Bangkok Her­itage: River­side Re­birth

World Travel Magazine - - Contents - WORDS & PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY VIN­CENT SUNG

The area around Chao Phraya River is a hot­bed of cul­tural re­nais­sance, where its rich her­itage is rein­vented by vi­sion­ar­ies.

Leg­endary mod­ern day Bangkok has evolved into a city of lush ur­ban grandeur, star­tling contrasts, and so­phis­ti­ca­tion. It’s wind­ing rivers and canals help lay out a sig­na­ture sky­line with panoramic views that tower over char­ac­ter driven neigh­bour­hoods, bustling mar­kets, neon-lit nightlife, and a del­i­catessen of steamy street fare. En­ter a trop­i­cal me­trop­o­lis that har­bours many hid­den gems.

Just be­hind mod­ern sky­scrapers, you will dis­cover Zen-like parks, be­tween first-class shop­ping malls, quiet tem­ples, un­der a mod­ern sky train net­work, tra­di­tional her­itage build­ings, and a thriv­ing art and cul­ture scene. Hot, cool, spicy, sooth­ing, rich, hum­ble, fran­tic and at peace with it­self, it’s Bangkok; the city of contrasts where mod­ern de­sign meets her­itage build­ings!

Not so long ago, Bangkok thrived with trav­ellers and traders from China, In­dia, and Europe, who wit­nessed life on Chao Praya River and ma­jor canals filled with river­boats, rafts and rice barges. Count­less visi­tors then com­pared the Thai cap­i­tal to Venice and nick­named Bangkok the ‘Venice of the East’.

Fast for­ward to present days, and an­other sim­i­lar­ity with Venice; the Venice Art Bi­en­nale is one of the old­est and most pres­ti­gious in­ter­na­tional ex­hi­bi­tion of its kind. It’s also in Venice that the first Bangkok Art Bi­en­nale was of­fi­cially an­nounced last year in May 2017 at The Europa & Regina Ho­tel. The up­com­ing in­ter­na­tional Bangkok Art Bi­en­nale (B.A.B.) will put Bangkok (Krung Thep Maha Nakhon) back into the in­ter­na­tional spot­lights and po­si­tion it onto the world­wide art bi­en­nale cir­cuits. Over 75 in­ter­na­tional artists will be shown at var­i­ous sites and fa­mous land­marks along the Chao Phraya River, at the his­toric East Asi­atic Com­pany build­ing, Bangkok Art and Cul­ture Cen­ter (B.A.C.C.) and Lumpini Park; while an­cient tem­ples like Wat Pho (Tem­ple of Re­clin­ing Bud­dha), Wat Arun (Tem­ple of Dawn) and Wat Pray­oon (Tem­ple of Iron Fence) will be the sites for cul­tural en­coun­ters.

Bangkok Art Bi­en­nale Oct. 19, 2018 – Feb. 3, 2019 bkkart­bi­en­

Over the last few years, Bangkok River­side has wit­nessed a re­nais­sance with an abun­dance of new bou­tique ho­tels, restau­rants, cafes, in­de­pen­dent gal­leries and bars pop­ping up along the banks of the Chao Phraya river.

Lead­ing the way, the Asi­a­tique river­front com­plex, with its distinc­tive gi­ant Fer­ris wheel land­mark, turned the river­bank into a des­ti­na­tion for tourists and shop­ping lovers. At the cen­tre of this river re­nais­sance, Bangkok

This Page, from top, brass bells sold at Thai Home In­dus­tries, De­sign knives at Thai Home In­dus­tries, main en­trance Grand Postal build­ing Op­po­site, clock­wise from left, In­stal­la­tion at BACC, Art­work dis­played at BACC, de­tails of a Garuda Grand Postal build­ing Pre­vi­ous Pages from left, Con­tem­po­rary wood de­sign at The Jam Fac­tory; Art­work at Serindia gallery

River Part­ners is a foun­da­tion lead by David Robin­son and other mem­bers of the Creative Dis­trict, a coined name given to the area’s clutch of arts and lifestyle venues. They have in­vig­o­rated new en­ergy and brought pub­lic aware­ness into an area that used to be des­ti­tute land­marks, aban­doned ware­houses, and run-down fac­tory build­ings.

Charoenkrung road was al­ready rich with his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural as­sets along with its unique cul­tural di­ver­sity. As the very first street and the for­mer lead­ing busi­ness area of Bangkok, Charoenkrung has been the hub of ar­chi­tec­tural build­ings and creative busi­nesses for over a cen­tury. Around 150 years ago, Charoenkrung was one of Bangkok’s first paved road and rapidly be­came the city’s cen­tre of com­merce, thanks to its prox­im­ity to the Chao Phraya river.

In 1876, the leg­endary (Man­darin) Ori­en­tal ho­tel was founded off the Ban­grak sec­tion of the road, along the Chao Phraya River. The iconic ho­tel has since wel­comed nu­mer­ous heads of state, cap­tains of in­dus­try and a host of world-renowned writ­ers and celebri­ties for over 142 years. The ho­tel re­cently com­pleted a com­pre­hen­sive ren­o­va­tion of the his­toric Au­thors’ and Gar­den Wings to mark its 140 years’ an­niver­sary.

Lo­cated a stone’s throw from Man­darin Ori­en­tal ho­tel,

Thai Home In­dus­tries is an en­dur­ing and en­dear­ing cus­tom-made Thai craft store housed in an eye-catch­ing tem­ple styled build­ing. The 50-year-old shop sits be­neath an el­e­gant up­turned roof with mir­rored shin­gles. Housed in a sim­ple airy room, nat­u­rally lit by a sky­light, Thai craft works range from cus­tom-made cut­lery, soft or­ganic-cot­ton Thai farmer pants and mother-of-pearls serv­ing spoons. The flag­ship of their col­lec­tion is their kitchen sil­ver­ware. Ev­ery spoon, fork, and knife is hand­made to pre­ci­sion and with a fo­cus on de­sign, er­gonomics and qual­ity. Hav­ing been in op­er­a­tion for more than half a cen­tury, their mis­sion is to make the best Thai craft home goods by hand and let the qual­ity speaks for it­self, which re­flects through their grow­ing cus­tomers, vis­it­ing mostly from word of mouth.

An­other his­toric land­mark, the Grand Postal Build­ing was built in the mid-thir­ties on the site of Thai­land’s first post of­fice (opened in 1883). A mon­u­men­tal build­ing sit­ting next to the all-glass mod­ern CAT Tower. The low and wide build­ing mixes the long and clean lines of art deco ar­chi­tec­ture with touches of tra­di­tional Thai adorn­ment. Two myth­i­cal garuda birds are cling­ing at both cor­ners of the cen­tral struc­ture. It once served as the cen­tre where all posts were re­ceived and sent out.

This Page, from top, Pop-up store An­other Story at Ware­house 30; Fash­ion cor­ner at Ware­house 30; ac­ces­sories sold at Ware­house 30 Op­po­site, clock­wise from left, Main li­brary at TCDC; ‘Pure Gold’ ex­hi­bi­tion at TCDC; book sales at TCDC; TCDC main en­trance

The orig­i­nal struc­ture was trans­formed to house the new TCDC (Thai­land Cul­ture and De­sign Cen­ter), which moved in last year.

Mark­ing and ini­ti­at­ing the slow shift, from the main artery of Sukhumvit to­wards the past-era orig­i­nal com­mer­cial cen­tre of Charoenkrung, from Em­po­rium mall to Ban­grak dis­trict, the en­hanced TCDC housed in a 9,000 square me­ter fa­cil­i­ties, ini­ti­ated a new wave of de­vel­op­ment that is re­vi­tal­is­ing the area. The mis­sion of TCDC is to be a hub of knowl­edge with an ex­ten­sive li­brary of over 75,000 books, an in­cu­ba­tor of cre­atives and re­lated busi­nesses. Ma­te­rial Con­nex­ion in­tro­duces visi­tors to in­no­va­tive ma­te­ri­als made in Thai­land, while tem­po­rary ex­hi­bi­tions fo­cus on de­sign and new cre­atives projects.

Ac­ces­si­ble from the back build­ing of TCDC, and fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of his first ware­houses re­mod­elling along the river, renowned Thai ar­chi­tect Duangrit Bun­nag, opened Ware­house 30. For years, the seven large ware­houses in­side Soi Cap­tain Bush sat un­used. The team be­hind The Jam Fac­tory saw the po­ten­tial of the com­plex in be­com­ing a creative cen­tre and re­stored the ware­houses for con­tem­po­rary func­tions.

Much of the ar­chi­tec­tural el­e­ments have been pre­served with the ex­posed pil­lars, beams and steel struc­tures along with the orig­i­nal wooden floor. The row of build­ings in­side Soi Cap­tain Bush com­prises a se­ries of aban­doned World War Ii-era ware­houses that was ren­o­vated and retro­fit­ted into a 4,000 sqm. com­plex for shops, cafes, a spa, an event space, a co-work­ing hub, and screen­ing rooms. Pro­fes­sion­als can work in co-work­ing space ‘One Big House’ or rent out the event space oc­cu­py­ing the first and sec­ond ware­house.

Take a break at Sum­mer Heath cafe or cross the road to ad­mire hand­crafted con­tem­po­rary ta­bles at P.

Ten­der­cool. With such a slo­gan ‘We make ta­bles and we make them well’, one could won­der what this showroom is all about? Cross-cul­tural cre­ations of unique and very lim­ited edi­tion hand­crafted ta­bles, Bel­gian de­sign­ers, Pi­eter and Stephanie teamed up with a plethora of tal­ents to cre­ate su­perb ta­bles in­deed and by ex­ten­sion, chairs, stylish ob­jects d’art with a unique Eu­ro­pean flair and savoir-faire. Their lofty showroom is of­ten the can­vas for creative pop-up events.

Fur­ther up, to­wards the Por­tuguese Em­bassy, Maison

Chatenet is an all-day café and bak­ery of­fer­ing a respite from the usual Thai milk tea or in­stant cof­fee. The menu cen­tres on French pas­tries and sand­wiches. Cafes are

This Page, from top, Lu­mi­nar­ies and art at P. Ten­der­cool;

Haute man­u­fac­ture at P. Ten­der­cool; Con­tem­po­rary in­te­rior at Maison Chatenet Op­po­site, clock­wise from left, The Jam Fac­tory deco shop; ter­race at Never End­ing Sum­mer; let­ter punch sold at The Jam Fac­tory; art gallery at The Jam Fac­tory

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