The core of Bangkok is the old city, the section of Phra Nakhon district known as Rattanakosin Island. It was here, in 1782, that King Rama I established Krung Thep Maha Nakhon – what we foreigners call Bangkok. In addition to being the home of the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and many government buildings, there are many vibrant communities on Rattanakosin Island and plenty of great food. The other evening, I took a canal boat into the old city as a brilliant sunset bathed the City of Angels (for that is what the Thai name for Bangkok means) in gold.
This is a fascinating little neighborhood nestled just next to Fort Mahakan (see the map below) looking east towards Wat Sakhet, also known as Golden Mount. Fort Mahakan is one of only two forts that remain from the original 14 that defended the old city. Wat Sakhet itself predates Bangkok by many years, but the man-made hill was built during the reign of King Rama III. It was originally meant to be a giant chedi, or stupa, but the ground could not support the structure and it collapsed mid-construction. Over many years, it was covered with brush and locals came to refer to it as “Phu Khao” or Golden Mount. Under King Rama V (late 1800s), a small chedi was built on top of the hill and is said to contain relics of the Buddha, brought from India.
Looking the opposite direction from nearly the same spot as the first picture, you see a plaza with a statue of King Rama III. Wat Ratchanadda is in the background. This plaza used to be filled with a grand old cinema – the Chalerm Thai (pics here) – that was torn down in 1989 to create more inviting views along Ratchadamnoen Avenue. While I generally hate the idea of destroying old single-screen movie palaces, the view at this important corner was definitely improved with its removal.
A few blocks away, we stopped for an early dinner on a small soi just off Thanon Tanao, is the center of the map below, right north of the intersection of Thanon Bamrung Mueang. This cute little neighborhood, called Phraeng Phuton, features one of the first automobile repair shops in Thailand (still in business and has a collection of classic Aston-Martins and Mercedes parked inside) and it was also Bangkok’s first driver’s license bureau.
This is one of the corners of the city, just a few blocks away from the noisy (and very foreign) Khao San Road backpacker neighborhood, that deserves more attention from visitors to Thailand. In many ways, it is a time capsule, very easy to slip back and see what life was like in Bangkok many decades ago.
The Wikipedia map, in case you want to reference the locations of the above pictures. Original and larger versions here.