Tourists cruise Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River to see the gilded wats (Buddhist temples), the opulent Grand Palace and other sights along the historic waterway. But a revitalized destination has emerged along Bangkok’s banks, the Creative District, a lively area full of local cafés, galleries, restaurants and more.
Established in 2015, the Creative District flows along the river and spills into the more residential Khlong San neighborhood on the western bank and the buzzing Bang Rak in the east. In 2016, the district held the BUKRUK Urban Arts Festival with international art exhibitions that left their mark throughout the area. Some of the world’s best street artists attended and painted large, bold and vibrant murals on local buildings. The most-photographed work comes from the Portuguese artist Vhils, who employed a unique carving technique to chisel realistic faces on a wall surrounding the Embassy of Portugal.
Where to Stay
Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok at Chao Phraya River, opened in 2020, has brought even more vibrancy to the neighborhood. Combining top-notch design, art, food and drink, it’s nestled between the river and Charoenkrung, Bangkok’s oldest road and one of its famed destinations. The property marks a big return of Four Seasons to Bangkok; the brand’s prior location, which sat inland in the Ratchaprasong district, was reflagged as Anantara Siam Bangkok Hotel in 2015.
Acclaimed architect Jean-Michel Gathy — known for striking designs like One&Only Reethi Rah in the Maldives, Amanyara in Turks and Caicos and Marina Bay Sands in Singapore — conceived the new dreamy indoor-outdoor refuge. The 299 accommodations feel soothing (a subdued palette of taupe, gray and white) and modern (wood floors, floor-to-ceiling windows, an oval standalone tub and a great minibar stocked with bottled cocktails from the onsite BKK Social Club and complimentary Thai mango gummies and tom yum rice crackers).
The public spaces are both extravagant and inviting. Gathy wanted to bring the rush of the river inside, so you’ll encounter numerous water features, including two rippled walls of white elephants (a sacred national symbol) from Thai sculptor Dong Pongsatat that front infinity pools and, just beyond, smooth rock sculptures trailing in a shallow courtyard pool.
The most meditative water feature sits in the enchanting central courtyard. In the expansive tree-dotted pool, thickets of lepironia articulata (tall grass-like stalks) recall the rice fields of Northern Thailand and floating tiles lead you to sitting areas where you can take in the tranquility and gaze out at the two swimming pools below and the river beyond. It’s so serene, you almost forget you’re in a bustling metropolis.
Aside from its own artworks and design, the luxury hotel enriches the art scene with ART Space, a gallery focused on local talent. Four Seasons smartly partnered with MOCA Bangkok (the museum offers a wonderful introduction to contemporary Thai art) on the gallery, which features rotating exhibits that previously included Bangkok street artists and Thai female artists.
What to Do
You could — and should — spend the day exploring the murals that line the roads in the Creative District. But you also can find excellent artistic offerings in the converted warehouses that once filled the area. Opened in 2017, Warehouse 30 comprises a series of cafés, shops and galleries while still retaining a modern industrial aesthetic. Curated by British music producer and DJ Goldie, Warehouse 30’s Aurum Gallery specializes in contemporary works and street art. We caught a captivating exhibit by Swiss contemporary artist Simon Berger, who carefully hammers cracks into safety glass to create intricately detailed portraits.
The Attakanwong family, which runs Lek Gallery Art (also in the Creative District), turned an old school into ATT 19. On the first floor of the mixed-use space, you’ll see contemporary art, home décor and furniture, while the second floor houses rotating exhibits that spotlight emerging artists. The Attakanwongs’ daughters oversee ATT 19 but also branched out with additional ventures in the complex — one, a fashion designer, has a studio while the other, a chef, helms Bad Ass Asia Bar and Mad Beef Bad Ass Asia Bar and Mad Beef restaurant.
Set on the waterfront, River City looks like a large mall. Built in 1985, it originally served as an antique market. But over the last five years, it’s become a four-story hub for contemporary art and antiques. Visit the individual galleries or stroll through the checkerboard first floor, which holds playful oversized sculptures and installations.
Where to Eat and Drink
The hottest tables at the Bangkok hotel belong to Yu Ting Yuan, which serves authentic Cantonese in a sophisticated Gathy-designed space with a wall of windows overlooking the rock-strewn pool. The dim sum lunch fills up quickly here and, at dinner, you can try the multicourse YTY Menu Experience — we’re still thinking about its perfectly crispy roasted pork belly square and the accompanying sweet honey barbecue pork.
Elsewhere on the property, savor Italian dishes like an addictive pancetta-wrapped bread and comforting housemade tortellini stuffed with braised meat at all-day eatery Riva. Amid palm-tree-patterned wallpaper and potted plants, Brasserie Palmier takes a lighter approach to casual French fare with oyster platters and salt-crusted seabass. While not healthy, the thousand-layer Palmier sweet potato fries are a worthy indulgence. Cafe Madeleine crafts almost-too-pretty-to-eat pastries, like pineapple-coconut financiers, canelés and madeleines dipped in chocolate and cacao caramel. Celebrated restaurant Sushi Saito, which has outposts in Tokyo and Hong Kong, will open here as well.
You cannot come to Four Seasons Bangkok without having a drink at the BKK Social Club. It has everything you want in a bar — it’s atmospheric, has glamorous Buenos Aires-inspired art nouveau touches and curved booth alcoves with dramatic arched ceilings, and the drinks are sublime. The refreshing La Pampa — with Apostoles gin, eucalyptus honey and citrus — is the bar’s most popular cocktail. Evita gives a cinnamon kick alongside Plantation pineapple rum, Campari, Aperol, citrus, bay leaf and a diamond-shaped ice cube.
Outside of the hotel, get a caffeine boost at the Citizen Tea Canteen of Nowhere in the Chinese community of Talad Noi. It’s tucked into an alley, but you can’t miss its orange-black-and-white-tile exterior. Inside, sip on tea among the tiger-accented décor and peruse the wares of local craftspeople.
For something stronger, head to Tropic City. Under colored lights, Thailand’s first tropical bar slings rum-heavy libations, but we particularly enjoyed the Double Dance Lover with Stranger & Sons gin, pandan milk, Monsoon mango sticky rice green tea, lemon with flower garnishes.
Mahaniyom Cocktail Bar dedicates each of its tipples to an ingredient. Adventurous drinkers can try the Cow (with beef fat) or Squid (with dried squid and squid ink), but the sour Pineapple and bright Kaffir Lime are safe bets that offer a unique taste of Bangkok.