Jun 24 2012
For many short-term travellers to Bangkok, a quick jaunt across the Chao Phraya River to the splendid Wat Arun is all that’s experienced of Thonburi. Though largely away from the tourists, Thonburi is home to some of the area’s richest history and culture, and its overall laid-back, artsy and at times quirky atmosphere make it a special place. Even if there’s no time in your itinerary to spend a full day exploring Thonburi, you can still get a taste of its particular mix of traditional and funky modern culture by taking a stroll around the neighbourhood just behind Wat Arun.
The quiet lane immediately behind Wat Arun, Wang Doem Road, is lined with little cafes and restaurants. You might start by enjoying a strong coffee at the unique Native American influenced Dream Keeper coffee and art studio or one of several other cute cafes, then head south to one of the little noodle shops for a bite to eat.
Ree Ree Khaosan Restaurant on the corner of Wang Doem Road and Wang Doem Soi 6 is known for its high quality and well priced Thai menu, but we recently opted for a nameless single wok and two-table joint run by a friendly woman down the first narrow alley on the left if heading north just past Dream Keeper. If you can find it, this was among the best krapow gai kai dow (spicy chicken stir-fry with Thai style deep-fried egg) we’ve tried anywhere in Thailand.
Continue around either corner to the busier but still laid back Arun Ammarin Road, where plenty more colourful people, sights and edibles await. A little Ayutthaya-style boat noodle spot caught our eye — although we had already eaten we figured a few extra noodles never hurt anyone, and we weren’t disappointed. There are several more interesting looking cafes and restaurants around here, including a roast duck spot on the west side of the street that was packed with locals.
After satisfying your spice and caffeine fix, simply wander around in any direction and some great old school Bangkok photo-ops are everywhere you look.
Head due west into the Soi Prok Arun neighbourhood for a glimpse of humble local homes and quiet sidestreets teeming with colour.
If strolling southwest towards Itsraphap Road you’ll eventually reach the Baan Lao flute making community at Itsaraphap 15. If heading north on Arun Ammarin, you could turn it into a market adventure by turning left after about a kilometre on to Thanon Phran Nok and hitting the vibrant, and often pungent stalls of Bangkok Noi and Phran Nok wet markets.
The truth is, no matter which way you go into Thonburi from Wat Arun, you’re sure to see a refreshingly different side of Bangkok. It’s a place where people still lazily ride bicycles on far quieter roads than those on the east side of the river; where traditional boat vendors still navigate an extensive web of khlong (canals); and where an expressive Thai youth lend the area a tasteful modern touch while respecting its rich traditions.
I think Thonburi is the most underrated destination in the Bangkok area, and perhaps in all of Thailand. While a walk behind Wat Arun will be enough for a taste of its charm, stay tuned as we’ll be covering a host of Thonburi’s unique attractions in the coming months. Like me, you might find yourself setting up shop west of the river for longer than expected.
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