Southeast Asian Street Art

by - 3:00 PM


The seed for my street art obsession was planted in Slovenia. It grew and grew in the Netherlands. Then all of a sudden I had a ticket to Bangkok and a plan that'd lead me to Laos and Cambodia as well. At that point in time I only knew a little about street art in Thailand because a Dutch artist had just been there. Laos and Cambodia were a total mystery. Was there even a street art scene there? I had no idea, so I set out on a mission to see what kind of street art Southeast Asia has to offer. Come along and explore with me!

Thailand


Upon arrival in Bangkok I learned it wouldn't be difficult to find street art in Thailand. Khao San Road is full of stickers from artists from all over the world - it took me about five seconds to find a Dutch Ox-Alien sticker. Tags were literally everywhere, but for guerrilla pieces you need to check out the docks at the klongs, the channels in Bangkok. Boat rides on the klongs are a big thing among tourists, so you can be a typical tourist while checking out local artists' work.


The city is a real goldmine with commissioned pieces scattered all over the place. There is one enormous wall near the Oasis Hostel which was a collab between Ox-Alien, Edo Rath and Thai artist Alex Face. I'd hoped to find this wall because I'd been seeing it on Instagram all Spring long, but cried happy tears when I found it literally a few hundred meters away from my hostel.


Now I'm always a bit more excited about Ox-Alien walls than any other pieces (what can I say, I like bright colors in bland cities), but Bangkok had so much more in store than just some walls from an artist I knew from back home: the old library that was being renovated had loads of murals. The streets in the Khao San Road area surprised me in the best way possible.


After leaving Bangkok for Chiang Mai I wasn't sure I'd see any more good street art. My doubts turned out to be for nothing: Alex Face has also been to Chiang Mai. If you want to see his work you have to explore the streets just outside the old city walls. Old Town Chiang Mai is beautiful, but the street art inside these walls is a little harder to find. Don't worry though, if you take a walk around the outside of the walls you'll see plenty of art without even putting in any effort. Unlike the pieces in Bangkok, Chiang Mai's art is local for the most part.


Thailand was an allround street art success. Which isn't surprising, considering that the country organizes plenty of (international) street art festivals. This year the city of Pattaya was filled with murals. Sadly I didn't get to see those, but that gives me a good reason to go back to Thailand some time.


Laos


I arrived in Laos after one day in a van from Chiang Mai to the border, then spent two days on the slow boat. On my third full day in Laos I set foot in Luang Prabang, where I finally had the chance to see Lao street art - if only there'd been anything to see.
Luang Prabang was weirdly clean. There was the occasional sticker here and there, but no big pieces. Barely any tags. Almost nothing at all. I refused to give up on Lao street art so easily, but things didn't get much better when I went to Vientiane. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Laos is a communist country. The only big mural I saw was a commissioned piece with so much communist symbolism it made me cringe.


Laos is more of a sticker country than anything else, probably because stickers on telephone poles and lantern posts seem to be the main way of advertising stuff. You can put them up in broad daylight and no one even bats an eye. My favorite sticker was one of a yellow dancing elephant. No interesting mural though: spray cans are strictly used for this kind of stuff.


Cambodia


After a slight disappointment in Laos, Cambodia's street art was a big surprise. Cambodia had everything: stickers, pieces, tags, stencils, everything! Cambodia doesn't really know what to do with street art though. It's waging a war on graffiti while organizing the occasional street art event at the same time. As a result, walls that have been painted during a festival are white washed a few weeks later. This made finding street art in the capital Phnom Penh difficult: even if someone posts a picture and location online today it might be gone tomorrow. Cambodia street art has en extremely short life span, even for street art standards. Keeping your eyes open is a must, and you also need a bit of luck. For example, I never would have spotted this amazing piece if my hotel hadn't had a rooftop bar and pool.


On street level the art disappear within the blink of an eye. It was a stroke of luck that a few pieces hidden behind food carts caught my eye when I was on my way to the Killing Fields. When I went back there I noticed a weird pyramid shape which I'd seen in Bangkok as well. Next to it was a slightly unsettling stencil, the one of only two stencils I saw in Southeast Asia. I had faith in Cambodian street art as I left Phnom Penh and continued my journey towards Siem Reap.


Siem Reap wouldn't be what it is today if it weren't for its close proximity to Angkor Wat. There isn't much to see and do there, yet it had one thing I didn't see in any of the other places I visited: a Hall of Fame. Along the river a construction side that's been boarded off has now the biggest Hall of Fame I've seen since my visit to Utrecht.


There are so many pieces here, but this on was my favorite. As you take the tuktuk from Angkor Wat back to Siem Reap you'll see more pieces by this artist - all bright, colorful and beautiful.


Wandering around Siem Reap will not lead to disappointment either. Illegal pieces in Cambodia are a lot more hidden and harder to find than the ones in Thailand (probably because of the frequent white washing), but they're there if you don't walk straight past dark alleyways. Gotta give my dad props for finding this one.


My four weeks in Southeast Asia were almost over when I left Siem Reap. I returned to Europe with a camera full of street art pictures, a head full of Southeast Asian street art facts and quite a few scraps of paper I'd stuffed into my pockets after putting my own street art stickers up while hunting for the best pieces of this part of Asia. Because how can you love street art this much without making the world a little more coloful yourself? Maybe I'll give you an insight into that adventure as well, but for now let's enjoy one last Southeast Asian street art picture.

x Envy

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8 Fellow Ramblers

  1. Omgoodness this street art is amazing, I'm in awe of anyone who can create especially like this. I've watched some but I was in complete awe.

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    1. It's awesome, isn't it? It all looks so easy, but using a spray can is way more difficult than it seems. I'm so happy I got to see all these amazing pieces.

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  2. Everything looks just amazing😍 so far the most impressive ones I’ve seen are the ones in East Side Gallery in Berlin, or well in Berlin in general. These are gorgeous!

    lots of love, Jasmin.
    // littlethingswithjassy.com

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    1. I've heard so much about the street art in Berlin! Last time I visited that city I wasn't interested in street art yet, so I missed out. I did visit East Side Gallery, but got literally 15 minutes to look around (downside to going there with your college).

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  3. Amazing! Never thought street art was so big in Asia at all - thank you so much for sharing this! <3

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    1. Apparently there's quiet a big scene, but it's much more underground than it is here. Take Cambodia for example. The government is so anti-graffiti that it's almost impossible for artists to get some traction. But their work is amazing, it really is.

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  4. What a great photo diary, Envy! Thank you so much for sharing your travels in Asia with us. I hope you had a good Christmas and a terrific holiday season! xo
    peridotcove.blogspot.com

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    1. Thank you! It's so good to see you back in my comment section, I really missed you. Hope you had a great holiday season and I wish you all the best for 2018!

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