Tha Tien: Old Bangkok at its best

As one of the oldest markets in the Thai capital, Tha Tien is a must-see tourist destination due to its location in the old town, rich historical background, and multiculturalism of Thai citizens from different backgrounds. But this historic district is not only recommended for foreign tourists, but also for Thai locals and expats who will be captivated by the multifaceted charm it has to offer.

Nestled in the heart of the so-called Rattanakosin Island, the Tha Tien community is filled with treasures and historical sites, as well as relatively new lifestyle options such as cafes, bars and restaurants. It recently hosted the Tha Tien Festival. The event, which runs from July 21 to 23, includes a range of activities including walking tours.

Visitors can choose from three walking routes – the Food Route, the Mutlu Route (a fusion of different spiritual and mystical beliefs that has created a unique and complex system of beliefs and practices in Thai culture) and the Cultural Route. Of course, no single route will give you a thorough understanding of the area, so returning is recommended for anyone wishing to learn more.

The word “Tha” means port, and Tha Tien was an important area for maritime trade in the past. There are various theories as to the origin of its name. Some said it was caused by multiple fires in the area. Others believe that it was founded by a group of refugees who sought asylum during the Thonburi period. These refugees migrated from Hatinh, eventually turning the area into the community now known as Tha Tien.

Tha Tien 18 Under construction new pier opposite wat Run Photo by Veena Thoopkrajae

Whatever the reasoning behind the name, this former seaport area attracts people of all nationalities to do business here. It was the kingdom’s first commodity distribution center and soon became a melting pot of cultures such as Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese and Mon.

Wat Phra Chetuphon Wimonmangkalaram Ratchaworamahavihard or Wat Pho, sometimes called the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, was the religious pillar of the community and remains its most important historical and cultural site.

Tha tien 20 Wat Pho locates just right in front of Thai Tien community Photo by Kanokchan Pattanapichai

The guide on the recent walking tour explained, pointing to the shophouses, that these neoclassical buildings were built during the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) from 1868 until 1910 to sell dried seafood. Fresh seafood arrives at this port, which is also a wholesale market. Today, the market is divided into zones offering a wide variety of goods from consumables to edible items.

Reflecting the culture and life of the ancient neighborhood, Tha Tien is a visual reminder of early Bangkok, a vision that has not been erased by the emergence of venues more suited to 21st century lifestyles. And it’s getting a facelift soon. According to our guide, the area is part of a restoration and conservation plan by its owners, the Crown Estate. Existing suppliers in the market have been told to move out by the end of the year, while work is underway on what is expected to be completed within a year. When they move back, suppliers will be required to adhere to new sanitation standards and use standard packaging.

From wholesale market to life center

Originally, this riverside area was a wholesale trading center, receiving sugar, rice, sand and various goods transported by water from all over the country. However, due to the convenience of land transportation and the preference of building owners to cater to tourists, the shipping business gradually declined.

Tha tien 8 Dried prawn sold at Tha Tien market Photo by Kanokchan Patanapichai

For example, the once-bustling Sugar Harbor has undergone a stunning transformation into trendy cafés and charming boutique hotels. Likewise, wholesale consumer goods stores have evolved into modern and stylish restaurants. Despite these dramatic renovations, the original essence of these venues has been carefully preserved. For example, the former sugar factory is now a delightful café, proudly displaying traditional sugar processing equipment and antique sugar presses, while signage tells the story of its heritage. Another interesting twist is the transformation of the rice port into a fascinating museum, offering visitors a glimpse into the rich history of the rice trade.

Our guide took us to Tana, which was once a thriving wholesale trade center. Today, younger generations have embraced the area’s newfound status as a tourist hotspot and have shifted the focus to restaurants. The menu now offers local favourites, using renowned ingredients from the heart of Tha Tien. These time-honored recipes have been passed down from generation to generation and refined with the addition of herbs and artistic decorations, resulting in exquisite dishes.

Entering the restaurant, we are captivated by the personal touch evident in every detail. The decor is a joint effort of the children, and their creative flair extends to the design of the menu. The heartwarming experience continues as we watch the mother work in the kitchen while the father takes care of the diners. The children eagerly take turns helping to cook and serve the meals, giving the place a real family warmth. The restaurant is small but has a cozy atmosphere, with only 5-6 tables, reservations are advisable. Hours of operation are 2pm to 2am, with two days off per week to give families time to rest and maintain a high quality of service.

With small businesses like Tana, the Tha Tien area becomes even more attractive, offering visitors a fresh and vibrant experience with each visit.

Tha Tien 4 Chinese Shrine like this one is common in Tha Tien Photo by Kanokchan Patanapichai

Highlights on the other side

The alleyways of Tha Tien’s shophouses showcase a fascinating mix of cultures. You’ll find Chinese shrines, including the famous Pueng Thao Kong Shrine (part of the Mutlu walking tour), as well as traditional Thai massage schools and charming old shops. At the end of some alleys, stunning views of the Chao Phraya River and the iconic Wat Arun (also known as Wat Arun) await you.

The restaurant with a clear view of the Temple of Dawn is always fully booked for dinner, so it is recommended to book in advance. Expats and locals alike love to admire the stunning sunset views at Tha Tien.

Tha Tien 15 Temple of the Dawn Photo by Veena Thoopkrajae
Mutlu Tours invites visitors to experience the sights on the other side of Thai Tien, especially the iconic Phra Prang Wat Arun. As part of the tour, visitors will also taste the famous Phra Prang tile-patterned ice cream.

In the past, he had the strategic advantage of being a riverside neighborhood and being close to the Grand Palace. Over time, its location has retained its importance in terms of connectivity, as tourists can easily explore cultural sites across the river. Across the river, you can explore historic treasures such as Wat Rakhang, Wat Arun (both built during the Ayutthaya period) and Wat Kalayanamit (built during the reign of King Rama III).

In addition to these treasured Thai landmarks, enthusiasts can enrich their knowledge by visiting the Siam Museum, where interesting exhibitions are constantly being held. If you come to Tha Tien by subway, get off at MRT Sanamchai Station, and when you ascend to the ground floor from the underground elevator, you will not miss the museum that greets you.

“There’s so much to explore at once,” our guide said. We totally agree.

Tha Tien Fest Poster

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