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Thonburi: exploring the west side

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Many visitors feel like they’ve “done” Bangkok after hitting the big-name attractions in the historic district, perusing the malls, taking a ferry up the Chao Phraya River and maybe munching on some street food. Few of them know about the more modest but equally intriguing slice of the city that exists on the west side of the river in the oldest part of town: Thonburi.

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Original Bangkok With a name thought to derive from “Bang Makok” (bang means village and makok is a type of tropical nut), the original Bangkok was probably located at what is today part of Bangkok Noi district in Thonburi. Prior to the 18th century, it was little more than a stop-off point for sailors travelling north up the Chao Phraya to the old Siamese capital at Ayutthaya.

Khlong scenes. Photo taken in or around Thonburi: exploring the west side, Bangkok, Thailand by David Luekens.

Khlong scenes. Photo: David Luekens

Before a canal was dug in the 1500s that redirected the river to its current path, the Chao Phraya flowed much further west in a horseshoe-shaped loop along a waterway that is now the Bangkok Yai and Bangkok Noi canals. The villages nestled along these and other canals did not become known as Thonburi, meaning “Fortified City,” until King Narai commissioned Vichai Prasit Fort in the 1660s. Parts of the fort’s thick white walls still stand beside the river.

After the fall of Ayutthaya and a successful series of counter attacks that repelled the Burmese in the 1770s, the leading Siamese general, Taksin, became king and built a new palace close to Vichai Prasit Fort, briefly making Thonburi capital of Siam. In the process he made Wat Arun a royal temple now famous for its towering spires, a signature Bangkok landmark. Nowadays, this wat is the only part of Thonburi that most travellers ever set foot on.

Wat Arun in the distance. Photo taken in or around Thonburi: exploring the west side, Bangkok, Thailand by David Luekens.

Wat Arun in the distance. Photo: David Luekens

Although Taksin’s dynasty lasted barely more than a decade, Thonburi remained an independent province all the way until the late 20th century when Bangkok officially enveloped it. Many locals still harbour a notable reverence for King Taksin while retaining a more traditional lifestyle, which is disappearing among the malls and office towers of ... Travelfish members only (Around 1,100 more words) ... please log in to read the rest of this story.

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Popular attractions in Bangkok

A selection of some of our favourite sights and activities around Bangkok.

Best places to stay in Bangkok

A selection of some of our favourite places to stay in Bangkok.

What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Bangkok.
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