Where: Sathorn / Yannawa district
Duration: Two hours (with breaks)
Start: Chong Nonsi BTS
1) On this walk we start where Walk 4 left off – Chong Nonsi BTS and the magnificant Mahanakon skyscraper. From the forecourt of the Sathorn Square building, head down Th. Sathorn and after only 30 metres look to the left and into the grounds of the W Hotel. Here you will see the imaginatively named The House. This impressive neo-classical home was built in 1889 by the Chinese businessman who built the Sathorn Canal – Luang Sathorn Rajayutka. The house was lost to the family and became a hotel before being home to the Russian Embassy from 1948 until 1999. The House has been carefully restored and all listening devices have been removed.
2) Now prepare yourself. We are coming to an iconic Bangkok building. You can begin to glimpse it on the left hand side of Th Sathorn as you make your way towards Soi 10. The BTS blocks the view a little, but between it and various electrical wires you can see the ‘bolts’ on the side of the magnificent Robot Building (1986). This is the Gigantor to the Optimus Prime we saw in Walk 4. It was designed by the famous Thai architect Sumet Jumsai.
Rejecting neo-classicism and post-modernism, this was to be one of the last modernist buildings for Bangkok. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles selected the Bank of Asia (The Robot Building) as one of 50 seminal buildings of the 20th century. Inside are robotic artworks by Thai sculptor Thaveechai Nitiprabha but I was not allowed to take pictures inside unfortunately.
3) Nearby, on the right hand side of the road is Soi 12 – good street food during the day and some handy eating / drinking places including Kai, Rocket and Le Cafe des Stagiaires. For the record, I think Rocket has the best coffee in Bangkok.
On the right of the Soi about halfway down is the impressive H Gallery which occupies a stately timber building.
And from BKK.com:
Located on the third floor of Lady Brett restaurant on Sathorn Soi 12, U.N.C.L.E – short for United Nations of Cocktail Lovers Everywhere – is an atmospheric bar and hangout space with a mixed crowd of expats and Thais. It follows a vague speakeasy vibe with hidden doors and winding staircases making it hard to find for first-timers (plus its only open from Wednesday to Friday), but cocktail lovers take note: this place is very serious about drinks.
A little further on is an overhead bridge which affords views back up Sathorn – good for an alternative view of the Robot Building. Cross Sathorn here and continue the journey. The tall building just past the Robot Building is the award winning 29 storey AIA Sathorn Tower. There is an unnamed angular sculpture at the entrance-way but what caught my eye was the use of patterned glass. The lobby is pretty impressive also with its nine metre ceiling. Next door is another another milky green mid-size office block not dissimilar to the ASA Centre seen on Walk 4.
4) A little further, on the left hand side, is the 118 year old St Louis Hospital adjacent to which is the vaguely Thai-style St Louis Church. And next door is The Embassy of the Holy See – The Vatican. Established in 1957, it became officially an Embassy in 1969. And by now we are at Surasak BTS. To the left is the new scimitar-like green glass building that is The Eastin Grand Hotel.
Next door is the Thai Chine Building. It was built in 1903 and opened as the Bombay Department Store, in what was then considered the most exclusive neighbourhood in Bangkok. Twenty five years later the Thai Chinese Chamber of Commerce was founded and it purchased the building to become their headquarters. Like the Neilson Hayes Library (on Surawong) and other period buildings, the Japanese Imperial army made the building it’s Command Centre. After the war the building returned to its previous use until the new ugly glass block was built behind it to where the Thai Chinese Chamber of Commerce moved. Now it houses a restaurant and a cooking school.
From here we head to the next big intersection (Th. Charoen Rat) and turn left. Off this road we veer left into Soi 1 and after about 100 metres we come to the Jam Cafe. Run by friendly people, this relatively out of the way place serves reasonable food, and usually has an on-going series of weekly movies based around some theme. You’ll often see a forgotten classic here. Zabriskie Point anyone?
Follow this Soi, walking roughly parallel to the expressway on your right.This is a quiet Thai neighbourhood with an assortment of old timber houses.
Take the best route in the general heading and shortly you will see a most intriguing place. It is a large open area – roughly square with an overgrown Chinese cemetery on three sides. This the Teo Chew Association of Thailand cultural site. In the centre is a grassy knoll which seems to be a gravesite of people of some significance. It’s a fine place for a walk and to explore the various temples and shrines. Not to mention a gym open to the air (though covered) where you can pump iron and watch Chinese movies at the same time. And what’s more, it’s only 100 baht a month to join. It is said that ghosts roam the century old site – you have been warned. From Coconuts Bangkok: Thirty years ago the cemetery had become a ruined mess that people avoided, largely because of frequent sightings of ghosts. Taxi drivers were reluctant to stop there, because they risked pulling a way with a ghost passenger fare.
This is a fascinating area for next door is Wat Prok – built in 1927 in the Pegu style. Pegu used to be the capital of the Mon Kingdom in Myanmar. It houses a white jade Buddha image. The monks use the Mon language and if you have a hankering to learn Mon this is the place to come as they offer free lessons – you can’t do much better on a weekend (or two).
Can you take some further spiritual guidance? Across the road is the citadel-like, white marble Hindu Dharma Sadha – Vishnu Temple. Wander in and receive a forehead marking and sip some blessed, aromatic liquid.
Now it gets really weird. In all the alleyways, in all of Bangkok, I walk down the one immediately to the left of the Temple, heading back towards the expressway. You know the kind, just wide enough for a motorbike with small timber doors opening onto the passageway. Now, as a proud Sydney-sider I did not expect to find this.
5) This alleyway will take you back to the road under the expressway. Turn right and walk along the footpath until it ends – cross the road to your left and you will see a small, mustard-coloured Thai colonial house called Baan Pra Nond. It’s actually a bed and breakfast and while the location leaves a bit to be desired, the design / renovation is first rate. The building was the former home of Pra Nondphapanyaa, a Supreme Court Justice of Thailand. Return now to Th Sathorn by turning left at the intersection. If you didn’t get your fill of ghosts back at the cemetery then you can see the Ghost Tower ahead and to your left. You will pass a small row of old Chines shophouses where, outside the last one, is always a game of makruk (Thai chess) being played.
Within about 200 metres we re-join Th Charoen Khrung and intersect with Walk 1: Bangkok Street Art. Use the free water outside one of the small cafes or take a break at Bridge Art Space.
Sapaan Taksin BTS is here if you need to train it to your next destination.