Excerpts from the author’s weekend experience on the river
After checking in at the Shangri-La Hotel, which is a convenient 5-minute walk from Saphan Taksin station on the river’s edge, I started my weekend by heading out for a walk around the historic Bang Rak neighborhood on Charoen Krung Road. A hotel staff member told me that this stretch of road is one of the oldest paved during Rama IV’s reign and runs parallel to the river. It is tinged with history.
Just steps from each other are houses of various faiths – a Thai Buddhist temple, a Chinese Buddhist temple, a Catholic Church, and an Islamic mosque. Religions and traditions still hold strong in this area. At 7 am the next morning, I witnessed alms giving to monks early in the morning. A rarity these days considering the rise of secular lifestyle in the capital. In the afternoon, I heard peaceful call to prayers as I approached a mosque. Both experiences washed over me with a sense of peace.
Beautiful old shophouses line the streets with businesses running in them for over half a century. This locale is a foodie’s paradise – there are no less than 10 famous street eats in a 400-meter stretch. From Khao Kha Mu Trok Sung selling the kingdom’s most famous stewed pork over rice to Boonsap Thai Desserts offering a range of Thai classic sweets, I tasted them all for lunch. The options are varied and sumptuous. After meandering the sois a few more times over the weekend, I would be in awe of the cultural richness that has pooled within this community.
Have you ever wondered what Indiana Jones felt unearthing ruins? I imagined that I had a rush similar to his as I ventured into quieter areas of Bang Rak. The river’s edge is an urban adventurer’s playground. Because gentrification has yet to arrive, buildings are either quietly maintained or left to decay. I encountered several hidden gems on my aimless walk: a massive customs house harking from the glory days of shipping, old houses with rare Thai architecture, a peaceful hidden Islamic community, and a brutalistic neo-classical grand postal building. No signs point to them so wandering offers you a genuine sense of exploration and discovery.
Dotting the river communities are several art galleries that double as performance spaces. Soy Sauce Factory, a gallery tucked away in a small soi, attracts many to its events. After hearing that an art photography exhibition was on there, I went to join for a night of creative revelry. Art gatherings provide a different nightlife experience – bright lights coupled with great music, intellectual conversations buzzing over muted viewing of someone’s craft. These events tend to draw a diverse crowd of art and music lovers. My night out at the Soy Sauce Factory was enough for me to believe that revival of some river communities has begun.