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Curving along the east bank of Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River, from the temple-studded district of Rattanakosin to the southern tip of the suburbs of Bang Kho Laem, Charoen Krung Road has seen a creative renaissance in recent years. While the pandemic has largely halted developments in the well-established cultural hubs of the Thai capital Sukhumvit and Sathorn, forward-thinking Thais have set their sights on the city’s oldest paved road (completed in 1864) and recast it as a local cultural destination.
When Thailand’s design library and exhibition space for creativity and design moved into the grand Art Deco post building in 2017, an influx of Thai chefs, designers, and curators began taking over the ramshackle shops that line the alleys and branching sub-areas. Charoen Krung. Some have been renovated in contemporary art centers such as Charoen 43 Art & Eatery or pioneering restaurants that reinterpret Thai cooking (former monk Sareen Rojanamatin’s new little supper club and Samlor focus on eating and drinking among them), while many others have drawn inspiration from Thai-Chinese cuisines, local artisans, and neoclassical architecture have characterized the region since the mid-19th century. The opening of two MRT subway stations in Charoen Krung in 2019 only increased its accessibility.
“Young Thais have a growing interest in ancient buildings and historic architecture,” says florist Chichanan Sukpong, 27, who opened the wood-clad flower shop and Mala wine bar on Charoen Krung Soi 43 last March. “These buildings have such a unique character that it is impossible to recreate.”
Despite the rapid improvement of Charoen Krung Road, a trip through this four-mile artery – which winds through historic Chinatown, multi-ethnic Bang Rak and the delightfully walkable Talad Noi district – can still feel like a stroll through Bangkok In the past. Here, away from the glittering skyscrapers, you’ll find wheelbarrows pulled by khanum (traditional Thai sweets made with coconut and rice flour) and century-old Chinese shrines wrapped in sweet-smelling incense. Mom-and-pop restaurants serve up the same pasta recipes that their owners’ ancestors have made for decades, and unlike most of the high-octane downtown area of Bangkok, you can find yourself lost in quiet alleys where street cats are your only companions. “This part of the city is not very crowded,” Seokbong says. “When I’m here, I don’t feel like I’m in town.”
When Capella’s first Thai outpost opened on the southern half of Charoen Krung Road at the end of 2020, it raised the bar for luxury accommodations in a city that doesn’t lack great hotel options. This riverside retreat brought perks Bangkok hadn’t yet experienced: spacious villas – all in marble and chrome – right along the water with pools and tropical gardens; suites with balconies equipped with a Jacuzzi; And floor-to-ceiling views of the river from every room, lounge and restaurant corner. Dining options include Phra Nakhon, an all-day Thai restaurant with a tree-shaded terrace and greenhouse-like saloon, and Côte, a coastal Mediterranean fine dining venue opened by Argentine-Italian chef Mauro Colagreco. Guest Experience Directors, called “Capella Culturists,” can set up anything from guided meditation sessions with a local monk to chef-led tasting tours through the neighborhood’s best street kitchens. capellahotels.com
This neoclassical edifice, located not far from where Charoen Krung bends in Chinatown, has lived many lives. It started as a Chinese medicine clinic in 1917, then turned into a bank and finally into an unnatural massage parlor. Ananda Challardcharoen, a well-known fashion designer in Thailand’s fashion circles, acquired it in 2019 and transformed the space into a 10-room boutique hotel. She stripped alterations made over the previous decades and reopened the clogged windows, revealing the original wood floors and even finding the building’s glass-domed skylight, which was hidden behind a cracked roof panel. She covered the space with a mix of marble, antiques and taxidermy and furnished most rooms with pull-out bathtubs and velvet sofas. The cafe in the basement is a popular spot for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. facebook.com/themustangblu
Eat and drink here
Citizen tea canteen
Thai multi-link designer Saran Yen Banya describes his tea salon as “a combination of a thrift store, your grandmother’s house, and an LSD experience.” It’s a fitting summary: Behind a bright orange facade deep within the alleys of Talad Noi, the shop opens up like a rabbit hole in Chinatown. Panya furnished it with his collection of vintage light fixtures and noodle benches upholstered in cane and woven embroidery, which are displayed among walls covered in bold illustrations of tigers, Chinese tea cans, and cross-stitches framed by vintage pinups. The drinks menu revives the flavors of this ancient region, with four frothy Thai milk teas and pots of handcrafted tea blends inspired by sweet pu loa pancakes (with hints of mango and ginger) or anise-and-licorice-marinated duck noodles. The space doubles as a concept store selling glassware and bamboo serving trays inspired by the disappearance of Southeast Asia Cuban (the traditional café), along with T-shirts, bags and household items Banya produced in collaboration with artisans across the country. itizofnowhere.info
In a narrow Chinese lane, the former Chinese herbal medicine dispensary was surprisingly home to one of Bangkok’s most coveted reservations. Chef Pechaya Utharnaterm, a fourth-generation member of the family that opened the company in 1910, has transformed the dilapidated five-story building into a fine Thai-Chinese restaurant serving 20-course tasting menus inspired by her childhood spent in the neighborhood. Dishes change with the seasons and can include intricately coated slices of Chinatown staples such as roast duck (Utharntharm’s version is dry-aged in hay and served with house-made seasoning on a rotating tray) or mooncakes with fish string. On the fourth floor, the family’s former opium den, the aptly named Opium Bar specializes in experimental drinks with ingredients including corn husk syrup, miso and chamomile, served à la carte or paired with small bites as part of a tasting experience. restaurantpotong.com
As one of the city’s last remaining Hokkien-style mansions, this nearly 230-year-old house in the heart of Talad Noi offers a charming window into the centuries-old Charoen Krung. While the building has been updated over the years, many original teak carvings, ornate doorways, and old family heirlooms, including portraits of stately ancestors and ancient Chinese chairs, are still on display. But this old house is not without its challenges. Because it’s private property – three families still live here – the owners cannot apply for government support, and in a city often indifferent to its architectural heritage, there is little money available to help address conservation issues such as deteriorating floorboards and leaking roofs. One of the co-owners, Poosak Posayachinda, a diving instructor and eighth-generation descendant of the Chinese edible bird’s nest merchant who built the house during the reign of King Rama I, installed a 13-foot professional diving pool in the yard to generate income for ever-increasing maintenance bills; It also sells Thai coffee and tea to curious visitors, who can tour the property with Posayachinda when he’s at home (or alone when he’s not). “Investors offered a lot of money to buy the house, but we wouldn’t sell it at any price,” he says. “We want to keep it to show visitors the real Chinese way of life.” +66 80218 7000
Medium: the original store
Central Thailand Group, a global conglomerate of hotels, restaurants, and department stores that includes KaDeWe in Berlin and Selfridges in London, began its billion-dollar empire in 1950 with a modest corner store on Charoen Krung Street. The venue, a typical Thai-Chinese department store, fell into disrepair over time, until Barum Pescharnstetter, grandson of the founder of Central Group, spearheaded a modern-day revival in 2020. Together with Belgian architect Vincent van Duysen, he envisioned the clad lifestyle center Terrazzo and Thai terra cotta floors with an all-day café, neon-lit vinyl listening bar and rooftop restaurant created by Australian chef David Thompson. The ground floor concept store sells rare collectible magazines (think 1960s Esquire prints and 1948 Collier’s in good condition) as a nod to The Original Store as the most popular English language newsstand in the area. Upstairs, gallery spaces run galleries of everything from Thai street art to Tom Finn-inspired prints and costumes. Centraltheoriginalstore.com
What to bring home As suggested by the locals we love
Plant Pillows by Heng Sing
“Handmade pillows from Heng Seng, Talad Noi’s only remaining prayer pillow maker, reminds me of my Thai-Chinese heritage,” says Pechia Petracianan, therapist and instrumentalist behind the alternative health studio and studio group. The placebo club. “Family run for over 100 years, Heng Seng has recently started making more contemporary designs. In addition to custom kneeling pillows, they now make neck pillows and seat covers with vintage-inspired peony prints.” From about $50; facebook.com/HengsengTaladnoi.
Porcelain jewelry from oriental antiques
Says Mook Attakanwong, Co-Owner and Curator on Contemporary Art Space ATT 19. “It’s made of sterling silver and broken ceramic pieces from China and Thailand – unique pieces of vintage jewelry and souvenirs in one piece.” From about $11 for episodes; +66 65441 4953.
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