Given the wide network of canals and waterways that run through the city, Bangkok’s Chaophraya riverfront has historically played a significant role in the development of the city since its establishment as the capital in 1782. Transportation, commerce, government, tourism and education have all evolved along its river banks, but as the city modernised, the river and canal system gradually gave way to modern roads and mass transit infrastructure, which new development has followed. Although activity over the past few decades has generally moved away from the river, its continued role as a transportation artery and its natural endowments have brought renewed interest, with redevelopment starting to emerge along the river banks.
Certain landmarks along the river, like the Oriental Hotel established in the late 1800’s, and temples, have maintained their utility, charm and relevance. Other buildings have not stood the test of time so well, with many being demolished for new projects and as a result, high density residential developments have risen on both sides of the river near the Saphan Taksin bridge, where the BTS skytrain crosses to the Thonburi side. The riverside area now accounts for 10% of the total stock of condominium units in central Bangkok. Vacant land has also attracted new hotel and residential developments on the western bank which offer impressive views of central Bangkok’s evolving sky-line. River buses, cross-river ferries and water taxis offer quaint, but efficient transport from, across and along the river, feeding into the modern BTS skytrain system. The Bus Rapid Transport provides mass transport via dedicated bus lanes on Rama 3 Road and Ratchadapisek Road which follow and cross the river at Krungthep Bridge. In an increasingly congested city, these river developments offer a more open and natural environment.
Particularly in the core areas, where riverfront land is becoming increasingly scarce, we are seeing a new wave of modern redevelopment. A prime example of this is the new Asiatique retail complex on Charoen Krung Road. Developed in the early 1900s by the East Asiatic Company Ltd, the site originally housed warehouses and wharves dedicated to the import-export trade, but after lying idle for many years, the site has been brought back to life as a modern shopping centre, equipped with dining, entertainment and other facilities. The design and renovation retain the original feel, and allow both locals and tourists alike the chance to experience a unique riverside atmosphere. River City, renowned as one of the best places in Bangkok to buy antiques, has recently undergone a facelift and there are plans to bring the historic General Post Office (GPO) on Charoen Krung Road back to its former glory through restoration and an adaptive re-use as a mixed-use development.
As Bangkok continues to evolve, many areas across the city are witnessing new patterns of development. Given its history, natural endowments and improving infrastructure we are likely to see a re-birth of the importance of Bangkok’s riverfront, as the area recaptures its former prominent role in the capital’s skyline.
About the author
Dan Tantisunthorn is the Head of Research for Jones Lang LaSalle in Thailand.