Bangkok’s jewellery quarter, which encompasses both Silom Road and the area around the fabled Oriental Hotel in Bang Rak district, is a fascinating area in its own right and a great place to take a cultural tour, as well as shop for gems, silver jewellery, silverware and ethnic jewellery, artifacts and curiosities.
The most scenic and interesting part is the stretch between the Assumption Cathedral and the Old Customs House on the riverside. This old area developed during the reign of King Rama 1V, when he signed trade agreements with the West.
Embassies, consulates, piers and warehouses mushroomed along the eastern bank of the Chao Praya River here to accommodate the growing links with the West, which also brought along an influx of foreign cultures and technologies.
To this day the area is a cultural and ethnic melting pot, evidenced in its mix of Buddhist temples, Islamic mosques, Roman Catholic churches and the shops of Thai, Indian, Chinese and Middle Eastern traders lining Charoen Krung, or “New Road”, the thoroughfare that runs parallel to the river. This was Bangkok’s first modern road, and in its heyday featured a tram-line and the first automobiles to be imported into the country.
The narrow sois that lead from Charoen Krung to the river are also wonderful to explore: there are gold leaf factories, some small stone-cutting workshops, a vibrant fresh markets, and famous old restaurants serving Thai, Chinese Islamic and European cuisines.
Charoen Krung itself is the home of Gems Tower, which houses many wholesale traders dealing in fashion jewelry and materials used in the jewelry trade such as synthetic and semi-precious stones, tools, loupes, jewelry findings and packaging and display materials. Some of these shops will sell to the public in smaller quantities at a premium.
The really interesting shops however are those run by Nepalese, Afghan and Pakistani immigrants, as well as local Thai-Chinese traders, on either side of Charoen Krung Road. Here you can find everything from Japanese-style Netsuke figurines in ivory (but please don’t buy these: they are also available in bone), antique Roman and reproduction gold-plated coins, Afghan and Nepalese tribal jewellery, Indian and Burmese filigree silver trays and boxes, and beautifully crafted modern silverware.