Old Bangkok heritage
Published/Last edited or updated: 4th September, 2017
Not far from the big-name attractions in the heart of the Rattanakosin historic district, Phraeng Phuthon Square embodies the more modest side of Bangkok's heritage.
Born out of a major turn of the 20th century construction campaign initiated by King Rama V, attractive Sino-European shophouses line Phraeng Phuthon’s quiet streets. The Crown Property Bureau still rents them cheaply to locals, including many who trace their heritage to the Chinese immigrants who founded the Chao Paa Sua Shrine just up Tanao Road.
In recent years, authorities restored the aging shophouses with cream and teal paint, and officially declared them protected heritage buildings. In front of some of the more notable businesses, museum-like info boards were added to explain the heritage and products for sale in both Thai and comprehensible English, which makes the neighbourhood a lot easer for foreign travellers to crack than it used to be.
At the centre of the square sits a health clinic in a building that served as a prince's palace until the early 20th century. On neighbouring Phraeng Nara, another century-old architectural gem formerly served as Talaphat Suksa Schoolhouse. Now housing a law office, the building's long veranda and tall wood doors still display the original gingerbread carvings in faded olive green paint.
In a corner of Phraeng Phuthon, a local man has run a classic car workshop for decades, leaving an early ’60s Peugeot and ’30s gangster-style Ford, for example, parked alongside the footpath. Other shops specialise in camping equipment, sewing machines, cutlery, uniforms and musical instruments.
On nearby Bamrung Muang Road, grab a seat at the Old Town Cafe for a coffee and slice of cake before perusing the silk and cotton wears, dolls, statues and other gifts and souvenirs collected and sold by the Thai Craft organisation. At the corner of Tanao Road, Shikanchaa Cafe serves bitter old-style coffee in a hall decorated with vintage coffee grinders and old teddy bears. Across the street, a few women have sold consistently sweet mangoes in front of the temple supply shops for three decades.
Near the centre of the square, Nuttaporn has conjured some of Bangkok’s best ice cream from fresh young coconuts for almost as long as ice cream has been known to Thailand. Before indulging, you might grab a proper Central Thai meal at Chote Chitr or Krua Sam Hom, Isaan food at Bunthon, or perhaps some pig-brain soup at Thai Tham's. Street cart highlights include hand-crafted pork balls (look chin muu), khanom beuang (sweets that look like little tacos) and egg-wheat noodle soup with crab (ba-mii puu), which is only served after dark at the corner of Phraeng Phuthon and Tanao.
Every year in December, the neighbourhood comes together to host a night of art, food and traditional Thai performances as part of the Sam Phraeng Festival. On any night, gifted athletes spike balls over the net with their feet in spirited sepak takraw matches on a court at the heart of the square.
Seeing the value of Phraeng Phuthon's old town ambiance and strategic location within walking distance of Bangkok's most famous historical attractions, a handful of hoteliers have opened properties in recent years. The Neighbour is an affordable bed and breakfast set in one of the heritage houses, while Feung Nakorn Balcony offers bright rooms for a bit cheaper just down the road near Wat Ratchabophit.
One of our favourite areas in Bangkok, Phraeng Phuthon is worth a special trip if you're a food and culture enthusiast who enjoys exploring beyond the usual attractions. Its central old quarter location means that it can also be factored into a longer walk around Rattanakosin.
Taxi drivers hardly ever know it by name, but Phraeng Phuthon and neighbouring Phraeng Nara sit in a central old city location. The neighbourhood is flanked by Bamrung Muang, Tanao and Atsadang roads, just north of Wat Ratchabophit and a km west of the Grand Palace. It takes around 15 minutes to walk here from either Khao San Road or Maharaj river ferry pier.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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