Bangkok is a city that’s changing fast – but, in amongst the skyscraper shopping malls, hotels and condominiums, there remain heritage buildings that have survived the wrath of development and still stand to pay homage to eras gone by. These stunning buildings spread across Bangkok display a wide range of Thai, European and Chinese heritage influences, and we love them all for different reasons. These are a few of the Bangkok heritage buildings we find most stunning – perfect for taking in a decidedly different side to Thailand’s capital city than most tourists get the chance to see.
The Jim Thompson House is, in fact, one example of a Thai heritage building that plenty of visitors to Bangkok do indeed see, figuring as it does on many first-timers’ itineraries. The house of the famous American architect and silk producer – who became fascinated with and helped enormously raise the profile of Thailand’s weaving industry, before even more famously (and to this day mysteriously) disappearing in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands in 1967 – is packed with his collections of antiques, and was constructed in Thai style, but to Thompson’s own specifications, using teak sourced from across Thailand.
Daily, 9am-6pm; adults, 150 baht, students under 22 years old, 100 baht; 6/1 Soi Kasemsan 2, Rama 1 Road (BTS National Stadium); www.jimthompsonhouse.com
Much less trafficked by tourists than the Jim Thompson House, this collection of five teak houses in Sathorn is dedicated to former Thai prime minister Kukrit Pramoj. As well as being a politician, Kukrit was arguably better known as a writer, artist, and passionate advocate of traditional Thai art, and this living museum showcases those passions. The interconnected buildings, procured from across Thailand’s central plains, display traditional Thai design and architecture throughout, and are filled with Kukrit’s own personal collection of Thai- and Buddhist-inspired curios. The houses are also surrounded by expansive, verdant tropical gardens that make for a welcome refuge in downtown Sathorn.
Daily, 10am-4pm; adults, 50 baht, children, 20 baht; Narathiwat Soi 7 (Soi Phra Phinit) (BTS Chong Nonsi)
Built in 1888, the former Customs House once represented to all intents and purposes the ‘gateway to Thailand’ (or Siam as it was at the time), since this riverside building was used to collect taxes from traders arriving and departing the country with their goods by way of Bangkok’s Chaophraya River. The building later became home to the district fire station, but that was recently moved and now it sits empty and largely dilapidated. Though it’s not possible to go inside, the building has long been a popular spot for photos (if you can get close enough now that barriers have gone up outside – see below), especially as a backdrop for pre-wedding shots.
However, redevelopment into an ultra-luxury hotel is said to be on the cards again, under a concession granted to a real estate consortium that has been held up for over a decade. We only hope any such redevelopment preserves rather than obliterates the stunning European-style façade (common to buildings such as this that were constructed during Thailand’s era of modernisation and westernisation under the reign of King Rama V) – as has tragically proved not to be the case at other heritage buildings, such as the 100-year-old teak structure structure that housed Hemingway’s bar in Asok, that have been lost in recent years.
The Old Customs House sits on Charoenkrung Soi 36, formerly and aptly known as Trok Rongphasi Kao (Old Customs House Lane), and these days also referred to as Rue de Brest, reciprocating the naming of a street in the northern French city as Rue de Siam following the arrival of a French ship in the 1600s (Rue de Brest is also home to the French Embassy).
Rue de Brest (Charoenkrung Soi 36) (BTS Saphan Taksin/Sathorn river boat pier)
This branch of Siam Commercial Bank in the Talat Noi neighbourhood of Bangkok’s Chinatown district is the oldest bank branch in Thailand, which first opened as the Book Club in 1904 in an effort to kick-start a locally operated banking system and provide what was then Siam with independence from banks controlled by overseas powers.
The Italian-designed Art-Deco structure of this, the bank’s original headquarters until 1971 (the work of the same architect as Hualamphong railway station and the Ananta Samakhom throne hall), stands in great contrast to the today’s non-descript, glass-fronted branches that blend into modern shopping centres. Having said that, the colonial architecture of Siam Commercial Bank’s ASA-Architectural-Conservation-Award-winning first ever branch – which can also be seen from the Chaophraya River – is part of the inspiration behind one of the bank’s newest, in the basement of the ultra-luxe Central Embassy mall in Phloen Chit.
Monday to Friday, 8.30am-3.30pm; Yotha Road, Talat Noi (MRT Hualamphong/Si Phraya river boat pier); www.scb.co.th
A new addition to the Bangkok heritage scene, and pleasingly raising the profile of the Klong San area of Thonburi – one of which we’re particular fans – Lhong 1919 is also one of few to attempt to throw Chinese-style heritage buildings in Bangkok back into the spotlight. This expansive collection of old warehouses, owned by the Wanglee family, has been sympathetically restored into a mixed-use outdoor space that includes plenty of opportunities for shopping, eating, and drinking. It’s also a great spot for snapping the aesthetically exciting architecture, and simply soaking up the vibe of this newly brought-back-to-life venue, which dates all the way back to the reign of King Rama IV in the 19th century.
Daily, 10am-10pm; 248 Chiang Mai Road (Klong San cross-river ferry pier); www.bit.ly/lhong1919
At Expique, we’re experts at showing you the unique parts of Bangkok and elsewhere in Thailand that most tours don’t take you to – and which you probably won’t discover on your own. Joining one of our tours or experiences (or having us create a custom tour for you) is a great way to make the most of your time in Thailand and ensure you leave with a memorable experience.
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Which are your favourite heritage buildings in Bangkok? Let us know in the comments!
Photos by Twang_Dunga; Johan Fantenberg; Chris Wotton; Lhong 1919
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