Befitting a city known as the “Venice of the East,” Bangkok offers a wealth of artistic and cultural diversions, many of which get overshadowed by the flashier attractions on most visitors’ must-do lists. For those seeking a spot of culture while in the Thai capital, the area around Wireless Road and the American embassy brims with aesthetic delights.
One-Stop Center for Art
The Bangkok Art & Culture Centre is a nine-story colossus that covers the full gamut of media. Besides rotating exhibits on the BACC’s upper three floors, the center houses numerous boutiques and coffee shops. The facility also plays host to regular performances and screenings, often followed by Q&As with film principals, some of which are offered in Thai and English.
Designed by furniture and interior designer Christian Liaigre, the nearby Tonson Gallery is renowned as a bastion of contemporary art—it’s the first gallery from Thailand to present at Switzerland’s prestigious Art Basel. Both established names and up-and-comers show their work at Liaigre’s minimalist space, which takes pride in introducing Thai artists to the global scene.
A Gem Among Gems
Bangkok has made claim to being the “gemstone capital of the world,” and some of the country’s finest stones can be found at Uthai’s Gems. For more than four decades, owner Uthai Daengrasmisopon has catered to an upscale clientele, including visitors from the nearby U.S. embassy. He has earned a reputation for both custom-made designs and an enormous selection, not to mention an unconditional money-back guarantee. (Due to the high demand for his services, you must make an appointment to shop here.)
For Good Karma
Built in 1956 to mitigate the bad karma of the area (the nearby intersection was once used to display criminals, to name just one transgression), the Erawan Shrine is uniquely Thai. The monument depicts Phra Phrom, a Thai representation of the Hindu god Brahma, thus showcasing the influence of Hinduism on this predominantly Buddhist country. Erawan attracts more visitors than any of the city’s many Buddhist temples on account of its central location and the many dance troupes that perform at the behest of worshippers hoping to have their prayers answered.
A Shrine for Lovers
A monument to another Hindu god lies just across the road, in front of the CenterWorld shopping complex. At the Trimurti Shrine, also known as the Lovers’ Shrine, swarms of sweetheart-seeking singles descend every Thursday at 9:30 p.m. to leave garlands for the love god in the hopes of finding romance. Even those lucky enough to have already found their soulmate come to pay their respects, lighting two red candles to strengthen their bond. As with the Erawan Shrine, the open-air Trimurti structure has Indian roots with touches of Thai influence.
Fusion of East, West
Further showcasing Bangkok’s religious diversity—and tolerance—is the Holy Redeemer Church. What began in 1949 as the humble Our Lady of the Garage congregation has blossomed into a structure that depicts a fusion of East and West, with its combined Roman Catholic and Thai architecture. The church holds daily mass in both Thai and English, but regularly draws onlookers to witness its colorful weddings.
Art Outside the City
For those with time to venture further afield, the Hua Hin Artist Village (also known as Baan Sillapin, ) is well worth the two-and-a-half-hour trek outside the city, as much for the quality of the artisanship on display as the tranquil atmosphere. You can even take part in an art class, as well as watch artists at work in their studios and, of course, take home a much-coveted memento of your journey.
An American in Bangkok
Even though it lies on the well-trod tourist circuit, the Jim Thompson House deserves every bit of its reputation as an architectural gem. Built by the American credited with revitalizing Thailand’s silk trade, the complex consists of six traditional Thai-style buildings surrounded by lush gardens.
Thompson (whose disappearance in 1967 remains unsolved) was an avid art collector who fell in love with the Thai people—his fondness for both is well demonstrated by the numerous antiques and artworks that fill the rooms. Art aficionados should set aside time outside of the guided tour to stroll the grounds and peruse his many collections.