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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. Yet this historic area's laid-back, artsy and at times quirky atmosphere make it a rewarding place to poke around. Even if there’s no time in your itinerary to spend a full day exploring the west side, you can still get a taste by wandering into 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 uniquely Native American influenced Dream Keeper coffee and art studio or one of several other cafes, then head south to one of the noodle shops for a bite.
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 often prefer a nameless single wok and two-table joint down the first narrow alley on the left if heading north just past Dream Keeper. If you can find it, the krapao kai sai khai-dao (stir-fried chicken, holy basil, garlic and chillies) is a fiery treat.
Continue around either corner to the busier but still relatively low-key Arun Ammarin Road, where plenty more colourful people, sights and edibles await. A little boat noodle spot won't disappoint those needing to quench that noodle craving, while the roast duck spot across the street is always 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 side streets teeming with colour.
If strolling southwest towards Itsraphap Road you’ll eventually reach the Baan Lao flute making community at Itsaraphap Soi 15 (if you know how to find it). If heading north on Arun Ammarin, you could turn it into a market adventure by hitting the pungent stalls of Bangkok Noi wet market and the endless street food at Wang Lang. You could also head south along Arun Ammarin to scope the historic Wat Kalayanamit and Santa Cruz Church.
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; traditional boat vendors still navigate an extensive web of khlong (canals); and an expressive Thai youth lend the area an artistic touch.
How to get there
Take the cross-river ferry to Wat Arun, but walk straight into the alley along the southern wall of the temple instead of taking a left into the temple grounds. Keep walking and just see where the wind carries you.