The capital of Thailand boasts bold architecture on every soi (street). But which are the landmark buildings not to miss when you’re in Bangkok? Our curated list for architecture fans helps you choose.
When you think about Bangkok buildings, chances are it’s either the city’s skyscrapers or its beautiful shrines that come to mind. But there’s much more for architecture lovers to see in the Thai capital. According to Phongphat Ueasangkhomset, one of the founders of Bangkok-based design studio Anonym, “Thai architecture, it’s like tom yum goong, a mix-and-match cuisine full of flavour.” As well as the classic landmarks on this list, we’ve included three newer projects that Ueasangkhomset thinks rate among the city’s most interesting architectural marvels.
Bangkok's Victory Monument has been a focal point in the city since 1941 | @ Didier Marti / Getty Images
Victory Monument is one of the most recognisable architectural landmarks in the city. The military monument, constructed in 1941, sits in the centre of one of the largest intersections in Bangkok, in the Ratchathewi district. The rising obelisk at its centre resembles a sword, its point facing the sky as if trying to slice through the smog-ridden city air. Around the focal point of the monument are five smaller statues that represent Thailand’s police, navy, army, air force and militia.
The Jim Thompson House Museum is a rare find in a city consisting of ever-expanding urban architecture. Carpenters who ventured from Ayutthaya to the capital constructed the museum, once the home of American entrepreneur Jim Thompson. He played a large role in the construction of the property, as he was an architect in the USA before moving to Thailand. The property comprises a number of different buildings, including a silk pavilion, spirit house and terrace. Thompson collected art from around the country to adorn the unique teak structure, now one of the most visited historical relics in the capital.
The aim of PTT Forest in the City was to create a more balanced local ecosystem by transforming what was previously a garbage dump into a green space. Designed by oil and gas company PTT, the park includes a skywalk where you can see the trees from above, which leads to a tower with a 360-degree view of the forest. It’s a great example of how architecture and innovative city planning can be tools to help fight climate change, and one of Ueasangkhomset’s recommendations for Bangkok visitors.
Located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, the Phra Sumeru Fortress is one architectural landmark few tourists frequent. The fortress, located in Banglamphu, is surprisingly close to the infamous Khao San Road, a stretch of road that welcomes backpackers from all over the world. Those who find themselves wanting to escape the buckets of booze and herds of foreigners should take an afternoon to check out this landmark, one of the largest fortresses in the city. Though visitors cannot go into the structure, it sits in a quaint park, and can be photographed from afar. The Phra Sumeru Fortress was built in 1783 during the reign of King Rama I and was one of 14 fortresses constructed in Bangkok during this time. Today, it is one of two forts that remain in the capital.
Also found in the area of Banglamphu is the Democracy Monument. Situated in the middle of a busy traffic circle in the area, it features four rising pillars surrounding a central pedestal. Constructed after the country became a constitutional monarchy, the monument’s centrepiece has a copy of the original constitution. The pillars stand 24 metres (79 feet) tall, and the monument is best viewed at night, when each pillar is lit up with fluorescent lights. Mew Aphaiwong, a Thai architect, constructed the Democracy Monument with the help of Tuscan-born sculptor and artist Silpa Bhirasri.
Completed in 2008, the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre was designed with four major considerations: it should be flexible in its use; include references to Thai architecture; have a central space that acts as a symbol of the building; and make use of natural light. The result is a beautiful modern building whose circular interior is reminiscent of the Guggenheim in New York, but still has plenty of connections to classic Thai architecture – this can be seen in the slanted walls and narrow window slits that have been incorporated and updated in the design, as well as in the curved profiles used on roof elements and sun screens. It’s a fitting celebration of the arts in a country that’s rich in emerging talent.
The Santa Cruz Church, also known as the Church of the Holy Cross, is one of the most iconic structures located along the western banks of the Chao Phraya River. Located in the old capital of Thonburi, the church is one of the oldest in the capital, built during the reign of King Taksin in the 18th century. The King gave the Portuguese community that was dwelling in Thonburi a plot of land so that they could build and expand their community. Even though the Portuguese built the church, its architecture is heavily influenced by Chinese aesthetics.
When the Roman Catholic Portuguese community relocated to Bangkok, they made their home in the riverside community of Talad Noi, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city, found in Chinatown. The community constructed a religious structure here known as the Kalawar Church, built in 1787 and previously known as Kalawario. The original church burned down, but was rebuilt in 1897. Its Gothic architecture is complemented by its riverside location, with its grand entrance facing the Chao Phraya River. Today, it is also known as the Holy Rosary Church.
One of the most noteworthy finds on the Chao Phraya River is the Rama VIII Bridge, one of the largest asymmetric cable-stayed bridges in the world, coming in at a whopping 474 metres (1,555 feet) in length. Construction of the bridge began in 1999 and finished in 2002, and it was built to help alleviate traffic in the city. In addition to doing this, the structure is absolutely stunning, especially after dark when the entire bridge is lit up.
Designed by architects Creative Crews in 2018, the Bank of Thailand Learning Centre revived an old factory – the country’s first note printing works – and turned it into an educational centre. While retaining some of the original features, Creative Crews also added a slew of new details. They created landscape steps that invite visitors to the second floor, and removed solid walls to evoke a feeling of openness. The location, on the much-loved Chao Phraya River, means the centre also benefits from lovely water views through its giant windows.