One of the first things I was handed when I arrived at Capella in Bangkok, along South Charoen Krung Road, was a map to the best local eats. We were in an interesting part of town, I was told, where the neighborhood was a heady mix of cultures, of old crumbly buildings and new developments, upscale boutiques and open-air produce markets, of fine-dining restaurants serving high-concept tasting menus and mom-and-pop stalls specializing in one dish. The chicken rice at the decades-old Sui Heng, just across the street, came highly recommended by the luxe hotel-issued guide.
It didn’t disappoint. Neither did the neighborhood, a loosely defined and sprawling network of side streets and tight alleys shooting off Charoen Krung Road, Bangkok’s first modern paved road, built in the time of Rama IV at the request of Western expats, and completed in 1864. The city’s new residents – emissaries, consuls and businessmen – whose numbers were increasing in the time of growing foreign trade liberalization, were aching to get around by horse-drawn carriage (as they did in their home countries) or ride their horses for pleasure, presumably to manage the mental toll of expatriation to the tropics. Up until then the city’s primary mode of transport was by boat, and its main highway the Chao Phraya.
More than a century later, the 8.6-kilometer road, running somewhat parallel to the river – from Chinatown, through Bang Rak and Talad Noi – powers a different kind of boom, this time of the more cultural kind. Where creatives go, everyone follows, and the multiple players that make up the Creative District – from art galleries and exhibition spaces, independent shops, artist collectives, and dining destinations – are directing visitor traffic up and down the neighborhood pathways, generating even more interest in Charoen Krung and its arteries.
A tour of the area yields all kinds of creative treasures. Art lovers, for instance will love places like ATT19, a contemporary art gallery, retail and exhibition space, located in a tight alley off Charoen Krung, in a repurposed building that was once a school. The gallery also works closely with the nearby Four Seasons Bangkok on the Chao Phraya, curating shows at the hotel’s art space and across the property.