The Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand acknowledges its 57-year history with a dedicated photo wall.
Southeast Asia’s largest and oldest press club, now in its 10th location and 57th year of operation, started out as a decidedly small affair riding the aftermath of World War II.
When Japanese forces were forced out of occupied Bangkok, taking Imperial Japan’s dream of a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere with them, news correspondents flooded the city as Southeast Asia became a fresh target for international trade and diplomacy.
At the time the Ratanakosin (Royal) Hotel was a favourite haunt for foreign journalists, who would drink and socialise at nearby Cathay Cabaret on Ratchadamnoen Avenue. Three of the regulars – Bangkok Post founder Alex MacDonald, Chinese editor at the United States Information Service (and later PANA bureau chief) Alex Wu and UP bureau chief Prasong Wittaya – opened their own bar called Silver Palm, on Surawong Road, in 1953. The club soon became a popular hangout for expat reporters as well as businessmen and diplomats.
After three years of un-chronicled gatherings, the Silver Palm closed. One of the regulars, Jorge Orgibet, an American who had founded the first Associated Press bureau in Bangkok in 1953, decided to establish an official Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand. Orgibet chose Mizu’s Kitchen, a Japanese steakhouse on nearby Patpong Road, as the original meeting place.
Orgibet and his coterie of friends and colleagues envisioned the FCCT not only as a place for news hounds to meet, but also as an organisation to promote and protect the rights of the press in Thailand and across Asia.
Mizu’s Kitchen accommodated the fledgling FCCT until the 1970s, when the venerable Oriental Hotel offered one of its original wood-panelled lounges, along with a riverside garden, for the club’s use.
The fall of Saigon, Phnom Penh and Vientiane to communist movements in the mid 1970s found many veteran Indochina war correspondents transferred to Bangkok to continue coverage of insurgent activity in the region. This expanded foreign media presence, coupled with the increasing use of Bangkok as an outpost for international businesses, turned the FCCT into a hotspot many expats depended upon for an exchange of news, views and gossip.
After The Oriental decided to build a new 350-room River Wing on the land where the FCCT’s lounge stood, the club bounced from one locale to the next, starting with the Montien Hotel, and proceeding to the President Hotel, Oriental Plaza and finally the Dusit Thani in 1985, where it remained for nearly 12 years.
One Thai staffer who started working at the FCCT in 1977, bar supervisor Roong Pukrabpeth, is still with the club 37 years later. Roong told Bangkok 101 that he has seen 11 club managers come and go during that time. Another loyal crew member, Rienchai Kansamrong, has been tending bar since 1982
As the FCCT’s public profile expanded, the calibre and prestige of its guest speakers as well as the weight of its press conferences amplified steadily. Almost every Thai prime minister since the ‘70s has delivered a public address at the FCCT early in his or her first term. Ambassadors and foreign heads of state have also made appearances, along with United Nations experts, ex-political prisoners, religious leaders, human rights activists, Nobel Prize winners, Hollywood personalities and comedians (most notably the late Robin Williams).
The FCCT’s next stop was the 12th floor of the Jewellery Trade Centre on Silom Road, a location that was not well received due to the traffic snarls common to the neighbourhood.
In 1997 the club moved to its current location on the penthouse floor of Maneeya Center on Ploenchit Road. With a pedestrian bridge linking the complex with the BTS line, the Maneeya clubhouse is sure to maintain a loyal fan base for many years to come.
The centrepiece of the club is a large, open rectangular bar stocked with a variety of wines, draught beer and liquor. A menu of well-prepared Thai and Western meals, appetizers and snacks is served during lunch and dinner hours.
In addition to press conferences and guest speakers, the club hosts photo and art exhibits, book launches, documentary and feature films, and occasional musical performances. Every Friday evening, a live jazz ensemble performs as journos from far and wide gather for end-of-the-week drinks and story-swapping.
On occasion FCCT press conferences inadvertently turn into news events themselves, as in 2003, when a sculpted hand of Saddam Hussein, mysteriously removed from a fallen statue in Baghdad, was anonymously placed on the FCCT bar.
Five days after the May 22, 2014 military coup deposed the Pheu Thai government, former PT education minister Chaturon Chaisaeng arranged a surprise press briefing at the club. During the final question-and-answer period, with dozens of international journalists recording everything on camera and video, armed Thai soldiers marched into the FCCT, arrested Chaturon and carted him away (Chaturon was released from military custody a few days later).
Photos from these historic occurrences as well as more than 100 photographs of other events and FCCT speakers were recently assembled and displayed along the long wall outside the entrance to the club.
The Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand
Penthouse, Maneeya Center, 518/5 Ploenchit Rd | 0 2652 0580 | fccthai.com