The second edition of the street art invasion offers opportunities for self-guided walks
For those that have ventured further than Sukhumvit, you should be reasonably au fait with what the likes of Sathorn and Silom have to offer. However, away from the impressive skyscrapers of global bank headquarters, embassies, and ambassadors’ digs, and even further removed from Silom’s infamous nightlife, there is a side to this part of Bangkok that might just surprise you.
Bang Rak is a fascinating and extremely diverse part of the city. Translated to mean “Village of Love,” it manages to epitomize almost every element of Thailand within one district. The neighbourhood is defined by some of the most expensive property prices in the whole country, Patpong’s raucous nightlife, colonial-style architecture, historical mosques, Chinese shrines, and Indian temples, not to mention Charoen Krung—Bangkok’s oldest street—and, of course, the mighty Chao Phraya river. Bang Rak is now home to some of the city’s most spectacular urban art, too. January’s BUKRUK festival saw artists from all over the world descend upon Bangkok. Along with some top local names, they transformed walls and buildings across the district into gigantic masterpieces. Each day now offers a wonderful opportunity to wander down some of Bangkok’s oldest and most intriguing sois, discovering cutting-edge art converging with history.
From Saphan Taksin, take the exit for the Chao Praya Express Boat. As you come down the stairs to ground level you’ll see another set of stairs. Climb to the top and you’ll be on the pedestrian walkway over the river itself. Lap up the breeze as well as the fantastic view of the luxury hotels, the haunting ghost tower, and boats dodging each other as they ferry their loads to and fro. If you look to your left, just past Wat Yannawa, you should see your first BUKRUK art work. This duck-themed giant was created by Nychos (Austria) and can only be viewed from this part of the bridge, or by boat, as the boat yard where it’s painted is closed off to the public.
Make your way back down the stairwell you came from and cross the small pedestrian bridge. Hidden behind the ever-present row of red songtaew is BUKRUK wall number two—a surreal offering from Dutch artist Daan Botlek.
Wading through the throng of pedestrians and dodging the glut of fruit stalls on Charoen Krung Road next is worth the hassle, as a few hundred metres down the street opposite Robinsons you’ll be rewarded with a visit to Prachak. This Bang Rak stalwart was founded back in 1909 and is famous for its roast duck. Although it might look dilapidated from the outside, there’s no better place on the street to fuel up for the rest of the walk. Don’t be put off if it’s too busy, you can walk through to the back and up the stairs, where you’ll find a less crowded room. Try the signature duck on rice (khao na ped) or opt for an egg noodle soup topped with roast duck and pork, crabmeat, and wontons.
Continue your way down Charoen Krung until you reach Soi 40. A few hundred meters down the street on your left you’ll find Assumption Cathedral. First constructed in 1821 and then rebuilt in 1909 to cope with the rapidly expanding Catholic community, it’s open daily. Visitors are welcomed inside, but take note of the sign at the entrance of the church—“Please be respectful when taking a photo. Don’t pose.” This is no place for selfies.
Come back on to Soi 40 and follow signs for OP Place, a shopping plaza-cum-gallery. What at first seems like a five-minute interlude to enjoy a blast of air conditioning is in fact a hidden gem. Opened in 1878, this is Thailand’s oldest department store. It’s easy to imagine that this was once the Harrod’s of Bangkok—and it still is a place for the wealthy to buy antiques, art, and tailor-made suits. It was known as “Hang Sing Toh” or “lion store” by the locals due to the stone lions that adorn the windows on the south side of the building. It’s worth coming here, if for no other reason than viewing the old photographs, dating back from the 1800s, found all over the plaza. One in particular of the electrified tram system built in 1893 gives you a real feel of what the Big Mango must have been like a century ago.
Exit OP Place on to Soi 36 and you’ll spot Haroon Mosque. Turn left and you’ll be standing in the shadow of the imposing French Embassy. Carry on a little farther and you’ll find the fantastic Old Custom’s House. You may have seen it from the river, but up-close this building is even more impressive. With the peeling yellow paint and decaying wooden shutters, in a strange way the building is perhaps more beautiful now than it was when it was constructed in the 1890s.
Walk the full-length of the building along the riverfront and at the far end of the car park you’ll see a petrol tank. Behind this is Wat Muand Kae Pier. You can walk through the grounds of the temple to get back on to Charoen Krung. Turn left, pass the giant postal building, and then head up Soi 43 for a flying visit to the Bangkokian Museum. This free-to-enter attraction is made up of three buildings and offers a fascinating glimpse of what life was like in the middle of the 20th century. The main house was built in 1937, costing just B2400, an amount you’d struggle to buy a couple of cocktails with at some of Bang Rak’s more exclusive bars.
Head back down Soi 43 and opposite you’ll see Soi 32, home to the next BUKRUK wall. On weekdays this soi is a frantic market, and the murals may be hidden by vendors. But on a weekend you’ll find the soi deserted. You can enjoy hundreds of meters of diverse and interesting artwork created by eight different street artists—J.M. Yes, Alex Face, Sabek, Kult, Lolay, Bonus TMC, Phai, and Thibaud Tchertchian.
Tear yourself away from these aesthetic pleasures and make your way down Soi 30. Gallery Café is an ideal place to take a breather and grab a well-earned coffee before visiting your next BUKRUK mural, a huge black-and-white piece by Italian stencil artists Sten & Lex.
Carry on down Soi 30 until the road becomes Trok Captain Bush, named after an English sea captain who served under King Mongkut back in the 1850s. Pass the Portuguese Embassy and the impressive bronze sculptors, as River City appears on your right. Walk on through Soi Wanit 2. Nestled amongst the motorbike shops, junkyards, and scrap metal shops of Talad Noi is the beautiful Holy Rosary Church, as well as another BUKRUK mural by Escif of Spain. Go straight and you’ll emerge on Song Wat Road. Take a left to see the final three pieces of wall art by Aitch (Romania), Roa (Belgium), and the gigantic bicycle themed wall by Aryz (Spain).
Now you’ve got a few options: you could head on in to Chinatown or nearby Hua Lamphong MRT station to get home. However, your best bet would be to jump in a tuk tuk to Jack’s Bar on Charoen Krung 42/1. Offering a laidback riverside vibe, it’s the best place to enjoy a Chao Phraya sunset. Black pepper chicken skewers and crispy wontons are the ideal accompaniment to the cheap beer on offer making it a perfect end to your Bang Rak–BUKRUK experience.
For more information about the BUKRUK festival, and to see an interactive map of other wall murals in the area, visit bukruk.com.