Bangkok Old Town Walking Tour
Bangkok Old Town Walking Tour

Old Town Bangkok Walking Tour:

Location: Old Town Bangkok (Rattanakosin)
Cost: Free, Self-Guided (Optional Fees Listed Below)
Start: N8 Ferry Stop (Tha Tien)
Stop: Arun Residence Restaurant
Walking Distance: 2.5 Miles for the full loop (+2 Miles By Boat)
Time Required: 2 Hours of Walking (7+ Hours with all stops).  For a condensed shorter version considered skipping stops 6-13.
Planning Your Time: Make sure to do Wat Arun and the Royal Palace early to avoid huge crowds and long lines.  Cutting out the Long Tail Boat Ride and Royal Barge Museum will save you about an hour but the ride is enjoyable and a good break from walking.  If you get a late start do Wat Arun, then Wat Pho, followed by the Grand Palace.
Getting Around: Chao Phraya River Ferry Boat Routes Map
Fun Scale10 out of 10

Historical Overview of Old Town:

Before Bangkok was established, the Choa Praya River Once had a drastic horseshoe bend the curved to the West around some olive groves.  The area inside the horse was settled by Khmer residence and later by the Thais in the 1500s who named their small village Olive Town (Bang Makok).  The River was eventually straightened to its current path by a canal allowing boats more easily travel to the Siamese capital of Ayutthaya 50 miles to the North.  Olive Town (Bang Makok) only slowly grew as did the community of working-class Chinese immigrants on the Eastside of the River.

When the capital of Ayutthaya fell to the Burmese in 1767, General Taskin was inspired by Wat Arun to move the capital to Olive Town (Bang Makok).  The General had just become King, called his new capitol Thornburi, and built his new capital right next to Wat Arun.  The General’s reign only lasted 15 years as the Chakri dynasty took over in 1782 under King Rama I.

One of King Rama’s 1st moves was to move the capital across the Choa Praya River to the East and build a huge Grand Palace complex modeled after the ancient capital of Ayutthaya. As he started his new capital called Rattanakosin, Rama had to convince the Chinese settlers in the area to move a couple miles South to the current Chinatown.  Everything went pretty smooth and it laid the groundwork for what became the city of Bangkok (or Island City).  To this day the Chakris are still the Royal Family figureheads although there is now elected President actually running the country.

Old Town Bangkok Walking Tour:

*From the Tha Tien ferry station, take the river crosser to the…
1. Temple of the Dawn (Wat Arun): While no one quite knows how old Wat Arun is, there has been a Khmer-style (Prang) Hindu Temple at this site since long before the area was first settled by the Siamese (Thai) in the 1500s.  At that time the Chao Phraya River, which was later straightened in the 1600s, did a huge horseshoe bend around both the Temple and a series of large olive fields.  Because of the olive fields (Makok in Thai), the village was named Bang Makok and the temple referred to as Wat Makok.  The village remained small as Siam’s capital city and population center was 50 miles to the North in Ayutthaya, but King Narai (1656-88) did let the French build a fort near the Temple which many say made him appear too foreign friendly.  As King Narai lay on his death bed in 1688, a 40,000 person revolt toppled the French fort saving Siam from becoming a colony and preserving Siamese Empire.

Bangkok Walking Tour Map Old Town, porcelain art statues

Almost 100 years later the Siamese capital city of Ayutthaya fell to Burmese forces in 1767 and was largely left in ruins.  General Taksin led the Siamese forces to kick the Burmese out and quickly became the new King after his victory.  It is said that during the war General Taksin saw Wat Makok in the morning light and was deeply inspired by it.  This memory moved King Taksin to relocate the capital of Siam from Ayutthaya to Bang Makok and renamed the new capital Thornburi.  The temple was renamed Wat Arun after the Hindu god of the Dawn and King Taksin built his new Royal Palace (Derm Palace) next to it, where the Royal Thai Naval Academy sit today.  King Taksin revered the Hindu temple so much that he kept the famed Emerald Buddha Statue here from 1778 until his death 4 years later.

Bangkok Walking Tour Map Old Town, Wat Arun Temple of the Dawn

With Taksin’s death, the Chakri Dynasty took over the throne under King Rama I (1782-1809).   The new king, once again moved the capital, this time just across the river to Rattanakosin.  King Rama I transferred the Emerald Buddha Statue in his new Grand Palace, and largely ignored Wat Arun while his new capital was being built.  Luckily his successors, King Rama II (1809–1824) and King Rama III (1824–1851), decided to do extensive restorationsand upgrades to Wat Arun after years of neglect.  During this time the main Prang tower was further built up, capped by a seven-pronged Trident of Shiva, decorated with colorful Chinese porcelain pieces, and supported by rows of detailed statues.  During the process the main tower, which is meant to represent the legendary Mount Meru, grew to a height of 262 feet.  In ancient Hindu mythology Mount Meru was the center of the Universe and was said to be 672,000 miles high.  While the main tower is extremely impressive, we also like the four smaller towers on the corners dedicated to the Phra Phai, Hindu God of Wind, as protection for the Temple.

Bangkok Walking Tour Map Old Town, Wat Arun Gaurds

You could spend hours examining the amazing statues that circle almost every inch of Wat Arun’s facade and ground.  As you enter the temple complex you’re greeted by two huge demon statues (yaksha) from the Hindu story of Ramayana guarding the ordination hall.  The white guardian is Sahassateja, the green one is Tasakanth, and both guard against evil spirits.  As you approach the base of the 234 foot tall Wat Arun, make sure to check out the sculptures of animals and Chinese soldiers which are not just guarding, but also supporting the first couple levels of the tower.  As you climb up the very steep steps toward the top of the tower, you’ll come very close to four statues of the Hindu god Indra riding on her elephant Erawan.  The views from the top are very rewarding.  The best views of the Temple itself come from the river at dawn as the porcelain shines in the sun or from dusk on as a combo of a sunset back drop and accent lighting make Wat Arun look amazing.

Visiting Hours: Daily 7:30am-5:30pm.  Cost: 50Baht.  River Crossing Ferry: Ferries leave from Tha Tien every 10-15 minutes from 6am-10pm and cost only 3 Baht. Temple Website: (HERE).

Bangkok Walking Tour Map Old Town, Street Side Amulet Market

*After crossing back over the river avoid the temptation to visit Wat Pho and follow the Grand Palace wall along the…

2. Street Side Amulet Market: While the official amulet market sits a little further North, and later on the tour, this streetside market gives you a little taste of what is to come.  The amulets being sold are mainly meant either for a wide range of good luck or to ward of evil depending on what one you buy.  Really you don’t have much of a choice but to walk by the street vendors as the only entrance to the Grand Palace is all the way on the North side of the Palace wall so why not check it out?  If anyone around the market or side wall of the Grand Palace tries to offer you a tour or says the Grand Palace is closed for a special occasion ignore them, they are scammers.  The Grand Palace is open pretty much 365 days a year every year.

Bangkok Walking Tour Map Old Town, Grand Palace Throne Hall Guard

*Finally getting to the Northside of the Palace wall you are ready to enter the grounds of the…

3a. The Grand Palace Complex: When King Rama I took the throne in 1782 as the first member of the Chakri Dynasty, he quickly moved the Siamese capital across the Chao Phraya River.  After abandoning King Taskin’s Derm Palace in Thornburi (West of the River), Rama I started to build his massive Grand Palace in Rattanakosin (East of the River).  In an effort to bring good luck to Siam, the new Royal complex was laid out exactly like the ancient Northern capital of Ayutthaya had once been.  The area that King Rama I wanted to build his new complex had already been occupied by Chinese settlers for hundreds of years, but he got them to move a couple miles South forming today’s Chinatown.  The 2,351,000 square foot Grand Palace has stood the test of time, largely in part to it serving as a city within a city.   King Rama’s new mini city contained its own Royal guards, temples, food, and even a national mint for making money.  Over the generations, each new Chakri King built their own Throne Hall and the complex continued to grow with more impressive buildings.  In 1925, King Rama VII decided to turn the family palace in Dusit Park into the new main Royal residence and ever since Kings have only occasionally stayed in the Grand Palace.  Palace Website: (HERE).

Bangkok Walking Tour Map Old Town, Grand Palace Round Trees

3b. Visiting The Grand Palace:
 Enter the Grand Palace at the large gate on the North side of the complex and work through the courtyard to the ticket booth.  After buying your ticket, the best plan is to 1st visit Wat Phra Kaew (listed below) and then continue to the center of the Grand Palace.  Many of the Grand Palace’s buildings are closed to the public, but even just walking around the outside of the impressive Throne Halls is really fun.  Our favorite set of buildings are the Phra Thinang Chakri Maha Prasat group which were completed in 1882.  This series of 9 buildings holds a Royal Weapons Museum and the coolest of the Throne Halls.  The main building of this set is a great blend of Thai and European architecture plus some of the coolest trees on the planet.  The trees are manicured in a way that the branches form dense round balls of greenery which are very Doctor Seuss-like.  Also make sure to stop by the Royal Guard standing motionlessly on watch by the front steps.

Bangkok Walking Tour Map Old Town, Wat Phra Kaew Golden Chedi

Scam Alert: If someone tells you that the Grand Palace is closed for the day don’t believe them.  Go to the main entrance and look for yourself, it is extremely rare for the complex to be closed for a special royal ceremony.  Often the scammers will tell you it’s closed for so many hours and try to take you to other “temples” in the mean time which usually ends up in you being taken to a gold to gem shop they get commission at.  Dress Code: No shorts or tank tops, must have legs and shoulders covered not matter how hot it is as it is an active temple.  You can rent Thai pajama pants and cover up shirts very cheaply near the gate if needed.  There is an official clothes rental place just inside the Palace, but the locals near the main gate will save you a wait in line although it might be $1-2 more.  Visiting Hours: Daily 8:30am-4:30pm, last tickets sold at 3:30pm.  Ticket Cost: 400 Baht which also includes joint entrance to Wat Phra Kaew Temple plus a visit to Bangkok’s Dusit Palace within 7 days.  Once inside you’ll head right to the ticket counter to buy your pass.  There is no shade in line and the wait can be really long if you don’t show up earlier in the day.  Palace Website: (HERE).

Bangkok Walking Tour Map Old Town, Wat Phra Kaew Hermit Statue

4a. Wat Phra Kaew Temple:
 The biggest highlight of the Grand Palace complex is by far a stop at the large temple called Wat Phra Kaew.  As you enter the main gate is on the Temple’s Southwest corner, notice the dark stone hermit statue in front of you. This statue is the Patron of Medicine and many locals with sick relatives make offerings here for good health.  Join the locals by making by making an offering of incense and by touching a dampened Lotus flower to the top of your head for good luck.  Make sure to also look for the Temple’s Elephant Statues as it is good luck to circle around one 3 times then rub its head.

Bangkok Walking Tour Map Old Town, Wat Phra Kaew Guardian Statues

After gaining your good luck, it’s time to investigate the 3 huge towers making up what is called the Upper Terrace area.  As you approach from left to right, the jewel of the Upper Terrace is the Sri Lankan-style Golden Chedi called Phra Sri Rattana.  It is hard to not be constantly drawn to the Chedi as you walk around the Temple grounds.  The tower isn’t just beautiful, but also important as it is said to contain a piece of Buddha’s breastbone and his ashes.  Make sure the take in the model of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat complex as you round past the Golden Chedi.  It might seem like an odd place for a model of a foreign temple, but serves as a reminder of the Empire’s power from when they controlled neighboring lands.  In the middle of the Upper Terrace is a big green library called the Phra Mondop.  The library has mother of pearl doors, statues of Chakri kings, plus snakes guardians (nagas) with both human and dragon heads.  The last tower on the Upper Terrace is the orange and green Royal Pantheon which is only open to the public one day in October each year to celebrate the forming of the Chakri dynasty.  Near the Pantheon are a couple small golden pyramids circled by brightly colored guardians.  These playful pyramids are one of our favorite places for photos in Bangkok.

Bangkok Walking Tour Map Old Town, Wat Phra Kaew Ramakien Wall Mural Panels

On the far North side of the Temple past the Upper Terrace are another collection of 3 buildings making up the Upper Terrace.  From left to right are the Auxiliary Library (Ho Phra Monthien Tham), Wihan Yot, and the Royal Mausoleum (Ho Phra Nak).  Enjoy the ornate roofs of these buildings before moving toward the Temple’s outer wall.  The best hidden feature of Wat Phra Kaew are the 178 mural panels lining the inside of the wall enclosing the temple.  These panels wrap clockwise stating at the North gate and around depict the complete story of the Ramakien.  Notice the colorful demons fighting in the battle scenes, these are the same protective figures portrayed in the giant demon statues around this and many of the other temples around Bangkok.

Bangkok Walking Tour Map Old Town, Wat Phra Kaew Emerald Buddha Statue

4b. Emerald Buddha Statue:
 The most famous building at Wat Phra Kaew sits right behind the hermit statue and houses the historic Emerald Buddha Statue.  This jade statue was said to have been carved in India in 43BCbefore being hid in a Sri Lankan cave for protection 500 years later.  The beautiful statue bounced around for the next 1000 years before being moved to the Chiang Mai’s might Great Stupa in 1468.  This lasted until 1552 when the Emerald Buddha was moved to Laos to avoid Burmese invasions that ended up overtaking the city 4 years later.  It stayed in Laos until  being re-captured by the Thais and brought to Bangkok in 1784.  The 2 foot-tall dark green statue Buddha is actually made out of solid jade and not from emerald at all.

Bangkok Walking Tour Map Old Town, Wat Phra Kaew Gold Guardians

The statue’s Emerald Buddha figure wears seasonal costumes, which are changed three times a year to correspond with Summer (crown and jewelry), Winter (golden shawl), and Rainy Months (gilt robe and headdress).  This clothing change ceremony is done by the King of Thailand who is the only one allowed to get all the way up to the statue.  Covering the interiors walls of the building are murals depicting the life of the Buddha, his steps to enlightenment, and the Buddhist cosmology of the Worlds of Desire, Being, and Illusion; they start on the left with the birth of Buddha in Nepal.  Photos are not allowed inside, but you can get photos with a zoom lens near the entrance.  The golden doors and guardians around the building are also well worth your time before moving on.

Bangkok Walking Tour Map Old Town, Wat Phra Kaew Monks

5. Chao Phraya River Long Tail Boat Ride:
 You haven’t really arrived in Bangkok until you get out onto the Chao Phraya River on a Long Tail Boat ride.  The Chao Phraya cuts through almost the full North-South length of Thailand and, in a city of canals, has always served as Bangkok’s true highway.  The Chao Phraya River may be dirty, congested, and noisy, but it is the best way to experience the Bangkok.  Most of the major piers have a few passenger ferry route options, but we suggest getting on the water by hiring a traditional Long Tail Boat.  These long, low profile boats (called Ruea Hang Yao in Thai) are able to carry a ton of people or goods at high speeds even in swallow water.  A modern adaption on almost all the Long Tails has been to use a full on car or truck motor instead of a standard boat motor.   The long tail boats even use the motor drive shafts as long rudders to give the drivers 180 degrees of steering capability which is really helpful on the crowded river.   It’s a bit crazy to see the driver standing so close to the powerful motors’ blazing fast and exposed fan blades, but it adds to the adventure.

Bangkok Walking Tour Map Old Town, Chao Phraya River Long Tail Boat Ride

After negotiating you private rental, which is explained below, you’re off the cruise the River in upwards of 35mph.  There will be splashes here and there from the waves so to stay the driest sit toward the front of the boat or hold up the plastic protector on the side.  If you are wondering why most of the boats are wrapped in colorful ribbons and decorated with fresh flowers it is not just for looks, but for good luck and safe travels.

Hiring a Long Tail Boat: Typically you pay a flat fee to go from point to point while sharing the boat with other people, but to really explore you’re want to negotiate a private rental.  If you know where you want to go, especially on a map, it will help a ton with negotiating.  The N9 Ferry Stop (Tha Chang) is going to be the easiest place to snag a Long Tail, but you may be able to also get one from the N8 Ferry Stop (Tha Tien) or Maharaj Pier with some luck.  Cost:A good deal is going to cost between 400-550Baht an hour and you will typically pay at the end of the trip.

About Oktoberfest: Steaming from hundreds of years of Fall agricultural festivals, Oktoberfest has grown to become the World’s best party attractions of 6 million visitors.  The modern festivities really took off when Bavarian crown prince Ludwig I married Theresa of Saxe-Hildburghausen on October 12th 1810.

At the Southwestern end of the market is Uhelný Trh Square which was the Coal Market back in the day.   In the middle of the old Coal Market is a small but cute fountain from 1797 showing a boy and girl playing with fruit under a tree.  Market Hours: Daily 9am-6pm.

Read More: Full Oktoberfest Guide.

Other Sights Near Old Town Bangkok:

16. Bangkok National Museum: Housed in the Front Palace (Wang) which was the home of the King Rama II.  Hours: Wednesday-SunDay 9am-4pm.  Cost: Baht.  Museum Website: (HERE).

17. National Theatre:
 Traditional Dance Shows

18. Khao San Road:
 night life street/market from the Beach (shamrock, brick bar, Gazebo Khao San top bar in world), pop up bars like the Volkswagen camper on Rambuttri, restaurants (bombay blues, Madame Musur)

19. Wat Rakhang:
 Temple of Bells, decently large sitting Buddha statue

20. Chinatown Walking Tour:
 info on the way

21. Mid Town Walking Tour:
 info on the way

22. Dusit Walking Tour:
 info on the way

Taling Chan Floating Market: Open Weekends 8am-5pm

Patravadi Theatre:

Bangkok Forensic Museum