Bangkok Heritage: Riverside Rebirth
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 bkkartbiennale.com
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