangkok. For those looking to take a break from the hustle and bustle of tourists and crowded markets, the Hidden Streets of Old Bangkok Bike Tour is a tonic like no other! Stop at the riverside waterfront for a street food snack, before heading back into the winding mazes of the district.
While Old Bangkok is changing rapidly, so too are the activities on offer. Within this ancient and vibrant district, one can expect to find an endless list of enthralling adventures that will leave you dizzy with delight. Whether you’re browsing the latest exhibition at a museum or sampling a local delicacy at one of the many markets, Old Bangkok never fails to amaze. Having stood the test of time for centuries, this tiny district truly encapsulates the soul of the city. Take time to engage with the locals and unearth the extraordinary hidden gems that will keep you coming back for more.