Where: Pathumwan District / Outer Rattanakosin (South)
Duration: About 3 hours (more if you explore)
Start: National Stadium BTS
1) Once you get to National Stadium BTS you have a few options. If you have shopping fever then head to MBK on the southern side. If you have an art craving you can walk from the BTS into the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre which opens at 10am (closed Mondays).While you are here take a peak at the new murals in honour of the King.
But if you are just walking take the left hand side exit (Exit 2) and continue your journey up Rama 1.
Within about 200 metres you will see the National Stadium on your left. The area is a large sporting complex and the original stadium – Supachalasai Stadium, was built in 1937.
Roughly opposite is Jim Thompson’s house at 6 Soi Kasem San 2. Worth a visit if you have the time. The footpaths here are quite wide so it is pleasant walking in company. After about 400 metres you come to Th. Banthat Thong intersection. Cross the intersection and keep heading west. On the right hand side at the intersection you will see a 2013 mural by Amandine Urruty, a female artist who….lives and works on her bed, with a suit case full of pens always nearby. After studying at University for long years and a brief career in underground music, Amandine Urruty spreads her repertoire of beasts and her gallery of weird characters on all kind of mediums, on paper as on walls. As she masters techniques of traditional drawing, Amandine Urruty offers us a cheerful gallery of deviant portraits, associating grotesque outfits with baroque decorum which miraculously reconcile lovers of alchemistic symbolism to young ladies with too much make up (from her blog). It’s a collaborative work with Nicolas Barrome, another French artist.
2) Continue along Rama 1 and you will walk under the expressway. On the left is the Pathumwan Sports Club where you might catch a glimpse of Muay Thai aspirants practising their craft. At this intersection you may be approached by a Thai man who will tell you that there are ‘protests’ up ahead. We haven’t encountered one yet and unlikely to as they are generally illegal at this point in time. As you continue down Rama 1 you see Wat Sam Ngam on the right. The Chinese inspired filigree work on the pavilions and murals inside are worth are seeing. To see the murals, enter the wat and take your first left.
Within meters of the wat is a bridge over the northern railway line. Rather than walk directly over the bridge, walk down to the small community on the right hand side. Note the small outdoor library and play centre for kids sheltering under the lip of the bridge. At the end of the street there is a small Chinese temple and steps back up onto the bridge.
From the bridge you can see the rear of the old railway buildings within the Hualamphong railway complex. Most recently the interesting inner-courtyard of these buildings was used for a pop-up market.
It’s a short distance to a khlong which wends its way down to River City. Just before you cross the bridge however, look back to your right to see a fine example of early 20th century architecture housing a section of the Ministry of Energy. There is an intersection on the far side of the khlong with, thankfully, an overhead bridge to avoid a tricky ground level crossing. It’s at this intersection that Rama 1 becomes Th Bamrung Mueang (which means ‘road embellishing the city’). For a fascinating sketch of the road’s commercial history see: Th. Bamrung Mueang’s history
Coming from this walk’s direction you will pass an assortment of businesses including traditional medicine, hardware stores, glaziers, hairdressers (the road was the site of the first barber shops in Bangkok) although office furniture seems to be at the heart of it. Then again, it also has a great Vespa sales and repair shop as well. The footpath is wide and the walking is easy.
You will also pass on the left hand side, what looks to be a deserted French Second Empire style building optimistically called European Town. A dream gone wrong somewhere. Just crying out for a hipster makeover. Although for now and rightly so it is home to quite a number of squatters.
What I like about this part of town are the tree-lined streets that add colour, beauty and most importantly, at time of writing, shade. Continue along Th Bamrung Mueang and at the next intersection (Th. Worachak) you will see the old Bangkok Waterworks. The project was started by Rama V although he didn’t live to see it completed in 1914. A similar tower can be seen in the grounds of the Chulalongkhorn School of Medicine on Th Rachadamri.
3) Just after the Waterworks on the left hand side you will come to Soi Ban Bat. This community was established by Rama 1 and here lived artisans whose speciality was the making of alms bowls for monks. Much diminished these days, there are still some people working on the craft in the alleyways off the Soi along with other assorted small businesses. Take the first alley to the right once you have entered the soi. Apart from seeing traditional baat (alm’s bowls) you will find yourself amidst a vibrant community. Lots of grandparents looking after grandchildren on weekdays.
Photo courtesy of Louise Saddington
Over to your right is Phu Khao Thong – the Chedi of the Golden Mountain. Now commonly known as the Golden Mount. A project started by Rama III, it was completed by his son Rama IV (of the King and I story). On this walk you can continue a short way from Soi Ban Bat to the interaction with Th.Boriphat. Take a right and walk about 100 metres until you come to what is a kind of back entrance to the Mount. Enter and follow the internal road to the right until you come to the ticket office.Explore the Mount at your leisure. Just before the office, however, is what I’m claiming to be the world’s biggest mortar and pestle. That’s my trusty orange pen in the frame.
Of course, if your desire runs more to inner carpenter rather than inner peace, you will have noticed on the far side of Th. Boriphat running parallel to the Mount’s wall a row of timber shops selling everything in the world of joinery. While away the hours!
Behind these shops runs the outer-khlong of Rattankosin island. Cross the bridge and at the intersection of Th. Maha Chai you will need to cross to the left hand side of the road as the footpath disappears on the right. If you look ahead, about 300 metres away, you will see the Giant Swing.
4) For this walk, rather than go right towards the under siege Manakhon Fort community, turn left and walk along Th. Maha Chai towards the river. There are some interesting cane shops on the right along with the pleasant Romaneenart Park that has the remains of the former Central Prison that was built in 1890 and only closed about 30 years ago. There is also a penal museum here. As Kenneth Barratt tells it, when beheading was replaced by machine gun executions, the prisoner was seated behind a blanket with a target on it so it was really only target practice.There is also a relatively early example of Thai street artist Asin just near an entrance to the park.
Once you have explored the park continue along the right hand side of the road.
5) Shortly you will come to Th. Charoen Krung but just before you do check out the music shop on the left hand side – great whimsical facade (look carefully).
At the intersection, on the south western corner, you can see a good example of the potential for saving some of the classic buildings in this area. The revamped Victorian building is now the home to the Cacha Bed Heritage Hostel (it has now added a rooftop terrace). The building dates from 1900 and was originally owned by the Royal Family.
Housed on the ground floor is the is the Gallery Drip Coffee shop – 70 baht a cup and delicious. The shop has kept the floor tiles which is a great touch. Currently has an excellent photography exhibition. The staff are friendly.
Highly recommended before you dive into the markets of Little India just a hundred metres away. Keep an eye out for police ute surfing as well.
6) Take the first or second left after the coffee shop and you will come to a road that leads to a mustard-coloured Mall. Dotted around this area are numerous gun shops so if your fancy turns to side arms and rifles you’re in the right place. Now, walk through the Mall or skirt around it by going left and you will come to the first ever Department store in Bangkok – yep, it’s the Nightingale-Olympic Department Store. First, check out the brutalist facade, next enter and step back in time. Explore at your leisure. And don’t miss the fountain near the sweeping staircase. For a good article check:
7) Turn around and head up Th. Parhurat and into the markets – the wonderful fabric markets up ahead including the oldest disused escalator in the world (I made that up – the part about ‘the oldest’). This is the place to pick up all things Indian.
8) A little further south from the markets is a Sikh Gurdwara which is definately worth a visit – you will have to take off your shoes and cover your head. Women and men sit separately in the Gurdwara. A most welcoming place. You will be offered food and taking photos is actively encouraged. The sixth floor offers views back to the city skyscrapers but also it is the repository for the holy books. You are welcome to explore. One of the highlights of this walk.
Sixth floor of the Gurdwara: Photo courtesy of Louise Saddington
9) Feeling hungry – well the next door samosa man has been serving up samosa for over 30 years. Cheap and filling. And I’m making the call that they are the best samosa in Bangkok, no, Thailand. Only three things are sold here and they are all delicious.
Photo courtesy of Louise Saddington
10) Keep walking towards the river and as you savour your samosa look to your right and you see Thailand’s Constitutional Court which will figure prominently in the coming year.
Follow the road and swing right. To your left is the Memorial Bridge and the Statue of Rama 1. Immediately on your right is a good example of thirties inspired mid-sixties architecture and houses the Metropolitan Electricity Authority which is not surprising given Bangkok’s first electricity generating station was in the grounds of the next door Wat Liab. The wat was almost completely destroyed by allied bombing in World War Two because of the generator. Re-built after the war the plant finally closed in 1965. In the grounds of the re-built wat is the delightful milky-green prang which was commissioned by Rama 111. The ceramic covered prang survived the bombing.
11) Across the road from Wat Liab (also known as Wat Watchaburana) is a long, mustard coloured building (named Suan Kularb) that was really the first, modern school in Thailand and was established by Rama V. It’s still referred to as ‘the long building’. Cross the road here and continue along Th Chakpet.
Flowers are to be had on both sides of the road. The footpaths are wide although for some insane reason (money?) the BMA decided no more street sellers so the area had lost some of its chaotic charm. Nonetheless, the flowers are beautiful, varied, and cheap. The area retains that market feel and purpose so keep an eye out for people with trolleys of vegetables or flowers as this is their workplace and they kinda have right of way.
12) Cross the first road you come to, walk about another 50 metres and then take a right into the vegetable markets. This is a small, but wonderful vegetable market. Directly opposite towards the river is a similar sized market focussing on flowers – especially for temple visits. In the vegetable market have a wander but return to this initial lane for the next stop.
Photo courtesy of Andrea Dawson
13) Follow the lane to the end – there are usually fuk thong piled up in big baskets.You may be lucky enough to see the produce that hangs mysteriously in the air making the loading much easier for the workers.
Photo courtesy of Louise Saddington
Across, slightly to your left is another laneway that generally serves the rear of small century old shophouses. Walk between the back entrances to these enterprises and after about 50 metres on your right you will come to the final stop for this walk – Farm to Table The Hideaway. Great food, ice-cream and coffee. It’s in a restored house, which as you can see from the pictures of the original inside, and it is clear a lot of thought has gone into the restoration. Enjoy.
Photo courtesy of Louise Saddington