Rattanakosin Island is the core of historical Bangkok.
Rattanakosin is where King Rama I built his new capital in 1782. The seat of power to this day, this is where most of Bangkok's "must see" sights can be found. The district borders the Chao Phraya River on the west, but land reclamation has long since joined the eastern bank to the mainland. The focal point of the area is the wide open field of the Royal Ground (Sanam Luang), the site of many ceremonies and festivals associated with the royalty.
There is an excellent Government tourist information office near the river under Pinklao Bridge.
There are no Skytrain or subway stations in the area yet, although several extensions are planned.
The best way to access most of the sights in Rattanakosin is to take the Chao Phraya River Express, which run from the BTS Saphan Taksin station up and down the river. The most important pier is Tha Tien, from where you can walk to Wat Pho or the Grand Palace, or take a 2-baht shuttle ferry across the river to Wat Arun. Alternatively, you can take the Saen Saep canal boat to its western terminus near the Golden Mount (Wat Saket), from where the big temples are a brisk stroll or short tuk-tuk hop away.
The Grand Palace and Wat Pho are a 20 minute walk from Khao San Road, but a confusing and hot one if you aren't familiar with the area.
Rattanakosin has a lot to see and the top three attractions are conveniently clustered right next to each other. For all temples, bear in mind that you must be dressed appropriately (no shorts, no flipflops, no sleeveless shirts) or risk being denied entry. If you decide to take a tuk-tuk, don't listen to anyone telling you the temples are closed for 'Buddhist holiday' or only in the afternoon. Both sights are open everyday, pretty much all day (dawn till dusk). It's worth giving both the Grand Palace and Wat Pho each a full day since the heat and glare are very wearing and there is a lot to take in.
- Grand Palace. The former residence of the King is built adjacent to and more or less integrated with the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew). Combined entry is a steep 250 baht; Thais get in for free. This also includes entry into the Vimanmek Mansion and Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall (outside the compound), the Coin Museum, and a 'free' guidebook of limited use. The palace is open daily from 8:00am to 3:30pm.
- The temple houses a diminutive jade statue, the Emerald Buddha, of uncertain but long provenance and revered as the symbol of the Thai state. It originally surfaced in northern Thailand, was taken to Vientiane for a while, and was returned to Bangkok after the Thais sacked the city in 1828. Visitors line up around the building for a chance to walk by the Emerald Buddha with offerings of lilies and incense. The wat is actually series of courtyards full of chedi towers in gold and broken porcelain and smaller wats containing Buddhas of various poise and size. Also check out the enormous mural of the Ramayana decorating the exterior wall of the Wat Phra Kaew (part of the Grand Palace compound).
- The Grand Palace is built in a European style, but with Thai roofs somewhat incongruously plopped on top. Only small parts are open to the public: the reception room of the Grand Palace Hall (Chakri Maha Prasat) is probably the highlight. There is also a lacklustre but free museum of ancient to merely old weaponry on the ground floor.
- Wat Pho. One (long) block to the south of the Grand Palace, the largest reclining Buddha in Asia is a mind blowing sight. There's plenty of other stuff to see inside the large temple complex; above all, try a massage or sign up for a course in the massage school at the back. Entry is now 50 baht and it is open from 8:00am to 5:00pm.
- Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun). Across the river from Wat Po on the Thonburi side, this is a distinctive single spike of white intricately inlaid with broken porcelain. At 88 meters it was also the tallest structure in Bangkok until the advent of the modern skyscraper. Take the 2-baht ferry from Tha Tien, right next to the River Express dock.
- Wat Rajanadda. Somewhat off the beaten track but well worth a visit, very close to the Saen Saep canal boat terminus and the Golden Mount, and easily spotted since its spires are of black iron, not the usual glittery gold. The wat itself is a 5-storied gleaming white structure with rows of Buddhas and nice views from up top, very elegant, calm and relaxing after the crowds at the big temples. Entrance is free; also check out the Buddhist amulet market nearby.
- The Golden Mount  is a distinctive and prominent feature on the Rattanakosin landscape located in the compound of Wat Srakes. The original structure was built in the reign of King Rama III during the early 19th century, but was enhanced at the end of that century in order to accommodate relics of the Buddha presented to the King of Thailand by the British Viceroy in India. A spiral staircase of 318 steps leads from the ground to a terrace and shrine-room - the Buddha's relics are housed in a gold-leaf covered shrine at the center of this area. There is a 10 baht admission fee.
- National Gallery. Th Chao Fa (north of Sanam Luang), . Fairly small and compact, the permanent displays here are quite unimpressive, but the ever-changing modern art exhibitions can be considerably more interesting. Entry 30B, open 09:00 to 16:00 from Wednesday to Sunday.
- Yaowarat (also Yaowaraj). Bangkok's Chinatown, centered on Th Yaowarat and Th Charoenkrung, an easy walk from Hualamphong Station. By day it doesn't look much different from any other part of Bangkok, but at night the neon signs blazing with Chinese characters are turned on and crowds from the restaurants spill out onto the streets, turning the area into a miniature Hong Kong (minus the skyscrapers).
- Silpakorn University, 31 Na Phralan Road (across the street from Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace). As Thailand's foremost institution in the fine arts, there are many buildings and small museums dedicated to showcasing artworks by students. official site
- Thammasat University, 2 Phrachan Road (next to the National Museum). The main campus of Thailand's most prestigious university, alma mater of many of the nation's politicians and businessmen. It is noticeably more modern than neighboring Silpakorn University and is worth a walk around campus, particularly on a school day. official site
- River City, 23 Trok Rongnamkhaeng (pier N3 Si Phaya), . Easily accessible from its own pier for the River Express boat, this center has Bangkok's best collection of antique shops — but these are (for most part) the real thing and priced to match. Note that real antiques and any religious images will require export licenses, although the shops can arrange this for you (for a fee).
- Old Maps & Prints. Shop 412, 4F. Has a fascinating collection of (surprise surprise) old maps with an emphasis on Thailand and South-East Asia, but anything over a century old will set you back several thousand baht.
Compared to the profusion elsewhere in the city, places to eat in the Old City are a little limited.
Yaowarat (Chinatown) has the city's best selection of Chinese places, many of which specialize in expensive delicacies like shark fin, bird nest or fresh seafood (often still swimming in tanks near the entrance). Gather the biggest group you can, preferably with a Chinese speaker or two, and head down for some ren'ao ("hot and noisy") banqueting.
- Nam Sing, 39-47 Soi Texas, Th Phadung Dao (off Yaowarat Rd). A typical large and functional restaurant, best known for its bird nest but there's plenty of other fare on offer. Try the chilli crab and pork neck. English menu with pictures available, most (large) dishes B200-300. Unfortunately they only accept Visa, Mastercard or Cash.
The riverside hotels (see Sleep) have the usual panoply of restaurants but at rather steep prices, although the Oriental's dinner buffet (B1000+) is justly famous.
Dinner cruises on the Chao Phraya are a touristy but fun way of spotting temples while getting stuffed with seafood. There are many competing operators, but most all cruises depart from the River City Pier, next to pier N3 Si Phaya of the River Express.
- Wan Fah, tel. +66-2222-8679, . 2-hour dinner cruises including a set meal of farang-friendly Thai food and seafood, live plink-plonk music and Thai classical dancing. Departs at 7 PM from River City, B1000 per head (not including drinks).
- Bamboo Bar. 48 Th Oriental (Oriental Hotel). Jazz lovers will want to stop by the Oriental's famous bar, which is surprisingly small and intimate, for classy colonial surroundings, live music and a Cuban cigar. Needless to say, at B250 a Singha here will be the most expensive beer you'll find in Bangkok.
- Ta Chang a one minute walk to the left (when looking at the building) of the tourist office under Pinklao Bridge - good coffee with relaxing view over small garden - alcohol also served.
Budget guesthouses and such are clustered on Khao San Road, covered on a separate page.
The southern part of the river near the Sathorn Bridge has two of the world's best hotels, and not a few lesser lights.
- Oriental Bangkok. 48 Th Oriental, tel. +66 2659 9000, . Often ranked as the best hotel in the world, and is known particularly for its superlative service. Prices are consequently on the steep side: even the cheapest Internet rates are rarely below $300 a night. Sumptuously decorated in old-school colonial style. The hotel is on the east side of the river with its own River Express stop (Tha Oriental).
- Peninsula Bangkok. 333 Th Charoennakorn, tel. +66 2861 2888, . Just across the river from the Oriental, this newer competitor has nudged the Oriental out of its top spot a few times. Prices are a little more sensible but still usually above $200. Free shuttle service to the BTS Saphan Taksin stop.
- Shangri-La Bangkok. 89 Soi Wat Suan Plu, tel. +66 2236 7777, . Definitely also a 5 star hotel but not quite as superlative as the Oriental or the Pen, makes up partly with an excellent location next to both Skytrain and river boat. Prices start from $120.
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