This blog is written to promote the hidden historic Bangkok attractions around the old town with the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha Image as the center. These attractions in old Bangkok are scattered around the Grand Palace and are located off-the-beaten-track. They are easy to get to from the palace by walking, Tuk Tuk or other public transports such as motorbike taxi. The Bangkok attractions close to the Grand Palace that I would like to talk about are Sanam Luang, Bangkok city pillar shrine, Khlong Khu Mueang Doem, Wat Ratchabophit, Chao Pho Suea Shrine, Sam Phraeng, and Wat Ratchapradit.
In 1977, the Fine Art Department registered Sanam Luang as one of the important historic sites in Bangkok. As a public space, it has been bonded with Thais’ lives for more than two centuries. As the capital’s center, it is the space where people from every social class could interact with each other.
Sanam Luang has been utilized for many purposes: it was the place for the royal funeral, and the place for the royal Rice Fiedl ritual in King Rama III’s period. It was also the amusement park; the place for kite flying competitions, horse racing and golf. It was the weekend market where there are goods for sale from toothpaste to warships; the place for family picnics; the platform for delivering political speeches and election campaigns; the center of public transit.
Currently, Sanam Luang is rearranged, scenically cleaned, with open and close times for visitors and only available for royal rituals. Although there are less colorful activities than in its old days, Sanam Luang is still one of Bangkok’s most important sports, since it is the location many historical event of Thailand took place.
Bangkok City Pillar Shrine
One of the closest hidden Bangkok attractions to the Grand Palace is Bangkok City Pillar Shrine. The City Pillar Shrine was built at the same time of the founding of the Rattanakosin Kingdom, more than two centuries ago. It’s very important to perform the ritual of the city pillar in the center of the capital, which is regarded as the strategic location that would bring blessing upon the kingdom. The pillars then became the symbol of security, which people could depend upon spiritually.
For Bangkok, there are two city pillars, which is different from other provinces. Since the first city pillar, built in King Rama I’s period, was ruined in King Rama IV’s period. the King then ordered the new city pillar to be built, moved the old one and put them together in the same place.
There is an appropriate order to worship the pillars. It proceeds from: Buddha Hall, Model City Pillar Buddha, City Pillar Buddha, Hal of Five Guardian Angels and finally, ends by pouring oil for Buddha that corresponds to your birthday, and participating in the exorcising of misfortunes ritual. You would receive the same amount of merits as visiting nine temples. Bangkok City Pillar Shrine is located in the northeast of the Grand Palace.
Bangkok City Pillar Shrine. Photo credit: bangkokcitypillarshrine.com
Khlong Khu Mueang Doem (Khlong Lhord)
The capital canal consisted of three canals which was named in King Rama V’s period as “Khlong Rong Mai’, “Khlong Lhord’ and ‘Khlong Tald’. It was built in King taksin’s and King rama I’s period. There are two hundred year old iron woods near the canla on the rear side of Wat Ratchabophit, reflection of the old tradition of planting iron woods in the inner area of the capital.
Khlong Khu Mueang Doem is the location of crafworks from King Rama VI’s period. For example, “Saphan Hok”, the drawbridges that were built in the same model as the bridges in Netherland, “Saphan Charoen Rat 31”, “Saphan Charoen Sri 34” and other bridges, whose names were prefixed with ‘Charoen’ and ended with numbers, are beautiful Western-style plaster-works, and furthermore, there is “Uthokatan”, the plaster shrine, where located the statue of Phra Mae Thorani with drinkable water coming from her hair, which was designed by the maser of the period.
Not far from the Grand Palace, you will find another unique Bangkok attraction. One of a kind temple design in the city is secretly hidden, Wat Ratchabophit. The temple’s official name is Wat Ratchabophit Sathit Maha Simaram Ratchawora Maha Vihara. The temple was the last one which was constructed in accordance with royal tradition during King Rama V’s reign. It was planned in the style of the Ayutthaya period, with the blended architectural trait that was nicknamed, ‘Exterior is Thai and interior is Foreigner’. The exterior of the ubosot was decorated with handmade Thai golden glazed tiles, while the interior is decorated with Gothic gold in the same design as the Palace of Versailles. The designs at the arc of gates and windows are regarded as master craftwork. In the Royal Cemetery, there are chedi, prang and vihara (in Thai, Khmer and European style). One of the remarkable features of the temple is the image of ‘Nai Tawarabala’ (the watchman), which is clothed differently, at the entrances.
Wat Ratchabophit’s Ordination Hall
The three princes of King rama IV once lived in the area. A historic neighborhood in old town. This quarter was a prosperous commercial district during the reigns of Rama V and Rama VI. Taking a walk in this quarter and being immersed in the old town’s atmosphere, and sighting the early Bangkok colonial-influenced buildings are recommended. Walk from “Phraeng Phuthon”, you would find the open ground inside the community. The buildings on Khlong Lhord side are well known as the gathering of musical instruments shops. Beside is “Phraeng Nara” where once was the site of “Pridalai Theatre”, Thailand’s first musical theater and then was utilized as Talaphat Suksa School, the beautiful wooden and lime building, deserted. The last one, “Phraeng Sapphasat”, which is located near the Tiger God Shrine, located graceful old European arch. There are also a number of good food vendors such as Nattaporn Ice-cream, Chotichit Potchana Restaurant, nodle and pork brain soup, glutinous rice with coconut milk, Thai crepes, roast pork and crispy pork with rice, pa-thong-ko (youtia), etc. Satisfaction is guaranteed.
Chao Pho Suea Shrine
Located in Sam Phraeng neighborhood another favorite attraction in old Bangkok for the locals is Chao Pho Suea Shrine. (Suea Godfather Shrine). The shrine is known as ‘Tua Lao Yia’ among Thai people of Chinese descent and is an ancient Teochiu shrine. The original shrine was constructed in the reign of Rama III on Thanon Bamrung Mueang and relocated to the current site on Thanon Tanao in the reign of Rama V. The shrine houses various Chinese icons such as Huangtian Shangdi, Chao Pho Suea, Guanyin, Guan Yu, and Chao Mae Taptim. These gods are venerated by Thai and Chinese alike. It is widely believed that whoever venerates gods at the shrine will be blessed with prosperity. The shrine is often crowded by believers, especially during Chinese New Year and the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.
Chao Pho Suea Shrine. Photo credit: Chao Pho Suea Shrine Facebook Page
The royal temple of King Rama IV’s reign, even with its small capacity, contained many valuable Thai art and cultural heritage inside. There are the murals depicting the tales of ’12-month Royal Ceremonies’, the other depicting ‘Solar Eclipse’, and the wooden windows embellished with pearl in the style of Nagasaki craftwork, which is rarely seen even in Japan because the aftermath of WWII. Furthermore, there are Pasan Chedi, Tamnak Somdet, ho rakhang, sala rai, etc. Allo of which reflect the distinct architectural style of the period.
In old Bangkok, beside the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and other main attractions, Bangkok has many historic attractions that you can explore on your own. They are within walking distance from the main attractions. For those who are the travelers not tourists who have time to explore the other side of the city, this blog will help you go beyond the typical Bangkok experience and discover the different perspectives of this lovely city. But if you do not have much time and wish to see as much as possible, try our custom private guided tour. Our tour guides can help you navigate the city and make the most out of the time that you have.