Street of a thousand stories

12 08 2017

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The street of Charoen Krung is a colourful Bangkok tale. The “new road” is, ironically, the city’s oldest, built at the behest of European merchants who had set up shop in vast mansions by the river in the eighteenth century, surviving today as the former French and current Portuguese embassies. The road begins in Chinatown, skirting the grimy tangle of the Talad Noi, an area of winding alleyways lined with workshops selling machinery, hooks and engines. From here it proceeds down – although often choked in traffic – past traditional Chinese shophouses and backstreet Indian and Muslim communities to Saphan Taksin, under the shadow of the doomed Sathorn Unique “ghost tower” (scroll down) and the boat shaped Wat Yannawa. Along the way it takes in the looming proto-fascist Central Post Office, tourist hordes disgorged from the riverside hotels, sometimes dubious tailor and gems stores, local street markets and quiet backstreets lined with wooden houses and hanging orchids.

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In the last few years, the area has become a locus for gentrification, adding another layer to its palimpset. There is incredible street art as a result of the Bukruk Street Art Festival and by the Warehouse30 development, galleries like Speedy Grandma and Soy Sauce Factory, and now bright hip little cafes like “Little Market” and (soon) flashy bar Tropical City.

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The apex of this new buzz is the refurbishment of the old General Post office as the Thailand Design and Culture Centre, an impressive complex of libraries, exhibition spaces and a rooftop terrace offering an awe-inspiring up-close view of the building facade’s gargantuan 1938 original Garuda statue, looking out over the skyline. It is truly iconic, a new view of Bangkok as a tropical Gotham. I was wowed.

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But the area is peppered with other, more low-key surprises – like this Vietnamese temple I never knew about, close to the Chinatown end, dating back to the nineteenth century and featuring a coop of sacred chickens under a bodi-sashed tree.

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Or Harmonique, a restaurant in an old Chinese mansion entered through a gap in an ancient banyan tree.

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