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Best Historic Sites in Bangkok

The Ten Best Historic Sites To Visit In Bangkok, Thailand


While much of Bangkok is ultramodern, filled with skyscrapers, rooftop bars, and condominiums, there are plenty of sites of historical importance, all of which are well worth several days of exploration, to help get a sense of Thailand's historical, cultural, and traditional roots.  Leading the list is the most venerated historical and visited attraction, the opulent Grand Palace, which is also the home of Wat Phra Keo, better known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and these days somewhat of a living museum. 

Also worth checking out for their historical significance, beautiful teak architecture, landscaped grounds, as well as a look into famous Thai figures in Thai history, are the hidden and quaint M.R. Kukrit's House, the Suan Pakkad Palace, a peek into 1915 Bangkok at the Nai Lert Park Heritage Home, and of course the famed historical home of silk legend Jim Thompson. 

Many of the historical spots are temples, churches, and palaces, such as Wat Traimit or the atmospheric Santa Cruz Church, better known as Kudi Jin, home the historical Sino-Portuguese community, but you can also discover plenty of Bangkok's past in spots such as the old alleyways of Chinatown, which should be a priority on any visitor's sightseeing list.

You should also set aside a day to make the 1.5-2 hour train trip out of the city to historic Ayutthaya Historical Park, where the Ayutthaya Historical Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

 

 


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Not only is Wat Traimit Chinatown's number one attraction, it is the site of the world's largest seated golden Buddha, five and a half tons of gold, actually the largest gold statue in the world, and worth some 250 million dollars! The statue's origins are unclear, but it supposedly comes from the Sukhothai period and was made somewhere in the 14th Century. Thousands of worshipers come here daily, and the temple has a mystical aura to it, especially around holiday periods like Chinese New Year or the Vegetarian Festival. There is now an excellent new museum on the premises detailing the history of the Thai Chinese, well worth a stopover in addition to having a look at the golden Buddha.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: For Chinatown's most historical attraction, Wat Traimit and the museum are the top spot.

Dave's expert tip: The easiest way to get here is to take the MRT subway to the Hualamphong Railway Station. Wat Traimit is a 5 minute walk from here.

Read more about Wat Traimit →


Rattanakosin Island, surrounded by the Chao Phraya River and canals, is the old historic Bangkok, and well worth a wander. Every Bangkok tourist will get to this area, just because it contains most of the major sightseeing spots, such as the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Keo, as well as Wat Pho, the National Museum, and many other gorgeous temples. Not only are the major sightseeing monuments and palaces here, but there is plenty of charm, as Rattanakosin is the one area of the city that has been spared the developer's sword, and you won't find high rise condominiums nor fancy shopping malls in these parts. Especially nice is the area known as Saochingcha, or the Giant Swing. The large red swing itself was formerly used for royal ceremonies, but the neighbourhood around it is quaint, with small mom and pop restaurants that serve one or two famous dishes each, most of them in business for over 50-60 years! This is one of the few areas in Bangkok that it is pleasant to walk in, and there are some interesting footpaths along the canals as well.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: To see Bangkok's traditional and historic district, there is no place like Rattanakosin Island.

Dave's expert tip: None of the sky train or metro lines run here (although the MRT is building stations in the Chinatown area that will be up and running sometime in 2015 or 16 presumably). The best way to get here is via the river ferry on the Chao Phraya, getting off at Tha Chang or Tha Thian pier and walking in.

Read more about Rattanakosin Island →


Chinatown
Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

Bangkok's Chinatown is full of history, mazes of tiny alleyways to get lost in, find great food, markets, temples, and one of the few places in the city where it is actually pleasant and preferable to walk. Highlights include the giant Wat Traimit Temple with its 700 year old 5.5 ton Buddha image, the largest in the world, along with Wat Mangkon Kalawat, Chinatown's busiest temple. consistently filled with incense smoke and worshippers waving joss sticks. Besides this, there are old shophouse lanes, the outdoor seafood restaurants on the corner of Yaowarat and Soi Padungdao, the Sampeng Lane alley market and the Trok Itsaranuphap wet market with produce and spices.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: For a glimpse of Bangkok past and present, historical Chinatown is a must see.

Dave's expert tip: If you ever come through this area at night especially around any festival time, there is a high chance you will see local Chinese opera troupes performing streetside, a beautiful, but seemingly dying art, as the audience consists only of old folks.

Read more about Chinatown →


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This relatively unknown gem was the former palace of Prince Paribatra, grandson of King Rama V, and is a series of eight traditional reconstructed Thai houses which are full of memorabilia of the Prince's artistic collection, including musical instruments, glass and laquerware, and paintings. In addition to the beautiful traditional homes, the museum also houses pottery from Ban Chiang. Ban Chiang is a UNESCO World Heritage site in northeastern Thailand, where pottery shards were discovered by an American archaeology student who accidently tripped on a root while returning from a dig in the mid 1960's, and came face to face with ceramic pieces that ended up dating back to 2000 BC, one of the most ancient Bronze Age cultures in the world.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: For a lesser visited and unique segment of Thai history, Suan Pakkad is worth a trip.

Dave's expert tip: Don't miss the murals hidden inside the Laquer Pavilion, the most beautiful home in the Pakkad complex. It is easy to reach Suan Pakkad by taking the BTS Skytrain to Phayathai and walking down Sri Ayutthaya Rd

Read more about Suan Pakkad Palace →


A former New York architect who came to Thailand as a soldier in WWII, Jim Thompson is known for re-establishing the Thai silk industry. His beautiful traditional home, renovated from several up-country buildings, house a fine and priceless collection of Asian art, silk, and pay homage to the man who received the royal Order of the White Elephant and who mysteriously disappeared in the jungles of Malaysia. His house, which has changed little since he vanished in 1967, is a series of six traditional teak wood homes, with curved roofs and naga mythical serpent motifs, set amidst pleasant gardens. The Thompson House also features an art center that has ongoing exhibitions, multimedia presentations, and guest lectures.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: For a glimpse into the Thailand of old, the Jim Thompson House teak villa is well worth an excursion.

Dave's expert tip: The Thompson House is best reached via the BTS Skytrain and is just across from the station at National Stadium. Guided tours of the mansion are compulsory.

Read more about Jim Thompson House →


Started by King Rama I in 1792, and then home to both the King and the Emerald Buddha, this stunning spot should be on every visitor's historical Thai site list. The Grand Palace is Thailand's most venerated and glittering sight, home to the country's most visited temple, Wat Phra Kaew, more commonly known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and is the most revered spot in Thailand, packed with merit making locals on weekends. Make sure not to miss the Emerald Buddha. It may only be 31 inches tall, but it is the most worshipped statue in the country. You can buy joss sticks, candles, and gold leaves if you wish to join the pilgrims in the temple making their offerings. Proper attire is required, appropriate attire is required, no singlets, shorts, skirts, sandals, or revealing clothing of any nature is allowed,although if you forget there are sarongs available for use.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: The Grand Palace contains Thailand's most stunning architecture and is the most historically significant site in the country, not to be missed.

Dave's expert tip: Beware of tuk tuk drivers or local con men, often dressed in official-looking clothes, who will try to convince you that the palace is closed and that you need to buy tickets from them. Just go straight to the entrance and purchase a ticket inside.

Read more about Grand Palace →


M.R. Kukrit's House
Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

Most visitors to Bangkok never make it to Baan Kukrit, the heritage home and museum of one of Thailand's most interesting and many talented individuals. Not only is this quiet spot an amazingly green oasis, it is also an architectural gem, an informative museum, and an excellent place to while away an afternoon. Kukrit (who was an artist, newspaper owner, writer, and prime minister among other things!) built his heritage home from five traditional Thai houses in Ayutthaya which were completely dismantled, transported, and reassembled on the present site in Bangkok. The homes show off classical Thai architecture, featuring an open ground floor, lush Khmer style gardens, a lotus pond, and sculptured miniature mai dat trees, which are similar to Japanese bonsai.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: M.R. Kukrit was one of Thailand's most unique figures, and his historical home should be on every traveler's visit list for its beauty and legacy.

Dave's expert tip: The Kukrit Home is best reached by taking the BTS to Chong Nonsi and walking south on Narathiwas Road, crossing Sathorn, and then turning left onto Narathiwas Soi 7 which leads to Prapinit.

Read more about M.R. Kukrit's House →


Founded in 1350, Thailand's former capital was the head of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, which was one of the most prosperous empires of all time. Today, the collection of the ruins of some 400 plus temples set on an island surrounded by the Chao Phraya, Pa Sak and Lopburi rivers is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the bus or train journey from Bangkok should not deter any visitor from making this a must on their Bangkok bucket list. Known in full as Phra Nakhon Sri Ayutthaya, the empire that existed here was one of the biggest in Southeast Asia, and was a major center of commerce. Laid out on a grid and surrounded by moats and canals, Ayutthaya had a highly advanced water management system, and was one of the main trading posts between India and China/Japan. While most of the ancient kingdom is in ruins, many of the temples and prang Khmer towers have been painstakingly restored and the location is gorgeous, set away from the modern city on its own island. It is especially lovely during the rainy season in September, when the reddish-brown temples stand in stark contrast to the lush green surroundings.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: For gorgeous temple ruins in a great setting, historic Ayutthaya should be on every Thailand bucket list.

Dave's expert tip: While there is no fee to get into the historical park, each temple charges around 50 baht for entrance. You can get a 220 baht ticket covering six of the most important and most popular ones like Wat Mahathat or Phra Ram, which is better value. Getting here requires either a 2 hour bus journey from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal up near Chatuchak, or better yet, take the early morning fast train from Hualamphong, which gets to Ayutthaya in less than 90 minutes.

Read more about Ayutthaya Historical Park →


The Santa Cruz Church was built in 1769, and given the local nickname of Kudi Jin, which means "The Chinese Church," which is what the local community is also called. This was Bangkok's first multi-cultural neighborhood, where Portuguese immigrants were given plots of land to settle on, and where Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians all lived together. The community was home to most of the Italian architects who were some of the first foreigners to live in Bangkok in the early 1900s, a period during which many of Bangkok's colonial architectural masterpieces were designed. Today the area is home to a Thai-Catholic community that descends from Portuguese ancestry, and you can even find a traditional Portuguese bakery near the church. Walking the old alleyways built above the river is quite atmospheric and a dramatic contrast to the glitzy shopping malls across the way.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: For a unique slice of Bangkok history, head to Kudi Jin and the old Portuguese community.

Dave's expert tip: The best way to get here is to take the Chao Phraya River ferry to the Yodpiman Riverwalk pier, and then walk up river through the Yodpiman complex a few minutes to the Pak Khlong Talat pier, where you can catch a cross river ferry to the Kalayanamitr Pier across the way. Santa Cruz church is visible from everywhere on this route, so you'll have no trouble finding it.

Read more about Kudi Jin (Santa Cruz Church) →


Built by Thailand's first developer, Lert Sreshthaputra, known as Nai Lert (Mr. Lert), this beautiful teak wood heritage home dates back to 1915, and was built next to lush gardens which were opened to the Bangkok public as the city's first western style public park. In 2012 the home was made into a museum filled with historical memorabilia from three generations, and the lovely period home and manicured gardens are well worth exploring and an interesting look at a little known bit of Bangkok history, not to mention also being an excellent escape from the bustle and modern chaos of the city. While most tourists have never heard of Nai Lert, the exhibition room here details some of his many accomplishments. He started the first public bus system in Bangkok, operated the local canal ferries, established the country's first ice cream factories, made a ship building company, and even brought in the first bottled lemonade to Thailand, kept cold in his ice factory. The Heritage Home and grounds are a glimpse into historic Bangkok and should be on any discerning visitor's sightseeing list.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: For a glimpse into Bangkok's historic past, Nai Lert Park should be high on your list.

Dave's expert tip: You need to call or contact them ahead (via their website form) to book a ticket, and note that the home is only open from Wednesday through Sunday. Entry costs 250 baht.

Read more about Nai Lert Park Heritage Home →


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Meet Dave Stamboulis

Dave Stamboulis is a travel writer/photographer based in Bangkok. Born in Athens, Greece and growing up in the U.S., Dave first discovered Bangkok while on a 45,000-kilometer bicycle trip and...  More About Dave

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