When most visitors think of Bangkok, what comes to mind is a vibrant city of superb shopping, fantastic food, and nightlife to rival even the most cosmopolitan cities of the West.
All this though comes at the cost of peace and quiet, as this city of over 6 million people moves at a frenzied pace as everyone tries to get on with their daily lives amidst the choking traffic and crowded sidewalks.
Granted, there are some sanctuaries to be found...namely the huge Lumpini Park and the equally peaceful though not as large Benjakitri Park.
But to experience a quieter side to Bangkok's daily life, you must take a ferry boat across the Chao Praya River to its West bank, the province of Thonburi.
We spent a day strolling the streets of Thonburi last month, and really enjoyed it, as it was a nice change from the frenetic pace of the Bangkok city center.
From Saphan Taksin pier in Silom, we caught the public ferry across and were across to the other side in about 15-20 minutes.
We then spent the next couple of hours wandering the streets and back alleys of Thonburi, recording a snapshot of daily life there.
After strolling through a veritable maze of pathways marked by everything from an outdoor mass-production kitchen used for preparing food for a night market, to a number of traditional Thai teakwood houses that still retain their original structure since they were built over 60 years ago, we arrive at the Princess Mother Memorial Park.
Our guide, Esso, explains to us that the park is a memorial to Srinagarinda, the mother of King Ananda Mahidol (Rama VII). Revered as someone who made lasting contributions to the Kingdom of thailand and to the social welfare of its citizens, this garden was created to honor her memory for years to come.
After wrapping things up at the Princess Mother Memorial Garden, we wander down a few more alleyways, twists, and turns until we arrive at another site unique to Thonburi, the Kuan Ou Shrine.
This shrine predates the founding of Bangkok itself, and is dedicated to the ancient Chinese god of war, Kuan Yu. He was a general in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, China's civil war period during which feudal kingdoms vied for power.
We move on from Kuan Ou, and make our way through more local streets towards the river. Along the way, we encounter some street food vendors. I would love to stop and sample their delights...but alas that is a different tour. :)
We continue moving through Thonburi's quiet city streets, make our way past some of its canals, which were once the primary means of transportation here before the automobile arrived, and eventually arrive in front of the Chao Praya river.
Our guide, Esso, produces a handful of images showing us 'before and after' renditions of the places we are walking past. It really gives you a sense of how much(and how little) some of the landscape has changed over hundreds of years.
The tour takes us along the Chao Praya on a concrete pedestrian walkway. It's a scenic stroll, and being next to the river again cools us as a breeze unobstructed by any buildings blows across our brows.
We make our way along the river to find ourselves at Santa Cruz Church, an old(and still running) Portuguese catholic church built on land given in 1769 to the Portuguese soldiers who helped Thailand defend against the invading Burmese army.
The church is older than even some of Bangkok's oldest Buddhist buildings, and stands as a symbol of cultural and religious tolerance in Thailand
The tour is nearly over as we wander down a few more side streets and end up at Wat Kalayanamit, a replica temple that exactly mimics one in Ayutthaya. When the capital of Thailand was moved from there to here, this piece of land was donated by a Chinese nobleman to honor King Rama III.
Inside is an impressive 15-meter tall Buddha image completely covered in gold leaf. It is Thailand's largest sitting Buddha.
If you'd like to see a different side of Bangkok's culture, or just want a little break from the typical dining, shopping, foodie fare found in the city center, Thonburi is well worth your time.
Things I loved about this tour: Our guide Esso was very knowledgeable about the areas history, and also shared many random facts and figures about the various things we saw along the way.
Things that I thought could be improved: It's not really a food tour, but four hours may actually lend itself to a short stop to try out some dish or snack that is unique to the area. Our stomachs weren't hurting, but about two hours into the tour a "foodie stop" would have been exciting. :)
A typical walking tour lasts about four hours, and it's recommended that you bring a good pair of shoes, some water, sunscreen, and of course...your camera.
Our tour was hosted by our friends at Expique, and all the opinions expressed and photos captured in this post are ours.