Banksy wasn’t here yet, but you may discover hidden gems here.
Now, Bangkok is also being hailed as a city with incredible graffiti.
While some see it as art, others regard it as vandalism. In Bangkok, the perception of street art is gradually changing – and positively.
Bangkok is a sprawling metropolis with hundreds of waterways. Recognising that it’s impossible to keep every small alley and walkway under 24/7 surveillance, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has opted not to install more CCTVs and is using graffiti as a tool to keep neighbourhoods alive, fun, and safe to explore.
Artwork has been painted on the walls along Khlong Yannawa in the Sathon area in an attempt to make these communities more pleasant, safer, as well as attract more people from outside to appreciate the street art and promote it through their social media accounts.
The more visitors, the reasoning goes, the less dangerous the streets. More importantly, more visitors mean more opportunities for locals to open small businesses and benefit from tourism.
Sathon district is not alone in aiming to draw tourists by livening up its weathered walls. In 2018, the BMA launched “Taem Si Krungthep” (painting Bangkok) to brighten up old buildings and underused areas in some older neighbourhoods including Bang Sue, Khao San and Sathon. Local street artists were invited to create artwork, and schoolchildren were given a new type of canvas to enjoy.
Graffiti is not new to Bangkok. Like in many cities around the world, street artists have long appropriated walls of abandoned buildings or empty streets for their urban art. But this has often been met with anger by the authorities who have used various methods, including cleaning and painting over to remove the offending work.
That was perhaps understandable in the days when graffiti tended to be the work of naughty teenagers spraying names, vulgar words, or inappropriate paintings on the walls of properties belonging to people they disliked. But the image of graffiti has gradually changed over the past two decades as bona fide artists meticulously design work to fit on a wall or, in many cases, tell a story making it more accepted both as a genre and a form of expression. Unsurprisingly, graffiti-like art has also become a sought-after decoration, both interior and exterior, for emerging cafes, restaurants and hostels.
The acceptance has brought with it commissioned works and festivals, with the walls of commercial building and fences surrounding properties in Bang Rak, Talat Noi and Siam Square forming the backdrop to the Bang Rak Bukruk Urban Arts Festivals in 2013 and 2016. Prominent street artists from Europe and Asia were invited to transform empty spaces into art venues.
Many of the works from the two festivals can still be seen on the walls and fences, along with new ones by rising artists and novices that are just waiting to be discovered.
When in Bangkok, do take time to hunt down the hidden street art gems. Many can be found on the main roads though others are hidden on backstreets or inside communities. Here are some of our favourites in and near the city centre.
1. Chaloemla Park in Ratchathewi: This compact space by the Ratchathewi BTS Station is one of the best showcases of graffiti by both veterans and novices. Take Exit 2 and walk towards the Hua Chang Bridge. The garden is located at the foot of the bridge.
2. A few more works adorn the walls a short distance from Ratchathewi. Don’t miss the one in plain view from the platform of the National Stadium BTS Station.
3. Charoen Krung in Bang Rak district is home to graffiti created for the Bukruk Urban Arts Festival in 2013 and 2016 with many hidden away in the communities and backstreets. Take a walk into the small, even-numbered alleys going from Saphan Taksin northwards to the Thailand Creative and Design Centre (TCDC) in the Grand Postal Building. Several new works have been added to the graffiti from the festivals.
4. Songwat Road and the Talat Noi community is another destination for graffiti hunters. Like Charoen krung, many have been painted on commercial buildings while a few are hidden inside the community. Several have been added by local street artists near new cafés as well as an old Chinese shrine to make the newly fashionable neighbourhood even more attractive.