For fifteen years between the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767 and the founding of Bangkok in 1782, the west-bank town of Thonburi, across the Chao Phraya from modern-day Bangkok, stood in as the Thai capital, under the rule of General Phraya Taksin. Its time in the spotlight was too brief for the building of the fine monuments and temples that graced earlier capitals at Sukhothai and Ayutthaya, but some of its centuries-old canals, which once transported everyone and everything, have endured; it is these and the ways of life that depend on them that constitute Thonburi’s main attractions. In some quarters, life on this side of the river still revolves around these khlongs: vendors of food and household goods paddle their boats along the canals that crisscross the residential areas, and canalside factories use them to ferry their wares to the Chao Phraya River artery. Venture onto the backroads just three or four kilometres west of the river and you find yourself surrounded by market gardens and rural homes, with no hint of the throbbing metropolis across on the other bank. The most popular way to explore these old neighbourhoods is by boat, but joining a bicycle tour of the older neighbourhoods is also very rewarding (see Express boats). Most boat trips also encompass Thonburi’s imposing riverside Temple of the Dawn, Wat Arun, and often the Royal Barge Museum as well, though both are easily visited by yourself, as are the small but historic temple of Wat Rakhang and the surprisingly intriguing, and child-friendly, cemetery at Wat Prayoon.
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