Thonburi Walking Tour

Princess Mother Memorial Park Kuan Ou Shrine Wat Prayoon Wat Pichai Yathikaram Kuan Im Shrine Memorial Bridge Pier Princess Mother Memorial Park Church of Santa Cruz Wat Kalayanamit
Thonburi Walking Tour Map
Thonburi walking tour
You can click on any of the sights to see more information.

The area of Thonburi around the west end of the Memorial Bridge (Saphan Phut in Thai) is actually one of the oldest settled areas of Bangkok. Back when Ayutthaya was the capital of Siam, this was the site of the main docks where ships from China and Europe would dock, and offload cargoes to be sent further up the river to Ayutthaya. The district was home to settlers from many countries, such as China and India, and later the Portuguese and other Europeans.

More recently, the district was the childhood home of the mother of the current King. The late Princess Mother was one of the most loved people by all Thais, and a small museum park was built in the area.

This is a rather long walk. Depending on how much time you spend at each of the sights along the way, it could easily take half a day. However, there a lots of places to sit and cool off, and even a few good places to eat. If, in the end you find it getting a bit much, you can easily stop the tour in the middle and return for the second half later.

Start by taking the Chaophraya Express boat to the Memorial Bridge pier. Cross the old green steel bridge to the other side of the river. The stairs up to the bridge are right across the street from the pier. When you get to the other side of the river, take the stairs down to the river-front and follow the road around to your right. You'll pass under the other bridge and up the street a short way. A road will lead off to your left. Several green directional signs will point the way, but none of them are in English.

The small lane is lined with shops which give the street the feeling of a cozy neighborhood. Take this road all the way to its end and turn left. The Princess Mother Memorial Park is just a short way down this alley on your left.

The late Princess Mother was, by just about every measure, a truly extraordinary woman. Born a commoner in 1900, this daughter of a goldsmith rose to become the mother of two kings. It's entirely arguable that Her Royal Highness Princess Srinakarin, as she was to be properly known, was the person most responsible for shaping modern Thailand. She passed away in 1995.

In 1993, His Majesty the King made known his wish to renovate the area around the Princess Mother's childhood home in Thonburi. Unfortunately, it was soon discovered that the building the Princess Mother knew as a child, which apparently was dilapidated in her time, no longer existed. However, there were some similar buildings nearby, which the owners gladly donated to the King for His project.

On the river near the Princess Mother Memorial Park is the old Chinese shrine to Kuan Ou. Like most Chinese shrines around Bangkok, its not in any guidebooks and there isn't much background information available.

The shrine, or "godfather's hall" as they are called in Thai, almost certainly dates from before Bangkok's founding. This area was formerly the main port of Siam back in the time when Ayutthaya was the capital. The district was home to traders from many lands, including China and Portugal.

Walk back past the Princess Mother Memorial Park and continue directly down the small lane until you reach the main road. Across the street is the large temple of Wat Pichai Yathikaram. You can see the towering prang of the temple from the river, but in fact the temple itself was a somewhat forgotten corner of old Bangkok.

There's no record of when the temple was originally built. It was almost certainly during the time when Ayutthaya was the capital of Siam and the area around the temple was the main port for goods destined for the capital. What is known is that the temple was deserted by the time Bangkok became the capital in the late 18th century.

Around 1830, early in the Bangkok period, a high ranking official (Lord Bunnag) in the court of Rama III came across the temple and decided to rebuild it and present the restored temple to the king. The restored temple is what you see today.

Make your way back to the main road (Thanon Somdet Chaophraya) and turn left. Continue down this street until it ends at Prachathipok Road. Turn right onto Prachathipok and you should be heading back towards the bridge over the river. On your left as you near the river is the large white bell-shaped chedi of Wat Prayoon.

Built by Rama III early in the 19th century, the first thing a visitor sees on entering the temple is the large mound, said to have been designed by the king after he observed the shapes that wax forms as it drips from a candle. The mound is covered with various shrines to departed loved ones in every size and style. There are chedis, spirit houses and even the odd doll house. On one side is a small grotto as well.

The mound sits in a pool of shallow water filled with turtles. Several different species of turtles are represented, and you can feed them with papaya and other fruits on sale at a stall in one corner of the courtyard containing the mound.

At the very back of the temple compound is a large white chedi very much in the Ayuthaya style. This is the only large chedi of its type which was completed in Bangkok -- King Rama II attempted to build a similar one at the eastern gate of the city, but the ground would not support it and the chedi collapsed, later becoming the Golden Mount. However, the chedi is not in very good repair and the entrance pavilion to the upper terrace surrounding the chedi appears to be permanently blocked off.

If you walk around the chedi, you'll find an exit onto a side street which runs along the side of the temple. Turn left and walk down this small lane until you reach a large main road, where you turn right. The gate marking the entrance to Wat Kalayanamit is a short way down on your right.

The huge wiharn (prayer chapel) of Wat Kalayanamit is clearly visible from the river. Although the massive wiharn is in a typical Thai style, the ubosot and other buildings in the compound reflect a Chinese style that was popular during the reign of Rama III in the early nineteenth century. Also in the compound of the temple is the largest bronze bell in Thailand.

Be sure to check out the river view and in particular the view up-river of the Wichai Prasit fortress, built when Ayutthaya was the capital of Siam. At the south end of the temple's sea wall is a small pier for the cross-river ferry. From here, an elevated river walk leads down to the small Chinese shrine to Kuan Im.

The river walk will take you to the Church of Santa Cruz and from there back to the Memorial Bridge and the Chaophraya Express Boat.