Exploring the arty environment of the Khlong Bang Luang Artist Village
City dwellers looking for a quick, yet culturally significant escape—away from the frenzy of urban Bangkok—will find the Khlong Bang Luang Artist Village an ideal destination to while away a peaceful afternoon in a creative environment.
Located to the west of the Chao Phraya River, this laid-back neighbourhood is just a short taxi ride from Talad Phlu BTS station, and is hidden at the end of Charan Santiwong Soi 3. From here, a narrow footbridge (watch out for the motorbikes racing over!) leads visitors into this small village which, despite its close location to the city, feels like a whole world away. Traffic-clogged roads and shiny skyscrapers are replaced by well-preserved, stilted wooden houses, clustered along one of Bangkok’s old canals in a scene reminiscent of the days of yore. The narrow alleys are home to several art galleries, studios, shops, restaurants, and cafés, as well as a handful of barbershops. Along the khlong runs a rickety boardwalk where locals and visitors—immersed in the calming and creative atmosphere of the community—let their feet dangle above the water and enjoy iced coffee or a bite to eat, perhaps while doing some painting. It’s the perfect place to let the world, as well as the odd longtail boat, whiz by.
The main draw for visitors to this community is the two-story teakwood house Baan Silapin, also known locally as the ‘Artist House’. The century-old structure is owned by Chumpol Akhpantanond, a Bangkok-based artist and conservationist, who bought and restored the building—turning it into an artist centre and attracting many other professional artists and art students. The house is open every day, though hours vary (Mon-Tue, 10am-6pm, Wed-Fri, 9am-6pm, Sat & Sun, 9am-7pm).
On the ground floor Baan Silapin is home to a great coffee shop, serving hot and cold beverages, as well as a small souvenir shop-cum-museum with postcards and khon puppets and masks. Out front, several painted sculptures are interspersed among the seated visitors along the walkway, while on the upper floor, there’s a small gallery, showcasing paintings, drawings, and photographs from local artists. Sitting in the centre of the house is a 300-year-old chedi, a relic of the Ayutthaya period, which doubles as the backdrop for the traditional Thai puppet theatre that performs here every day except Wednesdays at 2pm. Each day different scenes of the Ramakien, Thailand’s national epic, are acted out by skilful performers and their colourful and intricately-designed khon puppets, with a cast of characters featuring the monkey god Hanuman, and the mermaid princess Suvannamaccha. The performers—three operating one puppet—are clad head-to-toe in black, and cover their faces with expressionless black masks.
The 15-minute show—which is free of charge, although donations are “encouraged”—is in Thai only, with an emcee translating parts of the scenes into English. It is a fun way to spend an afternoon and is recommended for children and adults alike, as the puppets—particularly the mischievous Hanuman—interact in humorous ways with the audience. Inspired by this creative atmosphere, visitors can colour their own khon mask or, for the more adventurous, small canvases and paints are available for budding artists to paint their own waterside masterpieces.
Among other sites of interest in the area are two ancient temples worth visiting. Upon entering the village, take a right until you come across the temple complex of Wat Khuhasawan Worawiharn, a royal monastery that was renovated under King Rama I. Likewise, if you wander along the narrow alleyways away from the canal, you’ll pass a small (tourist) market selling food and drinks, as well as souvenirs. Behind this market is where you’ll find Wat Kamphangbangchak, an ancient and beautiful temple, most likely dating back to the Ayutthaya period. The mural on its front wall shows a large standing Buddha, framed by floral stone carvings, while the walls inside are covered in beautiful mosaics, in varying states of decay, depicting scenes from Buddhist mythology.
As Bangkok keeps on growing and modernizing, many of the city’s ancient canals are disappearing—fast being replaced by roads, and concrete structures. Khlong Bang Luang, by contrast, is one of the last remaining treasures still to be found on Bangkok’s old network of canals and rivers. The neighbourhood is a throwback in time, with crumbling temples and wooden homes on stilts adorning the canal-side. But even more important is the magic artists create, whether it’s timeless moments captured on canvas, or carefully crafted puppets coming to life.