The oldest paved road in Bangkok, Charoen Krung Road was constructed after European consuls in the city had petitioned for a road suitable for their carriages to be built. Completed in 1864, the 8.5-kilometre road loosely follows the Chao Phraya river, passing through Chinatown and Rattanakosin. It was an important thoroughfare of its time, encouraging growth and expansion in the surrounding areas, including the city's first tram line.
The area went into decline in the early 20th century, but of late, is showing renewed energy as a slew of new restaurants, bars and galleries pop up along Charoen Krung Road and its adjacent sois or lanes. Much of the action is focused on the Chinatown area, where a burgeoning creative community is creating a scene that feels fresh and exciting. In May 2017, creative hothouse Thailand Creative and Design Centre – better known as TCDC – set up its new home in the historical Grand Postal Building, giving the area's lively aspirations a real shot in the arm.
Despite the influx of new blood, the neighbourhood retains its slow-paced community feel where new businesses know and support one another while coexisting happily with long-term residents. Napol Jantraget of up-to-the-minute eatery 80/20 sees an increasing change in the neighbourhood but strives to retain the amicable spirit of the place, saying, “The locals have been here for generations and we don't want to change anything; we just want to be good neighbours.”
TCDC is a government initiative to inspire and boost Thailand's fertile design and creative scene. To that end, its sleek new home has an impressive design library with more than 70,000 books on art and design, a maker space, a gallery, auditoriums and function rooms. The rooftop garden offers sweeping views of the area. Non-members can use the library by purchasing a one-day pass.
After the success of The Jam Factory, Thai architect Duangrit Bunnag hopes to work the same magic with the ambitious Warehouse 30 project. He has converted a clutch of old World War II-era storage facilities a stone's throw from the river into a multi-purpose space for events, designer boutiques and coffee shops. To-date, the space has hosted design events and creative markets, as well as regular film screenings. For upcoming events, check their Facebook page for updates.
One of the pioneering forces in the area's rejuvenation is Speedy Grandma. Opened in 2012, the gallery continues to host some of the city's edgiest exhibitions by new and established artists, as well as hold some of its wildest artsy parties. A second gallery, the nearby Soy Sauce Factory, has reopened after a short closure, as a showroom for design company 56th Studio and as a pop-up space for art.
The two galleries are part of the Creative District Gallery Hopping Night, which takes place once every four months in participating spaces in Silom, Charoen Krung and Klongsan. On Gallery Hopping days, participating galleries are opened until 10 pm and often have talks and performances in tandem with the event.
Leading the way is 80/20, an innovative restaurant run by young chefs Napol Jantraget, Saki Hoshino and Andrew Martin. They are reinterpreting Thai cuisine while sticking to locally sourced and organic produce as much as possible. The menu changes according to what's in season or can be foraged from the local market. Stop here to encounter palate surprises such as Napol's artful salad made of local water plants or Martin's unique durian khai tom or steamed egg infused with durian, Thai rice wine and fish sauce.
Around the corner, tucked in Charoen Krung Soi 28, is Jua. The contemporary Japanese izakaya is opened by Chet Adkins, formerly of Ku De Ta, in partnership with Bangkok-based photographer Jason Lang, whose photographs line the restaurant's walls. Jua specialises in yakitori, kushiyaki and shared plates, as well as sake from some of Japan's top producers. Fans flock here for the tiger prawn with durian butter, uni orecchiette and miso-garlic clams with milk bread toast.
Stop by FooJohn, a lovingly renovated 1960s post-modern building that used to house a Chinese merchant's headquarters. Inside you'll find three offerings: FoudieJoie, a sultrily lit French bistro with crepes and charcuterie on the menu; a speakeasy bar specialising in prohibition-era cocktails and Negroni drinks; while the rooftop is the popular SpareParts Smokehouse serving up smoked BBQ.
Meanwhile, the rustic 100 Mahaseth is a nose-to-tail restaurant with a focus on Isaan and Southeast Asian fare. Opened by chefs Chalee Kader and Randy Nopprapa, it offers an intriguing mix of offal and non-offal fare. After dinner, head over to SoulJohn, a laidback live music bar dedicated to soul, blues and jazz. Or swing by the bright and cheery Tropic City for one of its extensive rum-based cocktails in a fun, Polynesian setting.
Watch out for special culinary events in the area such as the Charoen Krung 28 Block Party, a new annual event where local eateries team up to feed and water a communal table in a closed-off lane.
To fully immerse yourself in the neighbourhood, stay at Ba Hao Residences, situated in Soi Nana in Chinatown, off Charoen Krung Road. Sitting above the Oriental-themed Ba Hao bar, the residence has two tastefully decorated rooms with large windows offering a view of local life. There is a handsome common area in which to lounge, but for a late-night tipple, go downstairs to the seductive bar, lit in a sultry neon red, for one of its signature cocktails made with locally sourced liquor.