Like Thonburi as a whole, Bangkok’s Kudeejeen neighbourhood is one overlooked by visitors and locals alike. This compact network of easily walkable alleyways – big enough for motorbikes, but thankfully too small to fit cars down – lies between the imposing Wat Kalaya temple and the equally stunning white chedi of Wat Prayoon. Just as mesmerising in its own way, the Santa Cruz church plaza sits at the centre of the community, and the whole lot is hemmed in by the Bangkok Yai canal, the mouth of which feeds into the Chaophraya river just beyond Wat Kalaya.
But aside from these attractions, there’s just as much pleasure to be had from a visit to Kudeejeen simply for the sake of soaking up its peaceful, village-like vibe. It’s a far cry from the 24-hour madness of the Pak Khlong Talat flower market just across the river – over here, neighbourhood convenience stores trump 7/11s (of which there are none, of course), and double as informal local restaurants turning out rice-and-curry staples. Children play in the alleys, neighbours stop to talk to each other, and even those of us simply wandering through get a smile. It’s not that this kind of environment doesn’t exist elsewhere in Bangkok – it does – but it’s certainly a type of neighbourhood atmosphere that’s increasingly hard to find.
The history of Kudeejeen
The first Kudeejeen inhabitants arrived as far back as 1767, when the Siamese capital was moved to Thonburi. Both Chinese-descended Thais and Portuguese settlers were relocated here, the latter in recognition of their support in defeating the Burmese in Ayutthaya. The result is a multicultural community that survives today – as well as Buddhists, the area is home to a vibrant Catholic community centred around the church, as well as plenty of Thai-Chinese families and a dwindling but nonetheless evident Muslim population. Yet the area’s name – Kudeejeen translates to something akin to ‘Chinese shrine’ – is not a reference to the Chinese ancestry of many of the locals, but rather to the Chinese architectural influences in the church’s second construction after the first wooden structure burned down. The Santa Cruz church that exists today is its third incarnation, designed by Italians.
The area around Wat Kalaya has hit troubled ground more recently. Families living on land owned by the temple have been subjected to forced evictions following the arrival of a controversial abbot in 2003, who has torn down numerous heritage buildings despite a court case pursued by Thailand’s Fine Arts Department. And there have been suggestions that, rather than the temple’s claimed intention to build a historical learning centre, the plot is destined to end up in the hands of developers. Parts of the neighbourhood also appear to have been sized up for inclusion in upcoming expansion of Bangkok’s underground train system. Yet for now the quiet streets of Kudeejeen itself still feel like a reprieve from the more frenzied way of life elsewhere in Bangkok.
Kudeejeen’s culinary heritage
This might be a place to simply slow down and take a wander, but there are also a few surprises tucked into the narrow lanes of Kudeejeen, many of which display street art by local students in a similar vein to the murals of Penang and elsewhere. Stop for a coffee at the tiny and irresistibly cute Thanusingha Bakery House (Kudeejeen Soi 7). It’s little more than a house with a tin roof, but it’s a great place for a breather and has a real community vibe, especially at weekends when locals pour in for a catch-up. It’s also one of only a handful of spots still making the famous local snack kanom farang kudeejeen, a muffin-like snack made to a Portuguese recipe that’s another hangover from the area’s past. Made of just sugar, flour and egg – plus a few raisins for a bit of bite – it’s a treat that’s crumbly on the inside and yet has a crisp and sugary edge. The muffins are made in-house – you can watch the production in action at the back of the shop – and are especially good when they’re fresh out of the oven and still warm.
What to see in and around Kudeejeen
Wat Kalaya’s striking white pillars make a real impression as you approach – open all day, it’s also worth visiting to see Bangkok’s largest sitting Buddha statue. The Santa Cruz church is often closed other than during services, but even then you can catch a glimpse of its beautiful stained glass windows through the open windows. Wat Prayoon is a particular favourite and worth a visit at night, when the chedi is spectacularly contrasted against the dark sky; come during the day and you can also feed its large turtle population. And mosques in the neighbourhood include Bang Luang, Tonson and Goowotin. All welcome visitors, and Goowotin mosque in particular has a beautifully serene riverside location, set in a former warehouse that could do with a tad more restoration but which looks utterly stunning in its decaying state.
From Kudeejeen, it’s just a short hop back across the river to stroll around the Pak Khlong Talat flower market. It’s also an easy, albeit hot, walk from Wat Prayoon to Wongwian Yai railway station, from where trains leave for Mahachai and onward to the Mae Klong railway market, and where a road beside the track makes it possible to take a pleasant 20-minute walk through an equally multicultural community to Talat Phlu station, passing mosques, Chinese shrines and railway communities along the way.
How to get to Kudeejeen
To get to Kudeejeen, take the Chaophaya river boat to the Yodpiman pier close to Pak Khlong Talat flower market, then take a cross-river ferry for three and a half baht from the Atsadang pier at the far end of the Yodpiman River Walk. The ferry lands at the Wat Kalaya pier; a 30-second walk south along the riverfront (in the direction of Sathorn) brings you to Santa Cruz church. To explore the alleys of Kudeejeen, exit the plaza through the gates to the right-hand side as facing the church.
I first explored Kudeejeen as a guest of Expique on their Walks of Bangkok Diversity & Harmony walking tour, and I now work with Expique producing content for their blog and managing their social media channels. I have since returned to Kudeejeen at my own cost – all opinions are my own.