Take a peek into Bangkok’s early 20th century past at Bangkokian Museum
Tucked away in a semi-neglected corner of Bang Rak, most capital residents are only vaguely aware of the Bangkokian Museum, a collection of historic teak homes which offers visitors a portal into Bangkok’s past.
The capital boasts numerous museums, but this one is quite unique in that it’s the product of one person’s vision. Waraporn Surawadee, who was born on the property and still lives there, inherited the homes and their contents from her mother. After she retired from an academic career at Srinakarinwirot and Kasem Bundit universities, she decided to restore and preserve the property as a museum under the auspices of the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority, with the condition that she could continue to live in one of the buildings.
The three buildings and gardens which comprise Bangkokian Museum (sometimes called Bangkok Folk Museum) occupy a little more than one rai of land on a quiet soi that runs east of Charoen Krung Road, not far from the old Central Post Office and the River City antique mall.
The story begins with Waraporn’s mother, Sa-ang Surawadee, who met and fell in love with Dr Francis Christian, a surgeon and British subject of Indian descent, while she was travelling in Malaysia. After marrying in 1927, the couple moved to Bangkok and built a two-story wooden house on Soi Ngam Duphli in the Thung Mahamek district. They intended to live in the upper story and open a clinic on the ground floor. Sadly, before they had a chance to move into the home, Dr Francis fell ill and died.
Six years later Sa-ang re-married, this time with a Thai office worker, and in 1935 Waraporn was born. Chinese carpenters built a new home on Soi Charoen Krung 43 for the family, who took up residence in 1937.
When Waraporn decided to preserve her family home after retirement, she sold the original land on Soi Ngam Duphli and arranged for the 1929 house to be moved to Soi Charoen Krung 43. Then she set about filling the homes, as well as a third building on the property, with family heirlooms. Virtually nothing on display today was made any later than 1957, while many of the artefacts are pre-World War II.
The style of all three buildings on the property combines European and Thai design, with high ceilings, vented wooden shutters, and carved ventilator panels to encourage air circulation.
Rooms in the two-story 1937 home contain the same furnishings used originally by the Surawadee family, with many items carefully labelled (most labels are Thai only) with information on design and function. Well decorated sitting rooms and a vintage bathroom occupy the ground floor, while large bedrooms with authentic pre-WW II furniture are found on the upper floor. One comes away with a very good idea of how the Thai middle class lived in the early- to mid-20th century. The upper floor of the home also displays fine Thai ceramics dating to the reign of Rama V (1858 – 1910), as well as historic Thai postage stamps and vintage currency.
Behind the family home is the older 1929 house moved from on Soi Ngam Duphli. The two-story wooden house is divided into living quarters upstairs and a clinic downstairs. Many of the items on display hail from the 1920s, including antique medical utensils in a small pharmacy on the upper floor. A bust of Dr Christian, cast by famed Italian sculptor and art educator Corrado Feroci (known also by his Thai name Silpa Bhirasri), is also on display on this floor.
The upper floor of a third, larger building contains exhibits curated by the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA) to commemorate the history of Bang Rak. A series of panels bear graphics and text which chronicle the development of the district, from the historic influx of Chinese and European migrants to the construction of Charoen Krung Road, Bangkok’s first street. Meanwhile the ground level displays antique stoves, pots, and other kitchen paraphernalia, gardening tools, vintage magazines, and other artefacts of Bangkok life in the early 20th century.
If you get hungry while in the vicinity of the museum, seek out Naaz (0 2234 4537), a Thai Muslim eatery at the other end of Soi 43 closer to Charoen Krung Road. Naaz serves some of the city’s richest khao mok kai (chicken biryani), topped with golden raisins, cashews, and crispy fried shallots. Wash it down with a strong, creamy cup of Indian-style milk tea. It’s open from 8.30am to 10pm, Monday to Saturday.
One of the easiest ways to reach Bangkokian Museum is to take the Chao Phraya Express boat to the Si Phraya Pier, then walk.
273 Charoen Krung Soi 43 | 0 2234 6741 | Free admission