Bangkok is slowly emerging as a mecca for street art in Asia. Like in many other parts of the region, the art form has long been looked down upon and misunderstood by locals. But as the quality of the art work continues to improve, in addition to semi-regular events helping promote public art, Bangkok residents are starting to realize that ‘street art’ means a lot more than just vandalizing buildings with ugly tags.
One of the organizations responsible for this change in perception is BUKRUK, which in both 2013 and 2016 organized their Urban Arts Festival in the city. The events brought Thai and international graffiti artists together to add some much-needed color to Bangkok’s cityscape. A lot of the prominent works from these events still remain, attracting tourists and local residents to certain parts of the city that they might not have bothered to visit otherwise. In addition to special events, resident Thai artists like Alex Face, Bon and Bonus TMC are also helping put more eyes on Bangkok’s emerging street art scene.
Bangkok is a massive, sprawling city with plenty of wall space for artists to show off their skills. But that also means that knowing where all the good pieces are at any given moment is pretty much impossible. The locations used for the two BUKRUK festivals are well-known and are documented below. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of opportunities to discover some amazing work while walking through the most unassuming residential neighborhoods, or suddenly from out the window of your taxi cab.
Below, I’ve compiled the street art I’ve encountered over a number of visits to Bangkok with descriptions of how to get to each location. You can carry out this self-guided tour in any order you please, but we’ll be covering them from south to north. Some public transport or taxi rides are required to see everything listed here. But the everything from Saphan Taksin station all the way to Song Wat can be done in several hours on foot.
Saphan Taksin Station
Walking down the steps of Saphan Taksin station’s Exit 1, you’ll immediately notice the long pink mural by Dutch artist Daan Botlek. The painting is so long that you’ll need to walk up and down the street to really grasp its scale. Invited to Thailand as part of BUKRUK 2016, the artist was apparently shown this wall at the last minute, after the one he’d originally planned for couldn’t be used for some reason. Despite often obscured by parked cars or street stalls, the work has turned out to be one of the most iconic pieces of street art in Bangkok.
Just southeast of Saphan Taksin station is arguably Bangkok’s most enigmatic skyscraper. Known as the Sathorn Unique Tower, the building was doomed from the getgo, as the scheduled completion date was just around the time of the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
For the past couple of decades, the abandoned skyscraper was fairly easy to enter, with countless graffiti artists leaving their mark throughout the cavernous interior. Sathorn Unique also attracted urban explorers from around the world who’d go for the stunning, albeit dangerous, views of Bangkok’s skyline.
They finally seem really serious about keeping people out now, however. Instead of potential guards to bribe, I only saw gates and warning signs pasted all over the exterior. Rumor has it that the developers may finally get around to restarting the project.
Charoen Krung is the name of a long major road in Bangkok and is also well known for its street art. But you’ll want to explore its soi‘s rather than the main road itself. In Thailand, a soi is a numbered small street or alleyway that branches off of a major road. And Charoen Krung’s sois 32, 30 and 28 are where you’ll want to explore.
Soi 32, in particular, was the main location of the BUKRUK urban arts festival that took place in early 2016. The large murals by prominent Thai artists like Alex Face, Bonus TMC and Lolay still adorn the alleyway’s walls today. The area is still really popular with visitors who come to pose in front of the art, so photography here requires some patience.
Heading north a little bit, you’ll end up at Soi 30 where two prominent works or located. One of the pieces is on the wall of the Portuguese Embassy of all places, while another is just across from the Warehouse 30 building.
The area around Soi 28 is full of street art, but not all of it is easy to find. While you can spot the large bird murals simply by looking up, other paintings are dispersed throughout unnamed narrow back alleys. There’s a lot to be found around the Speedy Grandma Art Gallery, which itself seemed deserted during my visit.
Bangkok’s Chinatown is a great place to see street art of a more playful, almost childlike nature. Some works fuse wall paintings with physical objects, while other smaller paintings hide behind trees or potted plants. Chinatown is pretty big overall, but the area you want to check out is around Soi Wanit 2. This is one of central Bangkok’s main areas for auto parts, so expect to see some of that reflected in the local art.
Coming out of Chinatown, walk along Song Wat road which runs parallel to the river. In contrast to Soi Wanit 2’s tiny paintings, Song Wat is known for its three huge murals. After seeing the pink mural by Aitch, keep walking to see the other two facing each other across a parking lot. The parking area also happens to provide a nice view of the river and the Thonburi district.
Hua Lamphong Canal
This is a street art goldmine I discovered by accident while walking west from Hua Lamphong station. Apparently, the official name of the canal itself is Khlong Phadung Krung Kasem. I’ve not been able to find any other info or documentation about this area online, but I came across it in May, 2017, so it’s likely still there.
To get there, simply walk west from Hua Lamphong railway station in the direction of the Chao Phraya river, and you should see it on your left when walking over the canal bridge.
Bangkok Art & Culture Center (BACC)
The works outside of the Bangkok Art & Culture Center might better qualify as billboards than actual paintings. But you’ll immediately notice local artists like Alex Face adorning the large museum’s entrance. The BACC is a well-known Bangkok art space containing exhibition spaces for both local and international artists, in addition to numerous restaurants and cafes. If you’re an artist yourself, you’ll even find some supplies shops here.
If you’re driving to BACC from the south, you can also see plenty of murals spread throughout Rama IV Rd and Phayathai Rd along the way.
Saen Saep Canal
Accessible from just behind the Jim Thompson House, the Saen Saep Canal is one of the best places in Bangkok to catch a massive number of street paintings in one single area. You can walk down the canal on either side, but this canal is also a part of the local express boat route. I didn’t have the chance to ride one myself but it definitely sounds like a fun way to experience the area.
Chalerma Park is also known as ‘Graffiti Park,’ and for good reason. Nearly ever square meter of the walls surrounding the park are doused in colorful paintings. But it wasn’t always this way. Prior to 2013, the walls were mostly barren. All that changed, though, with the first edition of the BUKRUK festival in 2013, during which Thai and European artists cooperated to completely transform the park.
Nowadays, amateur models flock to the site with their photographers to pose in front of the paintings. But Chalerma also still functions as a normal public park, so expect to see groups of locals playing soccer amongst all the art.
Ladprao and Beyond
Once when basing myself in the northern residential neighborhood of Ladprao, where few foreigners ever venture, I came across this alleyway completely covered on both sides with quality murals. Is it worth going out of your way for? Maybe not, as it’s only a single alley.
But it serves as an example of how there’s so much more art out there, far away from the central districts, that’s waiting to be discovered. On the other hand, I’ve done some exploring in other non-touristy districts, like Thonburi, without coming across any remarkable street art at all.
I expect, though, that as local perceptions continue to shift, we’ll be seeing more and more neighborhoods eager to invite artists to help spice up, or in Chalerma Park’s case, completely transform, their local neighborhoods.
Bangkok is a massive city with plenty of options for all budgets. Wherever you choose to stay, I recommend it at least be near a BTS of MRT station, which actually isn’t as easy as it sounds. For a city of its size, Bangkok’s public transport system is quite limited and the BTS only has a couple of lines.
Fortunately, Booking.com allows you to check the exact location of a hotel or guest house before you book. I would highly recommend finding a place within 10 or 15 minute walking distance of either a BTS or MRT station.
Bangkok is incredibly well-connected to other major cities and airports around the world. The city has two airports: Suvarnabhumi, the main international airport, and Don Muang, which mostly services smaller budget airlines.
Coming from anywhere within Thailand is even easier, as most places around the country have direct bus and train lines to the city. Domestic flights through airlines like Nok Air or Air Asia are very affordable as well. If you book far enough in advance, you can reach Bangkok from places like Chiang Mai for as little as $30 USD one-way.