Bangkok’s historical district on the Chao Phraya river

The Grand Palace in the historical district Rattanakosin, Bangkok
Grand Palace

Rattanakosin, the historic center of Bangkok, is located on the Chao Phraya river in Phra Nakhon district, centered around the Grand Palace. As the area is an artificial island bordered by the Chao Phraya river to the West and canals to the North, East and South, it is also known as Rattanakosin island. This area houses some of Thailand’s most famous landmarks, including the Grand Palace, the Wat Phra Kaew and the Wat Pho.

History of Rattanakosin

Bangkok is believed to have been settled in the 14th or 15th century. Over the centuries the small town gradually became more important due to its strategic location on the Chao Phraya river and the Gulf of Thailand.

After the destruction of Ayutthaya by the Burmese in 1767 Taksin the Great moved the capital to Thonburi on the West bank of the Chao Phraya river where he build a Palace and the Wat Arun, “The temple of Dawn”.

After Taksin’s short reign King Rama I moved the capital across the river. In 1782 he established Bangkok as the new capital of Siam on the East bank of the Chao Phraya. He had a number of canals dug out to protect the town from Burmese invasion, thus creating Rattanakosin island. The canals to the East, North and South served as a moat. Fortifications around the island were build, of which today Mahakan fort and Phra Sumen fort remain.

The King ordered construction of the Grand Palace and the Wat Phra Kaew temple where Thailand’s most sacred Buddha image, the Emerald Buddha was enshrined. The Palace served as the Residence for the Royal Family until the end of the 19th century. Opposite the Palace is the former Royal field Sanam Luang, where Royal functions and festivals were held.

Wat Suthat temple in Rattanakosin district
Wat Suthat temple

Historic sites of Rattanakosin island

The Rattanakosin area houses the Grand Palace and some of the country’s oldest and most important Buddhist temples including the Wat Phra Kaew (“The temple of the Emerald Buddha”) and the Wat Mahathat, a large important Royal temple which predates Bangkok as the capital of Siam. The Wat Mahathat houses the first Buddhist university in the country.

The Wat Pho, “The temple of the Reclining Buddha”, is the oldest and largest temple in Bangkok. It enshrines a 46 meter long gold plated reclining Buddha image. The temple is also known as “The birthplace of Thai massage”.

Other important temples in Rattanakosin include the Wat Suthat, Wat Saket (“Golden Mount”), Wat Bowonniwet and Wat Ratchanadda (“Metal Castle”).

Just North of Rattanakosin are Dusit Palace and Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall.

Getting around in Rattanakosin

There are no BTS Sky train or MRT metro stations in the Rattanakosin area. The best ways to get around are taxi, tuk tuk and river boat.

A tuk tuk ride is a fun experience for small distances. The exhaust fumes of traffic and the heat make them not suitable for a long trip in downtown Bangkok. Taxis in Bangkok are plentiful and cheap. Flag down a metered taxi and make sure the driver switches on the meter.

Chao Phraya river express boats are an attractive way to get around. Boats are quite fast, the cool breeze on the river provides a welcome respite from Bangkok heat. Boats can get very crowded during rush hour. Some of the best visited sites such as the Grand Palace (Tha Chang pier) and Wat Pho (Tha Tien pier) are located directly next to Chao Phraya Express river boat piers.

The Chao Phraya tourist boat serves eight piers between Sathorn pier (at BTS train station Saphan Taksin) and Phra Arthit Pier. Passengers can get on and off an unlimited number of times anywhere they want at a fare of 150 Thai Baht per person. On the route are sites as the Grand Palace and the Wat Arun as well well as modern high rise skyscrapers. For more info, visit the Chao Phraya Express Boat website.

Sites in Rattanakosin