When Bangkok was established as Siam’s capital on the Rattanakosin site, the early foreign communities of Bangkok were distributed south of it along the river. The Chinese, the Indian and the European communities are the ancient and most significant foreign communities in Siam and they are all assertively Chinese, Indian and Western but they also have two things in common - they are also distinctively Bangkok and they are connected through one road, namely Charoen Krung Road. It is argued whether Charoen Krung (Prosper the city) or Rama IV Road is Bangkok’s first road. Whether it is or not doesn’t play a role as much as it is Bangkok’s lifeline at which Bangkok’s history and early development can be read. Built in 1862 by king King Rama IV it supposedly served Westerners to pursue their healthy lifestyle of riding horses and their carriages and to connect the European community to the royal compound further north. Charoenkrung runs parallel to the river for 8.5km, from the ancient outer city walls of the elite space of royal-religious Rattanakosin to Dao Khanong in the south. Like many other cities in the world, the birthday place is given by the river and commerce and immigration expanded the city in successive waves and Bangkok’s history and the development of its urban, social and cultural fabric can be read along Charoen Krung Road. In the early stages, trade was controlled by the royal elite but with the expansion of trade, the need for labor rose and the communities along Charoen Krung grew fast and the entry ports into Siam shifted in their significance from the royal controlled Rattanakosin domains (Tha Chang pier) downstream to the Chinese ports along Sampheng where the diaspora of Chinese immigrants started to become the dominant force in the trading business. Influx of Chinese immigrants to fuel the need for labor turned Bangkok into an almost predominantly Chinese city and the Chinese became the city’s first bourgeois, the urban middle class that triggered the explosion of the first real estate development of traditional Chinese shop houses where family-run businesses would operate downstairs in the open-front shops, whilst the owners would live upstairs on the second floor. This early 20th century phase of Bangkok’s urbanization has its remnants scattered around Chinatown, whilst also European style row-houses with the same functions can be seen along Charoen Krung Road and further north in various areas in and around Rattanakosin. These distinctive masks of Bangkok are unfortunately threatened by demolition to make way for new developments and many of these old houses are in dire need for renovation. Beside the Chinese row-houses another outstanding feature of the Chinese community as well as for the Indian community is the intricate and uncontrollable maze of narrow and often claustrophobic alleyways and passages that connect the riverside docks and the commercial arteries. This incredible maze grew organically without the slightest notion of urban planning and harbors a myriad of interesting facets of the Chinese evolution in Siam. Smaller in scale but not less intense is the community of the Indians around the Pahurat Road (built in 1898) which consists of the fragments of Hindu, Sikh and Muslim immigrants who focus on the textiles trade. The choice of silk, cotton, wool and cashmere is overwhelming and the entire district appears to be one huge labyrinth of market lanes that are also interlinked with Chinatown’s Sampeng. Chinatown and Little India meet on the unrecognizable bridge that spans across the second defensive moat of old town Bangkok (Saphan Lek) thus it seems as if the Indians were placed as a buffer between the elite royal compound of Rattanakosin and the commercially powerful Chinese. These Asian communities are congested and vibrant whilst the old European quarters maintained a rough semblance of order, a small world, partly UNESCO protected, in which one does not only find one of Asia’s densest concentration of fivestar hotels (The Shangri-La, the legendary Oriental, Sheraton, Hilton Millennium and Peninsula -the latter two on the other side of the river), a major trading center for antiques and the global center for jewelry trade but also fine examples of European architecture, though lots of it is in a state of decay. From here Bangkok expanded eastwards 50 years ago and heralded the start of the next phase of urbanization and globalization that can be read in the skyline of Suriwong, Silom and Sathorn. When we think of modernization and globalization we see the impressive skyline of Bangkok, the skyscrapers of Silom and Sathorn and we tend to overlook the Charoenkrung corridor that served as the gateway for the European, Chinese, and Indian communities that made the pioneers of urban Bangkok. It’s the hybridization of their commerce, culture and people through uncontrolled development, immigration and rapid commercial expansion that gave Charoen Krung the status of being the nucleus of a Western civilized Bangkok. It stands for the replacement of the Thai Khlong (canal) and the imposition of roads and international commerce that heralded the end of the aquatic world of early Bangkok and its villages, orchards and paddy fields. Within the realms of Charoen Krung the majority of today’s Bangkok’s ancestry arrived who then turned first urban middle class and cooperate Thailand was born and its wake the first department stores and high-rise buildings were built. It’s the road that connected the royal Thai elite to the world in a modern urban sense and from here the city first grew eastwards, devouring the original peaceful canals and orchards of Silom and Sathorn and then in the eighties grew skywards creating one of the world’s top ten skylines. regardless the visual dominance of Bangkok 2.0, it is the Bangkok DOS version and its exciting urban muddle between Charoen Krung and the Chao Phraya River that is so exciting and fascinating to explore and for that one needs to roughly follow or stay somewhat close to one road - Charoen Krung Road. Charoen Krung is the
Many of us are surrounded by so much history and so many stories, some of them never become told, and parts of our history fades into oblivion. As half Thais we’ve made it our mission to explore and better understand our Thai roots and there’s no better age in doing so then in this day and age. With all the communication and media tools available, we’re able to capture the stories of people and places, learn about our Thairoots and share it with you in the process.
One of our first projects is about Bangkok’s oldest remaining Chinese residence. For us it’s one of those places that make Bangkok what it is, an intriguing and beautiful Asian city, rich and diverse in culture, history and identity, despite facing immense challenges of modernization. The surroundings of the house alone are worth a visit with their huge, spiritual Banyan trees
We’ve asked the communities on Facebook what kind of business they think to find in such an old, traditional residence
a) diving pool
c) snooker hall
most people guessed snooker hall but actually it’s a diving school and we’ve made a video for those in disbelieve but this is just the beginning.
The next step is the actual interview with the owner of the diving school and his mother who are the owner of this marvelous residence. They are the descendants of wealthy Chinese traders that ran a trading business between Siam and China during the Ayutthaya period. Both of them are of course highly knowledgable, the mother is the local communit leader and they have a lot of things to share.
Thus we would like to invite you to send us questions so that we can translate them into Thai and ask the Pochinda family directly in our upcoming video interview. This family faces a particular challenge in maintaining this house and with the interview we would like to spread the message out but you will here it from Khun Poosak himself what it is. Feel free to submit your questions, regarding the history of Bangkok, the life of Chinese immigrants, the Chinatown of Bangkok, traditional Chinese homes, customs, traditions, etc. we will be happy to include those questions in our interview.