Charoenkrung Road in Bang Rak has long been one of our favourite areas of Bangkok. The main artery of the Bang Rak district stretches all the way from the royal island of Rattankosin down to the riiver in Bang Kho Laem and is, according to Wikipedia, the first modern road in Thailand.
Charoenkrung was the first non-airport soil we ever set foot in in Thailand, way back on a holiday in 2014. Having never ventured further east than Prague before, I vivdly remember being hit by the heat, the noise, and the salty-sweet smell of deep-frying bananas which are still, to me, the smell of Thailand. This was one of the tiny alleys that spring off the main branch of Charoenkrung, where aging shophouses and tangled wires loom overhead and where we picked up the keys for our – looking back – clearly illegal but professionally managed AirBnB just across the river.
When we moved to Thailand permanently in 2018 – lo and behold to the exact same building – Bang Rak and Charoenkrung were pretty much on the doorstep and we’d visit almost every week. Since moving a mighty one mile away to Silom, we’ve had less reason to visit.
This weekend though, we decided it was past due a trip down this historic thoroughfare, and it was a reminder of the many delights to be had in this old part of Bangkok. While like much of Bangkok the area is radpily changing, sometimes for the better and sometimes not, there’s still so much to do and see in and around Charoenkrung road that it makes for a great morning out.
A modest range of breakfast pork at Saphan Taksin
Starting early at Saphan Taksin BTS is a good choice to find some fuel for your journey. As a particularly sloth-like weekend creature, it’s a struggle to get somewhere for any time ending in AM, but I am unlike seemingly most of Thailand in this respect.
Charoenkrung hums with activity in the mornings. A lot of the best places to eat are done and dusted by noon. On Charoen Wiang road just opposite the the Robinson department store you’ll find excellent khao kha mu – stewed pork on rice, served from a giant vat at Kha Mu Trok Sung. Another early doors and pork-based option is slightly up the road on the corner of Charoenkrung and Silom – Charoen Saeng SIlom serves up famed pork knuckle from silly o’clock in the morning until lunchtime at the latest. When we popped our head in this weekend, they seemed to be running takeaway only, but this may have been a one day thing.
For a wider variety of meats, Prachak Roasted Duck has been churning out its namesake dish for over a century and runs all day into the early evening. On the same soi as Kha Mu Trok Sung is the original Sanyod restaurant for a similar range of Thai-Chinese duck’n’pork options .
If you’re a fan of a sweeter start to the day, look no further than Panlee Bakery which is close to Charoen Saeng. There is a special place in our heart and stomach for the pandan custard buns sold out of this cramped old bakehouse. Washing it down with a tooth-shatteringly sweet Thai tea is optional.
For the modernistas, Sarnies on Charoenkrung 44 is the original hip new place in the area – a blend of rickety shophouse, distressed concrete and sous-vide steak done right for those of stout wallet. We had our wedding breakfast there. Genuinely.
Even in the ever more suffocating grip of Covid, the stretch of Charoenkrung between Saphan Taksin and Silom is bustling on a weekend morning. Crowds squeeze along the narrow pavements and the many traditional shops and Thai-Chinese medicine specialists seem to be doing good business. Buses rumble up the main street, hawkers hawk everything from dried fish to fresh fruit to pungent Chinese unguents. It’s a pleasant sensory overload.
Silom to Surawong – the melting pot of Charoenkrung
Past the Silom intersection is a little different. This stretch has always felt a little more quiet as many of the gem shops dotted along the street aren’t open at the weekend, but there have been some notable losses in the past couple of years. Two of Bangkok’s best options for Thai-Muslim cuisine were Muslim Restaurant and Home Islamic Cuisine; the former just past the Silom intersection and the latter down opposite the French embassy on Charoenkrung 36.
What they lacked in creative naming they more than made up for in food and atmosphere. Here were two restaurants with that rare blend of great food, welcoming owners and a feel of something much more than just a place to eat. These were places that filled the soul as well as the stomach. This video by the Fantastic Food Search team about Muslim is better than anything I could write here.
It’s a bit of a wrench to walk past so many shuttered shops on this stretch – just this weekend we saw more shops being cleared out and more signs for rent.
It’s away from the main stretch of Charoenkrung that you find the interest here. A few weeks back I wrote about the scooter tour of Bang Rak that runs the back streets of Charoenkrung into the maze of communities in Bang Rak’s ‘village of love’.
I would highly recommend that tour to see a lot in a short space of time, but it’s equally nice to take a leisurely walk down Soi 36, taking in the crumbling old Customs House and taking a right down the small alley right next to it into the tiny alleys around the Haroon Mosque.
This cut through takes you all they way to Soi 34 where you can hunt down the good roti, some food-related street art and also drop in at Harmonique for one of Bangkok’s more interesting restaurant settings.
I also love the alternative street names in this area. We have a Soi Chartered Bank, a Soi Captain Bush and a Soi Rue de Brest in short succession.
Past Surawong Road: the new wave
Continuing up past the Surawong Road intersection, Charoenkrung has undergone some serious regeneration. Past the CAT Tower and the Post Office and down Soi 30 is the impressive art space of Warehouse 30. The Aurum Gallery just on the left of the main entrance has a lot of cool exhibits including a number by Goldie. If you’re reading this and British, yes, that Goldie, a man of many talents it seems. It’s also his gallery (Aurum – see what you did therefully). I particularly liked his fully gold NY train carriage.
By this point, if you haven’t had one already you’ll need a coffee. An obvious option is Library which is also in Warehouse 30. Another is Att 19, just back up Soi 30 and noticeable by the vivid green foliage at the entrance. Inside is a beautifully curated small gallery and a sweet little cafe. This was a good recent find and I’d recommend checking it out.
There’s also a shop selling absolutely huge statues of animals on Soi 30, if that’s your thing. If it isn’t why not?
From here you could carry on past the Sheraton and up into Talad Noi and Chinatown – but for us it was time for lunch and a rest. In Warehouse 30 you have the option of stellar burgers at Sweet Pista, and just the other side you can get a biryani fix at Sallim. We opted for the Twitter-lauded Wuatong Pochana on Charoenkrung 45 and it was a hit.
Big bowls of melting beef noodles, slippery but delicious dumplings and mala beef skewers that built in buzzing Sichuan heat from mild to mind-melting in short order. Wuatong Pochana was extremely popular when we were there and rightly so – the food is great and the setting is another fine blend of classic shophouse and modern touches. A full feed for two for 500 baht is another of many plus points.
What I love so much about this area is how much is packed in to a tight area. Exceptional food, historic buildings, new art and spaces popping up. I think the balance of old and new is just about right at the moment, but it may not stay that way forever.
Here’s top hoping the area retains its many charms now and into the future – it certainly makes for a great day out in Bangkok.