Built during the reign of King Rama V, Surawong Road is one of Bangkok’s most vibrant and historic business neighbourhoods. This storied road connects to the first road ever built in Bangkok, The Charoen Krung Road, and also to the banks of the Chao Phraya River.
Thanks to its heritage, classic architecture, contemporary designs and authentic local food, Surawong Road is a cultural yet contemporary tourist destination. Here are 8 highlights of this area that you should not miss.
1. The Neilson Hays Library – a monument of love
Amid the bustling business district, is a quaint neoclassical building called The Neilson Hays Library. Established in 1920, the library is a monument of love by Dr. Thomas Heywood Hays. He is the former Chief of the Royal Thai Navy Hospital and the first medical professor of Siriraj Hospital. The library was established in loving memory of his wife, Jennie Neilson, an avid reader who devoted herself to library work until her last days.
The elegant structure was designed by Mario Tamagno, an Italian architect. He is responsible for numerous landmarks around Bangkok such as the Ananda Samakhom Throne Hall, Hua Lamphong Train Station, Makkawan Rangsan Bridge and Phayathai Palace. The construction was executed with the same meticulous approach as those used with the aforementioned landmarks, prompting the public to call it “a grand palace on a small scale”. This still functional library offers more than 20,000 books for keen booklovers, a gallery and café that have played host for special events and functions. It was awarded the status of Historic Landmark by the Association of Siamese Architects in 1986.
2. Bangkok Folk Museum – Bangkokians’ treasured history
Bangkok Folk Museum, also known as Bangkokian Museum, is originally home to Professor Waraporn Surawadee who donated the property to become a museum that offers an insight into the lifestyles of Bangkokians amid lush green gardens. Located in the heart of bustling Bang Rak District that is now filled with commercial buildings and skyscrapers, Bangkok Folk Museum is a rare sanctuary that is open to the public for free. Visitors can also learn about the history of the house as well as Bangkok from knowledgeable staff members who will show you around and share delightful and fun stories along the way.
Bangkok Folk Museum offers an insight into the lifestyles of well-off Bangkokians during World War II and its aftermath (1937 – 1957). The museum consists of three zones in three quarters which display many of the possessions of original family members in good condition as well as memorabilia from the early Rattanakosin Era and numerous art pieces.
3. The Old Customs House – Siam’s hip building
The Old Customs House is a fine example of the increase of Western architecture in public buildings during Thailand’s transformation under the reign of HM King Chulalongkorn (King Rama V). The building sits on the eastern bank of the Chao Phraya River in Bang Rak District, on Soi Charoen Krung 36, and was symbolically considered the gateway to the country. During the time when Thailand was adopting free trade policy, foreign merchants would travel from far and wide via the waterways and stop here to pay tax. This classical building was designed by Joachim Grassi, another renowned Italian architect. The Old Customs House was used frequently for grand celebrations especially to welcome HM King Rama V back from his first state visit to Europe. The customs department later moved to Khlong Toey port in 1949 and the building has been used as the office for Bang Rak Fire Station ever since.
4. Bangkok General Post Office – Bangkok’s design hub
In 1885, Thailand joined the Universal Postal Union and used the former British Embassy of Charoen Krung as the first office, which was later restyled as Bangkok General Post Office. In 1940, the building went through a major renovation, led by Mew Jitsame Apaiwong and Phraya Sarote Rattaniman. Under the brutalist concept that tends to use geometric shapes and showcase the original surface of the materials, Bangkok General Post Office looks like a giant box paved with bare bricks and no concrete surface.
Even the Garuda statue looks stern. The building is now office to the Thailand Creative & Design Center (TCDC) that encourages societal and economic development based on creativity. The center gives the public access to design knowledge with more than 50,000 books, journals, print media and multimedia. The location also offers research, working space, material, design services as well as exhibition spaces that regularly host interesting subjects.
5. River City Bangkok – Riverside center for art and antiquity
Travelers who visited Thailand 30 years ago would remember the bank of the Chao Phraya River was dotted with top hotels. In 1984, River City opened its doors and established itself as a new landmark. The 4-story glass building was designed by Emeritus Professor Captain Krissada Arunwong na Ayutthaya. Its iconic aesthetic earned the building the Best Architectural Design Award the same year.
Besides its position as an architectural wonder, River City is also known as a center of art and antiques. 80 stores across River City retail in rare art collectibles and vintage home decoration items from China, Thailand and Europe. It also has an exhibition hall which has temporary displays of modern art all year round. Every first Saturday of the month, River City hosts an auction for rare and valuable art and antique pieces – a tradition that has been in place for more than 20 years, making it the art and antique center of Thailand and Asia.
6. Sri Maha Mariamman Temple – Shrine of the Goddesses
Straight down the road from the Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse, on Silom Road, is the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple. The Temple is also known as Wat Khaek and was built in 1879 by Vaithi Padayatchi, a Tamil Hindu immigrant. The temple’s façade is an elaborate riot of colours with intricate carvings of Gods and Goddesses, and it houses various deities.
Following the traditional Tamil calendar, the Navratri festival takes place here in the September/October months. This festival is believed to give redress from bad luck and is held for ten days. On the final day, the street in front of the temple is colourfully decorated with yellow flower garlands and candles, and the image of Sri Maha Mariamman is taken through the streets with a large procession.
7. BUKRUK – When art invades
Architecture and gallery galore aside, Bangrak is also home to vibrant and colorful graffiti art. This creation was a collaborative result of Thai and international artists who participated in the BUKRUK art festival, held for two consecutive years.
Highlights include the floating duck by Nychos from Russia at Bangkok Dock Company and golden mermaid on an abandoned wall near Mahesak junction by Fikos from Greece. Close to the beginning of Charoen Krung soi 28, passersby can also marvel at the mural art of birds in a hat by Romanian artist Saddo. Across the street, two other artistic creations are displayed: the painting of a person reading in a room by Korean Daehyun Kim, and a bird on a one-wheeler by Thai artist Mue Bon. Visitors passionate about street art or graffiti are often found heading to these places on foot or bicycle.
8. Authentic Street – side Thai Dishes
Being an old district for trade and commerce, Bangrak is a busy neighbourhood filled with old-school street food. Often found with “treasure” maps in their hands, visitors are on the search for the perfect meal on the street. Pra Jak roast duck has been around for four generations serving tasty roast duck and barbecue pork on rice and “che po” rice – a hearty rice dish with lots of condiments.
The congee by Prince, originally located at Prince Cinema (now closed), still delights its regulars with tender pork and smooth congee with a slight hint of charcoal. A place to savour is Joe Yai, serving delicious rice noodle crepe (kuay tiew lod) and the traditional recipe of “juay kuay” with turnip, egg, pork, tofu and mushroom. Another must-try is oyster omelet at Tip. For dessert, Pa Aew’s grilled mini coconut pudding (khanom krok) has been a local favorite for years, thanks to their balanced sweetness and slightly crispy skin.
We circle back to the heritage area of Surawong Road, where the Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse is proud to do its part in rejuvenating the Surawong community with its modern offerings of accommodation and multiple food and beverage dining and banquet venues.
Praya Kitchen serves authentic Thai cuisine with international dishes in the mix. Yào Restaurant pairs contemporary Chinese cuisine with stunning
Bangkok views. Enjoy evening drinks at Yào Rooftop Bar. The 32-storey building is the first Marriott hotel in Bangkok that offers 303 guest rooms and apartments under one roof.