Calm in the city
Published/Last edited or updated: 18th July, 2017
The Chinese-style Guan Yu Shrine and neighbouring Princess Mother Memorial Park combine to offer some history, culture and, most of all, a soothing atmosphere on the Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya River.
The small but atmospheric Princess Mother Memorial Park was established at the birthplace of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s mother, Srinagarindra, who came from a family of goldsmiths and went on to be revered as “Princess Mother” of Thailand until her death in 1995, at the age of 94. While her family’s original 19th-century home no longer exists, a museum was set up in a reconstruction of it during the mid 1990s. Srinagarindra is also portrayed in a statue sitting contently on a bench in the park.
Crumbling brick-and-mortar ruins of other old buildings stand alongside towering tamarind trees as locals stroll around the footpaths or do yoga at dusk in a central courtyard. Known in Thai as Suan Somdet Ya, the park is one of the most tranquil spots we’ve come across in this generally chaotic city.
Between the park and the Chao Phraya River stands the Guan Yu Shrine, dedicated to a second-century Chinese general who became an iconic god of war thanks to his role in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms epic. Many travellers watch the shrine’s three-storey pagoda drift past when cruising on the Chao Phraya River, but few make the effort to actually visit.
First established by Hokkien immigrants in the 18th century, the main shrine features two small images of Guan Yu with the usual red face and long beard draped in red lights, flowers, incense and colourful paintings. Strings of red lanterns stretch across a courtyard to the pagoda donning dragons and more Chinese-style murals. Inside you’ll find images of Kuan Yin (goddess of compassion), Mi-Lo-Fo (laughing Buddha) and Amitabha (future Buddha), but the highlight is the river view punctuated by lanterns from the top floor.
Taking you through a Chinese-Thai neighbourhood with cobblestone streets and murals of dragons painted on the walls of old shophouses, the walk to the park and shrine is also worth a mention. Despite being close to two bridges and some busy roads, this is a rare quiet pocket of life with a hidden-away, non-touristy feel that isn’t easy to come by in the Big Mango.
You could roll Princess Mother Memorial Park and Guan Yu Shrine into a longer walk around Thonburi that could also include Baan Lao flute village, Wat Prayoon, Wat Kalayanamit and Wat Arun. Otherwise you could get here by strolling across Memorial Bridge from Pak Khlong Talad flower market, or add the sites into a longtail boat tour.
To reach Princess Mother Memorial Park on foot, walk across Memorial Bridge (Saphan Phut) from near Wat Ratchaburana and Pak Khlong Talad and take the stairs down as soon as you reach the other side. Head south and then walk away from the river with the small bridge-side park on your right. Then cross the street and take the first left (east) on Soi Uthai. That will take you into the village, where the third left leads to the park entrance—we just wandered around until we found it. To reach Guan Yu Shrine (also spelt Gong Wu or Kuan Oo), exit the park to the north and the entrance is directly across the lane.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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