Unique Bangkok: a day in the fascinating Bang Rak area

Wat Yannawa, Bang Rak, Bangkok

Bangkok is one of our favorite cities in the world.

We have visited five times, spending a total of two months in the SE Asian metropolis. On our last visit, we spent quite a bit of time in the Bang Rak neighborhood of Bangkok. The neighborhood is large and could occupy you for days with many different itineraries. We are concentrating on the area closest to the Chao Phraya River and Charoen Krung Road which is perfect for an all day wander.

The Saphan Taksin BTS station is a convenient jumping off point for our tour.

The first stop is directly outside Exit 1 of the BTS station. The large street art piece by Dutch artist Daan Botlek is worth a quick peek. You will have to look past some songthaews and tuk tuks that use the area as a parking lot though! After you’ve had your fill of the mural, head south on Charoen Krung Road towards a large run down skyscraper.

The Sathorn Unique Tower, an abandoned high rise known as the ‘Ghost Tower’, is one of the more famous sites in Bang Rak, Bangkok.

Construction on the tower stopped during 1997 Asian financial crisis leaving it around eighty percent complete. If you’re curious to see the views from the top you can pay a security guard 500 baht and enter the grounds at your own risk. We took a pass, but if you are super adventurous it would be right up your alley.

On the Chao Phraya river side of Charoen Krung Road just a bit south of the tower is Wat Yannawa. This unique Buddhist temple dates back to the Ayutthaya era and is modeled after a Chinese junk ship. It was commissioned by King Rama III as a way to preserve traditional junk ships. At the time they were being rapidly replaced by large steamships. The complex is peaceful with some beautiful backdrops including the infamous ‘Ghost Tower’.

After donating some baht for offerings, climb up the junk for photo-worthy views. You can light incense and place offerings for health and good luck at the base of the Buddha. We watched amusingly as the lady at the top of the ship lowered down a bucket of prior offerings on a string to the lady we bought them from below, surely to be used again.

Saphan Taksin street art
Checking out the mural by Dutch artist Daan Botlek near the Saphan Taksin BTS station Exit 1.
Daan Botlek mural at Saphan Taksin Station
Closeup of the Daan Botlek mural outside of Exit 1 at Saphan Taksin.
'Ghost Tower' in Bang Rak neighborhood.
The abandoned ‘Ghost Tower’ seen behind Wat Yannawa.
Wat Yannawa on Charoen Krung Rd, is a must see spot in Bang Rak, Bangkok.
Wat Yannawa, a unique temple shaped like a traditional Chinese junk ship.

If you want to try some amazing vegan food in the area, continue south along Charoen Krung Rd. to Don Kuson alley.

Nop Nan Vegan is a small family run restaurant with an extensive international menu. We ate a late lunch of some classic Thai dishes all of which were incredible. They offer a variety of curries and even some vegan takes on Isan food, some of our favorite Thai specialties. We especially enjoyed their version of larb!

From here, backtrack towards the BTS station taking in all the sights, sounds, and smells the city has to offer.

Just past Saphan Taksin station to the north, there are tons of stalls lining the sidewalks hawking everything from fruit and juice to clothing and beyond.

For eats, turn down Charoen Krung Soi 50 to the Bang Rak bazaar. The bazaar has sit-down places outside along the back of the alley serving up salt-grilled fish, clay hot pots, and other favorites. Inside the market, there are more food stalls as well as a plethora of air-conditioned salons if you’re in the market for a little pampering in the form of a mani/pedi. While the inside of the bazaar is open all day long, the outside restaurants get started around 5 pm.

There is also a small night market in the alley leading to the bazaar – it gets started around 5 pm and closes up around 9 pm. Look for the grilled sausages and fried chicken or if you want to add some spice to your life order some som tum from the cart about halfway up the alley on the left side. It is not for the weak and will set your taste buds on fire.

Pro tip: if you need to use the bathroom there are public toilets in the basement of the big mall near the Tops supermarket or you can find a more ‘authentic’ bathroom experience inside the bazaar at the back.

Once you have filled up on delicious food, continue north along the main road and stop into the grounds of the College of the Assumption.

Here you will find one of the few cathedrals in Bangkok. The Assumption Cathedral was completed in 1821 and is worth exploring for the stained glass imported from France and Italy and the Romanesque architecture. The cathedral is a stark contrast to the city’s Buddhist temples and offers mass in English a few times a week.

*Note: If you cannot enter the grounds from the main entrance on Charoenkrung Road you can enter from Soi 40 to the north.*

After the cathedral, walk back to Charoen Krung Rd and head north again. There are plenty of jewelry shops along this stretch mostly specializing in silver, as well as art galleries and souvenir shops. This area is known as the ‘Muslim Quarter’ and offers plenty of Halal eateries. (If you fancy some roti, take a detour down Charoen Krung Soi 34, past a small mural and soup stands. Turn left down a smaller alley just before the Wat and follow your nose to Khun Mai Roti. The owner dishes up some delicious and fresh roti stuffed with chicken and spices.)

Eventually you’ll arrive at the Grand Postal Office on Charoen Krung Rd.

Adorned with a couple impressive Garuda sculptures overlooking the grounds, the building is rather imposing. Directly in front is a statue of Field Marshal Prince Bhanurangsi Savangwongse, who is credited as the father of the Thai postal system. Inside, look for the larger than life replicas of old Thai stamps along the walls. The doors provide some Insta-worthy photos as well.

The Bangkokian Museum is the next stop on our journey.

Just past the post office, turn right on Charoen Krung Soi 43. Continue down the road and under the highway. The museum will be half a block further on your right. (If you haven’t already stuffed yourself, we discovered a great Khao Man Gai stand run by an older couple just before the highway overpass – look for the hanging chicken and the big smiles).

This is a free museum which provides information on the history of the city and especially how life was for locals during the WWII era.

Entering the museum grounds is like walking into another time. They are incredibly serene and quiet. The two houses on the property display furniture and pictures of a time long ago. Off to the side, there is another section of the museum displaying trinkets and knick knacks from the era. Here you can find a fair amount of information explaining the history of the surrounding neighborhood.

Information is provided in Thai and English for most of the exhibits. For more details ask the volunteers as they are happy to provide further explanation.

Khun Mai Roti in Bang Rak, Bangkok
Khun Mai Roti dishes up this crispy treat filled with chicken, greens and spices. Served with a fiery cucumber salad, it made a wonderful snack.
Grand Postal Building in Bang Rak neighborhood.
The father of the Thai Postal system outside of the Grand Postal office on Charoen Krung Rd.
Khao Man Gai stand on Soi 43
This couple puts out quite a bit of Khao Man Gai during the lunch rush – it’s located on Charoen Krung Soi 43.
Khao Man Gai stand in Bang Rak.
Khao Man Gai is deceivingly simple chicken and rice upon first glance, but it’s all about the sauce!
Bangkokian Museum
Walking towards the traditional Bangkok house in the Bangkokian Museum.

Next, head back to Charoen Krung Rd. and cross over to Soi 32 to discover some street art!

Keep an eye on the alleys as you walk because in Bangkok street art can show up just about anywhere.  Once you arrive, stroll down Soi 32 and enjoy the scenery. Keep an eye out for PukRuk the bird done by the famous Thai street artist Muebon.

Once you reach the end of the alley, turn back around. Just before the main road, turn left and go through a big black metal gate. You’ll pass by Warehouse 30, a newer, hip row of galleries, boutiques, and coffee shops. This is a perfect place to window shop or refuel with a shot of caffeine.

Beyond the warehouse turn left onto Soi 34 to find a unique piece of stucco chiseled street art. Directly in front of the Portuguese Embassy, it depicts an old Portuguese Ambassador. This is by far one of the most unique pieces of street art we have come across.

If you enjoy traipsing through small alleys, there is more street art nearby. You can find another Muebon piece outside of the Old Town Hostel on Soi 28 as well as a smattering of others on the same soi.

Street art in Bang Rak, Bangkok
This one reminded us of “Where the Wild Things Are”, a favorite children’s book of ours.
Todd is absorbing some of the pieces across the street while I snapped his photo along Soi 32.
PukRuk the bird by famous street artist Muebon in Bang Rak, Bangkok.
The famous PukRuk the bird by Thai artist Muebon along Soi 32.
Bang Rak street art on Soi 32
Some of the street art along Charoen Krung Soi 32.
Striking a pose near the end of Soi 32.

You could end your tour here if you choose.

There are water ferries on either side of the Sheraton hotel, just up from the stucco piece. The ferry pier on the south side of the hotel runs the orange line and will take you back to the Sathorn pier. On the north side of the hotel, you can take a free shuttle to ICONSIAM, one of Bangkok’s newest malls. Keep in mind this mall deserves an entire afternoon dedicated to exploring its shops, restaurants and displays.

On the other hand, if you’re thirsty and you want a taste of old  Bangkok check out Jack’s bar.

It sits right on the Chao Phraya and has great sunset views. The vibe and views are worth the trip alone. Thai beers such as Chang, Singha, and Leo go for 100 baht and glasses of wine start at 200. It’s a very popular place so if you want front row seats for nature’s fireworks be sure to arrive early.

Pro Tip: If you want a private tour of the canals, grab a longtail boat right from the bar. Just speak with the owner up front. They run from about 1000 baht/ hour and you can take your icy beers from the bar with you.

If you’re craving something a bit fancier for a tipple, opt for the Sky Bar.

We didn’t visit due to the dress code and the pricier drinks, but we hear it’s the place to go for sunset. It has some amazing views of the Bangkok skyline. You can also re-enact your favorite scene from The Hangover 2. Just be sure not to get caught in the middle of an actual international standoff!

After enjoying a beer (or two) and the sunset, what better way to end the day than with a relaxing foot massage?

There are plenty of massage parlors to duck into nearby, whether for a foot massage or a traditional Thai massage. Most stay open until 10 or 11 pm. We recommend Suk Sabai on Soi Charoen Krung 44 which is a short jaunt from the BTS station. An hour foot massage is well worth the 200 baht and traditional Thai massages are 300 baht. With a friendly and welcoming staff, it’s a great place to relax and reflect on the day. They also offer free wifi so you can share all your exploits with friends and family online.

Jack's Bar, Bang Rak, Bangkok
The view of sunset from Jack’s Bar is one not to be missed while in Bangkok.
Charoen Krung Soi 44, in Bang Rak, Bangkok has a ton of massage parlors.
This little alley is full of massage parlors to aid in your relaxation goals.

Now, get going!

There you have it – a full day exploring a new neighborhood in Bangkok. Feel free to take this guide and make it your own. If you see an alley that looks fun to explore, go ahead and get lost. In our travels, our most memorable experiences have resulted from wandering random streets and alleys, finding amazing food and little shops along the way. Have any suggestions on what else to do in Bang Rak, Bangkok? Leave a comment below.

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