When it comes to arts and culture, Bangkok is a vibrant canvas, awash with museums and galleries that showcase the best of Thai heritage, both historic and contemporary. Beyond the well-known classics like the Bangkok Art & Cultural Centre, recent years have seen a mushrooming of new venues around the city, from galleries and museums to cinemas and everything in between (some of them even blur the lines – Bangkok Publishing House is a beautiful museum about the city’s publishing industry, but it’s widely considered to be one of Bangkok’s best hotels). In fact, this is a city so obsessed with culture that gallery hopping has become a weekend activity in its own right (our local’s guide to Bangkok will show you exactly how it’s done). It’s worth straying beyond the bigger names to check out the newcomers – it’ll give you a better feel for what makes Bangkok one of South East Asia’s cultural capitals.
Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC)
What: Contemporary art gallery and cultural centre
Location: 939, Rama I Road, Wang Mai, Pathum Wan, Bangkok, 10330
Combine a shopping mission in Siam Square with high-brow culture at the iconic Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. This nine-storey building is more than just an art gallery: it’s a venue that hosts everything on the cultural spectrum, from movie screenings and live music to art workshops and provocative theatrical performances. Since its opening nearly 15 years ago, the gallery has hosted a series of exhibitions by acclaimed artists from around the globe including iconic Chinese artist-in-exile Ai Wei Wei and British design firm Foster + Partners, alongside championing emerging local talents. In fact, there’s so much here you might as well make a day of it, starting with a coffee at Gallery Drip on the ground floor and picking up some souvenirs at Bookmoby bookshop along the way. Then, ascend the spiral staircase to get an eyeful of the photographs, paintings and installations on display.
River City Bangkok
What: Art, antiques, and shops
Location: 23 Soi Charoen Krung 24, Talat Noi, Samphanthawong, Bangkok 10100
Price: free entry
This contemporary riverside gallery rapidly rose to fame when it opened in 1984, with crowds flocking to see Andy Warhol originals and works from masters like Van Gogh, Monet, and Gauguin. Since then, its halls have played host to rotating international exhibitions, featuring photographs, paintings, fashion, movie screenings, and even a Broadway play. And due to its riverside location, you can access it by boat, with ferries arriving at a number of jetties just outside the building. Talk about an entrance.
Doc Club & Pub
What: Indie cinema and cafe
Location: 2nd Floor, Woof Pack Building, Soi Sala Daeng 1, Silom, Bang Rak, Bangkok
Price: 150 THB/5 USD per ticket
After curtains fell for good on the much-loved alternative cinema Bangkok Screening Room during the pandemic, film distributor Documentary Club announced that it would take over and carry on its legacy – a relief to the Bangkok’s creative community, which treasures its indie local cultural institutions. Despite the name, Doc Club & Pub actually screens movies of every genre – albeit with a focus on indie titles, like Japanese road drama Drive My Car, Danish animation Flee and Norwegian dramedy The Worst Person in the World. The cinema has a limited capacity of 52 seats, so make sure you book in advance. If you’re feeling peckish, you’re well-catered for, too – you’ll find food, snacks and drinks, along with cocktails and cool craft beers served at the cafe, and it’s not far from some of Bangkok’s best bars for pre- and post- drinks.
What: A history of the red light district on Patpong Street
Location: 5, Soi Patpong 2, Suriya Wong, Bang Rak, Bangkok 10500
Price: 250 THB/ 8USD, including one drink and a guided tour with headphones
For something a bit more racy, delve into the history of one of the world’s most notorious red-light districts. While Patpong is infamous for being the epicentre of ping-pong shows, go-go bars, and of course, sex, only a few people know about its story, which can be traced back to more than a century ago. Secretive and intriguing stories unfurl inside this red, neon-lit space, taking you from the days when it was a CIA hub to its time playing host to David Bowie. Whatever you come for, the Patpong Museum strikes a different note to traditional museums. Roaming through its halls makes for an educational and engaging experience thanks to rare archives, historic memorabilia and artefacts, as well as interactive exhibits and games.
What: Cultural space for exhibitions, performances, and screenings
Location: 256, Rama I Road, Pathum Wan, Bangkok 10330
When the iconic 50-year-old Scala cinema in the heart of Siam Square closed down, the building was quickly taken over by a record label. Newly revamped under the name Lido Connect, it’s now a cultural space for art exhibits, concerts, and performances – and cinephiles fear not, because you can still stop by to enjoy a good movie. Don’t forget your credit card, either: Lido Connect is surrounded by shops touting everything from vintage spectacle frames to movie posters. And if you’re the kind of cool kid who shoots on film, you can get your rolls developed on the second floor at Xanap film lab.
The Jam Factory
What: Gallery, homewares, and restaurant space
Location: 41/1-5, Charoen Nakhon Road, Khlong San, Bangkok 10600
Want to escape from Bangkok’s hustle and bustle? Hop on a ferry across the river to the western bank and experience a more peaceful side to the city. As you arrive at Khlong San Pier, you’ll be greeted by a lush green lawn and a converted factory designed by architect Duangrit Bunnag. The Jam Factory is not only his office, but a gallery, furniture showroom, restaurant, cafe, and bookstore rolled into one. Since its opening in 2014, the place has become a favoured riverside getaway. At the weekend, the spacious gardens welcome a large crowd for outdoor events like music festivals, street art shows and book fairs. If you love thrifting and antiquing (not to mention street food-ing), mark your calendar for The Knack Market, a monthly retro flea market held here.
What: Public museum
Location: 4, Sanam Chai Road, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200
Price: 100 THB/3 USD for Thai adults, 200 THB/6 USD for international adults
What do instant noodles and royal thrones have in common? They’re both a significant piece of Thai culture, which you can learn about in Museum Siam’s current exhibition Decoding Thainess. The temporary show will run you through other important Thai items, like costumes, talismans, the lottery and more. It’s a prime example of what the museum, housed in a three-story neoclassical mansion, is all about: celebrating Thai history and society.
What: museum of contemporary art
Location: 499, Kampaengpetch 6 Road, Lat Yao, Chatuchak, Bangkok 10900
Price: 250 THB/8 USD
MOCA Bangkok is widely considered to be one of Bangkok’s best galleries. The largest contemporary art museum in Asia, its halls are home to more than 800 works of art, many of which are from the personal collections of telecommunications mogul Boonchai Bencharongkul. Some of the gallery’s gems include pieces by high-profile Thai artists like Thawan Duchanee, Chelermchai Kositpipat and Prateep Kochabua. Cementing itself as a world-leader for modern art, the gallery has recently added augmented reality installations, skateboard ramps and even a pink ice-skating rink for Valentine’s Day. In short, there’s lots to see at Moca – and it’s just as well, because it makes the slightly longer journey from the city centre worth it.
Jim Thompson House Museum
What: a museum dedicated to the history of silk
Location: 6, Soi Kasem San 2, Wang Mai, Pathum Wan, Bangkok 10330
Price: 200 THB/6 USD
The teak buildings and courtyard gardens of the Jim Thompson House Museum present a calming oasis in the middle of Siam Square (perfectly position for access to some of Bangkok’s best restaurants, if you wanted to make a day of it). Thompson was a US businessman who became known as the ‘Thai Silk King’ for his revitalisation of the silk industry in the 1950s and 60s. The museum is housed in the home he built for himself and his growing collection of Southeast Asian art and antiques. The museum exhibits this collection, and showcases the history of Thai silk making through live demonstrations.