A Brief Guide to Bangkok’s Creative District
The ‘Creative District’ is a moniker that has been applied over recent years to a particular stretch of Bangkok’s ‘Old Town’ region.
The area covers namely the historic, if not previously somewhat run-down riverside neighbourhoods of Bang Rak and Khlong San. This section of Bangkok is becoming increasingly intertwined with contemporary art galleries, design boutiques, small and innovative new businesses, along with a hip and thriving food and drink scene.
The Creative District in Bangkok is an area of the city that may have previously gone under the radar of both visitors and locals. But these days it seems to be the place where a new generation of creative Bangkokians are embracing an entrepreneurial approach.
Needless to say, this part of the Thai capital has undergone something of a revamp which has added yet another interesting aspect to the city.
In fact, the Creative District is something of a hotbed of diversity, and it also gives away a few clues, particularly on the Bang Rak side, of a few historic European links that many may be unaware of in Bangkok.
The Thailand Creative and Design Center (TCDC) opened its doors around here in 2017. And this is, in many ways, one of the main influencers of the cultural revival that has sprung up in the area.
The center is located in the huge 80-year-old former Grand Postal Building, and has transformed itself into a public art gallery and more. This is the home of Bangkok’s grass-roots art gallery scene, and the building also includes creative co-working spaces and studios, as well as Asia’s largest design library.
In fact, the district has a fair few small, independent art galleries, like the ATTA gallery, Speedy Grandma, and Bridge Art Space, which all showcase local artists and their various forms of expression.
One of the features of The Creative District related to these places is the regular Gallery Hopping nights. These are an event organised by the local community to provide insights to the area’s best venues and provide the opportunity to meet local artists.
Shops in the Creative District
In the Creative District you can escape the manic consumer-mindedness of your typical, modern, packed Bangkok shopping mall.
You can instead experience a somewhat more refreshing vibe of small and charming boutiques doing their own thing. You can find such delights here as contemporary Thai craftsmanship in the form of unique textiles and ceramics, as well as sculptures and such like.
Many of the small shops selling and producing these kinds of wares also have their own exhibition space, in keeping with the spirit of the district.
The Jam Factory in the Khlong San section of the district is an impressively-designed courtyard lined with trees that comprises a complex of cafés, restaurants, a bookstore, and various other lifestyle stores.
The Jam Factory originally formed part of a set of disused warehouses which got converted into the head office of a local architecture company. As the compound had plenty of space to accommodate other businesses and ventures, it rented out the area.
Across the river on the Bang Rak side you can find shops specialising in items such as hand-crafted furniture made from re-cycled antique wood, and Thai Home Industries is a craft store specialising in hand-made silverware.
The joy of shops like this one is that it is owned and run by a local family whose focus is on craftsmanship and quality, which is another great aspect of this region of Bangkok.
You’ll also encounter various places in and around this region such as Warehouse 30. This place is typical of the new wave of developments that are revitalizing the area. Warehouse 30 is something of a mix-used compound of old converted warehouses that has been renovated Now it’s a hub for shops, cafes, a spa, events, and co-working hub.
Restaurants and Cafes
If you have a mind to, you can actually find anything in this region of the city from upscale Thai dining to grass-roots street food options. There are also more than a few quirky and trendy options on offer in the regions many restaurants, cafes, and dessert shops.
Check out the Boon Sap Thai Dessert Shop on Charoen Krung Road which has become a firm local favourite. This fairly nondescript-looking shop attracts Bangkokians from far and wide who to come and buy local sweets such as foi thong, thong yip, thong yod, and khanom chan. It’s also an ideal place to stop off and select a snack from if you are walking around the area.
Then there’s the Hobbyist Café which has become something of a trendy meeting place for many of the younger locals. This place serves as a fine example of how many of the older shop houses in areas like this are being put to new purpose.
The Home Islamic Cuisine restaurant is a popular example of how this local neighbourhood features some great Thai Muslim cuisine. What you’ll find with places like this is a satisfying and affordable meal that is something a tad different from what you might consider a typical Thai dish. The restaurant is directly opposite the French Embassy
Street Art in the district
If you go to Exit 1 of Saphan Taksin BTS Station, you should see a large wall with a mural painted on it.
This was one result of the efforts by the Urban Arts Festival to transform and revitalise the neighbourhood. They managed to bring various international artists to Bangkok to paint walls, one of whom was Dutch artist Daan Botlek.
He got the task of working his art on the 80-metre wall next to the BTS exit, and the result is an interesting mural of a massive character interacting with the environment.
Close to Charoenkrung main road going in a northern direction you will see the Embassy of Portugal, which also participated in the Urban Arts Festival project.
The embassy allowed one of its walls to be the canvass of local Thai artists who joined forces to create a whole collection on the wall.
To top that, Portuguese artist Vhils bought his own special carving technique to add to the mix. So rather than adding anything to the wall, he actually stripped some of it away, with stunning results.
Temples and Shrines in the district
This section of the city is one of the most diverse when it comes to the various influences and mixes of culture that was in the past an inherent part of Bangkok life.
The architecture holds some clues as to the city’s past links with the French and the Portuguese, for instance, as do the various places of worship and prayer that have their beginnings in Chinese, Arabic, and Western culture.
It may be much less the case today, but in the Creative District’s region of the city there are ample clues and symbols of various other cultures and religions that still exist in the area.
This can be seen in some of the temples in the area, as well as the mosques, the shrines, and even in one of the most impressive cathedrals in the city – of which there actually are more than many people are aware as it turns out (check out our previous post on Bangkok’s churches and cathedrals).
The Chiao Eng Biao Shrine is a Hainan shrine dating back to the late 1800s. It was reportedly built in memory of 108 Chinese travellers who sailed for Bang Rak but met their end Vietnam after being mistaken for pirates.
Today, many still come here to pray to receive blessings from the images of several gods located at the shrine, including the well-known Guan Yin and Tuptim.
The Ban Oou Mosque is a modest structure but is prominent in that it is over a century old. This mosque serves as testament to some of the first Muslims who settled in the Bang Rak region of the city. The Islamic community developed more of a presence throughout the reign of King Rama V, who was known for his tolerance towards other religions.
Another example of this is The Haroon Mosque, which is one of Bangkok’s more famous centres of Islamic worship. It has a history that stretches back to the migration of Indonesian-Arab traders to the region in the early 19th-century.
Wat Suan Phlu is a Thai temple with a distinctly different appearance to many of the others in the city. It is finished in a blue shade which sets off its otherwise white façade and carvings. This gives it a somewhat unique look to the typical Thai Buddhist temples in the city. This is also one of those community temples that functions to some extent as education centre for local children.
Assumption Cathedral is an impressive 19th-century Romanesque-style house of Christian worship in Bangkok. It was originally built by the French, as were many of the original churches and cathedrals, although it has undergone various restoration projects over the years. It still functions today as the principal Roman Catholic church of Thailand, and also serves as the patron to many educational institutions in Bangkok, by way of schools and colleges of the same name.
Other Interesting Aspects of the Creative District
O.P. Place is an antique mall that is interesting in that it was apparently originally known as Falck and Beidek department store. This was one of the first western-style shopping centres in Bangkok, first appearing in the late 1800s.
These days the mall has something of a niche clientele, but it’s still worth a visit if you want to get a sense of a historical experience. The building’s exterior has been well-preserved, and on the ground floor of the building you can see old photographs of historical Bangkok on the walls. And amazingly, the original elevator installed in the building is even still in use.
O.P. Garden is a green oasis that was the former home of a prominent Thai conservationist and environmentalist. It has undergone quite a bit of conversion since then though, and is now home to a few eclectic shops and galleries.
The previously-mentioned ATTA Gallery, as well as the Serindia Gallery are both housed in the building, which is an area of attraction for the ever-growing community of creative-types in the area interested in presenting the work of local artists to the public.
Perhaps one of the most impressive buildings likely to be found next to the river in Bangkok is the Old Customs House. This place is a throwback to the region of Bang Rak’s historical standing as a trading area, which would have been one of the main European quarters of the city at that time.
Any incoming goods would have gone through this important gateway during that particular point, obviously marking it as a building of no small significance in the trading days of the past.
Italian architect Joachim Grassi was responsible for the design of this particular building and he was also involved in the construction of many other important buildings in Bangkok.
House No.1 is an outstanding example of a historic building from the early 1900s that has had its neoclassical architecture well-preserved and also renovated. This is one of the buildings in the area of historical significance in that it was the operational headquarters of a French company that produced alcohol, the Societe Francaise des Distilleries de l’Indochine.
River City Bangkok opened its doors to a new generation of potential antique collectors in 1984. It soon became one of the main antique markets and auction house centres in the city, and has remained so to this day.
And although it still functions in its original capacity and is home to a variety of different dealers, River City has also moved with the times. It has gradually incorporated more of the contemporary-style art shops over the years, and this has put it more in line with everything else that is currently happening around the Creative District.
You can drop by the centre for exhibitions and antiques, as well as food and other refreshments.