Southeast Asia’s most dynamic and exciting city, Bangkok is an intoxicating mix of modern and ancient. Scattered concrete skyscrapers share space with traditional gleaming temples with golden Buddha statues. Built on the floodplain of the Chao Phraya River, Bangkok was once known as the “Venice of the East” because canals crisscrossed it. A great option is to spend one day in Bangkok visiting the peaceful, cultural, and spiritual neighborhood of “Old Bangkok” – Rattanakosin district.
Rattanakosin district houses the most prominent and must visit destinations:
- The Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) – The most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand.
- The Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho) – The birthplace of Thai massage.
- The Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun) – The tallest temple in Bangkok and has brilliant views of Bangkok from the summit.
If you are wondering Whats with all the “Wat”? In everyday language in Thailand, a Wat is a place of worship. Temples are an essential part of the daily life of most Thais and are beautifully decorated with thousands of colored glass pieces, Chinese porcelain, and have massive statues of the Buddha made of pure gold.
The Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) and the Grand Palace.
Bangkok’s most popular tourist attraction, the Grand Palace was the former residence of the King and is built adjacent to Wat Phra Kaew. The Temple houses a diminutive jade statue, the Emerald Buddha. Visitors queue up to get a glimpse of the Emerald Buddha, offer fresh water lilies and incense sticks, and pray for divine blessings. According to the legend, it was created in India in 43 BC after which it was taken to Sri Lanka, Cambodia and eventually Siam.
A very important ritual is changing of the robes on the statue three times a year which correspond to the summer, winter, and rainy season . It is performed only by the King, to bring good fortune to the country during each season. The temple of Emerald Buddha is beautifully decorated and has a great sense of peace about it.
The Grand palace has European inspired design at the old residence of the King, royal throne, royal halls used for conducting state business, war weapons museum and the house of the personal royal guard of the King.
- Opening Hours: Daily 08:30 – 15:30
- Cost: 500 baht (Rs. 920)
- Dress code: Dress appropriately (no shorts, no flipflops, no sleeveless shirts) or rent clothes by depositing 200 baht at the entrance and risk looking foolish.
- Scam Alert: Don’t listen to anyone telling you the temples are closed, for a “Buddhist holiday”, or anything else along those lines. Ignore them and walk straight to the main entrance. These seemingly “helpful pedestrians” or “official agents” are in fact scammers, trying to get you into a full-day tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw) ride around the city, where they’ll try to trick you into buying gems, souvenirs and other junk.
- We were approached by an official looking person, who told us the Grand Palace was closed for 2 hrs and we could visit another temple and return back after 2 hrs. My friends believed the person and we ready to board a tuk-tuk which was quite coincidentally nearby and ready to take us. As I knew about the scam, I asked my friends to ignore him and we walked straight to the main entrance and found it open.
The Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho)
Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha), or Wat Phra Chetuphon, is located behind the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and a must-do for any first-time visitor in Bangkok. It’s one of the largest temple complexes in the city and famed for its giant reclining Buddha that measures 46 metres long and is covered in gold.
The Buddha’s feet are 5 metres long and exquisitely decorated in mother-of-pearl illustrations of auspicious ‘laksanas’ (characteristics) of the Buddha.
108 is a significant number, referring to the 108 positive actions and symbols that helped lead Buddha to perfection. If you would like a little good luck, we recommend purchasing a bowl of coins at the entrance of the hall which you can drop in the 108 bronze bowls which line the length of the walls.
It’s an easy ten minute walk between here and the Grand Palace, and we recommend coming to Wat Pho second, because even though the Reclining Buddha is popular, many people don’t take the time to wander around the rest of the complex so the experience tends to be far more relaxing.
The main entrance guarded by enormous Chinese stone giants that wear wide-brimmed hats and hold a sword. When Siamese ships exported rice to China, they brought these statues back to compensate for the loss of weight.
If you’ve never tried a traditional Thai massage, Wat Pho is a good place to experience this popular leisure activity.
- Opening Hours: Daily 08:00 – 17:00 (Massage available until 18:00)
- Cost: 100 baht (Rs. 185)
- Dress code: Same as the temple of the Emerald Buddha/Grand Palace.
The Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun)
Wat Arun, locally known as Wat Chaeng, is situated on the west (Thonburi district) bank of the Chao Phraya River. It is easily one of the most stunning temples in Bangkok, not only because of its riverside location, but also because the design is very different to the other temples you can visit in Bangkok. At 88 metres in height, it was also the tallest structure in Bangkok until the advent of the modern skyscraper.
Wat Arun is almost directly opposite Wat Pho, so it is very easy to get to by a small shuttle ferry takes you from one side of the river to the other for only 3 baht.
Walking around the temple gardens and looking at it from a distance is free.
We recommend, you enter the compound by paying 50 baht and admire from up close the beautifully decorated spire with tiny pieces of colored glass and Chinese porcelain placed delicately into intricate patterns and as a result they glimmer in the sunshine.
Do not miss climbing up the steep steps of the central spire. Getting up is tricky and fun, and so is getting down!
When you reach the highest point you can see the winding Chao Phraya River and the Grand Palace and Wat Pho opposite.
Stay back till sunset and admire the absolutely stunning views as the sun slowly sets on Wat Arun and reveals its magical silhouette.
- Opening Hours: 08:00 -17:30
- Cost: 50 baht (Rs. 92)
- Dress code: Same as the temple of the Emerald Buddha/Grand Palace.
All this walking must have gotten you hungry. You will find plenty of local street food stalls selling authentic cheap Thai food at the ferry pier on your return from Wat Arun. Indulge your senses, satiate your craving and enjoy the lovely spread.
Check this video of the walking tour around Old Bangkok’s Rattanakosin district.
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