Walk 4: Architecture & Sculpture (1)

Where: Th. Wittayu / Th. Sathorn

Duration: One hour

Start: Ploenchit BTS

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1) From Ploenchit BTS, take the walkway back towards Chitlom BTS and if you look down to your right you will see a large black horse. Enter Central Embassy (sometimes called Central Empty) and make your way to ground level and out onto the forecourt. The sculpture is by famed Colombian artist Fernando Botero (b. 1932) and was unveiled in 2014 (Chinese Year of the Horse). Botero started matador school at age 12 but after two years began to pursue his art. Most notable recent work was his 2005 Abu Ghraib series of paintings. The bronze monumental sculpture itself comes in at 2000kg.

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2) The Central Embassy Mall / Residences (on land said to be the most expensive in Thailand) that flow upward behind you is located on the former garden space of the British Embassy (hence the name) and was designed by British architect Amanda Levete (b.1955). In her own words:

“Central Embassy will be the first contemporary landmark building in Bangkok. It is demonstrably of its time but rooted in Thai heritage and culture. Our architectural ambition is matched by the ambition of Central to create the best and most exciting retail and hotel destination in Thailand.”

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That’s a big call given the next building we will explore, but more on that in a moment. Levete’s work can be seen across the globe – from a station on the Naples subway, to a mosque in Abu Dhabi and an outdoor pavilion at Docklands, Melbourne. She can also be seen regularly in glossy design magazines and has just been selected to remodel Paris’ Galeries Lafayette department store.

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3) Before we join the walkway again, look to the intersection and the nearest corner. There you will see the last of the eight original boundary markers that staked out the land owned by Thai entrepreneur Nai Lert. More on his story when another walk will take us north from this corner.

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4) Re-joining the overhead walkway, to the left you will see the Park Ventures Ecoplex. Designed by Hong Kong based Palmer and Turner Architects, it stands at 142 metres and also houses the Okura Prestige Hotel. The structural design concept was that of a ‘wai’ but for mine it is more transformer-like, especially at night. That perception probably comes to mind because we are not to far from the famous Robot Building. The Park Ventures building is like the more contemporary sibling to that building – Gigantor updated to Optimus Prime.

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It is probably one of the more conceptually integrated buildings in Bangkok and has excellent green credentials. The landscape work has been up for awards and a lot of attention has been given to details (see the calorie markers on the outdoor steps). There are three ground level sculptures here  – done by “Friends On Site”, a design and fabrication workshop in Bangkok.  The most impressive of the three, called ‘Voice of the Wind’, is in the forecourt and made from re-cycled industrial waster. You can arrange a tour of the building’s ecology by calling 02643 7193.

5) From here, the plan is to head south along the left hand side of Th. Wittayu. Adjacent to The Park Venture building are the Siri Apartments. The street facing block is a nondescript low-rise but tucked in behind is one of the more quirky apartment blocks in Bangkok. You may have to sweet talk the guard to get up close.

6) Continue down Th. Wittayu and you will come to the cleverly designed Indigo Hotel. Outside you will see a series of steel sculptures by Thai outfit VIF Sculptures.

It is worth going inside to see some of the design ideas that have been employed to mark its territory in the competitive Bangkok hotel market – the rooftop bar has expansive 180 degrees west-facing views.

7) Across the road from the Indigo Hotel is about 4 acres of green space. The centre-piece is a white timber house. The house was built in 1914 by English adventurer / entrepreneur Henry Victor Bailey. He later sold it to the Thai Ministry of Finance. After the Second World War, England was intent on retribution for Thailand’s support for the Japanese, however the United States pushed back against this and as a sign of gratitude the house was handed over to the US in 1947 from which time it has been the Ambassador’s Residence. See http://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/bangkok-article for a glimpse inside this beautiful house.

8) If you have crossed the road for a closer look at the house and grounds, go a little further along to find what seems to be a herd of slightly annoyed cows…..and the Embassy of the Netherlands. Like the US Ambassador’s house, this embassy is nestled in greenery.

9) Stay on this side of the road and a little further on and opposite you will see the China Resources Tower. Completed in 2001, it was designed by the same team that did the Park Ventures Building and stands at 210 metres and is the 13th tallest building in Bangkok as of 2016. The entry and exit points onto Th. Wittayu are framed by a number of celestial pieces.

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10) Continue down Th. Wittayu until you come to a T-Intersection with Th. Sarasin. Cross Th. Sarasin and you will be at the north-east corner of 57 hectare Lumpini Park, named after the birthplace of Gautama Buddha. If you look up you can glimpse the radio tower from which came the first radio broadcasts in Thailand (hence, Wireless Road). Walk south alongside the park for about 100 metres. Take the first entrance on your right and once inside the park take the road immediately to your left – this road runs parallel to Th. Wittayu on the other side of the fence. The intention is to exit the park where Th. Wittayu meets Rama 4 – and along the way you will see three sculptures in amongst the greenery. The first is an unusually named piece called “Women in the next three decades” by award winning Thai sculptor, Sahathep Thepburi.

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Now I’m thinking, if we combine Botero’s horse and Thepburi’s woman we’ve got a Queen Bodicea thing going and it would be no wonder that the Celtic queen struck terror in the hearts of many a Roman foot soldier 2000 years ago in East Anglia.

The second is a less challenging work showing mother and child while the third, “Sagittarius” by University of Texas based based Thai sculptor Thana Lauhakaikul (b. 1941)

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This is a memorial piece commissioned in 2007 by the Thai-Japanese Association to celebrate the Thai King’s 80th birthday and the 120th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries. As the name suggests, both the King and the current Emperor are Sagittarians.

11) From the Sagittarius sculpture, take the exit back to the intersection of Th. Wittayu and Rama 4. Cross Rama 4 here from where we will head down what is now Th. Sathorn. Before we do however, take a short walk  (about 100 metres) west along the far side of Rama 4. Here you will see a most unusual building. The Srifuengfung Building is a 12 story example of brutalist architecture. A cross between a cheese grater and a beehive, the mustard coloured building seems to be full of secrets.Given the current re-surgence of interest in brutalism, bangkok should go out of its way to protect what it has. See for this revival of the architectural love affair:

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/12/22/brutalism-dreams-that-came-true/

Here’s one building that I like more each time I see it. The architect was Jira Silpakanok who also designed another iconic example of Bangkok brutalism – the Indra Regent Hotel in the Pratunam area. For those interested in film and the history of cinema in Thailand, Silpakanok also designed the iconic Scala Film Theatre in Siam Square which was built in 1969. Chulalongkorn University owns virtually all the land here and the theatre is under constant threat of demolition to make way for, you guessed it, more shopping malls.

Speaking of malls and of equal interest is the strangely named Nightingale – Olympic Department store – the first in Bangkok. It is an early example of brutalist architecture in Bangkok. I’ve yet to walk there but it’s on the list.

With our brutalist excursion done for the moment, return to the intersection. What a treat on the south eastern corner. Normally, I don’t go for glass facades but the 39 story Q House Lumpini makes a big statement here. Designed by Robert G. Boughey & Associates – a Bangkok based firm – it’s kind of medieval meets modernism.

12) Now we head down the western side of Sathorn. Shortly we come to a prominent sculpture outside the Bubhajit Building. It is titled ‘Wheel of Law’ and the sculptor was Ithipol Thangchalot (b.1946).

Looking now to the left we can see the Thai Wah Towers, the most impressive of the two being the Banyan Tree Hotel which celebrates it’s 2oth anniversary in 2016. The Banyan Tree brand is now global and was started Ho Kwon Ping (b. 1952). He was born in Hong Kong, studied in Thailand and attended Stanford University. He was an anti-war protester and later was arrested and imprisoned in Singapore for articles he had written for the Far East Economic Review. The company name originates from Banyan Tree Bay in Hong Kong where he lived with his wife for the first three years of their marriage. The main attraction is the well-known Vertigo rooftop bar and restaurant. What was once a helicopter landing pad is now one of the best places for a sunset drink – dress regulations apply.

TW5Crossing the road we will walk past the fine entrance way to the Sukothai Hotel, next to which is Australian chef David Thompson’s Nahm restaurant in the Metropole Hotel. Rated as the 37th best restaurant in the world, for mine it does not always live up to its reputation. And it’s expensive by Thai standards.

About 100 metres further along we come to the Australian Embassy. The building is a 1970s classic. It was designed by Australian architect Ken Woolley (b. 1933) along with local consultants M L Devakul, Architects.

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Previous to its construction, the Embassy had rented office space on Th. Silom. In December 1972, after 23 years of Conservative government, the Australian Labor Party won office under the leadership of Gough Whitlam. Arguably Australia’s most visionary leader (something with which Gough would agree), Whitlam and his party set Australia on a new path. Conscription was stopped, China recognised, and free university tuition and universal health care both legislated. Whitlam also saw Australia as having an important place to play in South East Asia and so commissioned the building of the Embassy on Sathorn. Photo below is of Gough Whitlam, 40 yrs ago this month (August 2016), handing back of the land to the Gurindji people in commemoration of the Wave Hill walk off.

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Woolley was one of the key figures in what became known as the Sydney Style – a mixture of organic architecture, brutalism and the arts and crafts movements. The design of the Embassy reflects these interests and recognises its context as well – sitting above lush gardens and water features.

As an indulgent personal aside, I met my partner Carmel outside the University of Sydney Library in 1973 – a building built in 1962 and designed by Ken Woolley. It is another fine example of brutalism and Woolley was only 25 when he did the original design. He is one of the few architects who have seen one of their buildings heritage listed in their lifetime.

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The Embassy, however, is on the move. In March 2017 the new Embassy will be opened just off Th. Wittayu behind the Japanese Embassy. The reason for the move is based on security issues.

13) Around 200 meters further down Sathorn and we come to what is currently the 5th tallest building in Bangkok. Designed by WOHA + Tandem Architects , The Met is a 69 story condominium comprised of six towers and was completed in 2009. Like the Park Ventures Ecoplex, the building is an environmentally sensitive and has won numerous awards including the German ” International Highrise Award” and was cited for “sustainable living conditions in this tropical region without recourse to air conditioning”.

From Wikipedia: The design is inspired by Thai forms – Thai tiles, textiles and timber panelling, abstracted and used as a way to organise forms. The cladding, for instance, uses temple tiles as an inspiration, while the staggered arrangement of the balconies recalls the Thai teak staggered panelling on traditional houses.

Fifty metres further on we come to Th. Suan Phlu. Take a left here if it’s the right time of day for a tipple. On a corner, a little way along on the right is Smalls, a relatively new three story bar serving, I’m told, the best absinthe cocktails in Bangkok.

If we don’t turn left, look to the other side of Sathorn and you can see Christ Church Bangkok. Christians have been free to worship in Thailand for around 500 years. This protestant church was built in 1905 on land granted by King Rama V. Just past Th. Suan is the concrete facade of the Singaporean Embassy which is a contemporary of the Australian Embassy having been built in 1974.

14) Cross Soi 7 and we reach the 24 story ASA Centre. It is another one of those buildings that grow upon you. It certainly makes a statement with its large milky green tiles and polished steel exoskeleton.

And next door? The mini version of the Tyrell Building from Blade Runner. The 31 story Sathorn City Tower is worth a little of our time. The foyer is dominated by two large murals in a swirling, Chinese style that depicts a wonderfully exotic mix of creatures. These murals frame the central escalators – the design here is special. The escalators ascend and descend through stone mosaic walls adorned with a series of individual bronze ripples. What appear to be stone mosaic stairs aside each escalator are actually waterfalls. From the marble floor of the foyer it is difficult to know where the escalators are about to take you.

Keeping with the Blade Runner theme, it’s interesting to note that the very exclusive Bangkok Club occupies the top four floors of this building. To give you an inkling as to the nature of the members, the Honorary Chairman is none other than H.E. General Prem Tinsulanonda, Privy Councillor, President and Statesman (b.1920). That’s about as high powered as it comes in Thailand. Membership is by invitation only and I suspect there might be a dress code.

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We are almost at the end of this walk. A little further on we come to the intersection of Th. Sathorn and Th Narathivat. On the south eastern corner stands the impressive 62 story Empire Tower. It is the 6th tallest building in Bangkok and the largest office block. Of note is that it has possibly the largest curtain wall constructions in SE Asia – where the facade, in this case glass, is not structural.

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Climb the stairs to the overhead walkway for good views up and down Sathorn. To note also that this open space has been the site for anti-government protestors to front the media in 2016.

On the south west corner of the intersection stands the 40 story Sathorn Square. Designed with the Thai temple features of ‘cho fah’ the building is extremly elegant. Likewise, the boundary marker takes its shape from Phitsanulok’s Wat Ratchburana.

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Sathorn Square also has a generous forecourt that has a range of sculptural pieces. Some impress more than others. The standout for me are the pixelated ‘boulders’ on the western side. What fascinates me is their connection to the last building we see on this walk. More of that in a moment.

Talk about saving the best until the end…..no doubt you have seen the 77 story Mahanakon Building as you have walked down Sathorn. Well here it is. The tallest building in Krung Thep and my favourite.

Like the Empire Tower, this is a monumental curtain-walled structure that rises to 314 metres – about 10 metres taller than the Baiyoke Tower. The pixelated design is supposed to allow the building to blend into the surrounds. For mine it looks distinctly post-apocalyptic. Designed by young gun architect Ole Scheeren (b.1971), the building is a mixed-use skyscraper with what will be reputedly, some of the most expensive apartment in Bangkok.

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Scheeren (pictured above) has won many architectural awards and has and is designing what look to me to be both whimsical and adventurous buildings. The link below will take you to a TED talk he gave recently. Form follows……fiction? – you decide.

15) Well, that’s it for Walk 4. The next architecture / sculpture walk will start here and continue down Th Sathorn. We’ll encounter the past, ghosts, artists, and the future. For now, Dean and DeLuca’s is right here at the base of the Mahanakhon, so it’s coffee time.

Posted in Architecture, Art | 1 Comment

Walk 3: Big Circle Walk

Walk 3: The Big Circle

Where: Thonburi

Duration: About 2 hours (more if you explore)

Start: River City

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This walks starts at the SiPhaya Pier, River City. SiPhaya Pier is adjacent the Royal Orchid Sheraton with River City Shopping Complex on the right. As you approach the Pier there is what looks like a good French bread shop on the left. Cross-river ferries leave from here and travel to Khlong San – a bustling market, organised along two rows, and good for cheap clothes, shoes, bags and accessories and some really tempting food. Also, if your taste runs to guerrilla barbers, you’ve come to the right place. Fare is now 3 baht each way.

If you take the right hand row, turn right at the first alley on your right. Follow this for about 50 metres and you will come to the Jam Factory on the right. A general purpose art and entertainment space, the Jam Factory has changing exhibitions, a couple of up-market restaurants, an architectural firm and a trendy homewares store. There is a minimalist mural on the left as you enter the grounds. It also has a market on the last Sunday of every month – kind of vintage / retro / hipster/ often with a twist.

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Re-trace your steps and exit the market at the T-Intersection of Th.Charoen Nakhon and Th. Charoen Rat. Cross the road and begin your walk up Th. Charoen Rat. This road used to be the original railway line with Khlong San as the railhead for goods to be shipped across the river to the businesses on Th. Charoen Krung. This last section of track was taken up in 1961. So our destination is now Wong Wian Yai (Big Circle) Station.

On weekdays Thonburi is generally quieter than Bangkok and the addition of trees and reasonable footpaths on Th. Charoen Rat makes for a pleasant walk. For those with a penchant for the pedibus, foot massages over here are 150 / hour rather than the 250-300/hour back across the river. This is the place to come if you are in the market for clips, clamps, hi-viz vests, hardware, leather, dress material and assorted vinyl products. Want a genuine Bangkok bike for all that shopping? You can have this beauty for 5000 baht.

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As you approach the end of Th Charoen Rat and hit Th. Phra Chao Taksin there is a busy wet market on both sides of the road.

When you get to this T-intersection, turn to the right and head to the overhead bridge to cross the road. At the bridge, on your right, is another Bangkok ghost building – this time the Merry King department store. A good view of Wong Wian Yai from the bridge and Taksin’s statue.

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Once off the walk bridge, head back to Wong Wian Yai station which, naturally enough is directly across from Th. Charoen Rat. The rail line is the Bangkok – Mahachai – Mae Khlong Line. It was built in 1905 and travels to Samut Songkhram with a ferry trip in between (so it’s really two lines). This is the much videoed line that runs through a market near its terminus. The Thais call it the Closing Umbrella Market.

According to the details on the excellent The Man in Seat 61 site, trains start running on the hour from about 5.30am.

 

Walk along the platform and then take the road on the left that follows the line. You are now walking into a relatively quiet Thai neighbourhood. You are almost guaranteed to be the only non-Thai around. Before long you will see the Suan Phlu Mosque on the right. Ken Barrett (2013) tells us that the muslim community here came originally from Ayutthaya or from prisoners of war that King Taksin brought back from his campaigns in the East and South of Thailand.

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Like most modest Thai neighbourhoods, there are the small shops, the wooden houses, the spirit houses, the outdoor laundromats and the odd vintage VW.

 

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If you like to explore the wats along the way, Wat Kantathararam in off to your left as you approach Talat Phlu station. It is very welcoming of guests so have a wander. ‘Phlu’ is the Thai word for betel nut and this area was Bangkok’s main supply of the leaf. Talat (market) Phlu grew as the demand from Bangkok increased. The Teochew Chinese who had migrated here and traded in betel nut moved with the times and changed the market into a thriving wet market once betel nut fell out of favour. Again I refer to Ken Barrett here who describes how the area is still rich in Teochew food. He describes the Jeen Ree restaurant whose claim to fame was a ‘mee krob’ dish – stir fried crispy noodles with pork, shrimp and egg. It is said that Rama V came here to sample the dish – and judging be the photos on the wall who’s to argue – and today you can order the same in three different sizes. The smallest size plate will set you back 120 baht. The restaurant is next to the Talat Phlu Pier.

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Time now to head back towards Wong Wian Yai. You could follow the road on this side of the tracks or take the more interesting back alleys that track the Bangkok Yai Khlong on the left. You’ll pass a Baptist Church, fire station, old wooden houses and eventually come to the Wat Klang market. Wander in here, especially along the khlong side, and near where you must turn back into the market you will see a very cool coffee shop.

The abandoned wooded houses on the opposite side of the khlong echo stories from the past.

Along this route are two notable wats that figure importantly in Thai history – Wat Mon and Wat Intharam. Both are worth exploring and Ken Barrett’s account is worth reading before a visit. Eventually you will re-join Th.Thoet Thai and head to the intersection with Th.Intharaphitak where you will turn right and head back to Wong Wian Yai roundabout. Keep walking towards the railway station on your left and continue on until you come to the BTS. There are steps up to the walkway that will take you to BTS Wong Wian Yai to the left. I have walked here numerous times and it is like entering a Jeffrey Smart painting. It must be one of the most under-used walkways in Bangkok.

Catch the BTS to your next destination.

Barrett, K. (2013) 22 Walks in Bangkok. Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing
Posted in Eating, History, Religion | Leave a comment

Walk 2: National Stadium to Chomp cafe and art space (via Th. Khao San)

 

Where: Pathumwan District / Phra Nakom

Duration: About 2 hours (more if you explore)

Start: National Stadium BTS

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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). 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.

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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.

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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. 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.

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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.

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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.

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It’s a short distance to a khlong which wends its way down to River City (the start of Walk 3). 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

At this point,  turn right and head towards Mahakan Fort. Lots of tasty looking food on the right hand side of Th. Maha Chai late in the day. Shortly you will cross a khlong and just after this is the entry into the Mahakan community. This community is under imminent threat from the Bangkok Municipal Authority who wish to pull it down and make it a park. The community is fighting back and welcome visitors. Like the Ban Baat community previously, take your smile and use your Thai.You can also stock up on fireworks for that special occasion.

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After visiting this community return to the intersection and rejoin Th. Bamrung. On the right hand side are old two story shop-fronts but on the left starts a row of shops selling an amazing array of Buddhist artefacts (sanghapan). See the earlier link for information on the shops.

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At this point Th. Bamrung Mueang widens out with the centre piece being the Giant Swing. This was originally built in 1784 by Rama 1 and moved to its current location in front of Wat Suthat in 1920. Renovations took place in 2005-6 with some massive teak trees from Phrae, in Northern Thailand. On the right is LanKonMueng – an open space in front of the City Hall where people often gather in the evenings for various outdoor activities.

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Follow Th. Bamrung, leaving the central square and on your left, down a small alley, you will come across Ban Mo Waan, a Thai / Chinese herbalist shop that has been in business for generations. A little further on, again on the left, is the Trok Mo market which is worth a wander.

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You could go on, but for this walk, retrace your steps and enter Th. Dinso. This road got it’s name from earlier times when it was the go to street for stationery – the Thai word for pencil is ดินสอ (dinsor). Walk down the left hand side and like other roads in the area it is shaded by trees. Immediately on your left you will see the Devasthan Bosth Brahmana – this temple was built in 1784 and houses the giant plank that served as the ‘seat’ of the Giant Swing. Continue along Th. Dinso. Off to the left are intriguing alleyways where rays of sunlight target different parts depending on the time of day. Walk 2 61Walk 2 57

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Many people come here for the food – so, depending on the time of day it might make for a good lunch break. http://www.eatingthaifood.com suggests that Mit Ko Yuan, at 186 is one of the best restaurants in Bangkok. It opens for lunch at 11am and dinner at 4pm. My lunch of glass noodles and chicken cost 40 baht.

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Walk on and you will cross Khlong Wat which connects the inner and outer moats of the old city. A little further and you come to Th. Ratchadamoen and the impressive Democracy Monument. Th.Ractchadamoen was completed in 1903 after a visit by King Rama 5 to Europe. It connects the old palace to the new. As Thailand’s military government under Gen. Prayut Chan o Cha seeks to muzzle any discussion about the pros and cons of the new Draft Constitution in 2016, this place echoes with the events of October 6 – 15th, 1973 where there were at times, an estimated half a million protestors against the then military government and frustration over the early promulgation of the constitution. It’s is interesting that the Red Shirt protests of 2010 decided that Ratchaprasong was more symbolic a place than Ratchadamoen.

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(accessed April 26th 2016: http://www.thaiworld.org/enn/thailand_monitor/answera.php?question_id=1293)

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The Democracy Monument itself was constructed in 1935 by the People’s Party Government and is based on dimensions stemming from the numbers of the date 24.6.1932, when the Monarchy became a constitutional one after a bloodless coup.

From Th. Dinso turn left into Th.Ratchadamoen and pause to look at the now aging Art Deco buildings designed and built to reflect the new modern and democratic Thailand.Walk 2 65

Walking away from the Democracy Monument, enjoy the wide footpath and shady trees, and on the left you will pass a smorgasbord of lottery tickets – all carefully chosen by systems and signs people have carefully made note of. My own approach is to count gecko calls in the evening to get my numbers but I haven’t won anything yet .

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A little further on you will come to the Th. Tanao intersection. Cross Th.Ratchadamoen here and you will see the newly opened Bangkok City Library.

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(pic from: http://www.bangkokpost.com/lifestyle/social-and-lifestyle/1234518/shelf-improvement)

A little further on you will see Th. Khao San over to your left off Th. Tanao. Wander along Th. Khao San for all your tattoo, Rastafarian, Thai fisherman’s pants, tickets to Koh Tao (and anywhere else), cold beer, begpackers, and a passing parade of new arrivals, departees and wanderers.

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At the end of Th.Khao San turn right. Walk along the left hand side of the road until you come to the intersection of Th. Pra Sumen – a road that follows the outer moat of Rattanakosin Island (called Khlong Bang Lamphu at this point). Continue walking towards the khlong and start across the bridge. Good views here of the waterway in both directions. Look back to the left and on the bank you can see some recent street art.Walk 2 84Walk 2 85Walk 2 86

Just over the bridge, again on the left hand side, you will pass one of the smallest and best blues bars in Bangkok – Adhere 13. You are now on Th. Samsen and about 20 metres on you come to a Soi on the left. On the corner is your destination for the walk, Chomp cafe and art space. Good food and regular art exhibitions upstairs. The gallery specialises in young and emerging artists, especially street artists. Look at the cafe’s side wall facing the soi for a recent collaborative work.

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Walk 1: Bangkok Street Art

Where: Bangrak district

Duration: Two to three hours ( maybe 4 hours with a group and breaks)

Start: Chong Nonsi BTS

 

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1) Before you leave the platform, look south-west and up – this is the new MahaNakhon Building, set to be the tallest building in Bangkok when completed. It will have 77 floors and rise to 314 metres. The previous tallest building was the Baiyoke Tower at 304 metres. The pixelated facade looks post-apocalyptic to me.

Mahanakhon

Take the Silom Road exit from the BTS and walk back the way you came on the train. Th.Silom is the first road you come to. Turn left and walk about 200 metres until you see Th. Decho, a small road across Silom on your right. This road connects Silom to Surawong. Walk down Th. Decho on the right hand side. After about 100 metres you will come to a vacant lot. Look back to the wall of the building facing this empty space and you will see this work by Japanese artist, Motomichi Nakamura. See  (http://www.digicult.it/agency/motomichi-nakamura/) for an insight into his video work.

Motomichi Nakamura.

2) Walk to the end of Th. Decho and turn left into Th. Surawong. The next mural is about 700 metres away, just before you turn left into Th. Mahesak. On the way you will walk past The British Club – membership is open to all nationalities and there are currently over 1,000 members from over 40 countries. The Club celebrated its centenary in 2003.

Just as an aside….there is a phantom conspiracy theorist at work in the neighbourhood. Normally he concocts theories of the world on electricity boxes and telephones – but just this week one has been designed on the footpath outside the British Club.

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Next is the Neilson Hays Library. Having it’s origins back in the mid 19th Century, the current neo-classical building was commissioned by Dr Hays in memory of his wife, Jenny Neilson, who had died suddenly in 1920. The building opened in 1922. Designed by the Italian architect, Mario Tamagno, (who, along with fellow Italian, Annibale Rigotti, designed Hualamphong Station and the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall ) the building was taken over by the Japanese in 1941 and over 1000 rare volumes were shipped to Japan – many never to return. Just past the Library is an imposing home behind mustard-coloured walls. Elephants stand sentry at the impressive wooden gates. Reputed to be the home of the Chang beer boss – hence the elephants (there are more inside the gates).

On the corner of Surawong and Mahesak is a vacant lot. Look back the way you came and you will see a mural by Greek artist, Fikos – http://globalstreetart.com/fikos – for some more examples of his work. On a nearby hoarding you will see a blunt assessment of the new government.

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3) Turn into Th. Mahesak and walk back towards Silom. Turn right at Silom and walk under the expressway. Cross to the other side of Silom here and walk to the T-intersection with Th. Charoen Krung. On the corner is the Lebua State Tower, a neo-Grecian building designed by Thai architect Professor Rangsan Torsuwan in the early 1990s, and is one of the biggest buildings in SE Asia. The architect cum property developer was arrested for allegedly plotting to murder the President of the Supreme Court, Praman Chansue in 1993 but was aquitted some years later. The rooftop bar, called Sirocco, is on the 64th floor and featured in the movie Hangover 2. Turn left into Th. Charoen Krung (Bangkok’s first official street in 1861) and walk about 500 metres to Saphan Taksin BTS. Cross the road here and walk down the busy side street to the river. Parked on the left along a wall is usually a row of red songthaew. However, covering the length of the wall is a work by Dutch artist Daan Botlek (http://www.daanbotlek.com/).

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4) Continue along Th.Charoen Khrung on the river side walking past Wat Yannawa, a temple dating back to the Ayutthaya period. Continue along the road for 100 metres or so until you come to the entry to the Bangkok Dockyard. In the dockyard is an anatomical piece that typifies the work by Austrian artist Nichos. You may need to have a copy of your passport handy to get in. Otherwise it can only be seen from Saphan Taksin or by boat.The steps leading up to the bridge are down by the pier.

Nichos

5) Cross Th. Charoen Khrung and walk back towards Saphan Taksin BTS. Just before you get to the BTS is the Bridge Art Space.

Stop here for a coffee, check out the changing exhibitions upstairs and re-charge. It is air-conditioned and has wi-fi. When you leave, check out the 47 floor Ghost Tower (officially called the Sathorn Unique Tower) just behind the Art Space. It is a twin to the nearby State Tower (same architect) but fell foul of the Asian financial crisis in 1997 (along with many other projects in Bangkok). But be warned, it is haunted.

Ghost Tower

6) Cross back over Th.Charoen Khrung and walk back towards Th.Silom. On the river side there are lots of interesting places to explore. One in particular that you might want to look at is the now disused Customs Buildings by the river (Soi 36). Soi 36 is also the site of the French Embassy and the Haroon Mosque – originally built as a wooden structure in 1828, the newer structure was built  after WW2. A lot of good Thai-Muslim food in the area. Details for mosque visits

Daily 9.00 – 11.30 and 13.30 – 15.00.
Friday Prayers are from 12.15-13.00
Mosque Etiquette
1. Visiting mosques is a learning experience and may become a highlight of your trip.
2 . Leave your shoes on the rack at the entrance.
3. Avoid unnecessary conversation inside the mosque. Turn off mobile phones, don’t chew gum, and do not bring food or drink inside of a mosque.
4. Modest dress is required. Gown is available for visitors for temporary use.
5. Refrain from applause or clapping hands or yelling in the mosque. Serenity is appreciated.
From: https://www.travel-impact-newswire.com/2014/11/advancing-asean-cultural-integration-mosque-tours-workshop-held-in-bangkok/

old customs

At the top of Soi 36 is OP Garden, a pleasant gallery / specialty shopping space. The Serindia gallery is worth a visit. The plus for walkers is that is also has easily accessible, clean, air-con toilets. As you walk along Th. Charoen Khrung you will pass Assumption College and if your thing is meteorites and fossils the little shop 30 metres from Soi 36 is the place to visit. Once you’ve had your celestial fix, you will come to the Grand Postal Building – Thailand’s first Post Office (1883). The current building was built in the 1940s and was designed by Miw Jitrasen Aphaiwong (who also designed the National Stadium) and Phrasarot Ratnanimman. The style is a marked departure from previous styles or as Lawrence Chua put it, the “purging Thai architecture of its royalist symbolism and hierarchical spatial organization”. A combination of modernism and nationalist aspirations. The statue in front of the building is of Field Marshal Prince Bhanurangsi Savangwongse, elder brother of King Chulalongkorn and considered the founder of the Thai postal service. Long gone now, but the footpath outside the post office was where avid stamp collectors used to gather to trade. Nowadays they inhabit a small corner inside the gates.

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Immediately after the Postal Building is Soi 32 running down to the river. As you walk toward the river you will see a recent mural by 24 year old Sofia Castellanos, a Mexican artist.

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                                                           http://www.bangkokpost.com/lifestyle/interview/1234602/on-the-wall

Further along the soi is flanked by a long wall on the right hand side upon which are a series of murals by various artist including KULT, Phat, Bonus, and Alex Face among others. Check the opposite wall for a small, golden stencil.

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7) Return to Th.Charoen Khrung and walk the short distance to Soi 30. Turn left here and on your right you will see the side face of a building covered in work by Italian artists Sten and Lex. Essentially stencil artists, they have been working since around 2000. They were pioneers in the field of stencil art in Italy. Their recent work is a combination of stencil and paper and from Wikipedia: they glue a stencil cut from paper on the wall and paint over it. They then destroy the matrix and apply its scraps to the wall, thus allowing them to become part of the work itself. The bits of matrix applied to the wall wear out over time, producing work in a state of constant change. Unlike stencil work in general, the images thus created cannot be reproduced, rendering each piece original and unique. I watched them do this one during the Bukruk festival but I have to say it doesn’t do much for me.

Sten and Lex

This area is set to become a new ‘creative space’ according to some – see the article for some information:

http://bk.asia-city.com/city-living/news/duangrit-bunnag-expanding-his-creative-space-charoenkrung?platform=hootsuite

8) Continue along this road as it swings right to go past the Royal Orchid Sheraton and the River City Complex. But just before the hotel is the Portuguese Embassy. The artist VHILS has chipped away at the Embassy’s concrete rendered wall to produce a stunning mural.

From the hotel, you can get a ferry across the river for 4.5 baht to Thonburi and the start of The Big Circle Walk (Walk 2) but that’s for another day. The road you are on now swings back to Th.Charoen Khrung. Walk to the intersection and turn left. Just a few metres along you will see a large double mural – one by Korean artist Daehyun Kim  (his style is called  ‘moonassi’)  and another, above it, by Thai artist, Bon (given name: Danaiphat Lersputtitrakan)

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The good news is that a new cafe has opened just next to Daehyun Kim‘s piece. It’s run by artist / chef Chet:

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Follow this Soi down to the end and to your left you will come across the Speedy Grandma art space.

Walking group at Speedy Grandma:

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9) Across from these works (on Th. Charoen Krung) and a little further on is a range of small works along a short alley.

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Opposite this alley on a side wall is a larger work by Saddo.

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10) It is now time to return to River city, but this time rather than re-trace your steps, walk down the narrow Soi 24. On your left you will pass an art space / coffee shop called the Soy Sauce Factory – good for refreshment before diving into the narrow alley ways that await. Keep an eye out for a golden stencil that is a sister piece to the one you might have seen on Soi 32 – it’s on the wall of a car space on your right.

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11) As you reach the River City Complex you will see a push bike tour company in front of you (Co van Kessel Bangkok Tours). These are good tours for your overseas visitors to do. Immediately to the right you will see a small laneway. The laneway widens and passes the Kalawar Church (Kalawar from the Thai transliteration of Calvary) which was built on land given by Rama 1 to the Portuguese. You will also pass the site of the original Siam Commercial Bank, Thailand’s first bank. The bank was established in 1907 and the grand building here was built in 1910. Now it is time to wander through the narrow alleys of Talad Noi.

On your left you will come to a little alley (‘trok’ in Thai) called Trok San Chao Rong Kueak.

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Walk down here to discover two old Chinese temples – especially if you wish wealth and good fortune……

and enjoy some quirky artworks.

**These last two photos were taken by Louise Saddington

What was this steel spike used for….mooring your boat 100 years ago?

steel-pole

Your goal is to return to Th.Charoen Khrung so follow your nose as you wander about.

Whatever you do, try not to miss what must be one of the more quirky coffee shops in Bangkok – in an old Chinese house with a courtyard swimming pool. On my visits I have seen fashion shoots and scuba diving training. Unusual place. Reputedly over 200 years old (I think that’s stretching it a it) it is the So Heng Tai Mansion and is still the home of the descendants of the original owner.

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12) Upon returning to Th.Charoen Khrung at Soi 20 (or Soi 29 on the opposite side) walk a short way until you reach the intersection of Th.Charoen Khrung and Th.Songwat. Turn left into Th.Songwat. After a fire in the Sampeng area, King Rama V pushed for the contruction of this important commercial road. It follows the river so as you walk along the left hand side you can see lanes and alleys leading to the water. You will walk past numerous metal working shops along the way. The quirky riverside hotel called the Loy La Long is along this road (behind Wat Pathum Khongka). You have to walk through the temple to find it – there was no signage I could find.

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Just after Wat Pathum Khongka you come to a busy intersection. Th.Songwat continues to the left tracking the river and is now one way with traffic coming towards you. Some classic old buildings along this section. Look to the right and you cannot miss the large pink mural by female Romanian artist Aitch.

Aitch

From her webpage:

Artist and illustrator,  she has been part of numerous art shows in Romania (Timisoara, Sibiu, Bucharest, Iasi), but also in cities like Vienna, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Berlin, Aalborg, San Jose, etc.
She started drawing weird chubby fantastic creatures during her studies at the University of Art and Design in Timisoara, Romania, as a sort of subversive reaction to the academical ways of treating human anatomy.
Her artistic work ranges from pink, cute, elegant, to sometimes creepy, semi-religious, bizarre characters, mixed in surrealistic sets.
She also applies her experience with graphics, painting and character design in creating artsy objects, urban toys and clothes, often showed in fairs and stores in Bucharest, Berlin, Hannover, Barcelona or Madrid.

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A little further on you will come to a vacant lot on your left. Straight ahead you will see a large work by Spanish artist Aryz. this artist specialises in big pieces – I think he is really great. (http://www.widewalls.ch/artist/aryz/)

Aryz

Opposite is work by Belgium artist Roa. He is 40 years old this year (2016) and was boen in Ghent, Belgium. He specialises in big animals – usually related to the country or area he finds himself.

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Below is a numbat done while he was in Freemantle, WA.

From (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ROA_%28artist%29):

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13) Homeward bound. Choose your own adventure from here, but you can retrace your steps along Th.Songwat to where it crosses Th.Charoen Khrung and becomes Th. Kao Lan and within a few hundred metres you will find yourself at Hualamphong Station and the MRT…….or……if your timing is right (after 5pm on every day except Monday, you could have a sundowner at a special little bar nearby called Samsara.

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