Many people in Bangkok scoff at the idea of walking in the city. Pollution and heat, along with a wide choice of transportation options, make it seem horrid and pointless. But the capital of Thailand does have some good promenades tucked in among the big, busy streets. And for urban hikers, the route from historic Banglampoo, with its plethora of guesthouses, to the majestic Grand Palace, is a great place to start.
Phra Sumen Fort
Begin here at this historical landmark, which was rebuilt thanks to art students at Silpakorn University. Recently repainted, the hexagonal fort looks dreamier than ever. It sits next to the popular Santi Chai Prakan Park and near the Phra Athit taxi boat pier. Head south following the river, and you’re off!
Walking south on Phra Athit Road, you are skirting the edge of Banglampoo. You’re not far from Kao San Road, backpacker and budget bar central. Phra Athit itself, with its old, colonial buildings, is home to a different kind of foreigner. In addition to visitors wandering around with a copy of the Lonely Planet in their hands, there are many who work for United Nations agencies. Along the river side of the street you’ll see the offices of UNICEF and the Food and Agriculture Organization, for example. Many of the expats who work for these programs eat at Ricky’s, a great little diner-style restaurant that serves decent European dishes with a Thai twist. This homey lunch spot is easy to locate: look for the black and red round sign that hangs on a post in front of the building. They’ve recently expanded, but not all in one location: the new dining area is a couple of doors down from the original space. There are tables outside in front of both locations.
Stay on the street closest to the river and keep walking straight ahead. Don’t turn left! A few blocks down, you’ll find yourself on a road that becomes a driveway and entrance to a university. Pass the gate, and turn right, toward the river. You’re on the campus of Thammasat, known for its excellent political science department. Naturally, the students here are prone to demonstrating. Just recently, there was a large anti-government demonstration. There’s a nice breeze here on the banks of the Chao Praya, and some of Thailand’s best and brightest relax in the open-air cafeteria that overlooks the river. Continue south, passing through one of the dining areas. You’ll encounter some beautiful, brilliant yellow buildings that make up part of the campus.
As you exit the campus, you’ll see a small, plaza-like area, with shops and places to eat. Veer ever so slightly over to the left, and head straight: you’re embarking on a magical stroll through the district of amulet sellers on Maharat Road. Encased in small, round frames are miniature Buddhas that have been blessed by monks. In essence Thais buy these for luck. But make no mistake, these sacred amulets are serious business in Thailand. You can look at them, but you better not touch! You’ll also find plenty of traditional snacks for sale on this street. Treat yourself to some sticky rice with banana wrapped and steamed in a leaf.
At the end of this street, you’ll spy the corner of the Grand Palace across the busy intersection. Facing it on the north side of the street is Silpakorn University, the best art school in Thailand. You can enter the campus either from Maharat Road or Na Phra Lan Road, which is the busy street that intersects with Maharat. The campus is small, with a shady courtyard and a gallery that has interesting exhibitions.
The Grand Palace
This is it! You’ve arrived. The entrance is on hectic Na Phra Lan Road. Cross at the corner, with other pedestrians. If anyone tells you that the Grand Palace is closed, ignore this person. It’s a scam. An evasion tactic, to try to take you to a small temple and eventually a jewelry store. You can do that later if you’d like. Right now you’re on the last leg of your trek to the Grand Palace, with its Temple of the Emerald Buddha! And you’ve made it here on foot, from Banglampoo. It wasn’t that far, but after strolling the extensive grounds at the Grand Palace and visiting the remarkable little Emerald Buddha, you may want to take the taxi boat back to Banglampoo. There is a pier stop at the end of Maharat Road. It’s called Tha Chang, or Elephant Pier.