One of Bangkok's best and most overlooked festival
Overtaking the normally quiet but intriguing Phraeng Phuthon neighbourhood in Bangkok’s historic district, the Sam Phraeng Arts Festival is a lively swirl of music, arts, crafts, lanterns, puppets, shopping and food. Held annually on a Friday and Saturday in November or December, here's a taste of what we've experienced during one of Bangkok’s most overlooked festivals.
The festivities kicked off in the afternoon in Phraeng Phuthon Square itself, rimmed by restored century-old shophouses surrounding a former royal palace. Beneath an array of bright lanterns and colourful T-shirts strung across the narrow lanes, local residents joined artsy students to sell an array of handicrafts and food. The centre of the square was transformed into a stage, and photography was exhibited in the gallery across from Nuttaporn, a 70-year-old shop that serves the best ice cream in Bangkok.
Just before the crowd filled in around sunset was a great time to take advantage of the neighbourhood’s phenomenal food. Along with a handful of hole-in-the-wall restaurants serving central and southern Thai curries made from scratch, the famous Chote Chitr Restaurant churns out what’s widely regarded as Bangkok’s best mii grob, a sweet and savoury fried noodle dish.
Also don’t miss ba-mii puu muu daeng, a comforting egg-wheat noodle soup with hunks of roasted pork and crab wontons, from the street eatery that sets up at the Square’s northern entrance off Tanao Road. Supplement that with typical festival snacks like pork ball skewers, balls of fried dough and fresh Thai coffee, and you should be good and ready to see where the night takes you.
A few steps over on Phraeng Nara, another narrow side street running just north of Phraeng Phuthon, the energy picked up considerably. We expected a small neighbourhood crafts fair, but to our surprise, the street was awash in sounds, smells and sights that reminded us of Chiang Mai’s Sunday street market — without all of the tacky trinkets and overzealous vendors.
Dozens of youngsters had fun drawing with chalk on a sectioned off portion of the street, illuminated by giant patchwork lanterns. Others painted designs on blank cloth grocery bags or tried out some of the traditional Thai instruments on display. Adults and children who could sit still for long enough had their caricatures or portraits whipped up by a crew of young artists.
Most of the arts and crafts activities are offered for free or in exchange for tips or nominal fees. The festival was all about bringing community together for an enjoyable time rather than earning a profit.
Further down Phraeng Nara, we arrived a few minutes too late to watch a traditional Thai puppet troupe perform, but we did get a chance to meet some of the characters.
Several less conventional puppets also added some colour to the event.
And then there was the music. A dozen or so performers included a terrific jazz-rock quartet that incorporated an accordion and Chinese string instruments into its memorable act. We were also moved by a solo celloist who played soulfully in front of the Talaphat Sukhsa Schoolhouse, a gorgeous century-old heritage building that was lit up indigo and green.
The performance that energised the sizable crowd more than any other was put on by Khlong Toey Music Program, a charity music school for talented, underprivileged kids in Bangkok. Once the young singers settled into the spotlight, they belted out Thai and Western tunes that got people dancing and provoked applause that resounded all the way down to Mahachai Road.
To find the festival, head south down Tanao Road from the Khao San Road area and you’ll see Phraeng Nara and Phraeng Phuthon on the right after a 15-minute stroll. The nearest Chao Phraya Express Boat pier, Tha Chang, is around a kilometre to the west. If coming by taxi or tuk tuk and the driver doesn’t know Phraeng Phuthon by name, ask to be dropped at Wat Ratchabophit on Feung Nakhon Road, from where you can walk straight north (Feung Nakhon turns into Tanao) and find Phraeng Phuthon on the left after a five-minute walk.
Address: Start at Phraeng Phuthon Square, Bangkok
Coordinates (for GPS): 100º29'50.67" E, 13º45'7.17" N
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David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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