Just about every new art gallery in town is opening up on Charoenkrung, offering a glimmer of hope that perhaps this neighbourhood can preserve its character—that it can be a place where colonial architecture and faded shophouses somehow fend off (some of) the high-rise luxury condos and mega malls consuming the city.
Charoenkrung may not be the most walkable community, but if you hop on a motorbike or boat between stop-offs, it’s bursting with artsy offerings and great bars.
A good place to start your riverside jaunt is River City, one of the area’s easiest-to-find landmarks, right next to the pier if you’re coming by river. A quick peruse of the antiques mall is probably all you’ll need—unless you’re really intent on purchasing an overpriced relic, that is. It doesn’t hurt to stop off in Viva & Aviv for an ice-cold pick-me-up or three, either. But be warned: when the house music is bumping, you may find it hard to get up and finish your self-guided tour.
Just northeast of River City is one of the area’s most popular hangouts, the very low-key Soulbar. Forget Saxophone: this intimate bar offers a much more exciting venue for live jazz and soul music. Despite—or perhaps because of—its cramped shophouse quarters, it brings in hordes of music lovers between Tuesday and Saturday. Get there at 6pm to make full use of the bar’s daily happy hours (and don’t miss out on the Thai craft beer or kombucha-laced brews, courtesy of Pure Luck).
But bar-hopping isn’t the main scene in this area, where art galleries old and new can be found everywhere, from shophouses down nondescript sois to old factories and colonial buildings. Three of the coolest in the area are Speedy Grandma, Soy Sauce Factory, and the Jam Factory, which are best known for showcasing contemporary modern Thai art—not to mention their awesome opening night parties, which are bringing in a young artsy crowd who enjoy the social side of the galleries as much as the creativity. A second project by the Speedy Grandma folks, Speedy Grandchild, provides an experimental space for students and early-career artists to hone their craft.
Perhaps the strength of the art community is best exemplified by the regular Silom/Charoenkrung Gallery Hopping Night, which gets bigger every time it’s held. One top venue on the gallery hopping trail is Atta Gallery, the only one in the city dedicated to wearable art, where jewellery is king. You won’t find the gem-heavy fine jewellery so often seen round the corner on Silom, but instead innovative art pieces, both one-of-a-kind and semi-mass-produced.
A change of pace is the nearby OP Place and OP Garden (there’s a shuttle bus between the two). The mini shopping centre makes Central Embassy look low end, but is, needless to say, a much more pleasant experience. Even if you just poke your head in for a peek at its wooden staircase and boutiques that look like they’re from another era, the visit will be worth your time. Nearby OP Garden is hard to beat as a place to grab refreshments; if you’re not art-galleried out, visit the on-site Serindia Gallery, which specialises in fine art and photography.
Next door to OP Place is the Grand Dame herself, the Mandarin Oriental. Thailand’s oldest hotel has its stuffy elements, but its newly revamped Bamboo Bar is one of the best live music venues in the city—and certainly its oldest. If Soulbar’s underground chic doesn’t appeal to you, but an evening of jazz and smooth spirits do, this dimly lit venue, frequented by just about every A-lister who comes through Bangkok, is just the ticket.