Old City Sunset

There are a few entries I’ll share soon of some Thai street food adventures I’ve been on with my friend Chow. In the meantime, I want to share this beautiful sunset picture I took the other day. I shot it in an alley off Rama I Road in the old section of Bangkok, known as Rattanakosin Island. 

This neighborhood dates back more than 100 years and is filled with Chinese-style shop houses. The shop was on the ground floor, a stock room was on the floor above, and then the owner would live on the floors above that. This particular alley is filled with restaurants of various sorts and becomes very busy after work. I happened to arrive just after 6:00. My seat at an outdoor table positioned me perfectly to enjoy the minute-long moment of perfect lighting as the sun shined between a few blocks’ worth of buildings and back-lit the activity on the street.


Sunset on Rattanakosin Island

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.

Phranakhorn Neighborhood

In the past few weeks I’ve had to take several trips into the “old city”, the part of Krungthep (Bangkok) that is on or adjacent to Rattanakosin Island.  Located at a bend in the Chao Phraya River, Rattanakosin Island was created when King Rama I moved the capital of Siam from the west side of the river in Thonburi to the more defensible west side.  He ordered a canal dug running roughly north-to-south and thus turned this portion of the west bank into an island.

Many of the most famous sights in Krungthep – the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, for example – are located on Rattanakosin Island.  Of course you would be hard pressed to know it is an island as the roads cross the narrow canal so quickly and subtly that you just transition from one congested part of the city to another.  But, yes indeed, you are on an island.

Squeezed between Rattanakosin Island and Yaowarat (Chinatown) is the Phranakhorn neighborhood.  This is the location of the Old Siam shopping center, which houses three stories of shops specializing mostly in silk.  The alleys radiating through this neighborhood (especially the three blocks of Soi Sampheng) are a treasure trove of adventures, especially if you like shopping for fabrics and associated knickknacks.

Here are some photos I took in and around the neighborhood:


At one of the intersections on the edge of Chinatown, a surprisingly traffic-free moment.  That changed about two seconds later as the light going the other way turned green.  I think the light reflecting off the building created an interesting pattern.


A typical corner in the Phranakhorn neighborhood.  You see traditional four-story shop houses alongside more modern structures.  Busses of many colors (the blue and red busses are not air conditioned) crowd the streets.


The car park at Old Siam (which I previously didn’t realize they had!) offered some hazy views of famous sights in the old city.  Here are the roofs of the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha.


Turning almost 180 degrees, you can see Wat Saket, known as the Golden Mount, perched atop the only hill in the greater metropolitan area.  This man-made hill came into being early in the 19th century when King Rama III commissioned the construction of a massive chedi (pagoda).  Unfortunately, it collapsed.  King Rama IV had the remains built into a hill with another chedi (the present one) built on top.

For years before the advent of skyscrapers, Golden Mount was the highest point in Krungthep and visitors would visit to take in the commanding view of the city and to enjoy the breezes.


In the evening, driving back from the old city, this picture was taken just as the light turned green around the corner from the Hualamphong train station.

I hope you enjoyed the mini-tour.