Popular things to do in Bangkok's Thonburi District
There’s so much to do and see in Bangkok that most visitors don’t even make it across the Chao Phraya river. Which is a shame since the west side, known as Thonburi District, is considered Bangkok's cultural and historical quarter.
Most tourists to Bangkok will only venture into Thonburi for one of two reasons – either they are looking to explore the amazing Wat Arun temple, or they’ve been coaxed into the small European eateries that line the riverbank in this area. Either way, they’re generally unlikely to stray far from the banks of the Chao Phraya.
But there’s more to Thonburi than temples and restaurants. In fact, it was for a short time the capital of Thailand between the sack of Ayutthaya and the development of Rattanakosin. You can still see evidence of this period in the structures that dominate the district skyline, including Phra Racha Wang Derm, the former royal palace of Taksin and Wat Arun – some even say the very name “Bangkok” comes from the “Bangcok” neighborhood of Thonburi, the original village on an island where trade ships used to dock in the 18th century.
Thonburi is very easy to get to. Just make your way to the Chao Phraya River (near Khao San Road or on the Skytrain to Saphan Taksin station) and Thonburi is pretty much on the opposite bank, a very short ferry ride away. Alternatively, you can stay on the Skytrain all the way to Krung Thonburi station. Thonburi is a large district and not very pedestrian-friendly, the places you’ll want to see are spread well apart, so it’s best to hire a tuk-tuk for a few hours and get the guided tour.
The main attraction is, of course, Wat Arun, which you can see on the back of the 10B coin in Thailand. Also known as “the temple of dawn”, Wat Arun served as a royal temple during the reign of King Taksin who had his residence nearby on the same grounds. But there are also a number of other temples worth visiting in the area including the magnificent Wat Prayoon, whose white chedi seems to glow in the night sky above the treeline. There are also some interesting museums, especially the Royal Barge Museum where you can almost see the spirit of Yul Brynner in The King and I.
Another popular attraction of Thonburi is the Floating Markets. Most tourists go all the way to Kanchanaburi to see this kind of attraction, but there are actually three floating markets right there in Thonburi and they pretty much still function as they always did (whereas the Kanchanaburi market is more tourist-oriented).
The most authentic of the three is Taling Chan on Chak Phra Road which is only active on the weekends when local producers come in to sell their fresh vegetables, fish, and fruit. You need to get there about 7 AM to see it in full swing. The best way to see the action is to hire a canal boat and get into the middle of it. If you’re going just for the floating market, take a bus to the Southern Bus Terminal and it’s just a short walk from there to Taling Chan.
There is also a floating market at Klong Lad Mayom on Bang Ramat Road (also near the Southern Bus Terminal, so don’t get confused) which is only open on Sundays and has more of a street market feel about it. There is, or was, a third version at Wat Sai on Ekkachai Road, but it has suffered a lot of development in recent years and has been boxed in as a result. You might want to check it out on your visit to the area but if you’re short on time – don’t bother.