After a few days of the hot and sticky Bangkok streets it can be a relief to escape to the serenity of a beautiful contemporary art gallery with polished cement floors, blissful silence and a decent coffee.
Bangkok may not be a heavy hitter on the international arts scene, but with a little exploration and patience visitors can discover the charming and unique spirit of Thai culture through its art.
The Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre (BACC) is smack-bang in the middle of the city at Pathumwan Junction, near Siam, within walking distance of many popular hotels in the Sukhumvit area. Hopping off the heavily refrigerated Skytrain at The National Stadium station, you can walk straight into the spacious white building without connecting with the chaos of the street below.
The building itself is a distinct architectural nod to New York’s Guggenheim Museum, but with Thai characteristics like narrow windows and slanted walls that resemble elegant traditional dance forms. The structure feels clean, light and quiet in the context of the bustling city.
The BACC project’s location was hard won through community and artist protests against a proposed shopping mall in the assigned space.
The ground floor area of the centre is a refreshing experience, filled with creative pop-up retail shops, bright young things and an excellent drip-filter-coffee cafe. The entrance space connects the street and the galleries in a truly modern way, with a definite sense of the pulse of Thai life.
The top-level gallery space holds predominantly contemporary Thai works which are curated with wit and a certain sense of freedom – for example, artworks from ancient craft traditions are seamlessly placed within a modern exhibition.
Another must-visit arts space in Bangkok is the Thailand Creative and Design Centre (TCDC). “Asian” design can’t be summed up with sweeping statements, because each country in the region has such a distinct personality, but the love of eye candy is a definite Thai trait – from gilded temples to contemporary Thai design. This slightly obscure space is worth visiting just for the sake of obtaining an educated perspective on the nature of contemporary Thai society.
TCDC is located in a slightly hard-to-find corner of Bangkok, on the top storey of Emporium Shopping Centre. The shopping centre itself is easy enough to get to – it’s connected directly to the Phrom Phong Station by a footbridge – but the gallery space is up a labyrinth of escalators on the top level.
A permanent and free exhibition in the centre is an international collection of iconic design objects with an interpretive guide, while a smaller gallery space recently held a printed typography exhibition (above and below) with work from 43 countries. These unique and refreshing experiences help to build a view of Thai culture, its relationship with the world and its own creative identity.
There is also a deliciously secluded café in this little oasis, with a ceiling-high view of the people relaxing in Queens Park, a library, a shop and quiet study space. The TCDC library will issue you with a guest pass as a visitor and you can browse its range of beautiful art and design books.
Where to stay: Wotif.com and Agoda.com are great for booking hotels in the Bangkok’s Sukhumvit, which is a popular and central area. Wotif has a “mystery” hotel, which gives you a discount within each region and level of service if you book the hotel without seeing the details; this usually means even a five-star hotel is more heavily discounted than a last-minute room.
Where to eat: Contrary to popular belief, Thai street food is reasonably safe to eat – perhaps with the exception of some seafood, but that applies anywhere. As a general rule, sticking to meals cooked in front of you in a hot wok and without mounds of chilli (unless you are used to it) can prevent upset stomachs; avoid foods served in a bain-marie. You can get a delicious authentic meal at Thai “Mum and Dad” restaurants for about two Aussie dollars, and you will find that many Bangkok eateries have a menu with photos or English translations.
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